This painting is my product of a three day masterclass with renowned artist, Ellen Altfest, at the RHA school in Dublin.
Over the first day and a half Ellen challenged us to consider our composition from different perspectives. Sketching multiple versions. Introducing new objects. New crops. New framing devices. Meaning, narrative, relationships ...
I was instinctively drawn to our model's ear and the framed view of a somewhat traditional still-life set up in the background. For this I chose a jug, a rose, and soft green cloth to vibrate against the red tones in the model's skin.
The intention of my piece was to create a disturbance in the observer. I wanted to make compositional choices that would result in the observers eye darting from one area to the next and not flowing gently. To achieve this I purposely drew lines into the corners of the composition, I created tangents where one object would run into another uncomfortably. To further add to the tension I included a strong diagonal and rendered all elements in sharp focus with minimal blending and softness
All of these decisions were made before the painting began as a result of the multiple sketches and ideas I hashed out before getting out the 'good' paper.
I then proceeded to paint in our limited time frame as best as my observational skills could facilitate using a medium I hadn't used before ... goache
The goache and I had a number of arguments as I learned the hard way about its tendency to dry opaque and casually reject my attempts at glazing but after about half a day we started to speak and I learned that the best way for me to work with it was to apply it in almost a pointilist way allowing some colours to blend optically as opposed to mixing final colours on my palette. It reminded me of a workshop I had taken earlier in the year in egg tempera. It was unexpectedly hypnotic and meditative. At this point I gave the composition no more of my attention. I let myself slip into the world of pure observation.
I then, exhausted but satisfied, shared the work and received some positive feedback. One message, however, stood out. A friend of mine messaged me to say that on first glance my painting had appeared to him as a close up of a vagina.
I opened up the image immediately to look again and, lo and behold, there it was, in all its glory.
I was thrilled to uncover this additional meaning in my piece and when I started to analyse the day's events and how I had gone about making the choices I had it became clear that this had been a subconscious decision.
The jug, the rose, the folds of the cloth, the hair, the textured skin and of course the sexual topography of the ear itself joined forces into one large sexual metaphor.
Isnt it wonderful when a plan comes together ! ... even if it is a 'happy accident'*
*Bob Ross is my hero