Simple Things
Artists & Illustrators|November 2020
Simple Things
In the final instalment of his six-part series, JAKE SPICER explores the work of Euan Uglow and how he used careful measurements to create characterful still life
JAKE SPICER

Of the traditional genres of representational painting, still life is the one hung most heavily on the vision of the artist. A life model brings their own personality to a portrait, while shifting light and weather can provide dynamism for a landscape. In a still life painting, however, the onus is on the artist to select their objects, light them, compose them and represent them. The best still life paintings are not made by the most competent technicians, but by artists who have perceived a particular character in the objects they choose to paint.

Euan Uglow had that kind of vision. In interviews, the late artist talked about the “character” of his still life subjects – not an anthropomorphic character but a visual one that informed the idea behind a painting. In a 1976 Aquarius documentary, he spoke about two lemons he was painting: one a “dowdy” fruit, the other “bright and magic”. He would spend so long painting them that both would end up shrivelled and dull, but the idea of the essential character of those lemons remained the subject.

In this final article, I’ll be looking at how Uglow used still life to explore a visual idea, using a stringent and measured painting process to preserve an object’s character.

THE PURSUIT OF AN IDEA

A painter’s canvas represents a point of confluence between the nature of the subject, the concerns of the painter, and the paint itself, literally sitting on an easel in between artist and subject. Euan Uglow often talked about the magic moments when light, subject and idea align in a painting. While we can look at his still life as competent observational studies, they also represent the pursuit of an idea hung on the image of an object. Recurring visual concerns of colour and shape repeat throughout his work, crossing genres and subjects.

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November 2020