Around & around…

Two ‘portraits’ from the Hot South series…in progress or so I hope…

Back in 2013 I exhibited a group of five oval ‘portraits’ of Scandinavian literary detectives that I titled Black North. They accompanied the wall of viruses, my Epidemic series, in the show in the Angear Room at Lakeside Arts in Nottingham. I cannot say I was entirely happy with them at the time and subsequently they’ve been a reminder of doomed projects lurking up a corner of the studio! No matter. As it happens there were a few smaller ovals (they were all aluminium sheet) that never made the ‘epidemic’ cut. Occasionally it’s crossed my mind to make a complementary group of Italian tecs… the other group of fictional sleuths I love to read (alongside several of our homegrown. So I’m now wrestling with Hot South (I’m reworking those from the north too…and will re-title them Cold North). To pad out the five I’m augmenting the three remaining aluminium panels with two in…papier mache. Why not – it goes with the aesthetic of the place after all. The contrast is interesting and challenging.

Immune To Nature, Painting Standing Up no. 59

Whilst I’m mulling (rather, agonising at the mo) it over and as a bit of light relief the Paintings Standing Up continue to provide a distraction…

The Cornish Coast

Priests Cove
Priests Cove, Acrylic on Linen, 10 x 10 cm., 2014

This series is suspended for the moment, but this is one that hasn’t been posted yet. I need to ‘top up’ my exposure to the necessary coastline…lucky then that my wife has just announced an end of year trip to Mousehole!  This is ideally located only a few miles from where I started, just to the south of Lands End.  There are sure to be opportunities to  get across to locations such as Porthchapel and, one of my all time favourites, Minack.  And good news too that, courtesy of Matthew Macauley, Martin Beck, from my Black North series is being sent to Coventry shortly…and to top it up Rachael Pinks has invited me to show in Salon 6 up in Derbyshire at the end of September.  It’s such a pleasure to have such good friends and colleagues.  Details of both shows will follow!

Black North series, installed at Lakeside, Nottingham, Nov. 2013 to Feb. 2014…Martin Beck in the centre.

Back to back…



From arriving home from Portugal to hanging my exhibit at Lakeside there doesn’t seem to have been time to breathe!  Or to reflect….and cogitation is a much undervalued commodity in modern life it seems.  It was often something I complained about whilst working in Higher Education where a deal more cogitation would have often saved us from numerous cock ups and contra temps.  Anyway today is an opportunity to sit back a little and savour what we saw on our all too brief trip and to contemplate a little now that Epidemic!/Black North is on the walls in the Angear space at Lakeside.  I need to pay tribute to Neil and his staff who were highly professional, smoothly efficient and helpful in a way that a lot of other bigger art spaces in our region could learn from (and further afield for that matter).  In particular Freddy & Luke got the pieces up quick smart.


I’m happy with the way it looks and relieved it worked out pretty much as I had intended.  I just hope to get some positive feedback on a project that, one way and another, has dominated the past twelve months and more.  If you don’t know already it runs from now until 2nd February 2014 and there’s a viewing evening on Friday 22nd November from 7pm.

I have been to the Porto area of Portugal six or seven times now and it is always a pleasure.  Fresh insights occur every time and this time around was no exception.  I made a project several years back on the extraordinary (to me at least) space between the beach on the Atlantic and the lagoon.  The photo here shows the toilet block (!) near the beach at just about the narrowest strip (less than a couple hundred yards) of it at Costa Nova.  I am always fascinated by the way in which the salt air affects everything on the one side and the lagoon seems to protect everything on the other.  Another trip took us up into the mountains around Arouca…I’d been up there further north before but this time the terrain was more rugged and exposed (reminding me a little of Dartmoor in Devon).


On the way up we saw some lovely landscape and on top it was glorious until the mists and rain came in…just in time to prevent me from photographing the largest waterfall in the country…I got these shots, one of which shows the information board…!

IMG_4575 IMG_4576


Black North – nearing completion



Now that ‘Discipline’ is up I can turn my attention to completing the two series that will make up the show at the Angear Gallery in the Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham.  I’m at that difficult point where I’m reasonably certain that they are all – pretty much – the image and the ambience that I was looking for.  But there’s that nagging feeling too that a wash here, a sanding back there, a few brushstrokes this way or that, might just push one or two on to a place that seems absolutely right to me…or knock them right off kilter.  Chances are it will be the latter.

Konrad Sejer

Konrad Sejer
Portrait for Konrad Sejer, 980 x 480 mm., Acrylic on Aluminium, 2013


This is (I think…if only because I can sometimes make adjustments just as they leave the studio) the second of the Black North series.  It is titled Portrait for Konrad Sejer.  If you are a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction you will know Inspector Sejer who is based in Oslo and is the creation of Karin Fossum, sometimes dubbed ‘the Queen of Norwegian Crime Writing’!

So far there are eight ‘portraits’ in progress, though I think I can only show six in the exhibition planned for November.  The idea of ‘portraits for’ goes back to the late 1990’s when I made my first : ‘Portrait for Billy the JOAT’…

billy the joat
Portrait for Billy the JOAT, 78 x 60 inches, Mixed Media on Canvas, 1998


Billy the Joat is a character invented by the charismatic all rounder Ian Stewart.  And I liked the idea of a portrait ‘for’ rather than of a character that only existed in the writer’s imagination.  So when I decided on pictures of Scandinavian detectives the same approach seemed right.  Near monochrome also appealed, another approach that I used through the period from roughly 1994 to 98 and that sits well with the murder crime idea and the bleakness of both the environment and often the demeanour of these lawmen.  I finished the picture in the studio this morning…my first ‘proper’ session back there since the earlier part of summer.  It’s good to have a break but also good to get back in there.

What Is It?

Where does imagery come from? We talk about abstract and non-representational painting but of course neither of these terms are satisfactory. Nothing comes entirely unbidden, Malevich, Mondrian, Pollock, Reinhardt, Newman, all recognised that despite being acknowledged as amongst the greatest and most radical ‘abstract’ artists. I’ve been giving it some thought as being the ecletic and restless soul I am I’ve started work on a small series of new works to sit alongside the Deadly Delicious work in the display in Nottingham this coming November.


Some things seem to ‘pop’ into one’s head as obvious ‘givens’…for example I’ve been feeling a strong desire to return to a restricted, almost monochrome, palette for some time. Back in mid 90’s I had done so in an attempt to ‘work out’ my imagery and approach when wrestling with the beginnings of a new body of work and over three years this moved into full colour stimulated, in the main, by an extended painting trip back to Cornwall.

As part of that period’s thinking I had developed a conceit of paintings ‘for’ individuals – a kind of palimpest for a portrait that wasn’t – at that time it kind of worked as portrait formats as against most of the other canvases that were landscapes…albeit all rather vaguely! So thinking about it now I ordered some more elongated ovals that could serve as ‘portrait’ shapes and got to pondering who might inspire these.

Over the past three or four years I’ve developed a bit of a passion for Scandinavian crime fiction. Off the back of the BBC screenings of the Wallander series I began reading Mankell, moved on to Mari Jungsted (when we were off to Gotland) and by way of a Xmas gift from the wife got into Indridasson. Now I have also delved into the Martin Beck and the Harry Hole series as well as Karen Fossum’s Konrad Sejer novels. So a group of Noir detectives from the North seemed appropriate to the plan.

But where does the imagery come from? They are not ‘portraits’, certainly not ‘of’ these, in any event fictional and visually unformed (and in most cases we have little literary description to fall back on) characters. Rather my conceit is that they are simply ‘for’ these individuals. So the formal elements might be anything and yet somehow you develop a kind of – and here words seem so inadequate – style? a set of tropes? a repertoire of devices? And more hesitently still suggest ‘things’ that might have entered your head as you began the painting process, such as those white chalk lines that outline bodies on the floor at crime scenes, such as the idea of death as a definitive point between black and white and crimes as a range of greys between the almost accidental momentary passion and the calm and calculated pre meditated… But none of this possibly amounts to much as opposed to the – often mundane – calculations the painter makes when confronted with the surface of the picture and the loaded brush?