After finishing the first part of my Intermediate Painting final, I felt much more prepared to begin work on the rest of the small series. As I mentioned in my last post, Part I was a much needed stepping stone in the process of creating a new body of work, and I’m really pleased with the result of Part II. While Osteophagy was about exactly that, this piece, Four Hands, explores more the idea of new life emerging from decaying matter.
I’ve always been very interested in anatomy and biology. In high school, I took a college-level anatomy course – as well as every other science class offered at my school – and loved it so much I almost pursued a biology minor in college. I’ve always been very good at memorizing random bits of information, which has only been helpful in a few things: trivia games, beating my dad at Jeopardy, taking cumulative tests, and having somewhat obscure inspiration for my art. I knew I wanted to do something dealing with the layers of human anatomy and connect it to the running theme of my final series, and so I started sketching ideas for Part II. I had a few canvases of the same size ready to go, and began experimenting with how I could hang them in a unique way and how to represent each layer of anatomy throughout them. I also wanted to include mushrooms, which are such resilient little organisms, able to grow from practically nothing.
Looking back at these paintings, I can see some more influences that were not immediately apparent to me in-process. I remembered going to the Body Worlds exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota in high school, where many of the pieces in that show display layers of anatomy cut away or separated from the body. I also thought about the book Stiff, by (amazing) science writer Mary Roach, which explores the afterlife of bodies donated to science. One chapter covers the Body Farm in Knoxville, TN, where they research the decomposition of bodies under various conditions. It’s always interesting to suddenly realize inspiration for a piece after it is actually finished, whether that’s a few days or a many weeks later.
While I was painting this piece, decided to let the mushrooms and grass decide where they wanted to be rather than stick to exactly what I had sketched, which is another unusual practice for me – I think I realized that, since I was painting nature, I should let it feel more natural. Thus, there was a lot of covering up with white and painting over sections, as well as editing my color palette when I realized the original pink wasn’t working. Thankfully, I’m in a class full of talented people who helped me narrow down what color to replace it with, and the ochre is much more harmonious with the rest of the painting than the pink ever was.
One of my goals for this final series was to become comfortable at painting more quickly, and I’m really proud of the result in these pieces. I tried to approach the painting of the actual body parts and mushrooms in the same way I do my value underpaintings – fast, with an emphasis on capturing the overall form rather than meticulous detail. Apart from the more precise veins, each of these hands only took me about 10-20 minutes to paint. While it helped that each of these canvases are relatively small, so there is less surface area to actually cover with paint, I’m impressed with my own ability to relax and let the paint do its work. It’s reassuring that I am indeed able to paint something quickly while still making it look realistic, and I’m looking forward to practicing this skill more – though that’s not to say I’m abandoning my usual process, which I still thoroughly enjoy! There’s a time and place for everything.
Four Hands (2018)