their judgement of artwork may be faulty…

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16 works in progress, Wonky Geometry series, each 30 x 30 cms., 2018

“their judgement of artwork may be faulty”…Many, many moons ago I worked in an art gallery, and the Director (just returned from NYC) gave me a piece of paper.  Its here now…

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Although it was written (gawd help us) nearly forty years back much of it, despite the many changes in the art world, still stands.  It was the dealer Ivan Karp who, having had enough of artists pestering him, wrote it to stem the flow.  Goodness knows what he’d make of today’s art market.  But its that last sentence that resonates with me right now.  And what stands for dealers and gallerists and curators (what vulgar, squalid words they are!) equally stands for judges in competitions. I know many of them are artists too, but generally they are those whose primary objective is not making work but ‘networking’ and ‘brown nosing’  the aforementioned thus rendering their judgment equally faulty.  Its in my mind as yet another competition has passed me by…or not (as I’ve observed of late, that many of these exercises in fleecing artists of their meagre funds, they often ‘extend’ deadlines to pull in yet more gullible punters) and I marvel at the plausibilty of all of us – I’m not immune as I, albeit occasionally, do it myself – in falling for the lure of bright lights and associated fame promised by the tiny odds of success.

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Echoing down the decades…

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Tracerie, Acrylic on Canvas, c. 6 x 7 ft. 1971

A current article in Hyperallergic on the marvellous Joe Overstreet, reminded me a little of the paintings I was making late in 1971 and into 72…where I was exploring the possibilities of unstretched form and colour having been dissuaded from the proscenium arch paintings that had preceded them.  Tracerie, above, was not the largest of them but is the only one I have a decent image of.  Below are details of the biggest, Pinky Free, an over thirty feet expanse of 12 oz. cotton duck the width of the bolt (I guess 78 inches) – Let us pause to give thanks for free higher education where a poor working class Devonian lad could explore his most ridiculous creative impulses wherever he wanted to take them!

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Pinky Free, Acrylic on canvas, c. 6 ft 6 in. x 27 ft. 1972

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The whole contraption was propped up on an assortment of photo light and music stands ‘borrowed’ from the relevant departments for a few days (at least until the lecturers responsible realised).  Pinky was the last of this run of loose canvas pieces that I then began pulling back into more formal arrangements, pushing and pressing oil paint into the canvas weave to give it a little more structure and solidity.

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Here I’m installing one of these Oilcloth pieces in the studios for the second year interim exhibition. I’d also abandoned the riot of colour in favour of more muted earthy tones, even then I was already heavily into the idea of pushing work far out in one direction only to wrench it back wildly in the other.  It may seem implausible in the world of instant information via social media but back then most of those few who saw this work were completely mystified by it and thought it pretty crazy.  It was quite some years before I began realise that, contrary to what everyone thought, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the lower Eastside of Manhattan and down in Washington DC (and I guess quite a few other places, including one or two in the East End of London) others were exploring similar ideas of how far painting could be pushed.  At the time I felt quite isolated and exposed in the far west of Cornwall!

Getting a good morning start…

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I watched Picasso’s Last Stand the other evening…he never got up in the mornings they said.  Me I don’t sleep so well nowadays so now the days are longer I rather enjoy the early start.  As it happens too I’m now using a wall that gets the early morning sun.  Add in listening to A Rainbow In Curved Air (on my original vinyl copy) and it doesn’t get much better.  And it helps with the productivity – in the past two days I finished up three more of the L’Histoire De L’Eau gang.  Here’s Ditties For Her Majesty…referencing the first Elizabeth rather than the current one…

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Still getting that feeling…

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Sometimes it just gets going…and what a good thing too, or I doubt I’d bother.  But just occasionally I get started on some new pieces and everything seems to jog along pretty well.  So it is with the Rock pieces, third part of the Landscape & Memory project.

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Of course tomorrow morning it may all turn to dust, that happens just as regularly!

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Still as the light fades (and today was proper Spring until four this afternoon) I’ve these three plus five others that have seemingly got something I can work with.  Tomorrow I’m out and about but it will be interesting to return to the studio first thing just to see how I feel about them…

Deft and Joyful

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We’ve all experienced those times when making the effort to get to a show is tough.  After a round trip to Grimsby (210 miles) another hike down to Coventry as the evening drew in wasn’t favourite.  But I really wanted to see Visual Stream, a solo show by the painter Jeff Dellow.  And it was a real pleasure.  Over recent years I can count on the fingers of two hands (and I see a lot of shows) outings of abstraction by individual artists (they tend to be as rare as hen’s teeth given the predilections of our current curatorships) and fewer still that give one the rarer still feeling of complete satisfaction and – joy – an extremely precious commodity in the contemporary art world.

It’s the first thing that comes at you in this well selected (by fellow painter Matthew Macaulay) show that presents a small selection of Jeff’s little panel paintings and a goodly number of the larger canvases is a joyfulness and playfulness in the opportunities that abstraction offers.  And the colour palette is as joyful, vibrant, diverse and equally as exuberant as the handling.

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There are a range of tropes at work of course, but these are varied and diverse…just sufficiently repeated to bring the stylistic consistency to the whole but never dull or lazy. Every so often you spot another, different and original painterly handle, a flick of the wrist, a smear, another kind of grid played off against a box or a plane, and so on.  An endless variation of the painters thinking, an expansive repertoire based on quite a few decades of concentrated looking and absorbing what paint can do and how it can be deployed without resorting to mimesis.  There is deep time locked into these pictures, that despite their alarming freshness, also embed a lifetime of intensity in the consideration of abstraction.  The show runs in the Lanchester Research Gallery, in the Graham Sutherland building on Cox Street, Coventry until 2nd February 2018 – if you care about abstract painting in the present you need to get along there!

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Many a good tune…

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The Fidler, 66″ x 22″ x 25″, rescued timbers & jesmonite, 2017

well its been an interesting week…generally I make it a rule nowadays not to enter competitions. My only exceptions over the past decade has been the Moores (out of habituation, I’ve been doing it since the early 70’s) and the CBP because a goodly number of painters I respect have been party to this set up since it began around 2012. So it was something of a punt that I found myself entering and then – surprisingly – being short listed for the Threadneedle Prize for figurative art with a sculpture. Oh yes…quite a surprise for anyone who knows my work as being a) resolutely abstract and b) almost exclusively painting. It came about by capricious accident, my wife (a previous prizewinner in this same competition) was entering it one morning as the deadline approached and a tad mischievously suggested that one of my Paintings Standing Up (the series yet to be fully resolved) might pass muster as ‘figuration’. Well it was true that it was around the right height for a figure and that the violin mounted onto the ‘torso’ projected from it around the right angle for being played. Adding a dodecahedron on top and two boots below and…é viola you have The Fidler.

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So being shortlisted required delivery to the Mall Galleries last Saturday morning, a round trip of 236 miles that went surprisingly well and, being a gloriously warm sunny day for late October, was augmented by a visit to Tate Modern. So far so good but, hey, not that surprisingly, a rejection followed on this past Thursday that, you’ve guessed it, meant another journey this Saturday. Not such a breeze as first the weather was wet, dark and greasy all the way down and secondly Regent Street was closed requiring a work around the centre of town to reach The Mall. This time we turned tail and headed back ‘ome straightaway. I’ve no complaints – you shouldn’t enter these things if you’re not prepared to be knocked back but, gawd, its been a bit knackering!

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sketch for Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into The Future

Oddly enough the trip to Tate was to take in the Ilya & Emilia Kabakov show – the central element of which (and that gives it the title) is Not Everyone Will Be Taken IntoThe Future…in this installation the ‘Art’ train is leaving the station carrying those works deemed ‘good enough’ whilst a heap of canvases etc. are left spilling over the platform…to which we might now add The Fidler!

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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