In 2001 I became a University of Queensland student again. I had been given an opportunity to undertake a PhD in Art History. The Art History Dept had put together a bridging program for me. This included an Honours subject 'Aesthetics For Art Historians- Theory And Practice In Art History'. Yep, hefty title!
I completed the bridging program and did very well too I might add. But, I decided I wanted to keep painting. It had become very clear to me that trying to juggle being a single Mum with three very active children under 8, studying with an aim to claim top marks and keep a painting practice alive, was not going to work. So, rather than giving up my painting, I decided to not continue with the PhD enrolment.
One of the assessments for the honours subject was a 3,000 word essay on 'The Blank Canvas'. Essentially we were to examine Belgian scholar Thierry De Duve's essay/chapter 'The Monochrome and The blank Canvas' in his book 'Kant After Duchamp' with reference to an exhibition which was hanging at the University's Art Museum. This exhibition called 'Monochrome' was curated by Brisbane based curator David Pestorius.
Apart from the academic and theoretical aspects of the essay, as an artist I really enjoyed thinking about the blank canvas. This enjoyment has stayed with me. Why? Because the academic and theoretical route made me aware of my enjoyment, which is both intellectual and emotional! Some might say that this awareness may stymie spontaneity, but when you paint consistently, it becomes part of a creative tool kit that extends concepts of medium. It also introduces the idea that each blank canvas is a repetition of every blank canvas and each artist's experience with it. This couches me within an Art History which is about the artist's experience.
DELIVERY OF BLANK CANVASES
Yesterday, I had a delivery of some new stretched linen canvases. I have taken a photograph of them [above]. From the moment I order them I am thinking about them, imagining their size and how they might 'speak' to me. I look forward to their arrival. These new ones will sit around my studio, in various places, over the next days and weeks. I am currently working on a painting, so will not get to put paint on the new stretchers for awhile. Yet, as I stand and sit at, and walk back and forth from, my easel I see the 'blank canvases' and my imagination 'paints' images on them...actually each one has many images over its life being deceptively 'blank'.
Ah ha...so are the canvases ever really 'blank'? Is there really an answer to that question?
By the time I do put brush to linen a canvas has had many incarnations...many imagined paintings. In a way, the imagined images inspire the one which is ultimately manifested...they exist within the layers of memory.
And...can I tell you...that first brush stroke! Making it is like a play between life and death. The anticipation is both exciting and forbidding. The beauty of the pristine and taut whiteness is quite seductive. So making a mark upon it is touched with an exhilarating melancholy. I know, sounds weird, but it's hard to put into words.
Detail of painting I am currently working on...yep another cosmic one!
As regular readers know I paint in layers. Firstly one colour which is tempered with splashes of turps with the canvas either lying flat or standing upright. The splashes of turps cause dripping or pooling which reveals the whiteness of the canvas beneath the colour, yet not entirely. The whiteness is veiled. Then there is a second layer, treated in a similar fashion to the first. Randomness and accident, deliberately introduced, have fun with the canvas. Once dry, I paint with more precision, using smaller brushes, finer lines and more. Ultimately the blankness and whiteness of the canvas is seemingly annihilated. Yet, we know what lies underneath. It never truly departs. It's own history and that of every blank canvas lives on.
Some artists leave areas of white or blank canvas, working the visual effect into the context of the painting. I really admire this technique, but it's something I don't do. I've tried, but it does not feel right for me. And, I am not into mimicry.
I remember seeing Monet paintings, in the flesh, for the first time. I was surprised because often, between his brush strokes the viewer can glimpse the 'blank' canvas. My Art History, up until my late teens/early twenties, came from books with photographs of important artists' paintings. And, photographs of paintings flatten images subduing aliveness, giving a strange impression of perfection. So, it was with some astonishment that I noticed glimpses of raw or white canvas between brushstrokes, not only in Monet's work, but also artists like Constable and others. In the flesh, they are so much more alive than in a photograph...I do say to people that a good painting will never look as good as it really is in a photograph, but a bad painting will, more often than not, look much better than it is! Now, that's another subject entirely!
Me standing in front of a Monet 'Water Lilly' painting when I was working as a Curatorial Assistant at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1981.
STANTHORPE ART PRIZE UPDATE
I went to Stanthorpe on Friday for the opening and announcement of the $20,000 Art Award. Stanthorpe is a 3 hour drive south-west of Brisbane. I stayed the night with a school friend who I had not seen for ages.
The exhibition of finalist paintings and some 3D works is really good. I am pleased to have been chosen to be a part of the exhibition. My painting 'Super Earths Discovered' hangs with some great company. However, I did not win the prize. An artist from down south, Dena Kahan won...and a big congratulations to her! You can see details of the exhibition, the Stanthorpe Arts Festival and an image of Dena's winning work by visiting the Arts Festival page HERE
And here's an article which appeared in the local Stanthorpe Border Post
And here's a photo of me with my painting 'Super Earths Discovered'