Last night I finished my newly interpreted version of Guernica, based mostly on Ron English’s ‘Grade School Guernica’ which is his response to Picasso’s original ‘Guernica’. I haven’t seen Ron English’s original painting in person, but was lucky enough to see Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia (Madrid, Spain).
I have incorporated a few of my own changes and expressions in this painting, to highlight my personal interpretation of ‘Grade School Guernica’ specifically. The version I have created is comprised of 4 x A4 panels, each using a different method of oil-paint impasto. The total size is approx 84 x 30cm.
Below are all three versions, starting with Picasso’s original, followed by Ron English’s interpretation, and finally my interpretation.
Panel 1 (far left): Here I have highlighted the terror of this scenario which shows a woman holding her dead baby in her arms and a severed head in the bottom corner, to try and capture the hysteria of the situation. The impasto medium I used in this piece was Plaster of Paris with oil paint, applied with painting knife, hog bristle brush and bamboo pen. The strokes here are applied in quite a light manner with the flat of a palette knife leading to natural spikes, thus capturing the sharp and ‘spiky’ feel of energy during times of terror.
Panel 2 (centre left): Next I have highlighted the all-seeing eye and the light. The stabbing of the all-seeing eye highlights the destruction of a society based on surveillance and the killing of ‘big brother’, which is an important aspect of my personal interpretation of both ‘Grade School Guernica’ and ‘Guernica’. The impasto medium in this panel was table salt mixed with oil paint, applied with painting knife. This created an almost fluffy textured paint with a slight crystalline sheen when shone on with a light, particularly around the eye.
Panel 3 (centre right): Here I have focused on the pilot, capturing his dead-gaze and zombie-like character, to communicate that those who support and choose to participate in war and consumerist culture are soul-less creatures. The impasto medium used here was PVA glue mixed with oil paint, applied in a drawing-like manner with a piping bag. PVA with oil paint is a pleasantly light and almost spongy texture, which dries quickly. PVA is one of my favourite mediums. This mix, with the piping bag, led to a broad, heavily lined, almost comical look… like icing on gingerbread.
Panel 4 (far right): Finally, I have highlighted the hyper-sexualised nature of consumerist society, and how to only way to end it is to burn it down (literally or metaphorically). The impasto medium used was melted candle wax mixed into oil paint, applied with painting knife. The mix had to be continuously worked, as it tended to harden as the wax cooled. While it was a stiff mix generally, it was not unpleasant to work with while provided the wax was kept soft through constant working.
The overall message I wanted to communicate through these panels was the destructive nature of capitalism and this society based on extreme levels of surveillance and consumerism. America here has been used since America is the biggest and most powerful capitalist society currently. The war being communicated here is not necessarily the wars of countries invading other countries although it does also refer to that, but refers rather the pilots and champions of a highly consumerist and hyper-sexualised, impulsive society which citizens are forced to take part in. The overall message here is that capitalist society based on the ‘everything must be disposable’ notion and dominance of global corporations has gotten out of hand, and is starting to reveal itself as a completely unsustainable lifestyle that is killing us… and for these reasons needs to be stopped.
Through painting this, I realised it is not until you actually start to consciously copy another painting that you truly observe or begin to understand that painting or the technique used on it. Same in nature, you never truly observe on object or scene until you sit down and start to draw it – this has always been my argument for sketching as opposed to photography (although I do appreciate now that fine photography also requires a keen eye). This is because it is only when you are in the process of painting/drawing that you see every minute detail of the painting, object or scene, details that you would otherwise skip over if just looking at it.
Although planning, experimentation and preparation are very important for pulling the strategy and basic ideas for executing a painting together, I also came to believe during this process that it is impossible to plan for everything and that spontaneity must happen on the canvas or the paper. Spontaneity must be allowed to happen simply because it is impossible to see and understand everything a painting/drawing has to say until you start creating it, and when you start doing it is the only time when the ideas can be refined.
Ayla Pentikainen, ‘Impasto version of Grade School Guernica by Ron English’. 2014. Oil paint, plaster, salt, PVA and candle wax on cardboard. 4 x A4 panels. License: Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Ron English, ‘Grade School Guernica’. 2006. 27? x 12?. Station Museum, Houston, Texas. Image accessed 13 April 2014, http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-9CjDqyQNqwo/Tf0KrIUs5EI/AAAAAAAANqk/zXn5dZNVhOY/s1600/Ron-English-Guernica-Go-Rou.jpg
Pablo Picasso, ‘Guernica’. 1937. 25.5? x 11.45?. Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain. Image accessed 13 April 2014, http://www.oneonta.edu/faculty/farberas/arth/Images/110images/sl24_images/guernica_details/guernica_all.jpg