I like to start the year with a bit of a plan. It’s a ‘bit of’ because I’m a fiddler at heart and can’t help hopping around the studio dealing with this and that. And, as always, there are (as it is disputed that Harold Macmillan may have or not said) “events, (my) dear boy, events”. This year of course we have the on-going saga of COVID to contend with but equally smaller things come up from time to time including the possibility of invitations to participate in shows that may (or may not!) happen.
So it is that I’m currently rethinking my plan to start a series of large canvases immediately and focus instead on the third part of The Heart Of Rural England (Painting The Town Red) [scroll back to Dec 3rd and 15th entries and more] and another previously abandoned project…I arrived at Art School ‘proper’ (my Diploma course at Falmouth) in the autumn of 1970 so 71 was my first year of being a ‘proper’ tyro artist. Reaching 70 (as I shall do this summer) brings a full fifty years of practice around. Back in 2012 I began a series of 1 foot square canvases to represent each year of painting that – at that time – I intended to be a set of 45 to culminate on my ’official’ retirement date. Moving studio kyboshed that and those to date in 2013 remained boxed up in my studio back at the Chapel till now. However with the impending date of my 70th it seems a good time to push on – as Primo Levi said “if not now, when” – so the project – now titled Fifty Year Itch – is underway again with the ambition to post an image of each in turn from April 17th through to June 6th. I thought a short commentary would be an idea for each picture so that will be posted on my blog through the same two months. Watch this space as they say.
Not one of mine sadly…but catching up on Waldy & Bendy I was disappointed to learn that this hadn’t made it into their top five fish paintings. It’s certainly in mine alongside at least one by William Scott who was also ignored in that selection. Arguably even more of a travesty given that Scott painted a hellava lot!
But I digress…for longtime readers will know I’m not much of a finisher. However a glorious winter’s day (at last) gave me no excuse. So I was off to Melton district to polish off the photography for Painting The Town Red and so complete stage one of part three of The Heart Of Rural England. This is the crazy project to visit, document and distil the experience of each of the places featured in the handbooks of each of Leicestershire’s districts. Usually this is done in tandem with my pal Simon but COVID etc. Anyway he’s well ahead of me having already completed his Melton and is patiently awaiting me to catch up (fat chance). Still it was a very nice morning to visit such delights as Frisby On The Wreake!
Long time observers know I work on series of pictures. Some are relatively constrained to a few months or a year perhaps. Not so The Heart Of Rural England. Actually this title has only just been chosen as the first part of it started way back in the late 1990’s. Back then I was working on a series of canvas pieces that were mounted on board and based on imagery drawn from villages nearby my home. These were abandoned in favour of the series of canvases that became the project titled From The Earth Wealth shown at the Tarpey Gallery in 2011. During an interview for the Leicester Mercury I jokingly suggested I might go on from that project (featuring a painting by each place featured in the district of NW Leics handbook) to make a series for each of the other districts in the county. This lay fallow until around 2015 when myself and my pal Simon started on the documentation of the Charnwood Borough. In turn the canvases for each place in their handbook began towards the end of the following year.
The first – Loughborough – was completed in February of 2017 (by which time the photography for the next district – Melton – was just starting) but then progress on the paintings stalled. But though the wheels grind slow they do grind fine with the last handful of the Charnwood series (titled from a phrase in their handbook suggesting it is ‘the Playground of the Midlands’!) just drying as i write – so they should be all put to bed by year’s end. I’ve ruefully suggested before now that with the glacial progress to date there’s a good chance the project may out live its progenitor so in order to try and forestall that I’m now pushing on.
This starts with reviewing the images from part three (luckily most of which are already captured) that of Melton (with yet another title from their Handbook of ‘Painting The Town Red’) and ordering the necessary canvases. This will be followed in the new year – COVID restrictions permitting – with recommencement of the photography for part four – Harborough District – that we started on back in February of the current year but then never followed up – I cannot imagine why!
it’s often in the detail that you get a proper idea of what something is about. I was re-reading my friend Andrew Bracey‘s excellent catalogue for his detail exhibition where he quotes the painter Malcolm Morley saying that it was in the detail, very close detail indeed that the energy of the painting resided. Maybe its so…I just started out on the Rock sub set of my Landscape & Memory series…and thought it would be interesting – at the early stage of each of the eighteen works – to take a detail from each. What it tells me who knows…but anyway I’m studying them nonetheless.
Besides getting on with this project – I’ve set myself a deadline of Christmas to have the lot completed – I’m also setting a harder deadline for the Playground Of The Midlands sub project (the Charnwood leg of the Leicestershire set that began years back with the From The Earth Wealth (aka North West Leics) group. The third leg of this one – Painting The Town Red, the Melton district – got started at a lick last Spring and then fizzled out towards the end of May. So yesterday myself and my partner in crime Simon rebooted and got over to Bottesford, the most northerly outpost, to begin the task of completing the set. It has to be admitted that as we plough through what will end up being over two hundred plus settlements across the county it gets harder to find distinctive features in the many sleepy small villages we encounter! As often mentioned before head over to Simon’s blog for the decent photos – me I settle for tatty aide memoires for what will become the paintings. So above is a photo from Bottesford…and below the painting that resulted from a trip, quite a long time back now, to Hathern.
whatever that is…I guess that was our day…so much so that mid afternoon trapped in a road diversion scenario in the far east of LeicestershireSimon and myself decided we had properly topped up our ‘rural reserves’ for a bit. So we resolved to cool it a bit on the Painting The Town Red project (not least as I’m getting seriously behind on the paintings). Besides it was perishing out there.
I’ve tried before explaining the rationale behind these rural excursions but its hard to explain what I’m driving at. Its the quirky visual incidents that meld together with other impressions, feelings, thoughts and ideas that ‘inform’ the image that results and these elements can, most often are, the base material and might easily be viewed as just ‘normal’. Though, as here in the churchyard at Eastwell, this suggests that in certain contexts things can be quite unusual in some ways. I’m assuming its a bug hotel but why such a thing is necessary here in such a rural setting I can’t particularly imagine.