In the Final Major Project (FMP) I wanted to explore still life painting as a creative practice in order to look at symbolism and the wider meanings if object forms. My final three paintings chosen for submission were ‘Double espresso and Macaroons’ (Mixed media on paper and cardboard), ‘Purple Apple Ice Bucket’ (Mixed media on paper and cardboard) and ‘Purple Pineapple’ (Mixed media on plasterboard and newspaper).
Having read a paper on the different aspects of story telling (Frank, S., 1996) I wanted to use these ideas in my artworks through the use of objects. In the paper, how narratives can be used in creative ways was discussed in detail and it examined how to place emphasis when deploying the facts. My curiosity surrounding the history of the female role and the myths that are often depicted in history as the oppression of the patriarchal structure has structured how women are portrayed in history. Using the biblical narrative of Eve the paper offers a different perspective on why Eve was right to eat the forbidden apple.
My initial digital research looked at a selection of artworks which depicted the story of female figures in a religious context and I explored the narrative of Adam and Eve. As a reaction to this I started with some sketches of Eve with her eyes closed to signify refusal or a moments pause. Unsure of whether the sketches were strong enough to convey the message I wanted, I began exploring Greek mythology for strong female messages. Inspired by the story of Pandora and the box, I created a series of still life charcoal drawings. However, this further confused as I began to realise I was unsure what exactly I wanted to convey. Through my research, I began to confuse myself. I was trapped in my own box.
I decided to focus on the box itself and went back to the drawing board, sketching out various objects around the home such as toilet paper, my pineapple ice bucket, the bird shaped candle and a cocktail shaker. This enabled me to practice my drawing using charcoal and the medium I was sketching on was newspaper that I had at home. The focus on individual objects sparked my research into Dutch Still Life (DSL).
Still life painting has the ability through symbolism to give a narrative of thoughts and ideas subject to the viewers interpretation. The goal of a still life composition is to direct the viewer’s eye through a painting and lead them toward what the artist thinks is important. The Golden era of 16th and 17th century still life paintings conveyed messages of a new wealth era and of celebration.
Objects were used to counteract the reformation, by creating “Vanitas” which were paintings that conveyed a warning message about the fragility of life and the vanity of our earthly achievements and pleasures. Whilst aesthetically pleasing they also carried a narrative of social change and depicted the impact of the reformation on their lives. After exploring DSL in more detail I decided to combine the symbolism of objects with my initial inspiration of female oppression through history.
I wanted my work to inspired by DSL but to use modern day objects to bring my narrative life. An example being the works produced by Audrey Flack whose still-life paintings featuring religious and moral symbolism through which she brought iconic photographic images from the past into new relationships with everyday perishables and chattels.
Making a decision on which objects to include in my piece was my starting point as I really wanted to give my FMP a valid meaning rather than just painting a collection of objects. I began by selecting the forbidden apple as a way to bring Eve back into the project. However I realised the apple also represented the Ancient Greek myth of Eris whose golden apple ignited chaos by throwing it at the guest of the wedding she was not invited to as she was in rage, thus sparking the Trojan war.
This led me to wonder whether the apple was strong enough to represent the woman herself or whether it was better to use it to symbolise the patriarchal system which has tried to subdue the female strength. I decided to use the pineapple ice bucket to represent the female form instead, a status symbol and a rarity. First brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus, they were something that had never been encountered before which is why so many artists began incorporating them into their work. As pineapples became more accessible, they no longer represented the status and instead where symbols of hospitality, an aspect of life often spearheaded by women.
Finally I chose a candlestick to remind the viewer of the death and the fragility of human life. Something which we were bound to explore as the FMP has taken place during a time of human uncertainty of our futures as well as for life itself. It also gave the painting better composition, bringing height and another dimension into the painting. As I outlined the candlestick in pencil I could also incorporate it as a phallic symbol further bringing feminism and its overshadow to the forefront of the paintings dialogue.
As the FMP project was undertaken during a time of lockdown of life in England I was limited to use colours which I had in my home as I could not access my studio or college. I experimented with paint pour and colour combinations, using the black; red; purple; white and pink acrylic paints I had. This process enabled me to think about my choice of colour palette and the representation of colour which is an important aspect of religious art works. I ended up choosing purple as my dominant theme as historically it represent luxury, nobility and what the poor could not have. The depiction of women in the novel Colour Purple demonstrates the nullification of women in a patriarchal society. Today, purple has become synonymous with the struggles against oppression, which is why many British councils have lit up buildings in purple, to show they stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
For my canvas medium, as I do not like painting on traditional stretched canvas, I made my own canvas from plasterboard I found in a skip. This could be perceived as a health and safety issue during the covid pandemic however I minimised the risk involved by wearing gloves, a face mask and by leaving it quarantined in my garden in a secluded spot for 14 days. Despite being resourceful in my approach to my practice, using recycled materials and minimising waste where possible, it is important to consider health and safety when practicing art. Types of materials such as spray paints, resin and the plasterboard can be considered a risk if not used in accordance to safety guidelines and measures.
For my canvas, I glued newspaper onto the plasterboard as I liked the layering effect that it brough to the canvas as you can just about see the words behind the paint. However, by painting over news and advertising I am adding supplementary messages of capitalism, consumerism, greed, corporate takeover and all the social impacts felt by society in this day and age. I also made the glue myself as I could not simply go and purchase it. My own journey of creation of a product we would normally so easily just go and buy (not to mention the added plastic waste involved).
To make my frame, I began my making a maquette, I used cardboard and boiled plastic which I then glued and spray painted. For me the frame itself can be part of the artwork, such as those from the Baroque era, and believe if used correctly they can accentuate the idea your trying to convey. This is why I have used recycled food packaging waste to create my frame as the pollution of our environment is a message I often incorporate into my practice. I don’t believe in being wasteful just to provide beauty. Plastic packaging is an ugly burden of society and consumerism but I tried to recycle into something beautiful which might bring the viewer to challenge their consumption.
Once I finalised my piece ‘Purple Pineapple’ I took the opportunity to further develop my painting technique. I created two further works ‘Double espresso and Macaroons’ and ‘Purple Apple Ice Bucket’ which were more centred on me furthering my painting techniques and use of light. I wanted to explore the formal elements in painting: line, shape, form, tone, texture, pattern and composition. Whilst I am please with how the composition and painting improved in both of these pieces, I regret not using a more professional canvas material. I used paper as they only began as sketches but in the end I was pleased with the results and wanted to used them as final outcomes for my FMP project.
I have learnt to have more confidence in my own abilities and to trust my creative instincts. I enjoy painting and often use it as a medium to convey my art as I enjoy its fluidity and you can feel part of the experience. I often struggle with perspective but during this assignment I took the time to study the objects in relation to each other and the negative space between them. I wanted the objects to appear near to the viewer and to take up the majority of the canvas. I practiced drawing the objects whilst looking through the frame, imagining what they would look like in the final outcome. However, through my exploration I realised it didn’t matter and that abstract realism was my preferred style. This elevated my confidence in my capabilities and George Condo’s work inspired me to relax and explore my own style.
Another challenging aspect of the FMP assignment was the digitisation of our learning. I struggle with technology and using computers and have never before used WordPress. The technology was completely new to me. When I look back at my original blogs, I can see how far I have come. My use of photos within blogs has improved and I have been creative with the way I show my journey to my final three outcomes. Though challenging at times the experience has taught me that I can overcome challenges and that perhaps digital art is something I can further explore as my skills improve.
On reflection, some of the aspects I would change are the name of my blog as I would match it to my Instagram account and I wish I knew about cropping screenshots at the start of my blogging experience. My blog as a sketchbook was something I was apprehensive about in the beginning but it has actually become a more comprehensive journey for the reader. You can understand my journey through the use of visual language. I am more confident that in the future I will be able to create my own website which I can use a platform to communicate my creative message.
In summary, I have found the FMP assignment enjoyable and have gained confidence in my capabilities both artistically and digitally. Exploring the female form, still life, feminism, mythology, oppression and the environment have helped me find direction as to where I want to take my practice. As a woman I know I have the capabilities to push the boundaries, to open up tough dialogue and ignite questioning. Believing in change is what creates change.