Planning…

The Fiddler, 2017

I like to start the year with a bit of a plan. It’s a ‘bit of’ because I’m a fiddler at heart and can’t help hopping around the studio dealing with this and that. And, as always, there are (as it is disputed that Harold Macmillan may have or not said) “events, (my) dear boy, events”. This year of course we have the on-going saga of COVID to contend with but equally smaller things come up from time to time including the possibility of invitations to participate in shows that may (or may not!) happen.

So it is that I’m currently rethinking my plan to start a series of large canvases immediately and focus instead on the third part of The Heart Of Rural England (Painting The Town Red) [scroll back to Dec 3rd and 15th entries and more] and another previously abandoned project…I arrived at Art School ‘proper’ (my Diploma course at Falmouth) in the autumn of 1970 so 71 was my first year of being a ‘proper’ tyro artist.  Reaching 70 (as I shall do this summer) brings a full fifty years of practice around.  Back in 2012 I began a series of 1 foot square canvases to represent each year of painting that – at that time – I intended to be a set of 45 to culminate on my ’official’ retirement date.  Moving studio kyboshed that and those to date in 2013 remained boxed up in my studio back at the Chapel till now.  However with the impending date of my 70th it seems a good time to push on – as Primo Levi said “if not now, when” – so the project – now titled Fifty Year Itch – is underway again with the ambition to post an image of each in turn from April 17th through to June 6th.  I thought a short commentary would be an idea for each picture so that will be posted on my blog through the same two months. Watch this space as they say.

A first one for 1970…not to be included in the final fifty…

Last Rites…

Days Like These 5, mixed media on paper, 54 x 216 cms., 2020

The year draws to a close.  2020 is getting a bit of a kicking it seems but that’s hardly fair…it never asked for the pandemic that has dominated it nor for the incompetent and dithering administration here in the UK that has made it even more damaging than it would have been otherwise (no need to worry just wash yer hands, crony track & trace/PPE fiascos, ‘eat out to spread out’ etc. etc.).  However being restricted to barracks for the most part meant (for those of us lucky to have the requisite resources on hand) work continued.  My current predominant series – the Lunar Pulls canvases and the Days Like These composite paper works are proceeding apace…and the last two completions of 2020 are here.

Honesty, acrylic on canvas, 100 x 80 cms., 2020 The text here is taken from Penelope Shuttle’s poem of the same name that can be found in her collection, The Orchard Upstairs, 1980

In the course of digging up material for a post to come in the New Year (you lucky people) I also came across an artist that has always intrigued me – Tony (Newton Haydn) Stubbing.  He appears at the very end of my copy of Herbert Read’s book that I bought for 21 shillings in 1967 and that, dog eared, mouldy, and falling to bits, is still with me today.  The marvellous blog entry above gave me more information and pointers on this artist and alerted me to the fact that the Tate own five works…I wonder when last any were on display?

You can see that he was in good company but unlike Sandra Blow, Hartung or Baziotes is pretty much forgotten today (I’m pretty sure Kotik and Gischia are also relatively unknown here in the UK by me at least…Schumacher I’ve seen very occasionally).  The reason, I’d suggest, is much to do with his life being lived mainly outside the UK (in France/Italy and then the States).  He shares this liminality with an artist I’ve previously researched and written about – the American Charles Houghton Howard – although their work is pretty much chalk and cheese.  But both I’d suggest worth another look.  In fact were I a curator with some clout I’d put the two of them together in a show – but that kind of interesting quality painting show is rarely evidenced in today’s UK art scene, not that currently we have much of one! It will get easier though and I wish you all the best for 2021.

Fish and finishing…

The Goldfish, 1912 Henri Matisse

Not one of mine sadly…but catching up on Waldy & Bendy I was disappointed to learn that this hadn’t made it into their top five fish paintings. It’s certainly in mine alongside at least one by William Scott who was also ignored in that selection. Arguably even more of a travesty given that Scott painted a hellava lot!

Two Scott fish pictures, one from 1949 (left) and t’other from 1981

But I digress…for longtime readers will know I’m not much of a finisher. However a glorious winter’s day (at last) gave me no excuse. So I was off to Melton district to polish off the photography for Painting The Town Red and so complete stage one of part three of The Heart Of Rural England. This is the crazy project to visit, document and distil the experience of each of the places featured in the handbooks of each of Leicestershire’s districts. Usually this is done in tandem with my pal Simon but COVID etc. Anyway he’s well ahead of me having already completed his Melton and is patiently awaiting me to catch up (fat chance). Still it was a very nice morning to visit such delights as Frisby On The Wreake!

Grinding fine…

Playground Of The Midlands: Barkby, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 cms. 2020

Long time observers know I work on series of pictures.  Some are relatively constrained to a few months or a year perhaps.  Not so The Heart Of Rural England.  Actually this title has only just been chosen as the first part of it started way back in the late 1990’s.  Back then I was working on a series of canvas pieces that were mounted on board and based on imagery drawn from villages nearby my home.  These were abandoned in favour of the series of canvases that became the project titled From The Earth Wealth shown at the Tarpey Gallery in 2011.  During an interview for the Leicester Mercury I jokingly suggested I might go on from that project (featuring a painting by each place featured in the district of NW Leics handbook) to make a series for each of the other districts in the county.  This lay fallow until around 2015 when myself and my pal Simon started on the documentation of the Charnwood Borough.  In turn the canvases for each place in their handbook began towards the end of the following year.

Playground Of The Midlands: Mountsorrel, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 cms. 2020

The first – Loughborough – was completed in February of 2017 (by which time the photography for the next district – Melton – was just starting) but then progress on the paintings stalled.  But though the wheels grind slow they do grind fine with the last handful of the Charnwood series (titled from a phrase in their handbook suggesting it is ‘the Playground of the Midlands’!) just drying as i write – so they should be all put to bed by year’s end.  I’ve ruefully suggested before now that with the glacial progress to date there’s a good chance the project may out live its progenitor so in order to try and forestall that I’m now pushing on. 

My intrepid conspirator Simon by a gate near Long Clawson!

This starts with reviewing the images from part three (luckily most of which are already captured) that of Melton (with yet another title from their Handbook of ‘Painting The Town Red’) and ordering the necessary canvases.  This will be followed in the new year – COVID restrictions permitting – with recommencement of the photography for part four – Harborough District – that we started on back in February of the current year but then never followed up – I cannot imagine why!

PSU Nos. 43 & 44

Painting Standing Up No. 44 Ideal Country

Sitting and waiting these two since I returned from Dorset. For what? just the final tweaks as it turned out. Sadly none of the Paintings Standing Up are going to Déda…and what’s the status of that showing of the exhibition Days Like These anyway…not sure as they (and we) are firmly mired in Tier 3. Ah well at least we got the shows title on the nail…

Painting Standing Up No. 43 Forward to Spring!

Tidy…

Whenever I am close to completing something, or when something is hard to resolve I am tempted to do some tidying. Avoidance strategy ‘par excellence‘. So find something languishing in a plan chest and dust it off, find a frame knocking about the cellar and sort it out. This one is from the 1980’s though I can’t date it for certain it’s probably 1985. It resembles another work called Landscape Incident so it finally gets a title after thirty five years!

Another Incident, Oil pastel on paper, 51 x 70 cm. 1985