Frida Kahlo – Columns, Colours and Chronic Pain

The painting left a lasting impression on the depths of my mind, one that I’d perhaps quite forgotten, the same way a haunting piano solo never fails to move me as I remember and sway to its decadent rhythms. The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo is more than just a painting about pain, and more than just a woman in pain painting about pain. It is about what painting does to us all.

Frida Kahlo is the kind of painter that a lot of female artists, myself included, aspire to be. That hard-headed, self-reliant, independent, driven woman that approaches her art as she does every aspect of her life; from her politics to her philosophy, fashion and eventually, a painting on canvas. And yes, she can have a man if she wants, but she doesn’t need one (or maybe she does).

The Broken Column, 1944

The Broken Column is a painting of insight, but also of outward influence. This painting is a deeply intimate portrayal of her struggle; a bus accident in her childhood left her for a time, bedridden, and forever unable to bear children. Frida’s life was sadly cut short at the age of 47, after she endured years of chronic pain, operations, miscarriage, amputation and ultimately, alcohol and medication dependence, not to mention her tumultuous relationship with muralist Diego Rivera. Whilst The Broken Column is undoubtedly a personal piece; we can feel the artist’s shattered insides and feel like we should put our hands to the canvas to put support the crumbling column, it is also a painting of external forces. The artist is in control of the paint colour she chooses, the depth and texture of the canvas, even the way she holds the brush, but ultimately, the painting is out of her control. We are all driven by external forces that dictate what we do, what we say, and much as we try to avoid these external chess moves, we are all dictated by them.

We all have our own Broken Column, a piece of us that may be a little more fragile than we let on, a deep rooted fear that prevents us from taking a leap off the edge, whether figuratively or literally. Many of us have an unseen column, a disability we haven’t shared, a poem we haven’t shared or a story we never dared tell.

“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Frida Kahlo

 

Birds, Birds, Birds!

Dinosaurs in drag.

That’s effectively what birds are. The scaly-legged, scaled-down and more decorative great-great-great-great grandchildren of the dinosaurs. Whether you believe that birds are descended from dinosaurs or not (but you really, really should), it’s hard not to be fascinated by these animals. Whilst some people are terrified of birds to the point of hysterics (see, it;s the dinosaur connection again!), most find them truly mesmerizing.

From the lonesome, lustful traveller to the birdwatcher to the ornithologist, birds hold a special place in our imagination. Whether it is their beautiful song, elaborate plumes, architectural prowess that rivals the best interior designer, or simply the quirky hopping, head-bobbing that they do so wonderfully. It’s really no small wonder that birds have been depicted in art for centuries. They have symbolised everything from purity to wrath, witchcraft and everything in between. As an artist I find that the bird makes for a truly unique and evocative subject, with a versatility that is difficult to recreate with mammals or other subjects. Birds have their own wonderful colour palettes and their own ready-made canvases, ready for us artists to pounce on.

Below, I’d like to share some of my favourite modern and traditional examples of the beauty of the bird in art and why they appeal to me in the way that they do.

Birds, 1914, Franz Marc

Birds in Art Blog

Hardly surprising that Franz Marc is on this list, but this  particular painting is here for a few reasons. This painting to me is not about a particular bird, or a particular species, but it captures the essence of what it is to be a bird: the pointed beak, the flap of the wings, their vocalisations. This painting evokes that startled feeling that you get when a flock of pigeons suddenly springs up into the air from just under your nose.

Illustrations in Ornithology, published in 1599


Whilst wildly inaccurate, these very early illustrations of Birds of Paradise from Papua New Guinea were not the work of over-imaginative artists, but the restrictions of working from dead specimens collected and traded half way around the world. The trade in paradise birds was booming, but the specimens were dried and traded without any legs or wings, so their beautiful plumes could be shown off in even more exquisite detail. But for early illustrators and ornithologists, this proved something of a puzzle. The theory was that these birds lived in heaven – Paradise, so didn’t need wings or feet at all. A truly beautiful story about a remarkable group of birds, and one I think any bird lover should take the time to read about. More beautiful than any designer dress!
Dodo, F. Hart

This 19th Century painting is sad reminder of the unfortunate story of the Dodo, a bird much loved by artists, writers, and much mocked and exaggerated too. This over-sized, flightless Mauritian pigeon has fascinated me from a very young age, ever since reading Dodos are Forever by Dick King Smith. Again, we don’t know how accurate this painting is as there are very few specimens around today, but this stunning piece of art and others like it are sobering reminders of humanity’s impact on the environment, and the vulnerability of specialised and isolated island species.

Modern artists too can’t help but fall in love with birds. Below are a few contemporary examples that I simply love, and yes, there’s one of mine in the list too!

For Me? You Shouldn’t Have!, Kimberly Kelly Santini

This absolutely charming little painting projects the little diva that seems to shine through in even the tiniest of birds. From singing with gusto to flashing their dazzling plumes, the smallest birds are often the boldest, the most brazen, and some of the most beautiful. If you can’t get out to see them in the wild; go to a sanctuary, an aviary, a pet shop, anywhere you can, and just take a look. Whilst searching the length and breadth of this island for guinea pigs a few weeks ago I got lost in the dazzling array of canaries, finches, quails, sparrows….I was astounded at their little variations, the unique qualities of each tiny little bird; perhaps that is how Darwin felt!

Carmines, Emily Lamb

The beauty and simplicity of this painting does all the work it needs to. The rest is up to the imagination of the viewer.

Wall of Birds Project, Ink Dwell Studio



This massive-scale, stunning work comprises  270 species of birds from all over the globe. This unique piece of art includes many extinct and living bird species from the Dromornis to the Kakapo to the Wandering Albatross, and many other species that have a special place in my heart. Another unique aspect of this piece is that every bird is painted life size and in stunning accuracy and detail, for a magical, bird-map view of the world.
Laysan Waltz, by Me!

Albatross Painting for Conservation
The albatross is my love-affair, my chocolate, my drug of choice. The albatross is a bird that is like no other; mating for life, performing perfectly-synchronised and often comical dances, boasting nature’s most magnificent wings. This seabird is a one of a kind, but unfortunately, it is also under threat in many of its key nesting sites, from Midway Island to Macquarie Island,  so it is a bird that we need to pay close attention to. The more I learn, the more I fall in love with them. You can read more about the making of this painting here.  (This painting is available for €500 to the first person asking kindly. A percentage of the sale will go towards The Foundation for Antarctic Research. I urge you to go and support such a worthy cause!)

Is there a particular species that moves you as an artist? Be it a painter, a writer, musician etc, is their a subject that captures your imagination like no other?

Paintings Selected in ‘Animals’ International Art Exhibition

 “Mandril” and “Fleeting” have been accepted for inclusion in the November 2016 art exhibition and show, “Animals” at Colors of Humanity Gallery in the USA.

 

Polar Bear Arctic Oil Painting
Fleeting, Oils on Canvas, 70 x 70cm, available for €400/$420 to the first person asking nicely!
mandrill-oil-painting
Mandril, Oils on Canvas, 100 x 50cm, available for €500/$550

Multiple accepted entries came from 22 different states in the USA and 12 other countries: Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Malta, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.  A variety of styles and mediums were entered including, acrylic, aerographics, charcoal, collage, digital, ink, mixed media, mosaic, oil, pastel, pen, pencil/graphite/colored, photography, spray paint, tempera, and watercolor. The judging criterion was originality, interpretation, quality, demonstration of ability, and usage of medium. Other factors, such as the clarity of the images provided and their ability to be viewed online, as well as relating to the theme, also contributed to our decision.

We were very happy to donate 10% of all the entry fees from this show to the Humane Society. Colors of Humanity Art Gallery, LLC is not affiliated with any Humane Societies. It is our hope that this small act of kindness will blossom and grow to help someone else.

A Comparison – Lascaux and Guernica

In the quiet village of Montignac, in the Dordogne region of France, stands one of the world’s finest examples of cave art, and in my opinion, one of the greatest artistic achievements ever. This complex network, like all prehistoric art, represents a great evolutionary leap into modern intelligence, known as ‘The Transition’. Lascaux was discovered by accident in 1940, and contains some simply mind-blowing paintings, both in skill and proportion. One only has to see the scale of the bulls in the Hall of the Bulls (one is more than 5 metres long) to be mesmerised.

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The variety of animal species, including aurochs (ancient bulls), horses, lions, ibex, bison, are painted in a seemingly uncontrolled method; with species sharing space, that would probably have given each other a wide birth in Nature. Also, some of the animals are super-imposed, painted between and across one another, some floating in odd positions, upside-side, bent around to fit with the subtle curvature of a fragment of rock. No backgrounds are ever present in cave art, the source of the rock provides it, and flora is never depicted, unless perhaps in unintelligible lines and dots. These aspects bear a certain similarity to Cubist art; the haphazard but clever layout of the composition, the intersection and angles of some of the animals, all seem to pluck them out of their realistic context, instead forcing them into an abstraction, a spectrum of un-reality. Even the reducing of some of the painted animals to a few carved or painted lines bears a similarity to later Cubism.

The Hall of Bulls and “Guernica”

The Hall of Bulls, the grandest, largest and one of the most heavily painted areas of Lascaux, sweeps across the ceiling, like the great arc of the sun from East to West, seeming to converge in the centre of the ceiling, over the entrances to the narrower, more hostile sections of the cave. Here, horses and bulls seem to run across the sky right above your head, leading us to question, how on earth was this painted, when our ancestors had no ladders, or the use of ropes and pulleys to create a painting platform? Indeed they were brave to enter in the chasms of the underworld, and for the seemingly cumbersome task of painting such majestic murals.

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In the same way that Lascaux is always mentioned at the forefront of prehistoric artistic masterpieces, so must one always mention and ponder on “Guernica” when discussing Picasso and the birth or modern art. Both create a significant impact whilst looking at them, even though their subject matter is very different. Let us first mention “Guernica”.

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“Guernica” was created by Picasso for the Spanish display at the Paris International Exhibition in 1937, at the time when Guernica, a small basque town in Northern Spain was horrendously bombed by German and Italian forces during the Spanish Civil War. The town was in ruins, completely destroyed, and Picasso felt in necessary to bring the attention of this war to the world. This huge, seven-metre-long mural is monochrome, consisting of only black, white and greys. It is shocking in its grim portrayal of the war, and though its style is cubist, and almost crudely cartoon, its impact is not decreased. In fact, the exaggerated faces of the screaming Basque people, the animated dead baby dangling from its mother’s arm, the raging horse dominating the mural and the fallen horse beneath it create a scene of almost pitiful hatred. Though controversial, “Guernica” achieved what Picasso wanted; awareness for the suffering during the Civil War. Today this painting hangs in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, as a standing testament to those who died.

The comparisons between Lascaux’s Hall of the Bulls begin here. Both murals are chaotic, with the figures, whether of animals or people, are all pushed together, almost colliding into one another closet to the centre of the painting. The positions of Lascaux’s bulls and horses, with small, barely visible stags between them, suggests an air of excitement, or fear – perhaps this scene was replicating a hunt, or a stampede, or the animals during bad weather – and its is in this same fashion in “Guernica” that certain figures are concealed and distorted by another. There is a strange mix, of animals and figures, that would not usually have shared the same space. Also, scale and proportion is altered; the fallen person in the left of “Guernica” is the same size as the wounded horse. Limbs are too large, eyes are misplaced. The stags in The Hall are tiny in comparison to the horses they run beside, when in fact, the two species are of fairly similar size. The horses and bulls trip over one another, all heading towards the centre of the ceiling Perspective is practically unapparent; it is only evident in Lascaux due to the shape of the cave walls, and background too, is minimal.

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These common traits give the murals further impact. Where perspective and background fall away, the mind is freed by their restrictions, able to draw up fresh conclusions that would have otherwise been limited. Is “Guernica” a scene inside a building or a house, is it in the ruins of the town itself? Are Lascaux’s bulls running at each other, or are they actually running in the cave? There are numerous possibilities.

Both creations leave us feeling mystified, amazed and insignificant. They are both depicting scenes that we can never truly touch, and never truly understand. They leave us questioning our own destiny; where we have been and where we are heading as a species. Perhaps Lascaux symbolises the fight for evolution between the species, and “Guernica” reminds us harshly of our own.

AG_Guernica4thState

As our ancestors re-emerged from the cave and began to create words, language, civilisations, obviously their production of art and their need for it changed. Art became something much more decorative, with body adornments such as jewellery, pendants and figurines being carved. Art became more portable, and pottery flourished. As art movements develop today, rapidly changing from one to the next and colliding in the middle, to create something entirely new, the same is true in Pre-history. Stone-carving took a back seat and metalworking was developed, and the Bronze Age brought about greater skill and diversity of art. Just like today, art was taken over to the artisans, instead of being mass-produced by the civilisation as a whole. The ‘Primitive’ art created by our hominid fathers gave way to the Symbolism of Ancient Egypt and the architecture of the Nile Valley. The richly detailed art of the Americas was the first Romanticism, and in the Southern Hemisphere, the Aborigines of Australia gave us the first glimpse of Surrealism.

As artistic movements reappear, as suddenly as though the sun sets, perhaps Pre-historic art will re-emerge, in thousands of years to come. Its importance in our transition from ape to man should not be underestimated. Without the ochre horses of our ancestors, we would not have any of the masterpieces we see today, in our museums, in our homes, and in our hearts.

The Value of Art in Our Troubled World

People have been making art for centuries. We are the only species that creates something purely for aesthetic value. As beautiful as the bower bird’s boudoir may be – its function is purely sexual. And whilst throughout the centuries art has been and continues to be used as currency, trade goods, allegory, decoration, status symbol, advertisement, memento and even sexual suggestion, its primary function remains purely aesthetic.

Whilst I am in no way undervaluing the importance of aesthetics in our lives (we all love a beautiful piece of furniture, fashion, fine wine, music etc), but in today’s fractured, full-of-despair yet -full-of-hope society, I feel that art has a much deeper role to play in promoting awareness of some very important issues; from migration to climate change and conservation. These are three themes that recur continuously in my works, because, from my point of view, through my paintings I can not only educate others, but myself.

What other medium can travel through the vacuum of social media, language, culture, age and values better than a visual statement? Art can break political barriers, language barriers; art can reach children where words may not. We need to see, to feel something in order to believe it.

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Available on Amazon, well worth the read!

We can’t all stand and watch the glacier cracking just a few feet from us.

Justin Fenech, a Maltese author, uses literature to explore and engage with the world; and no clearer is this than in his novel The Last Adolescence, in which the protagonist ditches his hedonistic, selfish lifestyle to discover an untouched world where he contemplates his own future and the future of the planet as a whole.

We don’t even have to wait until we’re all grown up; the reality of a changing world is already upon us. Just ask Bria Neff; she’s only nine years old but already a passionate conservationist and stunning young artist. Her carefully constructed paintings are honest and full of love and hope, and have been helping to raise money for conservation, and she’s already raised over $1,600 . Please show your support and admiration on her Facebook page.

 

Morning Song by Bria
Morning Song by Bria

 

It’s not just painting that can work as a powerful visual medium for transporting ideas across the world, I’ve seen countless talented and inspiring individuals using literature, music, even dance and performance arts, as a way of reaching out, grabbing us by our brains and telling us: this is happening.

Simon Kerr uses the power of music to provide listeners with a whole new understanding of climate change, at a concious, engaging level. His music speaks of freedom and empowerment, and is an innovative way to express a topic which can, at times, be to fact-ridden and statistics heavy for us to want to engage with. Find out more: https://artistsandclimatechange.com/2016/07/18/music-and-hope-in-a-warming-world/

Art is not about placing blame, or guilt, but about opening our eyes wide, letting the subject wash over us, and giving us no other choice but to want to know more.

But for me, the most fundamental aspect of art is bringing far-flung societies, peoples and minds together. To inspire positivity. Humanity is its own worst enemy, but we also have the power to do truly wonderful things.

 

All paintings featured in this blog post are for sale unless otherwise specified. Enquiries may come to cjwaterfield@gmail.com

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Finding Happiness as a Painter

Every time I paint, I feel like I’m learning a valuable lesson.

I’ve spent a lot of time recently reading about painting; colour theories, techniques, and trying to get to grips with my craft. As it turns out, taking a more painterly approach, as apposed to an artistic one seems to be my current muse.

At the moment I’m working on a series of three oil paintings which express what it means to be maasai; the semi-nomadic warriors of Kenya and Tanzania. Their culture centres upon intricate rituals and rites of passage, their unique relationship with the land and the natural world; the maasai don’t eat wild animals but herd livestock and obtain the vast majority of their sustenance from their cattle. They also have a complex and often hostile relationship with lions, their adversaries; lions have targeted the maasai’s cattle, and lions have thus been killed both in retaliation and as a rite of passage for the young maasai warrior coming of age. Today though, the maasai’s traditional ways of life and lifestyle are changing; former enemies; maasai and lion have become a unique partnership. One’s knowledge of the other allows the maasai to keep their precious cattle safer, whilst protecting the lion, which has rapidly reduced in numbers throughout the African continent. And it is this changing dynamic between human and animal which fascinated me in my series of painting The Endangered Peoples.

African Oil Paintings

Working on the first of three paintings, featuring a zebu, one of the species of cattle common to the maasai, I’ve discovered that its the process of painting; planning and applying colours, laying on specific sweeps of colour, then at other times a random flick of a palette knife here and there…the process of creating the work is not about conceiving the idea and then simply laying it on a canvas, but deconstructing its elements, and then constructing it again in away that is unique to you.

Zebu Oil Painting Zebu Oil Painting Zebu Oil Painting Zebu Oil Painting

Zebu Oil Painting
Still some more work to go!

Finding happiness as a painter is the first step to finding happiness as an artist.

All paintings featured in this blog post are for sale unless otherwise specified. Enquiries may come to cjwaterfield@gmail.com

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Colour Theories – Inspired by the Palaeolithic

It’s difficult to recall the exact moment when I discovered Palaeolithic Art. I can only imagine I was at least partially exposed to it through the medium of art history, or television, or books. I remember as I delved more into this topic, being instantly hooked by the subtlety of colours in the brilliant, rust red bison and stunning horses.

It was a love affair that has lasted for eight years, and counting, and delving deep into this subject, I learned a lot about colour and mood, and how one intricately leads to the other.
The Solutrean Expression
The Solutrean Expression, 2012

While there’s no comparison between grinding earth, spittle and biological compounds with our easy squeezable plastic tubes, the qualities of those colours are no less obvious.

Yellow Ochre, Indian Red, Naples Yellow and Burnt Sienna are my palette staples; and here are just a few of their bold combinations.

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Spiritual Cosmos, 2014
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Cuba, 2016…a different subject for me, but still drawn to those dominant red and yellows! Privately Owned
olomayio
Olomayio (Lion Hunter), 2015

To be influenced by the deep past is the best source of inspiration, and limiting yourself to just a handful of pigments is a perfect way of creating your own painting signature. Why choose from 50 pigments when our great-great-great (cont,) grandparents were happy with just those that they could work with their hands?

All paintings featured in this blog post are for sale unless otherwise specified. Enquiries may come to cjwaterfield@gmail.com

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