Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The process (unfinished, untitled)

The chalky virgin surface of the canvas beckons. I mix up a sizeable amount of modelling paste and smooth it out onto the canvas. It flakes and moves about, as it hasn’t had time to get into the teeth of the canvas, so I have to press it in with the palette knife and my fingers. I don’t put gloves on, what’s the point? I want to feel the texture of the paste, otherwise there is no joy in the creative process. Working with texture on a canvas is an intuitive response, it’s not something that a person can actually plan – the feelings in your fingertips decide where the texture is going to go, how much pressure I am going to apply to each section of the canvas. I have no real formed idea of what this piece will look like, other than it will be an impression of something previously seen, or an emotion felt.

I run out of modelling paste, so I find a new container of caulk and load it into the cartridge gun, so that I can squeeze it out onto the canvas in thick ‘worms’.   The caulk is a different colour to the modelling paste and it is much thicker. I like working with the caulk, even though the ruddy, ochre brown, is not pleasant to the eye, I enjoy the feel of the medium beneath my fingers. 
When I am satisfied that I have enough surface texture, I begin to manipulate it further with tools (a knife, a piece of wood, some objects lying around the table and my fingers), then I lay pieces of plastic over the surface and press this into the paste, which now resembles a type of clay. The plastic leaves faint veins and crevices in the surface of the clay paste. I put the canvas aside and leave it all to dry, this can take 24 to 36 hours or longer, depending how much paste and caulk I have put on the canvas and how thick it is. The beauty of modelling paste and caulk is that the mediums do not crack whilst they are drying and even though the surface of the canvas is pliable and not rigid, the mediums on top do not move about and seem to knit well with the canvas warp and weft, always drying very hard and sturdy.

I pick up another canvas that I had pre-treated with paste and caulk earlier, it has actually been standing for about a week and the surface has had chance to ‘prove’. I remove the plastic and admire the soft impressions it has made on the drying paste underneath. It at once suggests waves and rocks, so I decide to turn this into an abstract seascape but this is just an idea, it could become something much different by the time it’s finished. Sometimes I paint over my work many times before I am satisfied with the finished result. Sometimes I absolutely hate the painting and my efforts to turn it into something that I find pleasing, so it stays hidden from sight in the back of the workshop or I destroy it and use pieces of it for other works. I am not ‘precious’ about my paintings, they are what they are, they become what they want to become, I try not to force my hand but sometimes I do have enormous fights with the canvas, although I never win.

I am wary of white, it bleaches out my creativity, I only use white when I’m feeling very, very secure in myself. White is the last pigment (I can’t call it a colour) I use. I don’t need white in a painting to feel light or space, I can feel that with yellows, blues, even shades of purple and black. For this painting I start with blue. Not one blue but every blue that I have in my workshop. I apply the various hues in lines, across the painting, mimicking the shades of the sea. It’s only when I start working in the darker hues, using green, yellow and purple, that I start to think about my mother.

We are sitting on the wooden bench, which was cemented into a concrete base (so people won’t steal it), looking out over the crashing waters of Kwaaiwater in Hermanus, South Africa. This was my mother’s favourite place, she (and I) could spend hours watching the sea, hoping to catch a glimpse of a whale in the months when they came into Walker Bay to calve.

My mother, sits with her grey anorak and silk scarf pulled tight over her ears and tied securely beneath her chin, so that she doesn’t get earache from the wind, it’s blustery up here, the tide is turning and gulls swarm about hoping to catch fish. A fine mist of spray wafts across us but we don’t bother, we are talking about nothing in particular, glad to be here in this lovely place.

I leave her for a few minutes because I am younger and I should be clambering over the rocks, like young people do in search of things that young people search for, whatever that is. I manoeuvre out onto a group of rocks but immediately realise that this isn’t the best place to be standing, it’s an unstable spot, I could fall into the surf or onto the jagged rocks below. So I move back like a responsible person, like an older person.   I hate myself for moving back but I’ve done my exploring.    I make my way back up onto the path to go and sit with my mum. She looks so alone and fragile sitting up there by herself on the bench.

I look down at the canvas and see that I’ve included the white, I’ve splattered the white all over the rocks and the sea. The churning swell of the sea blasts out massive forceful sprays of white as it plumes high into the air and then hits the rocks
I’m crying. 
Enough for today.

(This may find its way into my book, don't know yet) 

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