People; What Are They Like?

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The ‘Exhibition’ series, digital drawings by Paul Warren

I’ve been rather busy putting this together – an exhibition of the work of six artists focussed on the observation of folks as they go about their day to day lives.  It opens on Thursday (2nd November, 2017) at Déda, the dance dedicated arts centre in Derby from 18:30 – if you can come along we would love to see you.   Its been a voyage of discovery for me personally, not least as figuration is very much not my usual turf, and four of the six artists I’ve chosen were not known to me before I started to put it together. Of the two I did know its been a real pleasure to be able to share some of their work with new audiences as it is my view that they deserve to be admired widely.

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detail from Tiny Screamers by Ellie Young

Ellie Young from Cardiff is one of those I found out about as I searched for painters whose work is firmly focussed on observation.  In her case it can be very direct (she has undertaken a project making 15 minute portraits at a local centre) but also from photos and film, indeed film is a great love of hers and though there are elements of caricature in her work it is fleeting impressions and glimpsed moments that seem to especially inform her work.

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The Unknown Statistic by Sue Stone

Sue Stone (based in Grimsby, Lincs.) is another whose work makes extensive use of photographic sources though these are often wrestled into fresh configurations in her beautifully constructed pieces that combine exceptional qualities as a ‘textile artist’ with painted elements.  Her interests are in the wider realm of how memory plays such a vital part in our reading of images of people.

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Arches by Helen Latham

An element of nostalgia might be read into the paintings of Helen Latham from Cambridge and they certainly have a very particular mood but often the subjects are very much of our time, and there are, to my eye at least, disturbing undercurrents in several of the images.  Taking us, quite literally, to another place is the work of the painter, Anna Pinkster, whose acute observations of people going about their daily lives in Vietnam are imbued with a freshness that belies their carefully considered realisation in her studio in rural Somerset.  And their marvellous vitality leads back into those artists who work I did know.

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Pineapples by Anna Pinkster

Firstly Jackie Berridge from Southwell, Notts. is an artist I’ve known for many years but over the past decade she has become both the exceptional draughtswoman she always was but also a painter of rare distinction.  In her work a highly original cosmology exists in which episodes from childhood are interspersed with mature reflections on the human condition in paintings or, as here, drawings that are, on another level, simply lovely to look at.

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Leash by Jackie Berridge

So back where we began the drawings of Paul Warren take us into yet another personal universe.  And this is where my quest started because my whole impetus for the show came from wanting to see more of Paul’s work in the public realm.  His particular – and peculiar – vision is something he shares with the artist Ian Breakwell & the artist/musician Kevin Coyne, both school friends back in the 1950’s at the Joseph Wright School of Art in Derby.  In their world view they forensically examine the human condition, all its foibles and frailties, but with a certain affection and – most crucially – a wicked and delicious sense of humour.  And if this show does nothing else it will expose and celebrate Paul’s contribution to this remarkable triumvirate of artists that came out of this city in the 1950’s.

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60 degrees north

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So shortly we are off to the Shetlands, to Scalloway and to The Booth.  For a month we will be living and working there and it is always tricky on such an expedition deciding what to take by way of materials.  You don’t want to be too prescriptive on the one hand but properly equipped on the other.  Especially so as material supplies may be tricky there (though of course it might be much easier than I’m imagining).  Nonetheless I have drafted a sort of plan!  Some time back I was rather taken by a small clutch of Knitting Sheaths that reside in the museum there – I’m hoping to see them during our stay.

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And I’ve riffed on them over the past few months in photoshop…so I have at least the beginning of imagery that hopefully relates to my Wonky Geometry.  Then a trip to the Ashmolean a while back with my pal Simon to see the wonderful Raphael drawing show had us wandering through the room of Japanese scrolls – kakejuki…brilliant!  Just the thing for a trip away…paper based and roll em’ up to transport back easily.

Conundrums

IMG_1069.JPGI’m wondering exactly what may be the unintended consequences of working from my mashups of the photos I take in preparation for my series Playground of the Midlands.  Perhaps it should have occurred to me a lot earlier.  After all I started playing around with photographic source imagery back in the 1990’s!  But in all honesty I’d not really thought it through much until earlier in the week.  Stepping back from one of the canvases the choices of elements were shockingly clear – yes – you could see what it was! Usually my mashing up, or colour choices  or plain cackhandedness takes care of any original referent.

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One of my many painting heroes is Thomas Nozkowski. I like his clearheaded and unfussy approach to the business of making a picture and the plain commonsense  of much he says about it.  He is rightly admired for his certainty that everything he does is grounded in real world experience.  You get a really honest insight into his process from these  videos made by his son – here’s the other – where he expands on the idea of how the work evolves. I guess one of my reasons for liking his work is my similar idea of how to construct a picture.  In a 2015 catalogue he talks of  his work becoming “more open ended. That’s to say initially I prided myself on sticking close to my original source material…but I’m much more interested in all the evocations and echoes and implications…so instead of a tight little knot, I think it’s now something that’s a bit more open for interpretation”.   I’m wondering whether or not I may allow some movement in the other direction – or should I – as Thomas suggests – work harder at the taking out rather than the letting in?

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So that’s one conundrum going around my head (where a gummed up ear is making it a rather lonely and frustrating place right now).  Another that’s been bugging me for a while is the point of all this anyway.  I mean doing what I’m doing right now…’social media’ that as David Byrne recently suggested may actually do as much harm as good.  After all if there’s a point to painting it has to be in substantial part the engagement with the actual object.  It’s not lost on me that both the bodies of work I’m particularly focused on right now have no obvious outlets in the real world – and that is equally frustrating too.  Maybe the memo to self is to start searching for opportunities to get the work out there…though after I have resolved it all!

Normal…

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whatever that is…I guess that was our day…so much so that mid afternoon trapped in a road diversion scenario in the far east of Leicestershire Simon and myself decided we had properly topped up our ‘rural reserves’ for a bit.  So we resolved to cool it a bit on the Painting The Town Red project (not least as I’m getting seriously behind on the paintings).  Besides it was perishing out there.

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I’ve tried before explaining the rationale behind these rural excursions but its hard to explain what I’m driving at.  Its the quirky visual incidents that meld together with other impressions, feelings, thoughts and ideas that ‘inform’ the image that results and these elements can, most often are, the base material and might easily be viewed as just ‘normal’.  Though, as here in the churchyard at Eastwell, this suggests that in certain contexts things can be quite unusual in some ways.  I’m assuming its a bug hotel but why such a thing is necessary here in such a rural setting I can’t particularly imagine.

Painting the Town Red?

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and there they are…the Marquis of Waterford and his pals up to ‘high jinks’ in the 19th century in the town of Melton Mowbray.  Literally painting the town’s buildings (and apparently one of the toll keepers) in red.  Yes…following on the heels of From The Earth Wealth a few years back and last years Playground of the Midlands it is onto the Borough of Melton in what has become a grand projet to visit, photograph and produce a painting for every place listed in a guide to each borough or  district of Leicestershire.  As with Playground I’m being accompanied by my friend Simon and once again I’ll refer you to his posts for the quality photographic images – my excuse for the low grade ‘snaps’ is my focus on using (and abusing) them to make photoshopped collages that serve as the springboard for the canvases.  So our first trip out takes us out to Welby  (hardly a place at all…the local Manor owner apparently shipped out the locals back in the day!) but the church still exists…although we had a few interesting moments locating it!

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Then onto the somewhat larger village of Scalford, that was pleasant enough but lacked much liveliness although as always there were several interesting and novel visual ‘tags’ to take in.  Enough at least to enable me to cobble together a collage that can spur on the painting process.

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Having strolled around the village (larger than it might appear from the main road that runs through it, as has been the case with quite a few) we decide to move on to the lunch venue.  I’ve described before how these are chosen – by zooming in on Google to the relevant area till the first knife & fork symbol appears – but this time I omitted to check that the Rose & Crown in Hose actually opens for lunch and it didn’t!

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So we double back into Long Clawson the last of our quests on this first trip out.  We spot a fella appearing to enter the Crown & Plough the pub in its centre…so start hot footing towards the entrance – only for said fella to pass us saying it too is closed!  Now glum chums we get back in the car grumbling about what is wrong with these inns only to turn the bend and spot the On The Sands cafe & deli. Hooray!  lunch is available and very good too.  So hardly painting the town red…more the surrounding countryside a delicate light shade of pink…or it might be except its January in England

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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!

Playground…Day Nine

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As Simon says…its a hard business but we have been chosen (or at least we self selected).  And today I spent the first forty five minutes saying I’d never been here before…until we chanced across this charming scene from King Lear (appropriately in a lake of the same name – well gravel pit) when it became clear that many moons ago (the 80’s) I had passed this way once before…just as the artist was creating the work…he was a young sculptor – David Hunter – from Leicester and he had the opportunity to make a piece on this site…back then a pretty rough and ready location.

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The construction of the piece was – I recall – quite a challenge for David, fresh out of college, and a pretty stiff learning curve.  It was cold and very wet the day I visited but he persisted and it was good to see that the work has stood up to the test of time pretty well.

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We were of course on our Playground Of The Midlands jaunt…the project to mark every entry in the early 80’s Charnwood Borough Guide.  Today we took in Birstall, Thurcaston & Wanlip though in truth we pretty much kept to the Watermead Country Park that the three bound on the north side of Leicester.  It made a refreshing change to take in plenty of waterside and countryside for a change and on reflection seemed quite appropriate overall.  Not least as the River Soar is, as my pal Simon pointed out, the ‘backbone’ of the Borough running from just south of my village Kegworth, above the north boundary, and leaving it to meander into Leicester proper to the south.  Whatever our excuse it made for a good walk topped off on our return to The White Horse in Birstall for a damn good pub lunch!