Out & About

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It was a busy Friday evening…first the Lakeside for the opening of the Victor Pasmore show – and also my friend Richard Perry‘s excellent work in the Angear space.  I’ll be reviewing the Pasmore later but suffice to say it’s very much up to the impeccable standards we’ve come to expect there.  Richard’s show I’ve already written about here.

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Work by Rachael Pinks, small panel piece behind by Clay Smith

So then onto Salon 9 where the energetic and talented Rachael Pinks (aided and abetted by the equally so, Clay Smith) have assembled a significant cast list for another of their highly enjoyable weekend shows. Sadly you’ve now missed it but (and I say this with due humility given I was represented there) it was full of terrific stuff.

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Paintings by Stephen Snoddy

I’m picking out Stephen Snoddy‘s beautifully crafted small colour panels not only because they were new to me in the flesh (I’d only seen images on screen previously) but also in solidarity with the travails he’s currently suffering as Director of Walsall’s New Art Gallery.  It is seriously under threat from the current round of local authority cuts – a bizarre and nonsensical manoeuvre – given the international significance of its collection.  I first visited in in the latter part of the 1970’s…when it was housed in the old Museum & Art Gallery.  It became something of a beacon of accessible and important works to admire at close hand and is all the more so now housed in its magnificent and award winning premises and the additions of the Beardsmore collection and the excellent temporary exhibitions programme.  If you haven’t be quick about adding your voice to those who have already cried foul!

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A prized possession…the early leaflet for the collection

Amongst the other works were strong offerings from Rachael herself, from the always immaculate Peter Cartwright & David Ainley as well as Geoff Machin, myself and Clay, whose small inscribed plaster panels showed a lovely sensibility in what is a new direction for him.

 

 

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Work by Clay Smith

More on the New York School…

 

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Mark Rothko, Number 10, 1950

Following on from my last but one post Matthew Morrison Macaulay asks where did you first see an abstract expressionist’s painting, and what was your impressions of the photography that came from America of the artists studios or the artists at work in their studios?  First I want to be ‘picky’ (probably the weather…) but I don’t like the term really and much prefer ‘the New York School’ (though of course that has as many contradictions too).

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Matthew in his studio…

Goodness its a hard question. I do recall going to the Tate in 1969 (aged 17) to see the Art of the Real…by this time my wonderful art teacher the late Peter Thursby had introduced us by way of his personal copies of Studio International and Artforum (that with typical generosity circulated freely around the classroom) to artists such as O’Keefe, Kelly & Louis but it was the more minimalist works that had been included in this exhibition that really challenged me.  The Stella’s, in particular Turkish Mambo a good example of the ‘black’ period and Six Mile Bottom, of the following metallics, were a knock out and had a profound influence on what I decided right then would be my touchstones once I got to college). In my head I think there were one or two more ‘black’ paintings in the show (I have an image of three of them in a row in mind) but the catalogue (link above) of the original MOMA show suggests not. And on that visit the Tate had recently acquired the first of the Seagram mural pictures but I suspect that, with Norman Reid in the process of sending the maquette of the room hang for the lot (probably around the time of my visit!) to Rothko, the ‘Rothko Room’ was not yet a reality. But that show did have a Rothko (see above), a Still, Reinhardt and a couple Newman’s in it…so they likely were my first encounters.

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Frank Stella, Six Mile Bottom

A year later I’m back in London first at the ICA for When Attitudes Become Form – an even more challenging show for an art student about to embark on their Diploma studies (about which I may write in future and glory be the whole catalogue is available here). And I think the Rothko room had been installed by then at the Tate?  I do know that the following year they did a sensational Barnett Newman show. That catalogue contains some lovely ‘Barney in his studio’ shots but by then one of my prize possessions was a Reinhardt catalogue with those absolutely amazing photos of his NYC studio – pictures that cemented my idea of being the heroic New York loft artist as the pinnacle of desire!

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Ad in the studio…pretty decent view from the window!

 

What?!

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Another fine mess…

I might have posted something about Jazz…

Do I like jazz? says my friend Paul repeating my question to him. Then being the kind of thoughtful and reflective character he is he responds by mail a few days later…

Or then again I might have tackled this topic…

Following on from my last post Matthew Morrison Macaulay asks where did you first see an abstract expressionist’s painting, and what was your impressions of the photography that came from America of the artists studios or the artists at work in their studios?

But my heart isn’t in it today. It’s hard to believe ‘the Donald’ got over the line. I did predict it but I was hoping I would be wrong. I do feel for pretty much every American I’ve ever met…certainly here in the UK – after all they are all highly intelligent, educated internationalists who definitely wouldn’t countenance voting for a man who cannot even uphold common decency and has what my dear old mum called a ‘potty mouth’ even before we get to the madcap nonsense that passes for ‘policies’.  And I feel sorry for just about every American I’ve met on my visits to New York who, the polls suggest, turned out pretty solidly for Clinton despite not having a great deal of enthusiasm for her candidacy. But as the truism goes we are where we are.

One can only hope that the ‘checks and balances’ of the American system kick in. It’s an irony that it may be President Trump that keeps the GOP in check and that the GOP balances out President Trump’s wilder ideas. It’s not beyond imagining. After all Trump isn’t really a Republican by inclination, and there are plenty of Republicans who will find some of the Donald’s ideas hard to stomach too. Well its a theory!

Much harder to feel upbeat about is the emboldening of the ‘rabid mob’ element at what is (hopefully) the margins of this ‘movement’. In the same way as the immediate consequences of ‘Brexit’ included some very unsavoury goings on here the same may be in store for the USA. Lets hope that there’s some rowing back on the rhetoric and some swift action by the authorities to stem the uglier elements that such fervour induces. At least the victor’s initial words seemed to suggest that maybe he can grasp this though his track record on ‘vengeance’ isn’t exactly encouraging.

Enough about politics…I’ll be talking painting again the next time…as they say Stateside…have a nice day!

The ‘Hoff’

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Hans Hoffman – Memoria In Aeternum, 1962 Oil on canvas, 7 x 6 ft.

It occurred to me a few days back that although I own a good many painter’s monographs I hadn’t acquired one on Hans Hoffman. It seemed an important omission; not least as the college copy of the big Sam Hunter Abrams book was a constant companion during my undergraduate days. As usual Abe books obliged, sadly not the Abrams but a rather good, almost new, copy of the Hudson Hills book that followed on from two shows in Germany in 1997.

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Furioso, 1963

This has also the virtue of containing a good few plates of those canvases completed in 1964/5 the paintings to his first wife Miz and the Renate pictures following his marriage to her following Miz’ death. We talk often of the ‘late’ paintings of artists and this can mean just about anything in most cases…after all Franz Marc reached only 36. But it is extraordinary in Hoffman’s case.

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Lonely Journey, 1965

After all the ‘mature’ work (on which the significant part of his reputation rests begins in around 1956/7…when he was already 76 years old…so these final two years of canvases, of which there are many and amongst his largest, are the work of a man well into his eighties. Like Picasso and Matisse a truly ‘late’ explosion of further restless creativity – hope for us all then. Why does his work appeal to me so much…no artifice, no slickness I guess. A lot (and I do mean a lot) of contemporary painting (indeed most contemporary art of whatever stripe) looks to me to be trying a bit too hard to be ‘clever’ in some way. Either conceptually or in handling and facture and so on. The ‘Hoff’ had no time for this at all. He painted directly and spontaneously and wasn’t afraid to reveal himself through the work. I like that very much indeed!

 

Eccentricity…

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It’s the last trip for the Playground of the Midlands project that started the day in Syston before moving onto Seagrave and lastly Walton on the Wolds (though my estimable partner in crime ducked out of this one).  Some might think that we were fairly eccentric in this endeavour though it doesn’t seem to have caused too many raised eyebrows as we, two loud, large, late middle aged, men with cameras, cruised about the Charnwood borough (other than crashing the Thurmaston Parish Church Coffee morning a couple weeks back).

Anyway we are done now.  And of course there have been several of these signs dotted about the borough.  They have a certain charm and usually feature fairly bland and obvious imagery as above…but hang on a minute…whats that chap doing on the right hand panel above?

I think we should be told…why its Montague ‘Bertie’ Bird.  The sometime Vicar of the parish who around the turn of the twentieth century developed (excuse the pun) a passion for photography and…a habit of doctoring his images!  Well that is eccentric!

Life on the beach…

img_0947Somehow I have conspired to spend most of my adult life living as far from the coast as it is possible to get on this relatively small island. Of course because of this it isn’t actually that far away…but you know how it is with all that ‘stuff’ in the way. Nowadays we have enough space in our lives to get to the coast more regularly and its just about the most blissful thing I can think of. We’ve just been to Pembrokeshire and because it is less known to me all the more rewarding. I’d been once before but all too briefly and this time around, although it was all too short a visit we had the good sense to stay in one location and at least explore that space.

img_9858How these experiences feed into my painting practice I’ve no real idea, and I’m not sure I want to. But what I do know is my times away in these locations certainly do inform my thinking about my practice whether or not I have the intellectual or emotional capacity to understand why or how.

Water Ways…and Ice Cream Cones

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Cone for St. Ives No.1

Having completed a suite of paintings loosely related to section one of Landscape & Memory it struck me in conversation at the opening at Harrington Mill that I could, indeed should, proceed to section two on Water. And, I guess that means I’ll now have to undertake Rock, the third section of this fascinating book. I’d previously read the Wood section during my Masters study at De Montfort University but never, until now, got around to the rest of the book. So far the Water section has focussed exclusively on the great rivers and aspects of them. I don’t know why but I’d imagined maybe it would have been Coasts and Lakes…perhaps they’ll come later (though I’m well into this part of the book now).

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No. 2

Of course there is a temptation to think in terms of maps again and as one observer of the first part of the project noted recently thats never too far from my thinking. There are other equally obvious image tropes such as bridges and boats and then there is the disturbances of the weather on the surface and how these may affect the rhythms of the brush. I’m open to any and all of these but as I often stress there is no conscious connections between the individual pictures and any one or all of the above. Far more important is the spontaneous reactions to the basic collaged forms that I use as the starting point.

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No. 3

In Wood these initial pieces were arranged around the perimeter of the papers with a crude and simple idea of woodland hemming one in. In Water I’ve laid the pieces out along an imaginary upright central spine so the flow proceeds up and down disturbed by these casually placed torn pieces.

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No. 4

The pieces come from my once substantial stock of failed works on paper. When I started there was quite a big box of them…but over the course of the Water series this is substantially reduced! I’ve had to go back through the various plan chests and purloin more pieces that never really worked out (though some I’m now documenting before tearing them up). This isn’t too difficult as all the drawers in all five chests are stuffed to the gunnels and I’m pretty hot at generating failure!

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No. 5

It also has other benefits too. Like most people as I get older I’m thinking to rationalise my lifetimes stuff. A friend has just written eloquently about this very topic. So going back over the work amassed during nearly fifty years of creative endeavour is both cathartic and practically useful. And also interesting to me in terms of the drivers behind that practice. I find myself coming back to some of those old works and thinking there may be aspects that I can still use now. I’m thinking that over the next couple months maybe I’ll post a few here with thoughts about their validity or otherwise.

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No. 6

In fact I’ll start now…this is a group eight drawings I made in a studio over a garage in St. Ives. We’d driven over seven hundred miles in a day to get there…and meet up with my pal, the sculptor Paul Mason. He had been given the studio to accompany a residency in Barbara Hepworth’s studio attached to Tate St. Ives. It must have been in the mid 1990’s. Together we worked in the studio for a couple days.

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No. 7

Wishing to avoid the whole Cornish landscape thing I produced these eight working off the pretty basic idea of the ice cream cone – my two very small sons were pretty obsessed with them alongside their passion for surfing. I’d stored them away and forgotten them as at the time they didn’t exactly ‘fit’ with my work at the time. Now, besides thinking they have some nostalgic value, I’m not sure they are amongst the ones I’ll tear up.

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No. 8