Conundrums

IMG_1069.JPGI’m wondering exactly what may be the unintended consequences of working from my mashups of the photos I take in preparation for my series Playground of the Midlands.  Perhaps it should have occurred to me a lot earlier.  After all I started playing around with photographic source imagery back in the 1990’s!  But in all honesty I’d not really thought it through much until earlier in the week.  Stepping back from one of the canvases the choices of elements were shockingly clear – yes – you could see what it was! Usually my mashing up, or colour choices  or plain cackhandedness takes care of any original referent.

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One of my many painting heroes is Thomas Nozkowski. I like his clearheaded and unfussy approach to the business of making a picture and the plain commonsense  of much he says about it.  He is rightly admired for his certainty that everything he does is grounded in real world experience.  You get a really honest insight into his process from these  videos made by his son – here’s the other – where he expands on the idea of how the work evolves. I guess one of my reasons for liking his work is my similar idea of how to construct a picture.  In a 2015 catalogue he talks of  his work becoming “more open ended. That’s to say initially I prided myself on sticking close to my original source material…but I’m much more interested in all the evocations and echoes and implications…so instead of a tight little knot, I think it’s now something that’s a bit more open for interpretation”.   I’m wondering whether or not I may allow some movement in the other direction – or should I – as Thomas suggests – work harder at the taking out rather than the letting in?

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So that’s one conundrum going around my head (where a gummed up ear is making it a rather lonely and frustrating place right now).  Another that’s been bugging me for a while is the point of all this anyway.  I mean doing what I’m doing right now…’social media’ that as David Byrne recently suggested may actually do as much harm as good.  After all if there’s a point to painting it has to be in substantial part the engagement with the actual object.  It’s not lost on me that both the bodies of work I’m particularly focused on right now have no obvious outlets in the real world – and that is equally frustrating too.  Maybe the memo to self is to start searching for opportunities to get the work out there…though after I have resolved it all!

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Chain of information…

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I’m putting up six of the Playground of the Midlands canvases here…only one of which I think is quite finished (though I think two others are pretty close) because its supposed to be a painting blog.  Though I don’t feel so good today so I’m doing a lot of displacement activity instead.  I doubt I’m the only painter who does that.  Part of the avoidance has been some clearing of shelves – I’m an inveterate hoarder so have way too much ‘stuff’ – and I came across a copy of Flash Art from Summer 1999.  That led me to wondering what had happened of late to that Flash Art favourite of the 90’s – Mark Kostabi.  Was Kostabi World still in action?

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Paesaggio Altro  Giulio Turcato  1990 Oil & Mixed Media on Canvas, 195 x 295 cm.

So to that marvellous invention for all us avoidance merchants – this Internet thingy!  It appears Mark is now mainly to be found on Facebook…and that (unbeknownst to me) he did for quite a few years write a magazine column.  And in the spirit of my online flaneur I came across his review of Italian painter Giulio Turcato – also previously unknown to me (and without being immodest many pals will tell you that’s quite rare…).  But I’m now loving his work…so not entirely an afternoon wasted…

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Giardino di Miciurin Guilio Turcato  Oil on Canvas 113 x 145 cm.1953

And with him having to chosen Rome to live in for part of his time alongside his articles and cable tv show Mark has gone up a little in my estimation of him!

Things Have Changed..

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Thurcaston – Playground Of The Midlands, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 cm.  2017

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!

Dither…

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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…

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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.

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These are of course the follow on from Waldgeschichten, the series of eighteen panels that drew upon the Wood section of Simon Schama’s Landscape & Memory.  So that’s all good then…just sixteen more of these to go.  Now what about the Playground of The Midlands series?

Painting the Town Red?

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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!

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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.

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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 the Rose & Crown in Hose actually opens for lunch and it didn’t!

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So we double back into Long Clawson the last of our quests on this first trip out.  We spot a fella appearing to enter the Crown & 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

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Eccentricity…

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It’s the last trip for the Playground of the Midlands project that started the day in Syston before moving onto Seagrave and lastly Walton on the Wolds (though my estimable partner in crime ducked out of this one).  Some might think that we were fairly eccentric in this endeavour though it doesn’t seem to have caused too many raised eyebrows as we, two loud, large, late middle aged, men with cameras, cruised about the Charnwood borough (other than crashing the Thurmaston Parish Church Coffee morning a couple weeks back).

Anyway we are done now.  And of course there have been several of these signs dotted about the borough.  They have a certain charm and usually feature fairly bland and obvious imagery as above…but hang on a minute…whats that chap doing on the right hand panel above?

I think we should be told…why its Montague ‘Bertie’ Bird.  The sometime Vicar of the parish who around the turn of the twentieth century developed (excuse the pun) a passion for photography and…a habit of doctoring his images!  Well that is eccentric!

Playground…Day Nine

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As Simon says…its a hard business but we have been chosen (or at least we self selected).  And today I spent the first forty five minutes saying I’d never been here before…until we chanced across this charming scene from King Lear (appropriately in a lake of the same name – well gravel pit) when it became clear that many moons ago (the 80’s) I had passed this way once before…just as the artist was creating the work…he was a young sculptor – David Hunter – from Leicester and he had the opportunity to make a piece on this site…back then a pretty rough and ready location.

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The construction of the piece was – I recall – quite a challenge for David, fresh out of college, and a pretty stiff learning curve.  It was cold and very wet the day I visited but he persisted and it was good to see that the work has stood up to the test of time pretty well.

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We were of course on our Playground Of The Midlands jaunt…the project to mark every entry in the early 80’s Charnwood Borough Guide.  Today we took in Birstall, Thurcaston & Wanlip though in truth we pretty much kept to the Watermead Country Park that the three bound on the north side of Leicester.  It made a refreshing change to take in plenty of waterside and countryside for a change and on reflection seemed quite appropriate overall.  Not least as the River Soar is, as my pal Simon pointed out, the ‘backbone’ of the Borough running from just south of my village Kegworth, above the north boundary, and leaving it to meander into Leicester proper to the south.  Whatever our excuse it made for a good walk topped off on our return to The White Horse in Birstall for a damn good pub lunch!