robert dukes paintings & drawings
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robert dukespaintings and drawings
11 November - 4 December 2015
Monday - Friday 10 - 5.30Saturday 11 - 2
Browse & Darby19 Cork Street London W1S 3LP
Tel: 020 7734 7984 Fax: 020 7851 6650email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Dukes at 50
Interviewed by Andrew Lambirth
Landscape & Photography
AL: Were looking at three different types of landscape. Can you tell me what they are?
RD: This ones a landscape done in Normandy on a trip to Chateau Balleroy in 2008 with the Royal Drawing School, painted over three or four days looking across the stream at the back of the houses in Balleroy village (cat. no.2). The second one (cat. no.13) was done from a photograph. Its in Cvennes in southern France, looking across a lake at a block of houses. The last one is a transcription of a Balthus painting of the courtyard of the chateau where he lived in the 1950s (cat. no.31).
AL: Is the photographic one done from a single photograph?
RD: Yes. It was very hot weather and we went to this lake to swim almost every afternoon. The houses are a long way away, a quarter of a mile across the lake, and at a certain time of day the way the light hit them looked incredible. I thought it looked like something Id like to paint but I didnt have my paints with me. So I tried to draw it and made two or three very quick drawings, but there was nowhere near enough information in the drawings to make a painting from them. So I thought Id take photographs just in case, even though I never paint from photographs, and when I got back I made two paintings from the photograph, sitting with my easel in front of my computer. I was very surprised that I got anything out of it.
AL: Isnt that what people say how can you have enough information in a photograph to make a painting?
RD: Often the information in the photograph isnt the information you want. The colours look wrong. Photographs arent like your experience of looking at things. I think one reason I could do this was because I was a long way away. Anything nearby in a photograph is incredibly distorted by a single camera lens. If you imagine you were standing at the side of the lake looking at this view, whats in the painting would be a tiny part of your actual visual field.
AL: Surely the painting was informed by the experience of being there and swimming in the lake. You probably wouldnt have been able to do it if someone had given you a photograph.
RD: That is exactly it. It was memory and the excitement of looking at it, of actually being there. Trying to memorize that, even though the photograph was hugely important.
AL: Did you use the drawings?
RD: Barely, but the drawing was important to get an idea of what the painting would be about.
AL: Tell me about the one you did from life, which curiously looks more abstract and a bit flatter.
RD: To get these dynamic gable shapes that bind the picture together across the rectangle, I was just trying to mix the right colours to stand for the forms. There would be no point in trying to fill in the gaps, it would be impossible to make up a colour to do that. Its a painting and it has to run by its own rules.
AL: Lets talk about the Balthus. Why did you pick that painting?
RD: Because its beautiful. Ive done lots of Balthus transcriptions in the last ten years but I wanted to do something a bit bigger and more ambitious. I just wanted to paint it like a stage set. And this is why in a nutshell I wanted to paint it and paint more landscapes. I paint still-lives normally and theyre lumps. Theyre usually one or two lumps, like one or two apples, in a bare space. Landscape is the opposite of that. This was like trying to paint a stage set or a big space that goes right to the edge of the canvas, rather than paint a single object in the middle of a space.
In any painting, even if its a single object painting, the whole surface has to be animated and thats one of the reasons its hard to do single object paintings because they can just dominate the whole space and not work as a flat shape. But in a landscape the whole rectangle is animated right from the start. One reason for copying anybody, and especially someone as good as Balthus, is that you become more and more in awe of how good they are. Everything in the original links up its terrifying. Whats so amazing is that it seems like a game of analogy and rapport of forms and yet it seems very true to what it actually looks like.
AL: Of the three different kinds of landscape, would you say that painting one kind was more satisfying than the others?
RD: I would much rather paint from observation thats by far the most exciting. I like making transcriptions of things very much, but if I had to choose between the two, Id always be painting from observation. Painting from a photograph was a novelty but its not something Id want to do a lot of. Theres only one other painting in the show done from a photograph the rhinoceros.
Still Life, Measuring and Electric Light
AL: Is that one of the reasons youre drawn to still-life, because of the state of emergency: the fruit is going to rot or the langoustine to stink?
RD: Not so much. Normally they last long enough to be painted, even though I take a long time. No, its more to do with the fact that you couldnt mistake an apple for a quince, and yet each one is unique. And that theyre beautiful things to look at. It seems like the colour goes right through them, they give off so much colour sense. A lemon especially.
AL: Tell me about this idea of painting forms from the middle out.
RD: There was a thing I picked up on even at Grimsby, which came from Camberwell, which was not to try and draw a contour or an outline and then fill it in, but try to paint across a form. I want my paintings to have more plastic force, to be more realized, to be more there. I paint from the middle out because I dont want to rely on an outline to define the form.
AL: Are you measuring less nowadays than you would have done once?
RD: Yes. Generally speaking, much less, but there are pictures when I still measure a lot. I liked what Patrick George said: he felt the measuring was becoming about measuring and not about what you were seeing. But I still use it, because I get stuck.
AL: And its a way out?
RD: Hopefully. Or it might be a way of completely re-configuring the whole picture.
AL: You always used to paint in electric light, and now youre working more in natural light. Why?
RD: I painted in electric light from about 2000. I was working full-time in the National Gallery shop, so if I had a day off to paint I wanted eight or ten hours to work. And then I got used to it. People can be very odd about electric light and imply that its lesser in some way. Of course there is more variety in natural light, which is more beautiful, but I dont think people can even necessarily tell which of my pictures were done in natural or electric light. People think electric light pictures are going to be yellow!
Anyway, recently, just for a change, Ive tried natural light. It felt very strange probably like painting in electric light feels to other painters. The colours looked really ugly on my palette, but now Ive been painting more in natural light than electric light for about a year, the colours look normal.
AL: So one is not better than another?
RD: Ideally you would have a beautiful big naturally lit north-facing studio somewhere quiet (not on a council estate, like mine), but you make do with what you have. The main thing is that you paint, and dont make excuses like Oh the lights gone.
AL: So what is a typical day?
RD: I get up about a quarter to eight and I draw from 9 oclock to just after 10 oclock, and if I dont draw for at least an hour before I paint, I cant do it. Then I start painting just after 10 and try to keep going till 6 oclock. I think its best to try and find a consistency. So it becomes natural this is what you do.
AL: How important is drawing? Is it still central to what you do?
RD: Its enormously important. If I dont draw a lot, the paintings dont have what Robert Motherwell called a precision of feeling.
AL: I notice there are some paintings in your show of your dachshund.
RD: Yes Miss Marple. Dachshunds are a very beautiful dog and she is the joy of our lives. Shes two now. Marple knows that when Im in the studio she wont get any attention, so she curls up on a cushion. Often she looks nicer than what Im painting, so I shift the easel around and paint her.
AL: Who do you want to reach, as an ideal audience?
RD: I dont think about a literal audience, and I dont think about whos going to like or not like this, but I would like to paint something that lasts.
(A full-length version of this interview can be found on the Browse & Darby website.)
13. Across the Lake, Cvennes, 2013
18 x 22 inches
5. Seven Quinces, 2011
7 x 17 inches
28. Bowl of Quinces, 2014
12 x 12 inches
17. After Veronese, Happy Union, 2013
8 x 8 inches
18. After Veronese, Scorn, 2014
8 x 8 inches
41. Apple, Knife, Plumbline, 2015
6 x 6 inches
40. Two Apples, 2015
6 x 8 inches
22. Marple on her Cushion I, 2014
4 x 6 inches
23. Marple on her Cushion II, 2014
4 x 8 inches
21. Beetle, 2014
5 x 7 inches
24. Cadmium Orange, 2014
7 x 6 inches
7. Cat Skull, 2012
6 x 7 inches
30. Rhinoceros, 2015
4 x 8 inches
15. Two Gre