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Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Simonides

Peter van Straten





















Peter van Straten



"The Artist.

Nothing ruins a grandiose sense of self like a hyperactive sense of irony. I am prevented therefore from uttering with any seriousness an ambition that is non-the-less heartfelt: to celebrate, with a single iconic image, each uniquely intriguing facet of human existence. This task would of course take many lifetimes, and while I might conceivably have many lives it is doubtful whether I would remember my task from one life to the next; becoming instead the postmaster at Wellington, then a bureaucrat in Bangladesh, followed by a housewife in Durban – each without the slightest interest in illustrating the human condition. For this reason I am driven by a deep sense of urgency in this lifetime – straining against the undertow of time to expand my understanding of the light bulb moments I am determined to illustrate. Luckily for me I find the story of Sisyphus more amusing than tragic, and my favourite word in the English language is Nympholepsy, which, to paraphrase the Oxford dictionary, is ecstasy or madness caused by pursuit of the unattainable.

If anything it is reassuring to know that one’s journeying will never be threatened by something as crass as destination, and it is pure bliss to paint that journey.









The physical palette.

Despite the indescribable pleasure I derive from painting I prefer to think of myself as an inventor of images rather than a painter, a distinction based in part on the fact that I will always love beautiful thoughts more than I could ever love beautiful things, and also because for me there is no more romantic vision of the working self than the image of the backyard inventor, tinkering late into the suburban night in his garage, on an invention whose secrecy is as thrilling as the inventor’s private and burning faith in its potential. A craftsman is merely a skilled manipulator of things as they are, while the inventor is committed to things as they could be – to a world improved.

Be this as it may, one has to choose a vehicle of expression, and I have fallen prey to an ever-deepening infatuation with the technique of glazing in oil paint.

Glazing in oils makes maximum use of the very thing that sets oil paints apart from other types of paint, namely opacity. When oil paint is applied in very thin “washes” light is still able to penetrate the paint and reach the white primer (or undercoat) to which the paint was first applied. This gives glazed images an unmistakeable glow, which, for anyone obsessed with light – whether physical or metaphysical – becomes the only conceivable mode of expression. The major difference between glazing technique, the way I use it, and regular oil technique is that with glazing, light is achieved by removing paint – repeatedly rubbing it away to keep re-exposing the white primer beneath, whereas in regular technique light is created by applying light colours with a brush. The latter technique celebrates the texture of paint and the dynamic movement of the brushstroke, while glazing sacrifices texture for luminescence and depth. Loss of textural interest in glazing is remedied by the constant re-exposure of the very first brush-strokes in the primer, by gentle sanding between successive layers of oil paint – essentially removing paint from the ridges of the brushstrokes in the undercoat. This also has the pleasing and slightly magical side effect of creating the illusion that the image is painted beneath the surface of the canvas. A further benefit of glazing in oils is the creation of compound colours which exist not because they were mixed on the palette, but which occur organically through the application of successive layers of opaque colour: olive green seen through cobalt blue, seen through burnt sienna, seen through purple madder, and so on, resulting in colours that cannot simply be mixed. My approach to painting is essentially cinematic. I envisage a scene, I decide on a location for that scene, then introduce “actors,” and because I am always working on top of a previous layer that has dried completely I am able to change my mind as often as I like without disturbing any of the decisions I have finalised before.

Perhaps one chooses a medium of expression that mirrors your style of being. In my life I circle around existential quandaries for years, revisiting and revisiting them from different angles, just as in painting I add new colours and details without disturbing the marks and colours that have gone before. Just as you cannot change a thought you had last week by thinking a different thought this week, so it is with glazing, which preserves all the steps of a thought process in oil, the way ancient bugs are preserved in amber." ...



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