It’s the series that keeps on giving…but I am bringing it to an end. It was always going to be tough figuring it out. But the fact of fitting 45 into each box (and only being four such) suggests 180 is it. The pile of potential pieces keeps going so now some thought will have to go into what to do with the seventy or more pieces that will be ‘remaindered’!
Goodness – this strange time of ‘lockdown’ has seen something of a lack of productivity on the blogging front. I very nearly let a month slip by without a post…not that there’s been any shortage of work going on. On the contrary it’s been quite a busy time what with an absence of movement out of the studio. And despite suggestions to the contrary I notice a marginal increase in COVID cases over this week rather being over shadowed by exhortations by the ‘powers that be’ that we all go shopping alongside a return to work. In any event I’m going nowhere until I’m personally sure the risk is significantly lessened so the painting likely to continue at a lick. This picture draws on another poem (with its rather prescient title) by the great Tomas Transtromer.
Away from the actual painting for quite a while it’s good to get back to it.An old colleague (and staff member) of mine once mildly rebuked me for chuntering on about the time they were spending away from the teaching saying “to be a good artist you have to put in the hours” and he’s right of course.Leaving aside all the high fallutin’ nonsense we all spout about making work that has something to say, it is just plain laborious some of, if not most of, the time.Imagine then how much tougher an activity like painting must be if sight fails you?More of that in a moment.
But it’s also important to see work and to reflect on one’s practice away from it – and to recharge the batteries in congenial surroundings.These come along in many forms.So it was rather excellent that my absence from this blog has been occasioned by just such variety.Firstly an old pal of mine came up from London to spend a few days with us.We hightailed it straight from the rail station to Lakeside in Nottingham to take in the Ivon Hitchens show, beautifully curated by Anne Goodchild and mounted by Neil Walker.Hitchens late works in particular a bit of a revelation – their wonderful colour singing out in what is our region’s best gallery.
Day two we were off to Birmingham to view the John Walker exhibition at the Ikon Gallery.We studied together at Brum, not long after Walker had left the city, his work having left an indelible mark on the art scene there, so not only had we gone to view the show but also to take a trip down memory lane looking over at a studio we had rented on Broad Street, then a pigeon shit invested loft – now an upmarket Indian restaurant. John is a proper painter’s painter and so any show he mounts starts from a high water mark – however this was a tad of a let down.For starters it consisted of just the upper gallery spaces and John’s work needs space – lots of it.Although most of the 8 x 6 ft.(ish) canvases sat comfortably enough the two real biggies (at least 8 by 12 feet if not more) were lacking room.And for another matter these two biggest works seemed to be pushing for that easy elegance that the late paper cutouts of Matisse have.Gone was the hard won push and pull of paint that characterise most Walker canvasses replaced by thinner washes and canvas collage, not to my eyes entirely successfully.Overall the body of paintings riffed off a variety of Walker tropes (the truncated lozenges harking back to the early 1970’s), an over reliance on stripes and the grid and the suggested references to the Maine coastline hard to see?
Day three took us to the Attenborough in Leicester.Although my colleague Stuart knew of him I’d only the sketchiest knowledge of Sargy Mann (gathered from a recollection of his involvement with a Bonnard show years back).But the substantial exhibition that Attenborough had mounted was a tour de force.Both as an example of how to celebrate a career (something the Ikon show signally failed to do for John Walker) and give the artist a proper outing but also for the quality of what was on show. as if that were not enough Sargy progressively lost his sight over his career so that the last canvasses were made – well from what? – not simply memory but knowledge and experience and a heightened awareness of other senses.Sadly the show is now ended but you can get an idea of the late works from this Youtube video.We topped off a great trip with a brief outing to the Tarpey Gallery where the latest crop of gallery artists showing included favourites such as Richard Perry, Jackie Berridge & the Richard’s Devereux & Thornton too.
Secondly news reached me of work ‘on the road’ again.Opportunities to have works seen in public are thin on the ground nowadays so always welcome.And so another outing for the estimable Andrew Bracey’s Enough Is Definitely Enough exhibition where a small and modest offering from me is part of the mix.Andrew is boundless in his energy and he’s produced a rather nifty gif to accompany this outing that I’m happy to reproduce here.
Thirdly another very dear pal of mine issued an invitation to me and my wife to accompany him and his partner to their Civil Partnership signing, and to a very grand and indulgent ‘Partnership breakfast’ shall we call it that?stretching over lunch, dinner and overnight stay at the wonderful Lympstone Manor.Although very upmarket (Michelin Star) it was a wonderfully relaxed and inspiring location: a Georgian mansion overlooking a vineyard sloping down to the Exe estuary.And although the artwas variable, quite a lot of it was very accomplished and some rather provoking for such a location.We were very privileged to be able to share the occasion with our friends and it was an experience that will live long in the memory (and I dare say feed into the work in some way).
Next up out of the blue a few weeks back I received an email from a painter for whose work I have the highest regard.Now resident in the Far East Laurence Wood wanted to send me a copy of his recent catalogue of paintings made over the past six or so years since his move to Hong Kong.
I have a small painting of Laurence’s, an oil on board, made during his brief time in Leicester.It was obvious to me then that here was a fine painter (and printmaker) in the making and though I haven’t had the opportunity to see his recent paintings in the flesh it seems that after all these years I wasn’t wrong.
And finally I took the opportunity of a trip down to Swindon Museum (to present a talk on the work of the painter Charles Howard of which more in my next post) to visit Avebury, a site I last took a look around sometime in the 1970’s! I got lucky for in the midst of this soggy winter I chose a day of bright sunshine to revisit this wonderful place.
So by way of explanation for my lengthy absence that’s been what’s been happening.I’m back at it now.Nothing completed yet bar this addition to Box Three of Wonky Geometrybut three or four new pictures that should be up on here soon!
With nowt worth watching on terrestrial telly nowadays I was drawn to The Trip to Italy last evening. On retiring my wife suggested I shouldn’t be so envious of funds as I’d expressed, quite forcibly, the desire to sample some of the venues visited in the programme…and I agreed that actually I was doing alright enough with our requiring 500+€ a night accommodation in the Med (not that it wouldn’t be fun…). This came back to me this morning with the Mediterranean weather of late having deserted us for ‘typical’ English summer (cold, wet and windy) and I decided to bring a small banner work into the kitchen where I can work on it in the warmth. Along with a pot of decent coffee and a soundtrack of Corrie Dick’s wonderful ‘Impossible Things’ album life doesn’t get any better…
As it happens Corrie turns up on the new Dinosaur album…notionally Laura Jurd’s band but I reckon now truly a collective effort with – certainly Corrie’s input – but also as intense a presence from the other two members, Elliot Galvin on synths and Conor Chaplin on bass. Together they have made some especially extraordinary music this time around, not that their first album wasn’t a great piece of work (recognised with a Mercury nomination). But this one is a peach mixing jazz with, well, just about everything, all sorts of influences from sixties UK jazz (think Gilles Peterson’s Impressed samplers), through roots folk, to heavy metal riffs all bound together with Laura’s superb trumpet work that has a fluency and lyricism blended with an edge that evidences her understanding of the very best contemporary jazz phrasing and technique.
Anyway enough of the music reviews (probably best left to better ears than mine) and back to the paintings. As it happens I’m less focussed on the pictures at present (they seem mercifully to be taking care of themselves both colour and structure wise at the moment) and more thinking about presentation. Originally they were to be proper scrolls with canvas backing and rollers but then I decided to go with framing, cropped to the edges in a white stain wood. But now I’m considering an even more expensive solution, plain oak with a mount – go figure! (and not so much bliss…)
I’ve written before on the subject of listening to music whilst working and today I’ve spent pretty much the whole day in the studio. Usually it’s instrumental music only (I find it difficult to concentrate with lyrics) but sometimes the process is just laborious. Like here where I’m colouring in forms ahead of the later stages. And given my location the most appropriate rock music seemed to be about the only post millennial UK rock band I’ve much time for (most of them seem like second rate retreads of the 70’s – must be my age I guess). I’m talking of British Sea Power whose work – especially the longer work outs like those on Man of Aran or True Adventures from Open Season or Once More Now from Valhalla Dancehall I like a lot.
Then again the second and third stages of this piece were a lot less satisfactory (as above!). I think I can still rescue it but it’s hard when you’ve put in such effort but that’s often the way with painting so maybe it was a day well spent. In any event the music’s been a treat – and if you know their work (and the location I’m in – see previous posts) so appropriate to the context.
at least that’s what we’ve been taught to believe. But its a well kept secret that there is great weather to be had up here in Scalloway. Certainly over these past two (first) days of our adventure over the month of August. So far its been azure blue skies and full on sunshine. The Met Office has officially confirmed that Shetland had more hours of sunshine than Cornwall in July and so far August is following suit.
Not that we’ve been idle…the studio has been tidied and arranged to suit our purposes…and the beginnings of work underway – despite the absurdly wonderful context if you step through the doorway!
“When you start working, everybody is in your studio- the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas- all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”
Of course you rarely get those times, and even when they do turn up, it’s often for only a few seconds. I find music helps…not vocals though…but either classical (occasionally for me) or jazz (much more my thing). Today, courtesy of Miles Davis’s ensemble for the ‘In A Silent Way’ sessions, I got a few moments – not enough to finish the painting above but a few precious moments where it just started to sort itself out. Just need a couple more occasions when we all steal away and it’ll be peachy!
I’ve written before on the subject of studio. Here’s the modest new space I’m working in. A smaller space required better organisation (at least at the beginning…) and it also offers another opportunity to clear the mind. The advent of the digital age has offered us much of value as well as the avalanche of dross and worse but it can be overwhelming. I sometimes think that making paintings (and a lot more besides) is futile when there seems to be so many of us at it! There’s a mountain of great stuff already out there and the more assiduous chroniclers of the web keep posting more and more. Of course one could simply ignore it but the will required is beyond me (and most others I think?). So you keep on if, like me, its hard wired into my sense of identity. But choosing what to do and how to do it is quite a task…hence the need to scrub up the brain cavity from time to time.
There is one driver that is playing well with me right now though. I began the year (partly out of necessity) certain that this would be a year without substantive costs added into the equation – and I’ve pretty much stuck to it. I had been thinking of reinvesting in new stretchers and canvases for 2016 but as I’ve looked around there’s plenty of unfinished, unresolved work and material hereabouts so I’ve decided on another year of economy. In addition I’m planning some more studying around issues of resource management and sustainability so making a greater effort to detach myself from a consumerist approach to art making is to be recommended!
Yesterday my wife suggested I link my blog up to the other social media I use…I knew this was possible but as with many aspects of the new technology I often fail to get beyond the basics of these things for quite a time. But I had a few moments and of course its only a moment’s engagement to deal with. One consequence of doing this that I’m sure others have experienced is the exponential growth in responses…in my case from a very small handful of regular readers to, well, a slightly bigger armful. And yet already it is apparent what an amazing variety of quality creative activity and commentary is out there. So much so that it feels as if it might overwhelm my capacity to cope with it. So this is an apology to all those lovely people that responded to my last post…that I shan’t be able to give all your blogs anywhere enough time that they deserve.
But at least I can say that Otto‘s blog contains a wealth of sound and insightful ideas and advice on photographic practice today and that Fiona is writing equally fascinatingly on Spanish Cinema. That John and Claudia are talented and prolific painters whilst Patricia is making some terrific sculptural pieces that deserve wider exposure and that there are others out there that I know already and still others that I don’t doing exceptional creative things and recording and reporting them through this medium…and that I’d need many, many parallel lifetimes to do them all justice! So for now I’m simply saying both to my regular friends (both those I know in ‘analogue’ and those online) and those who dropped by – thank you.
Today was a good day…many years back I bought a catalogue at a show of Barnett Newman’s work at the Tate (yes it was that far back that there was only the one…) and I wrote in big black marker pen inside the cover…’Studio is Sanctuary’ – a quote from the artist from the text. Never a truer three words!