Don’t judge a book by its coverThe first time I set foot on the island of Gran Canaria Spain , I couldn’t help thinking although the weather was perfect, the landscape itself was arid, and not very appealing to the eye. As a lover of the picturesque towns and villages of the Dordogne, South of France, and Italy I found it difficult at first to see the beauty in this rocky rugged place!
However , after visiting again in February this year , my opinion changed. Partly due to the fact that we hired a car, and also viewing the landscape from a fresh perspective.
This miniature continent is made up of 50% nature reserve, 40% UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve, and everything in-between including huge sand dunes and volcanic craters. This makes for a very eclectic mix of landscape, from the North to South of the island.
Sunset at Mogan beach in the south of Gran Canaria
Being in a position to drive out of tourist resorts gives so much more scope to check out towns and villages high up in the mountains which you rarely get the opportunity to see. Although some of the roads are pretty scary up there, the benefits of arriving in such an interesting destination definitely outweigh the death defying hairpin bends!
Off the beaten track
One of the most striking things about the area is the diverse range of plants and flowers, many of which are from the cactus and aloe family. These plants are so abstract and architectural in their form. Amazing to see placed against the azure skies, in the mountains. We visited this amazing Aloe farm where you could purchase products made from certified pure Aloe.
The first village we stumbled across by accident, when we got lost was the lovely mountain top village of Fataga, a popular cycle route with its stunning scenery known as the ‘Barranco’.
On the way up to Fataga , was a hamlet of dwellings known as ‘Molina de Viento’
Named after its most famous architectural feature and restored in 1998, the Canarian government declared it a site of cultural heritage which should be opened to the public. The sight of the bright white structure against the azure blue of the sky was really beautiful. On display around the windmill was a collection of large scale Canarian artefacts representing different aspects of everyday life. A painting waiting to happen!
Molino De Viento surrounded by traditional artefacts of Gran Canaria
The simple life
After wandering around the village, we discovered many Canarian allotments growing orange trees, fig trees, lemons, and almonds. It struck me that the people living here have a very simple but fulfilling life, living off the land and the food available to them which grows in abundance. After taking photographs and making some preliminary sketches of the scene, I immediately felt a wave of inspiration hit me , and couldn’t wait to get started on my interpretation of this aspect of rural life in Gran Canaria.
The peaceful town of Fataga
How to make paintings and Influence people
There are two artists who immediately sprang to mind during my visit to Gran Canaria.
- Mitchell Johnson - b 1964 South Carolina USA
- David Hockney - b 1937 Bradford Yorkshire, UK
Johnson from South Carolina originally, has been painting for many years, and continually aspires to develop his painting style. After visiting an exhibition in Bologna, Italy, he was inspired to change his painting style from loose brush application, to include flat shapes and larger areas of colour. Artistically, he credits his growth and development with travelling widely, and applying for artist residencies worldwide to keep things moving forward. Today his artworks appear in over 700 private collections and 25 museums worldwide.
Mitchell Johnson surrounded by his work - photo © Irene Searles 2019
Be More David
When Hockney moved to LA in 1966, he was inspired by the light and heat of his new environment and his expressionistic style evolved. He was moved to paint his ‘swimming pools’ works. He then became known as more of a realist painter. I think it is fair to say ‘a bigger splash’ is the piece of work most people associate with him.
The transition he made from the dour Yorkshire paintings of his earlier career, , contrast sharply with these simplistic, brightly coloured studies of his new home in the suburbs of LA. This is the kind of awakening we desire, as artists. A rebirth of creativity which often becomes stifled under the pressure of making a living from art as a career.
One of the reasons I love Hockney so much, is he constantly strives to develop as an artist. He has firmly embraced the use of modern technology, more recently creating works via his iPhone and iPad. His early use of the Polaroid, innovative use of the colour photocopier, and creation of work using photographic montage techniques has stood him apart from other painters over the course of his career.
'The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you're an artist'- DH
A bigger splash © David Hockney 1967.
Yosemite 1 - 0ctober 16th 2011 © David Hockney - i pad study
The Walker art gallery, Liverpool. 'Peter getting out of Nicks pool 1966' © David Hockney
'The sunny climate, relaxed lifestyle, and vibrant colours reflect Hockney's 1964 move to California'
A fresh start
From my own perspective, painting chimney pots, and terraced houses of the North in the UK differs hugely from painting the cubist architecture and arid landscape of Gran Canaria. However tackling a new subject matter, always improves you as an artist. I felt this was the ideal situation to try out different techniques, materials and paint from a fresh perspective. My plan was to study sections of photographs of buildings and towns and zoom in on particular areas of interest , cropping in tightly and studying the colours and angular forms of buildings and plant life in a more simplistic way. You can see an example of this below, in my study of the town of Veneguera. See more about this amazing town here
Alleyways of Veneguera © Chris Cyprus
Plein Air Problems
Although I really loved my ‘plein air’ painting holiday in Italy in August last year, which helped develop my style and allowed me to immerse myself in the moment , I realised on returning there in November to pick up where I had left off, that the Plein air life was not for me long term. I much prefer sketching, and taking photographs which I can then use to create a ‘made up’ scene picking and choosing different pieces to slot in to make up the final piece. I also really struggle with people watching while I paint, which although is lovely to get instant feedback and comments, it is so vastly different from being in my usual solitary studio setting.
I often felt that i was missing out on finding new scenes, and being tied to painting one scene per day, left me feeling frustrated, and even more curious to search out new places and quirky scenes.
I prefer drawing freehand , as I don’t like the perspective of angles within my work to be too perfect. I make quick preliminary sketches in acrylic, as under paintings for the foundation of the new pieces. You can see an example of this below, in one of the first sketches for ‘Casa de Montana’.
'Casa De Montana' - Preliminary freehand sketch
Exciting First Stages
This freehand underpainting stage if often the most exciting, as you can keep changing things, adding objects, adding buildings, people or just paint over it! . Sometimes it comes together and works, other times you start from scratch because an aspect of it just isnt right.
In this painting I chose to keep the skies flat, without clouds, as this was too distracting for the minimal style of the painting. I loved the yellow and gold tones of the building, which contrast well with the purples and blues in the shadows. The chair adds a human touch, to an otherwise solitary scene.
Shadow and light are a key factor to the feel and composition of these paintings, without them the scenes would not work.
Casa De Montana second stages © Chris Cyprus 2019
untitled © Chris Cyprus 2019
Go big, or go home
As the paintings took shape , I began to realise that they were not working as smaller canvases. I made a decision to start again on a bigger scale . I ordered some larger canvases at 1m x1m. The studies seem to work much better visually as larger works, where you feel almost a part of the painting , as though you could walk through the streets or sit in the chair. I found it liberating to work on such a big scale. Standing up painting rather than being confined to a chair! . It is difficult sometimes to start completely from scratch, but if something isn’t working, there is no use carrying on and fighting it! . This is the only way to produce work you will be happy with.
I’m sure you will agree this project has taken me out of my comfort zone, and into an experimental phase, which I am really enjoying!
Exhibiting abroad - an exciting prospect
As an artist constantly striving for new experiences, and opportunities to develop new relationships with artists and galleries overseas, I am hoping to take a body of work abroad to exhibit. This may be the Gran Canaria studies , or the body of work produced after my trip to the US in 2017. There are various logistical issues to consider, but I’m sure the experience would be very fulfilling and productive in so many different ways.
Has anybody ever exhibited overseas? I would love to hear your experiences of this great opportunity. I’m also really interested to know how many other artists out there have been moved to try different styles of painting, or mediums after visiting a place on holiday?
I would love to hear about your personal experiences!