Life of an Artist – Blog #5: The Surreal within Painting

surreal definition_Merriam_Webster

The Surreal within Painting

Hi there,

In this weeks blog I would like to delve into the topic of The Surreal.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what ties my art together, as I seem to have lots of different themes, styles and mediums.

I looked at all of my art subjectively and found two underlying themes, one of them is The Real, this is where I take a reference and draw or paint it as a study, to examine how to translate it into the artistic realms of paper or canvas. I love studying the subject’s shapes and hues, the lighting and shadows, to be able to grasp the characteristics and add them to my memory bank of drawings.

The second theme seems to fit quite nicely with the first, it is the act of taking the real and placing it into an unusual context, creating a dreamlike scene. This is playing with the realm of The Surreal. I think I have subconsciously been fascinated with surrealism for a very long time. It seems to sum up all of my drawings and paintings that aren’t a single study.

original oil painting - Natalie J Cheetham - Fishing for the Horizon
“Fishing for the Horizon”
Oil on Board (in progress)
-Natalie J. Cheetham-

a sense of serene confusion

This oil painting called “Fishing for the Horizon” ties my two interests together quite well. I love just choosing a photo that inspires me and then adding another subject that inspires me and somehow putting it into the composition allowing space for confusion and story telling. Why are they sharing the space together…I love the surreal and how the mystery provokes people to fill in the gaps, it sparks the imagination! Rather than me telling a story with my painting, people’s imaginations are creating the story by filling in the gaps of confusion!

The first spark of inspiration was the background landscape, which I found in a National Geographic. I think I chose it as it reminds me of a beautiful view I was able to enjoy for many years, living near Oamaru at the Oasis also known as the Arena, here in New Zealand.

I have an extreme urgency to never want to just paint another ‘boring’ landscape. At the time I was really getting into scales on reptiles and wanted to add a turtle to practice painting the scales, so that’s how that guy arrived. 😀 I felt like there was compositionally something missing on the other side, so looked through my reference book and found this photo of a man fishing. I loved the image and thought that he’d look great sitting on a deck in the field. It looked like the man was sitting on the turtles table so I extended that idea more by adding a giant bottle.

It evokes questions of why? Why is the man on a deck in the field? Why is he fishing over the horizon? Why is there a giant creature next to him, is the creature giant or is the man tiny? It looks like the creature knows that it’s being looked at. It’s looking straight at the viewer. There’s an odd sense of calm within the confusion. Even though it doesn’t make sense, it seems perfectly normal and settled! Much like life sometimes and dreams.

Natalie J Cheetham_Oil Painting_"A Head of his time"


[ suhreeuh-liz-uhm ]SHOW IPA📓 High School Level

noun (sometimes initial capital letter) a style of art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by automatism or the exploitation of chance effects, unexpected juxtapositions, etc.

This is the underlying process of many of my paintings and drawings, as I’m a very intuitive artist. I paint the things that spark joy within and create a sense of curiosity, a spark for the inner child to play with, for the imagination to run wild with. The act of painting allows me to switch off my brain and get lost in what the colours do and how they make me feel.

My partner Steve helps a lot with this process. He’ll often fill the board in with ‘noise’ a term I use for his style of applying chaos and abstraction with acrylics and charcoal. Sometimes he’ll add a vague figure like in the displayed painting. Then I’ll calm the chaos a tad with bright bold oil paints, adding more figures and whatever else may jump out at me on the journey.

“A Head of His Time”
Oil on Board – Framed
-Natalie J. Cheetham & St3-

Natalie J Cheetham_The Price of Priviledge_Oil Painting
“The Price of Privilege”
Oil & Charcoal on Canvas
-Natalie J. Cheetham-

To be honest I’m usually quite amazed by the results that come from my hands. I often wonder ‘Wow, did I do that?’ It’s like I step out of my own way, whilst painting and let someone or something else guide my hand. The whole voyage of emerging yourself in the exploration of painting without getting caught up too much in the meaning in the moment. If you let your subconscious unravel itself, the meaning of your subconscious often shines through.

It’s a very liberating form of art for me, as I’m a trained illustrator and animator, where images are meant to have a meaning and a message. There’s a lot more planning and head work involved. Painting purely for the painting’s sake gives me a perfect balance for my other passion, which is an Interactive Musi-mation called Shu’s Awakening, which is a blog for another time, and has given my brain and hands a lot to work on and chew through. Surreal painting and drawing is the perfect way to Unleash my Subconscious and pour whatever comes tumpling down the fountain of creativity, giving my brain a break.

2 thoughts on “Life of an Artist – Blog #5: The Surreal within Painting”

  1. Every time when I think, your art couldn’t possibly improve, you prove me wrong 🙂
    And I love that there are so many different styles. I think you have really discovered the real meaning of ART – to actually letting your subconscious decide what it is, that wants to come out of you.
    I know from practice, that that is a good method in psychology to allow to release the deepest secrets of the inner mind or the subconscious, where during sessions it quite often reveals the ONE thing, that caused a patient suffer sometimes for many years from certain symptoms. Once released, the mind no longer need s any physical reactions to show that there is something in need of fixing.

    I guess it would be really interesting to see, how different people experience a painting differently for themselves.
    It’s a pleasure to look at your art!

  2. Hey there! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick
    shout out and tell you I really enjoy reading your blog posts.

    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that
    deal with the same topics? Thanks a lot!

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