In a couple of weeks my exhibition at Catto Gallery opens. I created a new series of paintings for the show, most featuring antique lace. This series of paintings began with some pieces of lace that someone kindly lent me from her own collection. It ended with some very large paintings in monochrome nostalgic and dramatic tones.
I did not even know the kind lady who lent me the lace, but she had heard about my work and asked if I would be interested in some pieces from her collection. I could not believe my luck when I saw what treasures she came up with! Thank you Karen. One of the pieces was an enormous lace veil. I had painted a large veil before but this was such an exquisite piece I wanted to do something different. In my mind’s eye a series of images started forming. They were all monochrome and with dramatic lighting. Although I often work instinctively in hindsight I can now see that hints of ballet, vintage fashion photography and film are mixed up in many of my ideas. For ‘Giselle’ I was directly inspired by the ballet of the same name. Not long before I worked on The Duchess I watched the film with Keira Knightley playing the Duchess of Devonshire. The victorian lace I could work with added intricacy, detail and mystery, not to mention a technical challenge.
A detail of ‘The Duchess’, oil on linen
Despite the delicate detail of the pieces of lace I wanted to experiment a little with different ways of exploring the textures of lace in oil paint (see also this blog post). Not all the paintings show the realistic detail you might expect from me. I played with stylised figures and visible brush marks. I was not after any form of pointless ‘loosening up’ but tried different approaches to show the textures and detail of the fabrics even more evocatively. I was exploring different ways of expressing moods, atmosphere, imagery and textures.
A detail of ‘Fallen Leaves’, oil on linen.
Please see above for a short time-lapse video of me working on The Duchess.
You can see that I started this painting with the skirt. I pushed the realism of the silk as much as I could and painted the lace on top of it. When I was happy with the skirt I finished adding a dark background and let it bleed onto the skirt. With a big brush I dry-brushed some background over the whole image, thereby pushing the image backwards and adding texture. I left the background fairly painterly to contrast with the high detailed skirt. The arms and hands were stylised to enhance the dreamy mood of the piece.