I initially researched what working in series involves, and why it is important. I learnt that when submitting a proposal for an exhibition, it is so much better for an artist to create a unified and cohesive group of work following a similar theme, as opposed to a selection of singular paintings with various different meanings and ideas. It is ultimately tiring and confusing for an audience to walk through a gallery of multiple artworks that have no correlation or connection to one another. I don’t believe it to be stifling or repetitive to work in series, I truly imagine the idea of being able to explore a topic so in depth to be interesting and gives the viewer even more insight into your message and what it is trying to covey. Whether you tell a story, explore similar compositions or create a set of paintings all around the same theme, ultimately it is much more interesting than a singular insight into an isolated painting, then move on. The artist knows all his thoughts and motivations behind the piece, but the viewer won’t. Viewers of art wish to be invited into the artist’s mind on a very personal level, and just like an author wouldn’t just give a reader a single chapter of a book, artists are able to connect and explore much more collectively with images in series.
Artists in the past who have worked in series include Cezanne, who created a series of paintings in his native home town entitled ‘Montagne Sainte-Victorie’. Layering very obvious fore, mid and backgrounds in all his paintings, and with the repetition of the mountains, you really feel like you’re travelling on a journey with him and have an intimate understanding of the area. Historically, this mountain held a huge symbolic appeal for the region. In the late 1870’s, a cross was placed at its peak to celebrate being spared from invasion during the Franco-Prussian war, and so is associated with victory and the early Christian Festivals that were held there. The use of geometric shapes is particularly obvious within the square houses, rectangular tree trunks and triangular mountains, all fitting together to make a complete and interesting image. He had an intelligent understanding that horizontal lines created breath and vertical lines created depth. His dramatic use of trees in the foreground helps frame his paintings incredibly well. He easily differentiates between different types of trees, simply by adapting the brushstrokes he uses. In this first painting, entitled ‘Mont Sainte-Victoire and the Viaduct of the Arc River Valley’, the leaves are circular and compact, whereas in the second, entitled ‘Mont Sainte-Victoire with Large Pine’ the leaves are seemingly more hastily applied in quick feathery brushstrokes, flowing as if the tree is blowing in the wind. Both images have easy to follow paths which draw your eyesight naturally and comfortably through the painting. He is utterly skilled in creating pleasing compositions, and his palette only enhances his work, vibrant greens, yellows and blues with the occasional hint of purple and brown, making for natural and beautiful paintings. He can also very easily change the mood of an image with the use of a dominant undertone. For example, in the second image it appears to be colder and on the cusp of nightfall, simply with the use of a blue hue, whereas the first image is warmer and brighter due to the more dominant yellow. His paintings are just as much about the paint and canvas as it is about subject matter.
Katsushika Hokusai is a Japanese Ukiyo-e artist who created a series of landscapes at the age of 70, entitled ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’. Ukiyo-e, meaning “pictures of the floating world”, is a genre of Japanese woodblock prints and paintings, mainly produced around the 18th century, feature images of everyday Japan, ranging from famous actors, to landscapes and tales from history. These large prints are created by initially drawing an image on paper, which is then used as a guide to cut multiple wood blocks. These blocks are then covered in ink and pressed onto paper, the final image slowly revealing itself as more layers and colours are added. Each artwork features Mount Fuji, either as the main subject, or as a speck in the background, within various weather conditions and settings. Historically, Fuji was seen as sacred and spiritual, and became the focus of many pilgrimages. By the early 19th century, many of the local towns inhabitants became followers of the Fuji cult, or ‘Fujiko’, climbing the mountain as a sign of their commitment and respect. The most famous of this series is entitled ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’, and depicts what appears to be a tsunami, but could simply be an exaggerated wave. What I find really interesting is that the Japanese eye would naturally be drawn from right to left upon looking at this image, following their natural reading method, making the vibrant blue wave appear as if it’s swirling towards and over you. A westernised version of this would be a mirror image. The simple three colour combination of reddish brown, indigo and a hint of green works effectively to create a clean finish. His use of shading and building depth is highly sophisticated too. The second image I was drawn to is called ‘South Wind, Clear Sky. In autumn, there are certain moments when the setting sun turns Mount Fuji a warm glowing red colour. Soft bright white clouds in a blue sky form the background of the overwhelming dramatic Mountain, and I really like the way the light blue of the lower sky fades gently into the clouds in a subtle form of abstraction.
More modern artists who work this way include Peter Doig, a Scottish born painter who infuses traditional landscape painting with elements of magical realism. In this series, Doig reimagines the island of Trinidad. Travelling and moving regularly, he lives a content nomadic lifestyle. His images give a unique sense of isolation and ‘otherworldliness’, with vibrant colours and a rich, tropical atmosphere. You instantly get a feel for the lush green vegetation and the cool calming water. They give both an at once mystical insight into the islands colonial past and diverse spiritual traditions, and an undercurrent atmosphere of threat and danger. His paintings provide a glimpse into the wealth of tales he has to tell, but gives the viewer the freedom to finish the stories with their own imagination. Wonderfully composed, he consistently splits the page using the rule of three, then adding in everything from trees to bridges to guide the viewers eye through the painting. He describes his working process as ‘making mistake after mistake’ but ultimately finishing with something unique that he learns from and quickly moves on. He works painstakingly and meticulously, usually only producing around 6-8 paintings a year, working from a collection of paraphernalia from his travels, photographs, leaflets, postcards and found images. The first painting, titled ‘Grande Riviere’, depicts a dark sky with bright green vegetation and a tranquil looking pool. The tonal difference from the black to the white sand is stark but highly effective. A white horse travels mystically across the beach, a completely romantic cliché, but actually based of a true to life scene he experienced. You can almost feel the humidity and damp topical atmosphere through the page. In ‘Gasthof zur Muldentalsperre’, he sought inspiration from a photograph of himself and a friend, at the time working as a dresser in the English National Opera to make some extra money, and found themselves occasionally dressing up in the costumes for a laugh. Once such incidence ended up with him sneaking onstage and getting caught by the choreographer. His use of colour for the sky, the subtle blend of greens and blues flecked with white, makes for a magical result.
- Grande Riviere, 2001-2. Oil on canvas.
- Gasthof zur Muldentalsperre. 2000-2. Oil on Canvas.
Nicholas Herbert uses intense darkness to describe the mood and atmosphere on the Chiltern Hills so perfectly. Upon looking at the images you can’t help but instantly understand exactly how Herbert felt and what he experienced whilst there. He uses earthy, dark colours which leaves a raw energy behind, but never uses pure black, instead mixing the darkest browns and blues create an accurate depth true to the natural world. He also interspaces it with the exploration of light as well, when you look closely you can see the shadows and the brighter tonal areas being swallowed by the blackness. He is incredibly physical in his creation of art, sometimes using his medium so harshly that it will scuff or damage his paper, an effect he incorporates into his art, the final result being an un-precious and worn painting, but ultimately full of emotion and energy. Depicting the arrangement of the natural world around him in a fast but almost abstract way, you can still see the brushstrokes and the physicality of Herbert actually making the art, which in turn adds to the stark intimacy and sense of isolation the viewer feels upon seeing these images. Deliberately choosing a dark range of materials, he de-romanticises the outside world and forces the viewer to look objectively. He uses relatively inexpensive paper that will enhance the scruffiness of his technique and prevent any preciousness or hindrance over his creations. Using mixed media, acrylic paint, crayons, gouache, pencils and chalk, he uses paintbrushes and his fingers to create his final pieces. I would love to create similarly atmospheric skies in mixed media, as this is a wonderful technique for depicting clouds on a thundery and dark day. I love the juxtapositioning of the bright peeking out behind the black hill, so subtly that you have to look closely to even really begin to see the recognisable shapes.
- LANDSCAPE L921, SHARPENHOE SERIES, LOOKING OUT FROM MARKHAM HILL, THE CHILTERN HILLS
- LANDSCAPE L913, SHARPENHOE SERIES, BENEATH THE ESCARPMENT, THE CHILTERN HILLS
Roger Colson is an internationally exhibiting painter and printmaker. His most recent series of landscapes focuses on sunsets and the sky, its temperament, and its ability to change in the blink of an eye. Using a dramatic sense of natural light, Colson blends paint seamlessly together to create a gradient of colour. He is able to capture the fleeting moment as the sky changes colour, makes for a beautiful and completely unique piece of art. His medium of choice for this series is oil paint on canvas, giving a textured result in which the sweeping brush marks and the movement during creation are visible. He does not complete any underdrawings, but does occasionally prepare his canvases using a mixture of glue and sand, which, once dried, leaves a textured and interesting surface on which to paint on. This first painting, titled ‘Enchantment’, uses a mix of complimentary colours, orange and blue, with a hint of red. The darkness surrounding it frames the painting and a tiny dot, representing the sun, finishes it off. I wonder if this is a completely accurate representation of what the sky was like at that particular time, as I would personally have changed it so that the upper half of the sky was more purple. The warmth of the lower half jars with the colder blue, splitting the painting horizontally right across the middle. I will always believe in artistic license, and shifting things in a landscape to create a visually pleasing image, so lifting the orange so it just hit the top third of the canvas, and deepening the blue to a purple, would be the only changes I would make. This second painting is entitled ‘Voyage’ and shows more of a seascape. It’s my favourite of the two, the use of the single colour unifies and enhances the subject matter, along with the skilful and delicate texture of the surface of the sea. Colons’ paintings can take from weeks to months to complete, and thanks to the longevity of oils he is able to continually rework the paint around the canvas day after day.
Yun-fei Ji uses traditional Chinese medium of ink and mineral pigment, on mottled handmade rice and mulberry papers, to create these intricately detailed drawings. Full of stories surrounding modern day China, this particular series entitled ‘The Empty City’ depicts the historical, cultural, social and environmental consequences of the controversial hydroelectric dam that was being built along the Yangtze River. He tells the important story of the relocation of over a million people as the dam is causing an inevitable flood, submerging cities and important history within them. He paints intimate scenes of natives scavenging for their own survival, however it’s interesting to note the actual dam never once appears. With such an important social commentary being portrayed, artistic merits almost seem invalid, but his work is of exceptional quality. His colour choices are muted and subtle but so effective, as there is so much detail within these pictures you need an overriding constant to keep the drawing appear unified. His use of multiple tones of brown depict autumn, representing the decaying and ending of a season. The first painting, ‘Water Rising’, portrays a man on a bicycle, travelling with multitudes of stuff in his basket, painted in a very flat dimension. Even the title gives an initial sense of urgency and panic of the community. He plays with the idea of space, time and perception in a non-traditional way. In the second image, ‘The End of Autumn’, he shows a barrage of wasteland with the river flowing down the middle, giving the viewer a multitude of interesting objects and ramifications to explore and understand in their own way. Although somewhat overwhelming to pick apart at first, upon close inspection of the detail, within all of Yun-Fei Jis works, you can spot objects such as dirty buckets, bags of rubbish, fallen branches, limbless people, skeletal creatures, large toxic clouds, boiling polluted waters and fallen buildings, all describing the real life horrors he has witnessed in a fantastical way. Overall he depicts important and interesting stories, and whilst influenced in his technique by traditional artists, portrays modern and relevant and tragic social narratives in his own unique way.
- Water Rising. Mineral pigments and ink on mulberry paper. 2006
- The End of Autumn
Yun fei ji
- Vitamin D – New Perspectives in Drawing, Phaidon Press – Emma Dexter