Figuring out…

FullSizeRenderMy 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.

Terry Greene’s blog is a must for all contemporary painters!



As one gets older you begin to realise how quickly time passes and how much things change (shades of Dylan again…).  One day (and it doesn’t seem so long ago) I accompanied the sculptor Paul Mason on a trip across to Clipsham just north of Rutland Water to see him finishing off a new work in stone – Leaf Fields.

This piece had been commissioned by Hertfordshire’s RIBA branch to be sited in the county – there were (I now have discovered) three potential locations for it but the one chosen was St. Albans and, specifically, adjacent to the Alban Arena (appropriately enough designed by Sir Freddie Gibberd, a long time supporter of Paul’s work).  Like so much public art its life has been marked by both love & devotion and hostility & admonishment, and often just plain neglect.  Luckily for this piece it has its protectors – in particular those pictured above, foremost among them Professor Chris McIntyre of Herts University (centre in picture) who was instrumental in having it relocated a short way from its original site.


Of course the passage of time has given the creamy Clipsham limestone a deal of patina, some mosses and lichen.  Whether or not this ought to be removed when it is finally re-sited (due to happen in a few years when a new City Centre Museum & Visitor Centre, – an ambitious redevelopment of the Town Hall – will be completed is a debatable point.  What it does prove beyond any doubt is that a relatively short passage of time, just over thirty years, and nature reasserts its primacy over culture.


On The Road Again (part 2)


Overnight stop just outside Sunderland…my friend and companion (and on this trip, driver) Simon runs a jolly good blog that often features material from these various jaunts – readers might want to take a look.  My room is situated just above the car park where Simon’s Merc is surrounded by white vans that says a lot about the regular clientele of PremierInn!

Sue Disley, mosaic, Seaham

Travelling south we make a detour through Seaham…some bracing sea air and a chance for me to revisit my friend Paul Mason‘s public art scheme there.  A part of which were Susan Disley‘s mosaics and it was good to see them withstanding the battering they must take from the North Sea coast.


Also in Seaham…on Cutting Road…this Vets special offer of the month…some things my mate & myself agree, you just couldnt make up!


But back to business…our destination is MIMA and a show entitled International Exchanges: Modern Art and St Ives 1915–1965.  Is there some kind of Tate charm offensive going on I wonder?  This show is substantially comprised of loans and there were further Tate loans aplenty back in Newcastle and, as I will write in my next post, more to come elsewhere.  I’m not complaining (quite the opposite) but I don’t recall them being so open about such things in the past.  Maybe it’s that some of the newer regional venues (like MIMA) have better environmental conditions or perhaps it’s that international modern works have been rather squeezed out of it between the curatorial demands of Tate Britain and Modern but whatever the reasons it’s heartening to see a work like Around The Blues by Sam Francis getting a good airing in a big generously proportioned space that MIMA can do.

Basel Mural, Norton Simon Museum, California

I saw my first Sam Francis work in Basel after a frantic dash across town from a school trip rail stopover as a thirteen year old and fell in love with his work then. The Tate picture I saw in the old Tate (Britain) in the early 70’s and if it’s been out of the store since I doubt it’s been for long.  Here in Middlesbrough it was flanked by Peter Lanyon’s Thermal, a glider pilot’s view of Cornwall set against a WW2 pilot’s view of the Pacific (i’m not sure he ever got out of training flights in California though?)…well hardly… but I like to think of Sam cruising the Monet’s Garden pictures in the Orangerie in Paris in the fifties with those wartime experiences in his mind.  Around The Blues is big…I reckon around 9 ft by 20…but the Basel Mural was bigger (and the trptych that it was intended to be part of even larger still – go here for the story). Now size isn’t important really its all about scale…at least thats what I was taught…but when you bring the two together like these then it makes a hell of a statement.  I was made up being able to reacquaint myself with such a great painter and the show contains another super example of the earlier fifties more monochrome pictures.

There is plenty of supporting material…for example the cabinet recording correspondence around the Hepworth sculpture at the UN including her typewritten list of personal invitees to the launch lunch, that includes Sam Francis.  Or in another room the photograph of Rothko lunching with the Feiler’s, Frost’s and Lanyon’s in West Penwith – with a Rothko painting (that smallish yellow and pink one that I’m not that fond of to be honest) and a Gorky facing off across the room from a couple Patrick Heron‘s.  There’s plenty more to see…two great Braque’s (are there any other kind?) a Poliakoff (what a superb colourist) and that sumptuous Clyfford Still they have…that looks so fresh in this context.  If you care about abstract painting this is really a bit of a must see I reckon!  I refer you to Simon’s blog again as to why I’ve no shots of the works in context.

After this visual feast Simon came up with the splendid suggestion that we head down country and stop off at the Hepworth for a late lunch.  This is one of our favourite contemporary art venues and never disappoints.  The lunch special – an excellent fish pie – arrives in a classic William Scott style skillet.


and the art wasn’t bad either.  I was rather taken with Folkert de Jong‘s The Holy Land though the central part of this substantial installation was to my mind over elaborated.  Nonetheless when the casts were left unadorned there was quite a deal of poetry in these objects chosen from Leeds Armoury Museum.  Glancing through a catalogue it seems the artist is retreating away from the over theatrical…and for my money this will be for best!

elements from ‘The Holy Land’ by Folkert de Jong, Hepworth Wakefield till Jan 25, 2015

A little additional treat…


can be found at the Tarpey Gallery (in addition to my show, with a week to run).  In the conservatory attached to the cottage Luke has displayed a lovely selection of pieces by my pal, the sadly deceased Paul Mason.  Its a very discreet, ‘mini retrospective’ with some terrific pieces including five small marble panels that I feel are some of his best.  Get along to the gallery, ask to see the work and think hard about maybe purchasing something – you’ll not regret it!