ON YOUR MARKS by Russell Lumb
A new model and a new beginning for me after a four week absence without painting or drawing. Like Wayne Rooney returning from the naughty step, but without the benefit of follicular enhancement, I was bursting to get back into the team but had taken the precaution of a thorough, afternoon warm-up session, under the watchful eye of head coach Tom. Lots of helpful advice, a little encouraging praise leavened by equal doses of derision, and I was pronounced match fit.
At the 6.30 whistle, the cage drops over me and I am alone with the model and my materials. The afternoon banter, easy relationship with the paint and the pleasure of amiable, like-minded friends is gone, replaced by the delicious, familiar fear of the life room. Can I still do it? What should be the best approach? Am I in the right position for working light? Focus is immediate and all-enveloping as deep water after a dive, and reaction is instinctive rather than calculated. Only when I surface, toward the break, do I assess progress against my established yardstick and begin to plot the development of the work for a finish at nine.
I have come to recognise that the editing process, following initial groundwork unfettered by precise objectives, is the key to my recent progress at Redbrick. It applies equally to the life sessions and to the afternoon painting tutorials where pure painting exercises eventually become focussed works. It is in my nature and my history. The design of complex buildings or groups of buildings was, for me, preceded by a long period of familiarisation with the requirements of the client’s brief and the site-specific constraints. Eventually, all of this information is absorbed and cross-referenced to enable the brain to manipulate spaces and relationships in three dimensions whilst keeping an eye on the myriad structural and services implications.
So it is with life study. Just as it is dangerous to become attached to a particular design feature ahead of the full assimilation of a building’s functional requirements, so is it dangerous to develop any particular feature of the work before testing the overall balance of composition, tonal and colour values, media and method. I am habituated to, and comfortable with the swift establishment of the overall structure of a painting, allowing early and continuous amendment, but I also recognise that I do not always follow this careful route and that others work happily and productively without this constraint. I can hear several voices reminding me of Lucian Freud’s lasting preference for starting at one edge and working his way, very slowly, to the other. On the basis of results, it might be better to follow Freud’s example.
However, following my own advice, presented with an unremarkable view of Mark’s very straightforward pose and features, and determined not to make another portrait, I managed to squeeze interest out of the background elements but failed to use the colours at my disposal, leaving Mark looking somewhat pasty. Neither could I reprise my success with Julie’s elbow some four weeks earlier! In the end, I had to be satisfied with my comeback game, although, unlike Wayne, I failed to score.
It may be that we all are oblivious of our surroundings as we work, because the gallery shows clearly the wide variety of output from the group, each ploughing their favoured furrow, with new girl Teresa making an immediate impact, despite claiming to be a little rusty. Look out Bren Head- you may have trouble getting your place back when this girl sharpens up!
Also playing a blinder was Steven, who’s detour into painting appears to have pushed his pencil modelling to new heights. I will not dwell on the size 23 left foot as I never actually inspected it and it may be accurate? Finally I must mention Sandra’s homage to my recent “ Joanne and Fiona go to the Launderette”, which ,in turn, was my homage to Tom’s “Elaine with three Pomegranates”. I could not possibly be annoyed with Sandra , who I love dearly, and know that she will not mind my offering £5.00 for the best caption to Fiona’s downward glance.
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Cathy, Ivan, Peter, Roger, Russell, Sandra, Steven. Teresa, Tom and Tony.