Sleep Paralysis

The Howling Stump.

This photo, from 2009 is of a hawthorn tree in Leicestershire. I used to pass it on cycle rides to Market Bosworth but it was only visible in the winter when the hedges were clear of leaves. It looks to me like it belongs in a story of haunted houses.

Sleeping can reveal that I am aware of how my mind deals with sleeping or waking. Falling asleep is like flicking a switch, the switch has to do several things at once. It will switch off hearing and bodily movement. The mind has to do the opposite switches when we wake up. Something seems to break the sequence when we’re in REM dream sleep.

Sometimes, we want to wake from a dream and have to struggle. Sometimes, we wake but the switch to allow the muscles to move doesn’t come on immediately. This leaves me in a state where I am awake but can’t move, not even to open my eyes. This is a state of Sleep Paralysis. I get this about once a year.

Fuseli Night Demon

It’s not just me, this theme has attracted artists like Fuselli. SP seems to reflect the times, demons in the past and UFO alien abductions more recently (especially in the USA where aliens ISNA more popular theme). Others have recounted the feeling of crushing or a sentient presence in the room. I don’t get any of that but the strangest I have had is a loud grinding buzzing sound inside my head.

Mural painting.

13°C, heavy showers.

Just in time for memorial Sunday, I was given a day to get this mural painted at work. They’re having a kind of parents’ evening and the head decided it would be good to have the mural done before parents arrive. That gave me 5 hours to complete it

The day went well, I had constant encouragement from all the staff and most of the kids.

As for painting, acrylics pose several challenges, most notable; colours change as the paint dries, the paint dries extremely quickly.

There was some texture on the wall which helped greatly but looking back on the day, there are things I’d do differently.

  • Underpainting should cover all of the figure,
  • Use 2 colours to underpaint,
  • Mark out lines in paint so they show through underpainting.
  • Look globally at colour tints (I used orange).

This approach may alleviate several problems like white spots and improve overall cohesive tone.

With hindsight, I could have played with the paint a bit more. When thinned, it would dribble downwards sometimes. I could have used that by not cleaning it up. More, the underpainting could be applied with a sponge to rough out the overall tone. What about wiping the wet paint with water? If next time…

It was nice to chat with passing pupils and staff while I worked. One boy asked whether I “am a paintist?”. Staff were genuinely interested, I think it was the process that caught their curiosity.

Van Dyke

6C Cooling.
The Culture Show: did a charming programme about a painting found via the BBC’s yourpaintings website.


Okay, it looked quite horrible before via restoration, but as they cleaned it, the glowing skill and finesse did actually show through. The guy who owned it was reserved and stoic throughout, but the feeling was vivid. I was reminded of my own personal relationship with a picture held in the City Gallery in Birmingham. Henry Fantin-Latour’s portrait of his wife reading. I always in to visit that picture when in Birmingham. It’s a sentimental friendship I have with the painting. I go all wistful and a bit soft in the eyes when I get there. It’s a great shame that I can’t get a print of it to treasure at home.
I’ll have to break in and steal it.

Jenny Saville at MoMA

20°C, light summer clouds.

The Museum of Modern Art put on a show this summer of Jenny Saville‘s new works. Some larger drawings supported by a good choice of well-known large canvases.
The gallery was large with pictures given loads of space and light. The most recent drawings were in the first room with larger well-known paintings upstairs. In the basement they showed a short documentary where JS was interviewed. She spoke clearly about her work, ideas and reasoning without much jargon or many buzzwords.

In the interview she tried to separate herself from the postmodern movement, but I’d say she could be linked to it with those drawings. She played with layering in drawings by either over-drawing older and slightly faded charcoal work, or by drawing onto tracing paper and laying it on top of another drawing. It’s almost like layering in graphics software like Photoshop. Suchtechniques did mimic the depth seen in the large paintings upstairs.

JS’s work must be great for art critics. There is so much to talk about; technique, the name-dropping references game, feminism, cosmetic surgery all linked to its place in contemporary art. Maybe I shouldn’t spend too many words doing all that and get to the main point of my post.

What struck me most about this? It was the eyes.
Such large and energetic pictures do fall apart on close viewing. In my opinion, most pictures have an optimum viewing distance. Some pictures should be viewed close while others you should step in closer. These large canvases demand a rather more ambiguous range. If you get in close, those sculptural forms do fragment into blocks of rapidly swept oil paint. There remains the eyes however. No matter how much you lean in and fill your panoramic view with the canvas, the eyes remain as vivid as a photograph. Even better than that, they’re as vivid as real life. I do think that a portrait must have a life of its own, something that we can relate to. For me, eyes are usually a route into the personality of the picture. So stand close, close enough for the catch-lights to reveal the room that the sitter saw while posing. Do this and most of the picture breaks into flesh coloured crazy-paving, but despite all of that shrapnel, there remains life in those eyes.

I won’t deny that these are disturbing pictures, but I mention this point second because the life and warmth of the pictures are primary. A first impression might be of car crash victims, but these characters don’t seem so traumatised by their injuries. If they are the results of cosmetic surgery, they will have paid money for the cuts, the blood and bruising. They will endure with optimism, do they hope for a happier future with a new cosmetic façade  We could talk now about cosmetic surgery as a step on from make-up. I won’t because I am not really qualified to hold an opinion, it’s not really my field.

Anyway, we had a very nice day in Oxford and even went punting. Later I dried out in a nice wholesome cafe and watched the the cyclists wheel by, often on their single-speed fixies. Decent coffee too.

Jenny Saville

2.4°C, Sleet

Cycling: ‘Orrible ride home in the sleet & headwind. Shouldn’t have bothered.Jenny Saville: a colleague bought a book on her painting recently which I looked at yesterday. A later lesson – I was pulled by by a morbid curiosity to look again. The pictures were full of blood, light by strip-light green and portrayed women who appeared to have had surgery- cosmetic surgery. They had stitches, were soaked in blood, and mostly were naked. The pictures in real life are very large indeed. In close-up the paint is boldly applied, in thick daubs with a palette knife and usually not densely covering the canvas.

The pictures seem to be about human beings as lumps of meat, objects for the surgeon’s procedures- helpless and injured. they look as if actually dripping wth blood, anatomically vivid but also often distorted by wide angle lens of just mounds of body fat.

Jenny Savile can really paint. She has insightful colour vision, solid anatomy and the people depicted are really alive with a warm sympathy. The pictures are frightening to say the least-and so test your stamina; repellent, but curiosity draws you back- how can a mere piece of canvas cause such a strong reaction? I haven’t even seen the paintings in real life, it’s been years since seeing any of her photographs as well but now I must have this book. It such a compelling desire that I don’t care how much it costs financially.

Autodesk Inventor: Played with version 8 during a free period today. I really regret that we can’t use this in teaching, it’s a very competant program- far superior to Pro/Desktop.