Home & away…

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Simon in a very sunny Bruges

These are tough times for sure.  However much one tells oneself that the studio is a fine place to ‘self isolate’ (see last post) there’s a need, fairly regularly, to get out and replenish the batteries.  I often do so with my pal Simon (see many previous posts!) either on one of our Leicestershire projects or visiting shows – often at hand or more occasionally far flung.  One of the latter several years back involved an almighty cock up whereby we planned to set out for the Louvre – Lens not realising it was a French public holiday!  Discovering it at the last moment we swerved away north to Bruges and back via Ostend.  This enabled us to take in MU:zee in the city.  Its a large rambling modern building that looks rather as if it may have been a department store (it was) and as I rambled around I was powerfully struck by several of the Belgian artists represented.  Chief among them is of course Ensor but there are fine works by Permeke, Brusselmans and more recent figures such as Jan Fabre and Wim Delvoye.  But what really got to me were works by the hitherto only vaguely remembered Léon Spilliaert.  His self portrait in particular seemed both haunting and haunted, a study in depression and insomnia.  It struck me as easily the equal if not possibly more harrowing than Munch’s The Scream.

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Self-portrait in front of a mirror (1908), Léon Spilliaert. MuZee, Ostend. Photo: © Sabam Belgium 2016

So I had been limbering up for a visit to the show of his work currently holed up in the Royal Academy and thinking just my luck as it now seems certain that its run will end before the curfew lets up.  Luckily however the Academy have put up a video of the show – not a substitute of course – but something to help out.  It’s worth a look, not least if you are a painter now. Although notionally figurative many of his works are of equal interest to someone wedded to abstraction and his range is truly astonishing.  It’s a mystery to me that he’s not better known or better regarded – and given that he’s lucked out in London likely to remain so for many.  Check out the video so you’re not one of those…and we never did (as yet…?) make it to Louvre-Lens! 

 

I blame Shakespeare…

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Have you noticed something with all the commentators and interviewees on the telly during this awful ‘lockdown’?  It struck me a few days back that nearly all these middle class people (and generally all those featured ‘at home’ are so) have virtually no original art on their walls.  In fact most seem to have some spectacularly awful stuff hanging in their homes.  It reminded me of something a Scandinavian gallerist said to me forty or so years back that whilst his clients in Sweden would spend a lot on a painting and little on the sofa in front of it, the British, he opined, went the other way (mind I guess Ikea was mostly operating at home back then?!) and so he was glad to be over there and not here and suggested I joined him if I wanted success as a painter…

And in turn I recall a British artist (I think it might have been Scully or Hodgkin) once saying that we were a literary nation not a visual one…and hence the remark about the Bard.  No matter…keep yer eyes peeled on the walls behind whichever ‘expert’ or interviewer pops up on screen – you’ll see what I mean!

Like quite a few other painters I know this ‘self isolation’ is just studio time by other means but I’m also glad that (for those of us hereabouts) the weather has been kind in these first few days (see above).  But I’m also very aware of the massive debt we owe to all those keeping the world going and to those much less fortunate in their accommodation arrangements (or worse still without any).  Making work keeps one sane methinks – and I am so grateful to be able to do it.

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Wonky Geometry No. 126, 27 x 27 cm., 26th March 2020

 

A more optimistic kind of picture…

A few days back my daughter suggested I stop posting my virus paintings from 2014 and forego a group of ten paintings of Plague and instead focus on something a bit more optimistic…I can’t imagine why…

However anxious to please I’m putting this latest canvas, an outlier from my Lunar Pulls series, titled On The Margin after the quotation utilised in it.  Taken from a poem of the same name by David Wright.

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On The Margin, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 85 cm. 2020

It’s earliest iterations were less exuberant especially as regards colour but in the current circumstances a brighter palette seems a good idea.  Wright is much under rated I reckon…and the poem referenced (of which the text utilised is simply the opening stanza) is a long peroration on art and life encompassing references to the author’s profound deafness) is most excellent.  Take care of yourselves and keep washing your hands folks.

Minervois?

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…

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Between the Harvest and the Hunter’s Moon, acrylic on paper mounted on board, 104 x 31 cm. 2020

Stroll on…

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and what a grand day to be doing so…hard to believe it’s still early February.  But we (being my pal Simon and myself) got stuck into the latest instalment of the seemingly endless task of visiting every place listed in the various District guides for the county of Leicestershire.  As it happens we haven’t yet completed Melton but a new year gets us out into Harborough (we polished off Charnwood some time back and I did NWLeics years ago).  The point of the exercise for me is to assemble a collection of small (40 x 50 cms.) paintings each representing, albeit very abstractly, every location visited.  For Simon it’s the photographs themselves and, as I’ve said here before, if you want top quality images his blog is where you should head off to!

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The paintings are invariably derived, very loosely, from crude collages of images taken on the journey.  So here we have one such…using two snaps made in Thorpe Langton, one of the Langton’s (there are five in all) in the Welland Valley.  Actually the Harborough project is a rather tricky blighter…the previous three guides elided the places on the map contained within the guide and the ‘biogs’ of places therein.  But this one doesn’t – some places are on the map but not discussed and vice versa.  What to do? choose one or the other or do the lot?  A question that won’t need resolution until I get around to the paintings stage and that will be a ways off as Charnwood still has 18 canvases awaiting completion whilst Melton still hasn’t got its full set of collages.

Meanwhile other picture making continues apace…another canvas from a newer series that has a putative title to be announced here soon…  This one is The Approach, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 55 cms.

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Resolution…

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I imagine that for the ‘strivers’ this is around the time that New Year resolutions start to get irksome.  They would for me if I were the sort to pose myself tough ambitions of that kind.  As it is I’m simply resolved to get some things ‘resolved’ this year.  So no new projects, no purchases of fresh timber, new canvas or paints and – especially – no new ‘ideas’!  Of course what I call ‘ideas’ is a rather grand term for what are just notions that mostly go out the window I start working on them.

So instead I’ve made an inventory of all the various half baked things on the go at the moment.  I say inventory but really I’ve just had a mooch about the studio and dragged out everything that’s sitting there.  And set about deciding what might be potentially be ‘resolved’, whether that’s a bit of ‘tickling up’, more radical surgery or being put out of its misery.  It includes the growing mountain of paper works, offcuts of full sheets, each boxed up at various sizes, of which the biggest is the Wonky Geometry series at 27 x 27 cm.  This constitutes 112 pieces to date, the last six of which are shown above, the result of a few days of ‘resolution’.