Goodness – this strange time of ‘lockdown’ has seen something of a lack of productivity on the blogging front. I very nearly let a month slip by without a post…not that there’s been any shortage of work going on. On the contrary it’s been quite a busy time what with an absence of movement out of the studio. And despite suggestions to the contrary I notice a marginal increase in COVID cases over this week rather being over shadowed by exhortations by the ‘powers that be’ that we all go shopping alongside a return to work. In any event I’m going nowhere until I’m personally sure the risk is significantly lessened so the painting likely to continue at a lick. This picture draws on another poem (with its rather prescient title) by the great Tomas Transtromer.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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’.
I dunno why really but the impending ‘end of year’ schtick impels me to ‘tidy’ stuff up. It probably stems from the ‘bad old days’ (that were pretty ok really) when I was employed and the Christmas/New Year break seemed a good time for clearing decks and finishing projects. Now of course I’m in the fortunate position that one day is pretty much like another but the impulse lives on. So I’m trying to ‘complete’ (only to my own satisfaction naturally) the works that have been kicking about for the past few months or in some cases years. Its probably just as well as otherwise quite a few might never get sorted.
Earlier this autumn I put on another show at Deda in Derby. My contributions are shown above. I donated Cape Poem to the organisation as part of a fundraiser and contributed a short video piece that can be viewed here. I’ve a great fondness for Deda and been a long time supporter as well as putting on shows there. I’d appreciate any support that others might give them!