Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Laika in Bliss

oil on canvas 66x51cm

If this piece looks familiar that’s because it’s a development of the watercolour posted a couple of months ago. I’ve simply added some ground forms - adapted from photos of Bruntsfield Links I took specifically for this project (I rushed up there with the camera when I realised that the light was just as I wanted it). I’d long been planning a piece about Laika, but having seen the potential of this sky for ‘heavenliness’ I dumped my previous idea in favour of this one.

There is a mood setter for this – Max Richter’s ‘Maria the Poet (1913)’. Even though the words are in Russian, the syllables are beguiling, and as a piece of music it’s the overall effect that matters. There is a recent translation, but I can’t tell whether it’s a good one as, sadly, my Russian simply isn’t up to it.

Technically, this painting is quite interesting. For a start, it was completed fairly quickly - I avoided being dragged into unnecessary detail, and treated the trees quite freely.

There is good, efficient use of glazing here as well, especially in the trees. They were laid in with a neutral Paynes Grey/Burnt Umber mix, lighter tones being either the grey primer showing through, or additions in a similar grey. For the leaf colour I glazed them over with semi-transparent Yellow – giving me a basic transparent green which was further tweaked with darks and yellows. This varnishy yellow glaze gave me singing highlights in the grass too, reinforcing the effect of sunlight.

The sky, as usual, was built up with veils of thin paint, but I added dabs of very thin Lemon Yellow glaze around the edge of the Sun and the cloudlet below it, and a wider thin Magenta glaze spreading and diminishing outwards. I faded a thin Zinc White glaze over them at the Sun itself, but there remains a hint of iridescence, which gives a strange hallucinatory light – much more subtle than straight white light. (I’ve nearly half-blinded myself when trying to work out how the Sun appears to affect the atmosphere immediately around it. Not a good idea, and I think I have enough clues for now not to be doing that for a while). 

I painted the setting with only a vague idea of how I would introduce Laika. I’ve always been a bit distraught at the thought of that little Russian dog. 

If you haven’t heard of her, she was the first dog in space; sent into orbit by the USSR space programme, back in 1957. They needed a small dog, and she just happened to be the stray they chose. The problem was that there was no way she was ever coming back, and so she died up there in her tiny capsule, and that thought has upset me – with no lessening - ever since I became aware of the story as a child.

I knew she would be placed in that important bottom right corner, but how would she be? Active? Passive? If she was active what was she doing? As a pack animal, would she be happiest in a pack of heavenly dogs. At one point I taped some cellophane onto the surface and painted Laika trotting in from the right towards a group of four or five other dogs snuffling around on the left (very difficult painting tiny, tiny dogs that look like dogs). The scene was charming, but it just looked like some dogs having fun in a park. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it lacked the intensity I was after.

After a lot of deliberation, I decided that there would be no context for loneliness, or play, or any of those earthbound concepts in Heaven. I looked through my ‘happy dog’ sources and settled on a photo of the small dog that I saw while up at Bruntsfield (serendipitous or what…) and used that as the model.

So, if you look at the bottom right hand corner you‘ll see a tiny Laika – black ears just recognisable at 2cm tall - attentive but alone, sitting up, and gazing at the Sun. Here - in my mind - she needs nothing, but exists in peace and safety, forgetting all, at one with everything, bathing in the Lux Perpetua.

Laika in Bliss…