Finding solace and joy in Surreal Fashion

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As I wrote in my recent post, experiencing adversity has a way of intensifying the flavour of your pleasures, like a sip of water in a drought. I have continued to learn just how powerful are those engrossed moments of creating, to continue bringing pleasure even in hard times. But also, that those moments are not just nice, but necessary to an artist’s vision. Art is not about saying ‘have I done this right?’ but fuelling the conviction an artist has to put out their work to the world with confidence as fiery as a chilli and yet cool as a cucumber. Case in point, the making of Madame Menagerie, above.

“Stop worrying about what you can "lose” or how you can “win” and just follow your joy. Where does your joy say you should go?“ – Neale Donald Walsh

I made this image with pure joy. I forgot about fashion, I even forgot about fine art, even though I wanted to make a fine new piece of saleable art. Lately I have decided to pursue technical excellence more than ever, but this picture taught me (or reminded me) that soul matters more than anything. So, I followed my joy.

I followed a curious synergy between the 17th-century painter’s green parrot and the model, Kimberley Davis. Both green and red and beady-eyed, I felt they are kindred spirits, coming together at home amidst opulent furnishings of Greystone Court, New York, the modern fairytale castle where this was shot. (I stumbled across the stunning rare-looking Kimberley on Model Mayhem at the beginning of the year and snapped her up…)

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At the same time a pair of monkeys with a carpet, from the same painting by Hondecoeter fell into place like milk into tea. Perfectly in scamper pose across a table in the frame, spliced across the book ‘Genius’ by Harold Bloom, and brought to mischievous life with an embellished ignition of the candle.

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When I thought I was finished, Matt suggests the icing on the cake: a snake, to be wrapped round the undulating bedpost. I sought the python from Evelyn de Morgan’s Cadmus & Harmonia, 1877, and suddenly I didn’t know which was my favourite part of the image anymore.

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Those moments of infusion were the fuel to the fire of completing the whole picture. There were times I went down a too-long-logical-road, had to shun my logical left brain and scrub the layers back down to the basics of what drew me to this image to start with, following the spark that made me initially curious in the synergy of the woman and the green parrot. I got great happiness from just thinking about the picture, in the middle of some difficult or testing event of a day my heart beat in anticipation of coming back to the editing and lose myself in nursing and coaxing the brushstrokes of a 300-year old painting around the canvas of my computer screen. I am reminded what it is to create true art. When you believe in the vision so much (whatever that may be) and the resultant feeling of not caring if anyone might not like your work.

The sweet spot is when people do.

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Girl in a Golden Geyser shot during a workshop for Nikon on my birthday in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in July. Not fused with paintings but shot in an amazing painted room in the historic ‘Hindiyan’s House’

So as much as I follow my joy and soul, I am also focused on making my work better. For large scale works, especially portraits of people, good lighting is needed so I’m shooting almost always with flash. Experimenting more with moulding light with gels, filters, strip softboxes and an army of constant lights (thanks to Lupolux we now have enough for a movie set). As I write this, Matthew is in the garden putting eyelets in huge spread sheets of ripstop he bought to create ethereal Tim Walker lighting on our shoot at the end of the month at the splendiferous Chateau de Challain.

I am taking more care in my Photoshop process, being more discriminating with the choice of images I use for compositing, and I am now devoting more time to studying art history and researching paintings. I have sold more prints in the past year from Surreal Fashion than I’ve ever sold before, and there’s also something else exciting in the pipeline next year for the SF series. All those things I always wished I would change, I am changing. I’m facing all those anxieties head on, and a tide is turning toward really being the artist I want to be.

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I am looking to the artists/photographers I most admire to adjust my lifestyle and workspace to improving the finesse of new Surreal Fashion works, trying to use internet time more productively and either delegating or sacrificing the other stuff that doesn’t contribute to that pursuit. In other words, I am empowering my left brain to get everything ready for right-brained moments, the preparation for the birth of optimum creativity.

The best is yet to come. 

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Credits for Madame Menagerie: Model: Kimberley Davis / Stylist & dress: Leonid Gurevich / Hair: Takayoshi Tsukisawa / Makeup: Maraz using Makeup Forever / Necklace: Clara Kasavina / Bracelets & rings, all: GBGH Jewellery / Stylist assistants: Janna & Jenneka Temkins / My assistant: Maciej Jaworski & Greg Annandale / Shot at Greystone Court, New York / Shot with Nikon D800E

Painting: Menagerie by Melchior d’Hondecoeter, 1690. Cadmus & Harmonia by Evelyn de Morgan, 1877.

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Credits for Girl in a Golden Geyser: Model: Eva Valeva / Designer: Agnieszka Osipa /  Stylist: Dmitri Ivanova / Hair & makeup: Daniela Avramova / Production: Miss Aniela & Profiled; Nikon Bulgaria / Lit with Priolite / Shot at Hindiyan’s House, Plovdiv / Shot with Nikon D810

Fused with geyser shot in Iceland.

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