Sunday Morning, Walking in Beauty

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detail

The poinciana trees are finishing their reign now, but back in the early days of summer they’d burst into bloom, seemingly overnight, and put on a raging show, all hot burning reds and bright fiery oranges. Flaring up all over town and country they were, gladdening the hearts of one and all, and up close they’re even more gorgeous – what a riot of fabulousness they are! Down Constant Spring Road there are about a dozen of them lining the side of this dirty noisy city street, and for that stretch and that stretch alone, the grime and ugliness of this frenetic road disappears, the fanfare of color and majesty filling the space with glory. Most of these particular trees are of the orange, and more rare, variety, with a few of the common red ones amongst their rank; the blend of the two colors only serves to intensify Nature’s parade, to turn up the volume, so to speak. Beneath these tall trees is a long and wide path, strewn of course in a carpet of big blousy blossoms, so the overall effect is spectacular, and upon this path people walk, going about their business.

I determined to have a go at painting these beauties, but as usual the ‘plein air’ approach is not possible, between the heat and the unwanted attention, so I took some photographs instead one early Sunday morning, and returned to the studio to work from them there. It was only then that I noticed that the young man who had been walking amidst the dapple on the shaded pathway while I took the shots was carrying his Bible, and so the scene became more charged with meaning; a young man on his spiritual path, walking towards the Light, surrounded and embraced by beauty; and that felt like something universal, something we can all access, whether it’s because we respond with joy to the awesomeness of the natural world, or because we’re walking our path with faith…and then it became more personal again, and the young man became a young man I knew and loved, and for whom I had just planted some bright orange marigolds, and so this is for him.

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oil on canvas, 28″ x 36″

 

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After the Rain in Lambent Light

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oil on canvas, 18″ x 27″

Many moons ago I visited friends who live between Cockpit Country and the sea, in the middle of hundreds of acres of farmland and pastures, and while we were there it rained and rained, night and day. I love the rain, and loved being cocooned indoors as massive rainclouds moved slowly across the land, drenching it and saturating it (not unlike the weather we’ve been having lately from the dreadful but thankfully distant Hurricane Irma; bands of relentless rain). Then close to midday there was a break and we went out for a walk in the most perfect weather, to me an Irishwoman, damp and cool and with the promise of more rain. As the sunshine did its best to have a say, light glinted off the boggy pools of water that had filled any dips in the fields, and the horses’ backs and manes glowed. Lambent light it was, and it’s not often you get that in the tropics, and what with the wet field and the sheep in a lane-way I thought I was back on home turf, back in dear and magical Ireland, and saw paintings all about. Alas I’d come out without the camera, so my dear friend took some photos with her phone and Whatapped them to me later, and this painting was begun.

Now with a show coming up I’m trying to lick this and other pieces into shape so they can go out in public…this is the result.

Finding a Way

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Oil on canvas, 30″ x 36″

So I’m still trying to find my way, my one particular style of painting. I’ve spent the summer responding to this and that: painting orchids from a flower right in front of me, the ‘plein air’ approach, and as close as I got to painting outside as it’s so damn hot; starting something from life and then continuing in the studio with the help of a photo; starting from a photo and then trying to allow the paint to take over so the image is not too literal, but the paint is what’s important; experimenting with a collage-and-glazes technique I gave a workshop in, and going big with it…  All have had their challenges, and I can’t say that I know which approach resonates the most with me, so I guess I’m still exploring.

This one I started months ago, inspired by a photograph I saw on Facebook of someone entering a river’s pool somewhere in the interior of Jamaica, and I really liked the feel of the place, and rather than pack up the car with equipment and go and find this magical river, I started from the shot and took it from there. The other day I found the painting amongst a stack of unfinished canvases, so I put a few touches to it and titled it to reflect the fact that I don’t know one definite way, but am pretty open to the exploration. Maybe ‘Finding’ is presumptive; it’s searching really….It would be easier if I knew my ‘style’, but that will either become clear in time or it won’t. And I’ve always liked a variety and find it hard to stay with one approach. One thing I know is this type of narrative painting, the one with a ‘story’, a depiction of something happening as such, is easier to conclude than the type of painting that is an exploration in paint alone… I have many of those unfinished…

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…

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?