Seven Years of Painting Nude Men

New Year is always a time of introspection, evaluating where you are, where you're going. On the new year of 2021 I wanted to take stock of my progress in my chosen field. I gathered together the paintings I considered to be my best male nude work of each year and lined them all up:

The jump from 2014 to 2015 was very significant. I can see a lot of progress there, particularly in terms of value and colour. However, I was shocked and frankly rather disappointed to see that I had made almost no progress from 2015 to 2018! I had clearly found a way to do things that produced a passable result, and I stuck with it, never pushing out of my comfort zone. This is the very antithesis of art, but it's so easy a trap to fall into.

I did start to feel it, the stagnation, towards the end of 2019, and to combat this I challenged myself to do twenty versions of the same painting. This broke me free of the drudgery and 2019 saw a significant improvement. The 2019 painting is still one of my favourites. It was the first painting using the Zorn palette in oil pastels, which really made me see colour differently. I also started seeing other people's work differently in 2019, favouring those with loose brushstrokes and broken colour more than ever.

2020 saw some strong work as I practised with the Zorn palette more and worked hard on loosening up my painting, culminating in "Pretty in Punk" from the wantneed series. This is an A4 (8" x 11") work using Paul Rubens oil pastels on Clairefontaine Paint-On Buff and is, I believe, one of my best paintings to date:

One of the things that really made the difference to the 2020 work was my realisation that I chose to work with oil pastels because I like them - yet I spent a lot of energy bending them to my will and coming up with results that did not express the vitality and immediacy of oil pastels themselves. I wasn't allowing the oil pastels to be part of the painting. Up to 2019, I was diligently blending out all imperfections with my clay shapers, making sure all holes were covered, ensuring edges were neat and all blending was perfectly smooth. The fact of it is that I could have been working with any media. One of the reasons that I love "Pretty in Punk" so much is that I let the oil pastels express themselves and, because of that, the process flowed very enjoyably with minimal fussing about, and it resulted in beautiful broken colours, lost and found edges, and a cacophony of luscious textures when scrutintised up close, as the zoomed in images above show.

Let's see how I feel about it in another seven years...

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