Alongside my recent experiments on unprimed canvas, I’ve challenged myself this week to work with minimal gestures on an 80 x 100cm canvas. The first marks are down (made with my huge and super fun new 6″ brush) and it’s already got me contemplating my feelings around the sense of space in a painting, particularly the space left unpainted.
At school, I painted ‘things’ — objects, scenes, places. I filled every inch of the canvas with colour. Now that I’m working in a more abstract style, I’ve started to question whether every painting needs to be so full. I’m finding myself drawn more and more to a stripped back look; to space untouched, around and amongst colourful gesture.
I’ve only put two large sweeps of colour on the canvas so it’s still looking very empty and, to my mind, very unfinished… I’m noticing that I feel a sense of unease and a lack of confidence working with so few marks and leaving so much of the canvas white and bare. In my head I’m thinking “This looks so ridiculous. It’s not a ‘painting’ at all!” This challenge is definitely pushing some artistic buttons and revealing the kinds of stories I have about what art is and isn’t (art most definitely isn’t two blue lines on a canvas apparently).
Clearly, space on a canvas is not something I’m comfortable with yet, so all the more reason to experiment with just how far I can go with minimising my mark-making whilst still coming to a sense of completion with a painting. Painting in this way will also require that I think more about the colour palette I want to use beforehand, which would also be good practice for me.
It will be interesting to see what ratio of space to paint I end up feeling happy with — stay tuned for an update on that!
I’d love to hear your thoughts too. Do you like to leave a lot of space on your canvases? How do you know when a painting like this is finished?