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!
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.
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.
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!
at least that’s what we’ve been taught to believe. But its a well kept secret that there is great weather to be had up here in Scalloway. Certainly over these past two (first) days of our adventure over the month of August. So far its been azure blue skies and full on sunshine. The Met Office has officially confirmed that Shetland had more hours of sunshine than Cornwall in July and so far August is following suit.
Not that we’ve been idle…the studio has been tidied and arranged to suit our purposes…and the beginnings of work underway – despite the absurdly wonderful context if you step through the doorway!
My Rough Cartography series is such a long standing practice that it seems now just habitual. Wherever and whenever I’m somewhere away from home I pick up those freebie tourist maps and once back in the studio they are pasted into one of the sketch books. Over time…lots of it!…they are gradually painted in. Why I do it I’m not at all sure but the letter below maybe gives some kind of clue to it.
Dear old friend,
Today you would have reached pensionable age but, as things go, sadly you’re not here to celebrate. Later I will raise a silent glass for you. I remember back when we were still youngish men sitting and discussing making work, why we do it and what it means. You asked me about my peculiar habit of keeping scraps of maps in my sketchbooks and colouring them in…and us both laughing at my complete inability to explain any purpose behind it. Well I think I may be on my way to understanding now. Not bad eh, its only been thirty plus several years after all!
Its something (if I understand it properly) contained within an essay in the catalogue for Contemporary Masters From Britain – a show of 80 paintings touring China from the Priseman-Seabrook Collection. Dr. Judith Tucker suggests that painting retains a capacity to capture our attention precisely because of its materiality; its “sensuous, viscous quality” as she puts it. This is coupled in the essay with a notion of painting as “quasi-subject”; a site in which bodily experience of the artist in making the work is somehow a residue within this materiality. I think it may be at the very least something to do with these ideas that keep me, all these years later, fiddling with those damn maps.
I’m also dwelling on the good fortune that allows me to keep working and how, over time, opportunities present themselves through a myriad of circumstances. It’s in my mind because of the show just mentioned. Its been through recommendation (and I owe thanks to the talented Terry Greene for that) that I’m part of this exhibition. Other possibilities open up and suggest themselves too. I suspect that over the past decade or so you would have cemented your reputation not least because of the way in which your last works were opening up new avenues and directions. Amongst the many things I miss is the opportunity to have argued and wrestled with these ideas and outcomes that never happened.
With affection and remembrance,
More information on Paul Mason can be found on my blog on him here.
Contemporary Masters From Britain is available through Amazon. The show opens at the Yantai Art Museum on 7th July 2017 and runs till 3rd August before moving to Nanjing.
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.
between different projects is often difficult to divine. There are times when the focus is clearer and times when its not. Its one of those not times. There’s a suite of small wonky geometries on the go. They are still at the early stage of ‘roughing out’ – the broad structure is in place (further variations on the 5/6/7 sided figure interactions) but the colour combinations and variations are, as yet, very unclear. They are amongst a group of panels to be offered for selection for a show entitled Colour Bliss so there’s a challenge!
Alongside these I’m playing with a collection of over 100 small paperworks – that are even more wacky variants of the same repertoire of basic regular sided shapes expanded to include 3/4 sided appearances and a host of other marks and forms. These are pretty much just for fun and to keep myself busy when the other project gets too tricky.
There’s actually another even more mindless long term project that uses up quantities of mixed colour so as not to waste it. And when I say longterm I really mean it. I guess my casual interest in colouring in maps (!) started in my early teens. On one of my first trips abroad (a scout jamboree in the Netherlands) a pal asked me why I was clutching a sheaf of maps (picked up in various locations) on the return journey. I couldn’t answer him satisfactorily but it began a habit that has lived with me through over fifty years now. Some time later…exactly how long I’m not sure (though by the time I started my Foundation studies)…I began in idle moments (and to keep me engaged in some activity in the studio) to fill in these having glued them into sketchbooks. Goodness knows how many there are now but its a lot. Some time back I actually collated a few into a pamphlet that I called Rough Cartography. Here’s one that has been mushed up in the last couple days…it amuses me to think about why I do them and whether I’ll ever use them for any more elevated artistic purpose. I am also (obviously easily pleased) amused at the way the locations are obliterated by my actions…if they were shown would others be able to recognise them? What about the one here? First answer received gets a copy of Rough Cartography signed by the artist! Well it’s Christmas innit!