back at work…though I’m still not entirely well but good enough to give some attention to the various bodies of work I have on the go at present. I’ve written before of how I’m pathologically incapable of focussing on one thing at a time. And so I just looked back through these pages to see when I last mentioned the Water series. These are following on from the Waldgeschitchen series and will comprise the second group of three such works that will make up my musings on Simon Schama’s Landscape & Memory. It was way back in February – so at this rate of progress this project may outlast its creator! Still over the past few hours I’ve completed the sixth of this second group of eighteen.
So I’m trying to ‘put in the hours’ as one of my colleagues used to say to me when I was pressing him about spending more time teaching rather than making – and he was right there really is no substitute for being in the space and getting on with it if you want good outcomes.
It always intrigues me as to how others go about the disciplining of their practice, after all you read often about how, for example, Henry Moore, had a very defined studio routine and how legendary is the amount of time, say, Frank Auerbach spends in his room and it’s easy to see with some artists output that they must have been very focussed and hard working. Then again we all know those who do rather little but it goes a very long way indeed…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Been ‘out of the loop’ for a while…but getting back in it. This is No. 31 of this series that aims to be around ten dozen in total…and there are over 60 of the unfinished ones sitting on the table in front of me right now.
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.
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’.
Given 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!