Water Ways…and Ice Cream Cones

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Cone for St. Ives No.1

Having completed a suite of paintings loosely related to section one of Landscape & Memory it struck me in conversation at the opening at Harrington Mill that I could, indeed should, proceed to section two on Water. And, I guess that means I’ll now have to undertake Rock, the third section of this fascinating book. I’d previously read the Wood section during my Masters study at De Montfort University but never, until now, got around to the rest of the book. So far the Water section has focussed exclusively on the great rivers and aspects of them. I don’t know why but I’d imagined maybe it would have been Coasts and Lakes…perhaps they’ll come later (though I’m well into this part of the book now).

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No. 2

Of course there is a temptation to think in terms of maps again and as one observer of the first part of the project noted recently thats never too far from my thinking. There are other equally obvious image tropes such as bridges and boats and then there is the disturbances of the weather on the surface and how these may affect the rhythms of the brush. I’m open to any and all of these but as I often stress there is no conscious connections between the individual pictures and any one or all of the above. Far more important is the spontaneous reactions to the basic collaged forms that I use as the starting point.

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No. 3

In Wood these initial pieces were arranged around the perimeter of the papers with a crude and simple idea of woodland hemming one in. In Water I’ve laid the pieces out along an imaginary upright central spine so the flow proceeds up and down disturbed by these casually placed torn pieces.

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No. 4

The pieces come from my once substantial stock of failed works on paper. When I started there was quite a big box of them…but over the course of the Water series this is substantially reduced! I’ve had to go back through the various plan chests and purloin more pieces that never really worked out (though some I’m now documenting before tearing them up). This isn’t too difficult as all the drawers in all five chests are stuffed to the gunnels and I’m pretty hot at generating failure!

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No. 5

It also has other benefits too. Like most people as I get older I’m thinking to rationalise my lifetimes stuff. A friend has just written eloquently about this very topic. So going back over the work amassed during nearly fifty years of creative endeavour is both cathartic and practically useful. And also interesting to me in terms of the drivers behind that practice. I find myself coming back to some of those old works and thinking there may be aspects that I can still use now. I’m thinking that over the next couple months maybe I’ll post a few here with thoughts about their validity or otherwise.

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No. 6

In fact I’ll start now…this is a group eight drawings I made in a studio over a garage in St. Ives. We’d driven over seven hundred miles in a day to get there…and meet up with my pal, the sculptor Paul Mason. He had been given the studio to accompany a residency in Barbara Hepworth’s studio attached to Tate St. Ives. It must have been in the mid 1990’s. Together we worked in the studio for a couple days.

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No. 7

Wishing to avoid the whole Cornish landscape thing I produced these eight working off the pretty basic idea of the ice cream cone – my two very small sons were pretty obsessed with them alongside their passion for surfing. I’d stored them away and forgotten them as at the time they didn’t exactly ‘fit’ with my work at the time. Now, besides thinking they have some nostalgic value, I’m not sure they are amongst the ones I’ll tear up.

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No. 8
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Up…

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It’s always gratifying when you plan something out and it pretty much comes together in the way you hoped.  There was a plan of sorts that emerged over several months, starting with an almost whimsical experiment utilising torn pieces of failed works on paper collaged onto larger sheets, and then very gradually coalescing into a group of pictures around the loose idea of woodlands egged on by a careful reading of Simon Schama’s Wood section from his Landscape & Memory book from 1995.  The form is a tight grouping of images – something I’ve done a lot of over the past few years –  and here it reflects the notion of ancient woodlands as dark and enclosed spaces of the kind that have all but disappeared from the contemporary landscape.   Installing them was easier that I’d imagined, in the main down to the hard work of my wife who did most of the heavy labour, and they pretty much fit the space as I’d intended.  Ideally they would be viewable from a greater distance though that would dissipate the density idea so I’ll go along with Barnett Newman‘s initial rationale for Vir Heroicus Sublimis at Betty Parsons – its meant to be that way!

It sits on the long wall at Harrington Mill (where I’m showing till October 2nd) and faces off against several paintings from my Very Like Jazz series that have evolved over roughly the same period.  How can I make such different pictures?  Well its just the way I roll – I don’t have a specific style, brand if you like, never have and never will.  For me very different subjects require very different treatments out of a creative mind that can think very differently at different sessions.  The critique of this includes the accusation of dilettantism to which I’ll happily plead guilty as charged.

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Take for example the Cornish Coast series, reworked from the small ten centimetre blocks, to a bigger format of 30 x 30 cm. by 7.8 cm. deep. These are quieter, more straightjacketed pictures operating within a constrained format where only colour operates loudly.  But for me it is important that the experiences of the specific locations are enabled through the surface modulations and the colour juxtapositions, both sympathetic and jarring.

IMG_9578.JPGAnother wall features a selection of paintings from yet another sequence, ongoing for two or three years now, entitled Wonky Geometry.  These operate pretty much exclusively within the realm of ‘pure’ abstraction whereby a predetermined open structure is put through its paces by the intuitive operation of gesture and colour within it.  In my mind its a kind of Mondriaan on acid(not that I take acid nor have any delusions that I’m in the same ball park as Piet)…I simply operate in the same manner!

Anyway all these paintings can be seen at the Mill from 2pm on Sunday till Sunday 2nd October.  It’s best to check on access – better still get in touch on 07808 938349 – to be sure of viewing. But I’ll be in attendance from 2 to 4pm.on Tuesday 13th Sept., Friday 30th  and Saturday 1st Oct. if you want to come along and see the work and have a chat about it.

All my senses…

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is the first part of the title of the show I’m putting together at present.  The work that will comprise the exhibition is all painting and I imagine that, for most everyone, nails it as a bit crazy as a moniker.  After all paintings are just about seeing aren’t they?

Well not for me.  Some paintings in my head, like those I just completed for the series entitled Waldgeschichten, are all about touch and taste – they are about pushing and pulling paint about, taking a great big nag out of the pigment and chowing down on it voraciously.  But then there are paintings like these…that are part of the Cornish Coast series…where its sound that seems to be the predominant factor…and its a sound of something that has real deliberation about it.  I guess I’m thinking about Satie or Keith Jarrett playing solo and live (The Koln Concert and beyond) or, as now, Nils Frahm.  In all this music its the intervals and silences, the tiny changes wrought out of the material, and so carefully considered.    Anyway that’s how I think about these works and the way in which, operating within a much tighter formal construct, colour and surface can interact to produce something hopefully worthwhile.

North-Zawn-side

So I have ideas around sight, sound, touch and taste going on in my head…and when I work with oils (and to be strictly accurate some of my acrylic concoctions!) I suppose smell comes into it too.  So that’s how the title has arrived.

Reports greatly exaggerated…

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Were I to have any regular followers on social media they might be forgiven for thinking I’d stepped off the planet of late!  However it has simply been a case of the long awaited fortnight in Cornwall at the lovely Brisons Veor finally coming to pass.  Its not that one cannot get online there (actually there was a decent BT ‘hotspot’ one could purchase) but simply that other things took precedence.

So a self imposed ‘media exile’ then.  An opportunity to reflect and enjoy this most magical of locations.  I’m sitting at a small desk that faces south from Cape Cornwall towards Sennen and beyond to Lands End. Through the window is nothing but the heaving swell of the ocean as it makes the shore in Priests Cove, below me and away to my left. It is the kind of cool, windy, misty and dank early evening in late autumn that this most westerly part of England excels in and from the vantage point of this small and warm cottage completely blissful.

Today we took a trip out, away from our immediate surroundings that we have come to know pretty well. We took in the Terry Frost centenary exhibition that is taking place across the Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange in Penzance. It was organised between Tate St. Ives and Leeds City Gallery and in truth the whole enterprise seems a little off kilter, maybe the product of too many hands on the tiller or just as possibly not just one with a firm grip on it.

Then again I should confess from the get go that I’m not a massive fan of the artist whose work has always seemed to me to be either a little too hesitant or overly designed…and whose exuberant use of strong primaries is a little too much ‘in one’s face’ for my taste. That said the early work, focussed mainly on the space at The Exchange is very solid and does contain enough strong paintings to put him into the premiership in fifties British painting.  For me it is the pictures towards the back half of the decade that really hit the mark.

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In these the handling is freer, the gestures less forced and the colour is turned down a few notches.  Force 8 is a pretty fitting encapsulation of what it seems to me that the best of Frost is all about.  The ground is wristy and provisonal, the marks positive and yet unforced, and there’s a really intriguing landscape/figure dichotomy that hovers around the composition that keeps the viewer guessing…and looking which of course is ultimately what its all about. I guess that the sixties were a busy time for the artist, he seems to have been whizzing about all over the place, not least the States, and the influences from here, coupled with a move to acrylics, clearly impacted on him.  Not for the best in my view as the paintings are overtaken by the intensity of the colour, what the gallery handout calls “its presence as a character in itself”…and the works correspondingly have a strong designed element.  Now in the hands of a hard headed and unsentimental character like Frank Stella this ‘character’ was wrangled and rail roaded into submission in the 1960’s to make convincing pictures but with his adherence to forms and feelings from outside the rectangle of the painting there is often a falling back on earlier ‘boats’ or suchlike in Frost’s work that seems rather formulaic and a tad repetitive. The addition of a couple sausage like constructions do little to suggest a sustained engagement in seeking out new forms or invention.

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All that said overall it was a show of warmth and delight in the sheer physicality of the act of painting…and given the confines of the two venues and the absence of several key works perhaps shouldn’t be raked over as grudgingly as I have!  In any event from my brief acquaintance with him I doubt Frost would have given a toss what I think!

Its worth mentioning in passing that the little display of monoprints by Ben Sanderson in the picture room at Newlyn were a delight…there’s something of the spirit of Kevin Coyne at work here.

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They have a lightness of touch and a spontaneous wit that is, if you’ve ever tried it, much harder to pull off than might be imagined.

Personal Struggles

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Cot Valley, 30 x 30 cm. 2014

Making decisions about what kinds of paintings one might make is, in my experience, quite a curious business.  Sometimes it seems obvious what the ‘idea’ should be but in the making it turns out to be very different indeed.  My recent Conversations have certainly gone that way with a vengeance in recent months.  But at others you can find yourself fiddling around for quite a while before the combination of form and content (and as regards non-objective painting lets not get into that one right now) seems about right but then you can be off and running for quite a distance before it runs out of juice for you.  These Cornish Coast paintings pretty much fell into that category minding the fact that the formal structure was one I first deployed back in 1972!

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Right now I’m pushing on with a formal scaffolding that I’ve seen used, here and there,  by a variety of painters over the forty five or more years that I’ve been studying pictures with some seriousness.  Not that that matters of course because in my head at least I’ve got sound reasons for using it.  I’ve put up a canvas above simply to show how the ‘working out’ of the notion can be an ugly business…this started out with a first idea that simply wouldn’t (or maybe I just couldn’t) resolve.  At the moment I’m reworking it with a sketched out second ‘notion’ that I’m a tad more hopeful will succeed.  Only time will tell but I shall post up the reworked canvas even if it doesn’t make it…  Is it these peculiar (and I suspect to the layman rather absurd and pointless) personal struggles that make painting still, despite our image saturated media world, a rewarding experience?

The Cornish Coast

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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!

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

Conversation into hushed tones…

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So goes the Conversation Series.  Some time back I decided these needed pulling back from the wilder shores of the gesture.  Of course the background chatter is still there but I’m slowly but surely bringing both speakers into line, a polite exchange rather than the slanging match they had developed.  At home the series of Cornish Coast paintings has pulled up just short of Cape Cornwall.  They will get going again onwards up towards Geevor and beyond once I’ve had a bit of on the spot top up.