Sunday, 17 March 2013

Does Size Matter?

Not much more to do. . . .

Reflecting on work for the week ahead, namely finishing off "History Painting"  and making a new large canvas, which will be about 5 1/2 by 7 1/2 feet, I find myself wondering why I make life so difficult for myself by making such large paintings.

It is not so much that it is difficult actually making large paintings; all paintings present the same formal problems, the most important ones for me at the moment being colour, gesture, mark making, structure and surface quality.  Large paintings simply scale up the sizes of the brushes or tools, the marks, the areas of colour and size of shapes placed within the picture plane as well as the quantities of media involved.  No, what causes me aggravation is the actual physical problem of stretching the canvases and transporting them.

This book is enormously important to me: my parents bought it through a book club membership when I was very young and I used to pour over it most days after school.  When I was doing my foundation course, my peers were always amazed at my knowledge of art and artists; it all came from this book!  My sister Rachel bought me this copy, knowing what it means to me!

So why do I constantly find myself making large work?  Ever since I was a young girl, looking through "Art Treasures of the World: An illustrated history in colour", (Paul Hamlyn, 1964) most days after school, I was drawn to the reproductions of large paintings within its pages.  It is not that I don't admire smaller work or enjoy making smaller pieces; I do.  I can be just as absorbed making work that is very small as I am by making large stuff; larger does not mean better.  

Pousin, The rape of the Sabine women, was it the word "rape" that engrossed me then, or the rhythms within the work?  I later became totally enthralled by Pollock's paintings with their amazing colour and movement.

So artists have made very large works for centuries.  Botticelli, Birth of Venus.  I am lucky to have been to Florence twice so far, and I have visited this amazing painting each time.

Picasso, Night fishing at Antibes.  I have not seen this work but it looks very large!  I am longing to get to see Guernica in the not too distant future. . . .

A small, beautifully executed art work can have amazing presence and power of communication.   I have been transfixed when standing before all sorts of small works by artists ranging from the Old Masters to Modernist and Contemporary ones.   Turner's small water colours of Petworth House stupify me with their masterful handling of colour and depiction of light.   Constable's small sketches of clouds and landscapes are marvellous but the majesty of his enormous sketches in preparation for the finished works that I saw in the show, "Constable", at Tate in 1991, is awesome.  These examples are some that come immediately to mind, there are hundreds of others I could name with a little more thought and research.

There is something about standing before a painting that dwarfs me, that I can feel enveloped by, that gives me immense satisfaction.  Is it because the marks or gestures have to be scaled up in a larger painting, making evidence of the artist's physical presence more obvious so that  I feel the artist communicating with me directly?  Could be.  Is it the wonder of discerning a painting from afar and then, when up close to it, becoming lost in the wonder of brush marks, colour juxtapositions that make little sense so close, but give continuous delight, then walking slowly backwards, still looking at the painting and seeing it all come into "focus" again and make pictorial sense?  Yes!  
And is it that I am totally in love with painting?  Yes!

Rothko, Delacroix, Rembrandt, Pollock, TwomblyMichelangelo  Picasso, Monet, Braque;  some of many artists who have made very large paintings that I love to get lost in.

And have I answered my own question, why do I make large work, and does size matter?  Sort of. . . .

But: I think my next show might be called Small Is Beautiful.  'Nuff' said!

NB:  All illustrations of and from "Art Treasures of the World" are being used to illustrate this blog and are not intended for any commercial purposes.


  1. So that it is problematic/difficult to stretch or lift matters not.

  2. No, not really, the real problem is transporting and storing large stuff.