NIGHT 51 – THE STORY OF KING UMAR ‘IBN AL-NUMAN AND HIS FAMILY

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We’re going in the dome.

I never do self-portraits – in fact the only I did one it was forced upon me in a secondary school art class – and yet here it is of my own volition. This dome painting marks a major shift in my attitude to my own art – while the dome itself is a slow-cooking, considered painting, there have been subtle yet big shifts in my approach (see below, Things I’ve Learnt). This is my favourite photo of myself and so I’m going in.

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In. Ghostly figures; the first outline.

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Painting in a circle is tricky enough and this is a dome, and a rotating dome at that, so I need to think about perspective. The viewer will be looking directly up, and I am looking down at my painting while working. Down and across, so slightly slanted, so I need to make sure that my reference photos are upright and that I am constantly checking that everything is in proportion. I’m compiling two entirely separate figures from different photos and placing them onto a carpet together in a semi-isometric perspective that also has to make sense with the rest of the painting. Tricky, but doable with concentration and focus.

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A strange man.

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He’s going in too.

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THINGS I’VE LEARNT:

A master slows down towards the end, and doesn’t speed up (as I was wont to do in the past). A master is not afraid of using whatever tools, equipment and materials to get the job done. I never use toothbrushes in serious art – yet I’ve done so here, in one of my most ‘serious’ paintings! It’s what was called for and it’s what was best (they make good stars). There is no need to be a purist for the sake of it.

A master is not afraid to mix the ancient and the modern – we live today, not in the past, and yet we have access to the past. A master blends the best of both worlds. In this painting I’m happy to have finally understood the colour red (a colour which I have studiously avoided in previous artworks – either ignored and left out of my palette completely, or used as a mixing colour, or used in very tiny amounts only). Studying Medieval art and Persian and Indian miniature painting made me appreciate all colours and especially how red is very carefully used – and I’m finally absorbing and reproducing those lessons here. Red is in the lanterns and in the volcano – things that really do need to be red. And it fits perfectly… and there will be more.

A master knows when to have sharp edges and when to have soft edges. Sharp edges for  details – and God is in the details – and softness for variation and depth. A master is judicious in the provision of blank spaces – although I have horror vacui (horror of the void) like the miniature painters, I am also half Chinese and appreciate the ‘pregnant’ empty spaces of Chinese paintings. A master knows that blank passages complement areas of high detail beautifully and thus they provide breathing spaces en route while your eyes rove around the painting. This works for both big and small artworks. This is a dome which will eventually revolve, so the ‘blank’ spaces (areas with less detail) are even more important to the experience.

A master is not afraid of mixing perspective and is able to make effortless switches between 2D and 3D in the picture plane. It all makes sense if you allow it to be so. A master is not afraid of using beautiful, rare or luxurious materials in their work because they are confident that they can handle them and that their work merits them. A master uses gold where appropriate. A master is not afraid to paint anything: while painting, instead of asking ‘What do I want to paint next?’ the master asks ‘What does the painting need?’ and responds appropriately. In this way, the master creates new worlds with their own internal logic.

For me this dome is really a learning painting, which is why I call it my ‘masterpiece’ in the original sense of the word – not as a piece just to show off, but as a piece in which I’ve really learnt the techniques and honed my approach and combined all my skills into one painting. And most importantly, changed my attitude.

And now for some abject monks. I conjured up these abject monks quietly and spontaneously during my own vision in a dream while daydreaming while painting while pondering while my brush was working in a flow state and the idea came to me calmly, naturally ~

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