Going Over to the Dark Side at Tate Britain

On a bleak and murky day at the end of the month of February I decided to have an outing. My destination of choosing, Tate Britain.

There where many highlights to the trip. With so many master pieces in such a small space it is difficult to select just a few to talk about. I have narrowed it down to three pieces which stand out for me for reasons of, personal interest in the artist. Provoking an emotional response, and admiration for the techniques used, technical skill or concept.

Indian Ink sketch of Gillian Carnegie's Black Square.

Indian Ink sketch of Gillian Carnegie’s Black Square.

Black Square, 2008, oil on canvas, Gillian Carnegie (born 1971):

The work that hit me like a hurricane and has been on my mind the most since the visit is Gillian Carnegie’s large black low relief oil painting, Black Square, 2008.

Weighing in at 1930 x 1930 mm it occupies a conner of a large room with many art works adorning the walls. From a distance it looks like a square black hole drawing unsuspecting gallery visitors ever closer to the obis.

As you get closer the light bouncing of the surface starts to revel lines and marks. Closer inspection still revels a forest scene painted interlay in black oil paint. Gloss and matt textures of smooth brush marks and cylindrical shapes perfectly represent the uneven bark covered surface of a tree trunk .

It is best to stand at a 45% angle to the painting to truly see the forest scene in all its glory. Three large tree trunks are lined up on a sweeping horizontal line  that exits the painting to the left. This shows us the perspective. The trunks are cropped by the confines of the canvas so we only see the ground where the trunks emerge and approximately 9 ft of the trunk.

To the left at ground level there is the suggestion of a path running through the woods. To the right hand side of the painting a more distant tree, which looks like an oak. Its spindly braces and twigs reach into the painting and mingle with outer branch out lines filling the negative space between the trunks.

One of the many reactions that fleeted through my head as I stood awe stuck in front of the crud oil like textures that make up the forest scene, was how much did all that oil paint cost! The artist has slathered a thick layer of the stuff over the large square canvas and then apparently carved back into it creating a low relief carving in the oil paint.

Gillian Carnegie’s competed this painting as part of an on going sires started in 2000. The theme for the paintings and prints in this series is ‘landscape scenes at night time’. other works in this series can be seen at the web site for The Anderson Gallery in New York where Carnegie exhibited in 2011.

The painting’s title ‘Black Square’ gives reference to a the earlier painting of the same tile by the Russian Supremacist painter Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935). Kasimir painted four black squares through out his life. they came to symbolise the essence of the Suprematise movement. ‘the supremacy of pure artistic feeling’ (Kasimir Malevich) description of the movement

The monochrome studies of both these artists collates well with the drawing module I am currently taking. Again I’m inspired to work with some really dark medium such as charcoal or a 6/8B fat graphite stick. Blacken up some surfaces and then find the lights of the subject by was of reduction with a rubber. Also some studied with dipping inks for there strong colour.

Having just taken a look at Odlin Redon and his noire’s I can’t help but feel I am being pulled over to the dark side! I must explore this further in my work.

Jacob Kramer, 1921, bronze sculptor, by Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959):


I took photos on my phone of different angles of the statue. Once home I drew them into my sketch book.

The life size bronze sculpture of Ukrainian born artist Jacob Kramer (1892-1962) shows the head neck and shoulders of a gaunt man. The artist Epstein has really captured the energy of the sitter. It must be the most life like sculptures I have seen. Life like not in its exact representation of he sitter in a hyper realistic way. Although I am sure the features and contours making the study, are an accurate likeness.

I mean life like in the sense that Epstein seems to have captured the pure essence of the man and cast it in bronze.

Epstine later wrote of his sitter, ‘The Leeds painter, Kramer, was a model who seemed to be on fire. He was extraordinarily nervous. Energy seemed to leap into his hair as he sat, and sometimes he would be shaken by queer trembling like ague. I would try to calm him so as to get on with the work’. (Jacob Epstine – http://www.tate.org.uk)

Epstine met Kramer in Leeds where the pair both agreed to sit for the other. I can see why Epstein was keen to make a likeness of Kramer. Such a fascinating face. From the bronze it seems apparent there is much going on under the surface also. The surface of the sculpture is textural. Epstine has chosen not to smooth out the clay. You can see where the fingers worked to pull and push clay this way and that. It is the sculptural equivalent of a painterly painting.

Epstine was born in America to Polish Jewish refugees. He moved to Paris to study further at Ecole Beaux-Arts.

In 1905 he moved to to London where he settled down and Married wife Margaret Dunlope. During this period of his life Epstine lived and sculpted in two cottages in Loghton, Essex. (I mention this as I myself live five minute form Loghton.) He also spent time in Epping forest painting and sketching scenes e came across.

He served briefly as a soldier in the ‘Jewish Legion’ in World War 1.

Epstein’s early works were a mixture of realism and the abstract. Often focusing on taboo subject of sexuality. In 1913 Epstein produced perhaps his most famous work ‘the rock Drill’. This shows an abstraction of a human figure sat astride a mechanical drill. It shows the artist reaction to man’s ever increasing love and dependance on machinery. It is credited as a significant work in the Vortism movement. Vortism favoured geometric abstraction over realism and was its self inspired by the Cubists.

In the later part of his career he forced more on realism. He was commissioned for many portraits. These included famous sitters such as Oscar Wild and Albert Einstein, friends and family, to random people he invited in of the street to sit for him as they passed by his house. He was prolific in his work and is said to have even worked on his dyeing day.

Two Plants, 1977-80, oil on canvas, 1499 x1200mm, Lucian Freud (1922-2011):

Lucian Freud’s intricate botanical study entitle ‘Two Plants’, Shows the artist eye for every detail. You can see when standing in front of the large painting why it took the artist four years to complete. Painted in a hyper-realistic style every tiny leaf is given minute detail.

Compositionally the painting seems to have a horizontal divide which falls across the centre. In the lower half the long shiny dark green leafs of the plant in the fore ground act as the focal point to the hole painting. The back ground is a mass of entangled tiny leafs and steams. Mostly painted in brown,tawny hues, except for a section of greener hues that occupies the top half of the painting. The green mass reaches right to the edges of the top and side left had of the painting. This mirrors the form of the long leafed plant in the for ground which exits the canvas to the lower right side and bottom edge. This creates a visual balance.

My interest in this painting comes from my border line obsession with the work of Lucian Freud. It is instantly recognisable as his work. Examining it in the gallery has once again left me in awe of his technical and observational skills. Not to mention the patients and discipline required to produce a study of this complexity.

Freud described the painting as ‘lots of little portraits of leafs’ (Lucian Freud). I assume the study was made from life as this is how the artist always worked.

Freud, who is most famous for his nudes at rest, began his botanical studies in the 60’s. This is said to be his most resolved work on the subject. The artist wanted to capture the plants as the leaves sprouted, flourished, browned and died. The long time it took to complete this piece would have allowed the artist to observe the life cycle of many individual leafs.

This was the first painting from Freud upon moving to a new studio. He used this study to observe the new light conditions available to him.

Freud said himself that he never aloud the painting process to become organic. He never allowed himself to paint from the subconscious. In all his work he strove for a challenge. He made sure he considered each centimetre of the subject and how he would represent it on the canvas. I think that process is extremely evident in the ‘two Plants’.















About Emma Perring

Artist, oil painter

One comment

  1. Pingback: Project 5: Still Life, Exercise 2: Composition of natural objects | huntemmalogblog

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