This series of watercolours were inspired by the experience of observing cabbage white butterflies in our garden over the summer. I’m always attracted to subject matter which presents endless compositional possibilities and as, for me, the white of the paper represented the white of the butterfly, there was the initial possibility for the butterfly to literally be anywhere in the composition. Like Michelangelo’s expression that his sculptures were already in the marble, (and that he merely revealed them), I said to myself that the butterfly was already there (in the paper). Moving too quickly for me to observe mimetically, I was more interested in the imagined fragments of their flight. These movements were similar in geometry to the angular flowers they were feeding on, which gave me a greater degree of flux with the composition and enabled me to keep the possibilities open as long as possible. A shape might at first be a wing or a flower or leaf. A line placed might be the edge of one or the other or of a negative shape and when a brushstroke went somewhere I didn’t want it to go, I saw it as an opportunity to re-think the way the composition was going.
Watercolour provided an important transparency to my decision-making and as I overlapped colours, I challenged myself not to repeat or go over past decisions but to layer new ones which would progress the image. Doing so kept the image somewhat in suspense for me, which paralleled the experience of watching the butterflies and their unpredictable journey. By contrast however, observing the butterflies could take a split second, but painting them was, at times, more like a slow game of chess.
The series consisted of around 40 paintings, of which these are just a few images. All of the paintings were square as I didn’t want to be considering any particular landscape, just a cube of space containing light and the visual vocabulary of forms from my garden.
I displayed the paintings as an irregular block in reference to the undulating flight of butterflies.