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?

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Running on empty?

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And time passes…and I’ve not managed to post in very nearly a fortnight.  Perhaps I’m running out of things I want to say…or just too busy with other things (but what?) or just too plain idle.  But there are small moments of thought that might have made decent posting.  Like the economy and certainty in the 50’s and 60’s of Francis Bacon’s paintings that moves into a kind of Mannerism later where the paint thickens and becomes perhaps a little less sure of itself (at least to my eyes) – seen in the rather good display at Tate Liverpool (now sadly closed I think).  Or the sheer genius of Louise Bourgeois in the display in the new Switch House at Tate Modern.  Here I was especially taken with 15 drawings made in her 97th year…and I’m certain mistakenly labelled as etchings? (or not..the etching is the base on which she drew further marks so the link says)..although maybe I’m wrong (as without looking too carefully I mis referenced to my companion a Whiteread as an Andre!).  I was less excited by Wifredo Lam than I had expected…too much influenced by others (even after the early days) and thinness in process taken perhaps just a wee bit too far.  And the Liverpool Biennial display at Tate which (sorry but) looked like contemporary art but was pretty much just stuff by and large.

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Try outs for East Coast

In my own work I’m busying myself with various projects,  making inroads into what has become the second part of a three part romp through Schama’s Landscape & Memory, getting into the Playground of the Midlands canvases, but also casting around for a form for a series of paintings stimulated by the East Coast (a follow on from the Cornish Coast group).  At first I experimented with a tall upright and agonised over the exact dimensions settling eventually on two competing sizes and ratios.  Then I pretty much settled on the thinner of the two at 130 cm. high (the turning of the flat coast in the east on its side an idea I nicked from Shelagh Cluett, oddly enough one of whose works from the relevant series was up in Tate Liverpool).  But – and I imagine anyone unfamiliar to art practice will wonder what I’m agonising about! – I’m still not happy so I have plundered the far past for a ‘fresh’ idea (see top of post) a take on my proscenium arch idea that I first deployed in my practice in 1969.  There’s nothing new under the sun…well certainly in my practice!

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Moving Right Along…

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from the installation and opening of All Of My Senses at Harrington Mill (see above) it’s inevitable that I’m thinking what next?  Of course I have a myriad of ongoing other projects (blogs passim) but as its the first outing for the Waldgeschichten one or two useful discussions at the Opening yesterday clarified some thinking for me.  One of the panels that never made it to the wall (there were three others) just didn’t ‘fit’ with the rest…and as a result never had a text intervention appended.  Until yesterday I hadn’t thought about it too much.  But now its clear I was already unconsciously plotting the response to the second section of Schama’s Landscape & Memory…the one on Water.  So today I’m cracking into this.  Early days but I’m really excited at the potential!  Sad really…

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Up…

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It’s always gratifying when you plan something out and it pretty much comes together in the way you hoped.  There was a plan of sorts that emerged over several months, starting with an almost whimsical experiment utilising torn pieces of failed works on paper collaged onto larger sheets, and then very gradually coalescing into a group of pictures around the loose idea of woodlands egged on by a careful reading of Simon Schama’s Wood section from his Landscape & Memory book from 1995.  The form is a tight grouping of images – something I’ve done a lot of over the past few years –  and here it reflects the notion of ancient woodlands as dark and enclosed spaces of the kind that have all but disappeared from the contemporary landscape.   Installing them was easier that I’d imagined, in the main down to the hard work of my wife who did most of the heavy labour, and they pretty much fit the space as I’d intended.  Ideally they would be viewable from a greater distance though that would dissipate the density idea so I’ll go along with Barnett Newman‘s initial rationale for Vir Heroicus Sublimis at Betty Parsons – its meant to be that way!

It sits on the long wall at Harrington Mill (where I’m showing till October 2nd) and faces off against several paintings from my Very Like Jazz series that have evolved over roughly the same period.  How can I make such different pictures?  Well its just the way I roll – I don’t have a specific style, brand if you like, never have and never will.  For me very different subjects require very different treatments out of a creative mind that can think very differently at different sessions.  The critique of this includes the accusation of dilettantism to which I’ll happily plead guilty as charged.

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Take for example the Cornish Coast series, reworked from the small ten centimetre blocks, to a bigger format of 30 x 30 cm. by 7.8 cm. deep. These are quieter, more straightjacketed pictures operating within a constrained format where only colour operates loudly.  But for me it is important that the experiences of the specific locations are enabled through the surface modulations and the colour juxtapositions, both sympathetic and jarring.

IMG_9578.JPGAnother wall features a selection of paintings from yet another sequence, ongoing for two or three years now, entitled Wonky Geometry.  These operate pretty much exclusively within the realm of ‘pure’ abstraction whereby a predetermined open structure is put through its paces by the intuitive operation of gesture and colour within it.  In my mind its a kind of Mondriaan on acid(not that I take acid nor have any delusions that I’m in the same ball park as Piet)…I simply operate in the same manner!

Anyway all these paintings can be seen at the Mill from 2pm on Sunday till Sunday 2nd October.  It’s best to check on access – better still get in touch on 07808 938349 – to be sure of viewing. But I’ll be in attendance from 2 to 4pm.on Tuesday 13th Sept., Friday 30th  and Saturday 1st Oct. if you want to come along and see the work and have a chat about it.

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