Though I think I ought to write something about current practice presently I keep recalling this quote from Proust…”Authentic art has no need for proclamations…it accomplishes its work in silence”. So I’ll just shut up for once.
The generation of an idea for a painting, or a series of paintings, isn’t really that hard. Actually finding the form for the notion and then committing it to canvas or paper (or whatever other support you come up with) is a darn sight more tricky – for me at least. I sometimes envy those painters who go to work day after day (even year after year) knowing that it will be more rectangular stains or oily stripes or spots or whatever, and that these vehicles can encompass all their feelings for what they think the picture might stand for.
And as I come towards the end of a group of like minded pictures (occasioned by either a natural or practical conclusion) I start thinking about what may come after. But rather than moving forward with freshly minted thoughts it seems like one of those times to think about mining older shelved projects. So I’m toying with a set of canvases that will be based on the stack of collages made off the back of a trip to the Minervois way back in 2007…
But for the present here’s one that started out down in Dorset…text then from Robin Robertson’s poem of the same name…
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
It’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.
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.
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.