I started the new year (it already seems a lifetime ago) with a plan. Yesterday I took a look and thought it was going west fast. It is dither that does for me…take a look at the Very Like Jazz new panels for example. I’m pretty sure at least half of them are fairly close but I’m dithering over them, fiddling about with the grounds and then taking out a shape here or altering its colour there. So with February being the deadline for four then I need to make some decisions. But (and its a big one) the ‘plan’ also suggests that by the end of the month I’ll have two Water paintings finished, two Paintings Standing Up resolved, and five Playground Of The Midlands pictures completed. And that doesn’t include the work that continues on the maps and a couple other things knocking around the studio that haven’t even got to a base camp yet! I know I could just try working on one thing at a time but that just isn’t my way of rolling…
So this morning I thought I’d try and get a grip…or at least a foothold. So back to the Water pictures then – and (I suspect partly as a result of no alcohol and a fairly decent nights sleep) glory be at least two of this series finished.
from the installation and opening of All Of My Senses at Harrington Mill (see above) it’s inevitable that I’m thinking what next? Of course I have a myriad of ongoing other projects (blogs passim) but as its the first outing for the Waldgeschichten one or two useful discussions at the Opening yesterday clarified some thinking for me. One of the panels that never made it to the wall (there were three others) just didn’t ‘fit’ with the rest…and as a result never had a text intervention appended. Until yesterday I hadn’t thought about it too much. But now its clear I was already unconsciously plotting the response to the second section of Schama’s Landscape & Memory…the one on Water. So today I’m cracking into this. Early days but I’m really excited at the potential! Sad really…
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.
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.
Yesterday I starting thinking about woodland again…or rather I began with forests. My first impulse was to reread the Wood section of Landscape & Memory, that I first encountered on my Masters course in Photography and that begins with a visit to Białowieża Forest where Schama discusses the Lithuanian Bison. Google tells me that from landfall at the Hook of Holland I can drive there in under fourteen hours…so naturally on this first day of 2016 it seems a breeze! However practicalities soon crowd in and I set my immediate sights on a ‘forest’ nearer to home…so much so that I can see home (more or less) from one of its better known vantage points. We are nestling somewhere to the left of those cooling towers you can (just) see in the far distance above.
Ok so its not quite the ancient forest that Bialowieza is but a remnant of, except that in a way its maybe even older…after all the Charnwood Forest rocks are 600 million years old and the habitation of them (and the accompanying acculturation) is around maybe 5 or 6 thousand years (or one hundredth thousand of that time!).
Anyway my interest as a painter is in the spirit or ambience of the place and, here and there, the woodland closes in to give at least a momentary sense of what such places must have felt like many hundreds and thousands of years back. Although I’m sure that in the picture above there are invasive species lurking as is often the case in the UK.
Whichever way I cut it….a good three hours strolling around my local forest is probably better for me and the planet than a fourteen hour drive across Northern Europe!