Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Serpent and Cherubim

oil on canvas 78x107cm

This is the Grand Project for which all those drawings of trees, hands, and Anton Walbrook were made. At over a metre high, for me it’s quite a large-scale figure composition, and I’ve been working on it for a while. I finished it earlier this month, and still don’t really know whether I’ve been successful or not.

Some of the drawing isn’t bad, and I’m quite pleased with the composition. I like the way the guard stands in a narrow space that curves towards us from under the trees, and how the shapes of the armour, walls and visor rhyme with it. In this lower section the forms are all man-made. In the upper section they are organic, chaotic, scary, and are intruding into the organised space.

You can, of course, supply your own interpretation of what’s going on, but there is a specific narrative. The clues are there – my nephew got it with only a little prompting, so if you want to solve it without help, stop reading now.

First of all, there’s the title; does it refer to the figures, and where might you find those two together? Is the coldly detached, sinister man in the tree the Serpent or Cherubim, and why do you think that? Why is the armed guard wearing a (rather obvious) angel-wing lock emblem? Who or what is he guarding? What is going on between the figures and what are they thinking about each other – if at all? The answer is coming up next.

The painting is a response to the question ‘What happened next back at the Garden of Eden?’ and is a sequel to January’s ‘Expulsion – Marchmont’ (The armed guard features in both). Satan is still mooching around and his only diversion is the Cherubim at the gate, and he can’t do anything else but try to undermine and subvert him. My guess is that he’d start by giving him a cigarette, and lighting it. The painting shows the moment before the cigarette is lit.

I strongly urge you to look at this while listening to the Rolling Stones single ‘Gimme Shelter’. It has a potent atmosphere of menace and foreboding, and was my mood-setter while getting this done. Play it through and let your gaze rove all over the painting - you’ll probably end up at the cigarette/face/lighter area, but take your time.

The model I used for the angel’s face was Madam, who was very pleased to have her very own halo. She doesn’t smoke, but has a dark, unfulfilled desire for cigarettes, and was disturbingly exhilarated to be immortalised as just about to have one.

Monday, June 28, 2010


oil on card 28x20cm

So, just after stating to someone that I never wanted to do another painting featuring chimney-pots – I go and paint this.

As you see, our building is being worked on, and the view out of the front window has strange angular intersections. It’s an ill wind that blows no silver lining, and as not everyone gets the chance to experience a bird-in-a-cage’s-eye view, you may get some benefit from our experience.

Seriously, it is quite an interesting subject. I had to think quite carefully about the focus – was I trying to paint the pretty view through the scaffolding, or the scaffolding with the view as backdrop? As it’s turned out I think I’ve painted quite a balanced work, and the eye can settle on one without being distracted by the other.

The sky blues are quite luminous. I’m putting this down to the careful use of Pthalo and Prussian Blues, touched with Payne’s grey, and Zinc White – in a damar/walnut oil medium. This is quite a translucent mix, so glows quite nicely even though it’s on a grey primer.

Interesting little work, but I do wish the building guys would hurry up and finish…