It’s the start of a new year and many of us have “getting fitter” on our goals list for 2023. One fine way to do this is to take the stairs. And guess what? It just happens to be National Take the Stairs Day! And when I thought about pastel paintings with stairs, the first person who came to mind is our own Advisory Board member, Michele Ashby with her intricate paintings of spiral staircases.
I love climbing spiral staircases. I also love their design. Michele is a crackerjack at painting spiral staircases and capturing their complexities. Not only are her paintings beautiful studies of this architectural structure but they are also accurate studies in linear perspective. Do you have any idea how tricky that is to do?!
So let’s have a look at her beautiful paintings of spiral staircases!
This painting was one of the first done by Michele in her series of paintings of spiral staircases. I wrote this about it on my HowToPastel blog:
First off, a difficult subject with a crazy perspective which Ashby has managed to create on paper convincingly. She carefully and lovingly rendered a single spiral staircase and then, beside it, depicted its cast shadow which together forms a kind of double helix. The intricate spaces and patterns created by the substantial yet open structure as well as the light effects it constructs are part of what makes this piece so captivating. I love the contrast between the solidity of metal reality and its ethereal echo which seems to cavort and twist. It’s a dance of two whorls, one more grounded, the other childlike and playful.
I delight that this basically monochromatic work fools us into thinking it’s black and white – we have to look closely to see the subtle changes of colour in the cast shadow, colours that run the gamut of yellows, pinks, blues, and greens. Look closer too to see beneath the helix to the wall against which this dance plays out: we see the textures and incidences of the world we live in recorded here – wires, pipes, doorbell mechanism, rust, and door frame. And then there’s the 32A at the bottom of the spiral staircase. Who lives there? Is their only entrance to their apartment this staircase? And so the story unfolds.
Here are a few more of Michele’s paintings of spiral staircases along with Michele’s own words about them.
“To date, I have painted seven pastels of this wrought iron staircase which stands proud yet quite hidden attached to an old lookout post overlooking the sea in the stunning town of Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England. My first encounter with this architectural structure was many years ago when visiting on a day trip from my previous home in Essex.
With the sun high in the sky and casting the most fascinating shadows, the illusion of an almost double helix shape was being created in front of me – what a sight to behold, I was needless to say transfixed!
Built in the 19th century, the tower served as a lookout for locals to spot ships in trouble. Later, the tower and adjoining boathouse were used for storage by fishermen and in recent years it offers gallery space and art residencies.
From the spiral staircase curving and ascending so gracefully to the myriad of subtle tones of the distortions within the shadows this beguiling place is somewhere I would come back to again and again over the years always with the hope the sun would be high in the sky allowing the poetry of shadow play to come alive.
The pattern on the treads as well as the detailed curves within the railings I find evocative of intricate broderie anglaise lace contrast so poignantly with the harsh realities of time playing out within nature on the wall itself: The peeling paint, the exposed cables, the robust weathered weeds determined to fight their way through the smallest of gaps no matter what alongside the weeping of rust from decaying fixings all so resolute in having their say.
A particularly difficult piece to paint was When all you feel are shadows turn your face to the light. It was produced in October 2019 whilst my darling mum was tragically coming to the end of her life. There was so much sadness in my life to deal with and it felt like there wasn’t anything to look forward to not being able to contemplate a life and future without this phenomenal woman. Somehow, however, I felt a sense of calm I didn’t expect and a contemplative concentration to be able to focus on this piece and the metaphors playing out in front of me.
A lady reached out wanting to know the story behind this piece after seeing it on my website last year. She said she felt a quiet strength within it and having come through her own health issues it spoke volumes to her. I’m so happy to say she is its new custodian and I’m sure my dear mum would wholeheartedly agree.
I’m extremely proud to say that all seven of my staircases have exhibited with various societies and hung on the hallowed walls of the Mall Galleries, London, and along with them a little piece of my heart.”
Thank you so much Michele for sharing your thoughts and stories about your fabulous paintings of spiral staircases and adding them our marking of this National Take the Stairs Day.
Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)
Arguably one of the most iconic paintings related to stairs, this painting by Marcel Duchamp is featured in an article by my colleague Christopher Volpe over at Inside Art. Click here to read it.
And lastly, to honour our commitment to getting fitter this year (cos you’re committing right?!), here are some very cool stairs around the world.
And that’s it for this time!