In the autumn, I was commissioned to make a painting by a friend as a gift for her husband. The brief was simple – she wanted something to remind them both of their time living in Africa, though how I did that was totally up to me.
All I had to go on was the storied I’d heard them both tell, the sense of fondness and passion they both had about the culture there, and a random collection of family photos of their lives together. The photo that caught my eye was of the iron gates which led to their property – which they’d commissioned a local blacksmith to make. These delicate black gates, with their tassels and swirls evoking twisting vines and organic growth were decorative of course, but also served to give the family a sense of security and protection. On more than one occasion I know that the family home was broken into, once violently so, so when I saw the photo of the gates, I lingered and wondered.
The resulting painting hardly looks like those gates, but the deep black chinese ink swirls laid on top of the hot colours of the ground layer did take on a story of their own. At first I thought I’d ruined the painting by attempting to evoke them – the black ink seemed to spoil the delicacy of the pigments and jos papers. But as the ink lifted, through various layers of treatments, erasings and redrawings, it seemed to reveal a new story of its own.
The final few layers – of thick shiny varnish – sealed the ink layer in, trapping it between the inside and the outside. It wasn’t at all the painting I expected – in fact I immediately began a new, lighter painting with no black ink layer which was ultimately the one the client chose – but it’s one of those paintings that reveals itself over time. To me it hovers between bouncing you off and allowing you to absorb its secrets…
- Title: Shine
- Medium: Oil, pigments & jos papers on canvas
- Dimensions: 146 x 117 cm
- Date: 2009
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