If you don’t yet have a strong stylistic identity, where do you begin as an artist? When there are as many ways to be creative as there are people on this planet, what do you try first?
When you don’t know where to begin, look at what you are drawn to in other artists’ work. What are the qualities that you admire? What colours speak to you? What style of mark-making appeals? Do you like lots of detail, or do you prefer big sweeping gestures? Geometric or fluid? Bold or soft? Harmonious or jarring? Uncover what themes underpin your taste in other artists’ work and you’ll find a good place to start with your own exploration.
My taste has certainly evolved but I’ve always been drawn to certain styles and themes in artwork — artwork that I would either love to own or be able to replicate.
// Top of my list is colour. I admire and envy those who manage to use colour in a tailored, sophisticated and thoughtful way, creating magic across the canvas whilst making it look effortless. I’m not very practiced at mixing colours (I get very impatient with it) but don’t yet have the luxury of being able to buy every colour pre-mixed, so it’s something I have to work on if I’m to have the kind of colour palette I admire in others.
I love harmonious colours juxtaposed with a bold sweep of a contrasting colour to really make things interesting. I love light, bright colours, but I also have a bit of a penchant for dark, moody paintings, however, I’m too scared to try and replicate that look myself!
// Second is gestural abstraction. I LOVE this kind of bold, fearless-looking art. It speaks to me as if someone has just gone wild and been let loose across the canvas. Big brush marks, bold use of colour, absolutely no attachment to form; these paintings just breathe life and presence to me, and command the viewer’s attention.
There’s an intrinsic power to gestural abstraction that I am yet to experience in my own work. I feel so stiff and uptight, afraid of making the ‘wrong’ mark or ruining a painting and having to start all over again (hi perfectionist me). In fully embracing gestural freedom, I imagine myself painting on huge canvases, jumping and dancing and throwing my arms around, covering the surface with paint and movement. Just imagining painting like that feels so liberating and energising to me.
I want to feel unlimited when I paint; not by size of canvas, space, or range of movement. How can I create that environment and experience for myself at home where I don’t have unlimited space?
// Third is scale. I’ve mentioned it already, but there’s something about large artworks that speak to me. It doesn’t matter if I don’t particularly like the content on the canvas, if a painting is big it will stop me in my tracks. I’m fascinated, first, by how someone can even make a canvas that big and, second, by the confidence and vision it must have taken to paint it.
To paint on a surface that big speaks to me of audacity and fearlessness; of a desire to move people, to have them lose themselves in a painting. In my opinion, to work on that kind of scale honours the scale of creative impulse that made it possible to imagine it in the first place. It’s an uncompromising commitment to showcasing human creativity on an other-worldly scale.
I’m getting a bit carried away with myself, I know (you can blame my theatrical choice of words on the Art History degree), but writing about this has me feeling so inspired. Small canvases drive me mad, I feel hemmed in by them, but imagining painting on something metres long just makes me want to jump out of my chair and start playing!
I’m pretty comfortable with canvases around the 80 x 100cm mark, but I would love to have a strong enough vision to start painting on bigger canvases soon.
// Fourth, and tying in with gestural abstraction and scale, is process over form. I may choose to paint specific objects or shapes in my work, but overall, I love the idea of the final painting being a testament to the process of painting and self-expression itself. I don’t want to record things I’ve seen, I want to record what I feel and how I felt moved to paint in that moment.
Again, I find this challenging because I have strong perfectionist tendencies and a hypercritical mind which doesn’t give me any space to explore and paint freely. Everything has to be ‘beautiful’, every step of the way. It’s a trap I fall into repeatedly and something I find incredibly frustrating as it blocks my creative experimentation at every turn. I need to let loose so damn badly if I’m ever to paint how I’d like to!
// Fifth is art as meditation. I went to Paris a few weeks ago and had to make sure I returned to the Musée de l’Orangerie to see Monet’s Nymphéas series: 8 mind-bogglingly large paintings depicting scenes from his water lily pond in Giverny. This was Monet’s monument to peace after the First World War. In his work, and in the spaces he designed in the Orangerie, Monet sought to evoke the infinite. None of his Nymphéas paintings have a horizon or shoreline; his intention was to create “the illusion of an endless whole.” Monet wanted the viewer to get lost in his works, to be enveloped by their beauty and timelessness and feel at one with grace. I find them truly captivating and could easily sit in front of them for hours.
Any artist’s intention towards evoking the infinite, the timeless presence, peace and oneness speaks to me. Rothko’s work inspires the same kind of meditation. I would love to have works large enough and captivating enough to invite the viewer into that kind of meditative space. Art like that moves people. It heals people. It transcends being an object solely for the eyes, and becomes a gateway to deeper feeling.
As I finish this, I’m happy to say that this has actually been a really helpful piece of writing for me! I can see that, ultimately, through scale, gesture and feeling, I want my art to serve people. To move, to inspire, to hold. How simple.
Now how to make that happen…