Our society had a real treat this month - a demonstration evening with Denise Allen. The title on our programme was intriguing: watercolour deconstruction and reconstruction and if I am honest, I’m not sure that any of us could have quite imagined what this was going to mean in practice!
Denise has been a professional artist since 1989 and belongs to a watercolour group with other professional artists. It was at one of these meetings a few years’ back when she watched one of the artists rip up finished pictures and then reuse sections in a new work. Denise found the architectural bits that the lady was going to throw away much more interesting and it planted a seed of thought that has blossomed into the technique she shared with us.
Denise rightly said that most of us probably have a drawer full of paintings with bits that we like on them, paintings that are too good to throw away, but not good enough to frame (lot’s of nodding in agreement in the room at this point!). The technique she went on to share allowed you to reuse the sections that you like and create something new.
Denise pulled three paintings out from her bag, watercolours of St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and a tree lined bank on the Thames all painted in situ – she then proceeded to rip them up in front of us. There were audible gasps from some members at this point! This is where the ‘deconstruction’ comes in. Denise then went on the affix the strips of pictures onto a sheet of Bockingford watercolour paper to produce a new composition – the ‘reconstruction’ part.
Our eyes and brains are clever things and it was clear that even though the elements from the three original pictures were collaged on the new page, you could start to make visual links between the strips of paper and begin to fill the gaps in. It didn’t matter that the scale and perspective and light directions were mixed up which was surprising.
Once Denise had found a composition that worked, she started drawing back onto the page using a graphite stick to start connecting the elements back together. Then the fun began – filling the gaps using watercolour. Some of the white edges of the torn collaged sections were left white and others were painted over. Denise uses a Korean paint that I sadly can’t remember the name of. Her palette is limited: ultramarine, cobalt blue hue, Pthalo blue, sepia, burnt umber, yellow ochre, lemon yellow and a fab new one to me, a very pretty 'opera rose' pink!
Denise encouraged us to be sparing with the paint application and to leave white paper sparkles or ‘windows of gloriousness’ in our works as it really enlivens the finished work.
The finished piece is one of those works that you can not simply give a passing glance. It was a picture in which you saw new things each time you looked – a clear story of place permeates through the work. Denise said that it is also like looking at an image through broken glass which is a good analogy.
I found Denise’s approach fascinating as it struck a chord with the way that I work in my collages. I ‘deconstruct’ a scene to its component parts and then ‘reconstruct’ it back together using different media to represent different elements and like to use bits from more than one image to create a new composition. Isn’t it great that taking the same ‘deconstruct’ and ‘reconstruct’ ideas that artistically you can end up with completely different outcomes?
The following photos were taken with the kind permission of Denise (on the condition that she could have copies too which I have done!)
You can see more of Denise’ work and find out about the painting holidays that she runs in Minorca on her website: