Only share…experiences with those you trust completely. First trip out of the district since the self imposed ‘lockdown’ and some five plus months since the last time. To dear old YSP with my chum Simon and it was a treat…not nearly as tricky or odd as might have been expected. Yes we were masked in the buildings (other than in the restaurant where we managed a nice table out on the verandah) but otherwise much as before. Lets hope it stays that way (though despite a general consensus of government. media and – it must be said – much of the public cases seem inexorably to be creeping up again*).
What of the art then? I enjoyed both offerings. Joana Vasconcelos is big, bright, jazzy, post modernist internationalism with a good dose of feminism, local culture (Fado, Catholic symbolism etc. – she’s Portugese) whilst Brian Fell is rooted in modernism, an Abstract Expressionist cum New Generation vibe (I immediately thought of sculptors like David Smith and particularly Ibram Lassaw on the one hand and early abstract Caro, King and Witkin etc. on the other – though Brian is mostly in the more complex physical spaces of the earlier of these). Both rewarding in their own ways; inevitably my personal interaction with Brian’s work more satisfying given our ages, cultural reference points and aesthetics.
So a good trip out…next week back to Derby for a further dose of 20c. modernism with Ronald Pope as well as a show by previous Vickers award winners. As for the studio…
Botanicals…a group of small paintings with quite a history even by my tortuous machinations. I’m fairly sure these started back in 2007 in the backwash from my bypass op. certainly there’s a number of clues in some of the forms. They were fiddled with for a year or so before being bundled into the store cupboard at Harrington Mill until I left there in, I think 2014/5? Back at the Chapel they went back into storage – and might have stayed there but for the ‘lockdown’. But now they are being revised, reworked and put to bed.
My paper has a headline telling me that 67 cases have appeared in NZ implying that they are ‘failing’…meanwhile no mention (unless you search it out) that the UK recorded 1400 + that same day…)
for finishing up another (number thirteen) of the L’Histoire De L’Eau subset of Landscape & Memory. And alongside this I’m tidying up the four sculptural pieces that I’m taking, alongside my banner pictures to the exchange show we are mounting in the Greniers A Sel in Honfleur, Normandy alongside the artists of the Contre-Courant group. We being the artists associated with Harrington Mill Studios in Long Eaton Nottingham. Although I’m no longer a studio holder there Jackie Berridge, the Head of HMS, has very graciously invited a bunch of us ‘alumni’, myself and my wife (the artist Sarah R Key) included, to be part of the fun.
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.
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.
Another 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.
Its been a good day…in fact its been pretty blissful. The painting has gone well and as an accompaniment the fourth test has gone pretty well too. The comparisons don’t just stop there either. In fact at lunch we were both struggling. But sometimes you just have to dig in, grit your teeth and keep at it. You have to watch the good balls go by, not get frustrated and keep pushing forward and eventually you get the odd loose ball and you get your stroke right and it races to the boundary.
I could be talking about the cricket but its been pretty much the story with the pictures today, after a slow start towards tea it started to slot into place. So I’m now rather satisfied that I’ve got the eighteen pieces that will make up the wall of the Waldgeschichten (Forest Stories) that will be the backbone of my upcoming show at Harrington Mill (from 4th September). Oh and England finished the day in a decent position mostly due to a stunning innings from Moeen Ali.
Today I got back to some serious work after quite a layoff. And I remembered that it can be rather tiring! In fact its a well kept secret amongst painters that the studio is rarely a relaxing environment and that, although there is a degree of sitting and pondering, mostly it is quite hard graft. I’m now endeavouring to make solid progress on the eighteen panels that will make up the core of the forthcoming show. Actually I have six ready to go and another fifteen in play (I can count but I like to have a few extras in the mix).
Here’s two of those still ‘on the go’ but I fancy nearing completion. The only distraction today has been the arrival on the scene of someone who I fancy may become my sternest critic…not least as she’s likely to be the most regular presence in the studio…so say hello to Mindy.
But for now its time to get back on the road…Wymeswold and the other Wolds, Prest, Walton & Burton plus Hoton and just maybe Cotes…all part of the Playground Of The Midlands.
It’s difficult to post whilst one is on the move…especially when staying in charming, but very rural, French hotels where the wifi is quite fugitive. Although to be fair on this occasion of the thousand mile trek across Europe it worked pretty well and my absence online has been more a consequence of my mystery ankle injury. This has made walking quite difficult and more to the point made me tetchy and restless…and its that really has kept me away from my blog. I seem to be on the mend at last so I’m back!
Although my mobility is still a little restricted I’m getting on with some work. Plotting out the upcoming show at Harrington Mill ought to be taking precedence but as usual I can find plenty of other distractions to keep me from closing the deal. Alongside the large paper works that are concerned with woodlands I have the Playground Of The Midlands project, the ongoing Rough Cartography, more of the Wonky Geometry both on board and on paper, the 50’s Jazz pictures (quite a few of which need collecting from the recent outing at the Ashbourne Festival), the Lavanderia d’Italia, my Ragbags, lots of the TFTLR constructions and some related sculptural pieces! So hardly any wonder I struggle to focus on just one project at a time and it is hard to refute the notion that I’m always spreading my creative energies too thinly.
Like many other people in the UK I’m also totally perplexed and a little discomfited by the current political situation and tempted to give vent to my feelings here. However so much is being said by so many about it all (and most of it opinion and speculation) that I don’t see much point in adding to it. Nonetheless it is all adding to a terrible sense of turmoil and upheaval that certainly isn’t good for the soul. I pondered this recently whilst viewing Out Of Order, a large solo show by Michael Landy, currently at the Museum Tinguely in Basel. He’s an artist that I’ve rarely given any thought about…other than his famous Breakdown work (where, in case you don’t know, he destroyed all his possessions in a fortnight) and if I expected anything it was that it would be a ‘typical’ YBA stuffist show…lots of rather fey bits and bobs. In fact it turned out to be both a thoughtful and extraordinarily intelligent show with a lot of very accomplished ideas well executed. He had jumbled up work going back over twenty five or so years in a kind of warehouse landscape aesthetic lending a chaotic air to a body of work of real substance. Rather like Tinguely himself Landy uses this air of entropy to disguise much deeper feelings about values and our idea of worth. I came away with a great respect for an artist that operates in a diametrically opposite location to my own preoccupations.
And having had a day of looking at what Museum Tinguely and the three locations of the Basel Kunstmuseum had to offer I came away with little else that genuinely intrigued or challenged me. Of course there were plenty of examples of famous and not so famous works on display. They have, for example, some extraordinarily good examples of Picasso and plenty of big, and I do mean big in the case of Frank Stella, hitters from the post war period in the US. Maybe I’m jaded (yes let’s face it I am) but much of the ‘contemporary’ work of the past twenty or so years seems to be pale retreads of what came before. Sophisticated and polished perhaps (with the art market in mind of course) but without genuine feeling or emotion or even just that vague inchoate sense of discovery. And this sense of unease and numbness also infects my own creative process too.
Perhaps I just need to step away from it all. Whilst away I took this snap of a little drawing by Phil Thompson (owned by my friend with whom we were staying). Phil was a man of few words, I knew him mostly as the fella at the end of the public bar at the Griffin, but a terrifically talented artist when he minded to work. This tiny drawing owes a little something to the Circus pictures of Leger and others but is also quintessentially ‘Phil’. As we are often told history is written by the winners and art history is particularly cruel in that if the work is lost and destroyed then no amount of post hoc revision rehabilitates its quality. Over the past thirty or so years the self publicists and their pimps that have flooded the contemporary art market have ensured their initial longevity but not of course their place in the real history of art that only really forms a clear picture a century or two down the line. However I doubt Phil has any chance of posthumous recognition beyond the memories of those who knew him but we who do will continue to derive much pleasure from his work. So we take strength from that and keep on working.
So I must focus pretty quickly now on this sequence of pictures that use the idea of Wood as their central theme. For quite a few years I’ve been indebted to Simon Schama and his Landscape & Memory for some of my thinking about work. It was especially helpful to me whilst I undertook my major project for my photography Masters back in 2010. Now I’m back delving into section one and finding elements that resonate with the large paper panels that will be central to my installation at Harrington Mill in September. So far there are three completed, each with a quotation drawn from the text, though the images, as always with my work, are substantially intended to function away from the textual as much as hand in hand with it. Looking forward to completing the other fifteen panels that will make up the piece.
in your soul…is one of my favourite Charles Mingus tunes. And as one of the sound tracks of the painting process for these ‘Jazz’ pictures what could be more appropriate? They are going on show at the Ashbourne Festival starting on 17th June.
Before that the first two ‘Ragbags’ pop up in the Precious Little show at HMS and that opens on May 22nd. A fair few more will be featured in the show I’m putting on at HMS in September “All My Senses At Once’ where I dare say a few of these “Jazz’ pictures will also be displayed. Up until relatively recently I really never bothered a great deal with exhibiting. When showing opportunities came along all well and good but I rarely sought them out. In my thirties and into my forties that meant a heck of a lot of work was made and never exhibited and, although more things happened whilst I worked in HE Art & Design, that had been the case up until five or ten years back when I started to think that maybe, just maybe, it would be nice to make stuff that people might see!
So if you can come along to one of these three outings (I’m doubting there will be no more opportunities in 2016) and take a look…after all I’ve been fiddling around with these for months (though you might not think so) so it would be nice for them to be seen.
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?
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.
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.).
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…!
I can’t believe I haven’t posted something in over a fortnight! However my excuse is reasonably decent…I’ve just completed the move of studio from Harrington Mill back to my home. With work stored there going back into the 80’s and all the bits and pieces we accumulate over the years )I’ve been there since 2008) it was the equivalent of moving a small home!
I’m grateful to Jackie who tipped us off with regard to Liam – a no nonsense ‘Man With A Van’ who gets jobs done quickly, efficiently and cheaply – so that the bulk of the big stuff was back here swiftly. However I still made six trips in the car to get the job done. It’s taken two days and I’m feeling pretty knackered but of course its not the physical side of it that is difficult but the emotional.
Barnett Newman once said ‘Studio Is Sanctuary’ and whilst moving back home is practical its not entirely satisfactory spiritually. There’s something deeply satisfying about going off to a studio, like going to work and seeing the making of art as a job. There’s the camaraderie of a group environment and the opportunity to programme a space, animate it and see it come alive with work. How I’ll fare with the home environment again will be interesting…there is the comfort aspect and the cost saving and that welcome ability to go and take a peek at how its going at any moment one chooses. So ups and downs I guess – we’ll have to see how it goes.
Before the move we had the pleasure of an all too brief getaway in Cornwall. It gave me some time to scope the joint for the fortnight’s residency at Brisons Veor next autumn as well as allowing us the opportunity to experience first hand the switch on of the Mousehole Harbour Lights. As always weather in Cornwall is fascinating – one day glorious summer and the next a real ‘black cat’ wet and dark.