Where You Been?

Away from the actual painting for quite a while it’s good to get back to it.  An old colleague (and staff member) of mine once mildly rebuked me for chuntering on about the time they were spending away from the teaching saying “to be a good artist you have to put in the hours” and he’s right of course.  Leaving aside all the high fallutin’ nonsense we all spout about making work that has something to say, it is just plain laborious some of, if not most of, the time.  Imagine then how much tougher an activity like painting must be if sight fails you?  More of that in a moment.

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But it’s also important to see work and to reflect on one’s practice away from it – and to recharge the batteries in congenial surroundings.  These come along in many forms.  So it was rather excellent that my absence from this blog has been occasioned by just such variety.  Firstly an old pal of mine came up from London to spend a few days with us.  We hightailed it straight from the rail station to Lakeside in Nottingham to take in the Ivon Hitchens show, beautifully curated by Anne Goodchild and mounted by Neil Walker.  Hitchens late works in particular a bit of a revelation – their wonderful colour singing out in what is our region’s best gallery. 

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Day two we were off to Birmingham to view the John Walker exhibition at the Ikon Gallery.  We studied together at Brum, not long after Walker had left the city, his work having left an indelible mark on the art scene there, so not only had we gone to view the show but also to take a trip down memory lane looking over at a studio we had rented on Broad Street, then a pigeon shit invested loft – now an upmarket Indian restaurant.  John is a proper painter’s painter and so any show he mounts starts from a high water mark – however this was a tad of a let down.  For starters it consisted of just the upper gallery spaces and John’s work needs space – lots of it.  Although most of the 8 x 6 ft.(ish) canvases sat comfortably enough the two real biggies (at least 8 by 12 feet if not more) were lacking room.  And for another matter these two biggest works seemed to be pushing for that easy elegance that the late paper cutouts of Matisse have.  Gone was the hard won push and pull of paint that characterise most Walker canvasses replaced by thinner washes and canvas collage, not to my eyes entirely successfully.  Overall the body of paintings riffed off a variety of Walker tropes (the truncated lozenges harking back to the early 1970’s), an over reliance on stripes and the grid and the suggested references to the Maine coastline hard to see? 

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Paintings by Sargy Mann at the Attenborough

Day three took us to the Attenborough in Leicester.  Although my colleague Stuart knew of him I’d only the sketchiest knowledge of Sargy Mann (gathered from a recollection of his involvement with a Bonnard show years back).  But the substantial exhibition that Attenborough had mounted was a tour de force.  Both as an example of how to celebrate a career (something the Ikon show signally failed to do for John Walker) and give the artist a proper outing but also for the quality of what was on show. as if that were not enough Sargy progressively lost his sight over his career so that the last canvasses were made – well from what? – not simply memory but knowledge and experience and a heightened awareness of other senses.  Sadly the show is now ended but you can get an idea of the late works from this Youtube video.  We topped off a great trip with a brief outing to the Tarpey Gallery where the latest crop of gallery artists showing included favourites such as Richard Perry, Jackie Berridge & the Richard’s Devereux & Thornton too.

Secondly news reached me of work ‘on the road’ again.  Opportunities to have works seen in public are thin on the ground nowadays so always welcome.  And so another outing for the estimable Andrew Bracey’s Enough Is Definitely Enough exhibition where a small and modest offering from me is part of the mix.  Andrew is boundless in his energy and he’s produced a rather nifty gif to accompany this outing that I’m happy to reproduce here.

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Thirdly another very dear pal of mine issued an invitation to me and my wife to accompany him and his partner to their Civil Partnership signing, and to a very grand and indulgent ‘Partnership breakfast’ shall we call it that?  stretching over lunch, dinner and overnight stay at the wonderful Lympstone Manor.  Although very upmarket (Michelin Star) it was a wonderfully relaxed and inspiring location: a Georgian mansion overlooking a vineyard sloping down to the Exe estuary.  And although the art  was variable, quite a lot of it was very accomplished and some rather provoking for such a location.  We were very privileged to be able to share the occasion with our friends and it was an experience that will live long in the memory (and I dare say feed into the work in some way).

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The view to the Exe – foreground sculpture by Louise Short

Next up out of the blue a few weeks back I received an email from a painter for whose work I have the highest regard.  Now resident in the Far East Laurence Wood wanted to send me a copy of his recent catalogue of paintings made over the past six or so years since his move to Hong Kong. 

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I have a small painting of Laurence’s, an oil on board, made during his brief time in Leicester.  It was obvious to me then that here was a fine painter (and printmaker) in the making and though I haven’t had the opportunity to see his recent paintings in the flesh it seems that after all these years I wasn’t wrong.

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Shadow puppets in my houseplants, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm., 2019  Laurence Wood

And finally I took the opportunity of a trip down to Swindon Museum (to present a talk on the work of the painter Charles Howard of which more in my next post) to visit Avebury, a site I last took a look around sometime in the 1970’s!  I got lucky for in the midst of this soggy winter I chose a day of bright sunshine to revisit this wonderful place.

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So by way of explanation for my lengthy absence that’s been what’s been happening.  I’m back at it now.  Nothing completed yet bar this addition to Box Three of Wonky Geometry but three or four new pictures that should be up on here soon!

2 thoughts on “Where You Been?

  1. Breaks from painting are not to be underestimated. Setting the mucky brush aside, even for a short period of time, to investigate another medium or process (including writing) sustains my painting practice. Gallery indulgence is another option of course, as featured here.

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