Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Bayou Sisters and Christopher Ulrich

The Bayou Sisters  2010  Oil on Canvas  24" x 36"
"The twin Bayou Sisters live in the wetlands of Northern Louisiana. The locals talk about them in whispers, and some even claim to have seen them up close, but nobody mentions them in mixed company."

I got the idea for The Bayou Sisters while I was working on The Eye of God. I was rotating the canvas in order to get a fresh perspective. As I was painting on it upside down I had the idea of a two headed creature, but in place of heads it would have vaginas, and two sets of breasts, and this creature would be masturbating with all available body parts. This was going to be swamp creature to avoid like an alligator or a loggerhead turtle. And it's scary, like it might try to get you if you came across it out in the woods.

I made some rough anatomical sketches before starting the under painting of black and white acrylic on canvas. It's a top view of the creature lying in shallow bayou water with cypress knees all around.

I began blocking in the body with oils. I wasn't sure of what else to do with it yet; how was I going to paint the fleshy folds, or the water with reflections and tadpoles and crawfish below the surface? I needed to figure out how to do all of that, so I left it for months in this state while I worked on other stuff.

Here's an example of when I'm working on an upside down painting.

When I started back on the painting I didn't like the dark background, so I painted it over with titanium white. The idea was that the creature would now be lying on a bed sheet and the sheet would have lots of creases and folds in the cloth which would create an abstract design.

The white background made the piece more about the form of the creature, and I realized I didn't really like the form. The anatomy was weird and inelegant, and the fleshy shoulders around the vaginas were hump-like and unattractive. I was imagining the vaginas as if they were "neck holes"; just a hole where the neck was. Anyway, I started playing with the anatomy...

Here I reduce a sizable portion of the bulk in the shoulder areas and make the abdomen thinner.

The breasts were making the abdomen look cluttered, so I painted them over with a large vaginal opening.

I repaint the hands as if they are caressing the space around the abdominal vagina.

At this point I decided to put the bayou water back in, so I painted the background blue with ripples and waves radiating out from the figure. I still wasn't happy with it, and I was struggling.

Christopher Ulrich  Catfish  2006

Around this time I met Christopher Ulrich. I'm a fan of his art, and I went to an art sale he was having out of his home. I ended up buying the fantastic Catfish oil painting from him. This painting is special to me because it reminds me of Louisiana where I grew up. I have it hanging in my dining room; it's four feet wide!

Christopher Ulrich's Sketch

I made the ballsy move of asking Christopher if he would have a look at a photo of my painting on my iPhone and maybe give me some advice. We are friends now, but at that time we had just recently met, and I didn't want to be a pest. Plus I could see they were busy getting ready for the sale. He was very cool about it, and he drew the sketch above. He suggested putting sphincters at the top and bottom where I had been planning to put clitori. He related the sphincters to the Milky Way galaxy, and he gave me some tips on how to paint them. He also said to paint the background with neutral grays and paint it horizontal rather than the radiating dark blue contours I currently had going on around the figures; the horizontal brush strokes would make it appear to have more depth. I took the drawing back to my studio and stared at the painting while I got my head around rearranging the anatomy; this took some time because I had become so convinced of the need for a clitoris in the painting.

I went ahead with Christopher's advice, and things started to happen. Flipping the anatomy around so that there was a sphincter at each end made the anatomy fall into place. What were shoulders before are now more like buttocks or a hybrid between the two. I painted over the background with the neutral gray (mars black and titanium white I think), making it lighter at the top and darker at the bottom. The thing is coming together now, but the belly area is unresolved which is a real problem because it's the center of the painting.

The hands in the center were a problem because they were unresolved. They were in the center of the painting and they needed to tell a story. At first I thought about how weird it might be if they were holding rosary beads which would be framing the vagina, but that was a dumbass idea. I'm not even catholic. I went through a few more ideas before coming up with the frog and mouth. It was perfect. Adding the toothy mouth and frightened frog made the creature way more sinister. It also added color accents and a focal point to the composition, and it would help set the scenery in the natural world the same way the butterflies grounded The Eye of God.

Frog and Glowmoth  2010  9"x12"
I had recently finished another painting with a frog in it.

At first I had thought about making it a baby frog, like a tadpole with legs, then maybe a young frog that had not quite lost its tail (check out the sketchbook in the lower right above). The long tail didn't look right, and I kept making it shorter and shorter until finally it was just a regular adult frog.

I modeled the teeth in the abdominal mouth after the teeth in Ulrich's Catfish painting.

The gradient neutral background looked specifically like bayou water to me- it had the same dark and still quality of the bayous in North Louisiana. I painted in the mossy cypress trees on the shoreline to complete the effect. Around this time I came up with the title The Bayou Sisters.

Here's a shot of both paintings to show the time line as I was working. When I took a break from The Eye of God I went to work on The Bayou Sisters. These two were meant to be companion pieces, so when I decided to crop one I would need to crop both. Obviously (in the photo) I cut and re-stretched The Bayou Sisters first, so take all of that nervousness I mentioned in the previous post about cropping The Eye of God and apply it here because this is when I was really nervous. I was only kind of nervous doing The Eye of God. At any rate...

I began the first of many glazings on the skin to make it textured and dark as I defined the forms.

Another shot of the two cropped paintings in progress. The idea of the Milky Way sphincter came through more obviously in The Eye of God.

Frog and abdominal mouth detail.

Christopher Ulrich, Evolution 2010
Check out Christopher Ulrich's amazing new series of oil paintings and drawings Illuminator: The Royal Wedding at La Luz de Jesus gallery August 6 - 29. The opening reception tomorrow evening!


  1. That's seriously one of the most amazing things i've ever seen. Beautiful.