Moving Right Along…

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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…

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Up…

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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.

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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.

IMG_9578.JPGAnother 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.

Willow Weep For Me…

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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.”

Just the fillip required…

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Its hardly graft but I’m finding making the second half of the Wald series rather taxing…of course sometimes one has to just keep working through it and if I was as driven as I was thirty or so years back then the whole thing might be wrapped up in a very few sessions.  As it is I keep prevaricating, then acting precipitously and screwing up, then having to rescue it, and going through the whole damn process again.  In some cases it may be just this ‘history’ that brings something to the party, in others just the opposite.  In any event I have to resolve another nine within the next three weeks or so.

But just as it was all seeming something of a chore along comes three things that add a little fillip to one’s day.  Firstly we threw a party and a friend came along with a gift of three tiny paintings that are a joy.   Secondly another friend recommended me for a quite prestigious collection.  Lastly another friend bought a picture from our local gallery. These three have raised my spirits recently at (courtesy of them) is the end of what has been a testing period for my practice.  I’m now experiencing the boost in confidence that is needed to crack this project.  They know who they are…and I want to say thanks!

Tired…

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Today I got back to some serious work after quite a layoff.  And I remembered that it can be rather tiring!  In fact its a well kept secret amongst painters that the studio is rarely a relaxing environment and that, although there is a degree of sitting and pondering, mostly it is quite hard graft.  I’m now endeavouring to make solid progress on the eighteen panels that will make up the core of the forthcoming show.  Actually I have six ready to go and another fifteen in play (I can count but I like to have a few extras in the mix).

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Here’s two of those still ‘on the go’ but I fancy nearing completion.  The only distraction today has been the arrival on the scene of someone who I fancy may become my sternest critic…not least as she’s likely to be the most regular presence in the studio…so say hello to Mindy.

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But for now its time to get back on the road…Wymeswold and the other Wolds, Prest, Walton & Burton plus Hoton and just maybe Cotes…all part of the Playground Of The Midlands.

Back to business but what business?

IMG_9369It’s difficult to post whilst one is on the move…especially when staying in charming, but very rural, French hotels where the wifi is quite fugitive.  Although to be fair on this occasion of the thousand mile trek across Europe it worked pretty well and my absence online has been more a consequence of my mystery ankle injury. This has made walking quite difficult and more to the point made me tetchy and restless…and its that really has kept me away from my blog.  I seem to be on the mend at last so I’m back!

Although my mobility is still a little restricted I’m getting on with some work.  Plotting out the upcoming show at Harrington Mill ought to be taking precedence but as usual I can find plenty of other distractions to keep me from closing the deal.  Alongside the large paper works that are concerned with woodlands I have the Playground Of The Midlands project, the ongoing Rough Cartography, more of the Wonky Geometry both on board and on paper, the 50’s Jazz pictures (quite a few of which need collecting from the recent outing at the Ashbourne Festival), the Lavanderia d’Italia, my Ragbags, lots of the TFTLR constructions and some related sculptural pieces!  So hardly any wonder I struggle to focus on just one project at a time and it is hard to refute the notion that I’m always spreading my creative energies too thinly.

Like many other people in the UK I’m also totally perplexed and a little discomfited by the current political situation and tempted to give vent to my feelings here.  However so much is being said by so many about it all (and most of it opinion and speculation) that I don’t see much point in adding to it.  Nonetheless it is all adding to a terrible sense of turmoil and upheaval that certainly isn’t good for the soul.  I pondered this recently whilst viewing Out Of Order, a large solo show by Michael Landy, currently at the Museum Tinguely in Basel.  He’s an artist that I’ve rarely given any thought about…other than his famous Breakdown work (where, in case you don’t know, he destroyed all his possessions in a fortnight) and if I expected anything it was that it would be a ‘typical’ YBA stuffist show…lots of rather fey bits and bobs.  In fact it turned out to be both a thoughtful and extraordinarily intelligent show with a lot of very accomplished ideas well executed.  He had jumbled up work going back over twenty five or so years in a kind of warehouse landscape aesthetic lending a chaotic air to a body of work of real substance.  Rather like Tinguely himself Landy uses this air of entropy to disguise much deeper feelings about values and our idea of worth. I came away with a great respect for an artist that operates in a diametrically opposite location to my own preoccupations.

And having had a day of looking at what Museum Tinguely and the three locations of the Basel Kunstmuseum had to offer I came away with little else that genuinely intrigued or challenged me.  Of course there were plenty of examples of famous and not so famous works on display.  They have, for example, some extraordinarily good examples of Picasso and plenty of big, and I do mean big in the case of Frank Stella, hitters from the post war period in the US.  Maybe I’m jaded (yes let’s face it I am) but much of the ‘contemporary’ work of the past twenty or so years seems to be pale retreads of what came before. Sophisticated and polished perhaps (with the art market in mind of course) but without genuine feeling or emotion or even just that vague inchoate sense of discovery.  And this sense of unease and numbness also infects my own creative process too.

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Perhaps I just need to step away from it all.  Whilst away I took this snap of a little drawing by Phil Thompson (owned by my friend with whom we were staying). Phil was a man of few words, I knew him mostly as the fella at the end of the public bar at the Griffin, but a terrifically talented artist when he minded to work.  This tiny drawing owes a little something to the Circus pictures of Leger and others but is also quintessentially ‘Phil’.  As we are often told history is written by the winners and art history is particularly cruel in that if the work is lost and destroyed then no amount of post hoc revision rehabilitates its quality.  Over the past thirty or so years the self publicists and their pimps that have flooded the contemporary art market have ensured their initial longevity but not of course their place in the real history of art that only really forms a clear picture a century or two down the line.  However I doubt Phil has any chance of posthumous recognition beyond the memories of those who knew him but we who do will continue to derive much pleasure from his work. So we take strength from that and keep on working.

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Bialowieza – Wald, acrylic & flashe on paper, 106 x 94 cm., 2016

So I must focus pretty quickly now on this sequence of pictures that use the idea of Wood as their central theme.  For quite a few years I’ve been indebted to Simon Schama and his Landscape & Memory for some of my thinking about work.  It was especially helpful to me whilst I undertook my major project for my photography Masters back in 2010.  Now I’m back delving into section one and finding elements that resonate with the large paper panels that will be central to my installation at Harrington Mill in September. So far there are three completed, each with a quotation drawn from the text, though the images, as always with my work, are substantially intended to function away from the textual as much as hand in hand with it.  Looking forward to completing the other fifteen panels that will make up the piece.

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Greenwood Tree – Wald, acrylic & flashe on paper, 106 x 94 cm., 2016

A trip to the past…

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reveals this rather lovely small (30 x 30 cm.) canvas…one of several quiet delicate and intriguing landscape notions at work in the degree show of Helen Sayer.  I was visiting the LUSAD show on recommendation from my pal who knows one of the graduating students on the 3D Design:New Practice programme (of which more later).  I nearly missed a large dose of the show erroneously imagining that the suite of rooms facing the entrance to Fine Art contained all those graduating…maybe twenty or so.  Wrong!  in the lobby a map reveals another 38 shows…so 58 in all (and the catalogue tells me this is a small cohort!).  It’s a trip to the past as I used to be both an occasional VL and latterly a governor at the ‘old’ LCAD – back then a sizeable cohort might be 30…and,of course, before time began (when I was a student myself) 15 was such a large cohort the 6 person academic team at my old college claimed they couldn’t give us a ‘proper’ education at all!  Although its been said plenty of times, and by those better qualified and more articulate than I, 58 is a huge number of students to deal with meaningfully without fracturing the delicate relationship twixt cohort and a tutor…I doubt I’d even remember them all…

IMG_9228Though I doubt I’d forget one as striking as Tayler Fisher’s (see above).  The sculptures, paintings and their soundtrack weren’t subtle or especially clever but they commanded attention sure enough.  To be certain there was ambition and hutzpah about the installation as a whole – I guess the reason he was ‘up front’ is fairly obvious – it set a good tone for the show as a whole.

As I wandered through the shows I mused further on this, and warming to my theme, return to another conundrum I’ve discussed endlessly with colleagues in HE of late.  Is the blessing of talent, ambition and application able to expand exponentially or are we just a little crazy to imagine that so many more young people of the current generation can be as creative as the now seemingly tiny fraction we put through – say – back in the year I graduated – 1973.  I once roughly calculated that in that year around 900 graduates of Fine Art emerged (actually back then we were mostly diplomates).  I don’t know the figure for this summer but I’d guess at roughly 4000 or so.  So what we are saying is that there’s four times the amount of creative talent in society (maybe three, given the overall population increase) that warrant this level of education (actually its way more than that – take photography for example, hardly a degree level course at all back then, now one of the most popular and populous courses out there) today.  I simply don’t get it and there’s scant evidence to support the idea that we have exponentially expanded our creativity (and I’m not singling out LUSAD here – it’s seems true everywhere).  I know there’s a perfectly respectable argument that most students are not going to be ‘successful’ artists (by which is usually meant of course, financially so) but that the ‘transferable skills’ will serve them well – and that works to a point.  In these shows there were were tattooists, cartoonists, gardeners, taxidermists etc. who may well be useful members of society though whether a fine art degree will have significantly improved their skills and knowledge of those business areas is debatable?

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Of course the best shows amply demonstrated how this kind of free wheeling, open ended enquiry can produce (as it always has) some wonderfully interesting and intriguing visually driven objects.  Here, besides those I mentioned already, were solid and appealing artworks.  Painting has traditionally been strong at Loughborough and though the seam of academically driven work is weakening there are still intriguing pieces to be found.  I liked Katharine Simmons installed painting sequence (above) and I was also drawn to Tristan Bridge’s distorted electricity pylons, though he will need to move on swiftly if not to become a one trick pony.  Nonetheless a canny looking piece.

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Given the dispersal of the shows across the site I nearly missed another good show – this one from Megan Smith.  Deceptively simple, perhaps owing something to Eric Bainbridge or that peculiar strain of British sculpture of the 70’s (think of David King or Gerard Wilson), these pieces had a lazy elegance that betrayed some tough thinking in the conception and the execution. It was a tasty installation, consistent and clever (see below).

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Also to be mentioned in dispatches, Laura McDonald’s animation and video work showed a conceptual maturity and a flair for presentation.  The way the work was installed…very theatrically for the animation and very coolly for the video…was most intelligently thought through.  Although not an area of practice I easily warm to it was nevertheless amongst the best work on offer.

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The same might be said of  Isobelle Jones’s comic assemblage sculptural pieces.  Though I usually find this kind of figurative and narrative work less than convincing here the chaotic and deliberately clashing of material conventions worked so well and the quality of observation of the human condition was so acute I was completely won over.

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So this was a show with some solid strengths – though you’d expect that – after all, LUSAD is consistently cited in the various league tables as a leading school and certainly attracts some of the best talent out there.  But there were a lot of shows that, at best, were ordinary and even some that were pretty weak too.  I should stress that I’m not trying to single out LUSAD as I’m damn sure a visit to the other courses in my neck of the woods would expose the same breadth of quality (more or less).  But it does seem to me that we are rapidly approaching a sort of critical point in the way we conceptualise what a fine art degree is, its purpose, and its fitness for that purpose, that chimes and maps onto the wider crisis in fine art itself in defining a meaning and purpose in the plurality of the post technology world we are pitching headlong into.

As I mentioned at the outset of this…it’s a wee bit ironic that at a time when the questions of what is, and what the purpose might be, of fine art; the rapid decline in the applied arts continues apace.  3D Design:New Practice is the ungainly, windy title of what is the combination of the Ceramics, Jewellery & Furniture courses that LCAD offered (and were widely admired across the HE A&D sector) “back in the day”.  You can’t blame the institution, everyone has done it (I even presided over something similar back when I ran a Faculty) and indeed it may be the only way to keep craft skills and intellect on the agenda at all.  But it all adds to the impression that the much vaunted and lauded ‘creative industries’ agenda that governments of all stripe over the past decade or so have trumpeted extends only to the digital and not to making by hand.  When the oil runs out and the few turbines and endlessly delayed French/Chinese Nuclear power stations we (might) have fail to keep up with demand the absence of the same may seem to be a tad unfortunate.

 

 

 

 

End of another chapter…

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Its been another longish gap since I posted here.  This time lengthened by the rare occurrence in my life nowadays…a virtually full week at work.  For last week I was mostly at BGU in Lincoln assisting our final cohort in mounting their degree exhibition – represented above by Beckey Shudell’s ‘Luck of the Draw’.  As this was our last cohort (for inexplicable reasons the powers that be have shut the Visual Arts pathway) it means my time as a Visiting Tutor there comes to a close.  So ends another, highly enjoyable, chapter in my career – if you can call my bewildering range of employments a career -and as above its time to roll the dice again and see what comes up…as the one thing I’m sure about is that I don’t intend taking permanently to my slippers just yet!

Better Git It…

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in your soul…is one of my favourite Charles Mingus tunes. And as one of the sound tracks of the painting process for these ‘Jazz’ pictures what could be more appropriate? They are going on show at the Ashbourne Festival starting on 17th June.

Before that the first two ‘Ragbags’ pop up in the Precious Little show at HMS and that opens on May 22nd.  A fair few more will be featured in the show I’m putting on at HMS in September “All My Senses At Once’ where I dare say a few of these “Jazz’ pictures will also be displayed.  Up until relatively recently I really never bothered a great deal with exhibiting. When showing opportunities came along all well and good but I rarely sought them out.  In my thirties and into my forties that meant a heck of a lot of work was made and never exhibited and, although more things happened whilst I worked in HE Art & Design, that had been the case up until five or ten years back when I started to think that maybe, just maybe, it would be nice to make stuff that people might see!

So if you can come along to one of these three outings (I’m doubting there will be no more opportunities in 2016) and take a look…after all I’ve been fiddling around with these for months (though you might not think so) so it would be nice for them to be seen.

 

There’s not a lot there…

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well…my pal Simon had warned me…that Barkby, Barkby Thorpe and Beeby wouldn’t yield a great deal on the Playground of the Midlands project and so it proves…Barkby Thorpe isn’t really anywhere at all other than a farm and few cottages (and as the excellent historian that he is, Simon tells me its really the site of the ancient village of Hamilton) whilst Barkby itself is characterised mostly by its splendid cricket pitch and pavilion.  Beeby yielded a few more images including the one that I have swiftly and brutally bastardised below to make what might be the basis of a picture in the series that will shortly commence.

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Earlier in the glorious day that it proved to be (probably the hottest of the year to date) we had roamed both South Croxton and then Queniborough.  Both locations a little more promising in terms of features.  Outside the deli in the centre of the latter we chanced upon yet another reminder of the triumph of Leicester City FC winning the Premiership…

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Clearly Claudio is reaching the parts other managers can only dream of!  We had considerable discussion and speculation on our return to The Golden Fleece in Croxton where sitting in the sunshine we sipped Italian lager and polished off a Burger and a Chicken breast with Goats Cheese.  It’s a hard life as an artist sometimes…