On the 14th July 2017 the Malta Arts Festival hosted an amazing performance at Fort St.Elmo. Ultima Vez gave us 'In Spite of Wishing and Wanting', a world acclaimed piece by chroeographer Wim Vandekeybus. Powerful in its sheer energy and drama, the all-male troupe explored "fear, the desire for security and the dreadful magic of sleep". The music of David Byrne underpinned it all, and two short films added to the surreal atmosphere.
It's impossible to describe in words though - so here is a short YouTube clip to give you an idea...
I had asked to paint the performance because it sounded so unusual and dramatic, with some nudity and what seemed to be men flying in showers of feathers. I wasn't disappointed; the sheer physical energy and total focus took their bodies beyond human limits. I caught as much as I could - I was spellbound!
Every time I set myself up to paint a live performance I am hit by last minute nerves. I cover the floor in plastic sheeting, lay out my paints and brushes, clip the battery lights to my easel, and then, as I wait for the night to begin, I want to run away. I never know if I'll be able to do anything, let alone do it well. And it's all so darned public.
After the first effort, which often misfires, I usually forget to worry and just get on with it. I have to work quickly to get the basic shapes and movement, but the time seems to pass really slowly. I find myself watching things appear on the paper or canvas. I am drawing with paint. I try to capture the essence of whatever catches my attention and work on it until something else comes up, which is when I start another. The faster I work the less I think and censor what is happening. In some ways it's much easier than working slowly with a static scene, when there's too much time to second-guess and 'fix' the picture.
I am often asked how long paintings take, as if the length of time is a reflection on its value or quality. I can only say that each one takes me all my life. I have studied nude models in life classes, sketching people and making studies for years to be able to do what I do. Not many artists would even attempt this way of working. I often ask myself why I find it so fascinating!
After the event I just want to pack up and go home and let the paintings dry. I haven't really seen the pictures as I paint them; there is no time to focus on them individually. Next morning they always surprise me. Colours are distorted by the artificial lights, and also by my limited palette.
I just sit and look at them for a while, until I see what they need. I sort them into three piles; one to throw away, one to work on a little and one that needs a lot of adjusting. Some get overworked or just messed up while I'm working on them. Some just sing right from the start.
All I know is that I like to work with figures in motion, usually dancers and jazz musicians. The paintings seem to come from a deep and connected place that I cannot access in any other way.
To see the rest of the collection 'Quintessence by Renzo Spiteri" please click HERE
Please leave your comments below - I'd really like to hear what you think of these paintings.
The only way I can paint or draw really quickly and accurately at live events is to have complete confidence in my knowledge of the human form and how it moves. My years of studying in life classes have given me a solid feeling for anatomy and a connection to the way we humans fill space. I love working with models, male and female. Human beings are all beautiful, miraculous and unique. It’s a privilege to be able to spend time studying someone’s unique body shape and simply be allowed to stare at them without embarrassment or misinterpretation.
For the last year or so I have been working on a collection of drawings and paintings called ‘Fifty Shades of Grey Nudes’. To see the works so far please visit my Fifty Shades of Grey Nudes site. Here are some of the latest works, which have not been added to the website yet. I would like to exhibit them to coincide with the premier of the film in Malta, but we’ll see what happens.
Somewhere along the line though, we decided that we just weren’t able to make things look 'real' enough. We copied the symbols of houses and people that we were shown, but they still didn’t look right. Maybe someone laughed at our purple lemon, or our six legged horse. We were told to make grass green and skies blue. Little by little we lost our innocent creativity in an attempt to what? Please other people?
Many children then give up, and the precious gift of creative self expression slips away. Some love their art classes at school, and do well in their exams, but when Real Life kicks in, who has time to practice drawing or painting? Years later, when circumstances change, and they have some time for themselves, many decide to take up art again. It's a shame to lose contact with that playful love of making pictures, but luckily it's really never too late to rediscover it.
I really love teaching adults – it’s such a great feeling to help someone realise that actually they can draw much better than they ever thought they could, just by being shown a few simple ‘tricks’. My previous Blogs (see archives!) have given you every single one of those ‘tricks’. I wonder if you have tried any? They really do work. All we need to do is see the world as it really is instead of how we think it is. And then draw a line around the shapes. It only takes one basic drawing class to get that ‘Ah-ha!’ feeling. Of course, it then takes practice. Anything worthwhile takes practice.
Artists have used endless tricks and tools to help them capture the image they were after, from lightboxes and lenses, grids and viewfinders, cameras, computers and more recently Photoshop. Many people use photographs as a convenient basis for their paintings. It obviously seems easier to sit and copy a static scene instead of battling the various problems of perspective, three dimensional space, colour, changing light and moving subjects.
A word of caution though; cameras only have one ‘eye’ and can madly distort images, especially when zoom lenses are used. We find it hard to believe that photographs can lie to us so badly, and we don’t even notice the crazy distortions on many photos of moving people. Yet people faithfully copy, even trace, photos of dancers or sportspeople and can’t work out why the figures look so odd.
It seems like a simple solution, but it can be a very deceptive one. The single lens of the camera squashes perspective onto one plane, especially if the figure is moving. This distorts and flattens everything, so that a closer object becomes smaller and a more distant one becomes bigger. As an example look at this photo..
Using a photo is different from letting a photo use you. A slavish copy of a flat image is exactly that; it takes human aliveness and consciousness to turn it into a work of art. Photographs can be useful aids but we have to be aware of their distortions or we will just copy them blindly. As artists, we have to infuse our work with all our skills of interpretation and insight to give it the kiss of life.
I do use photographs sometimes. I take photos when there isn't time to paint, and occasionally I capture something that looks like an interesting starting point. For example.....
“Machines can do many things better than people, but beauty created by a combination of hand, eye, personality and material is something we shall always need. In fact, there is a sense of presence which can only be created by an artist or craftsman” Martin Gayford
I am starting my classes again after the long hot summer!
On Friday 19th September mornings I will be returning to the lovely gardens of Villa Bologna to resume the outdoor classes there.
From 20th September the Saturday Morning Drawing Club will get underway again in my studio in Manikata.
For more details please click HERE and contact me if you need any more information at all.
I will also be teaching an exciting six week course for teenagers 12 - 14 beginning in October in Sliema. I'll be showing them how to draw from real people, helping them to sketch quickly and for the last class we'll be working at the rehearsals of a Flamenco performance.
Looking forward to seeing you soon!!
I wonder if perhaps because mark-making is such a primal human urge we expect drawing to be ‘easy’ somehow; that it should not demand practice or hard work. Most people really wish that they could draw, but are convinced that they are not ‘gifted’ because they were probably told as children that their attempts at drawing were not good enough (good enough for WHAT? They are expressions, not competitions). Children who find drawing easy seem to be those who naturally see abstract shapes and how they fit together in space. It is more a gift of perception or observation than of drawing, really.
“Drawing will make you a better person – not morally, necessarily, but it makes you think. It will help you see the hidden patterns all around you, and make you a discriminating lover of landscapes, faces and mundane objects. It becomes an education, which changes your brain as much as learning to play the piano or to dance. It is about striving to become more fully human” Andrew Marr in ‘A Short Book About Drawing’
You can use the practice of drawing as a form of productive meditation, time for yourself, an interesting way of looking at the world differently and an absorbing search for lines and shapes to describe what you see. It can also be a new way of connecting to your surroundings, helping you to see things that you had never noticed before. The end result is less important than how much you learn, how much you see and how deeply you become absorbed. This alone can be the greatest source of joy, and as you continue the actual drawings will improve, with flashes of insight and leaps of ability.
I often think that the world would be a much more peaceful and pleasant place if only everyone was helped to draw to the best of their ability; we would all ‘see’, feel and experience life in a much less superficial way.
I love to paint - and draw - and help others to discover their creative side too.....
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