Sara Waterer POP1 [comments after completing the assignment in blue italics]
Assignment 5 – A series of paintings on a theme
Thoughts on how to proceed
So, I’ve been thinking news (refugees) or Shakespeare. Both are strong subjects that excite me. This year is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and that has made the decision for me. Do I continue with the Richard II / Fiona Shaw theme that so engrossed me or cast my net wider to look, perhaps, at different actors who have played Richard II or consider a completely different play.
Richard II was by repute not a weak king but he was, unusually for the times, a great patron of the arts which flourished under his rule. That feels relevant.
David Tennant and Kate Blanchett have both played Richard II in recent times and there is much more video and photographic source material for them than for Fiona Shaw’s 1995 production. Shaw’s Richard II was filmed by the BBC but it has been lost and there is only a 20 minute excerpt… and that is grainy. (I tracked down a recording of the full play and ordered it from the USA but it never arrived!). Nonetheless it is powerful, full of raw emotion and continues to have a huge impact on me. So I would like to try to pay tribute to this ground-breaking and, for its time, controversial piece of drama. It makes sense to focus on the deposition scene where the King is forced to hand over the crown as this is the focus of the video material that remains.
I can of course take inspiration from Tennant and Blanchett. Both actors are, like Shaw, tall, slim and androgynous in their features so I could use them as ‘body doubles’ for Shaw to widen my scope in terms of posture and costume.
In practice I used David Tennant’s hands only and stuck with the grainy footage of Fiona Shaw and a few photos for the remainder of the paintings. After watching the BBC’s Hollow Crown with Ben Wishaw and David Tennant’s RSC production, I was convinced that casting Fiona Shaw as Richard II was both brave and inspirational. He was a weak King more suited to luxury and leisure than the demands and dangers of a medieval kingdom. Shaw’s performance stands out because of the way it captures this fragility.
What avenues can I explore?
- Facial expression, hand gestures and body language
- Costumes and props (robes, crown, throne, sceptre)
- Scenes and back drops
- Other figures – the onlookers who betrayed the King
- Shakespeare’s words – traces of some key words or phrases, perhaps reproduced in an enigmatic way, partly hidden like a palimpsest
I explored all these aspects with varying degrees of success.
How do I connect the paintings together as a series?
I would like to use this assignment to experiment with different palettes, techniques, backgrounds and styles and let the theme pull it together (i.e. not aiming for a series of ‘matching’ paintings).
I’d like to work through a series of ideas taking those that seem to have merit to a finished painting. Sometimes when I work on an assignment I seize up so I will explore, experiment and paint and decide later which to put forward for the assignment.
This approach worked for me. I worry a little that my five paintings are not cohesive in style but at the same time if this assignment is to demonstrate my wider learning then it would be a mistake to narrow technique and style. But there are connecting themes… the crown, the ‘friends’ who betrayed the king and I hope a bit of storytelling and a sense of drama.
Ideas for the focus of my paintings
Close up of facial expression – inspiration here from Marlene Dumas portraits e.g. Mamma Roma and also perhaps an opportunity to rework the Richard II/Fiona Shaw portrait I painted in part 4 with a sharper crop and, if I can, more raw emotion.
A full figure pose as an opportunity to focus on costume and capture a dramatic stance. I was pleased with the full figure painting I did here so I would aim to build on what worked in this. And Gustav Moreau’s Lady Macbeth is speaking loudly to me.
Detail of hands –There is a tug of war scene with the crown that I could explore – just the hands and the crown. That might be over ambitious but there is plenty of scope for focusing on hand gestures. Difficult but worth a try.
An abstract – Possibly working with the jewelled crown and or/throne. The sceptre is another possibility. I could use the ‘abstract painting from man-made form’ exercise to make a start on this. With a bit of luck my abstract impressionist pin board might persuade me to loosen up and let it be truly abstract.
Group of figures – King with the ‘friends’ who betrayed him. Need to think creatively about how to present a group. This photo (of the side of a Greek urn) makes me realise that I don’t have to portray the figures as though they were standing on the stage.
Shakespeare’s words – as mentioned above a quote or some key words possibly as a kind of palimpsest. A picture in its own right or the background to another. This will enable me to use the experience gained from a recent signwriting workshop.
I explored all these approaches except, due to lack of time because of a house move, the abstract painting.
Pointers from my tutor Olivia Irvine
- Limited palette, but vary that palette; think about colour temperature, broken colour, neutrals against bright colour and colour bleeding over boundaries.
- Try out different colour combinations, including unusual ones, but keep your palette limited. Consider adding a new colour toward the end, but in one place only, to create an accent. Use photoshop to give ideas.
- Experiment further with your use of line drawing with paint, letting it speak out more (Giacometti, Elizabeth Bishop)
- There are many artists who use the theatrical as a device in painting. Goya is well worth looking at, as is John Piper, Paula Rego and Moyna Flannigan.
- Combine your media in such a way that each is allowed to speak out, boldly or quietly. Thin paint can be used under heavy paint and be allowed to show through. Line could go on early, be covered over in places and reintroduced in others.
My Pinterest boards as a research tool and inspiration. They include suggestions from Olivia above and other material.
I referred to these boards constantly and found it very useful to have one easily accessible source of inspiration.
Finally, this is a great thought from Paula Rego to carry with me as I work on this assignment.
“Painting is practical but it’s magical as well. Being in my studio is like being inside my own theatre.” Paula Rego
The theatre theme was a good choice for me – I didn’t find myself wishing at any point that I had chosen differently. I was able to use the source material I researched together with my imagination and inspiration from other painters. It was a great way to loosen up, experiment and move away from being quite so safe and predictable. I remain motivated to work on the news / displaced people theme but theatre I feel was the right choice for this assignment. And of course there has been extra meaning and pertinence in the recent Shakespeare celebrations which helped to keep me focused and enthusiastic.