Recently, as I continue to hide from my dissertation, I have been thinking a lot about my sixth form days. I miss fine art. I miss the art rooms at school with the huge wooden tables and the smell of dried paint. I miss sitting in the studio space with my headphones in and just painting. I used to spend hours looking at photographs, meticulously copying them, using oil or acrylic paints. I never knew what the best technique was with paint… whether you should start with the underlying base colours and build detail on top of them, or whether you should run straight in and attempt to detail the entire piece one section at a time, only moving on to the next bit when you were satisfied with the one before.
I miss the serenity of photorealistic painting. It is so different from abstract. To me, abstract is immediate. It is paint, paper, your impulsive emotion and then it’s finished. Photorealism is much slower. You can’t be impulsive or overly emotional, and you can’t overthink, otherwise you will never finish. It takes a lot of observation. You have to look at what you are making; look at the colours, understand the underlying tones, where to have shadow or highlight, where to put in minute detail, understand how it blends together.
Painting portraits was my favourite thing. I loved taking photographs and then sitting and attempting to recreate them. I miss it. I miss taking time over it and creating something so closely accurate to the photo I had captured just moments ago. I miss colour matching. I miss mixing and trying colours over and over, hoping that this time it’ll be the right shade with the right undertones, and it’ll match the skin tone or hair or eyes you’re trying to paint.
My biggest influence was Eloy Morales. Morales is a Spanish photorealistic artist, working in Madrid. Morales first started painting when he was four years old, but he only began to seriously explore photo-realism in his mid-twenties. He recreates photographs (mostly self-portraits) on a huge scale. The largest portrait I ever made was A2. His are at least 2 meters tall. He explores the idea of textures, and he would often cover his own face in different materials, paint, shaving foam etc. Not only does this allow him to paint light and texture in different ways, but he also uses this as a form of self-expression.
Although Morales painted from photographs, he states that he had never intended to copy them. Instead, he wanted to use them as a form of documentary support. He actually intends to surpass the photograph, detailing the painting so it seems to go beyond realism. By focusing on the head, Morales reveals a desire to explore the psychological relationship that people have with the gaze. The painted face always seems to stare at the viewer and this intensity is what makes his images so fascinating. It almost feels like the face is looking at you, straight through you, and that you are also looking straight through it. It feels like you are looking into the soul of each other. It’s like a one-sided staring competition that you can never win.
I was in awe of Morales’ work from the moment I saw it. There was such a great attention to detail and an ability to recreate texture in a profoundly moving way. I was particularly inspired by his technique. He is one of those artists who begins with detail, painting section by section with immense precision, until his creation grows outwards and the painting is complete. I have even attempted to appropriate his technique in my own practice, which I still have not managed to master. I tend to focus on perfecting parts at a time, beginning with the skin, then the eyes, then the hair and then the final details afterward – the pictures above are examples of my own work which use paint in this way.
It is so interesting to look back on Morales’ work and see his unmistakable influence on the way I paint, from the subject and style to my technique as well. Morales will always mean something to me because of this. My adoration of his work makes me strive to create something that he would be proud of, and I push myself just so I can try and produce something close to what he can.
Honestly, after writing this, all I want is to find my oils and start painting again. But alas, I have dissertations to write and modules to complete. Even still, it is immensely comforting to know that Morales wasn’t serious about painting until he was twenty-two. Time is still on my side.
Words by Emma Cawston
Cover image: Left: Eloy Morales ‘Paint in my head’ 2013 Right: Eloy Morales ‘Francisco with butterflies’ 2013
All images taken from Eloy Morales’ website https://www.eloymorales.es/obra-works/