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.”

All my senses…

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is the first part of the title of the show I’m putting together at present.  The work that will comprise the exhibition is all painting and I imagine that, for most everyone, nails it as a bit crazy as a moniker.  After all paintings are just about seeing aren’t they?

Well not for me.  Some paintings in my head, like those I just completed for the series entitled Waldgeschichten, are all about touch and taste – they are about pushing and pulling paint about, taking a great big nag out of the pigment and chowing down on it voraciously.  But then there are paintings like these…that are part of the Cornish Coast series…where its sound that seems to be the predominant factor…and its a sound of something that has real deliberation about it.  I guess I’m thinking about Satie or Keith Jarrett playing solo and live (The Koln Concert and beyond) or, as now, Nils Frahm.  In all this music its the intervals and silences, the tiny changes wrought out of the material, and so carefully considered.    Anyway that’s how I think about these works and the way in which, operating within a much tighter formal construct, colour and surface can interact to produce something hopefully worthwhile.

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So I have ideas around sight, sound, touch and taste going on in my head…and when I work with oils (and to be strictly accurate some of my acrylic concoctions!) I suppose smell comes into it too.  So that’s how the title has arrived.

Bliss…

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Its been a good day…in fact its been pretty blissful.  The painting has gone well and as an accompaniment the fourth test has gone pretty well too.  The comparisons don’t just stop there either.  In fact at lunch we were both struggling.  But sometimes you just have to dig in, grit your teeth and keep at it.  You have to watch the good balls go by, not get frustrated and keep pushing forward and eventually you get the odd loose ball and you get your stroke right and it races to the boundary.

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I could be talking about the cricket but its been pretty much the story with the pictures today, after a slow start towards tea it started to slot into place.  So I’m now rather satisfied that I’ve got the eighteen pieces that will make up the wall of the Waldgeschichten (Forest Stories) that will be the backbone of my upcoming show at Harrington Mill (from 4th September).  Oh and England finished the day in a decent position mostly due to a stunning innings from Moeen Ali.

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!

Rain Stops Play…

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It was going to be a full day out on the Wolds (on The Playground Of The Midlands project), but in the event rain stopped play…not that we (my pal Simon and myself) are wimps…we can do cold, wet and miserable with the best – but nowadays we don’t have to!  So it was a waltz around Wymeswold, a  brief stroll up and down main street in Burton-on-the Wolds, ambling up and down one of Cotes’ two by roads, a momentary pause outside of Hoton and then back to Wymeswold and the welcoming embrace of The Windmill Inn just as the heavens opened.

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I’m imagining that may well do it for these four locations.  Wymeswold was a revelation, being the kind of place most of us might drive through on the main road (towards the A46 and on to Melton), where it opens up into a much more substantial village and the aforementioned pub.  Burton, Cotes and Hoton are much as one might imagine as a casual passerby.  None especially exciting either culturally or in particularly novel visual ways.  As with the previous project (From The Earth Wealth) in what may well end up being a series (of all districts of Leicestershire) I find myself falling back onto juxtapositions of fragmentary images to stimulate the canvas that will ‘represent’ the place.  As an example  above is a swift and crude example (that may or may not be used) from Cotes. And below a first stab at Burton…though I doubt I’ll use the text element.

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As for lunch we cannot recommend The Windmill enough.  The two course lunch is a good option, the pate for Simon, the Whitebait for me, followed by Beer battered Cod and Home cooked Ham, both with lovely big home cooked chips and trimmings.  But as we emerged it was hammering down.  So for the first time this year on our trips around Charnwood we abandoned our quest – just as you might expect in late July!

 

 

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

Ashbourne & beyond

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Night In Tunisia, 59.8 x 75 cm.

A bunch of newish pictures are shortly off to the Ashbourne Festival.  Although they are related to the series ‘Winter Cycle’ they take the idea of the geometric exploration as their starting point and have proceeded by way of fifties and sixties Jazz album design muddled and befuddled by some riffs drawn from that charming strain of modernist design of the the nineteen fifties.  At the core of this has been a desire to complicate the frame further and extend the range and nature of the forms and especially the colour relationships.

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Ghetto Walk, 75 x 59.8 cm.

Whether any of this is either of interest or assistance to the potential audience is debatable – indeed it is always rather nerve wracking putting paintings of this kind into a context of a show where most of the work is of a fairly traditional and conventional character.  But of course like most artists I want to see my work out there.  For many years I didn’t think it mattered a great deal but in the past few years (as old age creeps on apace perhaps!) it seems more important to me.

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Tengo Tango, 30 x 30 cm.

I’m taking a break from this series now…although in my ‘bitty’ way there are several others in process that I guess I’ll come back to at some point in the future.  Not least because come the end of the week we are off to Italy for three or four weeks…and quite what I’ll make there I haven’t the faintest idea yet.

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Better Git It In Your Soul, 59.8 x 75 cm.

That said we are taking some lino cutting gear with us…now that’s something I haven’t worked with for many a long year now!

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Pedal Point Blues, 30 x 30 cm.

 

 

 

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.