Back to business but what business?

IMG_9369It’s difficult to post whilst one is on the move…especially when staying in charming, but very rural, French hotels where the wifi is quite fugitive.  Although to be fair on this occasion of the thousand mile trek across Europe it worked pretty well and my absence online has been more a consequence of my mystery ankle injury. This has made walking quite difficult and more to the point made me tetchy and restless…and its that really has kept me away from my blog.  I seem to be on the mend at last so I’m back!

Although my mobility is still a little restricted I’m getting on with some work.  Plotting out the upcoming show at Harrington Mill ought to be taking precedence but as usual I can find plenty of other distractions to keep me from closing the deal.  Alongside the large paper works that are concerned with woodlands I have the Playground Of The Midlands project, the ongoing Rough Cartography, more of the Wonky Geometry both on board and on paper, the 50’s Jazz pictures (quite a few of which need collecting from the recent outing at the Ashbourne Festival), the Lavanderia d’Italia, my Ragbags, lots of the TFTLR constructions and some related sculptural pieces!  So hardly any wonder I struggle to focus on just one project at a time and it is hard to refute the notion that I’m always spreading my creative energies too thinly.

Like many other people in the UK I’m also totally perplexed and a little discomfited by the current political situation and tempted to give vent to my feelings here.  However so much is being said by so many about it all (and most of it opinion and speculation) that I don’t see much point in adding to it.  Nonetheless it is all adding to a terrible sense of turmoil and upheaval that certainly isn’t good for the soul.  I pondered this recently whilst viewing Out Of Order, a large solo show by Michael Landy, currently at the Museum Tinguely in Basel.  He’s an artist that I’ve rarely given any thought about…other than his famous Breakdown work (where, in case you don’t know, he destroyed all his possessions in a fortnight) and if I expected anything it was that it would be a ‘typical’ YBA stuffist show…lots of rather fey bits and bobs.  In fact it turned out to be both a thoughtful and extraordinarily intelligent show with a lot of very accomplished ideas well executed.  He had jumbled up work going back over twenty five or so years in a kind of warehouse landscape aesthetic lending a chaotic air to a body of work of real substance.  Rather like Tinguely himself Landy uses this air of entropy to disguise much deeper feelings about values and our idea of worth. I came away with a great respect for an artist that operates in a diametrically opposite location to my own preoccupations.

And having had a day of looking at what Museum Tinguely and the three locations of the Basel Kunstmuseum had to offer I came away with little else that genuinely intrigued or challenged me.  Of course there were plenty of examples of famous and not so famous works on display.  They have, for example, some extraordinarily good examples of Picasso and plenty of big, and I do mean big in the case of Frank Stella, hitters from the post war period in the US.  Maybe I’m jaded (yes let’s face it I am) but much of the ‘contemporary’ work of the past twenty or so years seems to be pale retreads of what came before. Sophisticated and polished perhaps (with the art market in mind of course) but without genuine feeling or emotion or even just that vague inchoate sense of discovery.  And this sense of unease and numbness also infects my own creative process too.

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Perhaps I just need to step away from it all.  Whilst away I took this snap of a little drawing by Phil Thompson (owned by my friend with whom we were staying). Phil was a man of few words, I knew him mostly as the fella at the end of the public bar at the Griffin, but a terrifically talented artist when he minded to work.  This tiny drawing owes a little something to the Circus pictures of Leger and others but is also quintessentially ‘Phil’.  As we are often told history is written by the winners and art history is particularly cruel in that if the work is lost and destroyed then no amount of post hoc revision rehabilitates its quality.  Over the past thirty or so years the self publicists and their pimps that have flooded the contemporary art market have ensured their initial longevity but not of course their place in the real history of art that only really forms a clear picture a century or two down the line.  However I doubt Phil has any chance of posthumous recognition beyond the memories of those who knew him but we who do will continue to derive much pleasure from his work. So we take strength from that and keep on working.

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Bialowieza – Wald, acrylic & flashe on paper, 106 x 94 cm., 2016

So I must focus pretty quickly now on this sequence of pictures that use the idea of Wood as their central theme.  For quite a few years I’ve been indebted to Simon Schama and his Landscape & Memory for some of my thinking about work.  It was especially helpful to me whilst I undertook my major project for my photography Masters back in 2010.  Now I’m back delving into section one and finding elements that resonate with the large paper panels that will be central to my installation at Harrington Mill in September. So far there are three completed, each with a quotation drawn from the text, though the images, as always with my work, are substantially intended to function away from the textual as much as hand in hand with it.  Looking forward to completing the other fifteen panels that will make up the piece.

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Greenwood Tree – Wald, acrylic & flashe on paper, 106 x 94 cm., 2016

With a little help…

Ghetto-Walk

A few months back…whilst on the first Playground of the Midlands expedition…I decided to scrap my rucksack full of lenses and bulky SLR camera as I watched my partner in crime, Simon, shooting freely with his G1X and both getting just as decent results (actually often rather better!) as well far more spontaneity in his pictures.  I bought one and have never regretted it for a moment (and neither has my back).  However, as I resolve my most recent paintings to my satisfaction (well nearly) and have started the process of recording and packing them, to go off to the Ashbourne Festival an issue has arisen with the single lens.  It simply isn’t possible to photograph them satisfactorily close up.  Luckily the aforementioned Simon had a solution and better still I’m fortunate to have the space to effect said solution.  Viz. open up the lens to a telephoto and move away from the subject – and as the image above shows (of Ghetto Walk, 75 x 59.8 cm., Acrylic on board, 2016) this has worked out fine.  How it will pan out when I come to a 10 x 8 footer remains to be seen!  Luckily I haven’t any of these on the go at present.

There’s not a lot there…

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well…my pal Simon had warned me…that Barkby, Barkby Thorpe and Beeby wouldn’t yield a great deal on the Playground of the Midlands project and so it proves…Barkby Thorpe isn’t really anywhere at all other than a farm and few cottages (and as the excellent historian that he is, Simon tells me its really the site of the ancient village of Hamilton) whilst Barkby itself is characterised mostly by its splendid cricket pitch and pavilion.  Beeby yielded a few more images including the one that I have swiftly and brutally bastardised below to make what might be the basis of a picture in the series that will shortly commence.

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Earlier in the glorious day that it proved to be (probably the hottest of the year to date) we had roamed both South Croxton and then Queniborough.  Both locations a little more promising in terms of features.  Outside the deli in the centre of the latter we chanced upon yet another reminder of the triumph of Leicester City FC winning the Premiership…

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Clearly Claudio is reaching the parts other managers can only dream of!  We had considerable discussion and speculation on our return to The Golden Fleece in Croxton where sitting in the sunshine we sipped Italian lager and polished off a Burger and a Chicken breast with Goats Cheese.  It’s a hard life as an artist sometimes…

 

Offline…

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I only realised how long it is since I last posted here when I came to write this…one of the biggest longueurs in the time I’ve been doing it.  Whether this is fatigue or just the pressures of other activities or simply that I’ve nothing to say…well who can say? Certainly I cannot.  I’m working quite hard on the group of paintings of which the above is just one and that eats up the hours.  Nor actually doing it but pondering what to do really sees time slip away.  As for the one here it has been proving tough to crack…and plainly it still needs some serious surgery.

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Meanwhile in another part of the forest (a good metaphor for my head full of dense wood) I’ve just acquired another Leicestershire District Gazetteer – this time for Melton.  Now there’s a severe danger I shall get ahead of myself, after all I’m only a quarter of the way into Charnwood – ‘Playground of the Midlands’ project.  But I’m amused with the opening sentence in this one – ‘Painting the Town Red’- of which more (much too much more) in the future!

 

Late Flowering

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We were out and about again earlier this week on the ‘Playground of the Midlands’ project – I’m just ordering the canvases to get the paintings underway soon.  But looking at the landscape as the first buds of spring got me thinking about the way in which creative activity is beginning to turn as more and more of us are, thankfully, living a good deal longer and the opportunity has been given to those of us of the post war generation through good pension provisions at a younger age to carry on making work into old age.   It has come to the fore with the news that Phyllida Barlow will represent the UK at the Venice Biennale next summer – and how good it is to have the pavilion given over to an artist over 70 who is enjoying a substantial ‘late flowering’ in reputation.

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Phyllida Barlow, ‘Dock’ at Tate Britain 2014

She’s not the only one who, having had some initial success as a youngster, rather faded from view over the years when earning a living through other work, but has come storming back of late.  I’m a great admirer of Sam Gilliam, who I knew from magazine illustrations as a student but who then seemed to disappear (at least here in the UK) until I was surprised a couple years back at Tate Liverpool to see an early work of his in the flesh for the first time.  This was followed shortly after when he featured in a room of colourfield painters at the Met in NYC on a visit there.  And just now here’s a feature in Hyperallergic…good to see Sam looking very sprightly in his ninth decade!

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Sam Gilliam, ‘Simmering’, 1970

Of course there are many others…Carmen Herrera immediately comes to mind…so as I approach my ‘old age’ – I’m a pensioner in a few months – there’s plenty of good reason to be cheerful and to get in the studio as often as possible!

Hustle & Bustle…Playground of the Midlands (2)

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Yep its all happening on Main Street in Ratcliffe on the Wreake… just one of our four destinations today on our second expedition as part of the Playground of the Midlands project – aka Charnwood Borough.  My pal Simon gave a little guidance to this trip by weaving Thrussington into the itinerary I’d devised.  His local knowledge put these two locations together with Rearsby and East Goscote so that we were able to take in pretty much the whole Wreake Valley area of Charnwood.  Its been as good a day weatherwise as we have any right to expect in England in February and as we walked towards Thrussington the bright blue skies and the sunshine put a spring in our step.

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This village is healthy and wealthy with a really delightful deli come cafe in the centre (and two pubs still functioning).  Its already apparent that in parts at least some of this borough is operating more effectively than quite a few of the villages in NWLeics. where my last project, several years back, revealed many hamlets with boarded up boozers.  On our return from Thrussington into Rearsby we do lunch at The Horse & Groom a very friendly local that does a decent reasonably priced pub grub lunch.  After which onto East Goscote…that I’d been warned not to expect too much from! (my companion in a previous life trod these streets on a regular basis!).  But curiously as we made our way into the centre it suggests an oddity being a village pretty much created from scratch in the 1970’s.  Of course much of it is pure suburban ‘ordinariness’ (at least from the outside)…

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but the ‘civic space at its centre is a very eclectic mix of scandinavian and ‘new town’ architecture that contains a very dreary selection of retail outlets (one of which those of us in the know will recognise as run by Michael Portillo)…

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But what will I take from the trip in terms of making a picture?  As always finding details and/or points of interest to stimulate the painting process can be hard but here’s a panel that may kickstart a canvas somewhere down the line…

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First Steps

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So Playground of the Midlands gets underway – and by a random selection process Loughborough come in first.  Well it was, in truth, a rather leisurely exercise!  However it took us around the centre of town in and out of most of the north side via the parish graveyard (for a very interesting alternate take on the day see my pal Simon’s blog) and through the shopping area.  We stopped off at Goodliffes for a very decent lunch…our lunch destinations selected by picking the knife & fork that pops up first as you zoom in!  And so the selection process of images begins too. An odd pick from me…sometimes features that seem curious, others that are obviously topographic, often just the visual arrangements.  Going out with my pal is good…I get to see a very different perspective even though we are walking the very same route.

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Playground of the Midlands

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Its over five years on since I embarked on my project entitled From The Earth Wealth. This comprised very nearly a year of visits to every place identified in the 1977 handbook of the District I live in followed by a series of paintings loosely based on these. The whole exhibited at the Tarpey Gallery in 2011 and the whole thing chronicled on this blog. At the time I jokingly suggested to an enquiring reporter that I might go onto each of the other districts in Leicestershire and complete the set.

Well here I am at the end of January setting out for Loughborough and beginning the exploration of Charnwood, the closest of those other authorities, with a view to doing it all over again. My guide this time is an old copy of their official guide, sadly undated, but I suspect published around the beginnings of the 1980’s. I’ve grouped the smaller villages in the guide together and with Loughborough and Shepshed have come up with twelve trips, roughly one a month, to complete this exploration. My pal Simon has foolishly agreed to come along this time and it is he who – confronted with twelve numbers – made the random selection of Loughborough itself (the biggest place by far and the administrative centre of the borough) as our first mission.

Why the ‘playground of the Midlands title? Well From The Earth Wealth is a translation of the NWLeics motto Ex Terra Opes but try as I may I’ve not found one for Charnwood…so I’ve plundered the opening paragraph of the guidebook where someone dubbed Charnwood thus.