Technology defeat…best stick to painting?


I’ve been trying for over an hour or more to convert the jpg above into a readable but quickly downloadable pdf so I can invite people to the forthcoming exhibition of my Winter Cycle paintings.  I’ve just conceded defeat!  I like to think I’m outside the ‘silver surfer’/’don’t understand this new fangled stuff’ group of older citizens but it seems no…once I get past the absolute basics of the technology… I’m fairly clueless!

However the gist of it all (and given what I’ve just said I imagine that maybe the image above cannot be easily read!) is that the series of 27 small panel paintings that have monopolised much of my painting time in the first half of 2015 will get their first airing from the 10th to the 30th October at the lovely New Court Gallery in Repton, South Derbyshire.  There will be an opening on Saturday 10th October from 6 to 8pm. and it would be lovely to see you there.  Alongside the painting cycle we will have a proof copy of a small publication that matches the paintings with the series of 27 poems written by Derby based Reg Keeling – entitled A Winter’s Journey – and that I discovered shortly after setting out on my own journey.  I am very grateful for my friend, and fellow painter, Louisa Chambers for facilitating this exhibition and to Julian Broadhurst whose contribution was bringing Reg’s work to my attention.

Here is the text of a press release that tells a little more about the Cycle:

In this exhibition, artist David Manley offers new abstract paintings informed by his reflections on the passing of a season.

The Winter Cycle is the result of moving studio from an artists’ complex in an old industrial building shared with 16 others to his home. In the process of shifting his work he rediscovered a set of small panel pictures began and abandoned several years earlier. The move also saw the establishing of a working space facing a large plate glass window into the garden. He fell to thinking about the relative solitude of working from home, often alone for long stretches and the immediate presence of the changing climate. The notion of a group of works loosely based around the seasonal journey from winter to spring occurred with the initial thought of Schubert’s Die Winterreise as a possible connection.

However shortly after starting he fortuitously chanced upon Julian Broadhurst’s recording of Derby based Reg Keeling’s reading of his set of poems entitled A Winter’s Journey. The local connection appealed to him and the more he listened he felt (maybe fell) into an empathetic relationship with the text. The relationship of the work to the Japanese form Haiku, and to the use of Renku, (linked verse) and Kiru, the ‘cutting’ or juxtaposition of two images or ideas as well as the underlying principles of capturing moments in time and simplicity of language appealed to the painter. As the individual works in his Winter Cycle developed he found himself reflecting on how these ideas might work visually.

The Winter Cycle is comprised of 27 small panels each taking a cue (and a title) from a poem in the collection.  In addition, and in keeping with Julian’s recording (available online), three larger works, two dedicated to Reg & Julian and one entitled Flute Interlude (a portion of a work by Julian that he uses on the recording as a marker between the readings of the poems and the interview between the two of them) make up the project. There are no literal readings between pictures and texts or any explicit connectivity.  Both can and do standalone, but there are sympathetic relationships that run between the two and extend outwards to Schubert and many others who have derived meaning from the cycle of seasons and the metaphor of the journey.

In praise of delicacy and craft

Lots of what I’ve been looking at painting wise lately has had large doses of ‘wham bam’ and plenty of it has been pretty decent. But sometimes you crave a fix of something with a bit more of a delicate touch, maybe a bit quieter and considered, and maybe with just a touch of craft. Luckily Margaret Orrell’s ‘Romola’ currently at Repton’s New Court Gallery is just what the connoisseur ordered.

This body of work is suffused with light that sings out of pictures offering a visual commentary on George Eliot’s novel Romola. I confess that other than a few passages and a synopsis of Adam Bede I haven’t read any of Eliot’s work (and I doubt I’m alone in this).  Set around the turn of fifteenth to sixteenth century Florence the novel intertwines the personal with the epic struggles around power in the city.  Orrell has a light touch, physically and metaphorically on both the picture surfaces and on the narrative.  She offers a range of images, both figurative and abstract, that poignantly reflect the interior aspects of the novel’s charcters and exterior glimpses of the context in which they operate.  This opens out in the very first canvas where one of the key characters stares out at us every inch a Renaissance noble and yet somehow also such a very contemporary portrait.

Tito, Margaret Orrell


The richness of the muted palette is first evidenced here and right through the exhibition there is a sureness to the colour relationships that bind together the formal elements of images that incorporate blunt passages of flat colour set against delicate flower and figure drawing.

Artist’s caption; “Small abstract on a new surface. Aluminium. Playing with floral imagery, suspended in a pleasing grey”.


The freshness of many of the paintings, especially in the later images where the artist has permitted herself greatest license with the narrative source (and at the very last departs from it altogether), is a real visual pleasure and suggests more quality to come.  Surprisingly the artist confides the fact that she has never visited Florence, so these pictures reveal a visual idea of a city, a place in time filtered through the imaginations of both author and artist, in such a way as to give insights into both and also allow access to the painters own sensibilities.  Now I have been fortunate to walk those streets, to stand in Santa Croce gazing at Massacio’s Trinita, and despite the filtration process it is surprising to see the place, the ambience and it’s history  so accurately and sensitively rendered.  This is an exhibition that offers both content and painterly form, delicacy and craft.  I’d urge you to go and take a good look…the show will continue until Friday 6th February and will be open to the public from 2.30 – 5.30 pm, Monday to Sunday, closed on Fridays.

Generational differences..?


Though its a while back now and sadly one of the two is about to close I wanted to write a little about two shows recently viewed. Both of them feature painters hereabouts – serious practices that intrigue and occasionally slightly baffle me, mostly I suspect, because of the thirty plus year generational differences between them and me.

Tristram Aver‘s display in the Angear space at Nottingham’s Lakeside entitled ‘There is a pleasure in the pathless woods’ is deliberately difficult to read, both in terms of content but also in the form. These oval pictures (for the most part) have an intense LED neon light band that acts as frame and visual tease obscuring the painting content through the relative darkness that these garish glows create around the imagery within. It’s a novel way of using neon…I saw something similar a few years back in a late show of work by the renowned COBRA artist Karel Appel where pornographic images were disrupted by shards of neon over them. In Appel’s works however the disruption was blatant, a way of posting a disjoint from the potentially shocking and offensive imagery deployed. [They must be quite controversial still as the above link is the only reference or image I could find on the web!]  Aver seems more subtle, aiming I guess to draw you into the gloom the better to explore the imagery within.  I’m (probably wrongly) detecting a trend developing with the neon…the current painting show at MOMA in NYC features works by Mary Weatherford that have it splashed over the surfaces of her atmospheric and gauzy abstractions. But with many (most) painters nowadays drawing on the legacy of screen based digital imagery perhaps its not surprising they want to get a glow going on in the finished work too?  As for Tristram’s imagery there’s a heck of a lot of deliberate elision at work…so that field sports of the 1800’s sit cheek by jowl with riot cops and cheerleaders, baying hounds trade blows with logo explosions and much more besides. Maybe for my taste a little too much though the resulting melange is unified in part through pattern imposed here and there in largish doses.  One worth seeing and still time to do so…though accessing the venue is no mean feat whilst the Tram works continue!


Also on show (though you’ll have to be damn quick unfortunately) is another worth a viewing.  In ‘Harlequin’ at Gallery No.1 in Repton, South Derbyshire another painter –Louisa Chambers– is flirting with patterns. But here they take centre stage unencumbered by overt references to imagery obviously from the ‘real’ world mediated through a plundering of the internet. Though thats maybe a little wide of the mark too…given that two of the core sources of ideas in these paintings are modernist architecture and the history of non-representational paintings and that its likely? that the origin of these in the main might be the internet. Wherever the sources (and one suspects there are a host of others from the vast world of pattern, both as ‘art’ and as decoration) the resulting works are oddities…there’s a wonky and deliberately handmade aesthetic here with elements either juxtaposed in clanky and curious ways or left suspended in space as in the digitally printed work, a large blow up of a small work on paper, Harlequin that forms the exhibition’s centrepiece.  Is there another trend at work here…earlier in the year we chanced across Jeff Elrod’s solo show ‘Rabbit Ears’ at Luhring Augustine where he too was blowing up small sketches, doodles and very provisional collages.  I like the notion of these pictures being oddities – too much of the smaller scale contemporary abstraction by those under forty is either tasteful or deliberately ‘zombie’ in idea and execution.  Chambers, in her best pictures treads a fine line twixt these two polarities.  Louisa gets about a bit…we’ve actually shown in four mixed shows together this year…so even if you’ve missed this one no doubt there will be a chance to see her work again soon.

Both shows use aspects of contemporary painting practice in many ways not so dissimilar to my own…but I think if there is a significant difference it has to be buried in the context from which we emerged.  I’ve done my fair share of digital exploration (see my Extracting Digits for a summary) but I come at it from a foreign land, I am, as Lauren Laverne suggested recently an immigrant, whilst Tristram & Louisa were born and brought up in this place.

So two artists, within a few miles of here both pushing hard at careers as painters with a proper practice…heartening at a time when a lot of current activity is flim flam bricolage more often than not produced only to state subsidised command…but enough of my mardy prejudice it’s Xmas…a time of good will to all so I’m off to savour Sarah’s tastefully decorated trio of trees…


Merry Christmas one and all!

Busy Installation work…


It doesn’t look too hard but there was quite a bit of work getting the Conversation series installed in Bartons for The Carnival Of Monsters (opening this very evening).  There is a solid contingent of us from Harrington Mill Studios showing and alongside my own there were several others to be hung.  However we are quite pleased with how its turned out and the big open space suits the canvases pretty well.  During daylight hours it looks well and it will be interesting to see how the lighting effects the work this evening.  Alongside this my wife (painter Sarah R Key) and myself had conspired to be showing simultaneously…or at least installing at the same time (her show opens next Tuesday evening).  It saved van hire costs but meant we had quite a solid two days activity!


As it turned out we managed to make both trips on day one so yesterday was rather more pleasurable…simply putting the work up in the lovely and rather elegant New Court Gallery at Repton School.  So two busy days but both of us happy with the way it has all turned out.  But both of us have foresworn too much more exhibition activity (at least of our own work) for the next few months.

Unfinished business and a Show worth seeing…

It struck me this morning that I was pretty much doing exactly the same thing on this day as I might have been forty years ago…  After all I’d put on headphones to listen to the new Caravan album Paradise Filter (enterprisingly done through online pledges) and got stuck into work on my Cornish Coast paintings that, broadly speaking, reprise those hard edge pictures from my student days.  In that way it very occasionally does, a forgotten memory of a conversation from all that time ago came back to me.  It was my personal tutor suggesting that the paintings of that period in my student days were a bit ‘old fashioned’ and this hit home hard as a twenty year old who was determined to be at the cutting edge of what was going on at the time.  So I changed tack completely, something that it’s true has hounded me ever since, but not particularly something I either wanted, or needed, to do at that moment.  And maybe that’s why I’ve started these (alongside the ‘prompt’ from Terry)…unfinished business after four decades have passed!

Of course something else that was more or less ‘beyond the pail’ back then was figuration, it simply got panned by most of us, especially my student colleagues, if not by the staff (though curiously they rarely revealed their work or their passions, that in several cases I now know were for a kind of impressionistic figuration).  But for us youngsters it had to be big, aggressive and strident and if it were painting it had to be abstraction.  As I got older I came round to figurative work (even dallied with it myself for a brief period) especially the more crafted and painterly (I still struggle a fair bit with the illustrative and academic) and nowadays take in painting more or less as it comes, regardless of that particular distinction.

Mauds Transmitter – 2012 , 141cm x 210cm , Acrylics & Enamels, Pen on Canvas

And that brings me to  Ill-Tricklit, new paintings by Nicola Williams, currently showing at the New Court Gallery in Repton, one of our region’s better kept secrets, being a modest but one of the most beautifully presented exhibition spaces we have hereabouts.  I’m fascinated by the resurgence of painting amongst younger generation artists and by the breadth of practice in the medium.  It seems as if the freedoms that have been accorded these artists by the demise of the ‘Canon’, that was having it grip on us wrested away around the time of my student days and has accelerated over the period, has allowed the exploration of form, process and content to be thoroughly mixed up and chaotically articulated (a contradiction in terms I know but…).  The work on show had all of these characteristics in abundance.  In the bigger paintings especially there was a hazy, undefined space in which painterly devices of all kinds (though often with an emphasis on the inherent properties of gloss) were cheek by jowl with misty narratives plundered from a host of sources from 70’s children’s safety films to modernist architecture.  Inter alia what a profound effect those old safety films had on that generation of children!

The Railway Tracks- 2011 Household Gloss Paint , Enamels on Canvas. (152cm x152cm)

In viewing several of Williams’ pictures I was in part reminded of the kind of space that Ron Kitaj was fond of creating in his larger narrative paintings and that prompted a remembrance of the Narrative Paintings show that Timothy Hyman curated at the Arnolfini, Bristol back in 1979 (and that toured to London, Stoke and Edinburgh). I think that Williams’ pictures would be a good ‘fit’ for a later generational selection to join the two that Hyman had identified as having “a figure, or several figures caught up in some kind of story”.  In that show the older generation were essentially ‘the School of London’ team (besides Kitaj, there was Hockney, Andrews and Paolozzi) whilst the younger generation were made up of painters who had – at the time – not much had their due, such as Jeffrey Camp and Ken Kiff (who went on to get theirs) and those such as Andy Jackowski who never have had the recognition they deserve.  Two of the younger painters Peter’s Darach and Sylviere were cooking up space and imagery in a similar way (as was Hyman himself) to Nicola’s but down all these years the knowing use of pure painterly tropes is something they would never have dreamed of adopting at that time.

My two penn’orth on the show at New Court is that where the larger pictures begin to really breathe is in a work like Maud’s Transmitter where the more fiddly gloss tricks are very much subservient to the picture content and where the object dominates the space so that some of the drawing issues that I felt cropped up in some of the figure work are pushed aside.  That said in a set piece like Railway Tracks the two figures seem to be drawn almost as quotations and have an illustrative function so that they shoulder less of a burden in the mix so that there is plenty to admire in the work.  It’s curious (and somewhat crazy juxtapositions) made it for me the strongest and most compelling of the larger pieces in which materials float in a flat colour ground punctuated by all manner of both paint incidents and odd objects ranging from traffic cones to two crows (or ravens?) perched in a tree several sizes too small for them and surveying the scenes below.  In this work and in passages in several others I found myself thinking of my old friend the Glaswegian turned Leicestershire based painter Peter Wilson whose canvases from the 70’s and 80’s share some characteristics with those here (and for me at least, that’s quite a compliment).

The Finishing Line, 2014, household gloss and enamels on canvas, 20 x 30 cm.

Perhaps one of the strongest works, as well as being the most chilling, was also one of the most recent, presaging a bright future for an artist of substantial ability. In The Finishing Line the figure is gruesomely well realised (what’s left of it) and there’s a curious and distinctive light cast over the closely cropped scene. Painterly tricks have all but been abandoned, or at least tamed, in favour of getting the mood just frighteningly right. Process, form, colour, facture are conjoined with idea and title to good effect.  I mentioned Kitaj earlier and Hyman used a quote of his from 1976 to conclude his own text in the Narrative Paintings catalogue…”the seam never really gave out…it’s not as if an instinct which lies in the race of men from way before Sassetta and Giotto has run it’s course. It won’t. Don’t listen to the fools who say that pictures of people can be of no consequence…there is much to be done.” And there still is, as this show suggests.  Get along to it if you can…  (Thanks to Louisa Chambers and the artist for allowing the use of the photographs)