Human Life and the Body

Without life there is no death, I think it is important for me to look at what life and the bodies that we inhabit. Our whole lives are spent inside our bodies, we inhabit these strange machines mostly made out of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, phosphorus, nitrogen and calcium. We are really a marvel of nature, and for the able-bodied we more or less perfectly built to move and interact with the world. Something we often forget is that humans are naturally vulnerable beings, after all our ancestors were most definitely prey until we evolved and were able to use our ideas to survive and later thrive. The human body works to help us live as best as it can, but our life can be taken easy either by killing or disease. We are mortal beings after all, navigating the world that we have made our own.

LEONARDO DA VINCI

The first step to life is being birth. While there are a few way this can happen with the help of science, the natural and most common way this happens is in the woman’s womb. Below is an image from the Studies of the Fetus in the Womb by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Fetus in the Womb- 1487

The diagrams by Da Vinci are very accurate, correctly showing the well-developed fetus in the uterus. These images were made in 1511, at the same time when the Renaissance period was starting to take shape in Florence, Italy. Da Vinci’s inventions were ground-breaking and his studies and artworks were ahead of their time. He was the model ‘Renaissance man’, rethinking century-old ideas and pushing art and science to exciting new levels. He is probably most famous for the Mona Lisa, but my favourite work by him are his studies of the human body. His most renowned anatomical piece of work is without a doubt the Vitruvian Man.

Vitruvian Man

The Vitruvian Man shows the perfect human dimensions, drawn with ink on paper. The image is of a man, showing two different positionings of his limbs in one drawing. The idea behind this piece is to show the relative proportions of the human body, for example the outstretched arms are as long as the body is tall, shown clearly by the square where his hands, head, and feet are all touching the edge.

Like many of Da Vinci’s studies this drawing is anatomically correct. However the ink drawing is far different than the diagrams we see today in textbooks and at the doctors. The key difference of Da Vinci’s drawings is that they have a real heart and soul about them, they look like real people who have lived, often aged and imperfect. In comparison, modern anatomy diagrams look fake and robotic, they are a little too perfect.

A drawing of a man from head-on drawn to show the heart, lungs and main arteries.

The image above is a study of an man facing the viewer. As you can see the drawing is definitely drawn from a scientific angle, but there is noticeable body language and facial expression. I get a sense of embarrassment and vulnerability expressed by the man, mainly seen in his face. He looks as if he is worried or concerned, and Da Vinci chose to add wrinkles and bags under the eyes. Now, compare this to a modern diagram of the human body below.

Diagram of human anatomy taken from the website coordstudenti.blogspot.com

The difference is immediately noticeable, obviously the modern diagram is highly accurate and labelled with great detail, but it is also rather robotic and boring. Da Vinci’s piece was probably done by observation, whereas I don’t think the same thing can be said about the latter. While the modern version is what the human body is, it is not what people actually LOOK like, and it is painfully soulless. Da Vinci’s drawing is far more realistic as a human being, while being imperfect and seemingly alive and animated. The time when Da Vinci was alive was shrouded in unawareness and ignorance, so he would have been making constant discoveries about the body while making these diagrams. I think that this is noticeable in the passion of the enquiry into the insides of our body and how we work. It is this difference that makes Da Vinci’s studies beautiful works of art in mine and many other’s eyes.

I think my approach to looking at human life would be by looking at how humans are naturally. The society in which we live in, the jobs we work, and even the activities we indulge in can be weirdly unnatural and seem to me as a waste of time. The truth is we are works of nature, we may have brilliant brains but ultimately we are evolved animals that have primal tendencies that lead how we live our lives in more ways than we can ever know. This is the reason I love Da Vinci’s studies of humans because he draws humans like they are in real life, fleshy meaty beasts. With that being said, I want to look at some works by others artists that fit somewhere in the natural, primal bodies that I am interested in.

ZHANG HUAN

Zhang is a chinese artist who works with people set in natural environments and unsettling situations. He is the man behind Lady Gaga’s dress made of meat, but this is just one of the fascinating works of art he has done in his career. In an interview he said ‘I prefer natural objects. Rather, primitive extreme and destructive tendencies.’

I started by looking at birth with Da Vinci, so here is another take on birth by someone from China, who has seen the ‘one child policy’ take effect in his country.

‘Angel’ 1993

In 1993, Zhang Huan took part in a group show outside the National Art Gallery in Beijing for his first piece of performance art. He placed white canvas on the floor, then smashed a jar filled with food colouring and parts of a baby doll. He then covered himself in the contents, and reassembled the doll while stood on the canvas. This powerful performance piece brought a strong reaction to the chinese crowd who bad seen the effect of the one child policy and the abortion and neglect of female babies. The performance must have really hit home for the crowd, but what hit home most for me was that after he had finished he strung the baby up form the ceiling which reminded me of suicide by hanging.

I think there are several reasons why this piece is so strong and uncomfortable, even if it didn’t relate to the one child policy. Firstly, there is a lot of red. Red signifies danger and blood. When blood is inside us, we get complimented for looking ‘healthy’ or having ‘good colour in your face’ but when blood is outside of the body, it tells a different tail of violence and massacre. The red in this piece is meant to resemble blood, and when this is combined with parts of a baby doll, I think the message is fairly clear. The baby has been killed, and by the looks of things in a brutal way involving dismemberment and beheading. Then after all of this, the body is stuffed into a jar with the blood it has lost, only to be smashed open and put back together like some sort of Frankenstein experiment. Finally, the doll is hung from the ceiling, as a grand finale to a gruesome metaphorical story which to me involves killing, reconstruction and then suicide. There are a wide array of messages to be read into with this piece, but none of which are positive. Maybe if Huan put the doll back together and that was the end then it would’ve been a story of undoing past mistakes maybe, but then he hangs the baby doll in an unapologetic statement of what the government has done and how it is irreversible. The overriding statement to me on a personal level is the fragility of human life, how we are so breakable and how easily a life can be taken. But at its core is is a cold reminder of the one child policy, and how so many people killed or abandoned their child often solely based on wanting a boy instead.

‘My New York’ 2002

When Zhang Huan started to pick up a lot of momentum in the art world, he moved to New York in Hope’s of making it big. ‘My New York’ was another ambitious and visually powerful performance piece. For the work, he made a suit out of beef steaks, giving him the appearance of a muscular body builder. At one point in the peformance he walked through a crowd and released white doves. Doves are symbols of liberation and peace, and I’m sure this has a hidden meaning to the artist about how he feels about being in New York. The meat suit would also be relevant to this, possibly pointing out the plentiful american diet of eating lots of meat along with the self-obsession and egotistical lives that we live in the west.

Like many of Zhang Huan’s performance pieces there will be a personal meaning behind the work, but he leaves it ambiguous enough for open interpretation. To me this serves as a reminder of human greed and power, playing with the idea of an ‘alpha male’ and how no matter how big or intimidating someone might be, they are just living organisms like the rest of us. The raw beef shows our animalistic side, with connotations of primal instincts and the overriding red colour serves as an instant reminder to our mortality. Using pieces of animal meat to look like a humans body is a direct comparison to our natural state of being a mammal. I think it is too often forgotten that we are just animals with advanced brains.

1/2 (meat) taken from a set of two images – 1998

In this photograph, we can see Zhang Huan staring straight at the camera, with part of a rib cage around his neck covering his torso. To me, this serves as a reminder of our fleshy inners that are covered by our skin. Our skin acts as a shell that covers our complicated insides that are works of nature. Weirdly, I think the artist looks more alive here in a way, despite holding part of a carcass around this neck. I think the white and the red bring out some subconscious primitive response and that is what makes this image so interesting.

FRANCIS BACON

I have used Francis Bacon’s work throughout a couple of projects. I think this is because his work covers such a wide variety of different subjects, particularly that involving people. He has a long phase of painting just portraits of people’s faces, distorting each one to exaggerate certain features and shapes.

A photograph of Henrietta Moraes
‘Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing’ – 1969

In the photograph of Henrietta Moraes, she looks like a healthy, ordinary person and is actually quite a beautiful lady. In Bacon’s study of her laughing, it is clear that there are several added elements. In many of Bacon’s paintings there is a sense of movement, achieved with cubist idea of painting several angles together and also also by using a dry brush to create kinetic lines. As suggested by the title, Bacon wants to create a sense of laughter in the painting and laughter means quite a lot of movement. There are teeth showing with white and brownish lines over them, as if she had whipped her head back with laughter.

Something that really excited me about this painting is the bone structure that Bacon creates either with white marks or with the use of heavy line with like in the top right of the face. It is almost like he is considering the layers below the skin when painting this portrait. For example, the eyes appear to have dark lines around them where the eye sockets of the skull are. The jaw is painted with heavy white brush stroke, and the top left of the face as we look at it is painted in colours that suggest bone. There appears to be gums showing in the mouth along with the teeth, while th left side of the jaw has tendon-like marks that connect the two part of the jaw. It is almost as though the face has been ripped up to unveil what underneath, but not in a gruesome way. It is a portrait that tells us more than just what a person looks like, it shows the facial structure as naturaly imperfect, and it is as though he paints a bit of the persons soul in every painting.

‘Painting’ – 1946

This painting was made straight after WW2 in 1946. With the war fresh in everyone’s minds, it’s no wonder that this piece show gore in a metaphorical and surreal way ignited a powerful reaction. The figure is the centre point of this level painting, and is most likely the prime minister at the time Neville Chamberlain who often carried a black umbrella. He seems to have been a victim of a poorly executed beheading, while we can still see his bottom row of teeth. The large carcass in the background adds to the feeling of death, while the overriding pink and red colours reinforce this. Of course WW2 has just been, a war where millions were slaughtered on the battlefield, so it is unsurprising that such a terrible series of events would be recreated in challenging pieces of artworks. I just say, Bacon had really created a sense of loss, death and the evil politics of war.

Bacon often used carcasses of other animals in his paintings, sometimes combining parts of other animals and mixed them with human forms. I have included two examples below, one with

A close up of ‘Head’ – 1947-8
Close up of ‘Figure with Meat’ – 1945

In one piece Francis Bacon combines an animal head with a human head, while in the latter piece there is the carcass of a cow split in two hanging behind Pope. Bacon is known to include horror-like elements in his work and I think that the way he includes it is highly effective in projecting a certain post-war feeling.

‘Portrait of Henrietta Moraes’ – 1963

This painting stands out as an incredibly seductive impression of Henrietta Moraes because of the body language, the warm and soft appearance of her nude skin, and the colours that the artist chose to use. The pink walls behind the bed are a pink/purple colour, a shade that has meaning of femininity and sex, and of course there is plenty of red which can mean passion and blood. Moraes is in a relaxed reclined position, and Bacon has exaggerated certain shapes and forms to distort her body in a way that reiterates the sense of sex and power in the painting. The body doesn’t look ‘real’ but what Bacon captures is a fleshy natural organism that resembles a human, yet it is something that tells us more than that

‘Two Studies from the Human Body’ – 1974-5

This piece features two studies of the human body that look like mutated monkey-men. The face of the figure closest to the front has a face like a baboon, and a body that looks muscular yet deformed and squished. The body in the back has been more mutilated by Bacon’s brush than the figure in the foreground. The body is almost unrecognizable as that of a human, with barely distinguishable limbs, one muscular arms folded into the torso and a leg that is represented by a thin white line and an enlarged foot. If it wasn’t for the title I would assume that the pieces are half human half animal hybrids, one of the figures is ape-like while the other reminds me of a bird perching. As I have mentioned, animals have been something that have been included and combined with Bacon’s portraits before, so perhaps this is an extension of that idea. Either way, I love the figures in this painting. The forms feel organic yet strangely disfigured, like some sort of victim to an experiment. The human form is too often portrayed as something that is sleek and beautiful, the truth is our body’s are breathing and bleeding meat-sacks that carry us around in the time we inhabit this world. I can see this in Bacon’s work, where he paints beyond the skin and includes the whole structure of the body in a deformed yet soothingly human way.

REBECCA WARREN

Rebecca Warren is a British artist who works primarily with sculpture and visual art. Her sculpture work is made using clay, bronze, and steel, and is mainly based on the human figure, although a lot of her work is abstracted in a way that creates a strong visual language.

‘SHE’ (untitled) – 2003

The work above is one of 6 pieces for a body of work entitled ‘SHE’. In the works, the artist is exploring her own sexuality with powerful and outstanding sculptures. The works are made with unified clay stood on top of a piece of wood with wheels on the bottom. The body is morphed in such a way that the feet, hips and breasts are enlarged and thus demand more attention from the viewer. The reason behind this decision is unclear, but if I were to guess it would be a celebration of womanhood, hence the title. On the other hand,it could be a message about objectifying women’s bodys. The sculpture is on a wooden base with wheels, with her breasts exposed while the figure covers its face. These could all be decisions made to portray a message of treating women like they’re just a body, while the figure is covering her face with embarrassment. Whatever the message, I think her use of unfired clay moulded together in an expressive and purposely unrefined manner has a certain language that is highly effective in translating her message.

‘Aurelius’ – 2017
‘The Living’ – 2013

While many of her works are based heavily on the human figure, other works look at the body in a more ambiguous way, using her talent of abstraction in a more dominating way. These works have an natural quality to them, looking like wild biological forms or even cave pillars. In both pictures, the works are like towers, which is something I’ve noticed with a lot of her work, she constructs human-like forms like they’re buildings. They often have thick legs as a base, and generally get narrower as she builds up. I suppose the human body is like a building- the feet are foundation, the legs hold the most weight, and we stand upright to stay stable. I really like Warren’s recreation of the human body, and I will apply this technique of sculpture in my own work.

Blog 1: Life, Death and the Middle Ages

I would like to begin by looking at the medieval period. Although this might seem random at first, I have good reason to look at the middle ages, an era that is often forgotten about. When I think of medieval times (roughly 500-1500AD) I don’t think of prosperity and glamour, but instead of a time that was characterized by illness, war and poverty. The population of Europe, and indeed the world, was far less than it is today. Many people in medieval Europe lived in small villages and worked in agriculture and other industries, while others huddled into bustling cities that became hubs for work and culture. In the villages it was a simple and quiet life, people often worked on the land, ate what was grown, hopefully found someone and had kids, then died probably not much older than 45. As someone who grew up in a village that is part of a chain of small villages that date back to Medievel times, I can relate to this simple model and I know many old people in my village who have never left and will most likely die there. It is an existence that is less egotistical and busy than lives that many lead nowadays, it is growing up, living, and dying in a place where your family and friends are, and that’s that. Of course people live much longer than they used to, so back in medieval times it would be a shorter existence where death and disease is common and incredibly raw. A big threat, that still effects poor countries today, is a child not making it past the age of 1, otherwise known as the infant mortality rate. This is because children are more susceptible to disease, so there were many tragic deaths of children. There was no real cover up of death, it wasn’t like today where the body is taken away and returned looking presentable and well-dressed, instead death was just a part of life. So, this is what fascinates me about the medieval period, the immediacy and the unforgivingness of death, so common that it was well integrated into everday life, just like in nature.

I am currently reading a book titled ‘Medieval Bodies – Life, death and Art in the Middle Ages’. The book is filled with information, and is heavily littered with images of artworks and diagrams from the period. What I love about the paintings and drawings is the lack of knowledge they had, which makes the outcomes uninformed but rather beautiful- much like a drawing by a child. Take, for example, this image of a ninth century gynaecological manuscript where the artist is trying to capture foetus in the womb. It is obviously not accurate, yet it has a wonderful character about it and is incredibly expressive.

Fig.1

The images in fig.1 show a little person living inside the womb that strangely looks like a pot of some sort. To me, it shows the innocence of a baby, happily moving around getting comfortable inside the womb unbeknownst to the medieval world that waits outside. This tells me a lot more than a simple diagram of a baby in a womb, it has feeling and bit of humour to it. It is interesting to me how this was created as a diagram, and I imagine this is the artist’s best idea at what the baby looks like in the womb.

A lot of medieval art looks quite cartoonish, they are medically inaccurate yet can be artistically sublime. Some works in this book were clearly not intended to be pieces of art, but they are so painfully inaccurate that they come across as artworks when compared to the diagrams we have nowadays. Fig.2 is a diagram of the human skeleton:

Fig.2

This is a diagram of a skeleton from 1488 that was in a book entitled ‘The Anatomy of the Human Body’. It may seem like a rough guess at what a skeleton looks like, but the piece is actually drawn with the skeleton lying on its front. Even then it is not the most accurate interpretation, but that’s partly down to the process of cleaning bones. Tough ligaments and tendons cling to bone, and these are very difficult to remove. Because of this, skeletons were often poorly represented in medieval diagrams and artworks.

As I have mentioned, death was no secret in the middle ages, nor was it uncommon. The emotions that come along with death were ever present, grief, bereavement and overwhelming sadness to name a few. The difference however is that people would have been numbed to these feelings because they would be so regularly experienced. Interestingly grieving was seen as something to do in private. When King Louis IX of France (1226-1270) found out about the death of his Mother, he immediately fell down in distress and openly displayed his natural emotions in that situation. However, his subjects disapproved of him demonstrating his sorrow in front of them. Crying was actually seen as something unmanly to do in public, and even at home it was socially unacceptable in places to cry too loudly. This shows a certain amount of insensitivity, but with tradegy being an everyday thing I suppose people just had to get on with their lives and their personal feelings were something they’d have to tackle themselves, ideally quietly where no one can see them.

So, death would have been viewed in a completely different light than it is today. Medieval people would be reminded of their own mortality with every illness and death. This would have been true of many areas of Europe for a very long time, but death was never so prevalent and heartbreaking as it was when a terrible plague swept through between 1346 and 1353. The Bubonic plague, also known as the ‘Black Death’, was the deadliest pandemic in human history. The death toll changes from one source to another, some say 25 million while others state it could’ve killed 200 million or more. It is difficult to get an exact figure because there were countless dead bodies piled into mass graves, filling the land with those who were once loved to rot on top of one another. ‘…men and women carried the bodies of their own little ones to church on their shoulders and threw them into mass graves, from which arose such a stink that it was barely possible for anyone to go past a churchyard’ – a first hand account taken from the Black Death Chronicle. With death surrounding these people everyday, I can’t even begin to imagine the despair and fear they must have felt. On top of this, it was such a terrible plague that many if not most people believed it was punishment sent by God for disobedience. I myself am not religious, despite being brought up Christian I would say my views are agnostic because after we die it is a great unknown that no mortal being can really decipher. However, the middle ages were known as being very ignorant, people relied heavily on out-dated medicines and beliefs that had been passed down through generations, and they were strong believers in God and the eternal soul. Not to say that this is an ignorant view, but past societies who knew little about human life would naturally rely more on religion for answers. As people were highly religious in these times, they would’ve also believed that those who died of the plague would be going to hell, and the possibility of being allowed into heaven would have been fading away. However much they would’ve feared an eternity in Hell, the scenes that would’ve unfolded during the Black Death would have been apocalyptic, maybe serving as a taste of what to expect in the underworld.

Fig.3

Fig.3 ‘Tournai Citizens Burying the Dead During the Black Death’ is a painting emerging from Belgium in the 14th century. This piece was probably painted not long after the Black Death, if not during it. The emotions are very raw in this painting, and it obvious that human tragedy is a key focal point of the piece. Every character is painted to be individual, most with their head down with mournful expressions. It is said that one can feel empathy much more if they have been through a similar thing. Well, everyone was affected by the Black death, if you weren’t ill then someone in your family was, and if not then you would know someone who had died. I see a direct comparison to Covid-19 that we are experiencing currently. On the internet people are reaching out to one another checking if they are doing well, and similar things are happening in real life such as people dropping off supplies to the elderly and vulnerable. In times of tragedy people feel for one another, and although this painting is just a glimpse into the past, a picture speaks a thousand words and I think people were helping one another in different ways, such as burying the dead as seen in this image.

Fig.4

Fig.4 is a version of ‘Danse Macabre’ or ‘The Dance of Death’ by the German painter and printmaker Michael Wolgemut. The Dance of Death consists of dead figures from all walks of life uniting in one commonality: Death. The idea was that no matter who you are in life, no matter how rich or how poor, everyone will ultimately succumb to the great equalizer that is death. In a time tarnished with tragedy I imagine the reminder that death comes to us all would be a strangely comforting idea. This version of the Danse Macabre gives me a sense that the dead are mocking their own mortality, while coming together as one to celebrate their newly found pain-free existence. I love the idea of the Danse Macabre, because death is thought of as the great rest, and if your life is hard and tragic then maybe death would be something that is welcomed. Death is the permanent end of one’s life, but life is harshly intertwined with reality that can be unfair for many people, for example those who are depressed and feel stuck. After all, if life isn’t working out you can always take a dance with death.

Introduction to my project -‘Death’

A few years ago I lost a couple of members of my family seemingly out of nowhere- My brother, Sam and my grandad, Paddy. Before this, death hadn’t been something I had ever encountered first hand. It came suddenly when I was 17, and shook my world like nothing has ever done before. To say it changed my outlook on life would be understating the situation yet it sums up the effect it had on me. My view of death has been altered drastically- and I want to review this in my project entitled, with lack of a better word, ‘Death’.

I understand that this is a huge subject to take on. Death is a great unknown- referred to as the journey one does not come back from. For that reason, I think I will stay away from speculation of where we go after we die because there are thousands of different answers for this, depending on who you ask or what religion you refer to. I personally believe that the body and the soul are two separate things, but when we are ‘living’ they are connected. I believe the soul leaves the body at the point of death, but where it goes is a mystery that I will inevitably find out, hopefully after a decent amount of time on Earth. So, I want to focus on death from the point of view of an Earth-inhabitant with a mortal mind, at least to begin with.

Evaluation

Over the project I have had a keen interest in portraiture and video art. While I am a portrait artist in my spare time, I have never bended my painting skills in such a way as I have done with the project which was a steep learning curve for me, as well as making video art which was completely new to me. The very first piece of work I did really set the tone for the project because it was a video of me painting myself, which included the two key features of the project: film and portraiture. After the first two videos, 1 minute and 1 hour self-portrait, I moved onto experimenting with film with the ‘Dancing Girl’ videos. The video shot through the glass coke bottle distorted the face, and this inspired me to look at distortion of the face while studying artists such as Francis Bacon and Wes Naman. At the time of diving into distortion, the country went into Lockdown because of Covid-19. Bizarrely, this worked in my favour as I could relate distortion to deteriorating mental health and the loneliness I was experiencing while cooped up on my own. As days passed and my work progressed, I found a way to ground the abstract idea of distorting the face in the sense of movement. I did this because days were blending together, and by looking at movement I could create a blur which represented the repetitive days I was having. I found photography a useful tool to make blurry photos by changing the shutter speed and then either shaking my head around or shaking the camera or both. I quickly worked out how to make a similar sort of effect with film by layering the same clip over one another played at slightly different times. I was very pleased to make this discovery because I wanted to go back to the roots of the project with my video work. In the final stretch of the project, I had a look at abstract expressionism as well as the art film ‘Painter’ by Paul McCarthy, which ultimately gave me the final piece of the puzzle to conclude the project. For my final work, I wanted to incorporate film and portrait painting because of how dominant these two factors had been through the project. I had a look through my project, and after having a good look at all the work I’d done, I decided that painting a self-portrait in a similar way to how I had done at the start would be the best way to tie the project off. This time, however, I would have all of the knowledge and experience I’d gathered over the course of the project. After brainstorming some ideas, I landed on a breakthrough plan- I would find a way to edit a video so that it looks like I’m painting myself move around using the blurry video idea I had done with my Harold Eugene Edgerton inspired video work such as ‘descending staircase’ 1&2. The plan was simple: buy and set up a tripod pointing at a mirror which was angled so that it reflected onto me, while still having me in the shot, as well as the canvas that I’d be painting myself on. Of course in reality I wouldn’t actually be looking at myself, but rather the camera and tripod, so I printed off a couple of photos I could work from and put them out of sight of the camera. I filmed for a total of about 45 minutes. For the first ten minutes I looked straight into the mirror and moved my head around and moved my face around and pulled different facial expressions all the while. This would later be the footage that I would edit over the mirror, so I made sure not to touch the camera at all. Then, I sat down and began painting, bearing in mind everything I had learnt over the course of the project. At the same time I wanted to show the inspiration from the ‘Painter’ video, so I did large expressive movements with the brush. In terms of the editing of the video, I slowed down the reflection footage to 0.5 speed and layered it over itself six times like I had done in previous work. For the footage of me painting, I only kept in the parts with the most expressive brush movement so that the video had a quick and developing pace to it. When it came to editing the reflection in the mirror, I very carefully cropped it so that it seamlessly fits with the mirror in the main video with me painting. Overall I was over the moon with how it worked, it looked very clean and professional, and although you can kind of tell the mirror is edited it isn’t obvious at all.

After reviewing the video and having a good look at the painting, I think I got a bit lost in trying to achieve an expressive look, and in the end I wasn’t very happy with painting. For the video it worked really well, but as a final piece it just didn’t reflect what I’d learnt and it didn’t show off the same skill as I had done previously. For this reason, I Spent an extra couple of hours working into the painting remembering the kinetic shapes of Francis Bacon and various artists from the ‘Painting Movement’ page. The end result was more solid and complete, and I think I had greatly improved it. I added stronger lines and shapes mixed in with the gestural mark making. I added a background to give it a sense of space, linking back to the idea of being inside. Inspired by the cubist idea of painting from multiple angles, I added extra facial features and gave the illusion of movement.

Video work inspired by ‘Nude Descending Staircase No.2’ and Harold Eugene Edgerton’s photography

From the previous research I did about capturing movement I found Duchamp’s and Edgerton’s work by far the most compelling. I wanted to create something inspired by what I’d found while staying true to the roots of this project: video.

At the time I was working on a new painting outside of this project so i thought a big expressive brushstroke would be a good starting experiment. I got someone to film while I made a couple of sweeping motions with the paintbrush, then headed over to the video editer.

The editing for these clips were all very similar. First I duplicated the clip and pasted it below itself, then moved it along by a fraction of a second so that it played just behind the original. Then I changed the opacity so that both layers can be seen at once. I repeated this until 6 or so layers played on top of each other. I also edited the first experiments to be black and white to reflect Edgerton’s work. I also that where the video is in black and white there is less distraction from the figure and the result looks cleaner in a way.

As this was just the first experiment, it wasn’t perfect, but it was okay. The thing I didn’t like was the timing of the layers- I thought they were too close. As seen in the photo work by Edgerton each photo was easily distinguishable from next. However, in this video the clips were far too close making more of a blur effect which wasnt what I was looking for at this point.

For the next experiment ‘Descending Staircase #1’ I got someone to film me walking down the stairs in response to Duchamp’s painting. I set the time of each layer to be a lot more than the first, and the result is obvious. While this is what I thought I wanted to achieve, the effect created ending up looking like some sort of lonely conga. While it did overlap in places, I thought if they were moved closer together, by shortening the time between layers, the effect would be portray movement more successfully.

This brings me onto the third experiment entitled ‘Descending Staircase #2’. I chose a slightly different angle which reminded me more of Duchamp’s stairs, and got someone to film me walking down the stairs again. With a gap of less than half of the previous experiment, the figure stayed as a whole while moving down the staircase. I much preferred this outcome because the layers aren’t all split up, it is clear that the focus is one person. The message is now reflecting the one I have been wanted to achieve for a lot of this project which is the idea of time passing and moment blurring together as, at the time of writing this, a couple months have passed of being stuck inside. I think this video best portrayed this message and I was really happy with it.

Above are a couple more experiments. For the top one ‘ Boredom in the House’ I wanted to go back to my focus on the face and filmed myself looking bored and fed up, occasionally glancing out of the window. I edited these together with a smaller gap in between layers for a blurry effect which reminded me of my blurred photo work but in video form. I was happy with the result because I’d been able to achieve the same feeling of the blurred photos but with my new and preffered medium of film.

‘A Look Inside #1’ is filmed from outside in the garden looking into the living room. I thought that this emphasised the idea of being stuck indoors. The same idea of adding multiple layers is applied, this time with 1.5x as many layers than before. I liked the reflection on the glass to reiterate the focus on being cooped up inside, despite the reflection being an accident originally.

‘A Look Inside #2’ is a similar video, but I cropped it and zoomed in on my face. The facial expressions while I look out the window are more of a focus here, and is by far my favourite of the experiments.

‘Painting movement’ research

I’ve been following a trend of creating movement within a still image, so I thought it made sense to do some additional research on artists who managed to achieve this.

The first artists I stumbled upon was James Bonnici with his brilliant oil paintings of people heads in motion. These works reminded me very much of my photographs where I shook my head and took a photo- and I imagine this is actually how the artist made these paintings too. I added a couple of my own photos for comparison.

After this I looked at some paintings that weren’t portraits but were relevant none the less. ‘Abstract Speed- The Car has Passed’ and ‘Sea Bird Forms’ have a very similar energy to them, with sweeping and seemingly ‘aerodynamic’ shapes.

The next piece entitled ‘Cassacks’ by Wassily Kandinsky also uses shapes to indicate movement, but there seemed to be less control and more expressionism. The movement here comes from abstract shapes and how they interact with one another.

‘Nude Descending Staircase No.2’ was a very interesting way to portray movement- capturing where the figure had been and where they are currently gives a sense of travel. I think this painting portrays movement brilliantly.

Although ‘Study for Returning to the Trenches’ is only a sketch for the actual painting, I thought that the way the figures faded in from the right of the piece added a brilliant sense of movement. The sketch also reminded me of ‘Nude Descending Staircase No.2’ in the way there seems to be repeated figures.

For my final study I looked at the photographer/ electrical engineer Harold Eugene Edgerton who invented the Stroboscope (strobe). With lots of short bursts of flash photos he could achieve work such as the ones below. This reminded me of ‘Nude Descending Staircase no.2’ where we can see the range of movement the person goes through. Although I would consider these photos art, Edgerton found space in the scientific world for his brilliant photography which was way ahead of its time.

Painting of edited photo

The theme with this project is painting, so naturally I wanted to paint one of the photographs. I chose the one in the middle because I thought the way the face and the background merge together is really effective and visually pleasing.

I took an expressive approach to the painting style here, using gestural marks because I find the more free- flowing the painting is, the more movement there appears to be. While I was only shaking my head when I took the photograph, when this is translated roughly into painting, the facial expression might change from what was once just flapping skin to what it is here: a mixture of anger and anxiety. The goal goes from just copying a photograph to seeing certain facial expressions developing with each brush stroke that I then follow. I’m not just copying the photograph here, but applying it to what is going on in the world at the moment. The lockdown that we are all experiencing must be projecting a whole range of emotions on the general public, especially that we are the worst hit country per capita, and this is the sort of emotion I want to portray in the paintings- anger, anxiety, frustration and loneliness just to name a few.

Layering blurred photo of self onto photos around the house

Following the photos I took of Mum in the house, i wanted to follow the trend of making the home and the spaces we inhabit part of my work so that it relates to the lockdown. I revisited the photos I took of myself shaking my head inside and edited these over new photos of areas in my house.

I used my video editor app (kinemaster) to do this, by first posting in the background and then adding the photo of myself on top and changing its opacity to 40-60% just like the routine video I did.

As I have mentioned, adding a sense of confinement is closer to what I want to achieve with my work. Although these photos were already taken in an indoor environment, the background was boring and plain. By adding the new photos of areas of my house to the images I think that they’re much more interesting in terms of composition. I like the way the background merges and interacts with the shapes of the face. With the latter image I took two of the blurred photos of myself and layered them on top of each other as well as a photo of a sofa. This added more depth to the image and distorted the face nicely.

Acrylic painting of blurred figure photo taken inside

I was really pleased with the photos that I took of Mum in different spaces, so I decided to convert this into an acrylic painting. The goal was to capture the blur that I had achieved with the photo, and I think I was successful in doing so.

I was unsure when approaching this painting because I didnt know how I was going to achieve the blurred and out of focus look. I decided that gestural brushstrokes and a ‘paintily’ style of mark making would be best, and I think it paid off. I’m very happy with the result- the figure is interesting to look at and the background and border (the mirror rim) creates a sense of space.

The painting has a sinister sort of look to it, which wasnt my intention but given the current world pandemic I guess this mood is quite suitable.