Sometimes you’re taken away from painting by other work or chores…or simple fatigue or recreation…but we all need some interaction with family and friends. As for friendships they often tend to be longstanding, often forged way back. As one gets older they really do go way, way back. In this instance we all met – pause for reflection – forty seven years ago.
It started with a trip to Trent Bridge for the third day of the second Test against South Africa with my pal Allan. Cricket (along with Snooker I feel) is very much an artists game, something to do with space and time. And margins too, fine ones that can change the course of a match irrevocably. Despite England’s increasing forlorn chances of saving the game it was a good day’s outing. We followed this with an evening in the company of the fine singer songwriter Keith Christmas who played his latest album in its entirety explaining that he had conceived it with the live performance in mind. I cannot recommend it too highly.
On the way home we got to discussing what makes a great artist (in any form) and Allan repeated a conversation with his own son, Adam (himself a very talented musician) who suggested it was simply intensity. And I cannot agree more. Keith has it in spades and I like to think it may be something to do with age – Keith’s latest has some of his best work ever and quite rightly he wants it out there and admired by as many as can experience it.
On Monday last I was away to London to meet up with another pal from the graduating class of 1973 at Falmouth School of Art, Stuart. We were at Tate Modern to take in the Giacometti show that didn’t disappoint – full of well presented masterpieces. It was intensity personified – especially as regards the spacial awareness in what constitutes formal integrity. Over two days that took in a studio visit our conversations ranged widely though several of them were situated in his garden, a relatively small space but full of flower intensity that, to me at least, spills over into his paintings, ostensibly concerned with landscapes (mostly in Dorset & Spain) but just as much focussed on vibrant colour, light and form.
Our talks about painting were easy and relaxed – 47 years does that! – and some of it homed in on intention and ambition. What really matters to us is simply what our heart and head says to us in the moment – not all that extraneous matter that creeps in once you start situating the work in any kind of context. Is that what we mean by intensity?
People are crazy and times are strange I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range I used to care, but things have changed
So his Royal Bobness fetched up in Nottingham for the first time (I think) since 1966…opening up his set with these particularly pertinent lyrics – at least for yours truly. Maybe (mostly) its a consequence of my age but they seem to sum up our ridiculous and crazy world. How we can be sleep walking towards totalitarianism across the western world I really don’t know – just shows how seventy plus years of stability makes people (or rather a lot of them) complacent I guess. We can only hope that once things start getting seriously askew they may wake up.
And Bob has also changed everything, not least the tempo, tone and even the melodies of some of his best known songs alongside those many more recent and less well known ditties (a solid bunch off the Tempest album). But it was a decent show, house lights down on the dot of eight pm. and an hour and forty minutes of non-stop boogie, hard rock and some alarming crooning! But Bob always goes his own way and as one of these standards said ‘Why Try To Change Me Now’? So I kind of appreciate this bobbing and weaving to keep the audiences guessing.
I’m flitting between bodies of work in my painting too. As is by now well known to any followers of these ramblings I don’t do a ‘signature’ style but address each set of pictures in whatever manner seems to me to suit the occasion. Its especially messy right now. In one corner sits the canvas pieces for the Lavanderia series, in another the lumps and bumps of my Paintings Standing Up. Over on one wall another in the extending series of Very Like Jazz whilst right here is another of the twenty five or so small oils in the Charnwood series Playground Of The Midlands. Up on the balcony are the Water paintings (the second part of the Wood, Water & Rock pictures that take their cue from Schama’s Landscape & Memory). And somewhere at the back a small panel collection provisionally titled The Rigged Deck. Of course there’s also the painting of maps, the Wonky Geometries and the RagBags that just chug along forever. So who am I to call the world crazy!
it (the making) is something I’ve not thought about for, oh, about thirty five years or more. I do recall being concerned that it might be happening to the large paper panel pieces I was making in 1980 as I was also fretting over the use of fibre glass to back them (it was the coughing up blood that finally persuaded me to abandon that idea!). But earlier today I was working on my Paintings Standing Up (still far too early to post here yet) and realised that I had put several vocal performance albums to accompany the activity. I’ve written before that when painting I normally only listen to instrumental music and it got me to thinking why did moving into 3D suggest I could make the change? Did I value the work less, did it require less focus?, is it a different order of thinking? Sitting making some more components for these new pieces it struck me that perhaps my ongoing feeling of dissatisfaction with much of my recent painting process (rather than the pictures themselves) comes from over thinking them. As a young painter I’d just crack on with the work but over the years I’ve taken to thinking hard about each stage of the process – even those parts of it that are intuitive or seemingly random have gone through a deal of soul searching. Enough already methinks…from now on I’ll put on whatever tunes I damn well like and try to actually enjoy painting!
In any event, as is my habituation, I’m stepping away from the Geo series for a bit. The two above are the most recent, whilst three of the earlier pieces are slated for exhibition at The Crypt in Marylebone soonish. Invite below, get along there if you get the chance.
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.
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.
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.
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!
on a day when I was hoping to put to bed one of my ‘Wonky Geometry‘ series up pops the most recent of the Jazz group of paintings and good ol’ Dexter Gordon furnishes the title. As it happens his Our Man In Paris album is an old favourite of mine. I even managed to get my own way with the name of my third child after it. And strangely enough he fetched up at the house at just the time when it finally resolved itself (like most young men he rarely shows up at home). Getting the picture to this point meant completely repainting the ground with this pale yellow green as the way in which the various elements could properly come together. Oddly enough my wife had furnished the critique that led to the decision and she had also pointed me in the direction of this useful text on painting, a small part of which seemed very relevant to the way in which these pictures have come together, for which I’m (as often) very grateful!
The text in case you haven’t followed the link contains a sentence that sure resonates with me in wrestling with this picture (and the Wonky ones yet to be resolved)…
“It is, as an artist I know has said, one semi-mistaken brushstroke after another applied until a kind of truce against the possibility of a perfect painting is reached.”