Where You Been?

Away from the actual painting for quite a while it’s good to get back to it.  An old colleague (and staff member) of mine once mildly rebuked me for chuntering on about the time they were spending away from the teaching saying “to be a good artist you have to put in the hours” and he’s right of course.  Leaving aside all the high fallutin’ nonsense we all spout about making work that has something to say, it is just plain laborious some of, if not most of, the time.  Imagine then how much tougher an activity like painting must be if sight fails you?  More of that in a moment.

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But it’s also important to see work and to reflect on one’s practice away from it – and to recharge the batteries in congenial surroundings.  These come along in many forms.  So it was rather excellent that my absence from this blog has been occasioned by just such variety.  Firstly an old pal of mine came up from London to spend a few days with us.  We hightailed it straight from the rail station to Lakeside in Nottingham to take in the Ivon Hitchens show, beautifully curated by Anne Goodchild and mounted by Neil Walker.  Hitchens late works in particular a bit of a revelation – their wonderful colour singing out in what is our region’s best gallery. 

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Day two we were off to Birmingham to view the John Walker exhibition at the Ikon Gallery.  We studied together at Brum, not long after Walker had left the city, his work having left an indelible mark on the art scene there, so not only had we gone to view the show but also to take a trip down memory lane looking over at a studio we had rented on Broad Street, then a pigeon shit invested loft – now an upmarket Indian restaurant.  John is a proper painter’s painter and so any show he mounts starts from a high water mark – however this was a tad of a let down.  For starters it consisted of just the upper gallery spaces and John’s work needs space – lots of it.  Although most of the 8 x 6 ft.(ish) canvases sat comfortably enough the two real biggies (at least 8 by 12 feet if not more) were lacking room.  And for another matter these two biggest works seemed to be pushing for that easy elegance that the late paper cutouts of Matisse have.  Gone was the hard won push and pull of paint that characterise most Walker canvasses replaced by thinner washes and canvas collage, not to my eyes entirely successfully.  Overall the body of paintings riffed off a variety of Walker tropes (the truncated lozenges harking back to the early 1970’s), an over reliance on stripes and the grid and the suggested references to the Maine coastline hard to see? 

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Paintings by Sargy Mann at the Attenborough

Day three took us to the Attenborough in Leicester.  Although my colleague Stuart knew of him I’d only the sketchiest knowledge of Sargy Mann (gathered from a recollection of his involvement with a Bonnard show years back).  But the substantial exhibition that Attenborough had mounted was a tour de force.  Both as an example of how to celebrate a career (something the Ikon show signally failed to do for John Walker) and give the artist a proper outing but also for the quality of what was on show. as if that were not enough Sargy progressively lost his sight over his career so that the last canvasses were made – well from what? – not simply memory but knowledge and experience and a heightened awareness of other senses.  Sadly the show is now ended but you can get an idea of the late works from this Youtube video.  We topped off a great trip with a brief outing to the Tarpey Gallery where the latest crop of gallery artists showing included favourites such as Richard Perry, Jackie Berridge & the Richard’s Devereux & Thornton too.

Secondly news reached me of work ‘on the road’ again.  Opportunities to have works seen in public are thin on the ground nowadays so always welcome.  And so another outing for the estimable Andrew Bracey’s Enough Is Definitely Enough exhibition where a small and modest offering from me is part of the mix.  Andrew is boundless in his energy and he’s produced a rather nifty gif to accompany this outing that I’m happy to reproduce here.

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Thirdly another very dear pal of mine issued an invitation to me and my wife to accompany him and his partner to their Civil Partnership signing, and to a very grand and indulgent ‘Partnership breakfast’ shall we call it that?  stretching over lunch, dinner and overnight stay at the wonderful Lympstone Manor.  Although very upmarket (Michelin Star) it was a wonderfully relaxed and inspiring location: a Georgian mansion overlooking a vineyard sloping down to the Exe estuary.  And although the art  was variable, quite a lot of it was very accomplished and some rather provoking for such a location.  We were very privileged to be able to share the occasion with our friends and it was an experience that will live long in the memory (and I dare say feed into the work in some way).

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The view to the Exe – foreground sculpture by Louise Short

Next up out of the blue a few weeks back I received an email from a painter for whose work I have the highest regard.  Now resident in the Far East Laurence Wood wanted to send me a copy of his recent catalogue of paintings made over the past six or so years since his move to Hong Kong. 

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I have a small painting of Laurence’s, an oil on board, made during his brief time in Leicester.  It was obvious to me then that here was a fine painter (and printmaker) in the making and though I haven’t had the opportunity to see his recent paintings in the flesh it seems that after all these years I wasn’t wrong.

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Shadow puppets in my houseplants, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm., 2019  Laurence Wood

And finally I took the opportunity of a trip down to Swindon Museum (to present a talk on the work of the painter Charles Howard of which more in my next post) to visit Avebury, a site I last took a look around sometime in the 1970’s!  I got lucky for in the midst of this soggy winter I chose a day of bright sunshine to revisit this wonderful place.

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So by way of explanation for my lengthy absence that’s been what’s been happening.  I’m back at it now.  Nothing completed yet bar this addition to Box Three of Wonky Geometry but three or four new pictures that should be up on here soon!

Enough Already…

As we start to whoosh through 2019 (I can’t quite believe we’re in February already) I realise that my way of making work makes for an uncomfortable feeling of dread…

The endless prevarications could see me shuffling off this mortal coil without completing some of my many projects unless I get my digit extracted!  For a while, 2 or 3 years back, I instigated a schedule for the year ahead to be sure of getting through work with some discipline, and it worked to a degree though inevitably crumbling a bit at the back end of each year.  

Enough is Definitely Enough poster

And then the unexpected comes up to further disrupt things.  Of course one can (and occasionally does) turn them aside.  But some are just too intriguing to disregard.  So it was with Enough is Definitely Enough another fascinating and compelling project from Andrew Bracey.

I’ll let him explain: 

Over 40 contemporary artists have made new artworks in response to a postcard version of Velázquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas for an exhibition at General Practice in Lincoln. Enough is Definitely Enough’ which opens on 30 March and runs to 13 April, features a huge variety of different artistic responses to the Spanish painter’s masterpiece – arguably the most widely interpreted of all paintings.

Art Historian Daniel Arasse reflected many people’s view that everything, or perhaps even nothing, has been said about Las Meninas -“what’s the difference, enough is definitely enough!”. The artists in the exhibition build upon previous interpretations by renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Richard Hamilton, Francesco Goya and Eve Sussman. Artists have long been actively influenced by the centuries old painting by Velázquez; with their responses, in turn, offering influence back to Las Meninas to enable new readings. With the artworks made for Enough is Definitely Enough’ there is potential for new relationships with Velasquez’s original painting to open up.

The exhibition is curated by Andrew Bracey and forms part of his PhD research at the University of Lincoln. He is exploring how contemporary artists have used and appropriated existing paintings by other artists, through a position of using the metaphor of the parasite and symbiosis in connection with painting.

Whether or not my contribution is parasitical, symbiotic or just plain daft you’ll have to pop along to Lincoln to judge…

Made in Britain

And it isn’t just requests for contributions to projects that pop up.  As part of the Priseman-Seabrook Collection initiative another show of selected works including my own opens in the Polish city of Gdansk in mid March with the title of Made In Britain.  It seemed too good a opportunity not to visit for the opening, not least as Poland is a country I’ve never visited.  So its off to one of the seminal sites in the resistance to communist rule in Eastern Europe.

In the detail

Rock Crushedit’s often in the detail that you get a proper idea of what something is about.  I was re-reading my friend Andrew Bracey‘s excellent catalogue for his detail exhibition where he quotes the painter Malcolm Morley saying that it was in the detail, very close detail indeed that the energy of the painting resided.  Maybe its so…I just started out on the Rock sub set of my Landscape & Memory series…and thought it would be interesting – at the early stage of each of the eighteen works – to take a detail from each.  What it tells me who knows…but anyway I’m studying them nonetheless.

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Besides getting on with this project – I’ve set myself a deadline of Christmas to have the lot completed – I’m also setting a harder deadline for the Playground Of The Midlands sub project (the Charnwood leg of the Leicestershire set that began years back with the From The Earth Wealth (aka North West Leics) group.  The third leg of this one – Painting The Town Red, the Melton district – got started at a lick last Spring and then fizzled out towards the end of May. So yesterday myself and my partner in crime Simon rebooted and got over to Bottesford, the most northerly outpost, to begin the task of completing the set.  It has to be admitted that as we plough through what will end up being over two hundred plus settlements across the county it gets harder to find distinctive features  in the many sleepy small villages we encounter!  As often mentioned before head over to Simon’s blog for the decent photos – me I settle for tatty aide memoires for what will become the paintings.  So above is a photo from Bottesford…and below the painting that resulted from a trip, quite a long time back now, to Hathern.

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Hathern, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 cm., 2018

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.

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.