Monday, 22 December 2008

Summer sketches of the sea

My most concerted effort to date of working with seascapes have their origin in a week this July spent on the isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides off the West Coast of Scotland. While the weather was largely overcast, cloudy, foggy and rainy, I nonetheless managed to fill plenty of pages in my sketchbook as well as a number of sheets with plein air pastel drawings.

I have started to take a rather limited palette as well as small sheets of 25x35cm pastel board (in shades of sand, hazy blue and my favourite aubergine) with me, and they work so well for drawing on location. Here are some of the pastel sketches.

Above Kildonnan Bay
Above Kildonnan Bay,
Pastel on board, 34x24cm

Singing Sands
Singing Sands,
Pastel on board, 34x24cm

More Singing Sands
More Singing Sands
Pastel on board, 34x24cm

For the full set, see here.

Much of my circling around these sketches - both in sketchbook and as pastel drawings has been to take them elsewhere as abstractions. I had been writing about this process of abstraction as a way of avoiding some of the obvious pitfalls of turning what we see into a landscape.

Here, my reasoning was that 'landscapes' do not exist but are in fact made by the painter, viewer or author - much of cultural studies therefore talks of the production of landscape.

For me, adding distance thus is a form of trying to avoid such obvious framing devices - and once I started to look through more reference on abstraction and art history, I found more and more thoughts, debates and links on this. Funnily enough, though, my sense of unfamiliarity with the sea, beaches and oceans means that I'm struggling to add distance deliberately, if that kind of makes sense. With much of my previous work based on woods, fields and more woods and fields which are much more familiar to me, such distancing through abstraction seemed more easily achieved.

Here are some of my posts I had written on this

I'd be curious how others approach this:
  • How familiar or strange does something have to be to be represented abstract or realist?
  • How strongly do you rely on conventional framing devices, e.g. for landscape compositions?


Katherine Tyrrell said...

Good post Gesa - and good questions. I'll be interested to see what sort of response you get.

I loved the discussion in the first of your links - especially as you go back to Geography with a capital G

Have you ever studied the academic work done around perceptual geography? I'll have to rack my brains to think of the references - my excuse being that it may have been one of the subject areas underpinning my dissertation but that was 30+ years ago! A lot of it relates to how you perceive landscape and the extent to which is is natural or constructed.

Lindsay said...

You pose some interesting questions here Gesa. I too am working to abstract the landscape and what most interest me is my emotional or gut response to it. Since starting my wateways project, I've become very accustomed to thinking about compositional shapes and movement in my work. My watercolor and ink drawings are deliberately set up to move the eye deeper and deeper into the drawing...I think of the page as both flat and 3d...shifting from one to another.

vivien said...

a really interesting post

like you I'm interested in space and distance and creating that within a flat canvas or paper but not necessarily with traditional devices and frames.

I'm also interested in movement - (and though you don't mention it, it is also obvious in your work). The waves and wind and movement/shape of the skeleton of the rocks underlying the softer growth are also important to me so I'll be interested in the Geography/Geology that Katherine comes up with.

For me the rocks are like the bones in life drawing, essential to what is happening with land/figure.

Lindsay's shifting of the eye also interests me - the mark making is important to me and so there is the illusion of space but then the return to the painterly/drawn marks on paper or canvas, important in their own right.

Loved the series as a whole from your link :>)

Laureline said...

Gesa, I've enjoyed your writing on this topic. I avoid intellectualizing my own work, so it's fun to see your very different approach. For me, the key is NOT to decide to paint in an abstract way vs an illusionistic way, but to paint in a way that is not banal or cliched. There are plenty of banal and cliched paintings in both approaches to art. For me it's a matter of just getting in the studio with the inspiration and the sketches and photos and putting paint to surface and seeing what happens. Especially what happens over time, in a series. I'm in a very intuitive, searching mode at the moment, not even wanting to have parameters until they show up in my work on their own. Don't know if that makes any sense, but I do love seeing your and others' different takes on this subject.

Jeanette said...

These pieces come across as natural and not contrived.

Sometimes we start out painting something with in idea in mind of how it should be, but the painting itself takes over and it becomes more natural.

I have found in my process of re-learning oil painting that it truly is the paint that takes over and pushes me down new paths that my tight, controlled self didn't venture before.

Gesa said...

Hi and thanks, everyone... I start with working my way backwards through your comments, and may need a while as I'm sorting my thoughts.

Jeanette, hm, yes... totally agree with paint taking over. Maybe to clarify: I do not start with a plan for sketches. These are responses, intuitive and dependant on so many things that come together at any one time. There is little intellectualising or pre-planning going on. I do have, however, things that interest me, I am curious about, or that I want to try, but these as often have to do with colour choices, marks, texture and these more immediate small bits of painting process.

In fact, the curiosity bit probably prevails, also with regards to developing sketches further.

With this series of sketches I wanted to do something, but at the same time was a bit hesitant to turn the pretty sketches of my moley into paintings as such. Searching for 'what else' is foremost practical: stuff to be tried out, explored with media and work process rather than thought... I think (!) much of my thinking comes after, as reflection: oh, this is why didn't work. And I do think that 15 years in academia are then pretty much part of my work process as a lot of other things are.

I also think, that part of that is rather similar to how you, Laura, describe your search for something not-clicheed. Yes, I know what you mean with intuitively searching, that resonates with a lot of what I have been doing, and it's a couple of points at the moment that some of the fog's lifting for a brief moment or two for me.

Lindsay and Vivien, yes: movement... within the painting and between viewer and painting. I think that is fascinating, also again in respect to how the painting develops its own dynamic and changes throughout the painting process. My Seascape in Earth, e.g., started out as the much more dynamic one and then The sea is yellow changed gear and sped away.

Part of the distance I've been trying to explore, however, is not merely the one on canvas that turns flat surface into depth but also between memory, expression and viewing... as in the opposite to immediacy, if that makes sense... Don't know much more about it yet, but it keeps bobbing up.

Katherine, yes, thanks - perception in geography. Some colleagues have just recently done work on using mental maps - the maps people use for their day-to-day routines of their neighbourhood, town, etc... it was in a completely different context to water: it was about young people's use of the city; and I've used some of that for work on (fear of) crime. And, yes, it throws up fascinating questions of what is the city, a landscape, and the ways in wich the divisions between nature/culture are artificial in any case, as I would say: stuff is always experienced by people in any case so we are always part of the picture (oh, what terrible pun:))

Now I'll ponder about Vivien's point on rocks as backbone similar to anatomy in lifedrawing.

Thank you for all your comments!

Trevor Lingard said...

This is lovely work.
My favourite is More Singing Sand.
Have a lovely Christmas.

Gesa said...

Mine too, Trevor. Many thanks and all the best for the New Year!

africantapestry said...

these pastels are all three beautiful, I love them.
Great questions and being so late in visiting, I enjoyed reading all the rsponses here.
As for me; I'm a jump in and do person. The minute I start thinking too much about something, I either not get around doing it, or it becomes completely overplanned and without freshness. I don't plan to go realistic or abstract. The scene/subject mostly just dictates it. Some scenes just ask for a more abstract brushsroke and then there are scenes that need to be pretty/beautiful in its realism, or close to realism. I'm always surprised by the outcome of the direction I took, sometimes horribly surprised, most of the time though, pleasantly. I think that is probably which gives me the biggest joy in painting.

Gesa said...

Ronnell, many thanks for your thoughts. Re planning: I found this to be very true for blogging too. I still tend to set up posts as part of a series and then discovering I am not getting back to them. I generally have an idea and run with it; but what is becoming rather clear is that I spent a lot of time looking back, reflecting, making sense of it retrospectively; well, social scientist, cannae help it :)