Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Artist’s Process

I’d love to be a mind-reading fly on the wall  when an artist is working.  The process of making art is so fascinating.  I think too that  it is  necessary to have an actual process.  I keep wondering if there aren’t “artistic scales” I could practice each morning to keep myself “in tune”…or even to get into tune in the first place!  In a former life I was a psychologist and that’s probably why it’s important for me to know how, why and what a person is thinking when they’re doing something.   One way to “practice scales” is to try to get into the head of accomplished artists and observe the process.

One of the places where you can get such a glimpse is in the occasional, and usually excellent, interviews with artists in Art in America.  If I were a professor, this magazine would be required reading!!   This month they have an interview with the British artist Dexter Dalwood.  Dalwood’s paintings are an intriguing marriage of style and content.  He will paint about a contemporary situation (for example OJ Simpson’s White Bronco) in the style of another painter.  He painted about Gatsby in the style of John Singer Sargent, about Diana Vreeland in Matisse’s red room. 

While his themes are contemporary, and his painting style may “riff on previous ideology”, he feels  his work is very much about painting itself.  His artistic process begins with a collage.  These can be quite intricate and are, he says, “compositionally very close to the paintings”.  But while the composition is close, he does not want to recreate the look of a photo with his painting.  He stated: “I wanted to invent a bit of painting in response to the collaged element”.  Not only do the collages give him the basic composition, they also enable him to develop his ideas a little further.  The main difference between the collage and the painting is only in the colour.   Dalwood states that the value of working in the collage first, is that then he is less inclined to overwork the actual painting.    Since I find myself consistently worrying about getting that chewed over, overworked look, I definitely want to try out some of Dalwood’s ideas.

He also adds that while much is worked out before he starts painting (or for me that would be before I started cutting out fabric and placing it on the wall) there is “still a bit of paint (to) physically move around”.   but,  as Malcolm Morley says, he wants to be an artist who works “in oil on canvas, not oil on top of oil”!!!  I too would like to have far less carefully cut out, tried and then discarded pieces of fabric around my feet!!

So the collage is where the main compositional decisions are made, but room is left for some “painterly” adjustments when one approaches the canvas, or the wall.    With the plan in hand, Dalwood states he’s not having to stand “in front of a blank canvas, ape-man-like”!!!!  I’ve definitely seen that stance when I’ve walked through various seminars where different workshops are ongoing!!

Collage ahoy!  but first, a nice cuppa tea and a walk in the sunshine..

and, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth


Alison said...

When my daughter was a teen, I used to love watching her choir rehearsals. The wonderful director/conductor would have the task of interpreting the written music, using the voices of the enthusiastic, knowledgeable but individualistic teens. She had to publicly experiment, play, verbalise her ideas, explain, demonstrate, convince - she used just the same language that any artist would use - it was so revealing and inspiring. Much more interesting than the resulting performance.

Jackie said...

Interesting to learn how other people plan their process. I'm getting better at it, value sketches definitely help. Thanks for opening the window to let us see others' processes.

Quilt or Dye said...

Strong points made from his article. I too would prefer fewer "misfits" on the floor of my studio.

Quiltdivajulie said...

Since I'm off to take a collage class next week, this was MOST timely reading!

Lee said...

I think I used a daily practice of small pieces as scales and arpeggios. Something 4x6" or 4x4" gives a nice contained space to work, and fusing makes it go fast enough that there is still studio time left to work on larger pieces. The little ones exist for me as a sketchbook might for others - a record, and a place to mine for new inspirations.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating post, thank you. I found your blog via the 'Slow Cloth' group on facebook.