I’m back from teaching my workshop in Croatia and so can now settle back into taking the time to collect, review, select, and write something about pastel paintings seen over the previous month. And so here is September’s collection of ten splendid pastels!
Each painting we look at is not only about the artist’s intentions but also what we as a viewer bring to it – our memories, experiences, biases. I say this as a reminder that the paintings I choose and what I say about them is personal and subjective (unlike judging a show!).
So let’s get going on this month’s splendid pastels!
First up is this summery carefree piece by Joanne Lillywhite. Two sail boats are docked side by side. Neither boat is shown in its whole form but we have enough information to imagine the rest. Instead, paper real estate is given over to the relationship between the two boats as they jostle for position, rubbing shoulders in an effort to get the best position to view the scene across the water. They seem like friends, in amicable competition. I like to think this represents the feelings of their owners. Going by the colours, shapes of buildings, and the apparent palm tree, I take it we’re in the Mediterranean somewhere – a place of warmth and languor as well as bustling markets and outside living.
The agitated handling of the pastels adds to the feeling of movement and also of tension between the two boats. The masts and taut wires frame the view beyond. We look out but the energy of the rest of the piece brings us back to the boats with their bright and light colours, and the dark to light and back value shifts. We catch sight of partially indicated bits and pieces – lifebouys, steering wheel, sails, awnings. Nothing is whole and nothing is static. Everything seems to shimmer – the boats, the water, the heated air. We can clearly hear the water as it laps against the hull, the buoy squeezing between the boats as they shift in moving water, the lines clinking.
To see more of Joanne Lillywhite’s work, click here.
We go now to a bit of a darker piece that still speaks of summer with its rich greens of trees and meadow. There’s no mistaking what this painting is about. A simple landscape – a stretch of grass fronted by a pond and framed by trees – sits beneath a dark sky. And in the centre of that threatening sky moves a large cloud that demands our attention. This cloud has a three dimensional quality, moving outward towards us beyond the surface of the paper.
It’s a simple scene that one might pass everyday without ever seeing it, but Amy Minson has given us a reason to notice at it through her painting. By giving a single cloud form such prominence, she insists that we look, and by looking, acknowledge the glory of nature even at its most mundane. The cloud sits dead centre, illuminated on the left by sunlight breaking through cloud somewhere offstage. The colour palette is simple – a cool scheme of blues and greens accented with the warmth of pinks and red violets. Minson’s use of a receding cool palette contradicts the advancing cloud mass that threatens to come at us right off the surface of the paper. The gesso-textured paper breaks up the pastel marks which on the one hand, reminds us of the physicality of the work, while on the other, adds to the description of water, earth, and sky. This is an arresting image, striking in its bold simplicity and statement.
Click here to see more of Amy Minson’s work.
First off, this painting is large at 40 inches high. Perfectly balanced within are items surrounding and within an open wooden box – a rock, a broken shell, a fish skeleton, and a blue transparent ball. What is this collection? Detrius found on a beach? Perhaps. And what are these items telling us? The painting is dark, and in conjunction with the objects Brian Bailey has collected here together, hints at a gloomy prognosis for the earth. We’ve stripped it of so much. Do these specimens, presented to us so formally as if in a museum and the only place to view such remains, represent what’s left? The broken, the used, the dried up, the barren? We cannot see the future in the dark spaces beyond but the darkness and its meaning of gloom is relieved somewhat by the glowing blue sphere that for me represents the beauty and watery earth.
Bailey exquisitely and with a loving hand depicts each article with care – the worn box with its dings and scratches; the smooth river rock, worn by ages of water passing over it; the large and broken shell spiralling with what’s left around its glowing interior with edges softened by the attrition and rubbing of sand; the bony inside of a fish, long stripped of its flesh; and last, the perfectly round globe of blue glass that seems lit from within as well as without. With this painting, we may also ponder another parallel meaning, one of aging and death, with what comes next hidden from us by the impenetrable darkness. As I mentioned, the painting is large and yet it has the intimacy and stillness of a whispered secret.
Check out Bailey’s website to see more of his work.
A closely cropped face of a man with intense gaze but is he inward or outward looking? The eyes look slightly off to the right and, hidden is deep shadow as they are, it’s difficult to read them and thus tricky to get a grasp on an inkling of his thoughts. The bold slashes of pastel on this small 5 x 5 inch piece contrast in their gutsiness with the warm pinks, red-violets, and blue violets, colours some might assign as ‘girl’ colours. I love this going against the grain in this face of a middle-aged male. Only the essential parts are seen – eyes, nose, moth and ears – all the parts that make up an individual’s face, parts that give that person a visual identity.
Yet we don’t know this person’s personal identity other than it’s ‘Him’. Which of course could have a different meaning for each viewer. The painter has a close view, an almost intimate contemplation, of this individual. He has a relationship with this man. The intensity of look almost feels like a self- portrait although the eyes don’t stare out at us from the painting. (Mind you, there are oblique ways of capturing a self-portrait). In any case, the rumpled flesh of the face is carefully, if viscerally in slashes of pastel, portrayed. I was struck by the boldness of colour and range of value in this small piece that feels like it could be a 5 x 5 foot painting!
To see more of David Fagen’s work, click here.
Another close crop of the subject, but painted larger than life size. This time it’s Doc Marten boots, footwear that has been, and still as, a sign of youth rebelling against the norm, against the establishment. These ones are unlaced, ready to don or perhaps just removed. The energy of the marks suggest the latter as the boots retain the vitality of their owner. The activity and agitation of line describe the person as well as the shoes – active, confident, not taking any guff. And above all, not following the norm (except the trend to wear Doc Martens!). The title suggests a looking back, a memory of a girl who wore these boots with ballgown, a girl, now a woman, who carries the trademark personality associated with this footwear.
The black and white palette, with grey mauves and the warmth of paper in parts to relieve the monochromatic colours, perfectly exemplifies the outlook of some wearers – these shoes aren’t made for those who sit on the fence, who are indecisive, who may look at all options and see many points of view. There is a diagonal line that gives a sense of the boots falling over but they are kept upright by the cast shadow to the right which moves away on the opposite diagonal. The application of pastel suggests speed, and hurried removal of the shoes, with no time to pause. All this once again suggests the character of the wearer who undoubtedly is out there living her life to the fullest. (A side note: the painting does remind me of Van Gogh’s paintings of boots.)
Click here to see more of Nowak’s work.
The first thing I noticed when I looked at this piece was the orange triangle at the top. The subject unknown, the beginning of an abstract perhaps? Yet the intense blue beside it led my eye down to electric green and soon I realized, aha! the green shapes are eyes, the orange shape an ear, And there it is – a black cat, black made with mostly deep blues. So with a few bold lines and strokes, Yael Maimon gives us cat. The shape of the ears, the curve of the eye, so perfectly and yet quickly rendered that we might not even realize how well this artist knows cats.
And we are reminded by the visible gestural marks on paper of the process of painting. Squint and the form fully resolves into cat; open eyes and the particulars dissolve into shapes, colours, lines, and marks. Everything has a feeling of speed yet careful and intentional positioning. The composition squeezes a bit to the right yet the space on the left is filled with bold striking vertical strokes that hold us – and the cat – in place. There’s no fussing once a mark is placed so confident is this artist in her creation of this feline portrait.
The cat’s eyes look off to bottom right (at what? a mouse, a person, a food dish, grass?) but we take our cue from the curved whiskers and make our way around to the left towards the light curved stroke of pastel where we then swept upward back to the ear where we start all over again.
Check out Maimon’s website for more of her art.
From the bold dashes of saturated colour we come to this quiet canine portrait. The dog looks up with patience, with quiet anticipation, with an expression of devotion. And we see the love reflected right back at the dog in this painting. It’s evident that this artist knows and understands dog anatomy and structure. The head and neck are beautifully rendered. We can feel the contrasting textures of hair – some silky, some coarser. We sense the individual hairs yet there is no fussy detailing. We can also sense the dampness of the nose and the slight liquidity in the eyes. The dog gazes up and off to the right but we are held in the painting by the look in its eyes and finally we pull ourselves away and make our way over the nose and under the chin, traverse the neck to end on the soft floppy ears. And soon, inexorably, the dog’s eyes draw us back.
The simple colour scheme based on black and white and balanced with warm browns in fur and eyes and a cool pale blue violet background keeps all our attention on this dog’s face and expression. The space to the right side gives breathing room to the portrait and allows us to move easily through the portrait. (Try placing your hand over the space and you’ll see how much more difficult it is to leave the dog’s eyes). This painting is calm and quiet yet deeply absorbing in its emotional feeling and technical accomplishment.
Click here to see more of Jan Hargood’s work.
Speaking of quiet, here’s a calm confident woman even in her vulnerable state of being dressed. She’s of the generation when curlers were part of the beautifying activity. We can see between client and hairdresser a relationship of caring and trust – this has been a repeated ritual over the years. She may be preparing for a special event or maybe this a weekly outing. As many women will agree, having your hair done makes you feel good.
I love the way that surprising acid green pops the pink curlers and also both faces. The colour stand in for a kind of energy, maybe mischievousness, hidden behind the wrinkles of age. The outside may show signs of maturity but in our hearts we are who we became many years ago in our youth. We aren’t all muted and without a voice, an opinion, a joke, a song.
Blues, as seen in the hairdresser’s coat, bottle, Pepsi cup, and timer, soften the electric effect of the green and with its scattering, moves us around the painting. The warm browns and purple greys also help to calm the clash and combo of pink and green. The woman’s face is in the centre yet looks off to the left (where the straw points) but we don’t follow them. We are sucked in by those huge curlers and follow them around the woman’s head up to the face and then hands of the hairdresser as he quietly works away at the task of beautification. Each is comfortable with the other, each in their own thoughts.
Have a look at Leeds’s website for more of her work.
Every time I scrolled through possible choices for this month’s splendid pastels blog, I was stopped by this painting. Yet I’ve had to look and ponder deeply to understand why. The first thing is that this is a tiny painting and yet it has the feel of an enormous contemporary canvas – it could be 4 x 5 feet! It’s created with a simple and contained palette of a red/green complementary colour scheme. The flowers are a pale pink – delicate yet solid and bold – painted with careful attention to edge and shape and the relationship between the individual flowers yet it remains unfussy. The background is left plain, its purpose to support the flowers. It’s simplicity also permits us to interpret the context how we wish.
The solid dark vertical line to the left holds the composition steady and is echoed in the thinner horizontal one. (The vertical line almost gives the impression of a brush with paint on the tip, paint just used to paint the flowers themselves!) These dark lines balance out the light streaming in from the right, light that illuminates both the flowers and the painting. Might it also shed light on good times past?
The painting has a curious title – reeling in the years. It speaks to me of memories, of looking back on years lived. It has a sense of being nearer to the end on the continuum of life. As death approaches, memories are vivid and relived. Nothing is left except purity of thought and a memory of a moment. Perhaps my reading is tinged by the passing of a family member. We all bring our experiences to the reading of paintings and this is a good example of that.
Check out Evans’s website for more of her work.
I am totally enchanted by this picture. There are so many things I love about it! First off is the way it thumbs its nose at the suggestion (rule?) that the main subject shouldn’t be placed near the edge of the painting and certainly then shouldn’t be looking out of the painting to exaggerate this precarious placement. So how does Gwenneth Barth-White get away with this?? She makes it work by placing a rectangle of pure saturated red at lower right topped with a wee line of light. We cannot help but be drawn to that large area of primary colour after taking in the young woman and her tea cup. The red ties in with the flurry of geraniums along the top of the painting which then brings us to the strong vertical column of the window where we are led back down to the woman who has red in her hair and skin.
A viewer at this point may then perceive the underlying compositional structure of off-centre cross. The window column acts as the fulcrum point with the large red shape balancing out the figure and her dark clothing. The woman inhabits the lower right quadrant but visually takes up more room than that as she enjoys tea and conversation with someone off-screen. Dressed in black, she’s also the darkest part of the whole painting. Still the weight of that visual density is balanced by the lightness of flittering and jabbering geraniums as well as that red section.
I also love the way the pattern of red geraniums is repeated in the tea service and also the tablecloth. The figure is beautifully drawn – tilt of head with amused expression, smooth youthful flesh, misbehaving hair that hardly stays put, hand supporting the head. The mark-making covers all possibilities from side strokes to linear hatching – all of them working together harmoniously.
See more of Barth-White’s work here.
Wow, so that’s it for another month of splendid pastels! I would love to hear your take on my choices so please leave a comment about anything related to this month’s blog post and these splendid pastels!
Until next time,