Sunday, 1 February 2015

"Figuring" it out!

 (above: a photo from flickr. I have the owners permission to use this for a portrait but haven't done anything about it...yet!)

Readers to my blogs over the years will know I have an interest in learning about portrait painting. The interest comes and goes but at the moment is riding high on the crest of a wave! I’d love to learn more and get better at it.I've been using acrylics recently as they speed things up a bit, but I have tried oils and prefer them, but they're not much use on fabric as they can cause the fabric to rot.

 I read recently that Grayson Perry thinks there's nothing left to shock in the art world. Presumably this is largely due to the emergence a few years ago of Brit Art and the likes of Damian Hurst and Tracy Emin and others, whose work includes pickled half cows and unmade beds, and appearing on TV blind drunk.

Just before that happened though, art seemed to be about the abstract, and before that, traditional styles of painting were in vogue. So if it can't find anything new, art will presumably keep reinventing itself ie it's subject to fashion like anything else Figurative painting isn't very fashionable at the moment and hasn't been for years, although there are notable exceptions of course. Sculpture to me seems to be especially strong figuratively.

There seems to be a constant pressure on artists to try and do something new yet at the same time ride the crest of a popularist wave. But, when you think about it, all traditional artists continually try to experiment, use new materials, paint in different ways with various techniques, to make their work stand out, and recently, all those conceptual artists have been bringing paint and technique back into their work.(Damian, I believe has experimented with realism for example) So they both appear to be moving closer together, and figurative work is seeing a slight resurgence. Could it be the next most fashionable thing? Is the cultural divide closing? Maybe not, but it's an area that interests me a lot, and appeals to the way I work which, I guess, can be quite graphic.

So what is figurative work?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines figurative as follows:
1) Departing from the literal sense of words; metaphorical. 2) Representing forms that are recognizably derived from life.

In art, this is generally taken to mean figures, forms and faces, animal or human, either representational or abstract. Figurative art is not necessarily synonymous with "art that represents the human figure," even though human and animal figures are frequent subjects.

Lots of Open Competitions, and galleries hosting figurative shows, have criteria and interpretations which vary enormously. Clearly then, work can be abstract if desired, providing it is derived from a figurative starting point. It certainly doesn’t have to be representational or a realistic portrayal, just contain those elements that were in the original source.

Why does this matter? It doesn't really, but a good ponder now and then does you good.

I've noticed that in the Quilt Art Masters at Festival there's a decided lack of anything figurative or represenational on show, although there are plenty of really good figurative artists out there making quilts that fit the criteria given in the competition rules. It's down to the judges taste, I guess and they are subject to fashionable thought the same as the rest of us, but one would expect a broader outlook. I do hope this years event will be a bit more comprehensive in it's choices. (No, in case you were wondering, I'm not entering! It's an objective viewpoint only)

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