There’s the rub…

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Wonky Geometry No. 24, Acrylic & oil on paper, 27 cm. square, June 2017

I can’t abide waste with materials…so I’m an inveterate hoarder. Several of my ‘projects’ are the consequence of this compulsion. The Waldgeschitchen series began by raiding my box of failed paintings on paper and pasting bits onto fresh paper, the Lavanderia idea utilises canvas offcuts and the Tales From The Lumber Room recycles all manner of wood bits and bobs (both of these still in process right now). But the sheer volume of failed paper pieces some time back forced me into drastic action. I had acquired four rather lovely boxes some 27 cm. square and began to trim and re assemble pieces with an ambition to fill them with a new series of small works. This increasing avalanche has the title of Wonky Geometry and they sit somewhere between the more straitjacketed Geometry paintings (some of which can still be seen at The Crypt in St. Marylebone Church until 30th June) and my Very Like Jazz works (and the Winter Cycle that preceded them). And the voluminous quantity liberates them a good deal. I’ve tried not to be precious or hidebound with them…I’ve even co-opted some of the existing imagery, not only my own but occasionally that of my children and others. Whether there is any genuine quality alongside their undoubted quantity – well theres the rub as William had Hamlet remark.

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Wonky Geometry No. 16, ink & acrylic on paper, 27 cm. square, May 2017

Of the show in Marylebone its worth reminding that there is a discussion this coming Friday week (9th June) at 3pm. If nothing else its an opportunity to chat with several of the exhibitors including myself and the show’s curators Lucy Cox & Freya Purdue.

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detail, Six Miles High, 72 x 48 cm., Acrylic on aluminium, 2017

And another shameless plug – one of the Geo series Six Miles High – is featured on the Auction blog set up by the artist Andrew Bracey. He has assembled quite a cast list for this charity event inspired by the death of his father last year and in support of Liverpool Heart & Chest Hospital. A really worthwhile cause and the opportunity to pick up a work by some great artists at bargain prices.

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In the details…

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It seems that busy times never leave you.  I keep thinking that the weeks ahead look fairly clear but then they approach full of activity.  This past week has seen me out on the stump (standing in our local elections…and yes I brought this on myself), teaching in Lincoln, up in Manchester and back in Lincoln for the symposium organised by Andrew Bracey to accompany the last days of the detail exhibition.  One shouldn’t complain – its good to be active – but sometimes there’s just a feeling that the work may suffer if there’s too many distractions?   Doubt and uncertainty are surely at the heart of any contemporary painter with pretentions to a level of seriousness. This came into focus at yesterdays symposium where each of the painters on the podium posed questions about either their own or other artists work whilst, it seemed to me, the one speaker without a practice as a painter (but rather as a commentator) tended to couch his responses to the work under discussion (that of Iain Andrews) with far more certainly and clarity than I’d have wished.  I suspect that one or two members of the audience (who voiced earlier concerns that the event wasn’t properly focussed on the explication of painting) may have found this reassuring.  From discussions with several of those painters part of the exhibition and in attendance at the event I’m confident that they, like me, are only confident that we aren’t confident about where serious contemporary painting  is at!

The event was good fun and gave an opportunity to meet up with a few other painters that one felt one knew but only in the digital realm.  For me it was good to be able to say hello to Ruth Philo, whose marvellously pellucid pictures I’ve admired in several shows, and to catch up with Richard Waring, whom I’d met some years back but lost sight of, a painter with a fluid yet sure touch and excellent eye.  I was there with my wife, and my pals John and Louisa…it was a good day…I gave Andrew one of my little ‘Place’ pieces as a thanks for the whole detail project (that must have been quite a job!) and took this detail of his detail in detail

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When you feel sluggish get out and about!

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Maybe it’s the new year, the change of studio, the weather or simply my mood but getting into the work seems hard at the moment.  There’s a series of small canvases and boards that I’m rather struggling with both as regards form and content.  I usually try to work through these periods but since the new year I’ve been heavily engaged in avoidance strategies rather than getting stuck in.  Amongst these getting out and about and seeing other work is probably one of the better ways of spending time.  It helps to see what’s out there and often feeds ideas and even technical tips back into ones practice – when you get down to it.  Earlier in the week past I took a trip to Nottingham Castle Museum.  Partly to take in the annual Open but more critically for me to check out Andrew Bracey‘s ReconFigure project.  Andrew is one of the region’s most prolific artists and has developed a reputation for original and thoughtful shows that engage in current debates around painting (possibly as an ‘expanded field’ though I think that expression ghastly!).  One of the things that I found interesting was his use of the triangle as the most basic shape that could be deployed as a masking device to obliterate the figures in the historical paintings – co-incidently I’ve been using several basic shapes as ground in these panel pictures (and in a series of ‘Conversation Pieces’ last autumn).  He suggests the use of the device as in part a means of focussing the viewer on the backgrounds, as those parts of works where the grounds are often the least carefully treated (or least regarded) aspects of the pictures.  In my panels I’m seeing these grounds as a regularising force to bring the viewer back to the gestural forms that populate the centre space and create some kind of tension between the two. What seeing his pictures did for me was to get me thinking about how much more I could do to get this ‘oscillation’ moving about in a more dynamic way.  In Andrew’s pieces he deploys colour and tonality in a much more lurid fashion than I have been doing but it has encouraged me to think about breaking out of the close toned (and dare one say rather too polite) arrangements.  The Castle show was due to finish this weekend but I understand it has been extended…best check to find out how long but certainly worth a visit.

In the detail…

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Here is my detail…centre image, bottom row…in the (detail) exhibition in Thailand earlier in the year.  The juxtaposition of 144 artists individually chosen images of one of their works is interesting and frankly a wee bit crazy when used a cladding in a gallery that culturally is quite a distance from a classic ‘white cube’.  How it will look in something (a bit) more akin to that we will see when it opens at Transition Gallery in the studios on Regents Canal in a couple weeks time. Grateful thanks are due to Andrew Bracey whose energy fuels this whole project.

So detail is in mind at present as I struggle to write something about Mondrian & His Studios: Abstraction Into The World, currently running at Tate Liverpool.  How do you say anything interesting or original about someone over whom many writers have picked about since the early 1920’s? Still I’ve agreed to write something so I’d better get it underway.  One of the things I’ll dwell on is the detail…as it seems to me thats where the real Mondrian mystery lies.

Is God in the details…

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I mentioned here a few months back that I’d been invited alongside many others to be a part of this show (detail) that opens soon in Bangkok, an intriguing idea that may well be more revealing of current painting practice than most.  The exhaustingly energetic Andrew Bracey is the curatorial brains behind it and deserves considerable plaudits for pulling something of this complexity together.  If you’ve seen any of his other projects you’ll be familiar with his indefatigable commitment to seeing through work schemes that would make most of us blanche but that often result in quite startlingly original and delightful outcomes.

(detail) was in my mind last evening when looking at Jackie Berridge‘s exhibition at the Lakeside in Nottingham.  Indeed its hard not to be drawn into the myriad details in these large new canvases that take her (now) familiar (to those of us who know her previous work) creatures into a host of new adventures in a fabricated landscape quite unlike any other I can think of in current figuration.

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detail from: Not So Bon(sic) Chance, Oil on Canvas, 2014 Jackie Berridge

There’s a lot of painting about that deploys the full gamut of painting tropes and techniques (indeed there’s quite a bit of it in Nottingham at present) and some of it is very good indeed.  What there is less of is open ended narratives around figuration that are wedded to the same sets of conventions and it is here that these paintings really make their presence felt.  I struggled as did my good friend David to think of any recent or current work that was mining the same seam and (without being too immodest) we have seen a lot of stuff between us.  I eventually came up with some thoughts around the 70’s and 80’s School of London where Hockney was constructing brightly coloured canvases of the Californian landscape or RB Kitaj was compacting space in a brilliant picture such as If Not, Not.  But neither of these are precedents for these new paintings with their incidents and adventures of a cast of curious characters in a landscape where the teletubbies are as likely to come over a hillock as anyone we might recognise from our own worldscape.

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Jackie Berridge, Non So Bon(sic) Chance, Oil on Canvas, 2014

I’m always drawn back to the playground of my early childhood with these pictures (I like others have been more familiar with these images as large scale drawings up until now) but with the painterly elements of colour and handling we seem to have moved into another even more dreamlike (and sometimes nightmarish) vision.  The colour palette is especially rich and in a warm early evening spring sunlight it was set off to particularly good effect but it only serves to lure the viewer into an initial security that is entirely disturbed by the content, both formal and narrative.  What is really strong in this work too is the knack of knowing when to leave well alone so that painterly incident and the author’s handwriting shines through.

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Jackie Berridge, Perfume and Savages, Oil on Canvas, 2014

This is good stuff and shows Jackie’s work reaching a maturity not just as the excellent draughts person she has always been but as a painter of real authority.  I’d say you should go see it.  And as mentioned above there is plenty of marvellous detail here that would have sat nicely in (detail)…and if you can’t make it to Bangkok (!) then fear not as it returns to the UK later in the year and Andrew is also putting a website up shortly that I’ll signpost here when available.  Is God in the details?..well we’ll get another chance to make up our minds then.