The monotypes I’ve been blogging about (Lascaux, Font de Gaume, Combarelles) were developed from the hundreds of drawings I did in the caves (of the original art from the Ice Age). Once I’d made groups of monotypes, I started thinking about how to make something larger that brought all the ideas about a particular cave together into one summary of my experience there. I decided to start with Lascaux. I felt that the imagery from there was magical, but I was also conscious of my experience being in a reproduction, so perhaps I was more able to conceptualise it as a journey through the cave alongside a transformation within myself. I began by working out how to approach it in a drawing into which I collaged some of the images. I felt that this needed a much stronger composition and developed a second drawing that used digital prints of the monotypes, torn into fragments and structured into three groups to create a sense of journey from the bottom to the top. I wanted to catch something of the sensation of feeling changed by a visit to the cave, conscious that time had passed during which I’d had a dialogue with artists from so long ago.
This led me to choosing a board rather than a canvas (because I wasn’t sure if I’d want to attach collage or scratch marks that would need a firm substrate) and I felt it needed a proportion that would help me to develop the composition as a progressive journey – I chose 8 ft tall x 2ft wide. I laid out the basic composition using three circles to represent the cave interior.
I selected the images to use in each section by making digital prints of many of my drawings from Lascaux, placing them in the composition before transferring the drawings to the board.
The bottom area was to be about coming into the cave with a crowd of people who soon became insignificant and moving into a very dark space through which images gradually became visible. A way to the next space is revealed and then wonderful things can be seen, bright colours and creatures jumping and galloping around! Glimpses of parts of creatures and strange signs, lots of fragmentary suggestions as I experienced them.
I wanted to show how the people were transformed and absorbed into the cave, so made them red in the heart of the centre circle, as a group looking upwards (but also reminiscent of a flower shape echoing the blossom outside the cave). I began the work with acrylics, but as soon as I began to print over these, I started to use oil based printing inks. I built up the drawing using oil sticks and then worked into all of this with oil paints.
I soon found that the creatures broke out of the circles a little and that, when they did so, they could carry some of the colour from one circle to another. I started to wonder about linking the cave with the surrounding hillside and decided to place some cherry blossom (seen there in spring and carrying the metaphor of transient brilliance as a phase of cyclical life) both at the entrance and the exit to take us from the outside in and out again. This led me to reconsider the setting for all the activity within the circles and I made it mostly black, to recapture some of the darkness of the cave but leaving a little lighter blue with the blossom outside.
The last change I made was some weeks later. Each time I looked at the work I thought that it needed a little more energy, perhaps more dissonance. I realised that most of the work used violet/yellow colours or blue/orange and that although there was a lot of red, there was none of the complementary green. The last thing I did to the painting was to add small touches of green, which stimulated the red.
This painting will be on show later this month alongside one developed from the Font de Gaume monotypes, together with more than sixty of the monotypes and solarplate prints from some of the cave drawings. The show will be in my studio as part of the Worthing Art Trail on three weekends, June 22/23, 29/30 and July 6/7, from 11am – 5pm at 1, Windsor Road, Worthing (just off the seafront east of the pier). All the cave monotypes are now on the website www.martinstudios.co.uk