There are two strands of thought that inform the artistic choices I make:
1. The visual aesthetic;
Decisions about composition, colour, handling of paint, and all the classic artistic considerations involved in applying oil to surface, and striving to be as skilful a painter as it is possible for me to be.
2. The emotional experience of one person looking at another;
I want to create an intimate relationship between the viewer and the subject. Through use of pose, body language and mood, I want to focus the viewer’s gaze on the subject so that they can allow themselves a pure emotional reaction that speaks as much of their own feelings and experiences as of those they interpret in the subject they are regarding.
I find these two aspects work interdependently. I have made the decision to concentrate on a single figure in an ambiguous background both for the beautiful simplicity of the visual effect and because it forces the viewer into an immediate dialogue with the subject. A person viewing a group is automatically an outsider, whereas to look upon a single figure creates a dynamic between the viewer and subject that becomes much more intimate. Similarly, to put the subject into an environment that is clearly different from that of the viewer creates a barrier to the feeling of shared experience, whereas an empty or ambiguous background can create mood without being a distraction. A figure becomes timeless when their environment is removed.
I am concerned with the disciplines involved in painting, the subtleties of colour and texture, the joy of the brushstroke, to be able to manipulate paint and create a three dimensional image on a flat surface through the molding of light and shade and the unendingly fascinating possibilities of colour, especially when it is reduced to it’s most subtle elements so that you can appreciate the beauty in the slightest variation.
I have attempted to focus on the delicacy of the surface of skin by stripping back all aspects of the composition that distract the eye from the skins’ texture. I want to encourage the viewer to look at the beauty and subtlety of paint depicting skin, to appreciate the surface of the canvas turned into molded form, contrasted with blank colour or flat pattern. This excites me aesthetically and also focuses attention on the figure. It forces the viewer to make decisions about the character, mood, and thoughts of the subject rather than their physical surroundings or any other societal trappings that sub consciously suggest status or background. The question becomes one of what is going on inside the subject’s head rather than an interpretation of the swirl of life surrounding them.
The voyeuristic aspect of figurative painting also interests me. To scrutinize another person is not socially acceptable unless that person is known intimately or is unaware of the viewer’s gaze. For a viewer to be in a position where they can scrutinize with impunity a figure in a painting puts them immediately in an intimate relationship with the subject. If the subject, however, appears unaware of this scrutiny there can be an added frisson of voyeuristic danger – what if the subject were to turn or open their eyes and catch the gaze – as well as a feeling of safety in the knowledge that that could never happen. It is, after all, just a painting, but that does not alter one person’s instinctive reaction to seeing another.
My aim is to strip back the layers of unimportant visual distractions and focus the viewers’ gaze so that they can break through the surface to the emotional core of the reaction that one person has to another, whilst also creating something beautiful in its simplicity.
Emotional complexity amplified by visual simplicity.
I hope to leave space for the imagination, to minimise unnecessary distractions, both visually and emotionally and let the viewer make up their own mind as to what the painting is saying to them – the only way to have a truly satisfactory artistic experience.
Gently Does It Podcast with John Dalton