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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60 degrees north

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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.

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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.

Conundrums

IMG_1069.JPGI’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.

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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?

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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!

A time to ponder…

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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.

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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.

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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.

Normal…

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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 Leicestershire Simon 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.

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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.

Black Dog rescued by Duccio…

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.

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Painting the Town Red?

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and there they are…the Marquis of Waterford and his pals up to ‘high jinks’ in the 19th century in the town of Melton Mowbray.  Literally painting the town’s buildings (and apparently one of the toll keepers) in red.  Yes…following on the heels of From The Earth Wealth a few years back and last years Playground of the Midlands it is onto the Borough of Melton in what has become a grand projet to visit, photograph and produce a painting for every place listed in a guide to each borough or  district of Leicestershire.  As with Playground I’m being accompanied by my friend Simon and once again I’ll refer you to his posts for the quality photographic images – my excuse for the low grade ‘snaps’ is my focus on using (and abusing) them to make photoshopped collages that serve as the springboard for the canvases.  So our first trip out takes us out to Welby  (hardly a place at all…the local Manor owner apparently shipped out the locals back in the day!) but the church still exists…although we had a few interesting moments locating it!

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Then onto the somewhat larger village of Scalford, that was pleasant enough but lacked much liveliness although as always there were several interesting and novel visual ‘tags’ to take in.  Enough at least to enable me to cobble together a collage that can spur on the painting process.

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Having strolled around the village (larger than it might appear from the main road that runs through it, as has been the case with quite a few) we decide to move on to the lunch venue.  I’ve described before how these are chosen – by zooming in on Google to the relevant area till the first knife & fork symbol appears – but this time I omitted to check that the Rose & Crown in Hose actually opens for lunch and it didn’t!

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So we double back into Long Clawson the last of our quests on this first trip out.  We spot a fella appearing to enter the Crown & Plough the pub in its centre…so start hot footing towards the entrance – only for said fella to pass us saying it too is closed!  Now glum chums we get back in the car grumbling about what is wrong with these inns only to turn the bend and spot the On The Sands cafe & deli. Hooray!  lunch is available and very good too.  So hardly painting the town red…more the surrounding countryside a delicate light shade of pink…or it might be except its January in England

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