I really really admire the high classical era, in which it seemed that the ideal of a painter was to make something look like life, but a little bit better. This year I am hoping to have a show with pieces inspired by classical themes, in many senses of the word. Not just post-renaissance painting, but also the original work of antiquity.
There I have a problem. I grew up on the sanitised, Victorian-style classical art, full of white marble and cleaned surfaces. My favourite classical statue (pre-classical, in fact) has the remains of paint on it, but it is still faded and subtle. You know what? I’m OK with that. I can live with loving a false idol, because the idol is so fantastic. It’s the sodding Parthenon Marbles! I mean, it’s exactly what I’ve been taught to admire in art, and therefore I do.
Which is another story, of course. But this is what I did today. I’ll leave a discussion of the ‘Elgin’ marbles for another time, and you can look at a naked goddess instead. She’s probably going to be a goddess. She might be a nymph, but given how few clothes I am going to put on her, she’s unlikely to be mortal.
I do not like the face as I finally painted it, but that is fine. It is just a place-holder for what will be there. I now have the trouble of adding in a landscape like one in my mind, with plenty of autumn in it.
On the full canvas you can see my measuring marks and the arabesques I was aiming for on the back. Once I worked out where I was going wrong, I turned the canvas upside-down and started painting. On her chest there is a Rubens-style shadow which is thinner than it should be, but which I wish to use to define the arm and chest, rather than the light source. This is a common trick of his and one that I like to use, to a point. Cutting out the shadows that are too complex for a single plane to bear is very important. I am not trying to paint a photograph. I am trying to paint something you want to look at more than at a photo.
It interests me that this is much like an illustration from an American magazine 50 years ago – I know more about the American market than I do about the British one, thanks to Mr Andrew Loomis, a famous illustrator. (I commend his books to anyone who wants to paint, and his advice not to do it as a sideline to anyone who wants to do it for money.)
It also has an aeroplane nose-decoration theme – put the girl in a bikini and she could be on any bomber you don’t paint like a shark. Those two cases, illustration and decoration, are pretty close to what I want to paint, but I think I will have to reduce the tan a little. Ah well.