A current article in Hyperallergic on the marvellous Joe Overstreet, reminded me a little of the paintings I was making late in 1971 and into 72…where I was exploring the possibilities of unstretched form and colour having been dissuaded from the proscenium arch paintings that had preceded them. Tracerie, above, was not the largest of them but is the only one I have a decent image of. Below are details of the biggest, Pinky Free, an over thirty feet expanse of 12 oz. cotton duck the width of the bolt (I guess 78 inches) – Let us pause to give thanks for free higher education where a poor working class Devonian lad could explore his most ridiculous creative impulses wherever he wanted to take them!
The whole contraption was propped up on an assortment of photo light and music stands ‘borrowed’ from the relevant departments for a few days (at least until the lecturers responsible realised). Pinky was the last of this run of loose canvas pieces that I then began pulling back into more formal arrangements, pushing and pressing oil paint into the canvas weave to give it a little more structure and solidity.
Here I’m installing one of these Oilcloth pieces in the studios for the second year interim exhibition. I’d also abandoned the riot of colour in favour of more muted earthy tones, even then I was already heavily into the idea of pushing work far out in one direction only to wrench it back wildly in the other. It may seem implausible in the world of instant information via social media but back then most of those few who saw this work were completely mystified by it and thought it pretty crazy. It was quite some years before I began realise that, contrary to what everyone thought, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the lower Eastside of Manhattan and down in Washington DC (and I guess quite a few other places, including one or two in the East End of London) others were exploring similar ideas of how far painting could be pushed. At the time I felt quite isolated and exposed in the far west of Cornwall!
no…not the painting you fool! Even I’m not delusional enough to think it’s that spectacular (though I’m not unhappy with it). You can’t quite see it in the photo but the interference red over the mucky blue does pull it together reasonably well. No I’m thinking how fortunate I am to be in the position to be dabbling with these pictures this morning rather than (as my wife is) stuck in traffic on my way to paid work. And though that’s pretty gruelling she’s fortunate to have reasonably decent paid work so what about all those without that? We often forget that for many people decent living conditions, regular food & water, healthcare and so on are a permanent struggle and thats just in the so-called ‘first world’…let’s not even go on to ponder the ‘bottom forty percent‘, over a billion people living on less than a pound a day.
So today I’m focussing on my good fortune to be in the ‘top ten’ percent of wealth across the globe (and before you run away with the idea I’m rolling in it to qualify only requires assets in excess of a couple thousand pounds). Indeed this morning its blissful here…I’ve got some of my favourite music playing, I’m tinkering with the pictures, the dog is relaxing and I’ve just made a good coffee (with a smidgen of brandy in it) And to top it off I’m sorting my recent work out for selection by Lucy Cox and Freya Purdue for their upcoming show – Colour: A Kind Of Bliss – at The Crypt in Marylebone Parish Church where its my good fortune to be exhibiting in a few months time. They are showing their work with mine, and with three others. Its a privilege to have been asked to exhibit alongside the two of them and the also really talented trio of Julian Brown, Andy Parkinson and, well bless my soul, Jeff Dellow (with whom I was a ‘Cheltenham Fellow’ way way back in time). Of course like everyone else I’m trying not to think too hard about what’s happening in the news but, right here, right now, I’m a happie chappie.
It occurred to me a few days back that although I own a good many painter’s monographs I hadn’t acquired one on Hans Hoffman. It seemed an important omission; not least as the college copy of the big Sam Hunter Abrams book was a constant companion during my undergraduate days. As usual Abe books obliged, sadly not the Abrams but a rather good, almost new, copy of the Hudson Hills book that followed on from two shows in Germany in 1997.
This has also the virtue of containing a good few plates of those canvases completed in 1964/5 the paintings to his first wife Miz and the Renate pictures following his marriage to her following Miz’ death. We talk often of the ‘late’ paintings of artists and this can mean just about anything in most cases…after all Franz Marc reached only 36. But it is extraordinary in Hoffman’s case.
After all the ‘mature’ work (on which the significant part of his reputation rests begins in around 1956/7…when he was already 76 years old…so these final two years of canvases, of which there are many and amongst his largest, are the work of a man well into his eighties. Like Picasso and Matisse a truly ‘late’ explosion of further restless creativity – hope for us all then. Why does his work appeal to me so much…no artifice, no slickness I guess. A lot (and I do mean a lot) of contemporary painting (indeed most contemporary art of whatever stripe) looks to me to be trying a bit too hard to be ‘clever’ in some way. Either conceptually or in handling and facture and so on. The ‘Hoff’ had no time for this at all. He painted directly and spontaneously and wasn’t afraid to reveal himself through the work. I like that very much indeed!
It has been hard to find much time to focus on my work over the past couple weeks as we enter the business end of the academic year. Although notionally I’m only doing two days teaching this semester I’ve been covering others and putting in extra to get the students over the finishing line or perhaps more accurately lined up on the home straight so their run in is reasonably smooth. I guess all of us who do this regularly struggle with this time when we have to flip the switch from coach and cheerleader to judge and assessor. However that process is moving to its conclusion now and although the next two weeks will be a little crazy it will, I’m sure, be ‘alright on the night’. Why am I sure? Because it has to be!
I’m looking forward both to some more protracted studio time and to getting out and about to look at the work on show locally and nationally. I’ve rather neglected this of late…and am missing the opportunity to chew the fat with my pal as we give this or that show the once over. I’ve also realised how looking over work up close and for real is increasingly, for me, a really vital part of my practice. When I was younger this seemed less important but nowadays I seem to get such a great deal out of these encounters. So clear the decks and hit the road methinks…
It’s that time of year…working with students is always a heady brew of challenges and hopefully rewards. Take these images of dried flowers stored in translucent bags…interesting and attractive in their own right but perhaps, as yet, lacking that transformative moment that might make them into objects that we can call art. Will they make it? Now is the crunch time…often it comes down to how much the individual wants it to happen. So it’s as much motivational coaching as creative insights that one has to offer right now.
I am beginning to see a way to bring the surfaces to life and inject stronger colour into these pieces without creating the same factor as before – that simply didn’t look right on the aluminium. It’s good to retain the fluidity and be less slavish to the imagery whilst still searching for the spirit of the source material. Though just as I’m building a good head of steam I have a teaching session tomorrow followed by a long weekend break – but that’s a joy as we are off to Madrid. Expect lots of black to start creeping into the pictures come next week!