Research: Alex McFarlane

My tutor suggested I look at this artist, who is mainly a painter and sculptor.  She particularly wanted me to look at his Industrial series, where he combines the use of drips and accidental paint runs with accurate renditions of the object.

I must admit his art was a revelation to me – the large industrial landscapes, the combination of accuracy with free expressive use of paint, the drips and runs to depict the foreground trees or water coming out of the pipes and finally, the incorporation of actual pieces of metal pipes/plumbing attached to the painting, providing a transition between painting vs sculpture.  For me many of his painting had a sinister psychological feel and reminded me of scenes from the George Orwell novel ‘1984’, despite the colourful nature of many of the images.

Two of my favourite paintings, for their grimly atmospheric industrial feel, integration of the drips of paint into the water flowing from the pipes, colour palette and use of actual plumbing supplies are River View and Soot 2.

Looking at this artist inspired me to have a look at drips and runs more, and the use of bleach on inks and watercolour.  I also went out sketching to Dungeness to have a go at my own Alex McFarlane inspired image and then took this further into other drawings using drips and more accidental effects.  These appear in a separate post.

Link to artist website here.


Assignment 4

This assignment consists of three parts – a drawing using line, one using tone and a third combining the two.

I started with a bit of research and looked at three artists – Jozef Israels, Keith Vaughan and Frances Bacon.  I made a few notes in my sketch book for inspiration.  I particularly liked the pose of Keith Vaughan’s , Man in a Cave and also the white on black of Frances Bacon’s,  Crucifixion.


For my first drawing I used my partner as the model.  As this was meant to be a sitting pose I first tried out a few sketches with him on the sofa, either looking at his iPhone or eating a biscuit, both relaxed poses.


None of these initial sketches inspired me as they just looked too ordinary, they did not seem to say anything about the person.  As my partner is a photographer, I asked him to pose with his camera.  We have spent many hours together out and about, him taking pictures whilst I am sketching and I have often come across him squatting down looking at a small detail or abstract shape to photograph.  The pose was also was inspired by the Keith Vaughan drawing shown earlier.  It also brought to the fore some of the reading I have done on the female nude and gaze.  By using a male photographer as my model I am putting the artist into the passive role.

I therefore completed a couple of sketches with this pose and liked these a lot better than my earlier sketches as they capture a moment in time just before he would take a photograph.


Of the two images I preferred the squatting pose with him leaning back against a bench to keep him steady.  I think the shapes made by the legs and the downward glance, together with the drape of the shirt make a better image.  I then tried out some quick sketches on various backgrounds and I was surprised that the stronger image for me was the white on black.


I did not want to dwell too long on this part as I have a tendency to over-think assignments so drove straight into making the image.

I used black paper with white pencil and white pastel for the drawing, making sure I concentrated on a line drawing, as per the brief.  I also made sure I limited myself to two hours for the drawing to ensure I did not over-work the image and lose some of the energy of the marks.  I lightly sketched the outline first to try to get the proportions right.


I then corrected a number of areas around the camera, hat and position of the hands, then began to firm up the lines and add some detail.


Finally I added some bolder marks, again corrected the hands and camera positions, soften the right hand edge of the figure drawing using a putty rubber so that the line becomes a bit lost as it was in shadow and added some white highlight under the figure to further indicate where the light was falling.


Overall I am pleased with the result.  I think I have captured the pose and the concentration of the figure quite well and not overworked my lines.  The hands are still not quite right, particularly his left hand.  I thought about putting further elements in the background, making these up as he was framed against a plain wall but in the end decided not to add anything so the eye concentrates on the figure and the pose.

For my second drawing I wanted this to be from a life drawing class I attend.  These last for two hours and I knew that the class on 2 February would be one pose for the duration of the class so this would fit the assignment brief quite well.  At the previous weekly class I had tried out using charcoal powder on my finger to create the image, therefore avoiding my obsession for detail.  First, I had completed sixteen A6 30-45 second poses, where line is shown this is where a bigger piece of charcoal was attached to my finger from not crushing the charcoal finely enough.


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I then completed two longer pose of 15 and 20 minutes, again using charcoal powder on a finger.  Both are A3 size.


I liked this technique and decided to use it for the second drawing of the assignment.

We had a different model in a sitting position.  I used a viewfinder to compose the image.  I again built up the tones using my finger dipped in charcoal powder, rubbing back the charcoal with a putty rubber to add highlights.  I also included a faded sitting figure in the background, who was another member of the life drawing class, for context and to balance the image.


I think I have caught the way the figure is slightly slouching in the chair, the angles of the back, legs and arms together with the downward gaze.  I have also soften the back edge of the figure to help with the perspective.  Whilst I like the background figure, on reflection they do look a bit like they are playing a keyboard rather than using a sketchbook.

For my third drawing I want to do a self-portrait, perhaps giving the viewer a hint that I like to remain hidden as an artist.  I have been thinking about this for a long time now, my reluctance to share my art on wider social media.  I therefore decided to create an image with me dressed in a hoody, which could allured to my nature or could create a conflict for the viewer as an older man dressed in a hoody.

I used a mirror to me left at about eye level.  I used a mid-tone green paper as I wanted to add a bit of red and yellow pastel dust to the charcoal powder I intended to use to build the tones.  I choose green as being the complimentary colour of red it should make the face come forward more.  I first built the image up gradually using the charcoal dust.


I then began adding lines and further tone, corrected the outline and finally adding some highlights.  I again stuck to the two hours to avoid over-working the drawing.


For the me the final image looked a bit unbalanced with the large empty space on the right so I decided to add a faded image of a drawing, further adding to the narrative of me wanting my art to remain out of view.


I am not sure how successful this image is as it is difficult for me not to look at the image and not be critical as it is a picture of myself.  Having put the picture in the background have I come too far in the narrative and does it distract from the main self-portrait?  I think I need time away from the image to evaluate the result.

Research: The Shock of the New

Chapter 4:  Trouble in Utopia

This chapter focusses on architecture and the search for Utopia.  Hughes expresses the view that the drive of modernist culture was the belief that social transformation could be achieved through architecture and design.  Throughout the chapter he examines many Utopian schemes, from architects such as Le Corbusier, many of which were never realised (e.g. Le Corbusier’s Voisin Plan for the redevelopment of part of Paris).

He examines the use of new building materials (steel, reinforced concrete and sheet glass) which enabled new and bold schemes to be developed, including the skyscraper.  Also the move to dispense with ornamentation and create buildings with functional clarity and no superfluous details (developing into the International Style).   He links this back to the Futurist movement.

He then looks at the success of the Bauhaus in Germany, particularly in relation to applied design and then at de Stijl, with the paintings of Piet Mondrian (who abstracted nature, with his grid forms rising out of orchard trees, sand dunes, and flat skies and seas).

Finally, Hughes looks at the failure of Brasilia, a new capital city build for the car but inhabited by people.

This was an interesting chapter.  Whilst not primarily concerned with the visual arts it did raise a number of interesting issues for me, including that conundrum on whether art can change lives.  The idea of an architectural Utopia also reminded me of Thamesmead Housing Estate (I once worked very close to this development) which was built in the sixties as an estate of the 21st century but with its bleakness, high level walkways  and blind corners (which became idea spots for anti-social and criminal activities) is slowly being demolished and replaced with more traditional housing.

Hughes, R. (1991) The Shock of the New. London: Thames & Hudson.

Research: The Shock of the New

Chapter 3:  The Landscape of Pleasure

This chapter opens with the view that one purpose of art is the ‘ecstatic contemplation of pleasure in nature’ and that images in paintings represent the class that owns it, therefore, in the 19th century this broadened the depiction of the art of pleasure from the pursuits of the aristocracy (the main owners of art prior to the 19th century) to the increasingly affluent middle classes.

Hughes look at the art of Georges Seurat and his paintings exploding colour interference (in particular Pointillism), then Monet with his series paintings including Haystacks and views of Rouen Cathedral where Monet explored the concept that his subject was ‘not the view but the art of seeing the view’.  This concept is then further explored with Cezanne and his depiction of Mont St-Victoire with Cezanne stating ‘Painting from Nature is not copying the object, it is realising one’s sensations’.  This move away from the visual appearance is further explored via Fauvism (in particular Matisse with his use of bright dissonant colour, distorted drawing, etc) and then Picasso with his images of Marie-Therese Walter where he re-composed the body of his lover into the shape of his desire.  Finally, Hughes looks again at the cut-outs of Matisse.

This ‘Landscape of Pleasure’ centred around artists working in the Mediterranean is then contrasted with the work of artists working in American who are more interested in racks of colour, impersonal, simplest patterns and wholly decorative (such as Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland).

This was an interesting (although somewhat confusing in terms of the jump to artists in America) chapter for me as it reinforced the need to move away from the purely visual representation to a position of my reaction to the subject matter.  This is something I am struggling to achieve.  It also brought to the fore quite how influential this period of art has been and continues to be.

Hughes, R. (1991) The Shock of the New. London: Thames & Hudson.


Proj 6, Ex. 3: A Portrait from Memory

The hardest part of the exercise for me was to think of someone to portray who did not look generic and uninteresting.  At first, I thought of a young bloke I had seen the other day in Canterbury.  I had received a parcel at Christmas and keep a piece of brown wrapping paper which had an interesting surface texture.  I decided to use charcoal on this, using the paper as the mid-tome and try to draw the image without an outline, thereby achieving lost and found edges.

I was not really happy with the result and could not picture the image in my mind so decided to rub back the image and try again.  This time I thought of an older man I had seen and had another go.

Again, I was happy with the result so rub back the charcoal.  All these attempts were building up another surface on the paper and adding layers of history to my final piece so I was not worried by drawing and then rubbing back and re-using the paper.  This is in stark contrast to how I would have felt at the start of the course, when no doubt I would have thrown the paper way and kept re-starting on a new sheet of paper.

I sat down and thought about all the people I have seen recently and who I should draw.  Suddenly I remember a young man I had seen on the tube when I was travelling to the Modigliani exhibition who had thick jet black hair which caught the light and was dressed quite retro including quite old-fashioned glasses.  I therefore build up my tones again in charcoal, drawing over my previous attempts.  I then lifted out the charcoal using a putty rubber to create the skin tones.

When I look at my image I was quite pleased with the result especially as I doubted that I could draw someone just from memory.  I think I have caught the thick hair and features quite well and he does have a slightly dated look to him.

After taking a break I realised I had not put in any highlights so added some in white Conte crayon.  I think this improves the image and brings out the structure of the face a bit more (the white is not so bright in the actual image – I think the flash has highlighted the lines).


Exhibitions: Modigliani (Tate Modern) & Cezanne Portraits (National Portrait Gallery)

I visited both these exhibitions yesterday as preparation/inspiration for the assignment in Unit 4  and thought it might be useful to compare the two exhibitions in one post rather than complete separate posts.

Both exhibitions showed how the artist evolved whilst tackling portraits  – Modigliani in terms of his artistic style with a move from more rounded forms (as in The Cellist, 1909  here and The Beggar of Livorno, 1909) to a more modernist flatter form often with black voids for the eyes (influence of cubism).  Whereas, Cezanne seemed to me to evolve more in the way he applied the paint and his technique rather than his style of depicting the sitter – from using a palette knife with thickly applied paint (as in his Uncle Dominique series, such as Uncle Dominique in a Turban, 1866-7) to using a brush with dabs and a broken application of colour (as in Boy in a Red Waistcoat 1888-90).

Modigliani’s portraits tended to fill the frame with the majority having little or no background to put the sitter into a context (as in Max Jacob c1916-17), whereas Cezanne’s portraits often included a background, giving the viewer more information about the sitter or their environment (as in Gustave Geffroy, 1895-6, where the subject is a writer and is sitting at a desk with papers in a library).  Of course, this may be because Cezanne was more interested in developing his technique in the application of the paint and therefore enjoyed including the interior and other still-life objects in contrast to Modigliani who was trying to capture the essence of the sitter.

Modigliani seems to me to have settled on a certain style to this portraits with often voids for eyes, angular long necks suggesting elegance (especially but not exclusively for the females subjects) , flatter areas of colour, etc,  In contrast, Cezanne seems to be continually changing and adapting his technique.  I assume this was because Modigliani was producing the portraits for clients and Cezanne was just using the sitter as an object to explore the application of paint and colour relationships.

In the Modigliani exhibition a whole room is devoted to the female nude and this brought to the fore my reading of both Ways of Seeing by John Berger and The Nude by Gill Saunders (see previous posts).  Is it the case of an active educated male artist exploiting the lesser-educated passive female worker or should we accept that the female model made an informed decision to pose and earn money.  I think this is something I will struggle with everything I see a nude until I can come to some form of  resolution for myself (if that every happens!).

One thing which did give me an insight when walking round the Cezanne exhibition was even through he was a very accomplished artist, you could often see things wrong in his proportions (such as the size of the head in Portrait of a Man, 1898-1900), or in the positioning of limbs (such as the size and way the legs are attached to the body as in Victor Choquet, 1877).  In a way this teaches me that I need to stop obsessing about little details/imperfections in my own art and step back to look at the success of the overall image.

Proj 6, Ex. 2: Your Own Head

As I am attending Life Drawing classes there is an opportunity to draw a model’s head so I completed a few drawings before attempting my own head.

The first set below are all 5 minute poses on A2.


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The next set are all 10 minutes poses (A2).


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The next drawing is a 30 minute pose (A2).


The final drawing in this series is 40 minutes (A2).


This sis probably for me the less successful of all the drawings of the model’s head.  I over-thought the drawing and tried using colour that just did not work.

I then moved onto drawing my self-portrait in my A4 sketchbook.  The first is a 5-10 minute drawing using a 6B graphite stick.  The mirror was positioned to the side above my head.  I tried to avoid drawing an outline and just used shading to define the shape of the head.  This was quite difficult as I would normally sketch in a light outline with indication marks for the position of the eyes etc to make sure my proportions were right.  Here I had to adjust the shaded areas to get the proportions correct.  I think this drawing is quite successful as I have caught a likeness, got the shading and proportions correct and like the expressive nature of the marks.

I then tried another quick sketch using Sharpie pens.  I repositioned the mirror, still to the side but level with my head.  This image is much less successful, the proportions are wrong, I found it difficult to maintain the same position in the mirror and as I tried to correct the drawing it got messy.

I moved onto making the longer study, moving the mirror back up and keeping to the side.  I used A3 Watercolour NOT paper and a 6B Graphite stick.  Again, like the first sketch I tried to avoid outlines.

This has not photographed well as the tonal values are greater in the actual drawing.  I think this is a successful drawing, a good likeness with a good variety of marks.  The mouth is not quite right and I look a bit miserable but I think that is a result of keeping the pose over a 40 minute period.  I particularly like the contrast between the softer and harder edges as well as the shading has defined some of the forms, such as the ear.

I then went back to try a longer drawing using Sharpie pens on A3 paper.

This is much more successful than my original quick sketch using this medium.  I like the monochrome blue and the variety/energy of the marks.  The eyes are not quite right but the mouth is better.

Overall, I am quite pleased with my self-portraits especially as I would not normally draw myself and am happy to remain hidden in the background.  Perhaps, my hidden self could be my personal project for Unit 5 – something to consider?