It’s time to add another Goya painting to Painted Steps.I’m thinking about the 14 Pinturas Negras, the so-called Black Paintings that hang together in the Museo del Prado.
Goya had originally painted these images on the walls of his own house on the outskirts of Madrid. He painted them between 1820-23, after a sickness had left him deaf, and before he fled to Bordeaux. (Coincidently this house had previously been named Quinta del Sordo (House of the Deaf Man). Fifty years later the murals were transposed onto canvas, ‘restored’, and given to the Prado Museum. I got to spend time in the Black Paintings room in the Prado on three separate days.
I’m considering choosing one of the 3 big “landscapes” from the room. These are horizontal canvases about 4ft x 12 ft. (1500cm x 400cm).
The choices are: Two giant men, seen from the knees up, whacking each other in turn, a dance of gods?
The one with the castle on the hill, the two floating figures and the French soldiers tucked into the right bottom corner,
the Four Fates? Impossibly floating, thick, ugly, relentlessly brown, each holding an apparently symbolic object; scissors, a manikin, a magnifying loop?
What to choose? All three are vivid in my mind.
The first two stand out because of their lovely colours -blues and golds. I want the blue colour. It’s a bit of relief and hope in that room.
It’s possible that the colour was actually added as a touch-up in the reconstruction process, after the paintings were peeled off the walls in 1874. I can understand why.
Visión fantástica o Asmodea
I‘m choosing “Visión Fantástica o Asmodea” the one with the big blue hill and what reminds me of my favourite magical element, a flying carpet.
I will place it in the space to the left of the “Royal Family of Charles IV’ (still unfinished). It will not be fitted into the height of the space, but will be "floating" or ‘pinned’ into the space available.
I paint from a reproduction in an art book and from a digital reproduction on the Prado website.
I did a couple of pen sketches to get a handle on the basic scale, shape and values.
Gouache is a surprisingly plastic medium. It dries quite quickly like water-colour, but because it is water soluble, it can be blended on site. It can be layered in washes and also painted on opaquely in blocks. I can make tiny strokes, or feather over textured layers in an effect reminiscent to intaglio printing.
After a painting session, the unused gouache can be left on the pallet, waiting for next time. It needs only to be briefly re-wetted. So rather than starting from scratch, with a pallet of pure colour fresh from the cake,(tube), I re-enter the process each session with a range of ready-mixed colours and tones.
I love it! It’s so direct! (compared with etching).
The place on Painted Steps where Fantástica is painted has bare paper as well as strokes of yellow, gold & blue gouache, the structural gestures I painted on the first day. These pigments were mixed with white glue and so are fixed- water-fast-won’t blend into the over painting. You can faintly see the marks through the picture. In contrast to the opaque quality of gouache, they give a slight ephemeral quality to the image.
Rather than starting with pencil sketch as I did with the Royal Family, I’ll work with a version of imprimatura method, the composition first blocked out in terms of tone as a scaffolding for the specific representations/details.
I put on the timer and paint in 30 minute blocks.
I struggle to capture the qualities of the Goya painting and win some/ lose some. – I achieve clarity and detail at the expense of the ephemeral quality of the mountain. Best I can do but of course I miss the emotional impact of the painting …the fragility of hope, perhaps.
So I have to think about what I am trying to achieve with this painting? First, it’s painting as a noun. A painting. It’s a souvenir -“See what I saw”- like a post card. It’s not a copy in the sense of faithful reproduction, but certainly close enough to be a reminder of the actual painting.
Why not just clip in a photo? Because, secondly it’s painting as a verb. To paint. I’m using the act of painting to really explore the original work, to look, to see, to notice and notate as best as I can what I can see. My painting is act of transposition, re-construction, like singing along… learning the words to a song. I am trying to really listen (see) to what Goya is saying, to really see what he is showing, to grasp what he is evoking.
Painting /drawing, is a great way to examine an object. To paint is to use the brush as finger, touching, and tracking with paint the accumulated knowledge. The snapshot would record what’s there, what it looks like, what the camera sees. It’s passive. To paint/ draw is to record what you found/saw. Being active.
In the years between his birth in 1746, making these paintings 1820-23 and before leaving Spain for Bordeaux in September 1823, what had Goya seen?
I’m not trying to copy the painting as artifact but to walk a little in his shoes.
It’s a walk that haunts me during the two weeks I’m working on the painting.
Laurie Anderson *
“I wanted you. And I was looking for you
But I couldn't find you
I wanted you. And I was looking for you all day
But I couldn't find you. I couldn't find you
You're walking. And you don't always realize it
But you're always falling
With each step, you fall forward slightly
And then catch yourself from falling
Over and over, you're falling
And then catching yourself from falling
And this is how you can be walking and falling
At the same time”