I really thought that Still Life painting was so "old hat" and that's why for most of my painting career I have steered clear of it!
It was totally because of the pandemic that I have morphed into a Still Life Painter. I have been best known for my urban landscape paintings and tree drawings and I must confess I honestly thought Still Life was the most boring of genres, particularly all those brownish images of fruit and flowers and old brown jugs a la Margaret Olley and something I associated with geriatric hording and squalor. All it took was an inability to go outside or to use models and I started to explore my own home for subject matter. The question is why did it take me so long? I feel a bit of an idiot. You were right all along Margaret! I had also thought that Still Life said very little about the human condition and the state of the world. Wrong again, so wrong.
I have now painted over 30 medium sized works 40x40cm and some larger ones, one after the other. I feel I could go on forever. At least I have found it now...
As you can see from my painting above, I have painted things I love first of all. Some of my vast book collection, my blue and white porcelain, sculptures, lamp shades, the brightest fruit I could find, all are ending up immortalised and all have something to say about my current state of mind and the world around me.
Naturally I've been drawn to books about the subject and I've also been invited to teach a Still Life workshop at the McGregor Summer School at the University of Southern Queensland.
I've researched the Dutch Golden Age and made some fascinating discoveries but a new Australian book has been my most rewarding find.
Still Life - Contemporary Australian Painters by Amber Creswell Bell, Thames and Hudson Australia 2021.
It is now one of the most cherished books in my collection. I have read the text twice and my copy has underlining, asterisks and post-it notes all through it.
Firstly, it is a beautifully designed and lavishly illustrated book that you could enjoy for the images alone.
Forty-one painters are included. John Honeywill is the only Queenslander that I know of whose work I've been able to see in the flesh on a regular basis at Philip Bacon Galleries. Lucy Culliton also exhibits here in Brisbane and I never miss her shows at Jan Murphy Gallery.
There is much more to this book than sumptuous images however. Creswell Bell's introduction is short but gets straight to the point. A taste of historical background and context, and then she expounds on the relevance to a contemporary audience which is, after all, the goal. She illuminates her threads clearly and then weaves them together to form a compelling message.
There is a sensible pattern to the book. The formula is
a. Photo of the artist in the studio.
b. Three glossy pages of images, some of them are cropped details so you have to check for this.
c. A few pages of text which includes quotes from an in depth interview with the artist and an analysis of their approach both to the subject and to their work more generally, including practical facts about their work methods. Artists lap up this sort of thing. Even a photo including someone's palette can be informative and inspiring and don't get me started if there is a book shelf in the room!
d. A quote from the artist in enlarged text which nudges you along and keeps you focused.
The painting styles in the book vary from the painterly such as Anh Nguyen, the photorealist such as Angus McDonald to the impasto "waste of paint" blob school such as Lewis Miller (who says he has nothing to say) to the stylised Jordy Kerwick.
The media used in the works covered is pretty much the traditional oils and a few acrylic and watercolour works. Sizes are clearly given which is essential to visualising the whole work.
I wasn't aware of the work of Andrea Huelin and her way with paint had me drooling, the perfect brushstroke for every different surface... Something to aspire to. A true painter's painter.
One good thing about modern technology is that you can instantly Google or look up the artists on Instagram and see more. It is never as good as seeing the real paint surface but the next best thing.
Well done Amber Creswell Bell. I love your new book and congratulations to all the artists included. I wish I was one of them!