I’m wondering exactly what may be the unintended consequences of working from my mashups of the photos I take in preparation for my series Playground of the Midlands. Perhaps it should have occurred to me a lot earlier. After all I started playing around with photographic source imagery back in the 1990’s! But in all honesty I’d not really thought it through much until earlier in the week. Stepping back from one of the canvases the choices of elements were shockingly clear – yes – you could see what it was! Usually my mashing up, or colour choices or plain cackhandedness takes care of any original referent.
One of my many painting heroes is Thomas Nozkowski. I like his clearheaded and unfussy approach to the business of making a picture and the plain commonsense of much he says about it. He is rightly admired for his certainty that everything he does is grounded in real world experience. You get a really honest insight into his process from these videos made by his son – here’s the other – where he expands on the idea of how the work evolves. I guess one of my reasons for liking his work is my similar idea of how to construct a picture. In a 2015 catalogue he talks of his work becoming “more open ended. That’s to say initially I prided myself on sticking close to my original source material…but I’m much more interested in all the evocations and echoes and implications…so instead of a tight little knot, I think it’s now something that’s a bit more open for interpretation”. I’m wondering whether or not I may allow some movement in the other direction – or should I – as Thomas suggests – work harder at the taking out rather than the letting in?
So that’s one conundrum going around my head (where a gummed up ear is making it a rather lonely and frustrating place right now). Another that’s been bugging me for a while is the point of all this anyway. I mean doing what I’m doing right now…’social media’ that as David Byrne recently suggested may actually do as much harm as good. After all if there’s a point to painting it has to be in substantial part the engagement with the actual object. It’s not lost on me that both the bodies of work I’m particularly focused on right now have no obvious outlets in the real world – and that is equally frustrating too. Maybe the memo to self is to start searching for opportunities to get the work out there…though after I have resolved it all!
I’m putting up six of the Playground of the Midlands canvases here…only one of which I think is quite finished (though I think two others are pretty close) because its supposed to be a painting blog. Though I don’t feel so good today so I’m doing a lot of displacement activity instead. I doubt I’m the only painter who does that. Part of the avoidance has been some clearing of shelves – I’m an inveterate hoarder so have way too much ‘stuff’ – and I came across a copy of Flash Art from Summer 1999. That led me to wondering what had happened of late to that Flash Art favourite of the 90’s – Mark Kostabi. Was Kostabi World still in action?
Paesaggio Altro Giulio Turcato 1990 Oil & Mixed Media on Canvas, 195 x 295 cm.
So to that marvellous invention for all us avoidance merchants – this Internet thingy! It appears Mark is now mainly to be found on Facebook…and that (unbeknownst to me) he did for quite a few years write a magazine column. And in the spirit of my online flaneur I came across his review of Italian painter Giulio Turcato – also previously unknown to me (and without being immodest many pals will tell you that’s quite rare…). But I’m now loving his work…so not entirely an afternoon wasted…
Giardino di Miciurin Guilio Turcato Oil on Canvas 113 x 145 cm.1953
And with him having to chosen Rome to live in for part of his time alongside his articles and cable tv show Mark has gone up a little in my estimation of him!
As one gets older you begin to realise how quickly time passes and how much things change (shades of Dylan again…). One day (and it doesn’t seem so long ago) I accompanied the sculptor Paul Mason on a trip across to Clipsham just north of Rutland Water to see him finishing off a new work in stone – Leaf Fields.
This piece had been commissioned by Hertfordshire’s RIBA branch to be sited in the county – there were (I now have discovered) three potential locations for it but the one chosen was St. Albans and, specifically, adjacent to the Alban Arena (appropriately enough designed by Sir Freddie Gibberd, a long time supporter of Paul’s work). Like so much public art its life has been marked by both love & devotion and hostility & admonishment, and often just plain neglect. Luckily for this piece it has its protectors – in particular those pictured above, foremost among them Professor Chris McIntyre of Herts University (centre in picture) who was instrumental in having it relocated a short way from its original site.
Of course the passage of time has given the creamy Clipsham limestone a deal of patina, some mosses and lichen. Whether or not this ought to be removed when it is finally re-sited (due to happen in a few years when a new City Centre Museum & Visitor Centre, – an ambitious redevelopment of the Town Hall – will be completed is a debatable point. What it does prove beyond any doubt is that a relatively short passage of time, just over thirty years, and nature reasserts its primacy over culture.
Vito’s infamous Seedbed piece from 1982
praise famous men (and women)…back in the 1970’s when I worked at the major regional gallery our Director, the amazingly independent creative thinker Hugh Stoddart, hatched an ambitious plan. We would show, over a year or so, three seminal figures in the USA’s then nascent Conceptual/Performance Art scene – Dennis Oppenheim, Chris Burden & Vito Acconci. Hugh sadly departed the Gallery (to concentrate on his own creative career as a screenwriter) before we could carry out the full plan. We did manage to invite Chris Burden to make a piece – Diamonds Are Forever – and he arrived in Birmingham replete with a diamond (alledgedly purchased en route at Covent Garden) that formed the centrepiece of an installation that comprised the diamond twinkling in the velvet blackness of the entire basement gallery (quite a large space) [see here p.21 for an illuminating if partial account of the event. And sometime later, just after I departed Ikon for the East Midlands, Denis Oppenheim arrived to install his Vibrating Forest.
Dennis Oppenheim, Vibrating Forest (From the Fireworks Series) (1982). Installation, Ikon Gallery, 2014 – reinstalled for Ikon in the 80’s show (Photo:Stuart Phipps)
But sadly the trail then went cold…for what reason I don’t know…and Vito never made it to the gallery. He recently died and this touching tribute to him seemed to me to sum up what we missed all those years ago. With Dennis & Chris having shuffled off stage a while back a generation of amazingly inventive and revolutionary artists is slipping away.
Thurcaston – Playground Of The Midlands, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 cm. 2017
People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed
So his Royal Bobness fetched up in Nottingham for the first time (I think) since 1966…opening up his set with these particularly pertinent lyrics – at least for yours truly. Maybe (mostly) its a consequence of my age but they seem to sum up our ridiculous and crazy world. How we can be sleep walking towards totalitarianism across the western world I really don’t know – just shows how seventy plus years of stability makes people (or rather a lot of them) complacent I guess. We can only hope that once things start getting seriously askew they may wake up.
And Bob has also changed everything, not least the tempo, tone and even the melodies of some of his best known songs alongside those many more recent and less well known ditties (a solid bunch off the Tempest album). But it was a decent show, house lights down on the dot of eight pm. and an hour and forty minutes of non-stop boogie, hard rock and some alarming crooning! But Bob always goes his own way and as one of these standards said ‘Why Try To Change Me Now’? So I kind of appreciate this bobbing and weaving to keep the audiences guessing.
I’m flitting between bodies of work in my painting too. As is by now well known to any followers of these ramblings I don’t do a ‘signature’ style but address each set of pictures in whatever manner seems to me to suit the occasion. Its especially messy right now. In one corner sits the canvas pieces for the Lavanderia series, in another the lumps and bumps of my Paintings Standing Up. Over on one wall another in the extending series of Very Like Jazz whilst right here is another of the twenty five or so small oils in the Charnwood series Playground Of The Midlands. Up on the balcony are the Water paintings (the second part of the Wood, Water & Rock pictures that take their cue from Schama’s Landscape & Memory). And somewhere at the back a small panel collection provisionally titled The Rigged Deck. Of course there’s also the painting of maps, the Wonky Geometries and the RagBags that just chug along forever. So who am I to call the world crazy!
on one can be a wee bit disorientating. One evening you may find yourself wandering along a track across a field in Northern France…less than a few hours since racing through the Alps (excepting the queue for the San Gotthard/Gottardo tunnel).
In his Anatomy of Melancholy Robert Burton writes that travel is one cure of it “for peregrination charmes our senses with such unspeakable and sweet variety, that some count him unhappy that never traveled, a kinde of prisoner”. Whether or not one subscribes to that rather extreme view it is undeniable that different perspectives emerge from moving about a bit. For example setting off from a small village in Pas De Calais this morning (the first round of the French Presidential Election) I was struck by the relative calm of it all. My straw poll of one elicited a response that it was “tres important” but it would have been easy to miss that fact of it at all. There was a single billboard in the town centre with a single poster for each of the eleven candidates and only one location in town where someone had fly posted three posters for Francois Asselineau (a hard line Frexiteer). Even those newspapers that I saw were treating the event with restraint, and though most TV channels at one point or another on Saturday night had coverage it certainly didn’t dominate the schedules as it does here. Indeed there isn’t a sense of hysteria but a sober responsible process at work. For what its worth though my sense of it is that Le Pen may well do better than expected in Round One and might just do enough overall to cause an upset.
She’ll certainly pick up Asselineau’s supporters with their very direct secondary slogan (above in yellow…’Frexit – Protection des Salaries’). And I guess that may well be a significant part of the reason that the Tories will romp home here with a stonking majority. I was going to follow up this observation with something incredibly rude and partisan about my fellow countrymen and women but I’ll let it be…I try not to do politics here! So instead some nice pictures of locations on our holidays instead!
Avenue de Lacs, Ardres, France
View towards Barisello, Lunigiana, Italy
Vines above Verpiana, Lunigiana, Italy
Champagne Country, France is a big open landscape!
over times long past. Many eons ago I was party to an explosion of public art across the United Kingdom…aiding and abetting a variety of schemes that, for better or worse, were intended to ‘beautify’ and ‘edify’ public enjoyment of the environment. It seems it wasn’t confined to the UK as here in the Lunigiana (wedged in the borderlands between Tuscany and Liguria in Italy) there’s a fair amount of it too. Including this rather splendid piece in Piazza Cavour in Aulla. It seems we are witness to a lively game of geometric footie…or calcio as its known here. Or perhaps, given the garb sported, a game of volleyball or some such. Whatever the occasion and the exercise there’s a deal to admire – I’m especially taken with the knees myself. It got me to thinking about who gets to make these works and who selects them…and that’s a topic on which I’ve quite a few stories from my involvement back in the UK (don’t get me started on the Shoe Last in the pedestrian precinct in Northampton…). Anyway I rather like this one though I doubt many people give it so much as a glance nowadays.
And a good holiday is an excuse to have a play about (as well as sit pondering) on projects that as yet maybe don’t make a deal of sense. I’m cutting out canvas letters to join my sewn canvas shapes using odd snippets of text that I wrote down from poems into a sketch book almost thirty years back. They are so obscure I cannot begin to recall what the texts were or why I chose them. But I did it here in Italy and I’m here again (courtesy of my chum Sue) where I’ve been shaping and sowing the canvas pieces over the past few years so there is a connection though what it is and why its significant to me I have no way of articulating as yet.
But of course time away from your usual haunts is mostly for the simple pleasures of experiencing other cultures and environments. This part of Italy is framed by the Appenines to the back of us and the Apuan Alps away to the south east, its quite rugged and hilly, and at this time of year looking its best, the blossoming of the vegetation in springtime before the more arid days of summer…though we’ve been blessed on this occasion by warm and sunny weather.