Heliconia Collinsiana

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oil on canvas, 18″x 28″

Summer is coming to an end, so I’m trying to finish up all the pieces I’d started but haven’t yet concluded. I’m often afraid of the finishing process, especially if I like what I’ve done so far; painting is easier in the beginning stages when there’s nothing to save or lose.  And then I usually don’t know how to finish, don’t know what the piece needs; there are so many options, only the most basic fragments of which I can imagine, and so until they’re revealed, by happy accident essentially, I don’t know what they are, so I’m going in blind, so to speak. Furthermore, it gets harder to keep a piece fresh and real the more it develops. That balance between allowing a spontaneity of marks and effects to happen, and care with what already works is very elusive, and amounts to a dance on the canvas that could well result in a tragic fall. And so the finishing process calls for a certain courage, a confidence to strike out; but knowing how easy it is to ruin a good piece tempers such positivity, and the reject pile is high, and so courage is hard to find… and I’m afraid of that familiar feeling of frustration, of wasting precious time, of being a failure.

I want the magic of gorgeous paint to just happen, as it sometimes does, but it can’t get on the canvas by itself, and my hand is so heavy – so it’s me, my heavy hand, and fear, or at best trepidation…

But today it worked well enough, so I’m somewhat heartened. I kept thinking of icons when I was painting it, and I think that guided the palette. I used to immerse myself in books of icons, and hang out in icon galleries, so maybe one of those ancient saints decided to step in and lighten my heavy hand, to allow the sacredness of Nature to be honoured, to the best of my stumbling ability…

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Same Orchid, different spike

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Oil on canvas, 14″ x 14″

Having struggled with painting orchids – replicating the close-up beauty of the flowers a la Georgia O’Keeffe has been too tall an order for me – I’m having more success now. The trick has been to focus on a branch of flowers, as then there are more shapes to work with, both positive and negative, and they lend themselves to quick brushwork. It makes for more fun too, as I’m trying to capture the morning light on and through the petals before it changes and it’s afternoon, and this faster work prevents me from getting too precious. The smaller canvas size also helps – I have another monster canvas that’s taking forever to complete, so this is a nice breather.

Loose Lady Orchid

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oil on canvas, 14″ x 14″

In an attempt to loosen up, as my studio work has been consistently laborious and ultimately not much fun, I took to the orchid I’d bought myself as a birthday present with the intention of painting. I pass her every day and admire her beauty. She has a lovely spot in the hallway patio; the morning sun illuminates her petals, and she glows. So today I responded to her beckoning and for the first time in a long time I’m happy with the result.

I pray that this is an approach that will work for me again –  loose, gestural, spontaneous and not overworked – and as it feels so natural and authentic to sketch with the paint in this responsive way, I feel heartened that maybe it just will…

Agapanthus pathway

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‘Agapanthus Pathway’, Oil on canvas, 24” x 54″

 

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Another agapanthus piece. So many good memories associated with these flowers must be what keeps me painting them, that and their beauty. And the variety in their shapes, from the form of the buds, to the opening stages, to the full spherical glory of them – they seem to offer an ongoing exploration. Then there’s the light that shines through them, making them a whimsical and dreamy subject…

I remember when my oldest daughter was four, five, six years of age and I had birthday parties  for her in the garden in Mandeville, in the cool central hills of Jamaica, where the agapanthus thrive. They usually begin to bloom in late April, which is when her birthday is. Rather than be too involved with the party and the other kids, she’d slowly walk through the beds of agapanthus, distracted by something more important and interesting to her I suppose. Being the same height as the blossoms, she was at eye-level with them, and she’d be lost in their magic, her little fingers touching the petals, her focus on watching the bees as they went in and out of the flowers, her little feet steeping carefully between plants. She was a slight little thing, with near white hair, and I’d see her head glinting between the big blue and purple blossoms, the rest of her lost in the mass of them. Now she’s all grown up and a corporate lawyer in the City of London…how times change : )

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Again, this one was started months ago and has gone through so many changes, but I think finally I can leave it and move on.

Note to self: In trying to be more abstract with the work, more about the paint and the surface and the sense evoked, many areas and colors emerge that I really like, but then it becomes too confusing and indecisive, and so I keep working, day after day and week after week, and if I’m lucky I’ll end up with a piece that emits a feel of the subject, but it’s no longer and abstraction. How to solve this?