Turning to See…

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what has become of Birmingham over all the years since I walked the streets of that city.  Here’s a photo I took just below the Rotunda back in 1976 or thereabouts. I doubt you’d recognise anything in the picture including the Grade II listed structure itself – a clue the advert for Double Diamond has gone…as has the beer (actually I just checked and apparently that’s not true…its still brewed allegedly because it is Prince Philip’s favourite tipple).  Actually yesterday’s trip (another good day out with my pal Simon) took us swiftly away from this end of town to the other end of New Street. And here you don’t need to look back to the 1970’s for evidence of rapid change as even a gap of a few months reveals another story.  IMG_9492Here’s the site of the Birmingham Library…with a good view of the Birmingham Library! The site being the Central Library that opened in 1974 just after I arrived in the city as a post-graduate student…boy…that makes me feel old!  Tempus Fugit…  Luckily although the entrance faces this construction site the Museum & Art Gallery is still accessible and, as it happens, in excellent form at present. As per our usual we got stuck into the comestibles first – we have our priorities right – and the cake selection and the staff make the grand Edwardian Tea Rooms a real pleasure as well as a beautiful space (score one to Tangye brothers).  After that a stroll through the galleries is always rewarding and at present a wonderfully thoughtful and well curated show sits in the middle of the building.

‘Curation’ is a much abused and loosely used word nowadays. If it means anything in terms of contemporary art practice then it surely involves a degree of careful intellectual and emotional construction of a selection of works to create a meaningful engagement with the work.  And if you want to see how that should work out go and study John Stezaker’s Turning to See.  Any commentary from me is superfluous it simply stands on its own impeccable’ jewel-like completeness.

 

 

All my senses…

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is the first part of the title of the show I’m putting together at present.  The work that will comprise the exhibition is all painting and I imagine that, for most everyone, nails it as a bit crazy as a moniker.  After all paintings are just about seeing aren’t they?

Well not for me.  Some paintings in my head, like those I just completed for the series entitled Waldgeschichten, are all about touch and taste – they are about pushing and pulling paint about, taking a great big nag out of the pigment and chowing down on it voraciously.  But then there are paintings like these…that are part of the Cornish Coast series…where its sound that seems to be the predominant factor…and its a sound of something that has real deliberation about it.  I guess I’m thinking about Satie or Keith Jarrett playing solo and live (The Koln Concert and beyond) or, as now, Nils Frahm.  In all this music its the intervals and silences, the tiny changes wrought out of the material, and so carefully considered.    Anyway that’s how I think about these works and the way in which, operating within a much tighter formal construct, colour and surface can interact to produce something hopefully worthwhile.

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So I have ideas around sight, sound, touch and taste going on in my head…and when I work with oils (and to be strictly accurate some of my acrylic concoctions!) I suppose smell comes into it too.  So that’s how the title has arrived.

Bliss…

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Its been a good day…in fact its been pretty blissful.  The painting has gone well and as an accompaniment the fourth test has gone pretty well too.  The comparisons don’t just stop there either.  In fact at lunch we were both struggling.  But sometimes you just have to dig in, grit your teeth and keep at it.  You have to watch the good balls go by, not get frustrated and keep pushing forward and eventually you get the odd loose ball and you get your stroke right and it races to the boundary.

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I could be talking about the cricket but its been pretty much the story with the pictures today, after a slow start towards tea it started to slot into place.  So I’m now rather satisfied that I’ve got the eighteen pieces that will make up the wall of the Waldgeschichten (Forest Stories) that will be the backbone of my upcoming show at Harrington Mill (from 4th September).  Oh and England finished the day in a decent position mostly due to a stunning innings from Moeen Ali.

Just the fillip required…

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Its hardly graft but I’m finding making the second half of the Wald series rather taxing…of course sometimes one has to just keep working through it and if I was as driven as I was thirty or so years back then the whole thing might be wrapped up in a very few sessions.  As it is I keep prevaricating, then acting precipitously and screwing up, then having to rescue it, and going through the whole damn process again.  In some cases it may be just this ‘history’ that brings something to the party, in others just the opposite.  In any event I have to resolve another nine within the next three weeks or so.

But just as it was all seeming something of a chore along comes three things that add a little fillip to one’s day.  Firstly we threw a party and a friend came along with a gift of three tiny paintings that are a joy.   Secondly another friend recommended me for a quite prestigious collection.  Lastly another friend bought a picture from our local gallery. These three have raised my spirits recently at (courtesy of them) is the end of what has been a testing period for my practice.  I’m now experiencing the boost in confidence that is needed to crack this project.  They know who they are…and I want to say thanks!

Rain Stops Play…

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It was going to be a full day out on the Wolds (on The Playground Of The Midlands project), but in the event rain stopped play…not that we (my pal Simon and myself) are wimps…we can do cold, wet and miserable with the best – but nowadays we don’t have to!  So it was a waltz around Wymeswold, a  brief stroll up and down main street in Burton-on-the Wolds, ambling up and down one of Cotes’ two by roads, a momentary pause outside of Hoton and then back to Wymeswold and the welcoming embrace of The Windmill Inn just as the heavens opened.

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I’m imagining that may well do it for these four locations.  Wymeswold was a revelation, being the kind of place most of us might drive through on the main road (towards the A46 and on to Melton), where it opens up into a much more substantial village and the aforementioned pub.  Burton, Cotes and Hoton are much as one might imagine as a casual passerby.  None especially exciting either culturally or in particularly novel visual ways.  As with the previous project (From The Earth Wealth) in what may well end up being a series (of all districts of Leicestershire) I find myself falling back onto juxtapositions of fragmentary images to stimulate the canvas that will ‘represent’ the place.  As an example  above is a swift and crude example (that may or may not be used) from Cotes. And below a first stab at Burton…though I doubt I’ll use the text element.

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As for lunch we cannot recommend The Windmill enough.  The two course lunch is a good option, the pate for Simon, the Whitebait for me, followed by Beer battered Cod and Home cooked Ham, both with lovely big home cooked chips and trimmings.  But as we emerged it was hammering down.  So for the first time this year on our trips around Charnwood we abandoned our quest – just as you might expect in late July!

 

 

Tired…

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Today I got back to some serious work after quite a layoff.  And I remembered that it can be rather tiring!  In fact its a well kept secret amongst painters that the studio is rarely a relaxing environment and that, although there is a degree of sitting and pondering, mostly it is quite hard graft.  I’m now endeavouring to make solid progress on the eighteen panels that will make up the core of the forthcoming show.  Actually I have six ready to go and another fifteen in play (I can count but I like to have a few extras in the mix).

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Here’s two of those still ‘on the go’ but I fancy nearing completion.  The only distraction today has been the arrival on the scene of someone who I fancy may become my sternest critic…not least as she’s likely to be the most regular presence in the studio…so say hello to Mindy.

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But for now its time to get back on the road…Wymeswold and the other Wolds, Prest, Walton & Burton plus Hoton and just maybe Cotes…all part of the Playground Of The Midlands.

Back to business but what business?

IMG_9369It’s difficult to post whilst one is on the move…especially when staying in charming, but very rural, French hotels where the wifi is quite fugitive.  Although to be fair on this occasion of the thousand mile trek across Europe it worked pretty well and my absence online has been more a consequence of my mystery ankle injury. This has made walking quite difficult and more to the point made me tetchy and restless…and its that really has kept me away from my blog.  I seem to be on the mend at last so I’m back!

Although my mobility is still a little restricted I’m getting on with some work.  Plotting out the upcoming show at Harrington Mill ought to be taking precedence but as usual I can find plenty of other distractions to keep me from closing the deal.  Alongside the large paper works that are concerned with woodlands I have the Playground Of The Midlands project, the ongoing Rough Cartography, more of the Wonky Geometry both on board and on paper, the 50’s Jazz pictures (quite a few of which need collecting from the recent outing at the Ashbourne Festival), the Lavanderia d’Italia, my Ragbags, lots of the TFTLR constructions and some related sculptural pieces!  So hardly any wonder I struggle to focus on just one project at a time and it is hard to refute the notion that I’m always spreading my creative energies too thinly.

Like many other people in the UK I’m also totally perplexed and a little discomfited by the current political situation and tempted to give vent to my feelings here.  However so much is being said by so many about it all (and most of it opinion and speculation) that I don’t see much point in adding to it.  Nonetheless it is all adding to a terrible sense of turmoil and upheaval that certainly isn’t good for the soul.  I pondered this recently whilst viewing Out Of Order, a large solo show by Michael Landy, currently at the Museum Tinguely in Basel.  He’s an artist that I’ve rarely given any thought about…other than his famous Breakdown work (where, in case you don’t know, he destroyed all his possessions in a fortnight) and if I expected anything it was that it would be a ‘typical’ YBA stuffist show…lots of rather fey bits and bobs.  In fact it turned out to be both a thoughtful and extraordinarily intelligent show with a lot of very accomplished ideas well executed.  He had jumbled up work going back over twenty five or so years in a kind of warehouse landscape aesthetic lending a chaotic air to a body of work of real substance.  Rather like Tinguely himself Landy uses this air of entropy to disguise much deeper feelings about values and our idea of worth. I came away with a great respect for an artist that operates in a diametrically opposite location to my own preoccupations.

And having had a day of looking at what Museum Tinguely and the three locations of the Basel Kunstmuseum had to offer I came away with little else that genuinely intrigued or challenged me.  Of course there were plenty of examples of famous and not so famous works on display.  They have, for example, some extraordinarily good examples of Picasso and plenty of big, and I do mean big in the case of Frank Stella, hitters from the post war period in the US.  Maybe I’m jaded (yes let’s face it I am) but much of the ‘contemporary’ work of the past twenty or so years seems to be pale retreads of what came before. Sophisticated and polished perhaps (with the art market in mind of course) but without genuine feeling or emotion or even just that vague inchoate sense of discovery.  And this sense of unease and numbness also infects my own creative process too.

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Perhaps I just need to step away from it all.  Whilst away I took this snap of a little drawing by Phil Thompson (owned by my friend with whom we were staying). Phil was a man of few words, I knew him mostly as the fella at the end of the public bar at the Griffin, but a terrifically talented artist when he minded to work.  This tiny drawing owes a little something to the Circus pictures of Leger and others but is also quintessentially ‘Phil’.  As we are often told history is written by the winners and art history is particularly cruel in that if the work is lost and destroyed then no amount of post hoc revision rehabilitates its quality.  Over the past thirty or so years the self publicists and their pimps that have flooded the contemporary art market have ensured their initial longevity but not of course their place in the real history of art that only really forms a clear picture a century or two down the line.  However I doubt Phil has any chance of posthumous recognition beyond the memories of those who knew him but we who do will continue to derive much pleasure from his work. So we take strength from that and keep on working.

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Bialowieza – Wald, acrylic & flashe on paper, 106 x 94 cm., 2016

So I must focus pretty quickly now on this sequence of pictures that use the idea of Wood as their central theme.  For quite a few years I’ve been indebted to Simon Schama and his Landscape & Memory for some of my thinking about work.  It was especially helpful to me whilst I undertook my major project for my photography Masters back in 2010.  Now I’m back delving into section one and finding elements that resonate with the large paper panels that will be central to my installation at Harrington Mill in September. So far there are three completed, each with a quotation drawn from the text, though the images, as always with my work, are substantially intended to function away from the textual as much as hand in hand with it.  Looking forward to completing the other fifteen panels that will make up the piece.

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Greenwood Tree – Wald, acrylic & flashe on paper, 106 x 94 cm., 2016

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