We’ve all experienced those times when making the effort to get to a show is tough. After a round trip to Grimsby (210 miles) another hike down to Coventry as the evening drew in wasn’t favourite. But I really wanted to see Visual Stream, a solo show by the painter Jeff Dellow. And it was a real pleasure. Over recent years I can count on the fingers of two hands (and I see a lot of shows) outings of abstraction by individual artists (they tend to be as rare as hen’s teeth given the predilections of our current curatorships) and fewer still that give one the rarer still feeling of complete satisfaction and – joy – an extremely precious commodity in the contemporary art world.
It’s the first thing that comes at you in this well selected (by fellow painter Matthew Macaulay) show that presents a small selection of Jeff’s little panel paintings and a goodly number of the larger canvases is a joyfulness and playfulness in the opportunities that abstraction offers. And the colour palette is as joyful, vibrant, diverse and equally as exuberant as the handling.
There are a range of tropes at work of course, but these are varied and diverse…just sufficiently repeated to bring the stylistic consistency to the whole but never dull or lazy. Every so often you spot another, different and original painterly handle, a flick of the wrist, a smear, another kind of grid played off against a box or a plane, and so on. An endless variation of the painters thinking, an expansive repertoire based on quite a few decades of concentrated looking and absorbing what paint can do and how it can be deployed without resorting to mimesis. There is deep time locked into these pictures, that despite their alarming freshness, also embed a lifetime of intensity in the consideration of abstraction. The show runs in the Lanchester Research Gallery, in the Graham Sutherland building on Cox Street, Coventry until 2nd February 2018 – if you care about abstract painting in the present you need to get along there!
Its fascinating when you find yourself doing something you never imagined you would…and very rewarding too. When Mindy came into my life less than three months back I was mildly fearful. I never was one for pets…and the idea of a dog in my life was definitely not on my agenda. But she has turned out to be a joy – I couldn’t face the idea of a yapping, jumpy dog in the house – but she’s so relaxed and well behaved that its a pleasure to have her around in the studio. But its the lunchtime walk thats invaluable, not only because it means I get some decent additional physical exercise (though goodness knows I need it), but also because of the thinking space in the painting process. Of course there’s plenty of that in front of the work too. After all I doubt few studio based artists spend more than a fraction of their practice actually wielding the pencil, brush or chisel or whatever but far more gawping at the work and pondering the big question – what next?
But the time away from the work is precious too. Its the churn that counts. On our trips around the village I get to ponder the important questions about the really tricky aspects of the process…the choice of colour for the shape, the texture of the colour – will it be a glaze or solid, the brush size…or is it all damned and am I going to scrub, tear or sand it out completely (or just partially). All this is stewed in the old grey matter and sometimes decisions emerge – or if they don’t then the brain exercise at least helps when the fateful moment comes when you are back in front of it and have to act.
Yesterday was good, really good actually, beautiful weather – sunny and warm but with that slight cooling autumnal breeze – the makes England, especially that rural part of England that is the Playground of the Midlands such a good place to be stirring the creative juices. If you want (and why not?) some good images of our travels head over to the site of my pal and partner in crime. I’ve long since given up on slogging it out with him on the photo front – my images are simply fodder for the paintings, not least as I bastardise them extensively before using them as the equally loose basis for the paintings themselves (see below!).
Though my pal’s blog points up a particular problem with the project – that villages like Swithland present rather few points of incident for novel creative interventions. Indeed I was reduced in that location to snapping planning applications appended to the telegraph poles…
And this got me to thinking today. I, with most of my family, was overjoyed that, despite the awful, nasty vilification from Labour MPs, the whole UK media and a loud but mercifully modest (and utterly misguided) section of the membership, got our Leader re-elected. This after a poisonous and wholly unnecessary contest that did nothing but deflect us from the vital task of defeating the awful, corrosive and divisive Tory government hellbent in taking us back to Victorian times.
As we strolled along the road, passing the homes that (entry level 500k plus) lined these leafy glades, it is easy to think that the Tory way is set in England forever (and some of my Labour friends think our decision to elect a genuinely left Leader seals the deal). But these places are ‘true blue’ and of course will never elect a decent fair-minded and compassionate government. Greedy, selfish and narrow-minded bigotry seeps out of a fair few driveways (apologies to those thereabouts that don’t see it that way, I’ve met quite a number over the years!). But nonetheless the fight for a properly fair and decent society has always been fought on a thin sliver of the electorate (usually no more than 500k) whose interest in politics is marginal at best and most of whom take little or no interest in the day to day knockabout of the political process. Their votes are always up for grabs and more often than not go to the party that seems least likely to upset the applecart (and its usually the case that one side loses rather than that the appeal of the others wins).
And so (with my first stab at the likely image for Shepshed from my project as my headline image) I’m thinking: why have so many of us decided to back a properly left of centre leader for our party (now apparently the biggest left of centre political party in Western Europe)?? Maybe, just maybe, the really radical and constructive alternative to a Tory government (whose sole purpose is to protect the interests of the few over the many) can succeed if it sticks together and keeps true to its principles. Not least as whole swathes of middle England (the Shepshed’s rather than the Swithland’s) sink deeper into despair to shore up the super wealthy and the penny begins to drop that it just ain’t working for them. We can only hope.
And time passes…and I’ve not managed to post in very nearly a fortnight. Perhaps I’m running out of things I want to say…or just too busy with other things (but what?) or just too plain idle. But there are small moments of thought that might have made decent posting. Like the economy and certainty in the 50’s and 60’s of Francis Bacon’s paintings that moves into a kind of Mannerism later where the paint thickens and becomes perhaps a little less sure of itself (at least to my eyes) – seen in the rather good display at Tate Liverpool (now sadly closed I think). Or the sheer genius of Louise Bourgeois in the display in the new Switch House at Tate Modern. Here I was especially taken with 15 drawings made in her 97th year…and I’m certain mistakenly labelled as etchings? (or not..the etching is the base on which she drew further marks so the link says)..although maybe I’m wrong (as without looking too carefully I mis referenced to my companion a Whiteread as an Andre!). I was less excited by Wifredo Lam than I had expected…too much influenced by others (even after the early days) and thinness in process taken perhaps just a wee bit too far. And the Liverpool Biennial display at Tate which (sorry but) looked like contemporary art but was pretty much just stuff by and large.
In my own work I’m busying myself with various projects, making inroads into what has become the second part of a three part romp through Schama’s Landscape & Memory, getting into the Playground of the Midlands canvases, but also casting around for a form for a series of paintings stimulated by the East Coast (a follow on from the Cornish Coast group). At first I experimented with a tall upright and agonised over the exact dimensions settling eventually on two competing sizes and ratios. Then I pretty much settled on the thinner of the two at 130 cm. high (the turning of the flat coast in the east on its side an idea I nicked from Shelagh Cluett, oddly enough one of whose works from the relevant series was up in Tate Liverpool). But – and I imagine anyone unfamiliar to art practice will wonder what I’m agonising about! – I’m still not happy so I have plundered the far past for a ‘fresh’ idea (see top of post) a take on my proscenium arch idea that I first deployed in my practice in 1969. There’s nothing new under the sun…well certainly in my practice!
after all it’s The Playground of the Midlands project. But sometimes its quite difficult to imagine who came up with this tagline for the Charnwood borough! Not that Quorn, Barrow, Sileby & Cossington don’t have their charms…after all my pal found love today in the public carpark in Cossington!
So it’s back to this project now. Three canvases are underway and now we have the visits to more than two thirds of the places listed in the guide under our belt. As the autumn weather sets in I’ll probably feel more inclined to work up the painting ideas for more of the pictures…and to get on with making them. Though given that my original deadline was the end of the year for completion of this enterprise I think some revision of the target may be necessary!
from the installation and opening of All Of My Senses at Harrington Mill (see above) it’s inevitable that I’m thinking what next? Of course I have a myriad of ongoing other projects (blogs passim) but as its the first outing for the Waldgeschichten one or two useful discussions at the Opening yesterday clarified some thinking for me. One of the panels that never made it to the wall (there were three others) just didn’t ‘fit’ with the rest…and as a result never had a text intervention appended. Until yesterday I hadn’t thought about it too much. But now its clear I was already unconsciously plotting the response to the second section of Schama’s Landscape & Memory…the one on Water. So today I’m cracking into this. Early days but I’m really excited at the potential! Sad really…
It’s always gratifying when you plan something out and it pretty much comes together in the way you hoped. There was a plan of sorts that emerged over several months, starting with an almost whimsical experiment utilising torn pieces of failed works on paper collaged onto larger sheets, and then very gradually coalescing into a group of pictures around the loose idea of woodlands egged on by a careful reading of Simon Schama’s Wood section from his Landscape & Memory book from 1995. The form is a tight grouping of images – something I’ve done a lot of over the past few years – and here it reflects the notion of ancient woodlands as dark and enclosed spaces of the kind that have all but disappeared from the contemporary landscape. Installing them was easier that I’d imagined, in the main down to the hard work of my wife who did most of the heavy labour, and they pretty much fit the space as I’d intended. Ideally they would be viewable from a greater distance though that would dissipate the density idea so I’ll go along with Barnett Newman‘s initial rationale for Vir Heroicus Sublimis at Betty Parsons – its meant to be that way!
It sits on the long wall at Harrington Mill (where I’m showing till October 2nd) and faces off against several paintings from my Very Like Jazz series that have evolved over roughly the same period. How can I make such different pictures? Well its just the way I roll – I don’t have a specific style, brand if you like, never have and never will. For me very different subjects require very different treatments out of a creative mind that can think very differently at different sessions. The critique of this includes the accusation of dilettantism to which I’ll happily plead guilty as charged.
Take for example the Cornish Coast series, reworked from the small ten centimetre blocks, to a bigger format of 30 x 30 cm. by 7.8 cm. deep. These are quieter, more straightjacketed pictures operating within a constrained format where only colour operates loudly. But for me it is important that the experiences of the specific locations are enabled through the surface modulations and the colour juxtapositions, both sympathetic and jarring.
Another wall features a selection of paintings from yet another sequence, ongoing for two or three years now, entitled Wonky Geometry. These operate pretty much exclusively within the realm of ‘pure’ abstraction whereby a predetermined open structure is put through its paces by the intuitive operation of gesture and colour within it. In my mind its a kind of Mondriaan on acid(not that I take acid nor have any delusions that I’m in the same ball park as Piet)…I simply operate in the same manner!
Anyway all these paintings can be seen at the Mill from 2pm on Sunday till Sunday 2nd October. It’s best to check on access – better still get in touch on 07808 938349 – to be sure of viewing. But I’ll be in attendance from 2 to 4pm.on Tuesday 13th Sept., Friday 30th and Saturday 1st Oct. if you want to come along and see the work and have a chat about it.