Today the weather is, at present, fairly decent…chilly but sunny. But it’s that time of year when some days are pretty gloomy and it comes hard to work in the cold studio. So out come my box sets, not the videos but one or the other of my ongoing series of small paper works.
Over the past few days I’ve been adding to the Drifters (15 x 21 cm.). They sit in size order between the Landscapes (20 x 23 cm.) and the Festive’s (13.5 x 15 cm.) with the Pockets (10 x 10.5 cm.) and Baby ‘G’s (8 x 8 cm.) further down and the Geo’s (27 x 27 cm.) further up the line.
What is the point of all these you might reasonably ask…well it’s a way of recycling paper works that never resolved, trying out ideas and – well – just keeping busy…
All being well – and one isn’t as sure as in past times – we should be off to the Outer Hebrides at the end of next week…nice… When I was employed the holiday season always saw me endeavouring to tidy loose ends and clear work before departing. Nowadays the studio serves that purpose. So I’ve been digging out work that, for one reason or another has never been properly archived. The Glowing Tree has for many years been stuck to the back of another work on paper (a result of a sticky glaze). Now restored and thoroughly dry it joins the stack in one of the 15 plan chests of ‘stuff’.
Lost Chord is a canvas that somehow was never resolved to my satisfaction but I’d kept rolled up in the back of the store. Now its re-stretched (quite a job…my wife helped wrestle it into submission) and given a subtle ‘make over’ so its a mute point as to whether the date is strictly accurate. Still two pieces of work mopped up and archived ahead of the hols.
Have you noticed something with all the commentators and interviewees on the telly during this awful ‘lockdown’? It struck me a few days back that nearly all these middle class people (and generally all those featured ‘at home’ are so) have virtually no original art on their walls. In fact most seem to have some spectacularly awful stuff hanging in their homes. It reminded me of something a Scandinavian gallerist said to me forty or so years back that whilst his clients in Sweden would spend a lot on a painting and little on the sofa in front of it, the British, he opined, went the other way (mind I guess Ikea was mostly operating at home back then?!) and so he was glad to be over there and not here and suggested I joined him if I wanted success as a painter…
And in turn I recall a British artist (I think it might have been Scully or Hodgkin) once saying that we were a literary nation not a visual one…and hence the remark about the Bard. No matter…keep yer eyes peeled on the walls behind whichever ‘expert’ or interviewer pops up on screen – you’ll see what I mean!
Like quite a few other painters I know this ‘self isolation’ is just studio time by other means but I’m also glad that (for those of us hereabouts) the weather has been kind in these first few days (see above). But I’m also very aware of the massive debt we owe to all those keeping the world going and to those much less fortunate in their accommodation arrangements (or worse still without any). Making work keeps one sane methinks – and I am so grateful to be able to do it.
I dunno why really but the impending ‘end of year’ schtick impels me to ‘tidy’ stuff up. It probably stems from the ‘bad old days’ (that were pretty ok really) when I was employed and the Christmas/New Year break seemed a good time for clearing decks and finishing projects. Now of course I’m in the fortunate position that one day is pretty much like another but the impulse lives on. So I’m trying to ‘complete’ (only to my own satisfaction naturally) the works that have been kicking about for the past few months or in some cases years. Its probably just as well as otherwise quite a few might never get sorted.
‘schedule’ – don’t make me laugh…it’s hardly that. Nonetheless I dug out this series (still another 100 or so in the work pile) a few days back and chose a few I felt were nearing a kind of conclusion if not a proper resolution. And now I’ve done four more to take it to a hundred – a sort of milestone I guess – and all well ahead of the festive season so hence the ‘schedule’ notion albeit only in my head.
It’s difficult to know what constitutes efficiency in the matter of painting. After all a good deal of the ‘magic’ resides in the capture of time. Of course this can be accomplished in a matter of moments (although even the experts in this probably often have longueurs between actions) but for some of us the endless prevarications, adjustments and alterations are very much part of the process. Nonetheless with some pictures it takes me months to sort them out to my satisfaction, perhaps that’s why I have so many on the go at any time. Add to that occasional periods of ill health and the onset of the winter (cold studio, poor light…) and things can take a dickens of a time.
I can’t really explain why this seems important right now but it does. So I’m reading a good deal, mainly poetry (of which I have a pretty decent, if rather ancient for the most part, collection). When a fragment takes my fancy and fits with the emerging form of the painting I’m working on (as usual there are several on the go) then it is plucked from it’s context and put to work around the edges.
How the originator might feel I do not know, but for the most part, so far, those chosen have shuffled off this mortal coil. In Tomas Tranströmer‘s case some four years back but I like to think he wouldn’t have minded too much…
Do you have as untidy a studio as mine? I only ask because I’ve been trying for quite a while now (the very decent Climate Change weather helped…the studio can be perishing in mid-winter) to do some housekeeping. Tucked away in back a bunch of smaller canvases that, for whatever reason, never got fully resolved. Including these two from back in the day…well five years or so ago. Around the time I was working on a bunch of big canvases (well biggish nowadays) that showed at the Carnival Of Monsters in Beeston, Nottingham in 2014. These had started out as the continuation of the Conversation Pieces that in turn began back in the late noughties but altered tack during the painting process erasing the more biomorphic forms with a renewed interest in formalism (albeit of a cranky kind). I say biggish because at 7 by 5 foot they would have been considered fairly tiddly back in the days I was a student at Birmingham where the legacy of John Walker was writ large – literally so!
But alongside the bigger pieces I made these smaller panels, indeed I made several even smaller still. Getting them out suggested they might have made the cut…excepting that they needed a small adjustment here and there which is exactly what they’ve just been given. Are these new completed works to be dated 2014/19 or is that as pretentious as I’ve always thought it to be when seen about the place..?
Nobody much writes about the long slow slog that most painters experience. I know some – Sidney Nolan was one such – can work at a lick to completion. I’m not one. I wrote before the festive season about completing pieces ahead of the break. And naturally enough failed with several I had hoped would now be behind me. Picking up the plot at this distance (an extra two week gap whilst we were in Cornwall) is a bit of a slog.