Ways of Abstracting – Peter Griffen Workshop

Last weekend I took a workshop with Peter Griffen. I’ve met Peter in the past at an ATASDA function – he’s married to Denise Lithgow who does fabulous textile work in felt, silk painting, art-u-wear, machine-stitched mixed-media pieces…

On Friday we met Peter at the Art Gallery (the workshop was organised by the Art Gallery Society), for a general chat about what we’d be doing and a wander through the Picasso exhibition (in its last weeks, so get moving if you haven’t seen it yet).

Saturday and Sunday were in Peter’s studio, which is also his home with Denise. It’s an amazing, exciting, inspiring, overwhelming place. Formerly a factory, Peter and Denise gutted the building and it’s basically one huge room with a mezzanine and some closed areas at each end (bathrooms, storage, their bedroom). This photo was taken from the back mezzanine. The kitchen area is down to the right, left you can just see a corner of the lounge area, but not the dining table which is closer on the left. Middle right is a display area for Denise’s work and the front mezzanine is her studio – but the main space is Peter’s studio and workshop area.

This is the view I had most of the weekend – a table full of objects to draw, fighting for attention with all the artwork and interesting collected objects on the walls and around the room. That’s Peter in the middle of the photo – he gave a number of demonstrations but spent most of his time moving around the group. I’m of course pretty much a total beginner (which is very freeing in itself), and I really appreciate the serious attention and consideration Peter gave to my work. He was encouraging and he gave suggestions and commented on weaknesses – but it didn’t feel like teaching, it was serious art-making business (not deadly-type serious, I mean not even the slightest hint of patronising or condescending or dumbing down – although I’m sure he scaled things to my level of understanding).

Peter’s work was everywhere, finished and in progress, and in a conversation he’d suddenly jump around and pull out a canvas to illustrate a point or show some possibilities. This canvas is one of three that may or may not be hung together (unfortunately my photo of the three together is blurred). I love, love, love this one. A lot of his colour is pretty full on, but he doesn’t limit himself and there are other works – well, I don’t want to say less colour, because they have incredible rich colour from all the glazes and layers, but not such strong colours.

Actually you can just the top of the set of three canvases in this photo, below a row of work done by some of the other students. There were 10 of us, some very experienced and some beautiful work. We worked in acrylic paints on cartridge paper (some people had brought canvases), drawing from the table of objects in black paint, thinking about lines and shapes, adding colour. There was quite a bit of collage work, and some people moved into charcoal and pastels. Peter had litre bottles of acrylic paints and drawers full of various types of brushes for us to use.

I won’t show all of mine here – the full set is on my sketchbook page, starting here.

This bird is based on a carved tree stump (on the right) – basically a head, but with birds at the top. I drew the curved top line, eye and crest first and really liked it and was pleased with the level of abstraction, but it didn’t feel enough so kept going. I’m already returning and reworking this – at the workshop over a head that wasn’t working (still not right), and in later sketchbook work (here).

I didn’t actually produce anything I’d call finished. I don’t expect to in workshops anyway – it’s a learning place, and there’s not generally time for considered work. In any case, I didn’t go to learn to make abstract acrylic paintings. I did want to increase confidence and technique in using acrylics, since I’ve only tried a couple of times, rather tentatively, in my OCA course work. More importantly I wanted to loosen up, get expansive, extend my ability to see and abstract and to use colour – all with the final objective of input to and development of textile works. I even got to bring in some textile expertise in my collage work, weaving together two paintings which weren’t working, then integrating with glazes. It’s not there, but it’s a line I want to explore more.

As I’ve said, more photos on the sketchbook page (click on the head to get there).

This was a great, exciting, exhausting weekend, and I definitely recommend it. It’s a complete experience, including the gallery visit, all the materials you need down to details like aprons and tape to put works on the wall for contemplation, plus really yummy cakes for morning tea and gourmet lunches all made by Denise (she even picks and preserves the olives herself). (The final photo is of some of Denise’s textile work.)

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