All posts by susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

Residency Finding My Way

This week I wanted to spend some time exploring my new paints.  I have been reading about the Stations of the Cross with a view to producing a series of ‘icons’ based loosely on the structure of each image.  To be clear, I am using the Stations as a vehicle, an access point for the viewer, and not for their religious symbolism.  I am also referencing the Stations as a connection to the physical building because they are relief works embedded in the walls of the Chapel.

Interestingly permission for the Franciscans to erect the Stations inside their churches was only given by Pope Innocent XI in 1686.  In 1731 Pope Clement XIi extended this permission to all churches provided they were erected by a Franciscan  Father, with the consent of the local bishop and the number was fixed at 14.  In 1857 the necessity for a Franciscan Father to erect the Stations was removed for bishops of English churches and in 1862 this was extended to all bishops.  The Pugin Chapel was consecrated in 1868.

The icon, (the Greek word for ‘image’ or ‘resemblance’), is my connection to Sir John Tavener, my inspiration for this project, who was a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.  An icon is a religious image, usually a painting, found within the cultures of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

This is the sort of image I have in mind when I think of an icon.  Gold leaf, figurative, and jewel-like, small and precious (although  this image is much larger than I expected).

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Theotokos or Our Lady of Vladimir taken from Wikipedia. Around 1130 Constantinople.  Tempera on board. 104 x 69 cms.

The colours used in an icon are symbolic.  Gold, the radiance of heaven, red, divine life, blue, human life, violet the sovereignty of Christ, green is growth.  Most include calligraphic text.

I have always felt that icons were ‘special’, and not necessarily for their religious connection.  I wanted my icons to be ‘special’ too.  In my research (Victoria Finlay has written an excellent book on the sources of colour, Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox), I discovered a range of paints by the American Watercolour manufacturer Daniel Smith that are made from minerals.  I selected 11 for their differing qualities, texture, sparkle and colour, to which I also added gold leaf, a material new to me.

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I selected Red Fuchsite, Garnet, Mayan, Bloodstone and Green Apatite and started working on various versions of Station 1, with and without tissues surface.

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This is not the feeling that I am seeking.  I feel I am adhering too closely to the colours of the image in the Chapel.

1E4C05F0-0778-4D71-BECC-B2B8AA7786BBI need to rethink.  Maybe change the paper, my approach, the intensity of the colours.  I feel that these beautiful paints need to be allowed to speak more for themselves.  That said, I will continue to develop the unsatisfactory images just in case.

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Residency Day 18

Sensations

The Chapel is completely silent, heavily silent, in a way that is rare in a town.  My skin feels that slight itchiness after only a minute.  The salty air?  Or the deadness that permeates a building with no opening windows?

A mower starts up nearby and masks the life that exists outside the Chapel, someone hammering, birdsong, the distant sound of traffic.  Someone enters, crosses  herself and observes.  After a minute she is gone.  I busy myself, the sensations melt.

Back alone the mowing has stopped.  The air has an iciness.  Prepared, I am wearing three layers when a T-shirt would suffice outside.  I am willing the building to converse, but all that seems to have happened is my face, arms and legs are getting colder and my back is aching.  Pews designed for suffering!

I have come specifically to work at the north west altar. 4E362EFE-B838-4710-BDE4-27BAB033D227No special reason why this altar other than the words are easily accessible.  I want to combine the traced words with an ink painted image on top.  I choose the angels.  Why not!  This is when I realise the problems of working on site.

I trace more words with charcoal and hands, and charcoal an image of an angel. 57D397F1-4AC4-4199-A421-87FA639F833FInterestingly the words traced by hand with charcoal dust (at the bottom), look more manufactured than those without direct human contact.

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My hands look like a miner’s.  Everything I touch I leave my mark.  There is nowhere to wash them.  I plough on.  I struggle to open a large bottle of ink.  I am new to ink but it seemed a suitable medium to dry quickly and be transportable.  It appears I can only pour into a smaller container, which I haven’t brought.  There is no direct access for a brush. Ho hum!

I glue the words onto paper.  Nowhere to clean the brush, no bag to transport.

I draw over the glued tissue, which moves, disobligingly under the charcoal, which I hadn’t intended to use.  Lesson learnt.  Next time..

A5AB64BC-987D-4776-99DF-AAD543CCA3F3I return to the pew to give my knees a rest.  Looking at the main altar I am reminded that once you see something it is difficult to unsee.  I see two ghosts with their arms raised, to the left, above the figures, and two girls to the right with long bunches, similar to the characters in a manga comic.  I sit there wondering why the Catholics would make such a homage….   clearly time to stop.

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Residency Day 17

Following a course I recently took to release ‘stuckness’ in painting, I have been working into collaged torn paintings.  This together with a comment from a reader to perhaps consider incorporating some of my writings with the work, has curiously led me to take some tissue rubbings from the Chapel.

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214BD9BF-4840-45B5-B5F0-92CA5ED30F4BI work with tissue for its textural and unpredictable qualities, so this could be a natural extension to that practice.

Two of the altars where I took the rubbings from.  The one with the red fabric is supposed to contain the remains of a dead child, so being a couple of inches away from the glass was quite disconcerting.  In fact this was the final rubbing after which I had to sit in the sunshine to relieve a very uncomfortable feeling, not quite nausea but certainly something wasn’t right.

By this time the sun had moved and was flooding through the westerly stained glass windows.  I decided to use the opportunity to revisit the right hand window, accessed by a spiral staircase.  The resultant images are joyous, in a way that I do not experience elsewhere in the building.

Again I am not sure what I will do with the images, maybe use as the basis for painting, maybe just keep as photos.

 

Residency Ghosts

This week I wanted time at home to process what I am experiencing at the Chapel.  Due to the impracticality of transporting flat soggy large scale watercolours in a mini, I find I cannot paint in the Chapel.  It has been suggested that I leave the work to dry in situ, but with filming and other events taking place in the building, not to mention the inevitable paw prints of Target, the estate dog, that too is not an option.  So home it is.

A couple of weeks ago I sat silently in the Chapel for half an hour, listening to and absorbing the building, its history, its occupants, the conversations witnessed.  Other than meditating, the conscious mind was not aware of anything.  No ghosts, nothing.  Many years ago in Chicago, I encountered what I believe was a ghost.  I had no such feeling here.

Working with the unconscious requires a certain amount of faith in the process.  As the hotel owner in the Marigold Hotel said ‘It will be alright in the.  If it isn’t alright then it isn’t the end.’

My process requires many layers of paint, applied over many days or weeks.  I have no specific image in mind but respond intuitively to the mark making in front of me, allowing the unconscious to influence direction.  I work on 5 or 6 paintings at a time, each at various stages of development.  In this way I am neither precious nor bored, just curious, and often disappointed.  I rarely abandon, reworking until the work speaks to me or is repurposed.

During such a session this week this image appeared.

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This is still a work in progress but I have titled it Conversations with Ghosts.  They were present in the Chapel all the time, I just couldn’t see them consciously!

Residency Day 15

I had planned to produce a charcoal drawing of each station, but the creative process is never a straight line.

Listening to John Tavener’s Lamentations, I started with a standard dominant hand (right) drawing.

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Dissatisfied, I drew it again with my left hand.

F211B68C-2709-493A-8DBA-A3DFC7A863F0Normally the left hand produces a less controlled image, but not this time.

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I was seeking a more abstracted image, but still not right.  By this time I was feeling nauseous, a combination of the air in the Chapel and kneeling on the floor looking up and down repeatedly.

Outside the air is fresh, with a faint smell of the sea, and the sun offers much needed warmth.  I reflect on the image I am trying to create.  I am reminded of the work of Edward Burra, a Rye watercolourist who died in Hastings in 1976.  I saw The Watcher, 1937, a painting about the Spanish civil war.  (I don’t seem to be able to download an image), at the Pallant House Exhibition Conscience and Conflict in 2015.  I am also reminded of the work of Kashmir Malevich, an influential Russian painter who died in 1935.

I return to the first station, inspired by those that went before.

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Not perfect, but close enough for now.  I move on to the second station.

The nausea returns.  I work on, I want to ensure I am heading in the right direction.

 

 

Residency Day 14

I have been reflecting on the number 14 recently.  Fourteenth blog, (what would have been) my fourteenth wedding anniversary this week,  14 stations of the cross, as I understand the relief images that adorn the walls of the Chapel are known.

What is special about this number?  In the Bible the number has a double meaning.   It refers to the value of the name David, according to ancient Jewish numerology.  It also references the number 7, which according to ancient Jewish numerology, represents spiritual perfection. 14 would imply double that virtue.  By contrast, the Chinese consider the number unlucky, translated as ‘guaranteed death’.  In numerology it means change and transformation, but my personal favourite, from Angel meanings is that it heralds improvement.

The stations of the cross seem to be drawing me in like a magnet, not from a religious perspective, but as a foundation for exploring unexplored avenues within painting.  The subject is compelling.  Sir John Tavener wrote Lamentations, even David Bowie claimed his song, Station to Station, was based on that subject.

My thoughts are to create contemporary ‘icons’.  During my MA I became aware of a Japanese style of painting called Nihonga, using mineral paints on a surface called Washi, a strong, translucent surface made from the mulberry tree.  For the last couple of weeks I have been researching possible paints.  These are watercolours from Daniel Smith.  I am interested in the natural texture, the unpredictability.  I have selected colours to reflect the essence of the Chapel.

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I will also be experimenting with gold leaf.  All new to me and very exciting.

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Residency Day 13

More reflection, this time accompanied by John Tavener’s music.  This week I was determined to study the damaged Jesus sculpture in detail.

The legs have been damaged by the leaking roof, but the result is more emotional than perfect legs would be.3E2E1823-4424-42E9-86B3-C7021D6E3F1F

Charcoal on paper 65 x 50cms

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Charcoal on paper 65 x 50 cms

Below, Charcoal on paper 45 x 120 cms.

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