it’s often in the detail that you get a proper idea of what something is about. I was re-reading my friend Andrew Bracey‘s excellent catalogue for his detail exhibition where he quotes the painter Malcolm Morley saying that it was in the detail, very close detail indeed that the energy of the painting resided. Maybe its so…I just started out on the Rock sub set of my Landscape & Memory series…and thought it would be interesting – at the early stage of each of the eighteen works – to take a detail from each. What it tells me who knows…but anyway I’m studying them nonetheless.
Besides getting on with this project – I’ve set myself a deadline of Christmas to have the lot completed – I’m also setting a harder deadline for the Playground Of The Midlands sub project (the Charnwood leg of the Leicestershire set that began years back with the From The Earth Wealth (aka North West Leics) group. The third leg of this one – Painting The Town Red, the Melton district – got started at a lick last Spring and then fizzled out towards the end of May. So yesterday myself and my partner in crime Simon rebooted and got over to Bottesford, the most northerly outpost, to begin the task of completing the set. It has to be admitted that as we plough through what will end up being over two hundred plus settlements across the county it gets harder to find distinctive features in the many sleepy small villages we encounter! As often mentioned before head over to Simon’s blog for the decent photos – me I settle for tatty aide memoires for what will become the paintings. So above is a photo from Bottesford…and below the painting that resulted from a trip, quite a long time back now, to Hathern.
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!
So shortly we are off to the Shetlands, to Scalloway and to The Booth. For a month we will be living and working there and it is always tricky on such an expedition deciding what to take by way of materials. You don’t want to be too prescriptive on the one hand but properly equipped on the other. Especially so as material supplies may be tricky there (though of course it might be much easier than I’m imagining). Nonetheless I have drafted a sort of plan! Some time back I was rather taken by a small clutch of Knitting Sheaths that reside in the museum there – I’m hoping to see them during our stay.
And I’ve riffed on them over the past few months in photoshop…so I have at least the beginning of imagery that hopefully relates to my Wonky Geometry. Then a trip to the Ashmolean a while back with my pal Simon to see the wonderful Raphael drawing show had us wandering through the room of Japanese scrolls – kakejuki…brilliant! Just the thing for a trip away…paper based and roll em’ up to transport back easily.
I’m wondering exactly what may be the unintended consequences of working from my mashups of the photos I take in preparation for my series Playground of the Midlands. Perhaps it should have occurred to me a lot earlier. After all I started playing around with photographic source imagery back in the 1990’s! But in all honesty I’d not really thought it through much until earlier in the week. Stepping back from one of the canvases the choices of elements were shockingly clear – yes – you could see what it was! Usually my mashing up, or colour choices or plain cackhandedness takes care of any original referent.
One of my many painting heroes is Thomas Nozkowski. I like his clearheaded and unfussy approach to the business of making a picture and the plain commonsense of much he says about it. He is rightly admired for his certainty that everything he does is grounded in real world experience. You get a really honest insight into his process from these videos made by his son – here’s the other – where he expands on the idea of how the work evolves. I guess one of my reasons for liking his work is my similar idea of how to construct a picture. In a 2015 catalogue he talks of his work becoming “more open ended. That’s to say initially I prided myself on sticking close to my original source material…but I’m much more interested in all the evocations and echoes and implications…so instead of a tight little knot, I think it’s now something that’s a bit more open for interpretation”. I’m wondering whether or not I may allow some movement in the other direction – or should I – as Thomas suggests – work harder at the taking out rather than the letting in?
So that’s one conundrum going around my head (where a gummed up ear is making it a rather lonely and frustrating place right now). Another that’s been bugging me for a while is the point of all this anyway. I mean doing what I’m doing right now…’social media’ that as David Byrne recently suggested may actually do as much harm as good. After all if there’s a point to painting it has to be in substantial part the engagement with the actual object. It’s not lost on me that both the bodies of work I’m particularly focused on right now have no obvious outlets in the real world – and that is equally frustrating too. Maybe the memo to self is to start searching for opportunities to get the work out there…though after I have resolved it all!
over times long past. Many eons ago I was party to an explosion of public art across the United Kingdom…aiding and abetting a variety of schemes that, for better or worse, were intended to ‘beautify’ and ‘edify’ public enjoyment of the environment. It seems it wasn’t confined to the UK as here in the Lunigiana (wedged in the borderlands between Tuscany and Liguria in Italy) there’s a fair amount of it too. Including this rather splendid piece in Piazza Cavour in Aulla. It seems we are witness to a lively game of geometric footie…or calcio as its known here. Or perhaps, given the garb sported, a game of volleyball or some such. Whatever the occasion and the exercise there’s a deal to admire – I’m especially taken with the knees myself. It got me to thinking about who gets to make these works and who selects them…and that’s a topic on which I’ve quite a few stories from my involvement back in the UK (don’t get me started on the Shoe Last in the pedestrian precinct in Northampton…). Anyway I rather like this one though I doubt many people give it so much as a glance nowadays.
And a good holiday is an excuse to have a play about (as well as sit pondering) on projects that as yet maybe don’t make a deal of sense. I’m cutting out canvas letters to join my sewn canvas shapes using odd snippets of text that I wrote down from poems into a sketch book almost thirty years back. They are so obscure I cannot begin to recall what the texts were or why I chose them. But I did it here in Italy and I’m here again (courtesy of my chum Sue) where I’ve been shaping and sowing the canvas pieces over the past few years so there is a connection though what it is and why its significant to me I have no way of articulating as yet.
But of course time away from your usual haunts is mostly for the simple pleasures of experiencing other cultures and environments. This part of Italy is framed by the Appenines to the back of us and the Apuan Alps away to the south east, its quite rugged and hilly, and at this time of year looking its best, the blossoming of the vegetation in springtime before the more arid days of summer…though we’ve been blessed on this occasion by warm and sunny weather.
whatever that is…I guess that was our day…so much so that mid afternoon trapped in a road diversion scenario in the far east of LeicestershireSimon and myself decided we had properly topped up our ‘rural reserves’ for a bit. So we resolved to cool it a bit on the Painting The Town Red project (not least as I’m getting seriously behind on the paintings). Besides it was perishing out there.
I’ve tried before explaining the rationale behind these rural excursions but its hard to explain what I’m driving at. Its the quirky visual incidents that meld together with other impressions, feelings, thoughts and ideas that ‘inform’ the image that results and these elements can, most often are, the base material and might easily be viewed as just ‘normal’. Though, as here in the churchyard at Eastwell, this suggests that in certain contexts things can be quite unusual in some ways. I’m assuming its a bug hotel but why such a thing is necessary here in such a rural setting I can’t particularly imagine.
Should there be any regular observers of my social media presence they might have been forgiven recently for wondering what was going on with me.
The Black Dog descended following the triumph of Trump and hasn’t lifted with the Brexit vote in parliament. I’ve been utterly defeated by the US/UK spiral towards nasty xenophobic totalitarianism…that it seems the majority ‘rabble’ have fully signed up to – but that’s democracy I guess. Personally I doubt we’ll see the tide turned back towards common decency in my lifetime. Still…
off on another of our occasional jaunts this time to Kingston upon Hull; where my pal found himself labouring for much of lunchtime on the task of persuading me out of this Stygian gloom I’d fallen into. An ‘orrible task for anyone but his combination of extreme patience, historical knowledge and sound political grasp made a great deal of sense (not that, naturally, I was willing to concede as much at the time). He (and another friend more recently) assure me that I’m wrong to which I can only say I bloody well hope so!
In the Ferens I had an epiphany; not only that I don’t feel – nor think – I’ve got beyond Duccio in my understanding of painting…but more importantly that I don’t want to! I’m often given to thinking that (and I’m pretty sure my pals from that time would agree) as a young man I was pretty sure I knew it all and now forty five years later I know nothing…where did it all go wrong? The Duccio in question is one of the sensational small panels that usually reside in the National Gallery and one of the very few things I am still reasonably sure of is that his work is amongst the greatest ever triumphs of painting. The panel in question still stands as sophisticated an exploration of pictorial colour and space as any I’ve seen in recent years!
The UK City of Culture 2017 is still winding up but it struck me as pretty chipper and as a bonus I got to tick off the Humber bridge from my bucket list. It was my first visit there and The Blade arching over Queen Victoria Square certainly makes a statement, not least about scale…who’d have guessed that those offshore turbines were that big (the one blade 75 metres in length). Though of course once you think about it…after all my pal Louise Garland and myself did a project a few years back encouraging passers by in Sutton-on-Sea to make seascapes and as you can see in this example most of them punched up the whirligigs in their creations.