Paula MacArthur is a painter who primarily works with oil paint. She exhibits nationally and internationally and currently works from her studio in Rye, East Sussex, UK. MacArthur had a very traditional art education which included life drawing, paint chemistry and anatomy at the Royal Academy Schools in London. She was a prizewinner at John Moore’s Painting Prize 18 and, as a student, won first prize at the NPG Portrait Award.
Since, her focus has turned from figure painting to memento-mori still life and the current focus of MacArthur’s work is crystals and jewels. These are explorations of colour and light, a contemporary response to Dutch 17th century Pronkstilleven painting - ostentatious still life. Solitary, precious stones are captured in the spotlight, displayed as icons which lure us in and quietly invite us to investigate the multifaceted associations we bring to these treasures.
Back in 2018, inspired by some of Willem de Kooning’s oil paint/kerosene/water ‘blubbery’ paint mixtures, I was trying to find a method of slowing down the drying times of oils so I’m very surprised to find myself now experimenting with and writing about Liquin.
A painter friend, Graham Crowley, had suggested I give it a try several times, but it was only when my studio was closed during the first lockdown that I bought some to experiment with. The change of circumstances meant I was working on a much smaller scale and it simply wasn’t practical to have lots of wet paintings laying around in the living room. I’d never really worked on canvases this small before (30 x 30 cms) and to ease myself in gently, I decided to return to the familiar territory of my ‘Jewel’ series. I soon found that it was a great way to test ideas which may never have seen the light of day and soon I was again, like a magpie, completely mesmerised by all the jewels and crystals I found in my archive of photos.
Looking back on it now, this brought a new excitement to old ideas and reignited my interest, fast forwarding the development and helped me to resolve some issues that had been on my mind for a long, long time. I’d always known that I’d come back to the jewel paintings, I’d just been distracted by other shiny objects and this helped me to find a way back in.
I had much less ground to cover on these small canvases and so extending the drying time was no longer crucial. Liquin speeds up the drying time but, with the addition of a little solvent, even in the hot summer the paint was still wet for long enough for me to move the paint around, work wet on wet and wipe away highlights before becoming touch dry and ready for the next layer of glaze.
This process of layering glazes is akin to printmaking, I start with a wash of colour over a white ground and draw into the wet paint, wiping away to reveal the white highlights, subsequent coloured glazes are mixed in response to the base colour; glazing Bright Red over Indian Yellow gives a bright orange, Quinacridone Magenta over an Indian Yellow gives red etc. The intensity of Winsor & Newton Artists' Colour remained strong as usual but the addition of Liquin gives it a wonderful glassiness, which works beautifully as a single bright layer as well as when glazing, perfect for describing the reflecting, refracting transparent layers in the jewels.
Since those first experiments, I’m back in the studio. I’ve continued using Liquin on larger canvases and am returning to a more painterly way of working. The collective anxiety caused by Covid seemed to impact my work, making my process much more precise and careful, but now I’m back to working more gesturally, with larger brushes, the addition of Liquin Original gives more body to the paint which flows beautifully on the surface, it’s very seductive stuff.