Woman holding a folded flag
The curatorial proposal at Draw Art Fair London was to display drawings alongside the work they inform. The ‘Postcards to myself’ series serve as ‘working drawings’ and the larger work, including this painting, demonstrate how ideas and visual language transfer across the whole body of work.
The source image for ‘Woman holding a folded flag’ was also the source of the title. Normally my figures come from renaissance painting; I take a figure/pose from its original source and recontextualise by juxtaposing it with fragments of visual language from other sources. I take inspiration from the figure, rather than replicating it exactly, arranging my model in a similar pose. This process allows me to find new and contemporary meanings in familiar imagery. My aim is to communicate something of the complexities of contemporary experience and the fragility and transience of being human.
Recently I have been looking at iconic photographs and pondering about what makes them iconic. The source image in this case was a photograph of Jackie Kennedy receiving the folded flag which had been draped over the coffin at JFK’s funeral. This image appeared particularly loaded for me, not necessarily for the record of the historical event, but for the themes which it suggested. Her pose suggested something of a Madonna and child. Her mantilla appeared like a renaissance veil. The folded flag seemed potent in a contemporary political sense, with the current focus on nationalism. The subject of death was pertinent to me, both in reference to the tradition of vanitas painting, but also in reference to the persistent argument in art circles that painting is dead. In this respect, the photo reminded me of Gerhard Richter’s Bader Meinhof series (in the history painting tradition) and his painting titled ‘Woman holding an umbrella’ which was a painted rendition of a newspaper photograph of Jackie Kennedy. My title is a cheeky reference to that painting.
Existing in the modern world can sometimes be a confusing struggle. When I am making work, I am, in a way, trying to make sense of the world and how I should interpret it. I am interested in what the outside world throws at us and I am interested in how we react to that internally. What happens on the canvas is a result of that mental juggling act; the internal and external worlds collide. For me the process of painting or drawing, the physical juggling of material and formal qualities, mirrors the mental process of constructing meaning from the world. I suspect I am not unique in sometimes struggling to make sense of it, therefore I hope that my work has some sort of resonance with the viewer.
I paint in layers, a style which echoes renaissance painting. I commence with a gridded drawing, followed with one or two monochrome, grisaille layers. Sometimes I leave areas of the grisaille without colour to emphasise the ‘constructed’ nature of a painting as well as to suggest a conceptual idea. The monochrome veil here might act as a metaphor for the ‘second-hand experience’ of our screen based existence, or it could be a protective layer shielding the subject from the daily onslaught of mediated information, with which we are bombarded. After the grisaille, several layers of colour are applied to create the illusion of flesh, echoing the dermatological layers of skin. Other areas of the painting are treated with different visual languages. The body is covered with a pattern of skull and cherry blossom: vanitas symbols. The figure holds a graphically rendered, linear structure similar to a computer generated ‘wire frame’ draft of a drawing, or it could suggest fragments glued together in some kind of Frankenstein creation. On the right hand side of the painting is an intruding, slightly alien, graphic shape which appears to have some kind of surface texture, as if something is buried beneath. It echoes the colour of the structure in the subject’s arms. It could be a threatening presence, or a reminder that despite our differences we are all, in one way or another, connected.