Privileged…

to have been part of the extraordinary adventure that was stimulated by, and masterminded by, Robert Priseman.  I have Terry Greene to thank for suggesting I contact Robert over a year or so ago and beginning my own small part of what has been quite an amazing story.

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Robert Priseman

It was the exchange of paintings, mine from the Very Like Jazz series and the gift of a lovely panel picture from Robert in return, that led to the invitation to be included in Contemporary Masters From Britain currently on show at Tianjin Academy of Fine Art having visited three other large Chinese venues since the summer. Tianjin is, apparently, the sixth largest city on the planet! and I’m ashamed to say that until recently I’d not even heard of it. Things in the world are changing fast it seems.

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Tianjin Academy of Fine Art

Being a part of this tour that ends in January is only a small part of being in the Priseman-Seabrook collection as it features on the Art UK website and is an on-going venture that unites a great many of our best painters. It’s been good to meet and get to know artists such as Lucy Cox, Freya Purdue and several others…and hopefully more in the future.

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Someone looking at my painting! and also in the photo from left to right, works by Susan Gunn, Terry Greene, Julie Umerle,Mary Webb, mine, Freya Purdue, Julian Brown & Paul Newman

Its helped me over recent weeks as I’ve been feeling unwell and am still struggling with a (so far) mystery ailment that is severely restricting my productivity.  Not least in keeping up this blog as well as getting on with my painting. I had hoped to end the year with at least two current bodies of work pretty much rounded off, but sadly they both have a way to go yet. So it goes.

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detail from sketch for Honfleur panels, December, 2017

Nonetheless the New Year already promises fresh opportunities. Firstly my good friends Jackie Berridge invited me to be a part of an exchange with artists in the Honfleur area of Northern France in April.   As a long time fan of Boudin, a local boy made good, it was too good to miss. And another friend the excellent painter (and printmaker) Laine Tomkinson is putting on a show in Nottingham Make Colour Sing in May so much to look forward too.

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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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Proper Lovely…

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As anyone reading this will know we are living for the month in a small bedsit on the harbour in Scalloway on the Shetlands and its proper lovely as we Devon folk say.  In fact when the sun shines (and we’ve more good days than not) it reminds one of how the West Country seemed to be when I was a child.  Nowadays the crowds down in Devon & Cornwall make it harder to love but back then before motorways etc.  Anyway enough of my misremembering as, apart from sitting staring out the window or visiting unspoilt and empty beaches, we are here to work.

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On Nesting Fault, Acrylic & watercolour on paper, 120 x 30 cm.

But the rub is that you start to think about what you do and how you go about it.  Yes I know one should be doing that all the time anyway…but holidays just exacerbate this…and added to which there are fewer materials and supports to hand…and ideas get stuck in your head in ways that just don’t happen at home.  Its all rather confusing!  So here I am rethinking, tinkering really, with both the Wonky Geometry and the notion I had arrived with (outlined a few weeks back) and fetching up with something that’s quite a departure.  Should I be worried or concerned?

Trawling Black Water…

02Given that it has been raining cats & dogs for over eighteen hours now there’s plenty of opportunity to get on with the work!  So I have at last finished at least one piece to my satisfaction.  It derives its title from both the context in which it has been produced (on the waterfront here in Scalloway) and a poem by the late Peter Redgrove entitled On Losing One’s Black Dog.  The view from our French Windows reminds me a little of the time when, albeit briefly, I knew Peter as a student at Falmouth where he was, luckily for us, the Complementary Studies tutor.  He was very finely attuned to the Cornish environment and spoke eloquently and imaginatively about the ‘Black Dog’ in its several senses, one of which (not the one referred to directly in the poem) concerned the melancholia that descends on all things Cornish in the winter months.  After today’s performance here (see photo below) during August one can only imagine what mid-winter brings to the folk here on Shetland!

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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.

Don’t be smug!

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Ah…yesterday…and now today.  It doesn’t pay to be clever does it.  Bragging about the weather has seen a day of squally rain, some of it quite heavy.  We have managed to get out twice for reasonable strolls without getting wet but a goodly part of the day has us confined to the studio.  Some decent progress made but in order to cheer us on a grey day I’ve pinned a few studies I made back on Cape Cornwall a few years back that put some strong Cornish colour on the wall.  Oddly enough we were there on the first of November with a temperature (and sun to match) of seventy degrees c.  And ‘the donald’ says global warming doesn’t exist!

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