How a Colour became a Narrative

Paper Roses
February 25, 2017

The autumn day was beginning to draw to an end. The sky was a clear, clear blue and the air sparklingly clean as we walked along that beautiful stretch of the Cyprus coast at the Sea Caves. The pure turquoise of the sea was made richer and more intense against brilliant white of the limestone cliffs and, as I walked behind my walking companion and watched her shadow falling across the stone I was astonished to see how it seemed to be cast onto the white chalk as a muted version of the blue-green of the sea.

The  idea for my series of Shadows paintings was born.

In the beginning it was simply going to be a painting exercise centred around actual shadows and their colours.

They were to be shadows of the human figure. Wanting a clear white background for those shadows I headed back to the Sea Caves for a photo shoot with my model late one afternoon so that we would get some decent shadows from the lowered angle of the sun. The plan was that she would take up a number of yoga poses while I snapped away to gather photos of a number of different shadow shapes. Quite unintentionally, my own shadow was also always in the frame. As it turned out, this eventually provided me with another layer of meaning to the whole series. The other thing that happened to set the course of the work, and again it happened quite unintentionally, was the shadows’ distortions on the uneven and rounded rocks.

It was they that brought to mind thoughts of the shadow side of our psyches, The whole project now took on a deeper meaning. It found its way into the fabric of the images both consciously and unconsciously, and developed more complexity as I continued working on the series. In one of the paintings, ‘Nowhere to Hide’,

Climbing out of the frame

Our shadows are always with us

I painted a figure in black and white and the shadow in colour to make that our shadow selves are usually much more colourful  than the self that we present to the world.

An Oriental Dance

Inner lives can take us anywhere we want.

In another, ‘Inner Life’, the shape of the shadow suggests an oriental headdress – where do our fantasy lives take us? The second and third faces that inhabit the canvas of ‘Scrutiny’ appeared quite unexpectedly and create an eerie atmosphere of unwelcome and unnerving spectres.

Who's Watching

There are spectres everywhere

Shadows fall ON to surfaces. From a technical point of view I needed to make sure that my shadows would also fall on to their surfaces. To do this I painted the surfaces first with opaque colours. Then I waited for them to dry before I working on. I was using oil paints that needed longer drying time, so it was useful  to be working on several canvases at once. Once the paint had dried, I laid thin layers of transparent paint on top, where the shadows fell, just as they did in reality, so the underlying textures would be seen clearly through the transparent colour. For the shadows I chose the pigment rich  Lefranc and Bourgeois’ beautiful Turquoise, Ultramarine and Bayeux Violet, all of them richly pigmented transparent colours.

Eventually I started making paintings using only my own shadow. ‘Ancestral Spirit’ is a very personal mixed media piece made up of overlaid narratives, one of which is my shadow, and each representing one significant aspect of my life.

Layers of Time

A Layered Life

For ‘Wings of Flight’ I made a paper pattern of my shadow and tore it into fragments then I arranged the fragmented parts across a set of four of my stone lithographs suggesting two of my shadow selves facing in opposite directions.. I traced those shapes onto the lithographs and again painted them using transparent oil colours over the lithographs. Somehow, even when our many parts seem so disconnected from one another, and even face in opposite directions, they do still hang together at the end of the day.

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