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The Unseen Hours - Old entry

(This blog post was originally posted on 07 May 2015 in a now defunct blog I had)


This entry came about from a comment I hear every now and then. “It must have taken so and so a couple of hours to paint that.” It is more often linked to a splat of paint or piece of abstract art. We would never consider saying that about an elaborate painting by one of the Masters. The ones you can see that took months, sometimes years to paint. With the advent of abstract art and the monotone canvases, we will occasionally look at that work of art with disdain and think a giant blue canvas? Sold for millions? Or a blue canvas with a red triangle, yellow square and black line… A days work at the most. And yet….

It can take hours of planning, hours of thought, even months or years. My latest series took around a year to plan. I knew I wanted to paint about feelings, emotions, but there were so many ways I could have approached it, then there was the reception. How would I paint something that affected everyone and be happy with the way I had done it. I am the sort of person who will spend hours reading, researching, studying, to the point my husband makes fun of me. According to him, I seem to enjoy the process, the research more than the actual doing. Until I started the pieces and he immediately quietened as he saw that I was spending hours locked up in my studio actually painting. Once I had considered the materials, the approach, and many many sketches, colour studies later, I felt I was finally ready. A lot of the work also took place in my head. I would spend hours staring into space imagining the colour combinations, the positioning of each character, and there had to be a reason to every stroke, including the choice of the crackle paste as a base.

After going through this process, I realised there was much more to abstract art - that and some of my own research and literature. I recently watched a BBC program called Abstract in the UK – Purity and Universality (1930s) featuring the precursors of abstract art in the United Kingdom. It opened with Barbara Hepworth and she explained how her art was about its timelessness, it was also about survival and growth. She studied with Henri Moore and you can see his influence in her sculptures and she chose her subject matter according to how she felt, she chose pleasing forms which moved her. She loved the tactility of the pebble and she wanted her sculptures to reflect that. Sculpting was also about finding her own calligraphy and being in touch with the past, a past that you knew a smooth pebble had been through, how it had been worn away with time. She recreated the “Purest forms that evoked my own sensations.”

Barbara Hepworth sculpture
Barbara Hepworth at work on one of her sculptures.
Blue Days John Hoyland
"Blue Days" by John Hoyland

For Gillian Hayes abstract was a celebration of life. According to John Hoyland, “Paintings are to be experienced, they are events.” An interesting anecdote about him is that when his abstract paintings had been hanging in the Royal Academy in the late fifties, Sir Charles Wheeler, the then President of the Royal Academy had ordered that Hoyland’s paintings be taken down from the Diploma Gallery until he was reminded by Peter Greenham, Acting Keeper of the Schools, that Hoyland also painted landscapes, evidence that he could ‘paint properly’.

Bridget Riley was the celebrity of Op Art and the reason she went into it was because “I couldn’t get near what I wanted through seeing, recognizing and recreating, so I stood the problem on its head. I started studying squares, rectangles, triangles and the sensations they give rise to… It is untrue that my work depends on any literary impulse or has any illustrative intention. The marks on the canvas are sole and essential agents in a series of relationships which form the structure of the painting.”

Bridget Riley posing
Bridget Riley posing in front of one of her pieces (1964)

Other artists were mentioned, but these were the ones who grasped my imagination, who made me understand that abstract art could also have a meaning behind it, that it wasn’t just a splodge of colour on the canvas, and that a shapeless sculpture was significant in that it evoked sensations and emotions.