My dip into Pop Art

I am back! I have lots to tell you about. But let’s tackle one topic at a time.

Nobody can say that 2020 was a good year. Battling a pandemic wasn’t in anyone’s plans. I certainly hadn’t factored a pandemic into my MA study timetable!

But for me there were a lot of positives to being in lockdown. A big positive was being furloughed from March to the end of June. This gave me time to paint. Most of all it gave me time to experiment and I made a few breakthroughs with my work.

I began experimenting with different mediums which included marker pens and coloured pencils. I also tried Pop Art for the first time. I began with an homage to Andy Warhol and those famous Marilyn screenprints.

Aquamarkers on paper

I looked at cropped images which enabled me to concentrate less on the details and focus more on the composition.

Untitled 21.5cm x 13.5cm coloured pencil on paper

I discovered that coloured pencils lent themselves well to the pop art style and, that I could create interesting textures with them.

As often happens with my work, pieces I consider unfinished, create interesting dynamics within my work, and sometimes I need to learn when to stop working and let those dynamics speak for themselves.

As with the piece above, by leaving the work unfinished, the bra became more than just a bra in an unusual environment and actually became part of the landscape itself. Leaving the work much more open to interpretation. It also solved that age old problem of when you get to a certain point when everything is going too well and you don’t want to spoil it!

Being in lockdown gave me the time to enjoy experimenting. Working with cropped images and aquamarkers proved really affective for these pop art pieces. I really enjoyed working with coloured pencil and decided to combine them with acrylic paint for the work for my first MA exhibition. But that is for another post.

Hogarth’s Morality Paintings and other inspirations

As part of my desire to create more meaningful art I have been looking at Hogarth’s Morality Paintings. In around 1743 he created a series of paintings called Marriage A-la-Mode. They are a series of six paintings that he created with the intent to make engravings from them as that was how Hogarth made much of his income.

Hogarth used many different techniques to tell a complete story. He used symbolism that was widely known at the time to suggest certain moral themes.

In the Marriage A-la-Mode series he included references to moral depravity such as painting a black spot on someone’s skin to denote the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. Hogarth’s moral series was satirical in nature, placing parodies of well-known history paintings and French contemporary art within the scene by way of including other moral messages. He included images that would have been shocking at the time.

William Hogarth 
Marriage A-la Mode: 1.
The Marriage Settlement 
Oil on canvas 
Not on display
© The National Gallery, London

You can see this in the first Marriage-A-la-Mode painting The Marriage Settlement. The scene is one depicting the conclusions of negotiations between the Earl of Squander and the alderman. The alderman is a rich merchant who wishes to elevate his family’s social position by buying his way into the aristocracy. You can see the intended Groom, the Earl’s son looking away from his intended wife. On his neck you can see the black spot denoting he has syphilis, no doubt caught during his time in France. His bride-to-be is distraught and looking away from him, being comforted by the lawyer. This is denoting that the marriage is a loveless one of pure convenience and mutual benefits for the families. Stood in the background is a faceless black servant.

Hogarth also completed two series of theatre sets, one called A Harlot’s Progress and the sequel A Rake’s Progress. The engravings he sold were immensely popular as Hogarth’s deliberate satirical depiction of the aristocracy was evident to some but completely missed by the aristocracy who commissioned them.

A Rake’s Progress III The Orgy
c. 1735
Oil on canvas, 62,5 x 75 cm
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

I have been looking at modern moral themed realism art also. The Kitchen Sink artists painted scenes of everyday life, warts and all. Everything was included, no matter how unpalatable they may have been.

You can see this in John Bratby’s paintings The Toilet and Table Top and Peter Coker’s Table and Chair. In Table Top Bratby includes everything on the table. It was work such as this that the term ‘Kitchen Sink’ painters came from, because they included ‘everything but the kitchen sink’.

I want to be able to include certain things in my paintings to symbolise what I am trying to say. Future research will be focussed on modern-day symbolism and how certain political and social attitudes are depicted in contemporary art today.

Experimentation will be on whether I can include the symbolism but in a pop art style. I will be looking at modern day political satire and activism in art. In this computerised age, is it possible to make politically satirical themes through painting alone? And can I do it using the bra as the subject? I never thought that an idea that started as a joke would become such an important subject for me to paint.

Planning for my exhibitions

With the pandemic dominating every aspect of life, the inevitable life re-evaluation takes place. I have found myself wanting my paintings to be so much more than well-executed paintings of beautiful bras. Suddenly it seems I should do something far more important with them to mark this time in history.

I have been inevitably thinking about my final exhibition modules and what sort of work I would like to be producing. Even before the pandemic, I had an idea, but I knew I couldn’t just jump straight to being at that point. My work needs to evolve to that point, if I get there at all.

I am very active in politics in my private life outside of painting and I love to do voluntary work helping others when I have the time. Of course, a lot of that has had to stop during the pandemic. But I have always had a desire to find a way of combining my outside interests with my art. This pandemic has only increased that desire. Having a disability has led me to direct a lot of my political activism towards tackling issues surrounding disabled issues. The bra also comes into this as a bra causes me physical pain to wear so this is very symbolic for me.

I want to be able to tell a story with my paintings. How can I do that using bras? I have considered several options. One was the timeline of a relationship. Women wear many different bras in their lifetimes. From sexy bras at the romantic stage of the relationship, through motherhood with nursing bras into old age, where function and comfort supersede looks. Then I thought of doing a series describing a relationship dominated by domestic violence. Starting with a hopeful, bright beginning, which slowly descends into a nightmare.

I am very wary about tackling abuse, because I don’t want to come across as though I am taking the subject lightly. I know someone who has experienced it and have been getting advice on what I should or shouldn’t include. Of course, domestic violence isn’t the only type of abuse and I have considered doing a series of paintings depicting different types. From domestic violence, to racism and sexual abuse etc.

There are so many pitfalls in tackling this type of subject matter. The practical ones involving technique is that I have to be able to recreate the scene for me to be able to paint it. Can I convey the right message without having to include too many objects that are likely to take far too long to paint? Can I source the props that I may need to recreate scenes? To tackle conveying the right message I have been looking at allegory painting and symbolism. I want my work to convey a moral theme or message and so I have been looking at William Hogarth’s morality paintings. I will go into more depth about these paintings in a subsequent blog post.

Work in progress part 2

The painting that I am currently working on is breaking new ground for me in more ways than one. Firstly, because I am working in mixed media for the first time and secondly, because it is making me consider working in other ways and not just in realism.

Because of time restraints I decided to work on a smaller scale but I wanted to still keep the detail. So I took one of the photographs I had prepared and cropped it. This made the painting long and thin, which is a different look for my work too.

I began this painting in the way I always do with a pale wash over the paper. I then drew a light sketch over the top. I tried to get the background material to look like the grey marl material that it was but I just couldn’t get it how I wanted by using paint. So I decided to try using coloured pencils. Polychromos pencils are professional coloured pencils and are oil-based but can still be painted over with acrylic paint. I hoped that the pencil would pick up the grain of the paper and give me the effect that I wanted and thankfully it did.

There is only one downfall for using the pencils and that is the shine or bloom you can get from creating several layers of pencil colour on top of each other. I haven’t remedied this yet. I have some test paper that I plan to test different ways of doing it. I anticipated this happening so have a practice painting ready. This way I don’t risk ruining the entire painting if I get it wrong.

With these bras being multi-layered, unlike the previous ones, it meant I had to go back to building layers again. I began by painting flat areas of colour for the base colour of each one and then began layering flat colours over the top to create the lace. The issue that I may incur with this one is that the background bra is black. I haven’t used black but a dark blue-grey. I won’t know until I have painted all of the bras basic lace colours before knowing if I will need to dampen down the dark blue-grey to make it blend into the background more. Once I have resolved those issues, I can then go in and put the shadows in.

That is, if I decide to. At this stage it has a Pop Art feel because of the flat areas of colour. Because of this I have decided to look at British Pop Art and do some experiments alongside this painting. Whether this will lead to a new way of working I don’t know. Can I still be satisfied with work that isn’t as photographic as my work up to this point? Can I be anything but a realist painter? Only time will tell.

I will add updates over the next few weeks so you can follow it as I create it.

Artists I admire part 4.

Pete Monaghan Blaenceulan  50 x 150cm Acrylic/collage on blocked wood panel. 2018

There are many things I am thankful for in regards to being a student and alumni of Aberystwyth University. And I am so fortunate to be able to live in this beautiful part of Wales. One of the things that I really appreciate is having the opportunity to meet other artists. Professional artists, who have given me so much support and encouragement.

One of these artists is Pete Monaghan. If my memory serves me correctly, I first met him at an exhibition in MOMA Machynlleth, years before I embarked on my degree. But it wasn’t until I started studying at Aberystwyth University that I got to know him and his work better. I was bitterly disappointed to miss out on seeing a workshop he ran at the School of Art, at Aberystwyth University, where he demonstrated how he creates his amazing artworks.

I can honestly say that photographs online can never do justice to these stunning works of art. Pete works with acrylic and mixed media collage to create his unique works. He successfully works and sells in both Wales and Germany, having both lived and worked in Germany as an illustrator for over 20 years.

Pete Monaghan The Hut (Diner) 40 x 40 cm Acrylic/Collage on wood panel 2017

I was lucky enough to see his work at an exhibition in MOMA Machynlleth while I was studying for my degree. I remember it because I had just created my first series of bra paintings and I was having a serious wobble about whether I should continue painting them or not. I had a conversation with Pete about my doubts and he told me that I have a unique concept, which is hard to come by in the art world these days. He said the subject could be explored in so many different ways also, which could keep me working for many years before I exhaust them all. I cannot describe how much that meant to me at that time. I was building up to my final exhibition and was full of doubts. Whenever I have a wobble now, I always hear his words, giving me that boost to trust in my work and carry on. So this blog post is my way of saying thank you to Pete.

Pete Monaghan Beach Hut Ensemble, Abersoch 50 x 150cm Acrylic/Collage on wood panel

I have mentioned that he has exhibited at MOMA Machynlleth. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic his latest exhibition is now only viewable online. Please visit Ffin y Parc Country House and Gallery by clicking on the link below.

You can also have a virtual tour of the exhibition on YouTube by clicking on the link below.

The lockdown has been beneficial in one way, and that is being able to view exhibitions online that normally would only have been viewable in real life. I don’t get to travel often to see exhibitions. But I am planning to find some way to go and visit one of Pete’s exhibitions in person one day soon. I hope you all will do the same. Helping to support artists of all types is so important right now more than ever.

If you cannot visit in person then please share this blog post and help a fellow artist in these difficult times.

You can also see more of Pete’s work on his website by clicking the link below

Realist or Photorealist?

Edouard Manet Olympia Musée d’Orsay

As part of studying for either a BA or MA in Fine Art, you are expected to do a lot of research. Research about other artists and the history of art and place yourself within that context. For me this proved a little difficult as I haven’t, as yet, found anyone else who paints bras the way I do. In the history of art, lingerie is most often portrayed on a woman’s body. It hasn’t been used as a still life subject on it’s own. So it became necessary for me to look at other areas of research. In my BA, I researched the history of the bra, though I never wrote a blog post about it. I won’t bore you with all the details, suffice to say that bra design really hasn’t changed much over the years. Though Mary Phelps Jacob (aka Caresse Crosby) is credited as the inventor of the modern bra, her design in 1913 was merely two silk handkerchiefs tied together with ribbon. Her design became the forerunner of what would later be known as the ‘backless brassiere’ and the word bra was born.

Mary Phelps Jacob’s original patent.

When it comes to the style of work that I place myself in it gets a little tricky. Am I a realist painter or a photo-realist? I have always placed myself as a photo-realist, as I received many comments about my bra paintings, about how they looked like photographs, and this made me wonder if I was a photo-realist painter rather than just a realist. After all, I often work from photographs and strive to be as accurate as possible. However, after doing some research into realism and photo-realism I learnt there are certain differences between the two. The definition of photo-realism is art that is rendered in an extremely realistic way with the artist working from a photograph. I often work from photographs and so I thought that placed me firmly in the photo-realism camp. The definition of realism is to produce art in an honest and frank manner, warts and all but still maintaining a painterly style that could identify the artist. Although my work is very photo-realistic, I do not copy everything I see, whether working from a photograph or from life. Although I strive to be as accurate as possible, I do often change the colours or omit certain things in order to make a more pleasing aesthetic. I do not want to reproduce a photograph, I found that my work became clinical and lifeless when I tried to do that and I do not wish to be remembered as the artist who was just accurate at copying.

Realism, sometimes called naturalism, was an art movement that began in 19th century France. The term was coined by the French novelist Champfleury in the 1840s. The movement was led by Gustave Courbet who was known for his paintings of peasants and working-class life. One of his most well known paintings was The Stonebreakers. Edouard Manet was also known as a realist painter. The Realism movement was about rejecting the romanticised, academic theory of History painting and High Art in favour of creating paintings of ordinary peasant folk and working life without filtering out the brutality and sexually explicit way of real life.

The Stonebreakers, 1849, Oil on canvas, 165 x 257 cm

In 1965 Malcolm Morley pioneered the art movement called Superrealism. The movement has since also become known as Hyperrealism. Photorealism is considered the non-emotional version of this movement. Photorealists deliberately distance themselves from including any emotion or intent into their work.

Charles Bell Gum Ball No. 10 “Sugar Daddy” Guggenheim Museum

I don’t want to remove the emotion from my work. If anything, I want put more emotion into it. I have plans to do just that in future work. You can read more about that in a blog post soon.

Gustave Courbet said “painting is essentially a concrete art and must be applied to real and existing things”. I like to consider that my art fits that bill so I can happily say now that I am a realist painter.

Exhibition Photography

After publishing the blog post about my disastrous graduation pieces I realised that I forgot to show the photographs that were shown alongside the two paintings. The photos were my saving grace, without them, I may not have passed my exhibition module so I thought it would be a shame for you not to see them and appreciate them as I did.

The photos were close up detailed shots of the lingerie that I was painting at the time. They were taken with my Canon EOS 1300D DSLR camera, which I really should use more often, and they were printed on high quality A4 photo paper and mounted to A3 size and were then supposed to be displayed in the archival box in the photo above. But due to my disasters before my exhibition I had to display them on my exhibition walls so there weren’t large empty spaces where my paintings should have been.

There were six photographs in total, with four displayed on one wall and two on another, for some unknown reason, I didn’t photograph them all in situ. I loved these photos more than my paintings because you could see just how beautiful bras can be. Some of the lace and embroidery on them were just beautiful. To me bras are works of art even before I paint them.

Four of the photos on display in my exhibition space.

Work in progress part 1

This painting has probably been my most difficult painting yet, not because of the gap of almost two years when I didn’t paint at all, though that undoubtedly didn’t help, but because of my own self-doubts about whether I could do this university thing again. I always place too much pressure on myself and end up stifling my own creativity. But this was the beginning of a new chapter in my life, though at the time, I couldn’t possibly know that it would change to be a new chapter in the whole world’s life!

Before I go on to describe my processes for this painting, I have to give a huge shout out and thank you to Bravissimo for the very kind donation of their bras to me. Bravissimo create beautiful bras for voluptuous women. I only hope that I can do them justice when the paintings are complete. I will add a link to their website at the end of this post. I must point out that not all my work for this module will be completed straight away, as this module is about experimentation rather than completed works.

The bras I choose to paint always speak to me in some way, and set a challenge for me. These were particularly difficult because of the intricate lace patterns on each one. This painting was about colour. The challenge was to create an accurate colour without making the painting look either too dull or too artificial. It was especially challenging because of the two different greens. Would they clash? I wanted to capture how beautifully intricate the lace panels were and to make the bras come alive on the canvas without any human presence.

I create my paintings in a similar way to how bras are created, in layers, each building on top of the previous one and enhancing the layer beneath. I always start my paintings with a background colour, normally a thin glaze which is then painted over. It’s my way of removing the fear of a blank canvas of stark white paper and a way to keep the overall painting balanced. The background of the door was one flat colour so I decided to use that as the background straight away. This proved to be a mistake. Because I want the background to show through the bras lace I always paint them on top of the background, rather than paint the background around them. However, I hadn’t allowed for how colours respond to each other. The orange and green bras are quite bright but slightly muted in colour and I wanted them to stand out. However, when I painted the orange and the green directly on to the olive green, it immediately muted the colours. No matter how many layers or how thick the paint was, I couldn’t get the vibrancy of the colours to pop like I wanted.

The only answer was to brighten the background again. I couldn’t take the paint away now it had dried so the only answer was to add a bright opaque colour base in which to paint onto. For the orange bra this consisted of a pale yellow, with plenty of opaque titanium white in. For the green bra, I just added the phthalo green to the pale yellow mix.

Of course, I cannot know if leaving those areas white would have worked the same way, but these blocks of opaque colour helped to make the colours pop. Phthalo green is a very strong, vivid colour and I didn’t want to lose that because of the interaction of it with the olive green.

Although the background was an olive green door, of course, it’s not a completely flat colour when you take into account the lighting in the room. It wasn’t always possible to work in the studio so it became necessary to work from photographs at home. Photography flattens perspective, however, I have become quite experienced in adapting my style to take this into account, by working with the interplay with the background colours and the bra colours.

At this point the Coronavirus hit and my priorities shifted as I tried to balance extra responsibilities of two jobs with my university work. This painting, like all my paintings, took time to develop. The lace pattern of the green bra is very intricately detailed. In order to depict the bra accurately, I painted the shadows first before adding the lace pattern over the top.

At this point I had spent so long on the painting that I was beginning to lose the motivation to continue and so I decided to take a break from it for a while and start a new piece. I will come back at a later date to finish this as I love what I have created so far and I still have paint mixes to use up!

The Bravissimo Link:

Lockdown malaise

When the prospect of being furloughed and staying home to continue with my uni work first became a thing, I was quite relieved. I am not too proud to admit that I have been struggling to fit two part-time jobs in with my uni work. You see, there’s one thing about me that only those who know me know, and that is that I live with fibromyalgia. I haven’t mentioned it because I want people to feel sorry for me, far from it. It’s what makes me who I am. But it also makes life come with an extra struggle. And makes everything I do come with extra pain, both physical and mental.

Having time to work on my uni work without anything else getting in the way, took a bit of the weight off. Or, at least I had hoped it would. But I hadn’t anticipated the effect, being cut off from my friends and family, would have on me and my mental health. I am a deeply social person, I love to spend time with those who are important to me and I don’t like being alone for too long. So now I find myself shut off from the world, like everyone else, and struggling, not only with the physical limitations fibromyalgia places on me, but with the struggles I have with my own thoughts and worries. I worry for my children and my family and close friends, while dealing with how the stress is triggering my fibromyalgia symptoms. Stress is a major trigger at the best of times but now, it is having a huge impact, much more than I realised.

However, as I said, I don’t want sympathy. I always say that I may have fibromyalgia but it doesn’t have me. While undoubtedly it has an impact on my everyday life, I refuse to allow it to control it completely. But I am lucky, I have had time to come to terms with having an incurable, chronic illness. I have grieved for my old life and had therapy to accept my new life. And this Coronavirus has shown the rest of the world and myself, what is important.

So I am learning to accept the things I cannot change and to work on the things I can. I have realised that there is one person that I don’t give my 100% commitment to like I do with loving and supporting my friends and family. That person is me. I set myself unrealistic goals that I cannot achieve and when I fail, I heap even more self-hatred and disappointment onto myself. That must change.

In the few weeks that remain of lockdown (well hopefully) I am going to focus on what is important right now and worry about everything else later. I am going to try and be kinder to myself. To lavish the attention I give to others, onto myself and come out of this pandemic a much stronger person and ready to take on anything that life has to throw at me!

For now, let’s get back to what I do best, my art and giving to others. If I can help just one person feel not so alone from creating this post, then it will be worth it. No doubt some will judge me for it, as they are free to do, but I hope it helps people to understand me a little better too. And see that my art isn’t just pretty pictures, that they have some depth to them too. That I have some depth.

Coping with Covid_19

When I began my MA I did not envisage being in the situation we all find ourselves in now. Uni is closed and I am holed up in my flat like the siege of Stalingrad is going on outside. But this situation is no joke. We are living in unprecedented and scary times indeed. So I hope everyone stays safe out there. PLEASE STAY HOME!

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, my uni work still has to be done and submitted on time, all online of course. That may or may not be of benefit to me, depending on how good my work photographs!

So for now, I continue to work from home, and what will be will be. But now my posts will be tiny records of my life in lockdown. I hope you enjoy them, and if you don’t well at least they will take your mind off how crazy the world is right now! Art is a huge comfort to me right now, I hope it is for you too. Stay strong everyone. We can get through this together! ♥♥