On 17th November 2017, I was, like a moth, instantly attracted to the bright lights of the Bruce Nauman exhibition (Tate Modern). His work demanded the viewer to (literally) take a step back and consider the purpose and context of his work. Nauman's extensive and imaginative use of media transmits a multitude of different ideas simultaneously. It is clear that his previous studies in Mathematics and Physics informed his practice and are a domineering influence on his work. One piece which caught my attention was 'Violins, Violence, Silence' (1981).
Violins, Violence, Silence
The artwork itself was made of coloured neon tubing with a clear glass suspension frame. As the letters overlap, it is hard to initially distinguish what the piece is actually conveying, proving rather disorientating. Additionally, the buzzing noise which accompanies the piece (originating from the neon tubing) is somewhat distracting. However, it is ironic that while reading 'violins' evokes a pure and unpolluted noise, in reality you are faced with a low, droning buzz. I enjoy the irony of Nauman's work and the complex ideas which lie behind the lights. There is much more to this piece than is initially apparent and I hope that other visitors to the gallery take the time to consider its complexity.
Another piece in the exhibition which caught my attention was 'Raw Material Washing Hands'(1996). The video, which documents one individual washing their hands constantly for 55 minutes is difficult viewing. It is reminiscent of a person suffering from obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) in which the individual is performing a routine repeatedly, as though it were a ritual. The video becomes painful to watch as we see the individuals skin being overworked by the soap and water and I must admit that although the video runs for just under an hour, I watched it for no longer than 10 minutes.
Raw Material Washing Hands,
After seeing Nauman's work, it is clear that he questions and stretches the boundaries of what it is to make art. He has purposefully left behind traditional notions of 'fine art' and has distanced himself from paint as a medium.
I then felt confident to start an oil. I decide to go with Figure 27 as a composition, as I felt it had the most potential. I painted the figure and its shadows on a 30 inch x 20 inch canvas, retaining the lines of the original backdrop for perspective. But this was not specific enough for my needs. My next stage, therefore, was to consider alternative layouts.
Fig. 28 Fig. 29
Figs. 28 & 29: Keeping the points of reference from the original backdrop, I tried two alternative compositions, but these were not appropriate as the shadows extended beyond the perspective lines and so the rear looked somewhat detached from the figure.
Fig. 30: So, I decided to extend the horizontal back line whilst retaining the side perspective lines to make the composition more inclusive.
Fig. 31: I then added another horizontal line to ‘close’ the perspective. But this led to a question of doubt as to whether this left some sort of ‘mat’ or whether the sides of the ‘mat’ were wall edges.
Fig. 32 Fig. 33
Figs. 32 & 33: So, I decided to dispel any doubt and put vertical wall lines in both and with the horizontal plane configuration.
Fig. 34 Fig. 35
Figs. 34 & 35: I then introduced perspective lines emanating from the doorway, both with and without the horizontal plane configuration.
Fig. 36: I went with the final option and drew the lines accurately, and more faintly, on to my canvas.
I then had to decide the colours I was going to paint the various sections of the composition. For this, I painted some flashcards and tried out colour combinations to see what worked best, especially placing cards along lines where they would interact with one another. Figures 37–47 provide some examples of this process.
Fig. 37: Imagine the kneeling figure is facing an altar and the shadows are formed by bright light coming through north and south chancel windows. Behind is another ‘carpet’ running at right-angles to the other. Behind, there is a rood screen with an opening in the middle. I wanted the ‘carpet’ leading to the altar to be pink with the uncovered stone either side light grey. Using these colours as given, I needed to find what colours worked for the rest of the composition given the painting’s intentions. I thought I would try a darker grey for the rood screen and this worked well.
Fig. 38: I decided to try a lighter grey background and yellow for the doorway. The doorway colour had to be light so as not to detract from the central figure, much as the light grey flooring could not detract from the black of the two shadows or the pink of the carpet.
Fig. 39: These colours seemed to work well and so I doubled-up on the colours to get a better idea of how they would work over all and their interactions.
Fig. 40: I tried a darker pink and reversed the yellow and rood screen grey just to see what it looked like – and I didn’t like it – so I reverted back.
Fig. 41: I then introduced a blue for the back ‘carpet’. I wanted this to be blue, a typical masculine colour, to contrast with the pink, a typical feminine colour.
Fig. 42: The yellow was too lemony and so I opted for a more sun yellow.
Fig. 43 Fig. 44
Figs. 43- 45: The only remaining colour I needed to sort out was the side walls. I tried a grey with a tone between the existing two greys, but it didn’t work, so I tried cream and that didn’t work either, but orange looked as though it might.
Fig. 46: I just wanted to see what blue forward looked like because I thought I might paint another canvas with a ‘male dominance’.
Fig. 47: Finally, I just wanted to see what a lighter blue would look like.
Fig. 48: When I started painting, I wanted to put the pink down first. I went through a colour chart to get the exact pink I wanted and then matched it. I laid masking tape to ensure perfectly straight lines. The above photograph shows the tape removed when used for the pink, but in place for the yellow (doorway) to follow painting next.
Fig. 49: Once again, I consulted a colour chart to get the yellow I wanted (as I would do for all future colours too) and then removed the masking tape. I obviously needed a gap between colours so that I was less likely to smudge them or blur them into one another. I then left the paint to dry for two days.
Strictly speaking, if I was certain of the side walls colour I would have painted them next, because they were the only part of the painting not abutting fresh paint. However, that colour was proving a bit problematic in my mind and so I decided to wait to see what the other three colours looked like first.
Fig. 50: Before I commenced with the two greys, I wanted to check them out again.
Fig. 51: I reversed the greys just to see what they looked like; I knew it wouldn’t work and I was right – the lighter grey at the background was overpowered by the yellow and the darker grey in the foreground detracted from the shadows.
Fig. 52: The foreground was painted first and I felt it worked really well.
Fig. 53: Then I added the background and I felt that really worked well too. I left the painting two days to dry a bit, but mainly so that I could ponder the last two colours thoroughly. I needed to live with it for a while.
Fig. 54 Fig. 55
Fig. 56 Fig. 57
Fig. 54-57: I wanted to make sure the blue wasn’t too dominant and so I tried out four tonal versions. I thought Figure 54 was too dominant, too regal, and Figure 57 was too weak, too insipid.
Fig. 58 Fig. 59
Still not happy, I tried three larger areas of blue (Figs. 58-60) to get a different impression and to see how they harmonized best with the five existing non-figure colours. I decided to go with Figure 60, as Figure 59 was, again, too dominant and Figure 59, too dull.
Fig. 61: When I painted the blue, I mixed it too dark. I had also scratched the grey at the back so I had to repaint both colours, which was annoying, but the grey was too dark as well.
Fig. 62. Fig. 63.
Figs. 62-64: With the back grey repainted I had to select the next blue from three shades placed, individually, on the blue carpet. I decided on Figure 63 as I felt it complimented the pink, for the blue in Figure 62 was too light and Figure 64 too close to the dominant blue.
Fig. 65: I was happy with the blue I’d chosen. With all the colours now in place with the exception of the side walls, I set about deciding which shade of orange was best.
Figures 66-71 show the tonal range of orange I considered and I readily went with Fig. 66. It was not too orangey so as to overwhelm whilst at the same time not too pale so as to not make a contribution to the overall work or draw the attention due to its non-contributory effect.
Figure 72 shows the finished painting.