Is it a painting of an object or a “painting”

I recently attended the last of three “Alumni” days at West Dean College.  There were 13 students all working on their own projects and two tutors were on hand to guide and support us in our work.  My passion is for found objects but I struggle with how to move them on in an artistic way when I consider them to be beautiful in their own right.

A year or so ago, I found a strip of seaworn rubber on the beach:

Seatown - rubber 1

I love the marks and textures here but took the plunge and tore it into pieces which I then reassembled, adding some found papers and stitch.  I was still unsure as to whether this was enough so, on this last day at West Dean, I decided to try and paint large using one piece of modified rubber as my starting point.  My first attempt was on lovely smooth white acrylic paper and the result, whilst a reasonable likeness, was flat and boring.  I started again, this time on a coloured ground as suggested by tutor Mark Anstee.  I decided that a blue or grey would contrast nicely and the West Dean shop offered me a choice of pastel paper or Khadi paper which was heavily textured – I tried the latter as I love texture and often work with collage. Here is the starting point:


Here is the painting in progress:

Rubber painting last

Up until this point, I had been working on a desk and Mark suggested that I fasten the painting to a board and work upright – a first for me!  What a change this made!  I felt so much freer working like this and, of course, could more easily stand back and view what I was doing.  I found that I was not happy with what I had produced.  My normal course of action at this point would probably have torn it up and used parts of the piece in a collage version of the rubber.  However, I did not want to follow my usual default, despite the obvious temptation as collage woudl easily give me the texture that I sought.  Mark suggested that I effectively start again, painting afresh as if the first “layer” were not there.  I mixed some more paint and covered up a good portion of the painting and went again.

The day came to an end and I felt that the painting had potential.  Mark asked me to consider one point in particular, noting that the upper left hand side was now looking quite three-dimensional – did I want to make a painting of the found object … or “a painting?”  A point for me to ponder on before continuing.  I will also, by way of contrast, recreate the piece in collage as it will be interesting to see which I prefer.  Any feedback gratefully received!


7 thoughts on “Is it a painting of an object or a “painting”

  1. Personally, and we are all different, I like the ‘painting in progress’, the 3rd image down in this post.

    Where you painted over the original and started again lost some of your creativity I thought. My eye isn’t drawn to any particular part of the painting, as in your first attempt which is bold and striking.

    Interesting question about “did I want to make a painting of the found object … or “a painting?”

    When I painted watercolours many, many moons ago, I could only paint what I saw i.e. a reproduction. Sometimes with photography, I crop it and only take a small part of the original image and play around with it. Needless to say, I’ve never been brave enough to share my abstract photo images online, only my photos of actual scenes or subjects.

    I do so admire your collages of found objects. They really move my imagination and give me an interesting visual experience.

    …..and that… what the viewer should see 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your feedback Vicki – I can see what you mean about photo 3 – it is less busy than the later one and I normally like simplicity. As I said, I lot of “firsts” for me in this day so I can now take time to reflect. Do be brave and post some abstract photographs – what have you got to lose? This online world is so short-lived – whatever you do is there but just for a moment before it disappears under a deluge of new stuff so I wouldn’t worry about posting anything – good, bad or indifferent. I would far rather people engage with posts in whatever way – I see no point in merely “liking” something. Thanks for your comments on the found objects – that is really my passion and perhaps I should just stick with those but I am such a butterfly!


  2. Hi Helen,
    I feel your pain.
    Like you I collect what I consider to be beautiful found objects on my local beach.
    But, I haven’t attempted to make any observational studies of them.
    I have sometimes used them as a starting point to develop work from, however.
    TBH – there seemed little point in painting them when they seemed already to be art.
    But – as you ask – is it enough just to mount the object and present it as your art…. well your eye considered it to be arty enough to bring it home.
    All those formal things like tone, form, colour, texture, surface, shape- they’re all there.
    To make a realistic painting would show off your technical prowess – but – is that what you want?
    Lately the idea of using them to make collagraphs from really appeals to me… maybe even collaging some part of the found object onto the finished print might be worthwhile experimenting with?
    Sorry for waffling on but it is a question that intrigues me too.
    Your tutor’s question is well worth pondering..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback Jac. As you say, there is such beauty in the found (I love these pieces of rubber) that my instinct was that I could not improve on them no matter what I did. But I am surrounded by those who say that merely presenting the found is not enough. I guess it depends on your viewpoint. What is art? If it is something that the viewer finds beautiful and wishes to look at time and time again, then the rubber on it’s own does that for me. There is no point trying to replicate it and ending up with something visually inferior but I guess you learn through the process of trying and this knowledge can be useful in other ways. Printing and collograph is on my list to do more of and I have just spent two days using gum arabic transfer which was interesting. I collect found paper and plastics which would lend themselves to collage – a post to follow on this and I will also try collaging with wood and metal. But at all costs, I need to avoid the twee!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, I could sing a song…so many beautiful pieces of detritus dragged home…how to use them then being THE question. Interesting idea to do a painting of the object – have fun with further steps. It’s intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I have two wardrobes full plus half a garage! There are lots of ideas to try regarding uses the lovely pieces but I doubt I will improve on what the sea has done!


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