With nowt worth watching on terrestrial telly nowadays I was drawn to The Trip to Italy last evening. On retiring my wife suggested I shouldn’t be so envious of funds as I’d expressed, quite forcibly, the desire to sample some of the venues visited in the programme…and I agreed that actually I was doing alright enough with our requiring 500+€ a night accommodation in the Med (not that it wouldn’t be fun…). This came back to me this morning with the Mediterranean weather of late having deserted us for ‘typical’ English summer (cold, wet and windy) and I decided to bring a small banner work into the kitchen where I can work on it in the warmth. Along with a pot of decent coffee and a soundtrack of Corrie Dick’s wonderful ‘Impossible Things’ album life doesn’t get any better…
As it happens Corrie turns up on the new Dinosaur album…notionally Laura Jurd’s band but I reckon now truly a collective effort with – certainly Corrie’s input – but also as intense a presence from the other two members, Elliot Galvin on synths and Conor Chaplin on bass. Together they have made some especially extraordinary music this time around, not that their first album wasn’t a great piece of work (recognised with a Mercury nomination). But this one is a peach mixing jazz with, well, just about everything, all sorts of influences from sixties UK jazz (think Gilles Peterson’s Impressed samplers), through roots folk, to heavy metal riffs all bound together with Laura’s superb trumpet work that has a fluency and lyricism blended with an edge that evidences her understanding of the very best contemporary jazz phrasing and technique.
Anyway enough of the music reviews (probably best left to better ears than mine) and back to the paintings. As it happens I’m less focussed on the pictures at present (they seem mercifully to be taking care of themselves both colour and structure wise at the moment) and more thinking about presentation. Originally they were to be proper scrolls with canvas backing and rollers but then I decided to go with framing, cropped to the edges in a white stain wood. But now I’m considering an even more expensive solution, plain oak with a mount – go figure! (and not so much bliss…)
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 Colour: A Kind Of Bliss has ended. It was a privilege and a pleasure to have been asked to participate by the curators Lucy Cox & Freya Purdue. At the discussion event I rambled on about the pleasure that results from rethinking and then repainting a ground and then having to wait until the very last stroke before knowing whether or not it has ‘worked’. So it is with this diptych – a painting that started life nearly nineteen years back – and that, although it was shown once, I was never happy with. For most of the life of these two canvases (180 x 35 cm.) the ground was a dirty white/cream colour and the dribbles sat a bit uncomfortably on top. So today I set to and repainted, twice, the grounds. Is it blissful? I dunno but it kept me busy and I rather like the resulting work.
It occurred to me a few days back that although I own a good many painter’s monographs I hadn’t acquired one on Hans Hoffman. It seemed an important omission; not least as the college copy of the big Sam Hunter Abrams book was a constant companion during my undergraduate days. As usual Abe books obliged, sadly not the Abrams but a rather good, almost new, copy of the Hudson Hills book that followed on from two shows in Germany in 1997.
This has also the virtue of containing a good few plates of those canvases completed in 1964/5 the paintings to his first wife Miz and the Renate pictures following his marriage to her following Miz’ death. We talk often of the ‘late’ paintings of artists and this can mean just about anything in most cases…after all Franz Marc reached only 36. But it is extraordinary in Hoffman’s case.
After all the ‘mature’ work (on which the significant part of his reputation rests begins in around 1956/7…when he was already 76 years old…so these final two years of canvases, of which there are many and amongst his largest, are the work of a man well into his eighties. Like Picasso and Matisse a truly ‘late’ explosion of further restless creativity – hope for us all then. Why does his work appeal to me so much…no artifice, no slickness I guess. A lot (and I do mean a lot) of contemporary painting (indeed most contemporary art of whatever stripe) looks to me to be trying a bit too hard to be ‘clever’ in some way. Either conceptually or in handling and facture and so on. The ‘Hoff’ had no time for this at all. He painted directly and spontaneously and wasn’t afraid to reveal himself through the work. I like that very much indeed!
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!