My Rough Cartography series is such a long standing practice that it seems now just habitual. Wherever and whenever I’m somewhere away from home I pick up those freebie tourist maps and once back in the studio they are pasted into one of the sketch books. Over time…lots of it!…they are gradually painted in. Why I do it I’m not at all sure but the letter below maybe gives some kind of clue to it.
Dear old friend,
Today you would have reached pensionable age but, as things go, sadly you’re not here to celebrate. Later I will raise a silent glass for you. I remember back when we were still youngish men sitting and discussing making work, why we do it and what it means. You asked me about my peculiar habit of keeping scraps of maps in my sketchbooks and colouring them in…and us both laughing at my complete inability to explain any purpose behind it. Well I think I may be on my way to understanding now. Not bad eh, its only been thirty plus several years after all!
Its something (if I understand it properly) contained within an essay in the catalogue for Contemporary Masters From Britain – a show of 80 paintings touring China from the Priseman-Seabrook Collection. Dr. Judith Tucker suggests that painting retains a capacity to capture our attention precisely because of its materiality; its “sensuous, viscous quality” as she puts it. This is coupled in the essay with a notion of painting as “quasi-subject”; a site in which bodily experience of the artist in making the work is somehow a residue within this materiality. I think it may be at the very least something to do with these ideas that keep me, all these years later, fiddling with those damn maps.
I’m also dwelling on the good fortune that allows me to keep working and how, over time, opportunities present themselves through a myriad of circumstances. It’s in my mind because of the show just mentioned. Its been through recommendation (and I owe thanks to the talented Terry Greene for that) that I’m part of this exhibition. Other possibilities open up and suggest themselves too. I suspect that over the past decade or so you would have cemented your reputation not least because of the way in which your last works were opening up new avenues and directions. Amongst the many things I miss is the opportunity to have argued and wrestled with these ideas and outcomes that never happened.
With affection and remembrance,
More information on Paul Mason can be found on my blog on him here.
Contemporary Masters From Britain is available through Amazon. The show opens at the Yantai Art Museum on 7th July 2017 and runs till 3rd August before moving to Nanjing.
Terry Greene’s blog is a must for all contemporary painters!
Over the past few days I’ve been mostly working on a geo painting that is (for now) a rather messy complex arrangements of bright colour. Although last Friday’s enjoyable outing to The Crypt for Colour: A Kind Of Bliss focusses on that very subject it is sometimes just as joyful and contented to strip it away so thats the way Wonky Geometry No. 25 is staying…
I’ve written before about making fresh discoveries in painting even when one prides oneself on being pretty clued up. Today on my birthday I received from my wife a copy of Red by Michel Pastoureau (actually I was lucky enough to get his Black too, from my mother-in-law) and am really looking forward to properly tucking into it. But a first flick through the very good quality reproductions (as always with Princeton University publications) revealed La Chambre Rouge from 1898 by the Nabi artist Félix Vallatton.
Now although I’m aware of his existence I know very little about Vallatton and have seen even less…there doesn’t seem to be a lot of work about in easily accessible locations (certainly in the UK). But this picture was a revelation. One of our favourite paintings is The Red Studio by Matisse (on show at MOMA) that we’ve been fortunate to spend time with on two occasions and it truly is an astonishing and remarkable picture – a game changer in so many ways. But this Vallatton, to me at least, underlines the old maxim that nuttin’ comes from nuttin’, that everything has antecedents and that as Picasso said “good artists borrow, great artists steal” (and of course others have suggested that he nicked that one…possibly from T.S.Eliot). La Chamber Rouge of course doesn’t go all the way that Matisse did but then again it was painted in 1898 when young Henri was still wrestling with divisionism and some twelve years before The Red Studio and it has an extraordinary way of pre figuring the flatness of the latter painting although staying firmly rooted in a form of realism. It too, of course, picks up on other innovations…the mirror punctuates the picture plain in a way reminiscent of a reversal of The Bar at the Folies Bergère and even the figures in the doorway have a kind of reference back to Vermeer in my mind. In any event I now have a voracious appetite for both the books and for more of Vallatton’s work.
Wonky Geometry No. 24, Acrylic & oil on paper, 27 cm. square, June 2017
I can’t abide waste with materials…so I’m an inveterate hoarder. Several of my ‘projects’ are the consequence of this compulsion. The Waldgeschitchen series began by raiding my box of failed paintings on paper and pasting bits onto fresh paper, the Lavanderia idea utilises canvas offcuts and the Tales From The Lumber Room recycles all manner of wood bits and bobs (both of these still in process right now). But the sheer volume of failed paper pieces some time back forced me into drastic action. I had acquired four rather lovely boxes some 27 cm. square and began to trim and re assemble pieces with an ambition to fill them with a new series of small works. This increasing avalanche has the title of Wonky Geometry and they sit somewhere between the more straitjacketed Geometry paintings (some of which can still be seen at The Crypt in St. Marylebone Church until 30th June) and my Very Like Jazz works (and the Winter Cycle that preceded them). And the voluminous quantity liberates them a good deal. I’ve tried not to be precious or hidebound with them…I’ve even co-opted some of the existing imagery, not only my own but occasionally that of my children and others. Whether there is any genuine quality alongside their undoubted quantity – well theres the rub as William had Hamlet remark.
Wonky Geometry No. 16, ink & acrylic on paper, 27 cm. square, May 2017
Of the show in Marylebone its worth reminding that there is a discussion this coming Friday week (9th June) at 3pm. If nothing else its an opportunity to chat with several of the exhibitors including myself and the show’s curators Lucy Cox & Freya Purdue.
detail, Six Miles High, 72 x 48 cm., Acrylic on aluminium, 2017
And another shameless plug – one of the Geo series Six Miles High – is featured on the Auction blog set up by the artist Andrew Bracey. He has assembled quite a cast list for this charity event inspired by the death of his father last year and in support of Liverpool Heart & Chest Hospital. A really worthwhile cause and the opportunity to pick up a work by some great artists at bargain prices.
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.