My Rough Cartography series is such a long standing practice that it seems now just habitual. Wherever and whenever I’m somewhere away from home I pick up those freebie tourist maps and once back in the studio they are pasted into one of the sketch books. Over time…lots of it!…they are gradually painted in. Why I do it I’m not at all sure but the letter below maybe gives some kind of clue to it.
Dear old friend,
Today you would have reached pensionable age but, as things go, sadly you’re not here to celebrate. Later I will raise a silent glass for you. I remember back when we were still youngish men sitting and discussing making work, why we do it and what it means. You asked me about my peculiar habit of keeping scraps of maps in my sketchbooks and colouring them in…and us both laughing at my complete inability to explain any purpose behind it. Well I think I may be on my way to understanding now. Not bad eh, its only been thirty plus several years after all!
Its something (if I understand it properly) contained within an essay in the catalogue for Contemporary Masters From Britain – a show of 80 paintings touring China from the Priseman-Seabrook Collection. Dr. Judith Tucker suggests that painting retains a capacity to capture our attention precisely because of its materiality; its “sensuous, viscous quality” as she puts it. This is coupled in the essay with a notion of painting as “quasi-subject”; a site in which bodily experience of the artist in making the work is somehow a residue within this materiality. I think it may be at the very least something to do with these ideas that keep me, all these years later, fiddling with those damn maps.
I’m also dwelling on the good fortune that allows me to keep working and how, over time, opportunities present themselves through a myriad of circumstances. It’s in my mind because of the show just mentioned. Its been through recommendation (and I owe thanks to the talented Terry Greene for that) that I’m part of this exhibition. Other possibilities open up and suggest themselves too. I suspect that over the past decade or so you would have cemented your reputation not least because of the way in which your last works were opening up new avenues and directions. Amongst the many things I miss is the opportunity to have argued and wrestled with these ideas and outcomes that never happened.
With affection and remembrance,
More information on Paul Mason can be found on my blog on him here.
Contemporary Masters From Britain is available through Amazon. The show opens at the Yantai Art Museum on 7th July 2017 and runs till 3rd August before moving to Nanjing.
People are crazy and times are strange I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range I used to care, but things have changed
So his Royal Bobness fetched up in Nottingham for the first time (I think) since 1966…opening up his set with these particularly pertinent lyrics – at least for yours truly. Maybe (mostly) its a consequence of my age but they seem to sum up our ridiculous and crazy world. How we can be sleep walking towards totalitarianism across the western world I really don’t know – just shows how seventy plus years of stability makes people (or rather a lot of them) complacent I guess. We can only hope that once things start getting seriously askew they may wake up.
And Bob has also changed everything, not least the tempo, tone and even the melodies of some of his best known songs alongside those many more recent and less well known ditties (a solid bunch off the Tempest album). But it was a decent show, house lights down on the dot of eight pm. and an hour and forty minutes of non-stop boogie, hard rock and some alarming crooning! But Bob always goes his own way and as one of these standards said ‘Why Try To Change Me Now’? So I kind of appreciate this bobbing and weaving to keep the audiences guessing.
I’m flitting between bodies of work in my painting too. As is by now well known to any followers of these ramblings I don’t do a ‘signature’ style but address each set of pictures in whatever manner seems to me to suit the occasion. Its especially messy right now. In one corner sits the canvas pieces for the Lavanderia series, in another the lumps and bumps of my Paintings Standing Up. Over on one wall another in the extending series of Very Like Jazz whilst right here is another of the twenty five or so small oils in the Charnwood series Playground Of The Midlands. Up on the balcony are the Water paintings (the second part of the Wood, Water & Rock pictures that take their cue from Schama’s Landscape & Memory). And somewhere at the back a small panel collection provisionally titled The Rigged Deck. Of course there’s also the painting of maps, the Wonky Geometries and the RagBags that just chug along forever. So who am I to call the world crazy!
and there they are…the Marquis of Waterford and his pals up to ‘high jinks’ in the 19th century in the town of Melton Mowbray. Literally painting the town’s buildings (and apparently one of the toll keepers) in red. Yes…following on the heels of From The Earth Wealth a few years back and last years Playground of the Midlands it is onto the Borough of Melton in what has become a grand projet to visit, photograph and produce a painting for every place listed in a guide to each borough or district of Leicestershire. As with Playground I’m being accompanied by my friend Simon and once again I’ll refer you to his posts for the quality photographic images – my excuse for the low grade ‘snaps’ is my focus on using (and abusing) them to make photoshopped collages that serve as the springboard for the canvases. So our first trip out takes us out to Welby (hardly a place at all…the local Manor owner apparently shipped out the locals back in the day!) but the church still exists…although we had a few interesting moments locating it!
Then onto the somewhat larger village of Scalford, that was pleasant enough but lacked much liveliness although as always there were several interesting and novel visual ‘tags’ to take in. Enough at least to enable me to cobble together a collage that can spur on the painting process.
Having strolled around the village (larger than it might appear from the main road that runs through it, as has been the case with quite a few) we decide to move on to the lunch venue. I’ve described before how these are chosen – by zooming in on Google to the relevant area till the first knife & fork symbol appears – but this time I omitted to check that theRose & Crown in Hose actually opens for lunch and it didn’t!
So we double back into Long Clawson the last of our quests on this first trip out. We spot a fella appearing to enter theCrown & Plough the pub in its centre…so start hot footing towards the entrance – only for said fella to pass us saying it too is closed! Now glum chums we get back in the car grumbling about what is wrong with these inns only to turn the bend and spot the On The Sands cafe & deli. Hooray! lunch is available and very good too. So hardly painting the town red…more the surrounding countryside a delicate light shade of pink…or it might be except its January in England
between different projects is often difficult to divine. There are times when the focus is clearer and times when its not. Its one of those not times. There’s a suite of small wonky geometries on the go. They are still at the early stage of ‘roughing out’ – the broad structure is in place (further variations on the 5/6/7 sided figure interactions) but the colour combinations and variations are, as yet, very unclear. They are amongst a group of panels to be offered for selection for a show entitled Colour Bliss so there’s a challenge!
Alongside these I’m playing with a collection of over 100 small paperworks – that are even more wacky variants of the same repertoire of basic regular sided shapes expanded to include 3/4 sided appearances and a host of other marks and forms. These are pretty much just for fun and to keep myself busy when the other project gets too tricky.
There’s actually another even more mindless long term project that uses up quantities of mixed colour so as not to waste it. And when I say longterm I really mean it. I guess my casual interest in colouring in maps (!) started in my early teens. On one of my first trips abroad (a scout jamboree in the Netherlands) a pal asked me why I was clutching a sheaf of maps (picked up in various locations) on the return journey. I couldn’t answer him satisfactorily but it began a habit that has lived with me through over fifty years now. Some time later…exactly how long I’m not sure (though by the time I started my Foundation studies)…I began in idle moments (and to keep me engaged in some activity in the studio) to fill in these having glued them into sketchbooks. Goodness knows how many there are now but its a lot. Some time back I actually collated a few into a pamphlet that I called Rough Cartography. Here’s one that has been mushed up in the last couple days…it amuses me to think about why I do them and whether I’ll ever use them for any more elevated artistic purpose. I am also (obviously easily pleased) amused at the way the locations are obliterated by my actions…if they were shown would others be able to recognise them? What about the one here? First answer received gets a copy of Rough Cartography signed by the artist! Well it’s Christmas innit!
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
From the mid 90’s onwards I started doing a fair bit of travelling…mainly around Europe. Inevitably one picks up maps of locations you visit, from hotel lobbies, travel bureaus etc. and I decided to keep these – though I’ve no real idea as to why. Over time these were pasted into my various sketchbooks and when I’m at a loss (it does happen…) in the studio I’d occasionally start filling them in with paint. I now have many of these…and this week…I’ve collated a few into a book…entitled Rough Cartography… its being printed up as a – fanfare of pretensions – ‘Artist’s Book’ in an edition of ten.