Xmas comes early…

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Above another small painting on paper from the Deadly Delicious series back in 2012…yours for an awfully (almost obscenely) cheap price at the Harrington Mill Studios Xmas Sale!  (Shameless plug no. 2).  Yes your Xmas could come early if you fetched up from 12 noon this Sunday!

And for myself and my wife Xmas really has come early with the news reaching us of the opportunity to spend August 2017 at The Booth in Scalloway!  We visited Shetland back in 2014 and found out about the place then.  It’s exciting as our recent two weeks at Brisons Veor on Cape Cornwall has to be the UK’s most southerly Artists’ Residency and I’m pretty sure The Booth has to be the most northerly?

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The timeframe is good because it gives time for reflections and connections as to what to do whilst in residence.  I’ve already researched some of the previous residents and their activities and of course one of the easiest ways to use the opportunity is to reflect the amazing land and sea scape.  There’s nothing wrong with that but bringing something new to that is a pretty tricky business…thinking caps will be coming into play!

Our experience in Summer 2014 was quite exceptional…not least the couple days of glorious sunshine.  Some more of that would be welcome but over the course of a month, even in summer, we may expect some more rugged activity.  As one can see its location gives plenty of opportunity to savour it up close.

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I hear the sound of cash registers…

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Study for Mirrors & Tides, acrylic on paper, 37.2 x 37.2 cms., 2002

At least that’s what I imagine we would like to hear…that and the sound of other jingle bells.  Its the Harrington Mill Studios Xmas Sale and like Banquo I’ve been invited to be at the feast, albeit I left the studios twelve months back.  It’s really lovely to be asked.  So there’s plenty of work, paintings, prints, jewellery and other art objects to be perused and all at prices between £25 and £100.  It’s all on show from 12noon to 3 o’clock in the afternoon each Sunday for the next four weeks (22 & 29 Nov. and 6 & 13 Dec.).

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Study for La Terrasse Au Printemps 4, acrylic on paper, 27.5 x 37.7 cms., 2007

I’ve plucked out six or so works on paper from four series, Mirrors & Tides from 2001/2, La Terrace Au Printemps from 2007, Deadly Delicious from 2011/12 and the current Wonky Geometries.  All as cheap as…!

Out of Kilter

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Three Sales, Car Spray Enamels on Polythene, c. 92 x 144 cm., Summer 1968

I returned home yesterday from a jolly trip out with my pal Simon.  We had been enjoying a visit to one of our favourite haunts, the Hepworth at Wakefield, and, as usual it didn’t disappoint.  One might have thought this venue wouldn’t or even couldn’t change a great deal being dedicated substantially to the work of Barbara Hepworth but full marks to the team there for re-inventing the context in which her work is situated on a regular basis.  On this visit Henry Moore inhabits the first of the handsome spaces, small maquettes and early carvings and some very interesting documentation (esp. photos of works long since missing in action) the second before you enter a bigger gallery current given over to the Independent Group.  This is topical as well as thoroughly interesting as, of course, Richard Hamilton is an integral part of it – reminding one of his current retrospective at Tate.  One of the most fascinating exhibits for me was an extraordinary film shot in 57 I think – sadly by an artist whose name I didn’t recognise (nor write down!) that seemed to presage Gilbert & George’s escapades in the East End fifteen years later – by featuring Paolozzi and Michael Andrews (go figure!) wandering around the East End and being jeered and taunted wherever they roam.  On through the huge Hepworth plasters room and into the space where a local artist Albert Wainwright (1898-1943) has been given a mini retrospective.  These are in the main rather illustrative works of some charm but of relatively minor importance but, and with a canny use of new digital technology, it is his sketchbooks from the period 1928 to 1937 that are absolutely intriguing.  The use of two tablets enables you to not only see some open pages from the books but leaf through them in their entirety.  And it is what these documents reveal that is very interesting today…firstly Wainwright was gay at a time when obviously he could never openly declare his sexuality…and secondly he was enthralled by a passion for Germany and all things German…right up until there is a dawning realisation of what Nazism is enviably leading to.  The books are full of lively sketches and short anecdotal remarks…and they deserve a wider audience…but full marks to the Hepworth for this one.  In the remaining galleries space is given over to a substantial retrospective of the American photographer, Philip-Lorca Di Corcia. This show cemented the view I already had of his work that the really strong body of pictures were those he ‘staged’ in his Streetworks.  A lot of the earlier pictures seemed to me at least to reprise ground that a lot of recent American photography has covered and the more recent photographs had that rather deadly ‘Crewdson’ directorial stance that frankly there’s rather too much of about nowadays.  The Streetworks though are extremely interesting and intriguing pictures that repay some close study.  Across the way from Hepworth proper its worth mentioning The Calder, a space for more experimental work that is proper handsome too and acts as a really strong ‘value-added’ attraction.  The current show by Erika Vogt is a melange of sculptural objects interspersed by five video screens running collages of material…it reminded me a little of being at the Whitney Biennial!

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Erika Vogt installation in The Calder

So all in all plenty to see and a good lunch too (though I managed to tip half my bottle of Peroni over my companion!) and a call in at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on the way back.

So far so good…but when I got home I felt quite poorly, so much so that I immediately cancelled my teaching session for today…and it’s good I did as this morning I felt in no condition to travel…or to teach.  However a good few doses of pills and a day at home resting is doing the business.  And every cloud…I have managed to properly start researching for a big project I have in mind for this autumn following on from Deadly Delicious last year. Until I’m sure of it I’m keeping it under wraps (apart from my friend who is already providing some good input whilst we are out and about) but it’s starting to take shape and today has been a goodly part of the process.  In addition since lunchtime I’ve had some time to do some more updating of archive material.  Three Sales is a part of that ongoing task…something I produced at home at the very start of the summer holiday when I was 17.  I’d forgotten about my three experiments with sheet polythene (the other two were significantly smaller pieces) but it is just another of those enquiries that I get started with and then abandon…maybe I’ll pick this one up again…rather in the manner of the Cornish Coastal works…

The End Game

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Its getting closer – the ‘proper’ showing of the Deadly Delicious paintings is coming up fast now.  I’m just trying to decide how and what is the final resolution of the works that will comprise the exhibition that I’ve titled Epidemic!  I hate this point where you simply have to decide that works are completed, for me whilst they are still in the studio I can convince myself that they will be so much more dynamic, exciting and complete once they are finished…but the truth is somewhat more prosaic.  And the other reason they need to be finished is so they can be properly photographed…these phone images are fine online but for print purposes it has to be RAW files shot on the Canon and then ‘tidied up’ in Photoshop.  So plenty to do even after they are ‘complete’

Stop Making Sense

as David Byrne and Jonathan Demme once coined for one of the best live concert films ever made.  And I’m reaching a point with my Deadly Delicious series where it is becoming ever harder to concentrate on the task in hand.  It always happens when I can see the finishing line in sight.  The showing I’ve been working towards is coming up fast (just this week I was asked to write a short text for the wall) and for me it will be a conclusion to these paintings. In my head they have run out of juice and though I can (and have) thought of further ways and directions I might take them…I need to move on…in short to stop making sense and go to some other place.

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And this show that I’m looking forward to seeing tonight…has endorsed (in my thinking) an idea that I’ve been trialling in the studio for the past month or so alongside the viruses and scandinavian detectives that will be the Lakeside show.  For Louisa has been making very provisional and quite ‘clunky’ cardboard sculptures alongside her paintings for a while now…and I’m thinking if a recent Royal College student is willing to put it out there in that risky way why am I being reticent about it?

It also dawned on me that in the past I’ve been more than willing to push and pull the elasticity of ‘painting’ but of late (the past ten or fifteen years) I’ve been progressively tighter in the conception (and even often the execution) of the paintings I’ve been making.  So hence what I’m initially and provisionally calling ‘Tales From The Lumber Room’.  TFTLR also have two essential properties to help me ‘stop making sense’…they are random and cheap.  The former creates a chaotic and unstructured formal component, the latter encourages equally recklessness in handling and colour. The outcomes are therefore so wonderfully unpredictable.  Whether the results will be worthwhile who can say but it is very liberating to set out without a coherent and watertight plan.  The process is also beneficial to my dual personality as a Gemini…the clearing of all the offcuts of old timber in our cellar plays to my tidy Apollonian side whilst the carelessness of the creative process they are subjected to is definitely Dionysian!

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Making Paintings…

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is often quite strange.  You can labour for ages and some things just will not come right then others seem to pretty much make themselves – at least up to a point though you can find yourself going past that point and back to labouring.  And then too, you do something and only a few moments later realise that it may have come unbidden from somewhere in your past.  Take this piece above – I was pretty much about to leave the studio when I decided to swiftly add in some mark making whilst the gesso was still tacky.  I whipped out the iPad (on which I hold the source images on which the works are very loosely based) and chose one then quickly went to the paint table and picked an ultramarine.  I took this blue (I knew it was to be blue?) because I have been using a lot of Phthalo and a colleague I respect greatly had mentioned it so I thought go another way…  Looking at the image I swiftly and casually brushed in the blobs approximately as they appear in the image.  And then I stood back and a thought popped into my head…something I’ve thought about maybe only half a dozen or so times over forty seven years.  When I was a young teenager we took a school trip to Lungern, south west of Lucerne in Switzerland and on our return journey we had some free time waiting for a train connection in Basel.  I rushed off to the Kunstmuseum (somewhat surprised my teachers were prepared to let me, as we had very few minutes to wait)) where the one picture I managed to properly see was…Blue Balls by the great Sam Francis (like so many important 20c. painters pretty much ignored by art ‘educators’ and ‘curators’ in the UK nowadays).  It made an impression then…and obviously (?) still does now.

 

 

The Analogue/Digital debate…

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is not being conducted by my two grandsons!  But their presence in the household over these past few days has seen us out and about a fair bit (in the case of the above on the pasture at the rear of Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire). So I’ve been using what time has been available to carry on with my pastel details of the virus images.  And this morning (the family having a day out with friends) working up the images to the sounds of Neil Young and his corking early album, After The Gold Rush.

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The making of pictures by hand is often thought of as anachronistic, not least by many in the art world. I take a position alongside artists such as Sean Scully and Jonathan Lasker in thinking that making something by hand is an expression of what it means to be alive…and this quote comes from one of them (I don’t recall which but they both have spoken eloquently on the subject of why paint now?) and expresses my thinking better or at least more succinctly than I can…

” We are all, at present, more divided, less empowered and certainly far less connected to the effects of our world than we should be. It is for this reason that I am deeply involved with the textures of a medium capable of universalising so much lost intimacy”.

And in making these pictures I am listening to the music on a gramophone – ok so at a remove from the actual making of the sounds but a faithful, analogue reproduction.  And this I believe creates an intimacy and a warmth to the sounds that no amount of ones and zeros lined up will ever satisfactorily replace.

 

An exhibition continues…

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Perhaps it was the suddenness of the request from Luke (proprietor of the Tarpey Gallery) to mount a solo show when I wasn’t expecting it or the fact of the ongoing saga of the holiday breakdown and its aftermath but for whatever reason I’ve nor paid much attention to the current exhibition at the Tarpey Gallery.  I delivered it before the vacation and arrived back the afternoon of the opening…and that was that.  Until today when I went across to photograph it.

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As can be seen it is a relatively small display of seven of the aluminium works and three of the watercolours.  My thinking about the aluminium pieces is that because they had been conceived as part of the bigger display (at Lakeside this winter) the ‘in your face’ coloration is a bit much in this smaller, more intimate, venue.  And the traditional hang (pretty much the only way it could be done in the Tarpey space) doesn’t entirely suit the works either.  That said Luke did a good job in making them ‘work’ reasonably well and overall I’m not too unhappy with the way it looks.

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Before the work comes down I shall go back and spend a few more minutes with the pictures – for me the opportunity to see work on walls away from the studio is always worthwhile, and lends a perspective to the process of creation that for me at least I never get in my working space.

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I have also benefitted enormously with this show from Andy Parkinson’s very thoughtful review.  Its good to have the opportunity to read what someone else thinks about your work – especially from a commentator of Andy’s standing and repute.  And also pleased to see that it provoked further interesting debate.

 

On my way…

Despite a transmission failure, despite heat that carries on right across western europe, despite a really bad night’s sleep…we are on our way home. Hopefully we can make the last ninety clicks to Calais and the journey up from Dover tomorrow in time to be spruced up and ready for the viewing of my Deadly Delicious series of paintings that open at the Tarpey Gallery at 6pm. Besides new paintings on aluminium and watercolours of the viruses I have been playing with there will be tales of the amazing escape from the autostrada when the A Class transmission broke…

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