The more you create, the more creative ideas you store up. I’ve had this reference image in my head for years.
I like the contrast between the dark depths and the bright ceiling. The complex structure of this ceiling, agitated by a breezy day in Amorgos. I like the framing, with the silhouette popping up from an angle. And I really like the posture too. The left shoulder that opens up, the right hand that comes down to balance with a laid back attitude. And the light of course that makes the yellow pop in the middle of the blue.
I gave it a first try with a small size canvas. Rather satisfying. It flew away to a collector in California. I came back to it with my last series of small works “Underwater vibes”. A second attempt to simplify as much as possible this complex image. This acrylic on paper is in Paris.
And I ended up taking out a large canvas and painting that image on the space it deserved. It’s naturally a very different process. And therefore interesting. I hesitated for a long time to stop at the step below that I really liked. Didn’t succeed…
The kind of week you don’t forget. I came back with a bag full of friendships, memories and lessons… about composition freedom, colors, visual emphasis, lost edges. Mike paints like a musician (which he is). He holds the brush like a jazz drummer. So much in balance that the brush hair almost doesn’t touch the board. Just like the stick does’t seem to touch the cymbal. But it just did actually, you could hear it. And there you can see it.
Mike is one of those rare guys who can be both extremely talented and generous. May be because he enjoys the making as much as the sharing. The image as much as the connection?
We had the same 3 courses menu everyday: Three hours demo in the morning, all of us around the master, in continuous conversation. Then three hours of practice in the afternoon, with surgical coaching just when needed (You’re stuck – Here he comes – You’re not stuck anymore – You’ve learnt something). Then endless hours around the brasero with this colorful gang of artists (10 different cultures), redesigning the world and sharing our studio playlists.
I’ve already painted a few scenes around the edge of that same pier. My brushes are very familiar with the subject. But for this painting, I decided I’d try something new.
First of all, this is sort of a palimpsest: A painting over another painting. The old one was from my very first show, and I didn’t like it so much. I covered it all with a gesso coat but didn’t do a color undercoat this time. I felt this milky glazing over a blue seascape could make an interesting background for some parts of the new composition. Ant it did!
Playing with the values
The lightest value zones in the foreground, where we can se the dry part of the pier, are left not painted. And if you observe carefully, you will recognize in transparency the silhouette of clouds from the previous painting.
Then I chose to paint all the darkest values in a flashing red in order to create interesting vibrations when it would be covered with green. I also thought it might be interesting to let some of those red volutes visible, on the milky gesso coat. That’s how this upper right corner came up where the sea undulations become something a bit abstract, with shapes of a surprising design.
Finally, I like painting suntanned skin so much, I couldn’t resist to go the extra mile there and work on those arms and shoulders until it would look just perfect for me. And there it is !!
Enjoying the result
I enjoyed the journey because it was a continuous experimentation until the end. And I like to watch it on my wall now. It’s a very different visual thing. I’m not just lost in the memories of amazing mornings on my favorite beach in Amorgos, I can also wander in these abstract red shapes top right, then let my imagination follow the red shimmerings that managed to fall through the cracks of the final green water painting. Don’t get bored of it.
Oh… what about he title?
Fair question. I love that song “dreamers” by Claire Denamur. Those simple words come in the lyrics. They triggered something. I had the title in mind before I started to work on this one.
It started with a black & white photo from the 50ies. Dad is sitting on the dune of Sainte Anne de Bel Air, looking to the West. The family’s sailboat is the only one at the anchorage of the Clère cove. You can guess it’s late in the morning of a hot summer. The dune grasses have turned dry and yellow. It will soon be the Anisade time. There, on teh terrace, just to the right of those big hydrangeas which are still in the shade at this time of the day.
Today, it’s warm enough to swim several times during the day. You emerge from the water that just refreshed you. Have a sit in the sun and quietly wait for the skin to dry. Then it’s hot again. You deserve a new dive. Sounds like a hard day…
This painting was a very relaxing one to create. Nothing in the process was really planned except for the original drawing. I started with an ocher undercoat then built the mosaic in the foreground. Then followed a few glazing steps, the browning of the skin, and some final touches of intense white at the intersection of some water volutes. Stuff I love.
Crusher clamp to starboard. Side cutter to port. If it grows safely and manages to avoid fishermen, the lobster is well equipped to live old, very old, and as fit as its younger counterparts. Hence this this myth of immortality.
The clamp asymetry doesn’t spoil the aesthetics at all. Especially with the famous Breton “blue” lobster. Intense black with azure reflections studded with white spots. That makes an interesting subject to work on as a painting when it’s not lit by direct light: the light reflection dots can easily be confused with the white spots on the shell.
A cool combination of amazing power and finesse (the flesh). Okay. The king of crustaceans deserves its crown!
Strange. This is the first time I’ve been tempted to paint a same subject twice in less than a year. It’s also my first still life. And my first red painting. “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”. Makes sense, like often with Picasso. Nothing in my usual work would lead me to painting this. Those mackerels made it to my easel quite by chance, thanks to my exodus sketchbook and regular drawing routine. I was actually surprised how much I enjoy painting them and I wanted to check if it would repeat. It did actually.
In order to make it more interesting in this second version, I chose to paint the first one on the right in a negative image of it, using the background red for the dark stripes. I realized that this skin design was working exactly the same in negative, which shows how great a design it is : patterns are always a bit different but always look alike. And if you reverse dark and light, they work the same.
It’s also a “strange” experience (“strange” being the root of the “stranger” word). As I was trying to reverse the image values, I’m actually getting to some sort of an albinos mackerel. It becomes the stranger in the team. Fear of difference is a topic i’ve been passionate about lately. That painting made an interesting connection. Main reason why man is scared by difference is that stranger actually looks much alike him, and reminds a part of him that he is not comfortable with. For those who are interested and speak good French, here is a great reading on the topic.
There are 3 moments of extraordinary lightness when one dives. First the impulse to rise in the air. Then this micro second when we don’t go up anymore, but don’t go down yet. This moment when the gravity hypothesis could be questioned. This precise instant when we fly which so fascinates the painter and brilliant dancer Darvish Fakhr.
Then comes the encounter with the surface. The transition form gas to liquid. The slap of freshness. An immersion reflex sets in immediately. It’s called “The master switch of life” by scientists. The moment our face comes into contact with water, the metamorphosis begins. The blood goes back to hands and feet, the heartbeat slows down by 25% compared to normal. We are simply preparing to become a little more of an aquatic animal and a little less terrestrial.
Finally, we are below. The opaque silence after the big splash. All the noises in the world are canceled … In total lightness. We fly in zero gravity. The longer we stay, the more our mind enters a state of meditation. I feel so good underwater that when I was a child, I dreamed of finding a way to breathe naturally there. Stay there indefinitely. There is so much to observe in complete tranquility. It is so relaxing.
The process of building up this painting actually looked like an entry into meditation. I plunged into it with a first coat of orange monochrome brush drawing. Then I coated blue in several thin layers. Finally I spent hours sculpting the bluish shapes of these clouds of underwater foam. And it was at this stage that I myself entered into meditation. There was something quite hypnotic about it: add a little pink, come back with a slight hint of gray, intensify with blue, make the light pop with pure white. Each brushstroke changed the shape and lightness of the cloud. I loved it !
Inspiration came from two women artists I have been following for a while. Two island artists in a way: A painter from Brooklyn, NYC (Long Island) and a photographer from the Canary Islands.
Let’s start with the painter. Alyssa Monks is a famous American figurative artist. Many consider her one of the most influential living women artists. She started to get press coverage through her series oil and waters where water is everywhere. That’s exactly what connected us in the article “water everywhere” in “Everywhere Art” magazine. An amazing critic work for art lovers interested in the water theme. It was published two years after my first show and that’s when I heard about Alyssa’s work. A few other artists are featured in it like the Swedish Linnea Strid, the German drawer Dirk Dzimirsky, and the American Samantha French . Alyssa’s main theme is actually human fragility. She kept on exploring it through layering of portraits with other visual effects. Water was first. Then came nature, trees,… And this is from this series of Landscape-portraits that the idea of my new piece started to germinate.
The photographer next. I can’t remember how I found out about Raquel Chicheri‘s work but I can tell what I felt. Fresh, spontaneous, playful, tenderness. An amazing creativity in the way she frames and structures the image. I’m trying my best to paint the invincible summer. I don’t know of a better artist when it comes to photographing it.
Then she touched me with a portrait. The model is Nicole Blanc. A natural beauty from Catalunia, and a very talented drawer. Rachel is from Galicia. They both moved South West and live each on a separate island in the Canary islands.
And a portrait overlay
Inspired by Raquel’s and Alyssa’s work, I decided to create a quite complex piece. I got started in April 2019 with the overlaying of a black&white portrait of Nicole and a color photograph of a palm tree from my Amsterdam rooftop. Many months later, at last, I found a satisfying balance between this mesmerizing gaze and the surrounding palms. January 2021.
Two out of the three global best-sellers of all times have this woman in common. Did you know that? In the beginning was this weird story involving a man, a woman, a snake and an apple. In spite of this inconsistent introduction, the Bible and the Coran did really well. Far better than Harry Potter (#5) or the Little prince (#6). I thought the first woman of humanity in a red bikini could make an interesting subject. In bikini of course because of censorship. Et voilà!
Don’t ask me why this idea of painting it on a polyptych. I just realized the origin of that word comes from those multi-panels paintings used as retables in the Middle Age. I swear that’s unrelated. What I remember though is that the format made the job significantly more challenging. I’m happy with the end result as you can see it above, being shot in fresh East winds. Every time I look at this piece, I wonder if Eve will end up biting into it or if she will keep on playing. What do you think?