Goya – The Black Paintings (May 2017)

It is interesting to reflect that I have come full circle during UPM.  At the end of Part 2 my tutor indicated that I should study Goya’s black paintings and his etchings because I was obviously drawn to exploring the darker elements of humanity.  I chose to reject pursuing that path for parts 3 and 4 and yet, at the end of part 4 I found myself being directed again, this time by my homeopath, to connect with these paintings.  My blog below (posted on my POP1 page because I am doing that course alongside this) gives a brief description of my experience in Madrid. It falls very short in terms of accurately describing what seeing these paintings has done for me.

If I am honest with myself I know I need to persist with expressing something about the darkness of being human, or at least communicate some kind of offering about the struggles that we each face.  I am currently working with a homeopath to enable me to do this and to be able to bring in enough light within myself so that I don’t become too saturated with the darkness (as I did with my explorations in part 2).

Seeing the Black Paintings is only the second time I have truly felt at home when standing in front of art.  My first experience was during the Marlene Dumas, ‘The Image as Burden’ exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2015.  I was enthralled, exhilarated and thrilled to see her work – somehow the challenging, difficult nature of the exhibition felt an absolute liberation to me.  I felt totally at one with the energy of Dumas’ work – somehow it alleviated me of the burden of my own shroud for a while. (A true homeopathic response!).

Having now seen the Black Paintings and felt again, deeply connected, understood almost when spending time with the work, I am starting to have a small hint as to what I am here to do with my artistic practice.  I have no idea of the form of the work I will produce, however, I know that I need to reflect something very dark but at the same time very healing to the world.  I was surprised at the number of exclamations I heard when standing in the room with the Black Paintings – there were 4 or 5 women who simply found the subject matter too abhorrent and could not bear to stay.  I, on the other hand, found the paintings to be life affirming, uplifting and a celebration of life despite the outer appearance of the images.  Perhaps it is the culmination of energy within each of the pieces – something immense is happening in almost all of them.  Whether it is the men battling in ‘Fight to the death with clubs‘ or where Judith is poised to kill in’Judith and Holofernes‘, we are forced to witness the extremes of human existence. In terms of the two paintings depicting floating forms (‘The Fates’ (Atropos) and The Sabbath (Asmodea)), I feel they are all the more potent because of their lurking, disturbing qualities.  The deities are almost like the witches in macbeth – they are truly on the periphery – devoid of the contextual framework that humans are expected to live by, and as such, there is something delightfully celebratory in dark nature of their appearance.

If I was to take away elements from seeing this work it would be:-

  • that it is ok for me to build on my use of a limited palette – I know it is one of my strengths and that colour lets me down, so whilst I will continue to move through my understanding of colour I accept that my skill lies in work that contains very little
  • that the brushstrokes and layering can speak as much as the subject matter itself.
  • that the use of glazes can create an intensity of luminosity that cannot be created any other way – something I need to research and experiment with myself.
  • that it is ok for my work to be about dark and difficult matters in the human condition

My blog regarding the exhibition:- https://mypaintingdimension.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/goya-the-black-paintings-may-2017/

Marlene Dumas Goya reference:-



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