The first and only painting my father bought from me was a rather uncomfortable looking female nude study. I never understood just what attracted him to that image beyond the fact that his son had painted it. It soon became a point of embarrassment between us and like most mistakes ended up in the downstairs toilet. Some years later and following a reasonably successful still life exhibition I suggested that I paint over the nude and with a look of relief he agreed. I made no special preparation other than turning the image upside-down and painted this second oil directly over the first. The resulting freely painted gourds and brass rimmed wooden bowl was a great improvement and I enjoyed the fact that I could still make out the partial ghost image of the first painting.
So enjoyable was the experience that I repeated the process of painting over another nude study with a Breton scene of a girl collecting water form a well. Here again the traces of the nude model seated contra jour before a large window still remained ghostly visible to my eye at least within the granite gable wall of the farmhouse but to the purchaser all appeared fine. When reusing canvases in this way I enjoy the process of painting through the confusion that often results in capturing a second image and the incidental nature of that under paint can at times provide interesting texture.
Only once have I had an inquiry to buy a painting that had already disappeared beneath a second or even third layer so on the whole this method of working has provided more sales than it has lost.
There are occasions when a partial repaint is required to correct a composition and this worked particularly well when transporting my father’s prize winning pig from inside the sty to outside in the field with a view of the old barn at Quarry farm near Poulton in Gloucestershire.
While the entire background was repainted the Wessex saddleback pig remained untouched. A similar process was required when recently I converted a large canvas of cattle within a Breton landscape into a South Uist view where only four out of the seven cows were retained.
Almost a quarter of a century ago shortly after the old presbytery in Plouye had been emptied I discovered in a local bracante the front panel of the altar covering from the chapel of St Salomon which depicted a rather naïve rendition of God, resplendent with red cape, triple tiered trinity crown and clutching an orb between three raptor like fingers. During the subsequent restoration of the chapel it was not deemed necessary to incorporate this panel and so it has remained forgotten in my attic. So the other day while preparing a couple of old door panels for painting I felt it also was time to paint over God, replacing him with something suitably naïve but perhaps a little more sophisticated in its execution. While I wanted the subject matter to be more decorative I also needed it to be less ecclesiastical and so I settled on an architectural façade.
A few years ago a friend lent me a rather distressing photographic book on demolished building of Scotland throughout the 20th century. I selected the burnt out ruined remains of the mid-18th century Ward House in Aberdeenshire as the perfect subject matter for the panel repaint. I wanted a complete house portrait that would fit the landscape aspect of the panel but also to include some period people to add interest and scale. While some primitive folk art painting can be very simple and effective this would require a more pain staking detailed approach. I find myself slipping back more than half a century to my early days at Tregony School in Cornwall and a time when my drawing and painting remained unsophisticated, still retained a certain level of naivety.