I have always been fascinated with the works of Degas, the studies in pastel of the ballet dancers at practice, the theatrical lighting, the costumes in fairy-tale colours with swathes of netting and veils of translucent tulle. I worked the following paintings in oil on canvas with techniques learnt from the Baroque painters. The figures , seemingly bathed in an inner incandescence, are rendered against the dark, chochlatey tones of their stage world.
Ballerina in Turquoise
I like the midnight indigo shades behind the russet skin tones. When painting white tulle, it is amazing to me how many subtle shades of blues, lavenders and cool and warm greys are employed.
Ballerina in Pink
I like the fact that you don´t always have to see the face to feel the emotion. In this work there is a powerful femininity conveyed with just the relaxed, slightly slumped pose. The delicate strands of hair , swirling around the eyes tell the story of an exercise just finished. The delicate pink hints are contrasted by the strong magenta, rose shades as the tulle disappears into shadows.
Ballerina Tying Pumps 1
All the directed lines in this work focus our attention on the hands tying the straps of the ballet pumps. The angle of the front hand, the foreshortened lines of the polished wooden floor and the angle of the legs, even the shadow of the stool. Using angles and implied lines in the structure of the work are important tools to concentrate our attention as viewers on the nub of the scene.
Ballerina Stretching 1
The arms, shoulders & back in this piece , with the muscles strained in the sharp lighting, express the physicality of the training for the dancer . The effort , the concentration, all the strain can be seen in the tendons and bones of the stretched fingers. I particularly liked the challenge of the hands and fingers in this work as I´m always learning not to invent or substitute for what I can actually see. I have to paint it again and again and again until it looks impromptu!
Ballerina Stretching 2
It is always a surprise to me how ballet dancers seem to make the most impossible poses seem effortless. This was one of the most difficult paintings for me as most of the lower form of the figure was hidden in the tulle and the face is at an impossible angle, half hidden in the shadow. It became a painting about a tutu when I had hoped it would be a secret, other worldly mystery……
Tautened muscles, backlit with spotlighting, the fingers fixing a headpiece in preparation , this is the dancer off guard , unaware of her beauty. The pose, seen from the back , though faceless still draws us into her personality . It is just a moment before the actual performance but it supersedes it because it is off cue and yet full of strength and beauty.
Dancer in the Dark
Taking a moment to think about life, this painting turned out probably more melancholic than the others, I had a model and while I was taking forever to paint and repaint the shadows on her arms, chest and legs, she relaxed into a kind of trance, actually I had no idea while I was painting her that her expression was bordering on sad.
What Lies Beyond?
This painting is such a metaphor for life. The heavy, old oak doors with their brass locks and handles, dully reflective, refractive light. The thin opening flooding the young girl with a halo of light that makes her sparkle , although she, being young and distracted has no inkling of what lies beyond the open door frame, what lies in store for her in life, good or bad. She has the indifference of the very young, the belief, (because her teachers told her) that she has a future with her gift, and that she need not worry.
The Ballet Class (or League of Nations)
This painting depicting young girls waiting for a ballet class was great fun to paint. I wanted to represent girls from various ethnic backgrounds and yet keep the fun and vivacity in the scene. I experimented with several different muted backgrounds, but in the end I reverted to the bright, Spring greens as I felt it accentuated the freshness of the scene.
Swan Lake (Ballerina)
I gave myself three hours to complete this painting. I was asked to do a workshop in Dublin and to complete a piece in one afternoon. (Some of the detail of the hands etc in the other works took about three hours to do on their own!!) I was trying to capture movement and energy by rendering the brushstrokes loosely and spontaneously. I actually painted this one in just under three hours but only after working it all out in two other paintings beforehand. I still spent a comparatively long time defining the fingers and hands. I´m happy with the finished work and plan to work in this style again.
Having worked several pieces with figures against a Baroque/ Caravaggio inspired, dark background, I painted this one in pale, pastel tones. It is more difficult to paint whites and skin tones against pale greys as your tonal range is compromised. I got over this issue by accentuating the brown, tan lines of the arms and upper torso and by choosing bronze tones for the back of the blonde hair. The stronger madder browns on the frame of the face help to evoke the blondeness of the hair. There are pure cadmium yellows in the left hand of the hair with pure Naples Yellow Light at the top right. The Cobalt Violet shades on the torso of the tutu compliment the honey colours in the piece.
Waiting For The Bridegroom
Although not a ballerina painting, I included this piece in this section because it has all the qualities of mood and texture of the dancers. The tulle, the polished floors, the net curtains etc. I love painting interiors, but it´s a challenge to get the parallel lines straight, the windows equal in spacings and the angle of the cast shadows correct. The placement of the swathes of net curtains helps to diffuse the demands of the hard edges giving the painting a dreamy, mystic appeal that I like.
A description of the project and the works presented.