This series of abstract paintings was done plein air in a small ancient village in Sichuan, China. The photograph below is where I was painting, but the sky had got cloudy by the time I took the photograph. While I was painting, the owner of the restaurant rearranged the tables I was painting, so I went wild a bit with my composition!.
Cat. No. 1235 Lunchtime - 27cm x 21cm - Oil on Linen - 2018
This is the actual painting. I am liking this type of painting more and more now. It is exploring the concept of near music in a painting that I talk about with my Virtual Art Academy students. Rather than doing a literal copy of a scene, trying to create something with an interesting set of shapes and harmonious color harmony. Working in China has opened my eyes to the potential beauty of brushwork that seems to add so much more to a painting than a highly blended finish. I was recently looking at some paintings from the Song Dynasty (960–1279) and was amazed at how abstract they were when you analyzed the work. Getting this balance between abstraction and realism is quite difficult to do. If you deviate too much from capturing the accurate color relationships, then the painting loses color harmony very quickly. I'd like to do this type of work in the studio on a larger scale, but somehow the colors only seem harmonious when I am working from life outdoors. More experimentation is needed I think.
The people were painted fairly accurately, even though gesturally, at one time. Then they moved after a few minutes (or even seconds sometimes). Sometimes I left them as they were. At other times I repainted them with a new posture, but only if it fitted within the overall abstract feeling of the new painting. Sometimes I also kept the ghost of the original gestural sketch. If new people came I might add new people depending on what they were wearing and if it added anything to the color feeling. So the painting kept evolving as I was doing it without ever really knowing exactly where it was going. So maybe if you looked closely enough you could find the same person painted from two different angles 'a la Picasso'.
Cat. No. 1198 Qinghai Maqin - 100cm x 100cm - Oil on LInen - 2018
I have been working on this painting for a while. It is quite large, 100cm x 100cm, and I wanted to capture the same color feeling and looseness as the small plein air sketch I did on site. This turned out not to be so easy, particularly getting the color harmony. It took me several months and I had to scrape it off many times before I was happy with the color.
Below are some details of the painting so you can see how I tried to keep the brushwork interesting. My approach to painting is currently moving towards a fusion of abstract expressionism and realism. It's a very fine balance: make it too abstract and you lose the feeling of the place, make it too real and it loses the interesting abstract shapes and brushwork patterns that make the painting more interesting to look at up close.
Cat. No. 1196 Qinghai Maqin - 31cm x 23.4cm - Oil on LInen - 2017
Here is the original plein air sketch. It was a very difficult painting situation. People were moving all the time and standing in front of us blocking the view, we were painting in the middle of the road so had to move occasionally for delivery vehicles for the stores, the sky was continually changing with heavy rain clouds scurrying across the sky that continually changed the shadows on the mountains, and then this awful music started playing! The next store who was selling cars, (not quite sure the connection with Buddhism there?) not to be outdone started playing even more loudly in some kind of duel to outdo each other in volume. At that point the concentration started to go downhill rapidly. Who said plein air painting was easy? Anyway, I liked the result. I managed to keep the sketch nice and abstract but captured the lovely color harmony of the various Tibetan items of clothing, and the tents, contrasting with the grays of the surrounding mountain landscape.
The past two weeks I have been painting in Xinchang Old Town in Sichuan Province, China, The town is very old and still has the flavor of an ancient Chinese village. Mass tourism has not yet arrived in this village and so people go about their lives much as they have done for centuries. With the occasional modern influence of course. This three wheeled vehicle stayed in one place long enough for me to be able to paint it. The pink umbrella to shelter the driver from the summer monsoon rains worked nicely against the grays of the street and sky.
For students of the Virtual Art Academy, this month we are adding some new videos made specifically for watercolor artists to help you improve your sense of color and learn how to create beautiful color harmonies. See Lesson A10 in Workshop A.
Here are some paintings I did recently in Xinchang, an ancient Chinese village on the outskirts of Shanghai. I was taking part in an invitational paint out with five American and five Chinese artists, amongst whom were my good friends Ken Cadwallader and Kevin Macpherson, two very fine painters. It was an interesting week that culminated with an exhibition in a beautiful historic building in the center of the old town.