Wednesday, 24 October 2012

My Studio.

These are a few photos of my studio. This was my half, which was quite large, and I was able to work on the 4 paintings with enough space to lay them on the floor. I shared the studio with Heidi, and we are both artists who work very intensely and don't like to talk! So the only noise was my palette knife as it slid across the surface of my canvas, some traffic outside, and a soft buzz of music from Heidi's I-Pod. Such is the perfect environment  for painting!
We both laid plastic on the floor, because though we are not messy painters, you never can tell where paint can end up. I worked without my shoes on most of the time, and my pink socks ended up with paint splatters.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Lost in the Forest

One of the aspects of this residency that I really loved was that they gave us tastes of our environment before we set foot in the studio to paint. Our first Saturday was full, with the Press Conference (and there was an article in the paper), and with the allocation of studio space, and in the evening we had the official Opening of the event. (More on this later.) Sunday was a day to explore the landscape. We started off at around, and did not arrive back at our hotel until about 9pm. It was a day I looked forward to, as a painter who is inspired by landscape.
Latvia is fairly flat. There are endless forests, and curious paths that disappear randomly into their thick lines of verticals. We had trips to several locations. First there was a long walk down a forested hill to a wide river. We explored the river banks, went up a very tall, wooden tower to get a panoramic view, and then had a picnic by the river. We also visited a Bread Museum, which I will write about in detail in my next post.
As the light began to soften, we went to see Devil's Lake. The bus let us out on a dirt road leading into a forest that seemed to engulf the world. Our group ambled along this road chatting away, while our guides gathered mushrooms. (This is a national pastime.) I was amazed that within a tiny patch of mossy ground, you could see 6 or 7 different varieties of mushrooms: red, black, yellow with frills, yellow round ones, grey and domed, puffballs, flat beige, spotted. As our group were slowly walking along, I stopped with Anna to go to the toilet. (The strong vodka-like drink we'd had at the Bread Museum had created a sense of urgency!) We didn't take long, and hurried up the road to find our group. They were nowhere to be seen. We reached a fork in the road, by a large sign marking the lake. We had a choice, to take the road on the left (which went up a slight hill), or turn right and follow a very narrow, mossy path alongside the lake edge. The lake was in front of us, a crystal clear expanse, with the dark, serated reflections of pine trees. Still we could hear no voices. The forest was silent, not even birdsong punctuated the rhythmic verticals.
A car passed, and men stared out at us. For sure, two women alone in nowhere was very odd. We hoped they wouldn't come back! Were there bears, I wondered?
As evening was sapping the light, we had to make a decision. I said let's go back to where the bus left us. Anna was worried that the bus was collecting everyone from another point. But everything seemed to be saying to go back to our starting point, and just wait there. They would be sure to come back to look for us there.
The ridged, earthy road back seemed to go on forever. We passed the same groups of mushrooms, which were the only points of reference in a forest without signposts. Then, as we rounded a corner, there was the white bus. Our relief sent us into hysterical laugher, which began to echo around the trees. As we neared the group of our friends, our hysterical laughter grew even louder as we realised that no one had missed us! They were all busy drinking some more of the Vodka-like drink, and talking about Devil's Lake. Anna and I were passed small cups of this clear fluid, and I drank mine in one go. No one asked us where we'd been, and we were rather relieved. The talk was about Devil's Lake, and some related spooky or paranormal events, and how beautiful it had been.
Next day I began to mention to the other artists that we'd been lost. They all said, 'We didn't realise!' I guessed that they'd taken the mossy path by the lake, and somehow returned to our starting point on a road parallel to the one we were on. This painting is about that experience. I began it on my first day in the studio, but did not finish it until 2 days before the end of studio time.
('Into the Forest,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 90 x 60cm)

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

A Latvian Journey

We arrived at our hotel at around 10pm on 14th September, and had a very late supper. My room was spacious and comfortable, and I sorted all my clothes and belongings before I went to bed. The next day was a busy one. We had a Press Conference at 9am, followed by a visit to the Art School for the allocation of our studios. I found that I was sharing a very large studio with an artist called Heidi P. Next came a visit to an Art Shop, to choose our materials. I was glad I'd brought my own paints, brushes, palette and palette knife, as the choice was limited, and the funds also limited. But I was able to buy some wonderful Russian paints called St Petersburg oil paints.
On the Sunday we had a long trip out into the Latvian landscape, to get a feeling for our new environment. I was glad of this experience because I wanted this sense of place to enter my work. The trip took us to a river for a picnic, to a bread museum (where we tasted homemade Rye bread, and had a huge supper of organic food from the area), and to see the lovely church at Aglona. We walked along a road, lined with sunflowers, and admired ornate, old houses that were part of a museum, and it was like going back in time. Crimson, orange and yellow Cactus Dahlias were bright accents against deep brown earth, and Apple trees encircled small wooden homes.
We were out until late in the evening, and the luscious greens of the landscape were indelibly imprinted on my mind. It is a landscape without fences (unlike Kent, where I live), and colourful houses are scattered across the flat, grassy land like dice thrown across a luminous, green tablecloth. This is a painting inspired by that day's experience.
My next post will describe getting lost in the forest!
('Latvian Journey,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 80 x 70cm. Part of the Mark Rothko Foundation)

Monday, 1 October 2012

Mark Rothko Plein Air Residency Exhibition

We set up our exhibition at the Daugavpils Museum of Regional Studies and Art (Daugavpils, Latvia) on Tuesday, 25th September (in commemoration of Mark Rothko's birthday). 15 artists took part. I painted 4 canvases but 3 were hung due to a lack of space. I was very pleased that they hung my largest canvas, (pictured with me here). Entitled 'Flying into Riga Airport,' it was all about my excitement as the aircraft tilted on its approach to the airport, and I was suspended above dark forested areas, estuaries, a wide river (the Dauga) and various colourful houses. The swing of the dark shapes interested me, and I worked hard to get that green exactly right. It had to be a very particular green, as I had been impressed by the green painted houses, and the same shade of green was on the Latvian money notes!  One of the Directors came into the studio and found I had a 5 Lat note next to my palette, which made him smile.
Shortly before the end of our studio time, I tried to enliven this green curve by adding another shade that was entirely wrong (too dense), and spent the next day wiping it off with rags soaked in turpentine! My hands were green for some days afterwards, but eventually I was able to re-work the green and it ended up better than it had been. A huge sigh of relief - it was, of the 4 paintings, the one that was a new direction for me, and I was determined to be able to show it! It was also the one chosen for the catalogue.
Unlike most of my fellow artists, who came equipped with laptops, I was unable to update my blog day by day. I will over the next week describe the experience of being on a painting residency, and what I gained from it. For now, I'm including a few photos of this largest painting.
All 4 paintings extended my vision.  I worked on 3 over a course of 4 days, as studio time was very intensive and I was pulled into multi-layered, unfolding arenas. Then on day 5 I had an idea for a 4th painting, about flying over Latvia, and to my surprise I was able to finish this one on our last day of studio time. We had 7 days altogether.
('Flying into Riga Airport,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 100 x 140cm)
It was an amazing experience, and I wish it had been longer. It is the first time, since college, that I have had such a large studio space, and it allowed me to expand and reassess my ideas.
More tomorrow!