Of past selves

Breakfast, Edinburgh © Samantha Groenestyn

Until this week, I had the idea that I make two types of art: small and quite stylised illustrations in gouache on paper, and large and quite realistic paintings on canvas. In fact, my large paintings have been neglected this year, unsurprisingly, since I have been fairly prolific in my illustrative output. I pulled out an old unfinished one on the weekend, one that would have been part of a series of pre-illustration pieces depicting breakfasting friends in Europe. I’d started it in acrylics, since I’d never learned to use oils until starting at the atelier, so I dusted off my old acrylic paints and set up on the veranda and worked solidly on the rather sizeable piece—about a metre by a metre and a half.

The trouble, of course, was that this painting existed in some distant, dark-aged past, and while my untrained self had managed to reproduce things like shadows and planes in a near-enough sort of fashion without having any real knowledge about such things, trying to go back to this old painting was just maddening. My past self certainly wasn’t kind to my later selves: my drawing was hasty and inaccurate, the perspective dire and my brushwork (most likely due to the quality of my brushes) abysmal. I tried to repaint sections, neatening up the lines and coverage, paying more attention to planes. When it came to painting an entirely untouched section, I realised what a liability the cheap acrylic paint was, and the (probably cheap) surface: the paint would not stick, it went on patchy and rough. I wrestled with it for two solid hours, and then I stepped back and surveyed my efforts. I felt suddenly at ease: this painting is not to be—not this way, not now. Because I don’t paint this way anymore. Breakfast, Copenhagen might resurface as an oil painting or as a gouache painting: either way, it will rely on sturdy draughtsmanship, careful brushwork, informed anatomy. But this painting can’t be salvaged, and I’m going to feel very relieved to remove the canvas from the frame and dispose of it accordingly.

The most significant thing I’ve had to admit to myself is that illustration has become my main art form. I didn’t feel I thought of it that seriously, despite having thrown myself into it so vigorously, and I felt I always had my other kind of painting, but this isn’t the case. Perhaps I ought to think more deeply about what kind of painting I most want to do, and most want to be recognised for. I enjoy illustration, and love that it can be in people’s lives and is in many ways less intimidating than art gallery art. Perhaps best of all, it has forced me to explore subject matter I wouldn’t have approached otherwise, and to explore qualities not associated with realism: distorted textures, imposed patterns, amplified colours and simplification of forms. Illustration may have just saved me from a creative rut. It brought my imagination to art, something I was always afraid of in my aspirations to be a human photocopier.

I certainly won’t be abandoning illustration anytime soon; I’m throwing myself into it harder than ever. I’m thoroughly enjoying this part of my artistic career. But I’ll be making sure to make time for the type of art that is really what I’m about.

And so: to celebrate art of bygone eras, I’m pleased to share that I’m displaying my Breakfast series for the entire month of November at SOL Breads in West End, Brisbane.

Breakfast, Paris © Samantha Groenestyn

Breakfast, Paris is of two Australian girls, Melinda and Sarah, whom I met in Paris and even spent some time in London with. We shared many a croissant in the sunny window of our Montmartre hostel.

Breakfast, Edinburgh (above) is a portrait of my free-spirited Scottish friend Judy, a wee sprite of a girl. We worked together at a bar, and spent some time in bars in Italy. Her approach to life is so chilled, but so adventurous.

Breakfast, Berlin © Samantha Groenestyn

Breakfast, Berlin is a painting of my favourite friend, quantum physicist Nathan, playing guitar at ‘the guitar café’ in Prenzlauerberg after 2 crepes. I love that his future self seems to be sitting behind him. Closed time-like curves, anyone?


4 thoughts on “Of past selves

  1. Nathan says:

    Every time I see this painting two things strike me. The first is always the same: I wish I’d turned around at some point so that I would have a memory of my future self seated behind me. The second is always different, some particular feature that seems especially delightful upon a the current viewing. Today it is the bottle of maple syrup and the wonderful effects of it’s curved glassy surface.


    • Now you have internet famous! I wish I’d pointed him out to you. I suspect that future you was busy working on some important Potsdamer calculations so it’s probably for the best you didn’t disrupt him. x

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