Monthly Archives: June 2015

Notes – artists using media in unconventional ways


Clyde Hopkins 1946 – UK

The words that came to mind when I first looked at his work – abstract, intensely colourful, bold, organic shapes, patterns, contrasts. I found a video clip where he talks about his work processes.

Often he starts by painting a transparent, luminous coloured ground, eg Indian Yellow.  Then he might draw and paint on top with eg Brown Madder to create a skeleton for his painting.  He’ll then introduce a restricted range of other colours, carefully creating associations between them, filling in shapes with different brush techniques, such as dots etc.  The shapes start to look organic.  He sometimes uses the sharp end of the brush to draw through the wet paint, like Picasso and Matisse.

In the 1980s his work was ‘incorporating accident and gestural marks with washes of transparent colour often dominated by dense areas of black paint. By 1990 the black was starting to disappear as the paintings became flatter, more controlled, characterised by increasingly sharply defined zones of colour abutting each other. Shape and contour became more significant, as did various forms of repeated marks, such as dots.’ (

His work also calls to mind graffiti.  

References 01/06/2015


Gillian Ayres 1930 – UK

Her work is also boldly colourful, abstract

Early works were made with thin vinyl paint in a limited palette, or using household paint.  In the 69s/70s she used acrylics.  Later she used impasto oil paint and her work became more colourful.  She would name her paintings after completing them, choosing eg place names, names of flowers and gardens, verses of poetry etc, that seemed to her to complement the work.  She also made woodcut and hand-painted monoprints.  In he old age her compositions have become simplified and even more opulent.

Clear shapes and defined edges.  Although abstract she has appropriated from the natural world – recurrent shapes like petals, wings, fans, leaves, stars

She uses oil paint ‘manipulating it like strands of clay to build up thick iridescent surfaces where colours seem to merge into each other or waft outwards, as in Orlando furioso (1977–9; AC England). While such painting may evoke the shimmering floral confusion of late Monets, the directness of the handling – often the paint is pressed into place by hand – ensures a strong physical presence’ (

She says that her painting is about painting, shape and colour, and not about telling stories.  Also that she wanted the colour to resonate, to dictate shape, mood, tone.  She sees abstraction as a purely visual experience.

In a 1988 video of her talking and at work ( ) – the video shows her painting thickly with her hands, on a large scale – daubing and smearing paint on, obliterating and altering areas, covering herself, the floor, the stepladder and everything within range with thick spatters and smears of paint!  A very physical, gestural way of working.

She also shows us a series of smaller works on canvas completed one a day during a visit to S France.  These are, she says, figurative – inasmuch as she can relate shapes to things she was looking at – cypress trees, an archway, a garden etc.  she painted quickly and instinctively, reacting to her surroundings, letting things happen.  

References 01/06/2015



The older Turner was ‘a controversial figure, mocked, derided and misunderstood’.  One of his many innovations was a small, square format, sometimes painted round or octagonal.

Unconventionally, he applied paint with a palette knife, a tool which was used at the time just for mixing paint.  He would paint elements of great light – the moon, torches – more thickly than the surrounding areas (impasto) – allowing the raised areas to catch more light.  


Rain Steam and Speed – bold contrasts of tone; tumultuous handling of paint.

Landscapes – in the recent Late Turner exhibition (subtitled ‘Painting Set Free’) I was engrossed in a series of watercolours, and in his watercolour ladscapes generally.  Turner used all sorts of media mixed with watercolour to create these semi-abstract atmospheric effects.  He would add ink, pen, gouache, graphite, black chalk and crayon into the mix.  Sometimes he would use a sponge, sometimes coloured crayon in the foreground to add texture.  To create detail he scraped, blotted and wiped the wet paint, and scratched into or drew on to dry paint.  

His later work was his most inventive and uninhibited, ahead of its time in the abstraction of the scenes he looked at.  When I looked at the late landscape paintings they seemed full of light, an effect he must have achieved through use of colour.  He used colour in an unconventional way, having his own system of classification of light and dark colours.



Notes – artists who use staining

The work of the artists I’ve looked at and made notes on below have in common the aim of making pure abstract images relying simply on the paint, support and exciting use of colour.  Their processes include a large element of the accidental; their work is always experimental and highly creative and often on a very large scale.  They seem to have in common a love of the materials they use, and a sense of joy in their work.

According to Matthew Collings, Frankenthaler and Louis followed Jackson Pollock.  They were interested in colour but not gesture – and they liked the technical aspects of Pollocks work.  He painted onto unprimed or only sized canvas, which is very absorbent, and the very liquid colours therefore bled into the surface – with sometimes beautiful results.

Helen Frankenthaler 1928-2011 – USA

Compared to Turner her work was exhibited alongside his in 2014.  She shared with Turner a delight in paint itself, and “translated landscape into abstract compositions characterised by flooding colour”.(

Exhibited for over 6 decades, so spanning several generations of abstract painters,  her big canvases always experimental and inventive and hard to broadly describe her style.  “Frankenthaler is identified with the use of fluid shapes, abstract masses, and lyrical gestures. She made use of large formats on which she painted, generally, simplified abstract compositions. Her style is notable in its emphasis on spontaneity” (Wikipedia).  Her ideal was to create images that happened all at once.

Mountains and Sea, 1952 –   this was a work that inspired Morris Louis to adopt her methods – an example of her soak-stain method  in which she poured paint into an enormous canvas on the floor.  It was inspired by her impressions of a Nova Scotia landscape she’d seen.  The pinks, blues and greens could be reminiscent of hills, rocks and water.

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