Painting in Schaldewage

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Our Studio Open Day…painting by Sarah R. Key (left) two of mine on the right

Imagine its around 1420 and a ship is sailing north, away from the leading Hanseatic League port of Bergen, having left Bremen or Hamburg some time ago, and making for Hillswick, its destination to trade goods for salted fish, lamb and skins.  Although on the last leg of its long journey it espies rough weather from the west and puts into the natural harbour of Schaldewage or Scalloway as we now know it. At that time the place is part of the Norse rule of the Islands, in fact it is only a couple miles south of Tingaholm, the Thing, where laws are debated and enforced.  Until a century and a half later when Earl Robert Stewart moves it to the town, where twenty or so years on his son Patrick Stewart (presumably before becoming ‘Professor Charles Xavier’ or Jean Luc Picard – ha ha) builds his spanking new castle in the ‘town’ and the ‘ancient capital’ of the Islands.  The town sits on the bottom end of the Nesting Fault, a splay of the Walls Boundary Fault, itself possibly connected to the great Glen Fault.

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So The Booth is situated in an immensely rich and interesting location.  Literally on the edge of the fault, the Castle a few yards away, the water of the harbour right below our window. Do learning about any of these things influence the production of abstract paintings I wonder? I’m just one of many artists who occasionally talk airily about ‘a sense of place’…but what does it actually mean?  I’m ploughing my way, painfully slowly, through Mary Jacobus’s Reading Cy Twombly (its a very rich and rewarding book but requires a great deal of contextual understandings!) and she quotes from Shelley “Naught may endure but mutability” in regard to Twombly’s Letter of Resignation.  The line has resonances for me every time I look up and out into the harbour and the ocean road beyond it…the sea and its ever changing moods and cadences.  And perhaps its that, more than anything, that creates ‘a sense of place’.

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A good day’s work?

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I’ve written before on the subject of listening to music whilst working and today I’ve spent pretty much the whole day in the studio.  Usually it’s instrumental music only (I find it difficult to concentrate with lyrics) but sometimes the process is just laborious.  Like here where I’m colouring in forms ahead of the later stages.  And given my location the most appropriate rock music seemed to be about the only post millennial UK rock band I’ve much time for (most of them seem like second rate retreads of the 70’s – must be my age I guess).  I’m talking of British Sea Power whose work – especially the longer work outs like those on Man of Aran or True Adventures from Open Season or Once More Now from Valhalla Dancehall I like a lot.

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Then again the second and third stages of this piece were a lot less satisfactory (as above!).  I think I can still rescue it but it’s hard when you’ve put in such effort but that’s often the way with painting so maybe it was a day well spent.  In any event the music’s been a treat – and if you know their work (and the location I’m in – see previous posts) so appropriate to the context.

Morning, Mingus, Michael & Me…with John in the mix…

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It’s another of those grey, damp mornings that seem to be characterising our winter (so far) but best not to grumble. Not cold or waist deep in snow (eh, Stephen!) and my investment in the Daylight Slimline Table Lamp means I can work comfortably on the small Jazz paintings at the (warm) kitchen table. As is my habit I’m listening to jazz as I work (today it’s fifties and early sixties fare from the great Charles Mingus, a perennial favourite). But wait what’s this? Vocal music is usually a no – no when painting but here’s dear old Michael Chapman. He was prescient when he wrote Fully Qualified Survivor wasn’t he? Then 30 now 76 but in good voice on a beautiful album- 50 that is rich and full, a mix of older material re-recorded and three new songs. What a lucky lad am I sitting here in the warm working away to lovely music with Mindy the dog to keep pleasant (and placid) company.

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Left & Right, 2012  John Holden

The daylight lamp helps me with colour in the compositions, always a tricky one for me, and gets me thinking about the exquisite colour combinations in my friend John Holden’s paintings. Besides being roughly the same age Michael & John share other characteristics I reckon. The jazz/folk tinged singer songwriter went out of fashion ways back as did hard edge abstraction and in terms of commercial success neither tide has come back in that much since. But both have real heft and solid quality for me (a generation or so after them) and its good to see both of them still giving it their all and turning out such great material. I saw John last week and am hoping there will soon be an opportunity hereabouts for his work to be enjoyed by others.

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Neon City, 2008-10  John Holden

A Kind of Bliss…

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Nine Lives Of Fives, Acrylic on aluminium, 72 x 48 cm., 2017

no…not the painting you fool!  Even I’m not delusional enough to think it’s that spectacular (though I’m not unhappy with it). You can’t quite see it in the photo but the interference red over the mucky blue does pull it together reasonably well.  No I’m thinking how fortunate I am to be in the position to be dabbling with these pictures this morning rather than (as my wife is) stuck in traffic on my way to paid work.  And though that’s pretty gruelling she’s fortunate to have reasonably decent paid work so what about all those without that? We often forget that for many people decent living conditions, regular food & water, healthcare and so on are a permanent struggle and thats just in the so-called ‘first world’…let’s not even go on to ponder the ‘bottom forty percent‘, over a billion people living on less than a pound a day.

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Confused Fives, Acrylic on aluminium, 48 x 98 cm., 2017

So today I’m focussing on my good fortune to be in the ‘top ten’ percent of wealth across the globe (and before you run away with the idea I’m rolling in it to qualify only requires assets in excess of a couple thousand pounds).  Indeed this morning its blissful here…I’ve got some of my favourite music playing, I’m tinkering with the pictures, the dog is relaxing and I’ve just made a good coffee (with a smidgen of brandy in it)  And to top it off I’m sorting my recent work out for selection by Lucy Cox and Freya Purdue for their upcoming show – Colour: A Kind Of Bliss – at The Crypt in Marylebone Parish Church where its my good fortune to be exhibiting in a few months time.  They are showing their work with mine, and with three others.  Its a privilege to have been asked to exhibit alongside the two of them and the also really talented trio of Julian Brown, Andy Parkinson and, well bless my soul, Jeff Dellow (with whom I was a ‘Cheltenham Fellow’ way way back in time).  Of course like everyone else I’m trying not to think too hard about what’s happening in the news but, right here, right now, I’m a happie chappie.

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!

 

Studio Sounds

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Like any half decent crusty old cubist I’ve been drawn to the oval…work in progress at present…

I can rarely, if ever, have vocal music on whilst working in the studio. More often than not I’m inclined to jazz. I know lots of you probably hate it but I like to think that jazz is a bit like abstract painting…as the great Dave Hickey once said “those who care about it know where to find it but no one else gives a shit…” But of course what makes it helpful is the central importance of melody played off against improvisation. That, for me at least, makes it powerfully resonant with the way I engage with the working process. “Oh enough of this arty bollocks” I hear several of you say. And as it happens today I’m rather agreeing with you.

A decent painting is, after all, just like a good tune…take, for example the CD that just dropped through the mailbox this morning. It came about from me sitting at the breakfast table one morning a few weeks back and suggesting we got up off our bums one Saturday evening and go and see a live bank again. We don’t do it often nowadays, some large venue experiences with ‘big’ acts having put us off. But this was different – a smallish room in the back streets of Derby city centre – but with a great acoustic and a warm vibe (as us old jazzers call it). The gig was Corrie Dick’s band and it was excellent. I guess you could call it a kind of fusion jazz…some poppy, folky and world music sounds into the contemporary jazz mix. Lovely. But something made me a little sad.

I’m a bit crusty now, and apart from my missus, a fella sitting just behind us and the terrific Corey Mwamba (now the “musical Director’ or some such of the marvellous Derby Jazz), the rest of the audience (forgive me folks!) were similarly on our way to ‘knockin on heaven’s door’. Nowt wrong with that of course – we deserve to be serenaded on our way I reckon. But where were the young people – aha! of course they were the band! Now this is surely a shite state of affairs (apols to Renton) that the younger generation aren’t getting out to see what other extremely gifted young people are making. Maybe its just Derby…but talking it over with my 28 year old son…it seems a lot of them just don’t go out to gigs much, preferring their web connected devices. If so, sad.

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Anyway I bought the CD and it arrived today…not only that but with a handwritten note from Corrie. Well worth it and I’d say do the same and if they’re in your neck of the woods go check ‘em out live..

Whilst on the subject of music…two other recommendations.
Firstly I got followed here recently by musicophile. Goodness only knows why s/he was attracted to this place, when I discuss music its only ever “I don’t know much about it, but I know what I like’, but their blog is very rewarding.
As is Dave Whatt’s – its one of the few things that often makes me laugh out loud – but today I’m suggesting you dip into his Soundcloud account. It has its fair share of Dave’s wry and affectionate take on the human condition (that reminds me a bit of the legendary Derby trio of Kevin Coyne/Paul Warren/Ian Breakwell) but it is also really really good musical fun too. Damn these multi talented people I say!

So the net then. Good and bad really…just as always!

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.