In the details…

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It seems that busy times never leave you.  I keep thinking that the weeks ahead look fairly clear but then they approach full of activity.  This past week has seen me out on the stump (standing in our local elections…and yes I brought this on myself), teaching in Lincoln, up in Manchester and back in Lincoln for the symposium organised by Andrew Bracey to accompany the last days of the detail exhibition.  One shouldn’t complain – its good to be active – but sometimes there’s just a feeling that the work may suffer if there’s too many distractions?   Doubt and uncertainty are surely at the heart of any contemporary painter with pretentions to a level of seriousness. This came into focus at yesterdays symposium where each of the painters on the podium posed questions about either their own or other artists work whilst, it seemed to me, the one speaker without a practice as a painter (but rather as a commentator) tended to couch his responses to the work under discussion (that of Iain Andrews) with far more certainly and clarity than I’d have wished.  I suspect that one or two members of the audience (who voiced earlier concerns that the event wasn’t properly focussed on the explication of painting) may have found this reassuring.  From discussions with several of those painters part of the exhibition and in attendance at the event I’m confident that they, like me, are only confident that we aren’t confident about where serious contemporary painting  is at!

The event was good fun and gave an opportunity to meet up with a few other painters that one felt one knew but only in the digital realm.  For me it was good to be able to say hello to Ruth Philo, whose marvellously pellucid pictures I’ve admired in several shows, and to catch up with Richard Waring, whom I’d met some years back but lost sight of, a painter with a fluid yet sure touch and excellent eye.  I was there with my wife, and my pals John and Louisa…it was a good day…I gave Andrew one of my little ‘Place’ pieces as a thanks for the whole detail project (that must have been quite a job!) and took this detail of his detail in detail

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More from Germany…with some other ‘Places’

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I must have been distracted of late – we seem to be almost half way through the first month of a new year and I’m just posting my first for 2015…

A few days back I managed to catch up on a show that was in danger of passing me by…especially irritating as it is on my doorstep. Following on from the ‘all things German’ theme back before Xmas the ‘Artist Rooms’ project brought Georg Baselitz to Leicester and pitted his work against some of heavyweights of twentieth century German art in the Museum and Art Gallery, reminding one of how extraordinarily fortunate we are to have that material so readily to hand.  Baselitz seems to be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ painter amongst other artists, you either love him or hate him.  Personally I’ve always thought of his slash n’ splash approach rather fondly and particularly enjoy the rumbustious, irreverent and, latterly, plum crazy imagery and content.  In Leicester the selection is modest in size – 48 etchings, drypoint and aquatints plus four canvases drawn from across his career – but sufficient to give a distinctive flavour of what he’s about as an artist. Indeed nowadays I find myself increasingly drawn to displays of this kind where the scale of whats on offer affords one the opportunity to concentrate a little harder on a selection of pieces and properly interrogate them (so much harder to do in a big blockbuster show).

One of the trump cards here is the fluidity of his handling and the assuredness of the colour relationships and tonal values. The latter more often than not closely bunched, crowding the space in the picture plane.  Something similar goes on in the suite of etchings (titled Gothic Maidens and you can see several of the suite on the Tate website), though their relative simplicity and the intimacy of the plate gives him further opportunity to riff off of a few simple motifs – which he does exceptionally well.  In the next room one of the most striking parallels is to be found with the tiny Paul Klee etching that pulls off a similar crowded flat space and decorative motif idea.  I can’t locate an image of that exact print but this one is a bit similar…

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The four paintings are fairly weighty, though two of them are shown in less than ideal spaces.  But of them it was the ‘in yer face’ motif and handling of Where is the Yellow Milkjug, Mrs Bird? that is most striking in its rawness…a quality that you meet in spades in the Expressionist gallery…and that characterises the Baselitz and that he recaptures so well.

And in thinking of tiny things like the Klee reminds me that I’ve handed out (and am about to do so again) several more little ‘Place’ pictures to friends and colleagues (see my post from four months back).  The one above to my wife for her show a few months back and the one below to a friend for a show just before Xmas.

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Place…

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Place (for Denis), c. 53 mm sq. September 2014

Following on from a brief conversation at the opening of Lisa Denyer‘s lovely selection of painters – ‘About Painting’ where she had kindly selected my small 10 cm. linen square canvases (the Cornish Coast series) I got to thinking a fair bit about size.  Alongside these small paintings I’ve been working on some fairly large canvases (by current standards though not so much if you think back a few years) around the 2 metre twenty height.  I recalled Barney Newman‘s remarks about really big paintings being quite intimate (and certainly his in the small Betty Parsons space in 1950 and 51 must have been) and thought that if going up was a way of inducing more intimacy then going even smaller might also do the same.  But 10 by 10 cm. already seemed a bit cheeky as regards an object that we suggest is imbued with characteristics that might interest a viewer…so could I really entertain smaller still?  Fate intervened in the form of a plastic bag of offcuts of MDF that my wife retrieved from the woodwork shop, all around the size of 52/4 mm square(ish!).  So I’ve played around with these for quite a few weeks now…using them in places neat as it were and in other parts with a good solid dose of hard sand-able gesso.

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Place (for Rachael), c. 52 mm. sq. September 2014

And I quite like them I think.  Ok they are very slight in some ways but hopefully quite atmospheric and jewel like in others.  And the beauty of it is you don’t feel too precious about them!  So much so that yesterday in the course of my perambulations around my dear friend Denis O’Connor‘s exhibition Defining A Line at Derby Museum I finally hit on the means to title these odd little informal ‘things’. I’d toyed with islands as a generic title but it suddenly struck me that they are…as pretty much everything I’ve ever done really, curious little evocations of place…one place or another, one time or another.  And furthermore because it’s only my creative thinking that has been significantly invested in them (as they are cheap and relatively simple and quick to execute) I could be quite free in letting them go.  So the Place paintings will be dispersed to anyone with whom I have a ‘significant’ artistic encounter going forward. As a small (actually really small!) token of appreciation. So these first three are going out to people that have occasioned such an ‘encounter’ recently…(though one of these is yet to take place).

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Place (for Matthew), c. 53 mm sq. September 2014