Flight of the Churches

 "Flight of the Churches"
Oil and Tempera Painting, The Mische Technique
Collection of D E Paice
Fine art prints are available

Artist's Comments :

When I worked on this painting, the idea came as a mystery, a sort of puzzle
that needed to be solved. I knew that I must be prepared to make several false
starts before the right image began to take shape. Strangely, I always know
when I am going wrong with a fantasy picture, but I am never absolutely sure I
am going right, until at last something seems to be going in the right
direction, which tells you more about your idea than you had known up until then.
As Wilde's Lady Bracknell said: "I don’t know what I mean until I hear what I
say."

Painting The Flight of the Churches was like going on a personal journey. I
worked on a fairly large gesso panel. I began with painting a ground  of
umber and red, and swirled the paint around with my fingers. The shapes of the
balloons seemed to form themselves, and I wondered what they were. Then I
suddenly saw St. Mark’s Square in Venice, and realised that this was St. Mark’s
Cathedral floating away. I got hold of a photograph of St. Mark’s Cathedral , and
by holding a silver Christmas tree ornament to it, I saw in the reflection how
to paint it in the round. I painted the cathedral as a series of balloons,
with long streamers, like umbilical cords. I achieved a beautiful transparent
look with the colours by painting the cathedral with white underpainting and
adding the colours as glazes on top. I used soft colours such as Naples yellow,
rose doré, cerulean blue, and a mixture of monestial green, azure blue and
yellow ochre for the domes. Then I realised that if St. Mark’s was floating away,
probably other churches were floating away, too. I did some photographic
research, and found other Venetian churches to turn into balloons. I painted them
against a light blue sky — cerulean with lemon yellow near the horizon, and
with ultramarine near the top to make the kind of sky that you often see in
Venice. In order to add a little drama, I added clouds made with titanium white,
permanent rose and Payne’s grey. The next thing that occurred to me was that if
the churches had all left the ground, the place must look a mess, so perhaps
there had been some kind of disaster. Referring to a photograph of St. Marks
Square, I began to paint the disaster. By breaking off the corners of the
buildings at either side, I achieved a very powerful line of perspective. The
buildings were added using white underpainting and Indian red and permanent rose as
glazes on top. Then I made holes in the ground of the square for people to
crawl out of, but I couldn’t picture how they should be dressed. Finally, I
decided that they wouldn’t wear anything. Maybe after a disaster like this they
had lost their clothes! The next problem was the shadow of the balloons on the
ground. In order to be convincing, a fantasy must conform to the ordinary laws
of the world. As C. S. Lewis wrote: "A myth must have the inner consistency of
reality." Unless my shadows were convincing, the whole painting would lack
conviction. Renaissance artists used to make tiny models in their studios and
use them to work out by analogy how things would look in the real world. So I
collected various scraps, some wax, toothpicks and plasticine, and made a tiny
model of the balloons. Then I took a strong lamp and held it near the model.
The shadow of the balloons was perfect, and completely different from anything I
could have imagined. I took a photograph, and when I painted the shadows in
the picture it took on a new feeling of reality. Meanwhile, I had been
struggling with the colours. Often, paintings of a dream or nightmare are most
effective if painted in nightmare colours. But as this was a painting about Venice,
my colours were soft Venetian pinks, greens and blues. I debated whether to
change things but judged that I could get away with the same colours.
Nevertheless, the painting still needed one strong accent of colour. So I made the water
a bright turquoise, using monestial turquoise as a glaze. This seemed to bring
the whole picture together and it also emphasised the water element which is
such a huge part of Venice.
 When the picture was finished people asked me what it meant. I don’t know;
if you do know, what is the point of painting a fantasy picture in the first
place?

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