An Artwork for De Lisle
Local artist George Sfougaras was commissioned to create a painting to commemorate the college's Diamond Jubilee. He worked with 10 De Lisle students from Years 7-11 to come up with a concept. Please read on for details of the journey from design to creation as written by the artist himself:
"I was invited to create a piece of artwork for De Lisle Catholic Academy that would reflect the school's unique character and mission. Before I left for Jerusalem, I had a really productive meeting with representatives of the school, comprising the Principal Dr. Pye, The Chaplain, Mr. Agius, and several students.
They discussed the key concepts that they felt would need to be part of the artwork that reflected the school's community and aims. To summarise, these, taken from my notes of the day were: Community; Worship; Interdependence; Helping One Another; Being parts of the Whole; Connected by a Common Thread; Individuality and Difference in Harmony; Inclusivity; Equality; Help and Support; Do What is Right, Not What is Easy, the latter being the school motto.
I was impressed that several students had looked through my website and identified ways that the work could link to my way of working.
Making an 'ideas' or reference board.
When creating a work that has been commissioned, I often start with the collection of pictograms or simple graphics (often the best by the way) that I can use to start 'building' a concept or a painting. It is important when referencing other artists' work to ensure that you accredit them.
I do not at this point intend to use these images, however, I may want to create an approximation of some of them and I want to make sure that a) I remember where I found them and b) that I can, if need be able to pay the copyright fees to use the work, or if I 'paraphrase' the work at least be able to accredit the artist with the original idea.
Thinking about layout
Since I spoke with the students at De Lisle, I have considered their thoughtful comments about incorporating the concepts within a face as per my previous work on 'Personal Maps', where the story of Crete is superimposed on an archetypal face. Here, I am experimenting about doing something similar, but with the face of Jesus, perhaps utilising the halo as the area where the concepts are placed.
Day 2. A bit of information follows about paint and surfaces.
It may sound a bit boring but can make all the difference and if your work ever ends up in a museum 500 hundred years from now, the curators will thank you.
Today, after much consideration about what to make the piece on, I opted for high-grade oak ply. Although not as smooth as MDF, it has a longer life and despite some bending, if exposed to water, it is likely to remain unaltered with the passing of time. It also contains fewer chemicals which is a huge advantage. So it was off to the timber merchants and then preparing the ground by sanding and sealing in a very weak PVA solution. The reason for this is that if too much PVA is used, the wood loses its absorbency and becomes shiny. This, in turn, means that when you paint on the surface the brushes glide rather than depositing the paint on the surface, making coverage difficult. It also results in less pigment entering the wood surface, which means that the paint is more likely to sit on the surface and eventually crack.
I went straight onto the surface, with some basic drawing in charcoal and then good quality acrylic paint, which flowed well on the dry and sanded oak plywood. I was determined to anchor the whole painting on a compelling and meaningful depiction of Jesus, as central to the work. Several versions and alterations later, I felt that I was getting closer to a face that would do justice to the subject. I was very moved at one point, when the face seemed to come into focus and become recognisable and acceptable to me. It is important to get this part right before proceeding as the whole piece will revolve around the central image of Jesus.
Today I decided that I needed to work some more on the face and made several attempts at the skin tone and shape.
I also started to think of how our concepts could be incorporated organically into the composition. Originally I had planned to just use the halo as the place where all the action would take place, but now, I am experimenting with using the whole background and creating a tree of life idea that will contain several scenes depicting our concepts. The tree of life would emanate from the hand of Jesus if I can make that work visually.
Days 4 to 8
This was an intense period of painting where the majority of the surface was covered. I moved around the painting a lot, working from one area to the other, whilst parts of the painting were drying.
When I started to draw the main compositional elements of the work, the simple idea emanated from that of the Tree of Life:
'The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who is wise wins souls.'
'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'
'"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.'
'In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.'
'in the middle of its street On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.'
'Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.'
I then moved on to the idea of the community. 'We are all separate houses, yet together we are a community'.
The houses complete, and the shadows are believable. They nestle together in the sunshine. I could not help but create a kind of idyllic Mediterranean village, a place symbolic of peace, tranquility and welcoming embraces from the neighbours and friends. Of course, this image is very much rooted in my childhood, or rather my dream of what a beautiful, friendly idyllic place could be. All painting it is said stems from our heart, rather than from reality.
I now began work on the top right, symbolising devotion, prayer, personal contemplation, re-centering of the self.
I am often trying very hard to find new ways of telling a story and imparting a message. I wanted the fourth circular component to speak of the theme mentioned by the students, namely of the different cultures that coexist in the school. I did not, however, want to just line up some faces. I wanted to create a different way of telling that story. So I went for flower petals. You can decide how effectively this communicates the message of co-existence and of being part of the same whole.
I went back to the left side whilst I was waiting for the paint to set on the flower/rosette and incorporated some text in the ribbon that is wrapped around the tree. The words are from the Latin Mass.
I wanted the school motto to be highly visible or at the very least central to the work, so I placed a large gold ribbon behind the head of Christ, but in front of the halo. I wanted this to float in 'real space' and interact with the tree.
It remains now to scan the painting for areas that need significant work, better definition, and refinement."
Please see a selection of photos below demonstrating the journey from initial ideas to an incredible piece of art.