Long time observers know I work on series of pictures. Some are relatively constrained to a few months or a year perhaps. Not so The Heart Of Rural England. Actually this title has only just been chosen as the first part of it started way back in the late 1990’s. Back then I was working on a series of canvas pieces that were mounted on board and based on imagery drawn from villages nearby my home. These were abandoned in favour of the series of canvases that became the project titled From The Earth Wealth shown at the Tarpey Gallery in 2011. During an interview for the Leicester Mercury I jokingly suggested I might go on from that project (featuring a painting by each place featured in the district of NW Leics handbook) to make a series for each of the other districts in the county. This lay fallow until around 2015 when myself and my pal Simon started on the documentation of the Charnwood Borough. In turn the canvases for each place in their handbook began towards the end of the following year.
The first – Loughborough – was completed in February of 2017 (by which time the photography for the next district – Melton – was just starting) but then progress on the paintings stalled. But though the wheels grind slow they do grind fine with the last handful of the Charnwood series (titled from a phrase in their handbook suggesting it is ‘the Playground of the Midlands’!) just drying as i write – so they should be all put to bed by year’s end. I’ve ruefully suggested before now that with the glacial progress to date there’s a good chance the project may out live its progenitor so in order to try and forestall that I’m now pushing on.
This starts with reviewing the images from part three (luckily most of which are already captured) that of Melton (with yet another title from their Handbook of ‘Painting The Town Red’) and ordering the necessary canvases. This will be followed in the new year – COVID restrictions permitting – with recommencement of the photography for part four – Harborough District – that we started on back in February of the current year but then never followed up – I cannot imagine why!
My last post suggested we were nearing completion…well if 27 of 35 is getting close then four more is closer still. Above we have (my vision !) of Mountsorrel, Rothley, Barrow upon Soar & Beeby. Luckily very few – maybe only one – of my regular observers will know any of these places!
Only share…experiences with those you trust completely. First trip out of the district since the self imposed ‘lockdown’ and some five plus months since the last time. To dear old YSP with my chum Simon and it was a treat…not nearly as tricky or odd as might have been expected. Yes we were masked in the buildings (other than in the restaurant where we managed a nice table out on the verandah) but otherwise much as before. Lets hope it stays that way (though despite a general consensus of government. media and – it must be said – much of the public cases seem inexorably to be creeping up again*).
What of the art then? I enjoyed both offerings. Joana Vasconcelos is big, bright, jazzy, post modernist internationalism with a good dose of feminism, local culture (Fado, Catholic symbolism etc. – she’s Portugese) whilst Brian Fell is rooted in modernism, an Abstract Expressionist cum New Generation vibe (I immediately thought of sculptors like David Smith and particularly Ibram Lassaw on the one hand and early abstract Caro, King and Witkin etc. on the other – though Brian is mostly in the more complex physical spaces of the earlier of these). Both rewarding in their own ways; inevitably my personal interaction with Brian’s work more satisfying given our ages, cultural reference points and aesthetics.
So a good trip out…next week back to Derby for a further dose of 20c. modernism with Ronald Pope as well as a show by previous Vickers award winners. As for the studio…
Botanicals…a group of small paintings with quite a history even by my tortuous machinations. I’m fairly sure these started back in 2007 in the backwash from my bypass op. certainly there’s a number of clues in some of the forms. They were fiddled with for a year or so before being bundled into the store cupboard at Harrington Mill until I left there in, I think 2014/5? Back at the Chapel they went back into storage – and might have stayed there but for the ‘lockdown’. But now they are being revised, reworked and put to bed.
My paper has a headline telling me that 67 cases have appeared in NZ implying that they are ‘failing’…meanwhile no mention (unless you search it out) that the UK recorded 1400 + that same day…)
These are tough times for sure.However much one tells oneself that the studio is a fine place to ‘self isolate’ (see last post) there’s a need, fairly regularly, to get out and replenish the batteries.I often do so with my pal Simon (see many previous posts!) either on one of our Leicestershire projects or visiting shows – often at hand or more occasionally far flung.One of the latter several years back involved an almighty cock up whereby we planned to set out for the Louvre – Lens not realising it was a French public holiday!Discovering it at the last moment we swerved away north to Bruges and back via Ostend.This enabled us to take in MU:zee in the city.Its a large rambling modern building that looks rather as if it may have been a department store (it was) and as I rambled around I was powerfully struck by several of the Belgian artists represented.Chief among them is of course Ensor but there are fine works by Permeke, Brusselmans and more recent figures such as Jan Fabre and Wim Delvoye.But what really got to me were works by the hitherto only vaguely remembered Léon Spilliaert.His self portrait in particular seemed both haunting and haunted, a study in depression and insomnia.It struck me as easily the equal if not possibly more harrowing than Munch’s The Scream.
So I had been limbering up for a visit to the show of his work currently holed up in the Royal Academy and thinking just my luck as it now seems certain that its run will end before the curfew lets up.Luckily however the Academy have put up a video of the show – not a substitute of course – but something to help out.It’s worth a look, not least if you are a painter now. Although notionally figurative many of his works are of equal interest to someone wedded to abstraction and his range is truly astonishing.It’s a mystery to me that he’s not better known or better regarded – and given that he’s lucked out in London likely to remain so for many.Check out the video so you’re not one of those…and we never did (as yet…?) make it to Louvre-Lens!
and what a grand day to be doing so…hard to believe it’s still early February. But we (being my pal Simon and myself) got stuck into the latest instalment of the seemingly endless task of visiting every place listed in the various District guides for the county of Leicestershire. As it happens we haven’t yet completed Melton but a new year gets us out into Harborough (we polished off Charnwood some time back and I did NWLeics years ago). The point of the exercise for me is to assemble a collection of small (40 x 50 cms.) paintings each representing, albeit very abstractly, every location visited. For Simon it’s the photographs themselves and, as I’ve said here before, if you want top quality images his blog is where you should head off to!
The paintings are invariably derived, very loosely, from crude collages of images taken on the journey. So here we have one such…using two snaps made in Thorpe Langton, one of the Langton’s (there are five in all) in the Welland Valley. Actually the Harborough project is a rather tricky blighter…the previous three guides elided the places on the map contained within the guide and the ‘biogs’ of places therein. But this one doesn’t – some places are on the map but not discussed and vice versa. What to do? choose one or the other or do the lot? A question that won’t need resolution until I get around to the paintings stage and that will be a ways off as Charnwood still has 18 canvases awaiting completion whilst Melton still hasn’t got its full set of collages.
Meanwhile other picture making continues apace…another canvas from a newer series that has a putative title to be announced here soon… This one is The Approach, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 55 cms.
it’s often in the detail that you get a proper idea of what something is about. I was re-reading my friend Andrew Bracey‘s excellent catalogue for his detail exhibition where he quotes the painter Malcolm Morley saying that it was in the detail, very close detail indeed that the energy of the painting resided. Maybe its so…I just started out on the Rock sub set of my Landscape & Memory series…and thought it would be interesting – at the early stage of each of the eighteen works – to take a detail from each. What it tells me who knows…but anyway I’m studying them nonetheless.
Besides getting on with this project – I’ve set myself a deadline of Christmas to have the lot completed – I’m also setting a harder deadline for the Playground Of The Midlands sub project (the Charnwood leg of the Leicestershire set that began years back with the From The Earth Wealth (aka North West Leics) group. The third leg of this one – Painting The Town Red, the Melton district – got started at a lick last Spring and then fizzled out towards the end of May. So yesterday myself and my partner in crime Simon rebooted and got over to Bottesford, the most northerly outpost, to begin the task of completing the set. It has to be admitted that as we plough through what will end up being over two hundred plus settlements across the county it gets harder to find distinctive features in the many sleepy small villages we encounter! As often mentioned before head over to Simon’s blog for the decent photos – me I settle for tatty aide memoires for what will become the paintings. So above is a photo from Bottesford…and below the painting that resulted from a trip, quite a long time back now, to Hathern.
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!
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.