Introduction to the exhibition – Dominic Burkhalter
“If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.”
….but here goes anyway!
These paintings of Liverpool and the Wirral were painted over the last 5 months between March and August 2015. The majority were painted on site either on the banks of the Mersey, in a field in Storeton on the Wirral or inside the two Liverpool cathedrals.
How I work
When I work at my best I am painting quickly; once the composition has been decided on, I give little thought to what direction a painting should go.
Painting is a great way to escape the real world by looking at it, time seems to pass very quickly; especially when the painting goes well. There are those buzz moments when a sequence of brushstrokes delivers a combination of colour and texture that—when seen together—you feel are magic. It is similar to playing a sport: you can lose yourself in a sport you like and the chance to score a goal or points can provide that same ‘buzz’!
An impatient character like myself delivers better result when working quickly. I don’t have the patience for many hours of concentration, so I work in bursts of energy. When that energy runs out, it leaves me ‘knackered’; especially as I prefer to paint standing up as it helps with concentration.
Painting on site or in a studio
A few of the paintings were based on digital reference photographs taken over that period and then worked on in my studio. The British weather does not always make it easy to work outside, but it does gives us towns and countryside with a light unlike any other country. I believe the quality of the work created outside and on site is always better.
Many artists over the centuries have painted en plein air and others in their studios. I find these two approaches to be very different. In many ways painting outside in front of your subject (same goes for indoor painting of portraits etc.) is easier: you just look. What you observe passes through your eyes, your brain, your memory, past experiences and the end result will be found on the canvas.
There are great painters of the past who didn’t like painting outdoors. They did all their work in their studio from many reference drawings and sketches. The results are brilliant works of art, certainly in the case of artists like Degas and Hopper. For me, these are much more complex types of work; far more thought has to be given to the composition, juxtaposition of colours and texture with every part of the painting. These days, digital photography is used for reference. I agree with David Hockney, photography never gives the true colour of what you see on site. So as not to influence the final work, he only uses black and white images. I don’t presume to be in the same league as these artists, but the issues and problems are the same for all artists.
Oil versus other media
Oil is my paint of choice. Over the years, I’ve tried using acrylics and watercolours, but neither have the quality of oil. You need to have nerves of steel to work in watercolour, one mistake and the picture is lost!
Paintings can sometimes reach a stage that include areas of the painting that you like or are proud of and it’s difficult to take them forward. You worry that you will lose these magic areas. This is a false hope and you have to force yourself to work on an unfinished canvas, sometimes by taking risks that may or may not come off.
It’s also possible that you will take a picture backwards and lose the freshness it had in its early stages: the argument that it’s easy to over work a picture is a real one.
There is no magic formula on creating a good painting; it would be worrying if there were.
I’d like to thank Ken Martin for giving me the opportunity to exhibit my work at the gallery and the help from Arthur Gold, Bob Williams and Stephanie Blundell in delivering the exhibition.
Dominic Burkhalter – 13/8/2015 – Liverpool