This is a self-portrait I made many years ago.
Evidently there is an indication of what it is like to be out of doors working on an image in a hot and dry environment near where I was born, but also I had become fascinated by the idea that everything was in a continual state of transformation or deterioration.
I used the dried up pools of water, with the mud peeling and cracking like chocolate, as a starting reference for the marks on the face.
The title is from the old mail logo O.H.M.S. – a Commonwealth acronym for ‘On Her Majesties Service’.
As usual there is a play on words or concepts. In the first case I was wryly referring to the lady gallery owner who had suggested that I should make some smaller format pieces, but also there is the idea of Mother Nature herself and also, finally, being driven in the service of our obsessions – the visiting muse of inspiration also being though of as female.
Perhaps all that brain-work in the hot sun warped the metaphors a bit.
For your interest there is some recovered text that goes with this piece too. On the reverse side is written:
From ‘Places in the heart’ [I have left these clues for you to follow]
Apparently on the front there is text too, including ‘Don’t be bullshit’
Rowena With Wallpaper
These portraits were made from sketches made during the conversations they portray, later worked intensely to retract unnecessary information and add a visual depth of layering. There is a deal of interest that has been paid to the table surface, the shadows, the bottle, and the glass, that treats those elements as having at least equal importance as the sitter herself.
In this case the facial features have been simplified to attempt a kind of movie star of yesteryear mood, as opposed to trying for a direct likeness, and to indicate the flavour of that moment. The strange wallpaper is designed to amplify that 'gothic dive' vibe, and so add a playful 'wobbliness' to the intent... “Frankly my dear...” style, and casting Rowena into a kind of Greta Garbo role.
There are a range of explorations within the elements too, for example the very undersurface of the painting serving as the shadow for the glass, just as it does conceptually for the painting itself
Rowena in Germany
This image is an intense smaller study that uses layering and reduction techniques to arrive at a simplification of the subject matter.
It is painted quite thickly to counteract the rather scribbly and immediate initial drawing technique, which I have previously described as conversational. As a set of images it relates to others that can be seen here, including “These questions need answers,” “Champion Ruby,” “The visitor,” “Rowena with wallpaper,” and “Table study.”
There are a range of explorations within the elements, for example the visual curve created through the image by the relationships between the green items.
[Portrait of Dennis F]
Dennis was a tradesman who came to help build an Arts Studio in the backyard in Bridgetown, Western Australia. Over the few weeks we layed the concrete slab and then put up the Recycled Jarrah structure I made several studies of his remarkable face and his scribble of wiry hair. Some people seem just made to be drawn.
Summer Portrait (Garth)
When an artist makes a portrait, the physical process again presents opportunities for explaining not only what the subject looks like, but also aspects of their core being, or who they can be understood to be. I get fascinated by these aspects of their being, or how they present themselves.
In the case of “Summer Portrait” I was again making an image of a red haired person. Their tribal origins are in North Western Europe, later to become Viking and ‘berserk’ invaders of the more southern lands, such as Scotland and France, where the bloodline profligates.
Their innate physical characteristics are fascinating to me. I particularly love their translucent and alabaster skin.
In this portrait I was trying to capture that thin translucence, particularly in the treatment of the cheeks and face, to achieve a kind of liberal and see-through quality with how I stretched and put down the pigments.
In the original version there was a Seascape behind the portrait. I later deleted it to simplify and clarify my intention. The image is tall and the awkwardness is wholly intentional.
2 Drawings of Mike
These are just sample sketches from the early years.
A rather conservative tradesman came to visit my studio for the first time.
Perhaps of interest is the evident transition of his mood in the first drawing, where he was evidently pretty freaked and confronted by what he encountered, to the second several hours later where he had become really engaged and relaxed with the situation.
He later made a really nice contribution by framing the works with antique jarrah with thin strips of inlaid brass.
This is a time lapse drawing of a woman bathing in preparation for a wedding.
Portrait of D.P (Work in Progress)
Excerpt from letter to D.P.-
As you are aware, you commissioned me to make a portrait of you...
It’s a ‘Maggie Cassidy’ kind of thing. What I mean is pedestrian and conversational from suburban related hankering… and real situational. These pieces are really conversations rather than images and if they belong to anyone then they belong to Rowena Reusse. Communicative and literary despite trying circumstances.
So these two paintings are really an attempt to paint conversations. They are whimsical and by no means intended to be realistic. Despite being heavily worked in paces I have sought to maintain aspects of the original drawings made directly onto the primed canvas (during the conversations themselves.)
Obviously the speakers were smoking, and in fact these works were begun in the "wild west" of Australia in the relaxing evenings after long days of stock work.
These Questions Need Answers
A circle of carefully selected good friends can be helpful and encouraging.
A Kind Of Rescue
The central theme of this piece is the memories we carry with us across a lifetime...
Garth - Various
I am a great believer in the value of making drawings. It is a very immediate discipline with a great many benefits. These above are small sample portraits using inks and watercolour pencils and, in the latter, children’s markers.
I think the very important thing is to stay very relaxed about the end result and to draw what the eye can actually see rather than what the mind imagines.
These are all everyday scenes from a humble time in shared housing where a short rattan cane chair covered with pillows and rugs served as a sofa. The subject is a rather tall man and I was initially drawn to the shapes his long body made as he tried to make himself comfortable.
Here’s a classic portrait of a translucent skinned red-head that I adore. Personally I find this image really amusing. I remember the sitter, upon seeing the finished work, gasping,
“How come I always get to be the ugly gnome?”
That aside, I really wanted to ‘Duran Duran’ the coat, giving it that tragic eighties feeling, but also using it as a foil for some fairly outlandish painterly abstraction. In fact the original fashion choice was really nowhere near as bad.
I balanced that treatment across the face and hair, and did my best to maintain a kind of grimacing, post-teenage intensity.
My mate Garth has been around for so long that he almost qualifies for long service leave. We've done a lot of work together, a lot of Gardening, and we've eaten a lot of pumpkin Soup. Quite naturally he has been the subject a quarter of a century of incidental portraits.
A highly respected Artist, I recommend you check out his work at garthhenderson.com
Portrait of Mike MasterS
Mike Masters was an incidental visitor to the studio at Bridgetown in 1992. He was a tall thin bony fellow with dark and rather oily hair who didn't take offence when I made drawn studies of him. These two Oil paintings came from those studies. The first shows the notepaper I had used in the background and that oiliness is translated to the deep blue and subsequent colour treatments.
This is the second of two portraits made from sketches of Mike Masters in 1992. Common with many works of that period I tried to maintain the sketchiness of the drawn lines as the work was formalised into oil paint, rather than correct their quirkiness, since a direct likeness had nothing to do with what fascinated me.