Saturday, April 17, 2010

learning from Alex Kanevsky's mark-making

Harry Kent, Me Too, self-portrait, oil on PP panel, 42 x 60 cm

In my search for expressive mark-making, i have been most excited today avidly pouring over a wonderful collection of Alex Kanevsky's work at his Studio. And there are three interesting interviews where he speaks about his technique here at Vivianitehere at BroadstreetStudio and  here at rtspot.

There is also a threaded discussion  with contributors claiming to have seen him at work. They write of his palette in 2002 prominently featuring Alizarin crimson and Cerulean blue, with recourse to Ultramarine, and raw umber. Reputedly, Kanevsky recommends the use of Liquin, especially for over-glazing with a transparent color.

There is also mention of Kanevsky's model reporting that he took photographs of her. His use of photography is something he himself discusses in the above interviews. I found this interesting in light of my post  on the use of photography in portraiture.

But I didn't concern myself with any of this because my aim was no to clone Kanevsky's work, but to expand my own art practice through exploring novel materials and methods. So i went for my usual Prussian blue and titanium white, with a touch of Alizarin and also of Viridian.

The particular series of his works that i'm interested in i see were painted on Mylar. I recalled seeing some white sheets of plastic at a local hardware store that I had stood pondering over just the week before. So off I rushed to buy a 60x120 cm sheet.

The sheets were a brand of Bayer polypropylene (PP), not Mylar polyethylene (PET). Furthermore, they were not thin frosted sheets of Mylar, but highly glossy panels a couple of mm thick. After some non-starters, I discovered the best way of cut the panels (NOT a circular saw - anyone actually interested, just ask) and soon had two pieces, one 44 x 60 and the other 60 x 76. The smaller one was be used for my first experiment.

And so this morning I rushed out to the studio with the material I had been working on for my next composition, but now ready to make a radical departure from the wet-in-wet I have been working on for the last two weeks (see below).

I was at first worried the oil paint wouldn't stick to the gloss surface of this dirt-repellent material, but it instantly clung in thin or thick films, depending just on how I worked it with a painting knife. I soon discovered better tools than painting knives, for broader, more even application and greater control of thickness. For example, old credit cards.

I found to that mixing colours on the surface while spreading creates marbling effects that generally are not that pleasing. I suspect Alex Kanevsky pre-mixes his colours into homogeneous batches, at least for the background (faces appear painted in with great care).

A more satisfying, more complex and layered result is obtained by overlaying one colour over another. Indeed, i believe this of essence in his technique - very thing layers, scraped on flat, so thin that the previous layers shine through. It is the flat thin layering over a reflective gloss support that seems to be an important element of the technique.

And this where the PP sheet comes in. Its extreme gloss hard surface enables the thinnest of coats to be scraped across and left totally smooth. And very importantly to my taste, allows light to reflect back through from the pure white surface of the PP. Very much like the paper reflects light through a transparent watercolor to make it glow.

So here is my first alla prima excursion into PP sheet supports, and it has left me eager for more. Needless to say, it is a self-portrait on the theme of the angst of aging.
I tried the same way of applying paint using a similar motif on a piece of craftwood sheet primed with household undercoat-sealer.

The effect was significantly more muted. The acrylic undercoat and hard board soaked the oil out of the paint and soon left a matt finish.

The amount of light reflected through the paint from the white undersurface was reduced. The result was a painting that lacked the glow and lustre of the one painted on a ploypropylene support.

Harry Kent, Dark Night of the Soul, oil on board, 60 x 90 cm SOLD

and an image that emerged along the way:

detail from earlier version

If you are interested in PP sheet painting, some other samples of my work on PP sheet, though  quite a different style of painting using brushes instead of pallette knives, can be seen here

And here is where the palette knives (credit cards) on polyproylene sheet had taken me by mid June, two months later. (Seems my mark-making is just more restless and variagated than his calm and methodical layering).

If anyone else has experimented with Alex- style technique, i would love to hear of your results. Please share your expeience with all who are admirers of his style in the comment box below.


  1. Hola estos son muy buenos , muy dramaticos, parecen de Bacon!!!

  2. Hola Rosa. Gracias tanto. Tiene razón, Francis Bacon ha sido una influencia importante para mí. Ciao.

  3. awww, shucks ... you'll make me blush!

  4. Harry,

    Now, how did I miss this one? Now, that's my style! This is how I WISH I could paint.

  5. Sneaky, aren't i, Brian. You didn't miss it. I put it in a few days back. I wasn't going to put it in at all, feeling it was too melodramatic or something, and regarded it as a semi-failure. But there has been some interest in the Kanevsky-style technique so i thought it would put this in to illustrate the dfference between using plastic sheet and using primed board for all those good folks interested.

    But i'm constantly working on the whole blog anyway. Once i realized new people coming by leave comments in postings weeks old, effectively making them current, i took to treating the whole blog as current. And so i constantly pop in additional links, clarify a point, fix typos, remove an image, or sneak in an additional image. It's an evolving thing. Even it's purpose is changing and soon i'll be re-writing the first post of 'Why'.

    And thanks for the confidence boost re what i felt was a semi-dud painting.