Still Life – Marilyn Bailey

Recently an old friend and lifelong art dealer visited my studio, René Gimpel of Gimpel Fils. It was a sociable visit as I know that his dealing activities are firmly located in abstraction, particularly of the English 1950’s artists and onwards into contemporary, conceptual and ‘cutting edge’ works. So I feel both exasperated at the loss of a potential patron but also freed by the pretty firm certainty that my paintings will not be viewed in terms of £££’s, dollars or euro.

The reasons? My still life subjects tend towards lovely objects, old things that have appeal – a bit of rust here and there is a bonus, crumbling hand-made bricks make a hugely appealing ground to put things on, worn drift wood provides wonderful texture and offset a beautiful mother-of-pearl box, a glass filled with dried hydrangea flowers or a pile of vividly coloured oranges. All this provides plenty of subject-worthiness.

These are the sort of objects I was trained to use and who can deny their attraction? But my art dealer friend has a criticism and I know what it is.

Is tried and tested beauty enough of a subject?

I know paintings of lovely faces, beautiful nudes, breathtaking scenery give great enjoyment. But something else was happening when I was at art school, we were encouraged to look at what was around us, places, people, events and to welcome the seemingly mundane, the curious but most particularly the everyday.

With this in mind I asked my art dealer friend “How should I progress?” and he replied “Paint other things”. He gave me a few suggestions that I, of course, mentally dismissed as . . . oh . . . more of that . . . but I know that he is right because beauty in its pristine symmetry is not enough – “Oh how lovely” one says and then moves on. It is a response but not a thought or idea to mull over and then see the world differently.

What did I do with the still life I was about to begin? On a surface of rich salt-glazed tiles stands a slender hand-made white jug behind which hangs a small willow pattern plate. In the foreground is casually draped a black and white patterned cloth. It is really very nice indeed. There is a calm and this fruitful arrangement will make a good painting.

But now it also has some additions that I will share with you when it is complete. Why don’t you try by looking at the things that are in front of you? Have a go at re-arranging a few objects, imagine they will be a painting. Make a little square frame out of a piece of paper (or even your hands) and, held close you, try seeing those few things as a still life. Play with this idea a bit, have a really good close look at your composition.

You may even feel inspired to draw, paint or take a photograph. And for those of you who already paint or draw or take photographs – pick up something different, something that is not a tried and tested ‘lovely object’ but suggests . . . well just try.

Marilyn Bailey
Classical Realist Painter, visit to view her online work for sale.
Her visitor René Gimpel of Gimpel Fils

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