Final Major Project Evaluation

In the Final Major Project (FMP) I wanted to explore still life painting as a creative practice in order to look at symbolism and the wider meanings if object forms. My final three paintings chosen for submission were ‘Double espresso and Macaroons’ (Mixed media on paper and cardboard), ‘Purple Apple Ice Bucket’ (Mixed media on paper and cardboard) and ‘Purple Pineapple’ (Mixed media on plasterboard and newspaper).

Having read a paper on the different aspects of story telling (Frank, S., 1996) I wanted to use these ideas in my artworks through the use of objects. In the paper, how narratives can be used in creative ways was discussed in detail and it examined how to place emphasis when deploying the facts. My curiosity surrounding the history of the female role and the myths that are often depicted in history as the oppression of the patriarchal structure has structured how women are portrayed in history. Using the biblical narrative of Eve the paper offers a different perspective on why Eve was right to eat the forbidden apple.

My initial digital research looked at a selection of artworks which depicted the story of female figures in a religious context and I explored the narrative of Adam and Eve. As a reaction to this I started with some sketches of Eve with her eyes closed to signify refusal or a moments pause. Unsure of whether the sketches were strong enough to convey the message I wanted, I began exploring Greek mythology for strong female messages. Inspired by the story of Pandora and the box, I created a series of still life charcoal drawings. However, this further confused as I began to realise I was unsure what exactly I wanted to convey. Through my research, I began to confuse myself. I was trapped in my own box.

I decided to focus on the box itself and went back to the drawing board, sketching out various objects around the home such as toilet paper, my pineapple ice bucket, the bird shaped candle and a cocktail shaker. This enabled me to practice my drawing using charcoal and the medium I was sketching on was newspaper that I had at home. The focus on individual objects sparked my research into Dutch Still Life (DSL).

Still life painting has the ability through symbolism to give a narrative of thoughts and ideas subject to the viewers interpretation. The goal of a still life composition is to direct the viewer’s eye through a painting and lead them toward what the artist thinks is important. The Golden era of 16th and 17th century still life paintings conveyed messages of a new wealth era and of celebration.

Objects were used to counteract the reformation, by creating “Vanitas” which were paintings that conveyed a warning message about the fragility of life and the vanity of our earthly achievements and pleasures. Whilst aesthetically pleasing they also carried a narrative of social change and depicted the impact of the reformation on their lives. After exploring DSL in more detail I decided to combine the symbolism of objects with my initial inspiration of female oppression through history.

I wanted my work to inspired by DSL but to use modern day objects to bring my narrative life. An example being the works produced by Audrey Flack whose still-life paintings featuring religious and moral symbolism through which she brought iconic photographic images from the past into new relationships with everyday perishables and chattels.

Making a decision on which objects to include in my piece was my starting point as I really wanted to give my FMP a valid meaning rather than just painting a collection of objects. I began by selecting the forbidden apple as a way to bring Eve back into the project. However I realised the apple also represented the Ancient Greek myth of Eris whose golden apple ignited chaos by throwing it at the guest of the wedding she was not invited to as she was in rage, thus sparking the Trojan war.

This led me to wonder whether the apple was strong enough to represent the woman herself or whether it was better to use it to symbolise the patriarchal system which has tried to subdue the female strength. I decided to use the pineapple ice bucket to represent the female form instead, a status symbol and a rarity. First brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, they were something that had never been encountered before which is why so many artists began incorporating them into their work. As pineapples became more accessible, they no longer represented the status and instead where symbols of hospitality, an aspect of life often spearheaded by women.

Finally I chose a candlestick to remind the viewer of the death and the fragility of human life. Something which we were bound to explore as the FMP has taken place during a time of human uncertainty of our futures as well as for life itself. It also gave the painting better composition, bringing height and another dimension into the painting. As I outlined the candlestick in pencil I could also incorporate it as a phallic symbol further bringing feminism and its overshadow to the forefront of the paintings dialogue.

As the FMP project was undertaken during a time of lockdown of life in England I was limited to use colours which I had in my home as I could not access my studio or college. I experimented with paint pour and colour combinations, using the black; red; purple; white and pink acrylic paints I had. This process enabled me to think about my choice of colour palette and the representation of colour which is an important aspect of religious art works. I ended up choosing purple as my dominant theme as historically it represent luxury, nobility and what the poor could not have. The depiction of women in the novel Colour Purple demonstrates the nullification of women in a patriarchal society.  Today, purple has become synonymous with the struggles against oppression, which is why many British councils have lit up buildings in purple, to show they stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

For my canvas medium, as I do not like painting on traditional stretched canvas, I made my own canvas from plasterboard I found in a skip. This could be perceived as a health and safety issue during the covid pandemic however I minimised the risk involved by wearing gloves, a face mask and by leaving it quarantined in my garden in a secluded spot for 14 days. Despite being resourceful in my approach to my practice, using recycled materials and minimising waste where possible, it is important to consider health and safety when practicing art. Types of materials such as spray paints, resin and the plasterboard can be considered a risk if not used in accordance to safety guidelines and measures.

For my canvas, I glued newspaper onto the plasterboard as I liked the layering effect that it brough to the canvas as you can just about see the words behind the paint. However, by painting over news and advertising I am adding supplementary messages of capitalism, consumerism, greed, corporate takeover and all the social impacts felt by society in this day and age. I also made the glue myself as I could not simply go and purchase it. My own journey of creation of a product we would normally so easily just go and buy (not to mention the added plastic waste involved).

To make my frame, I began my making a maquette, I used cardboard and boiled plastic which I then glued and spray painted. For me the frame itself can be part of the artwork, such as those from the Baroque era, and believe if used correctly they can accentuate the idea your trying to convey. This is why I have used recycled food packaging waste to create my frame as the pollution of our environment is a message I often incorporate into my practice. I don’t believe in being wasteful just to provide beauty. Plastic packaging is an ugly burden of society and consumerism but I tried to recycle into something beautiful which might bring the viewer to challenge their consumption.

Once I finalised my piece ‘Purple Pineapple’ I took the opportunity to further develop my painting technique. I created two further works ‘Double espresso and Macaroons’ and ‘Purple Apple Ice Bucket’ which were more centred on me furthering my painting techniques and use of light. I wanted to explore the formal elements in painting: line, shape, form, tone, texture, pattern and composition. Whilst I am please with how the composition and painting improved in both of these pieces, I regret not using a more professional canvas material. I used paper as they only began as sketches but in the end I was pleased with the results and wanted to used them as final outcomes for my FMP project.

I have learnt to have more confidence in my own abilities and to trust my creative instincts. I enjoy painting and often use it as a medium to convey my art as I enjoy its fluidity and you can feel part of the experience. I often struggle with perspective but during this assignment I took the time to study the objects in relation to each other and the negative space between them. I wanted the objects to appear near to the viewer and to take up the majority of the canvas. I practiced drawing the objects whilst looking through the frame, imagining what they would look like in the final outcome. However, through my exploration I realised it didn’t matter and that abstract realism was my preferred style. This elevated my confidence in my capabilities and George Condo’s work inspired me to relax and explore my own style.

Another challenging aspect of the FMP assignment was the digitisation of our learning. I struggle with technology and using computers and have never before used WordPress. The technology was completely new to me. When I look back at my original blogs, I can see how far I have come. My use of photos within blogs has improved and I have been creative with the way I show my journey to my final three outcomes. Though challenging at times the experience has taught me that I can overcome challenges and that perhaps digital art is something I can further explore as my skills improve.

On reflection, some of the aspects I would change are the name of my blog as I would match it to my Instagram account and I wish I knew about cropping screenshots at the start of my blogging experience. My blog as a sketchbook was something I was apprehensive about in the beginning but it has actually become a more comprehensive journey for the reader. You can understand my journey through the use of visual language. I am more confident that in the future I will be able to create my own website which I can use a platform to communicate my creative message.

In summary, I have found the FMP assignment enjoyable and have gained confidence in my capabilities both artistically and digitally. Exploring the female form, still life, feminism, mythology, oppression and the environment have helped me find direction as to where I want to take my practice. As a woman I know I have the capabilities to push the boundaries, to open up tough dialogue and ignite questioning. Believing in change is what creates change.

Final Outcome

The three images I have submitted as my final outcome.

Double espresso and Macaroons. Mixed media on paper and cardboard

Purple Apple ice bucket Mixed media on paper and cardboard

Purple pineapple Mixed media on plasterboard and newspaper.

Attaching the frame to the paintings to photograph

My original idea was to use one painting as the final outcome so I had only made one frame. I had to work out how to attach the frame to the other paintings with the capability to interchange them to hang and photograph to give the illusion that they are a diptych.

I attached the paper paintings onto cardboard with double-sided tape to make it solid and trimmed it to fit the frame.
I attached the frame with small bulldog clips and gaffer tape. Measured and marked with blue tack then nailed the painting onto the wall and then attached the frame .
Repeating this process on the pink espresso and macaroon painting to photograph.
Hanging the painting to photograph.
I photographed each of the painting with and without the frame and cropped and edited it them on photoshop so they look like a diptych.

The finished frame

I used casting resin and an old paint brush to “glaze” the plastic on to the frame. The cardboard I had already painted (as discussed in a previous entry) and the double sided tape worked well together in creating a less porous surface. By using this technique to resin seal the frame, it left the back of the cardboard almost untouched and therefore should I need to I can use gorilla glue to attach the frame to the canvas.

The idea behind the frame stems from wanting to incorporate single use plastic food packaging (a wasteful human consumption product) to add an environmental layer to heighten the piece and to tie in everyday objects with everyday impacts to our planet. I have in the past explored different techniques to incorporate plastic into my artworks with some varied outcomes, some successful and others to be explored further or parked in an exploratory moment. I am really interested in ways to reuse plastic in my work and I think it has a lot of potential as a material with many ways in which it’s form can be manipulated.

Resin Teapots filled with painted plastic
Exhibited at The Djanoglly Gallery 2019
Experimenting exploring light effects with shaped painted plastic
A keyring experiment

The painting being framed reminds me of the eloborate frames used on Renaissance and Baroque works of art and I wanted to bring a contemporary twist to mine. The frames, in my opinion, are works of art in their own right from the exquisitely carved frames to the extravagantly gilded golden statements. I like the idea that the frame maintains the still life painting as separate from the world and establishes a position to protect it by creating a boundary. I am feeling quite optimistic that the still life painting will compliment each other and bring out the contradictions between the two.

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Still life paintings

I took Toms advice to paint more and used it as an opportunity to really focus on light and shade and the effects of shadow within my paintings. Additionally I wanted to explore colour with a reduced pallet and experiment with mixing paint in a variety of tonal ranges. I decided to work these studies in mixed media as I find it helpful when I am drawing out the composition , it allows me to work in layers from coloured pencil , water colour paints , sharpies to a thicker acrylic paint.

Working dark to light and adding a touch of warmth to the left side of the bottle.
Mixing tonal values in a greyscale and judging how light or dark the objects are.
Focusing on the light ,angles and shadow of the apples
Colour mixing in a pastel palette

I am pleased with the results of the three new still life’s paintings created this week , there are elements in all them which have been helpful in understanding painting techniques. The process taught me basic principals of a still life composition, encouraging me to think more in depthly about the importance of form, of harmonious colour grouping and of object placement upon the canvas. I feel they look more confident in their execution.

For the final submission, I am omitting the apple painting as its warmer colour choice clashes with the pink, purple and grey palleted used in the other two. Furthermore, I feel it has an unfinished look about it and the frame contrasts as opposed to complimenting it as occurs with the other pieces. I prefer the subject matter and compositions of the other two pieces and the frame works as a more aesthetically pleasing duo. Next, I will photograph them all with and without the frame and against different backgrounds, before I submit the final outcome.

Heading to a conclusion with the frame.

The frames development seems to be coming together quite well.

The frame measured to fit on top of the canvas. Originally I thought to staple gun the frame to the canvas, but it will go hard when I coat the plastic in resin leaving it difficult to attach without seeing the staples . I think using gorilla glue will work as a solution. It may be a blessing as it will be seen on a digital platform so the crude assembly should be less obvious.
Painted the frame grey for a background . On the maquette I made i found that after spray painting the attached plastic I could see the brown of the card board. Laying stripes of double sided tape to the painted cardboard to attach the plastic steamed shapes to.
Placing the plastic onto the now sticky frame to help hold them in place.
Before and after spray painting a silver colour.
Testing the pre resined frame against the work in progress still life.

Composition ideas

It has been really difficult to make a decision on what to put in my Still-life painting as I really wanted to give it implied meaning rather than a collection of objects. Is the meaning directed at me or the viewer ? As we know there are many instances in art history of a change to the artists original ideas and how the viewer received it. Surrealist Artist Meret Oppenheim and her “Object” the furry tea cup which she has referred to as a youthful joke, which has become a classic surrealist artwork because of the meanings it received. As a female Meret Oppenheim made a place for herself as one of Surrealism’s central artists and produced some of its most powerful works. Oppenheim became known for her assemblages and sculptural works in which she brought everyday, often domestic, items into disturbing and humorous juxtaposition. For the Surrealists, such objects served to crack the veneer of civilized society, revealing the sexual, psychological, and emotional drives burning just beneath the surface.

Object Meret Oppenheim

1936. Fur-covered cup, saucer, and spoon, Cup 4 3/8″ (10.9 cm) in diameter; saucer 9 3/8″ (23.7 cm) in diameter; spoon 8″ (20.2 cm) long, overall height 2 7/8″ (7.3 cm)

Greek style urn and figure with a glass candle holder in a garden setting.
A jar, cocktail glass and candle stick.
Looking at the space between the objects and adding playing cards to represent chance.
The apple which i used in at the start from the Eve story but which can also represent the myth of Eris and her golden apple. Discord!!

I have decided to use the pineapple ice bucket ,the candle and an apple for my final composition. In Still life symbolism the candlestick is used to remind the viewer of death and the fragility of human life which seems appropriate in the current situation of “covid 19.” It also gives the composition height and aligns with the other objects into a triangle which hopefully helps the eye around the canvas. Further to this, it could be interpreted as a phallic symbol if I wanted to explore ideas from a feminist stance and perspective, however I do not think it is the most relevant aspect.

I also toyed with the idea of placing the apple beneath the candle stick so that it would suggest an exclamation mark !! An exclamation mark is used to show when something is surprising or forceful and helps make the meaning of the sentence clear. Which could draw attention to the frame, a nod to the environmental issues faced across the earth during the current crisis. This further opens a debate about how we treat the planet and nature through our lifestyles but I shall explore this in another entry.

The apple is often used in the genre of Still life, Cezanne wrote that “painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing ones sensations”.

Paul Cézanne (1839 -1906), Still-life with apples
Still-life with apples
Paul Cézanne 1839 -1906 
 
Oil on canvas
19 x 27 cm

Cézanne himself claimed that he planned to conquer Paris with an apple, and his paintings of this single fruit have in fact proved to be among his most admired works. Cézanne was also drawn to fruit, which often appears freshly picked in his paintings. He confided to a friend that “they [fruits] love having their portraits done. . . . They exhale their message with their scent. They reach you with all their smells and tell you about the fields they’ve left, the rain that made them grow, the dawns they watched. When I’m outlining the skin of a lovely peach with soft touches of paint, or a sad old apple, I catch a glimpse in the reflections they exchange of . . . the same love of the sun, the same recollection of the dew, a freshness.” (Quoted in Joachim Gasquet, Cézanne: A Memoir with Conversations [London, 1991], 220.)

Sometimes one wonders how these rounded objects didn’t roll off Cézanne’s table. But in constructing his still life’s, Cézanne wished to showcase the objects themselves and would tilt the plane towards the viewer so we can get a better look. He consistently drew attention to the quality of the paint and canvas never aiming for illusion. For example, the edges of the fruit in the bowl are undefined and appear to shift. Rules of perspective, too, are broken; the right corner of the table tilts forward and is not aligned with the left side. Some areas of canvas are left bare, and others, like the drape of the tablecloth, appear unfinished. Still Life with Apples is more than an imitation of life it is an exploration of seeing and the very nature of painting.

The pineapple ice bucket represents not the real fruit but the desired object in which it is compliant in its history as a status symbol. Originally from South America, pineapples were discovered by Christopher Columbus on one of his voyages to the New World. When he brought them back to Spain, many Europeans royalty in particular were completely taken by the delicacy. It was a rare, beautiful fruit most people had never encountered before and artists began incorporating pineapples in their work whether lavishly depicted in  a painting or elegantly carved into wooden furniture. Thinking about the Dutch Golden age and the contradictions of the elegant and exquisitely painted still life’s depicting an overabundance and wealth while also hiding the dark secret of the true reality the changes to every day life due to the reformation or the brutal practises of coloninism in the discovery of the “New world”.

As pineapples became more accessible, they no longer represented status and instead became symbols of hospitality, much as the one used in my still life. There are many immitations of this once coveted status symbol. Further to its status, it has become just another commodity and is perceivd as normal on our fruit and vegetable isles in the supermarket, despite it air miles of travel. In this composition I want to use it as a vessel to remind us to reconsider our damaging food practices, factory farming ,polluting the environment and the use of plastic food packaging.

Image may contain Human Person Advertisement Collage Poster and Art
Illustration by Sally Nixon

One final way in which the pineapple resonates with me is through Stella MCCartney’s spring 2001 collection. That first collection for her new role with Chloe, where she took over from Karl Lagerfeld, brought a feminine and playful approach to high fashion. The collection perfectly married Stella’s youthful, cheeky approach to the world, as seen on halter maillots with pineapple prints strategically placed at the crotch.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Eris-Greek-and-Roman-mythology

https://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/Eris

https://mythworld.fandom.com/wiki/Eris_(mythology)

https://www.lennyletter.com/story/why-the-pineapple-is-the-feminist…

https://www.foodbeast.com/news/til-people-used-to-rent-pineapples/

https://emp.bbc.co.uk/emp/SMPj/2.32.9/iframe.html

https://www.moma.org/collection/works/78486

https://www.nga.gov/education/teachers/lessons-activities/sense-of-place-france/cezanne.html

Canvas and Frame

I have decided to make the canvas from recycled materials as I do not have a large canvas at home and I like using recycled materials. So on my daily walk I have been looking for a piece of wood or board about 1ft wide and 2 ft in length which I can paste news paper onto, which can be seen through a wash of paint adding a supplementary meaning to the layers of what is documented in the still life. I found some plaster board in a skip which was about the right size and there were a couple of small pieces which I could experiment on to see if it would work as a canvas.

Also looking at ways to make a frame to attach to the canvas I feel it would give the still-life painting an overall finished look.

I made some glue from flour and water which I cooked and added some pink acrylic paint to.

I wizzed the mixture with a stick blender to remove any lumps of flour and added more water so it was the texture of a sauce.
experimenting with different washes and thickness of the glue on the test pieces.
I am aiming to get a smooth finish on the plaster board with the layered paper, hopefully the glue and paint will work as if the plaster board has been gessoed
Looking at ideas on how to make a frame for my canvas.
Cutting and boiling the plastic to use on the cardboard frame. Experimenting with size ,shapes and different types of plastic from our recycling.
Using double side tape to fix plastic onto cardboard.
Added pva glue to help attach the plastic curls

Reflection on my research and the direction of my FMP.

Still life painting has the ability through symbolism and the viewers interpretation to give a narrative of thoughts and ideas. It also allows the artist to understand and challenge the essentials of art in the exploration of colour, form, composition and light on a single canvas. I think it should work well as a genre to create, as it can use personal objects to create a narrative. Audrey Flack produced Vanitas works traditionally still-life paintings featuring religious and moral symbolism through which she brought iconic photographic images from the past into new relationships with everyday perishables and chattels.

The Dutch set the standard for out-of-this-world virtuosity in the 17th century, and I really enjoy the unusual mix of objects the artists chose to depict, food of all kinds, polished silverware and gleaming glass, embroidered and heavily worked tablecloths, and a lot of flowers. The goal of a still life composition is to direct the viewer’s eye through a painting and lead them toward what the artist thinks is important.

Thinking how symbolic all of these objects were to the audience that had the occasion to view them all those years ago. It is also interesting to think that the artists often purposefully chose to depict items that might be a challenge to paint, as a way to display their painting skills. By creating this kind of ostentatious still life and particularly in the floral paintings which would depicted incredible bouquets. Most viewers couldn’t ever hope to actually see them in person or have in their homes. The artists were accomplishing two things One, pointing out the artifice of such displays as a reminder that life is not all about luxury and putting store in such things is futile. But they were also subverting that very message, by displaying such beautiful bouquets in the first place and tempting the viewers to buy the painting, essentially conveying the idea that you can’t have such luxuries in your real life, but this painting will and can give them to you, the banquets, the luxury, the flowers in this painting which will never die.

I think it should work well as a genre to create in I can use personal objects to explore and question the implied meanings of their use in a composition . Researching the Dutch Golden Age of painting the work of Clara Peeters , she stood out to me as a pioneer in the genre of the still life and one of the few women active as a professional painter in early modern Europe. A female who succeeded in establishing her self in what must have been competitive art market.

See the source image
Still Life with Nuts, Candy and Flowers, 1611, in which the artist Clara Peeters is reflected several times in the metal pieces

Still lifes were a relative novelty at the time—they were not even given this all-encompassing term until the mid–17th century, instead being referred to in descriptive terms such as “flower paintings” or “breakfast pieces.” Her decision to not only specialize in this evolving genre—which was proving increasingly popular with collectors—but to also paint it in the new realist style rather than the high idealism of Peter Paul Rubens (which dominated the Antwerp art scene of the period) implies an innovative, forward-looking mentality. Peeters’s decision to paint cheese also suggests her acuity for commercial appeal. At the time, cheese and butter were major contributors to the Dutch economy and frequently appeared in still-life painting. Although a relatively inexpensive foodstuff eaten by all classes, if painted in a stack they could symbolize affluence, or even national pride, to the newly prosperous merchant class who were increasingly investing their wealth in art. She was known for her meticulous brushwork, sophisticated arrangement of materials, low angle of perspective, and ability to capture precisely the textures of the varied objects she painted. As one of the only female Flemish artists who exclusively painted still life’s in the 17th century, she was also one of the first known artists to incorporate self-portraiture into still-life paintings.(https://www.britannica.com/biography/Clara-Peeters)

still life by Clara Peeters

still life by Clara PeetersStill Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries, oil on wood by Clara Peeters, c. 1625; in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

With the self-portraits Peeters is proclaiming herself as proud of being woman and painter. Also, it suggests that she knew about other works with reflected images, like Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Portrait and Self-portrait in a convex mirror by Parmigianino.

Imagen5

Self-Portraits

Her self-portraits are in the surfaces of jars and glasses, but to see them you need to look very carefully. I enjoy the idea of “self promotion” within the objects it gives her painting an ownership and sets them apart from other still life paintings, as a female artist. It makes me curious if the patron of the piece was aware of it at the time of purchase, or if it was a secret until it was discovered by an analyst exploring the history of her works. With such little information about Peeters’s life, it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions on her motivations as an artist. But the facts we do have suggest that Peeters was a forward-thinking 17th-century female painter who tried to stand out from the crowd.

paint pours

I think if I move the idea of still life drawings into a painting I will have to use the colours which I have enough of . So I have been experimenting with colour combinations in a paint pour technique that could give a modern feel to them. I like the idea of grey as my main “colour” with pinks , purple and silver as my palette. Grey is an unemotional colour but it represents a solid strength and longevity which comes from the colour of slate , granite and stone. Many ancient monuments such as The Acropolis in Athens , the colosseum in Rome and Stonehenge are all made from natural grey materials which have stood the test of time. Greys can neutralize their surroundings and other colours, but it is also versatile and allows other colours to shine combined with the right pink it has a feminine feel to it.

red, purple ,black and silver acrylic paint
pink silver and black
red, pink, silver and black pour onto sand paper
inspired by the pigeons colours
pink, black and purple pour on purple painted paper
to black
a range of purple and pinks with no black
wet on wet acrylic paint adding bronze.
mark making
I like these colour combinations but should have mixed some grey to add in for tonal contrast and to lighten the black.