This might not mean a huge amount to a lot of people, but I am starting a new painting and it is actually the second largest painting I have ever made. I only realised this the other day when I set the stretchers against what had previously been my second largest painting and it was larger by a few inches than the old work. Now, some people might wonder about how large this massive work may be and will probably be a bit disappointed to learn it is 3ft x 4ft, 36"x48" or roughly 91 x 122 cm. This isn't huge for many people and for some, used to working on a large scale, even diminutive.
However, for me it means a lot. I gave up painting in oils in 1992, when I seemed to be overwhelmed with anxiety and a kind of revulsion towards my painting every time I set foot in the studio. I could only outpace this anxiety by drawing extremely rapidly and more or less automatically. So my work for the rest of the decade, and into the early years of the 21st century were, typically, A1 sized drawings, usually on very smooth hot-pressed paper, in pencil and occasional touches of wax crayon. (See here for a couple of not wholly typical examples:http://stuartinman.blogspot.com/2013/02/my-drawings-i.html)
For several years I did very little drawing, focusing on photography, (My photography Flickr page is here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stuartinman/) and while I found the pursuit of the strange images discovered in the streets to be well worth the effort, I was not firing on all creative cylinders while I was not painting and drawing. Then I was able to retire and move to Wiltshire with Jane and suddenly had a decent studio space for the first time in many years. Within a few weeks I had my space assembled and bought a couple of canvases and made a start.
In fact, I made a number of false starts. Fortunately, I didn't feel that old anxiety, and kept plugging on. After a few weeks I decided that I needed to come to terms with this new (for me), but ancient landscape and, by degrees, started to become a landscape painter. If I had any qualms, it was that the majority of these new works could not, in any way, be called surrealist. I have given over such a large part of my life to the surrealist vision, this seemed odd, and maybe even odder, I wasn't that bothered. I don't mean that I had dropped surrealist ideas, just that they were at most in the background of the new works, if at all, and mostly not.
I started to develop a new technique for myself, starting in acrylic, many washes over a drawing, reasserting the drawing, spattering and dripping the paint, sealing it with acrylic medium, then repeating the process, then at some point switching to oil paint. Sometimes the whole work would become so hopeless that I'd overpaint it with something else. I made a series of small paintings based on drawings from the 80s, which at least were more imagination-based, and a new version of a painting from the same period that I had sold, it is of a staircase in the house I lived in back in the late 70s, in Bloomsbury. So, it was already a memory painting back then, now, a memory of a memory. I started to play with the forms just a little, letting them not quite work. Instead of correcting proportions, just letting them be awkward and difficult to navigate, as places in a dream or a memory can be, but apparently crisp and sharply outlined, at least in part.
The new work is also a memory painting and set in Bloomsbury. I originally thought of setting it in Little Russell Street, where I lived,, but because I had conceived it, not only as something very personal around my own memories, but as a sort of homage to Balthus' great canvas Passage du Commerce-Saint-André, and the view into Bury Place from Gilbert Place (where Austin Spare had once lived) was closer in aspect to the Parisian scene. (Near here: https://www.londonpicturearchive.org.uk/view-item?i=72884&WINID=1683926619366)
So, I have sized and primed the canvas and now need to wait a week or two before starting, letting the priming cure thoroughly. (For those interested in such things, I am using a casein priming, which I have used a couple of times on small works.) I'm expecting the painting to take months, at the very least, probably letting each layer settle down possibly revising it for years while undertaking any number of new works as well as revising older ones. I have found that very few works simply feel finished and in adding new layers I can add to the emotional and perceptive weight of the painting as well as developing it more intellectually, it is a matter of seeing where to take it, whether a matter of slight adjustments, major revision or complete reinvention.
I have not posted any of my work for a very long time, but promise to do so in future, the lack of it really isn't down to shyness, but mostly the unfinished nature of most of it. Time for that to change?