The Headland – getting back to work

After my customary summer break to recharge the batteries (which had started to run low after the energy expended creating my newest body of work), I recently started to feel the stirrings of my artistic core letting me know it was time to start painting again.

From my latest body of work

From my latest body of work – Prussian Blue, 2012, oil on linen, 76×66 cm. Private collection, Germany.

I’ve also recently moved house and started to feel an enormous pull towards a headland near my new abode called – perhaps aptly – Magic Point.

Over the last few years I’ve been at times experimenting with working outdoors in order to be more open to the energy of a particular spot, therefore it seemed really natural that I start venturing onto that headland, almost on a daily basis, in order to work en plein air; with the emphasis being not exactly in working from nature but rather in nature.

My new neighbourhood

Magic Point

Magic Point

What goes on at the Headland?

It all started with me going for walks there, as a response to the initial pull I felt towards that place. I immediately started thinking that I would like to paint there, as a way of paying homage to the place but also to learn from it – from the way its energy might shape my paintings.

I use the way energy shapes a painting as a metaphor but also as a tool in order to grasp the way in which energy may shape life.

On my first journey to the headland I was mostly familiarizing myself with the place and feeling its powerful vibrations. Pretty soon though I started looking for natural materials to use on my paintings, as a way of letting the landscape dictate bit more directly the way the paintings will go. I’ve painted in this manner on other occasions in Brazil and on the South Coast.

From 2009 Brazil series - Untitled, 2009, watercolour, sand, natural ochre, pastel and acrylic on handmade paper, 32x46 cm

From 2009 Brazil series – Untitled, 2009, watercolour, sand, natural ochre, pastel and acrylic on handmade paper, 32×46 cm

Finding materials in nature

After the first few reconnaissance treks I started to take with me a small backpack containing some watercolours, pastels, copper powder, a limited palette of acrylics as well as gum Arabic and acrylic binder. I also took with me a folder with some sheets of handmade paper.

Although I took a few painting materials with me what I have become more interested in is using materials I find there, therefore the very ground becomes my palette. There is a great array of different coloured sands there, and they vary from each other just as much in texture. There are a whole lot of different kinds of mud available and also rocks that I can grind into powders.

All of this gets splashed, poured, rubbed, dragged and bound onto the paper, letting the materials themselves as well as the energy contained in them and in the atmosphere decide what the painting will end up looking like.

The very ground becomes my palette.

The very ground becomes my palette.

The weather also plays an important role. If there hasn’t been a lot of rain the mud becomes scarce and there is no water for me to mix watercolours with, so I turn to drier materials such as sand and rocks, and I may then use acrylics and pastels. I can also use the wind to help me shape the painting by letting powders float on it and fall onto the paper, as I may use water for its fluidity when it is available.

A little connection to fellow artists

Frank Bowling, Rosebushtoo, 1975, Acrylic on canvas, 213.4x116.8 cm

Frank Bowling, Rosebushtoo, 1975, Acrylic on canvas, 213.4×116.8 cm

For the sake of purity I almost always try to keep external artistic influences out of my work, however I can’t help but acknowledge the similarities in the process, and even the debt I’m in with Action Painters such as Pollock and Frank Bowling (above), whose work I greatly admire, as well as with the Japanese Gutai movement.

It will be interesting to see where these paintings are going to go. So far I’m loving the process and getting some quite powerful results.

Below are some images of my time spent on Magic Point.

Plain air painting

Plain air painting

"Dancing" with mud and paper.

“Dancing” with mud and paper.

IMG_2692

Self portrait.

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Group Exhibition Coming up in March

'Ariadne' detail (2009-2012)

‘Ariadne’ detail (2009-2012)

I am pleased to have been recently invited by curator Clay Paula, of two levels exhibitions to participate in Confluencias, a show of Latin American artists living in Australia, as well as Australian artists who have spent time and worked in Latin America, to be held at the Museum of Freemasonry in Sydney. Details here.

Here is a copy of an artist’s statement I wrote to go with the exhibition.

The opening date is March 15th, and it opens to the public from the 16th. It is going to be an event worth attending as Clay and co-curator Helen Symons have managed to assemble quite an impressive group of artists, not to mention the conceptual premise of the exhibition itself. More about that on my next post.

ABOUT THE WORKS

The works included in this show form part of my ongoing exploration of my own spirituality in terms of painting by focusing on material (materiality, matter) and energy.

These paintings vary from and dialogue with each other in terms of the degree of my conscious involvement with them.

UNTITLED

'Untitled' 2009. Mixed media on linen. 121cm x 152cm

‘Untitled’ 2009. Mixed media on linen. 121cm x 152cm

“Untitled” (2009) is probably the purest, most direct of the three. It is a painting created of pure energy and materials. It is simply a collection of a handful of gestures made using a few different media (watercolour, copper dust and acrylic). During its creation I was able to remove my consciousness from the process to a very large degree. I achieved this by being in a state of trance while I worked. The work was painted in one session, maybe an hour or two long, and in the open air. It was painted at a time in which I was experimenting with painting at different locations, using a variety of different media and getting lost in the immediate energy present at the time of painting in order to place a very direct manifestation of energy onto the support – sometimes linen, sometimes paper (linen in this case). It has no title as a result of the totality of its purity.

ARIADNE

Ariadne' (2009-2012). Mixed media on linen. 121cm x 152cm

Ariadne’ (2009-2012). Mixed media on linen. 121cm x 152cm

“Ariadne” (2009-2012) was started during the very same session as “Untitled” and also as a collection of gestures using a free flowing medium, in the form of watercolours, as well as powdered media such as copper dust and pigments, but was only finished at the end of 2012. During the 4 years I worked on this painting I added more and more gestures, some with a great degree of rational detachment, others much more calculated. The more calculated gestures have obviously more of my conscious being in them. The title “Ariadne” refers to the presence of myself – my humanity –  in this painting, as opposed to a painting such as “Untitled” which I attribute to forces outside of me. Dionysos is the sexual energy that animates all living things. Ariadne, his mistress, is the archetype of soul, that which makes a living being an individual. In the case of this painting she is what I put of myself into it, both through working while in an irrational, madly sexual trance, as well as the calculated, cool, sessions that I spent painting it. During the last 3 years of the process I worked in egg tempera but mostly in oils on this painting, media which lend themselves less to spontaneity and demands more of the hand of the artist.

THE LABYRINTH

'The Labyrinth' (2004-2012). Oil on linen. 183cm x 137cm

‘The Labyrinth’ (2004-2012). Oil on linen. 183cm x 137cm

The third of my paintings included in this show is titled “The Labyrinth” (2004-2012). In the ancient Greek cult of Dionysos the labyrinth wasn’t so much a place you got lost in but a maze in which if you follow its meandering path you will eventually come to the exit. This is a great metaphor for many of the trials life throws at us. I think it is also a fitting title for a painting which was created over nine years of working in a manner where I let the painting take its own course, knowing that one day, when it was ready, it would come to a state of being complete. It is a painting executed entirely in oil, as opposed to the very varied media of the other two, yet its physicality and materiality is no less apparent and alive.

Painting in Australian Art Collector

This painting is called Yellow Corner and was recently listed in Australian Art Collector magazine. It is part of my newest body of work which explores huge shifts in energy that I’m experiencing at this point in my life.

Kandinsky, who I’m a big fan of, talks about an abstract painting actually being a universe in itself. I agree with this and I want to make paintings that are like that – but also I want to go beyond this and have the actual universe inhabit the painting itself. This is a bold thing to say and an even harder thing to do, but this is a feeling that I’ve gained by being open to the energy around me.

More information

Yellow Corner can be seen in my Bondi Beach studio in Sydney. I welcome studio visits. Please call 0407 708 284 to make a time. The work is for sale. You can see more of my work at www.leonardocremonese.com

Yellow Corner (84 x 76cm) Oil on linen. 2005-2012

Yellow Corner by Leonardo Cremonese

How I spot a miracle

Aphrodite Ourania 2009-2012, mixed media on linen 152x122cm

Aphrodite Ourania 2009-2012, mixed media on linen 152x122cm

I recently wrote about the advent of a revelation as being the point at which a painting is finished. So what are these revelations exactly? Or ‘little miracles’ as I like to call them?

In the case of someone like Ellsworth Kelly, his miracles might be simply a certain elegance, which he achieves in his best work. To someone like Ribera or Melendez, it can be the sheer presence of the subject depicted, which sometimes can be more powerful, more present, than the actual live model. In this case, it is the magic of painting reminding us of the magic of the universe.

Still Life with Figs, Luis Egidio Melendez, Oil on Linen. 1746

Some other artists go deeper. Leonardo in his painting and Michelangelo in his sculpture almost touch something elemental. To stand in front of Michelangelo’s David or to look at Leonardo’s Madonna of the Rocks is to experience something divine. We get to a realm where we can no longer deal with the miracles in words.

This is where painting becomes truly interesting to me. (Not that I don’t appreciate Ribera, much on the contrary, but in my own practice I’m after the unspeakable).

Aphrodite, 2008 -2012 oil on linen, 36x30cm

With the advent of abstraction I feel we can delve into the fabric of the universe deeper than ever. Kandinsky talks about an abstract painting actually being a universe in itself. I think this is true of a lot of abstraction – Frankenthaler, Pollock and Richter come to mind – and I think this is one of the keys to really understanding abstraction. It is a painting that no longer references something but that is the thing itself, much like our universe is itself.

Jackson Pollock Untitled (Green Silver, ca. 1949 enamel and aluminium paint on paper mounted on canvas, 56cm x 76cm

What irritates me profoundly about a lot of contemporary abstract painting is that they are merely abstracted landscapes. I feel that this stops me from being completely absorbed by this new universe – the painting in question – that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced had I not seen this painting. Nor do these paintings tell me something about the essence of the landscape in question. Like what Melendez does with a piece of bread or a basket of figs.

I think we can go a lot deeper than that. I think that by being open to the developing painting as well as to cosmic energy we can make paintings that are a part of the universe. We can make a painting that is a universe in itself as well as having some of our universe in it.

In this case we have a painting that is what it is in its physicality while at the same time transcending its materiality, thus giving the viewer a glimpse of something else, something elemental. Something that is not a piece of bread or a landscape, but which is part of the magic.

Joan Miro, Painting (the magic of colour), 1930, oil on canvas, 150 x 225cm

In the best work this magic is tangible.

I feel that in my case – if you allow me such a claim – this magic manifests itself into the painting as a miracle. After toiling for years on a painting (in my case, some painters are quicker), it suddenly is there. It is this kind of miracle that makes all the hardship that comes with being an artist worthwhile.

He of the Grapes Dies and Comes Back, 53 x 46cm, mixed media on canvas, 2009-2012

How do I know when a painting is finished?

In keeping with my goal to try and give a bit of insight into my painting process through my blog posts, this time I thought I would broach the subject of how I finish a painting. Here is one I finished recently.

Yellow Corner, 2005-2012, oil on linen 84×66 cm

The matter of finishing a work, or knowing when it is finished, has often been discussed in artistic circles, as it is one of the crucial aspects of an artist’s practice. It is an area that many artists, particularly abstract painters, struggle with. I read somewhere once that Jackson Pollock would often ask his wife and fellow painter Lee Krasner  the big question – ‘Is this painting finished?’

Titian was much criticized by his contemporaries during his late period for not finishing his paintings. To this day there is debate as to whether some of his works are finished or not. Picasso is another master of the ‘unfinished’ painting.

Titian, Self portrait, c. 1560-62, oil an canvas 96×72 cm Gemaldegalerie, Berlin

I personally think that these artists did enough for the painting in question to come alive. No more was needed. In Picasso’s case this point might have taken an hour to reach, whereas Titian may have worked for 10 years on a painting. Velasquez and sometimes Rembrandt also fall into this ‘unfinished looking’ category. Other artists, in my opinion, over finish a painting, making it so perfect that it is no longer alive. It becomes too tight, rigid.  This is not to say that loose is better than tight. For example, someone like Ellsworth Kelly, with his razor sharp edges and completely flat surfaces is definitely not too finished.

Ellsworth Kelly, The Meschers, 1951, oil on linen 150×150 cm Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Reaching a point of harmony

Many art critics and historians, as well as artists talk about composition – the organization of the relationships between every shape, colour, tonal value, volume, spatial relationship, etc. on the picture plane until perfection is achieved – as being a key to a good painting. The painting is finished when harmony is achieved.

The problem with that, I think, is that you can have the most harmonious painting ever and it can still be completely inert!

Looking for little miracles

To me there has to be a revelation. I keep working on a painting, not blindly, but responding to what the painting is asking me to do, until the painting reveals something – or itself – to me. It’s like witnessing a little miracle. This ‘revelation’ is the painting’s true subject.

Detail.

Therefore, the crux of the matter is for me to be open and sensitive to the painting enough to be able to feel it and what it needs. Also the more I understand my materials the more I can offer to the painting.

I think that every great painting is a little miracle. That is perhaps why I’m not the most prolific of painters and a painting of mine can take years to be finished – I’m setting myself a very high goal, miracles after all, don’t happen every day. But hopefully that’s what makes these paintings more precious and valuable. Here is one of my favorites which was sold to a private gallery in Spain last year.

Mundus Patet, 2004-2009, oil on linen, 122×91 cm private collection, Madrid.

Next time I’ll explore something of the nature of these miracles.

2012: New beginnings

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Back in the studio getting my hands dirty

After a short summer break I’m back in the studio with renewed energy and a new focus.

Since connecting with the Dionysian life force energy, in the form of my own sexual energy , my work since 2006 has been the manifestation of this purest of energies which is the essence of painting and everything creative. (See My Creative Process Unplugged).

For the last few years however I’ve been endeavouring to connect with another part of Dionysos. One that is situated outside my body, for Dionysos is everywhere and has many faces.

For this purpose I tried painting at different locations – different places have different energies – and I was able to catch, in my painting, glimpses of such energies while painting in Brazil and on the NSW South Coast, as well as in my backyard.

In such instances I was using more fluid paints such as watercolours and acrylics (also a variety of other more natural media). I would however always revert to tuning into my own sexual energy when working in the studio and in oils.

But in the last few months I’ve been able to experience huge shifts in the energy in me and around me, to the point of being able to feel energy emanating from plants, in the bush but also in the city. As esoteric as this may sound, I’ve actually been able to at times see energy flowing.

I feel I’m learning to open up to energy from outside of my body and have been of late able to take this openness into the studio, while working in oils, and to channel different forms of energy.

While Dionysos is creativity but also madness and destruction, often this new energy I’ve been feeling is somewhat gentler, more nurturing, perhaps more Aphrodiete than Dionysos – even if Dionysos is still present, as he always is, in everything.

I feel this is a very exciting time for me creatively and can’t wait to see what the new work will look like when completed.

Leo, Sydney, 2012

My Creative Process Unplugged

Phales, 2007, oil on linen, 66x76cm

Here is a brief explanation of my creative process which I originally wrote in 2009. I am always happy to answer questions about this, although I am very much still learning and discovering myself.

Mainomenos Dionysos

I spent the few years preceding 2007 trying to remove thought completely from my working process, as I was after a purity that I felt did not reside in the human mind.

I feel I was finally able to do so, during that year, by tapping into the Greek god Dionysos.

Since then my painting has been simply the manifestation, through me, of the creative energy that is inherent in all of us. This energy is the primitive impulse behind every creative activity. It is the core of life itself as understood by the devotees of the Dionysian religion of ancient Greece. This life/creative force when excited intensely can overflow into a frenzy of erotic madness – mainomenos Dionysos. It was this energy in its most phallic, demented state that I opened myself to whenever I’ve worked since that time.

I initially did this in order to be able to switch off any rational thought so that the paintings could take their own shape; as autonomously as possible. Then I became more and more absorbed by it. I will in fact often work in an ithyphallic state. This process resulted in the craziest, most powerful work I’ve ever created.

But the Greek gods are complicated beasts (much like us).

According to very old Dionysian rites, even before the height of Greek culture, the Dionysian calendar was split into two alternating years. On the first year (depending on how you look at it), Dionysos is absent. He is in the underworld. He is dead. On the following year he is pulsating and overflowing with the virile energy of life (and creativity) to the point of madness – and ultimately destruction. It is this second Dionysos – Dionysos Mainomenos – that possessed me during 2007.

When I first wrote this in 2009 I felt that in 2008 I’d tapped more into the other Dionysos, the underworld Dionysos, called Dionysos Chthonios.

In retrospect I see that they are both one and the same thing for, as legend has it, this period of Dionysian life is not about mourning his death. Instead there is a yearning for life. Dionysos wants, and indeed needs, to be awakened. Back in Greek antiquity it was the women devotees of Dionysos, the Thyads, (who then became the Meneads during the year of his presence), who “awakened” the god in the form of the phallus – one of his many embodiments.

The phallus happens to also be the life (and creative) force within us.

So, as you can see, sexual energy is responsible for life but also results in destruction (anyone with children will understand this), but it is this very sexual energy that will bring life back.

These paintings contain extreme sexual energy but also a lot of darkness, proof that I was really tapping into something since I never set out to consciously achieve this.

But maybe there is something missing, a female energy – the Thyads perhaps?

This other, third aspect of Dionysos, or maybe of another god, still eludes me and is probably what I’ve been unknowingly searching for during the few years, as part of my constant evolving as an artist.