It was after thirty five years as a freelance designer that I decided to stop working and return to my roots. I was keen to get back to drawing and painting again, so I enrolled at Putney School of Art for a life drawing class – something I had done many years previously during my time at Art School.
Three years later I had a pastel life drawing accepted by the Pastel Society. I became a member in 2001 and continued to produce mainly life drawings and landscapes in pastel, oil, and acrylic.
I was never satisfied with just a simple pose and often used extreme perspective or unusual settings for the model. I began to get more interested in shape, pattern and abstracted forms.
For example, in The Mondrian Dressing Gown I was initially inspired by the Papasan chair. I liked the fact it was round, with a large round cushion, and that the model was able to make a circular pose within it. I bought a plain white dressing gown and some fabric paints and had the idea of copying a Mondrian-type design onto the fabric. I was interested to see the abstracted shapes the fabric made when worn by the model.
In more recent paintings I have been working in a very different way. I began to feel that a representational approach, to some extent, was simply copying what nature had already designed. I wanted more freedom and scope – something which probably came from so many years as a designer - where every job required me to come up with a new idea.
So it was a natural progression that I started to explore different ideas and approaches, which could be summarised as abstract, but then what is abstract?
The dictionary definition of the word is ‘A non-objective and non representational form of art’. In this context I’m not sure that what I do is entirely abstract, as my paintings always seem to take on a form, and are often recognisable as a landscape. But the inspiration and method of working are in a sense abstract as I like to work without any sketches, and more importantly, without any preconceived idea of what the end result will be.
Initially I use charcoal, to start the process of mark making, followed by a wash of colour and some texture medium.
In Fragmented Landscape I began by drawing related forms, keeping mainly to grey tones. What emerged gave a feeling of rocks and the fishers between them. Developing this idea I added strata - a natural formation which has always fascinated me. In contrast to the square forms, the simple addition of a circle, suggestive of a sun or a moon, instantly creates a landscape. I made no attempt to represent recognizable reality but used shape, colour and textures to achieve a complete and balanced design.
In Cathedral I also started by making marks in charcoal and had no particular idea of which direction the painting would go. At some point however, a tower shape appeared and that gave me the idea to add elements of a cathedral -windows, doorways, walls etc. I enjoy working this way and it’s rare that something doesn’t appear that I can then add to in order to create a finished picture.
For example, in Cave of Dreams, (started in the same way with just marks), rocks and organic shapes began to emerge. I wasn’t thinking about a cave and haven’t been in one for several years! I’m sure the subconscious takes over when drawing like this, and if I was actively thinking ‘how shall I draw the next shape?’ rather than let it just happen, the result would just not be the same or have the same degree of independence from the visual reference of reality.
In Tree of Moons the initial marks had the appearance of a fabric design. I decided to elaborate these elements and also restricted my palette to only different tones of blue – quite hard to control on a large painting. I tend to naturally ‘anchor’ line and shapes to the edge of the painting and the result in this case suggested a trunk base with a tree like top. The fruit of the tree is in the shape of moons.
To some extent artists need the inspiration of something to work from – be it a landscape still life or model. But I prefer working without any outside influences – there is the excitement of seeing something appear that I hadn’t been thinking of with the added element of chance.
Bob Last MSIAD PS