Where You Been?

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.

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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. 

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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? 

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Paintings by Sargy Mann at the Attenborough

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.

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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).

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The view to the Exe – foreground sculpture by Louise Short

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. 

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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.

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Shadow puppets in my houseplants, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 120 cm., 2019  Laurence Wood

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.

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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!

Privileged…

to have been part of the extraordinary adventure that was stimulated by, and masterminded by, Robert Priseman.  I have Terry Greene to thank for suggesting I contact Robert over a year or so ago and beginning my own small part of what has been quite an amazing story.

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Robert Priseman

It was the exchange of paintings, mine from the Very Like Jazz series and the gift of a lovely panel picture from Robert in return, that led to the invitation to be included in Contemporary Masters From Britain currently on show at Tianjin Academy of Fine Art having visited three other large Chinese venues since the summer. Tianjin is, apparently, the sixth largest city on the planet! and I’m ashamed to say that until recently I’d not even heard of it. Things in the world are changing fast it seems.

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Tianjin Academy of Fine Art

Being a part of this tour that ends in January is only a small part of being in the Priseman-Seabrook collection as it features on the Art UK website and is an on-going venture that unites a great many of our best painters. It’s been good to meet and get to know artists such as Lucy Cox, Freya Purdue and several others…and hopefully more in the future.

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Someone looking at my painting! and also in the photo from left to right, works by Susan Gunn, Terry Greene, Julie Umerle,Mary Webb, mine, Freya Purdue, Julian Brown & Paul Newman

Its helped me over recent weeks as I’ve been feeling unwell and am still struggling with a (so far) mystery ailment that is severely restricting my productivity.  Not least in keeping up this blog as well as getting on with my painting. I had hoped to end the year with at least two current bodies of work pretty much rounded off, but sadly they both have a way to go yet. So it goes.

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detail from sketch for Honfleur panels, December, 2017

Nonetheless the New Year already promises fresh opportunities. Firstly my good friends Jackie Berridge invited me to be a part of an exchange with artists in the Honfleur area of Northern France in April.   As a long time fan of Boudin, a local boy made good, it was too good to miss. And another friend the excellent painter (and printmaker) Laine Tomkinson is putting on a show in Nottingham Make Colour Sing in May so much to look forward too.

People; What Are They Like?

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The ‘Exhibition’ series, digital drawings by Paul Warren

I’ve been rather busy putting this together – an exhibition of the work of six artists focussed on the observation of folks as they go about their day to day lives.  It opens on Thursday (2nd November, 2017) at Déda, the dance dedicated arts centre in Derby from 18:30 – if you can come along we would love to see you.   Its been a voyage of discovery for me personally, not least as figuration is very much not my usual turf, and four of the six artists I’ve chosen were not known to me before I started to put it together. Of the two I did know its been a real pleasure to be able to share some of their work with new audiences as it is my view that they deserve to be admired widely.

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detail from Tiny Screamers by Ellie Young

Ellie Young from Cardiff is one of those I found out about as I searched for painters whose work is firmly focussed on observation.  In her case it can be very direct (she has undertaken a project making 15 minute portraits at a local centre) but also from photos and film, indeed film is a great love of hers and though there are elements of caricature in her work it is fleeting impressions and glimpsed moments that seem to especially inform her work.

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The Unknown Statistic by Sue Stone

Sue Stone (based in Grimsby, Lincs.) is another whose work makes extensive use of photographic sources though these are often wrestled into fresh configurations in her beautifully constructed pieces that combine exceptional qualities as a ‘textile artist’ with painted elements.  Her interests are in the wider realm of how memory plays such a vital part in our reading of images of people.

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Arches by Helen Latham

An element of nostalgia might be read into the paintings of Helen Latham from Cambridge and they certainly have a very particular mood but often the subjects are very much of our time, and there are, to my eye at least, disturbing undercurrents in several of the images.  Taking us, quite literally, to another place is the work of the painter, Anna Pinkster, whose acute observations of people going about their daily lives in Vietnam are imbued with a freshness that belies their carefully considered realisation in her studio in rural Somerset.  And their marvellous vitality leads back into those artists who work I did know.

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Pineapples by Anna Pinkster

Firstly Jackie Berridge from Southwell, Notts. is an artist I’ve known for many years but over the past decade she has become both the exceptional draughtswoman she always was but also a painter of rare distinction.  In her work a highly original cosmology exists in which episodes from childhood are interspersed with mature reflections on the human condition in paintings or, as here, drawings that are, on another level, simply lovely to look at.

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Leash by Jackie Berridge

So back where we began the drawings of Paul Warren take us into yet another personal universe.  And this is where my quest started because my whole impetus for the show came from wanting to see more of Paul’s work in the public realm.  His particular – and peculiar – vision is something he shares with the artist Ian Breakwell & the artist/musician Kevin Coyne, both school friends back in the 1950’s at the Joseph Wright School of Art in Derby.  In their world view they forensically examine the human condition, all its foibles and frailties, but with a certain affection and – most crucially – a wicked and delicious sense of humour.  And if this show does nothing else it will expose and celebrate Paul’s contribution to this remarkable triumvirate of artists that came out of this city in the 1950’s.

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The rise of the nutters…

Its been too long since I made a posting and sadly I’m too busy right now to do the kind of detailed discussion of several of the things I’d wish.  So it’s a brief round up instead.  Of course the way the western world is turning right now is a wee bit distracting too.  I try to refrain from comment on these matters here but sometimes it seems that the craziness out there is getting worse at the moment.  My good friend Simon has put the UK insanity over the ‘European’ question down well so go read him if needs be.  And looking across the pond it looks equally bizarre…so we watched again the other evening the classic ‘The Thick of It’ that puts it all into some kind of perspective I guess.  Another friend of mine has, with much admiration from here, put his boots on the ground in the cause of the refugee crisis that the antics of the UK government succeeding in knocking off the European leaders agenda when surely they ought to have been focussed on that (see his blog for details).  But enough of that from hereabouts…it’s hard not to feel powerless in all this.

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But carrying on painting does occasionally feel very indulgent and a bit futile in the face of all the mayhem.  Still its what I do I keep telling myself.  And taking an idea from the excellent Andrew Bracey I keep tweeting a detail a day of whats cooking so in this blog there’s a couple of them.

Besides working there’s been some trips out…one to the Harley Gallery in Welbeck, North Notts.  Here artists Craig Fisher, Louisa Chambers and Rob Flint have been jazzing up the space using the notion of the ‘dazzle camouflage’ – that got quite an airing a couple years back at the centenary of it’s ‘invention’ with Carlos Cruz-Dias redoing one in Liverpool, Tobias Rehberger doing it in London and with the most media coverage Peter Blake knocking one out on the Mersey Ferry.  I’m pretty sure the idea behind this show was more the eliding of their three various and varied approaches to abstraction and the use of pattern and geometry and ‘seeing’ where it might take them and the space they occupied over the show period (sadly it ends tomorrow).  When I saw it a goodly portion of the show were the various readymade works installed and the additions were still very much on progress.

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But you still got an idea of way in which the collision of particular pieces, pattern and colour throws up new and surprising visual tropes and how this broad field of abstraction still holds a fascination for a much younger generation of painters than those of us who grew up with the geometry of Vasarely or Riley or Stella and Noland and so on.  If we do now live in the post-factual world (as I heard a commentator on the rise of Trump say a few days ago – Prof.Larry Sabato,Newsnight BBC, 24 Feb) then ideas of what ‘works’ in abstraction are as irrelevant to a consideration of a show of this kind as facts are to the likely GOP candidate this coming Fall.  One of the most interesting aspects of the show here was the way in which each artist privileges process and material.  Chambers use of folded paper models as subject matter in what might otherwise be quite traditional modern paintings, Flint’s use of washing up cloths as ground and figure and Fisher’s OHP projections.  All in all it was intriguing and visually compelling and even in this relatively early stage, commanded and shaped the space oddly – not least with the willingness to use lively – even sickly – colour combinations.  I’d say, and its meant as a compliment here – all a bit nutty…but here in a good way!

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Coming more up to date Simon and myself did the Mayfair Gallery circuit earlier this week…and took in as a centrepiece the RA Garden show.  Its a pot boiler and I’m sure on the evidence of our visit going to fill the coffers.  But overall it seemed messy and sloppy with way too much ‘filler’ getting in the way of the best and most intriguing works.  We took in Albert Oehlen’s new work at Gagosian that, if nothing else, was an intriguing departure from his usual schtick that I’d applaud.  There’s a lovely show of Simon Hantai paintings at Timothy Taylor and a fair bit of minimalist allover type stuff about (Manzoni Chromes at Mazzoleni and Park Seo-Bo at White Cube in Masons Yard.  The latter giving me pause for thought about paintings I made and abandoned back in 1972!  However one of the most intriguing things of the day for me was a visit to Waterhouse & Dodd where refreshing they stick the prices on the wall next to the work.  In this instance revealing that a modest sized Paul Feiler at £160k beats a large Terry Frost by £100k…I bet that ratio would have been at least reversed 10 years back and probably then some.  Whether it says more about the demise in Frost’s reputation or the rise in Feiler’s or a bit of both who can say…what it does tell us is that its a very fickle business indeed…

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Away from the bright lights (and the money sadly) my work – in a modest way – is out on the gallery wall at present at Repton’s New Court, where I showed the Winter Cycle a few months back.  The show is titled ‘View Of Delft: The World In Art‘ and is curated by Charmaine Tam, currently at Repton School but shortly off to Cambridge to read Art History.  She interestingly mixed student work with five artists, myself, Jackie Berridge, Lisa McKendrick, Melanie Russell and Ruth Solomons.  Wisely and modestly she didn’t show herself but her curatorial eye was good and the range of work covered a lot of ground with the diversity of material offset by sound judgments about what would line up intelligently against one another.  Overall I am very pleased to be part of this project that shows off the department’s sixth form work well and suggests that Charmaine may be somebody to watch in the future.  Besides Jackie’s work that I know well and have great affection for (full disclosure: we have been friends and sometime studio sharers for many years) I was much taken with Ruth’s small informal drawings on envelopes and Melanie’s small panels (see one below: Box Head & Shoulders Portrait II) accompanied by Hannah Walker’s Map II.

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But enough…I think I’ve caught up…so back to the painting…another detail below – all this makes me wonder – Am I a nutter too!:

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Is God in the details…

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I mentioned here a few months back that I’d been invited alongside many others to be a part of this show (detail) that opens soon in Bangkok, an intriguing idea that may well be more revealing of current painting practice than most.  The exhaustingly energetic Andrew Bracey is the curatorial brains behind it and deserves considerable plaudits for pulling something of this complexity together.  If you’ve seen any of his other projects you’ll be familiar with his indefatigable commitment to seeing through work schemes that would make most of us blanche but that often result in quite startlingly original and delightful outcomes.

(detail) was in my mind last evening when looking at Jackie Berridge‘s exhibition at the Lakeside in Nottingham.  Indeed its hard not to be drawn into the myriad details in these large new canvases that take her (now) familiar (to those of us who know her previous work) creatures into a host of new adventures in a fabricated landscape quite unlike any other I can think of in current figuration.

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detail from: Not So Bon(sic) Chance, Oil on Canvas, 2014 Jackie Berridge

There’s a lot of painting about that deploys the full gamut of painting tropes and techniques (indeed there’s quite a bit of it in Nottingham at present) and some of it is very good indeed.  What there is less of is open ended narratives around figuration that are wedded to the same sets of conventions and it is here that these paintings really make their presence felt.  I struggled as did my good friend David to think of any recent or current work that was mining the same seam and (without being too immodest) we have seen a lot of stuff between us.  I eventually came up with some thoughts around the 70’s and 80’s School of London where Hockney was constructing brightly coloured canvases of the Californian landscape or RB Kitaj was compacting space in a brilliant picture such as If Not, Not.  But neither of these are precedents for these new paintings with their incidents and adventures of a cast of curious characters in a landscape where the teletubbies are as likely to come over a hillock as anyone we might recognise from our own worldscape.

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Jackie Berridge, Non So Bon(sic) Chance, Oil on Canvas, 2014

I’m always drawn back to the playground of my early childhood with these pictures (I like others have been more familiar with these images as large scale drawings up until now) but with the painterly elements of colour and handling we seem to have moved into another even more dreamlike (and sometimes nightmarish) vision.  The colour palette is especially rich and in a warm early evening spring sunlight it was set off to particularly good effect but it only serves to lure the viewer into an initial security that is entirely disturbed by the content, both formal and narrative.  What is really strong in this work too is the knack of knowing when to leave well alone so that painterly incident and the author’s handwriting shines through.

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Jackie Berridge, Perfume and Savages, Oil on Canvas, 2014

This is good stuff and shows Jackie’s work reaching a maturity not just as the excellent draughts person she has always been but as a painter of real authority.  I’d say you should go see it.  And as mentioned above there is plenty of marvellous detail here that would have sat nicely in (detail)…and if you can’t make it to Bangkok (!) then fear not as it returns to the UK later in the year and Andrew is also putting a website up shortly that I’ll signpost here when available.  Is God in the details?..well we’ll get another chance to make up our minds then.