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Martian Landscapes

I’ve referred before, probably more than once, and certainly in the About section, to an idea I have for works based on descriptions of the Martian landscape in Kim Stanley Robinson’s series of books about the colonisation of Mars. I’m still mulling over ideas and collecting visual references. This post though is about the inspiration, not the art. I’ve been reading science fiction since I was about twelve years old, so it is unsurprising that I find inspiration for my art there.

I already had paper versions of the books and made notes, but to make things simpler I also bought the Kindle edition. Using the notes function, I generated a text file of quotes that inspired me. I can’t publish that here in its entirety. Apart from copyright issues, there are 19 pages! Here though is a selection, plus some images from my ‘mood board’ of visual references, which together I hope will give some sense of why I find this idea so compelling. The extracts are all taken from:

Robinson, K. S. (2015).
The Complete Mars Trilogy: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars.
[Kindle Android version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com, 9/5/2022

*

The sky was now a deep violet, streaked by yellow cirrus clouds.

*

The depth of Valles Marineris was perceptible, the height of the four big volcanoes obvious: their broad peaks appeared over the horizon well before the surrounding countryside came into view. There were craters everywhere on the surface: their round interiors were a vivid sandy orange, a slightly lighter color than the surrounding countryside. Dust, presumably. The short rugged curved mountain ranges were darker than the surrounding countryside, a rust color broken by black shadows. But both the light and dark colors were just a shade away from the omnipresent rusty- orangish- red, which was the color of every peak, crater, canyon, dune, and even the curved slice of the dust- filled atmosphere, visible high above the bright curve of the planet.

*

Their wheel tracks stretched behind them like the first cut of a lawnmower through grass, and the transponders gleamed bright and incongruous among the rocks.

https://i0.wp.com/render.fineartamerica.com/images/images-profile-flow/400/images-medium-large-5/tracks-of-the-curiosity-rover-on-mars-nasajpl-caltechmsss.jpg?w=980&ssl=1
Tracks of Curiosity Rover

They stood and watched the sun set. Their shadows went right out to the eastern horizon. The sky was a dark red, murky and opaque, only slightly lighter in the west over the sun. The clouds Ann had mentioned were bright yellow streaks, very high in the sky. Something in the sand caught at the light, and the dunes were distinctly purplish. The sun was a little gold button, and above it shone two evening stars: Venus, and the Earth. “They’ve been getting closer every night lately,” Ann said softly. “The conjunction should be really brilliant.” The sun touched the horizon, and the dune crests faded to shadow. The little button sun sank under the black line to the west. Now the sky was a maroon dome, the high clouds the pink of moss campion. Stars were popping out everywhere, and the maroon sky shifted to a vivid dark violet, an electric color that was picked up by the dune crests, so that it seemed crescents of liquid twilight lay across the black plain.

Atacama Desert after rain

They flew over the westernmost of these crack systems, Hephaestus Fossae, and found the area an unearthly sight: five long deep parallel canyons, like claw marks in the bedrock. Elysium loomed beyond, a saddleback in shape, Elysium Mons and Hecates Tholus rearing at each end of a long spine range, five thousand meters higher than the bulge they punctuated: an awesome sight. Everything about Elysium was so much bigger than anything Nadia and Arkady had seen so far that as the dirigible floated toward the range, the two were speechless for minutes at a time. They sat in their seats, watching it all float slowly toward them. When they did speak, it was just thinking aloud: “Looks like the Karakoram,” Arkady said. “Desert Himalayas. Except these are so simple. Those volcanoes look like Fuji. Maybe people will hike up them

Tierra del Fuego

Candor Chasma, and now it was as if he were in a gigantic replica of the Painted Desert, with great deposition layers everywhere, bands of purple and yellow sediment, orange dunes, red erratics, pink sands, indigo gullies; truly a fantastic, extravagant landscape, disorienting to the eye because all the wild colors made it hard to figure out what was what, and how big it was, and how far away. Giant plateaus that seemed about to block his way would turn out to be curving strata on a distant cliff; small boulders next to the transponders would turn out to be enormous mesas half a day’s drive away. And in the sunset light all the colors blazed, the whole Martian spectrum revealed and blazing as if color was bursting out of the rock, everything from pale yellow to dark bruised purple. Candor Chasma!

Although the inspiration is Mars, and the quotes are from Science Fiction, I’m not planning these images as Science Fiction illustrations. It isn’t my area, and there are dozens if not hundreds of artists who have been there before me. I’m thinking of this project as a set of landscapes, probably as prints, but I may yet attempt some paintings, who knows?

I do know of one current painter who has looked at Mars as a subject for landscape painting, artist Tina Mammoser. You can find her work here.

I was especially taken though by the images in this blog post looking at the Martian aurora.

https://www.tina-m.com/drawing-and-painting-blog/aurora-landscapes-abstracting-science

For anyone interested in the topic though, the first name that comes to mind is Chesley Bonestell. Bonestell (1888-1986) was an American pioneer of space art who helped popularize manned space travel. He is well known for his cover art for science fiction magazines, including Astounding Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as many books such as The Conquest of Space, The Exploration of Mars, and Beyond the Solar System in collaboration with several authors well known in the field of space exploration.

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Artistic Influences

Sometimes the artistic influence on a piece of work is deliberate. There is a lot to be learnt from trying to emulate the look of another artist without directly copying. This was the case with ‘Shalimar’ below, where I was channelling Richard Diebenkorn and his Ocean Park paintings. (Not in the shop yet, but will be soon. Contact me if you are interested before then.)

Shalimar - monotype print in blues and greys in style of Richard Diebenkorn.
Shalimar – monotype print made with acrylic on paper

Sometimes, though, the influence is accidental. You looked, perhaps, at the other artist’s work years ago. Then as you work, something in front of you triggers the memory, and it becomes embedded in what you make. I think that’s what has happened here with ‘Mercury Beach’. I was framing a batch of prints for upcoming shows, (watch this space for more news on that and where to see them). Suddenly I saw Barbara Rae. Not the subject matter, but the intense colours and the ribbon like horizontal marks. Incidentally, when framing it, I decided it looked better inverted. The version below is upside down compared to the version in the shop. I think it was that change of perspective that made me see the artistic influence coming through.

Imaginary landscape abstract monotype print
Mercury Beach – abstract monotype print

Of course, I may be deluding myself, but getting even part way towards the work of someone like Rae is not bad in my view.

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Looking at other artists – John Hoyland

Why do we spend time looking at the work of others? I assume you do, but why? As importantly, who?

So, this is the first of an irregular series on artists, in no particular order. If possible I try to see the work in the flesh, but this isn’t always possible, so I tend to buy a lot of artist books – not how to’s, but monographs, exhibition catalogues, catalogue raisonee if I can afford them.

I recognised the name, John Hoyland, when I saw it somewhere but couldn’t picture the work, so I did a bit of online research. My first reaction was Patrick Heron on acid. The paintings boil with energy and colour. I haven’t had the chance to look much at his prints. The book I have is ‘Scatter the Devils‘ by Andrew Lambirth. There are also two books by the late Mel Gooding which I would like to get sometime. My first impression still stands, but not because of any direct link between the two. It is probably more a case of common ancestors in the Abstract Expressionists.

Looking at his work, what I think I got most of all from it was a vastly enlarged sense of what is possible in art. I do wonder if Hoyland would take quite the same view, for example, of the random marks I was talking about in this earlier post. Would he celebrate the accident that created them, or remove them as distractions? I’m not sure myself now…

A footnote: Why is there no wikipedia page on Mel Gooding? Surely he deserves it?

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Lessons learned

My last post, about using periodic reviews of old work as a mechanism for moving forward artistically, made me remember something I know in theory, but keep forgetting. Perhaps I need to review lessons learned too. I tend to describe myself as a printmaker. It is easy to forget – well, I find it easy anyway – that the print doesn’t have to be the end state. This is especially so with gel printing or screen printing, which use acrylic paint. Take this image, from that last post.

Pictogram - gel print
Pictogram – monotype print 30 cm x 30 cm

The initial inspiration was the idea of the pictograph (definition 1 in link) as developed by Adolph Gottlieb. The mark in yellow was also supposed to be redolent of Japanese or Chinese calligraphy. The problem I have with the image is the purple/white patches which break the mark are unrelated to it and to anything else in the image. I spent some time thinking about how to overprint them using gel printing without losing other aspects, which do work. Then it stuck me. Paint them out! That was lesson one…

I would be in good company doing this. Gillian Ayres, for example, used to set aside some prints from an edition, specifically to overpaint, an example being Springfield No 2 from 1999.

The second lesson learned, which seems even harder to remember, is that every blog post doesn’t have to be a dissertation! Just because I like writing long posts, doesn’t mean others want to read them! I’ll do my best, though, because if I can remember that lesson, I’m more likely to keep posting.

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Moving forward

I’m always scanning through the pile of unfinished pieces in my studio. Once enough time has passed from me to forget how they were made, they become objects in their own right. Moving forward by reviewing old work and thinking about the next steps becomes much easier. Looking at the work of others, as I have been doing over the past couple of days with John Hoyland for example, is often enough to shake your mind free. The image below is an example of such a review.

Pictogram - gel print
Pictogram – monotype print 30 cm x 30 cm

Less regularly, I review the pile of finished but unframed prints. When I do this, I typically change my mind about some of them. The last time I did this, I removed about 10% as no longer being acceptable quality. Some of these may benefit from additional work, and others may have elements that can be salvaged to make smaller pieces. Many of the Tiny series were made that way.

tiny collagraph print
Tiny collagraph print

I’m aiming to get back in the studio next week, probably starting some new prints from scratch, although for some reason, I’m getting the urge to paint and create some really heavy textures. Time to dig out the Polyfilla?

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Influences

What or who is the biggest influence on your work? I’m not sure if I can give a coherent answer to that question. I rarely try to deliberately emulate the work of another artist. If I do, it is largely for self-instruction. This one, for example, is called Shalimar. It was an examination of the Ocean Park paintings of Richard Diebenkorn.

Shalimar - monotype in blues and greys
Shalimar – monotype print made with acrylic on paper

Beyond that, it gets a bit more tenuous. I look at a lot of art books – and the real thing too when I get the chance. I don’t see explicit direct influences in my work, but I suppose others more distant from it might. There are many things I explicitly avoid, too. There’s a very strong generic look around at the moment. Look on Instagram or Pinterest to find many examples, with patches of colour against neutrals or greys, coupled with curved shapes in black or white.

Recently I came across a wonderfully eclectic list of influences, cited by the artist John Hoyland in a talk he gave at the Tate in 1980.

shields, masks, tools, Avebury Circle, swimming underwater, views from planes, volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, graffiti, the cosmos inside the human body, food, drink, music, dancing, relenting rhythm, the Caribbean, the tropical light, the northern light, the oceanic light. Borges the metaphysical, dawn, sunsets, fish eyes, flowers, seas, atolls. The Book of Imaginary Beings, the Dictionary of Angels, heraldry, Rio de Janeiro, Montego Bay”.

John Hoyland 1980

That’s a great list. It is probably closer to the way most of us absorb influence in any field, not just art. One of the things that struck me is that there are no artists in the list. The sort of ‘copycat’ work that abounds on Instagram and Pinterest doesn’t stem from this sort of list.

Somewhere in one of my notebooks is a list I made, not of influences, but just headed as ‘Things I Like’. From memory, it included:

stone circles, standing stones, hill figures, neolithic carvings, NASA/Hubble photographs, collections of similar objects, cave paintings, Nazca lines, shadows, Native American art, city plans, layers, mid-century graphics, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Science Fiction, Martian landscapes, Misssissippi maps, valley sections, Northern landscapes.

shadows on the High Level Bridge
Shadow on the High Level Bridge

Do you have a list you are willing to share? Let me know in the comments.

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Vintage Noir

As a sideline, I sell reproductions of a range of images. I have available many maps, fashion plates, photography, travel ephemera and much more. This post is about images I have with a noir feel.

Film Noir

Browns Landing - rural noir photogrspha
Brown’s Landing Rice Creek

French film critic Nino Frank originally coined the term noir in 1946. In the 1970s, it was applied retrospectively to Hollywood films of the 1940s and 1950s. The literal translation is Black Film, but a closer rendering is Dark Film.

Darkness is key to the genre. It may be literal, as in classic 1940s thrillers such as The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep. It may be metaphorical, as in the many films with stories involving femmes fatales and tough, cynical detectives.

Definitions

Monochrome photo of Dallas at night 1942
Dallas 1942

There is no clear agreement on what is or isn’t a noir film. Common elements include low-key lighting, stark light/dark contrasts and dramatic shadow patterning. They often use low, or skewed camera angles. They typically have unusually convoluted story lines. Voice over narration is a particular noir hallmark. The most extreme example is perhaps Sunset Boulevard, where the narrator is dead.

Key Themes

Monochrome photo showing girl alone in bar
Girl alone in bar

Crime, usually murder, is a feature of almost all noir films. Greed or jealousy are frequent motivations. The central character is often flawed or morally compromised. They are typically drawn from a narrow range of archetypes — hardboiled detectives, femme fatales, corrupt policemen or jealous husbands. Amnesia, false suspicions, accusations of betrayal or double-cross are common.

The genre is associated with big city settings, but small towns and rural locations also feature.

In noir films, it is always raining, always nighttime. When it isn’t raining, it is hot. Whatever the setting, corruption is endemic – in modern parlance, ‘institutional corruption’ is rife.

Modern Usage

Pittsburgh street at night
Pittsburgh Street at night

The term has evolved to describe a mood or feeling. The best known usage is perhaps the genre of Scandinavian or Nordic noir. This is crime fiction written in Scandinavia, typically in a realistic style with a dark, morally complex setting. Dark secrets and hidden hatreds hide behind a facade of equality, social justice, and liberalism.

I have chosen the images scattered through this post from those originally tagged ‘noir’ in my old shop. If any are of interest, whether for their own sake or as part of a decorative scheme, please get in touch.

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More play…

My last post talked about creative play as an essential part of the artistic process. I don’t have much to add to that, other than to post some examples of outcomes. These are the vertical panoramas I referred to in that post. Several are in the shop already, but the full set so far are posted below. I’m sure there will be more while I have problems working in my studio.

I find also that playing digitally is a source of inspiration for the inky fingers type of printmaking. I can try out broad compositions very quickly and ‘back out’ of them equally quickly if they don’t work. Digital files also provide useful sources for stencils. I cut these from Mylar with a digital cutter. The model I use is a Cricut Maker, but there are several other brands

I took the decision to issue these as limited editions. This is something I still don’t feel entirely happy with, especially given the nature of digital images, but it seems to be expected by buyers. I do however print all my own work. No one else is involved. Please let me know what you think about the issue in the comments.

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Make time for play

For me setting aside time for play is a key part of creativity. It’s a way to get past my inner censor. It allows me to fail. That’s important because without failure there is no measure of success.

It’s almost a month since I spent time in my studio. Initially I took a break to think, because I found myself repeating the same thing. The work looked superficially different, but the process was the same, and so less and less enjoyable. Some health issues then intervened, so my time away from the studio became even more protracted.

I’ve already blogged about making digital prints. They are where I came from as a printmaker, so an important part of my practice. Going back to them while not in the studio was still a form of play. It gave me the freedom to think about ideas of shape and form and composition without investing too much time. Or money for that matter, since decent paper is not cheap. In the end, even though I was ‘only playing’ the outcomes were very satisfying, and I ended up with two ‘suites’ of prints. One is a set of square prints which relate quite strongly to the monotypes I have been making all year. The second set are panoramic in format, but oriented vertically. I wanted to avoid any landscape references and make these wholly abstract.

Digital abstract print
Aksinto – digital abstract print

This isn’t the first time I’ve used play to generate work. Back in 2014 I made a set of what I later called Tinies. I was painting then and very bad at judging how much paint to put on my palette. Rather than waste the leftovers I took, as I realised later, what were monotypes from the palette using some heavy mixed media paper I had to hand. Later I cut these down into small squares, each about 25-30 mm on a side. My original intention was to reassemble them into a collage.

I never made any progress, although I did play around with the pieces for a while. I kept the pieces though, then later still, mounted a selection of these to fit into a 6” x 6” frame (150 mm). When I took these to an ‘art boot sale’, to my surprise they sold very well. Many were sold before I decided to number the rest into a series – Tiny 2014.

The next year I acquired a number of pieces of mount board, originally samples of different colours. I used these to make a set of collagraph plates, experimenting with materials like tile cement. Printing these allowed me to play gain, experimenting with colour combinations, trying out the effects of overprinting colours. These became Tiny 2015.

Tiny collagraph
Tiny 2019 No 12 – collagraph

Tiny 2017, was another set of ‘found images’, this time cut from failed monotypes made with oil based inks, while Tiny 2019 was a return to the small collagraph plates. So far there have been no more.

Now though, I’m itching to get back to physical printing. I find it immensely satisfying to see an image gradually emerge out of the clutter of bits of paper, stencils and general rubbish I use to make my monotype prints. How I do that will be covered in another post.

I hope though that I can still retain the freedom from the last few weeks of ‘playtime’.

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Panchromatica Designs

architectural illustration

As I said in my last post, I used to have an online business on Etsy, known as Panchromatica Designs, selling reproductions of vintage illustrations. At its peak, I had about 600 items in that shop.

These included :

  • maps,
  • theatre posters,
  • Japanese prints,
  • photographs,
  • ocean liner postcards,
  • propaganda posters,
  • comic books,
  • architectural illustrations,
  • fashion plates and,
  • a huge variety of other materials.

The listed items were only a fraction of what I had available. You can get a small taste from the WordPress blog I set up, also called Panchromatica Designs, although all the Etsy links are of course broken.

I closed the business to concentrate on my own work, but still have all the files. I’m intending to sell a selection of images here, but only as part of a wider strategy focussing on B2B. Images I sold through Etsy were used in locations as varied as pubs, escape rooms and even tattoo parlours. The range I have is equally suitable for B&Bs, guest houses, reception areas or any public facing area.

Items listed here will be for sale at retail prices, but the wider range will be available on wholesale terms. I will have a wholesale price list and line sheet available soon. If you think I can help you in the meantime please get in touch.