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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’m not a completer…that’s to say I struggle to settle projects of any kind. I envy those people who can quickly and efficiently move from the ideas stage, power through the development and know clearly when something is complete. I really wish I could put paintings convincingly to bed. But I cannot…and a small consolation is that a few of the other painters I admire have said similar. I’ve heard both Thomas Nozkowski and Howard Hodgkin say that some paintings sit around their studios for years waiting to be resolved, now that’s an experience I do know about! So it is hard to say when this Winter Cycle project will finally come to a close. I’ve got seventeen of the twenty seven panels notionally complete and Snowdrops here I think might be joining them. Two others are pretty much the way I imagine I want them to be but today I’ve faffed and mooched around, fiddling with other projects, making minor adjustments to them just to avoid telling myself they are finished.
There are other tasks that need attention and some exciting new things on the horizon too…a show to finalise and more besides. But I feel that I need to sign off the Cycle…not that as I write the winter has quite left us, its cold, wet and winter despite being the first day of June. But every cloud they say…England are struggling to save the second test against New Zealand…and play has been abandoned at Headingley for the day – but I even feel bad about this as I realise how unsporting it is to hope that the weather will save our bacon!
There is a quiet normality around here at the moment and not before time. So I’m beginning to round up the remainder of this project and think about moving onto newer work. It’s good to have at least an outline of what might come next well ahead of when you might start it. Not least to be sure that the right materials will be to hand when I do – in the past this has occasionally bedevilled projects to the point of failure! One thing I am sure of given my experiences over the past few weeks is that I’m leaving politics to others in the future…its a game for more robust and committed individuals…me I’ll stick to this business.
And I was thinking that maybe winter was behind us…well before this sequence is completed. But the weather of the past few days suggests that whilst there is some sunshine there is also black skies, fierce cold winds and heavy rain about – often within a few minutes of one another. Still it means that the project has time yet.
Is it possible, and is it even necessary? Quite a few years back I doused a dozen 30 x 30 cm. boards in household emulsion and started a set of pictures that used a restricted palette of colours combined with some very loose forms drawn from images from my mobile phone shot on holiday in the south west. As happens occasionally I abandoned them quite early on and went back to one or another of the other projects I’d got on the go at the time. Why I can’t quite say now but they lay abandoned on a shelf in my studio for at least four or five years.
Moving studios is quite a wrench. I’ve been through it and am still working through the consequences – one of which is reorganising space here at home to make room to get larger scale projects underway. Whilst that happens (it may be well into Spring before I get properly sorted) I’ve been thrown back on utilising the smaller projects from the past. Hence the re-emergence of those panels. First off I backed them to give them more substance. It wasn’t strictly necessary and I recalled that part of the initial impetus behind them had come from visiting the exhibition of Olav Christopher Jenssen‘s marvellous Estimation; Love Letter Headings For The Bronte Sisters in Kassel back in the 90’s.
But for me lifting the surface away from the wall makes it seem more crafted somehow so it had to be done. After that I took the electric sander to the rough, often thickly daubed, surfaces revealing some underpainting and the grain of the emulsion.
This perked them up a fair bit…but what to do next? Might I simply react to the marks, textures and forms revealed to date? Did I need some kind of determination as to the formal characteristics, even to go as far as to have an actual idea or -goodness – maybe even a subject? I’ll admit that I started in the most direct way possible by placing some brushstrokes against or over those already there. But gradually a raft of differing thoughts started crowding in ranging freely over inchoate notions such as why not use some geometric patterning (something I’ve toyed with around roughly once a decade!) through to even more woolly thoughts connected to the landscape settings of one or another of the crime novels I’m fond of reading.
However then just as it seems it can’t get any less structured or meaningful something pops up that seems to make some kind of sense. I read (or initially, to be strictly accurate, listened to) a poetry cycle that comprises 26 works that move through the season. Somehow suddenly, at least to me, the forms and colours begin to coalesce into a kind of meaning for these panels. Of course I’m going to have to make another fourteen to complete the project…but I have a staging post to which I can tether the steed. But although I’m now rifling through my back catalogue of winter images (I’ve many hundreds of these taken whilst out walking) and maybe can plunder a few for forms am I really making meaning, adding value, purposing the process of painting? Only time will tell I guess.
I wrote yesterday of how good it felt to be back in the studio after a rather prolonged absence. And one of the things that made it doubly so was that I had the pleasure of a recent order of new material to unpack and play with. The bulk of it was new gesso that enabled me to prime another of the large canvases I’m working on for my Conversation Pieces series but it’s the extraordinary sample packs of the simply revolutionary new ’24’ Golden acrylic paint that has got me really excited.
I’ve been using acrylics since the late 1960’s when Aquatec first arrived in the UK and it’s no exaggeration to say that this ’24’ paint will surely totally revolutionize painting in the next few years. I’m no scientist but apparently the formulation of this material actually captures light in some complex molecular way and sends it back to you in its purest form so that, for example, prussian blue is just, well, just more ‘prussian’ than ever before. I’ve already mentioned our recent trip to NYC and the superb show of new Ross Bleckner pictures…but what I didn’t mention and didn’t know at the time was that he had been allowed to ‘beta’ test this new formulation…thus giving those paintings a major ‘leg up’.
The ’24’ tag refers to 24 carats and there can be no doubt that this completely game changing paint will be a path finder for Golden. It’s rumoured that Liquitex are aiming to challenge it with a similarly complex diamond based formulation though many of us might say that at the price of quality acrylics nowadays the diamond content must already be pretty high. I can’t wait to get back in the studio this morning to try out ’24 Golden’.