Peber (Cornish Coast), Acrylic on Linen, 10 x 10 cm., 2014

In stitches this morning…listening to William Shatner‘s take on Bohemian Rhapsody etc.  But whilst painting it has to be (mainly) instrumental so taking a leaf out of my wife’s book it’s been Eno for the past hour or two.  Am cracking on today after a few days teaching or prep for it.  In winter it’s good to have some smaller works to work on at home…not that (so far)  it’s been a bad one – for me the jet stream is a blessing keeping the far colder easterlies away (and thus the snow).  So I’m making hay with this Cornish Coast series and starting in on a new body of work that is picking up on a set of boards I began working on back in 2009 but abandoned and stored until earlier in the year.  

Last Thursday was very helpful too…not least with these current pictures.  Though I was disappointed not to be at the opening of Painted Thought in Cardiff (a journey too far this week past) it was great to be able to attend the discussion and opening of Landscapes of Space, Paintings and Prints by Tess Jaray.  The artist was in conversation with Richard Davey and this well structured event provided plenty of food for thought about the differing ways in which picture making come about and how the past fifty (!) years has impacted on both the ideas and  practice behind them.   My first encounter with her work was in the book ‘Private View’ that I poured over in Wheaton’s bookshop in Exeter in 1965 (as a 14 year old there was no way I could buy it) and it made quite an impression…the painting illustrated, St. Stephen’s Way, is in the gallery now.


And for me it was this earlier work that had thoughtfully been assembled in the smaller of the two main gallery spaces (at the Djanogly Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre, University Park, Nottingham)  that resonated most strongly.  These paintings made in the early 1960’s were crafted imperfectly (acknowledged by Jaray in the discussion) but it was the minor imperfections (or more likely the deliberate and/or ‘happy’ accidents) from the occasionally slightly wonky symmetry to the blips on the taped edges to the imperfections in the canvas weave that added a real ‘kick’ to these works.  It is these hand crafted and registered modulations alongside an unerring eye for perfectly balanced colour decisions and the obvious delight in Italian architecture as an imagery source that made these really delightful paintings that pretty well stand the test of time.  In the bigger main space we were treated to a large body of recent work that whilst showing the same faultless judgment for colour and a continuing fascination for spacial enquiry was for me less forceful – in the main because of their construction.  This came up in the discussion, in that these new works utilise laser cutting technology, and whilst the artist herself acknowledged that new technology is a ‘two edged sword’, these pictures had a smoothness that I can’t get over-excited about.


The large and cavernous third gallery (a most welcome additional space in this, the best of our regional venues I think) was given over to the prints that were the result of a fascinating and rewarding collaboration that the artist had with the writer W.G. Sebald.  Let me declare myself here – like many artists nowadays I am a Sebald obsessive so anything I say is slathered in rather uncritical admiration.  And in this instance green with envy (like many others I suspect) as I came late to the work (courtesy of my friend the very talented Christopher Matthews) in 2008 some time after Sebald’s untimely death.  The book that resulted works really well, the ‘poems’ (that are rather more akin to short text extracts or aphorisms or haiku’s – you can never define his work as anything other than ‘Sebaldian’ really) are juxtaposed with Jaray’s images selected impeccably and arranged with immense sensitivity that offer a purely visual counterpoint to text that is somehow both indexical and narrative at the same time as very abstract.  They offer quiet and complementary spaces to ponder both image and text.  In the gallery framed and given ‘landscapes of space’ they looked elegant and sober but maybe just lacked a little of the intimacy of the book though when I go back (away from a preview) I may feel differently.  In any event I was made up when the artist very kindly signed my copy that I had taken along!  A very rewarding night out – cut along there if you can by 27th April.


An enduring legacy

Photo 11-04-2013 14 28 49


This weekend my wife bought a copy of the Guardian, a rare event nowadays…we get most of our news online…and she must have been prescient for it was with great delight that the review section revealed an extract from a new collection of essays by W.G. Sebald.  I came to him quite late in life through a colleague on my Masters course at DMU in Leicester only five years ago and had one of those wonderful, rare moments when you discover something that simply has to be a cultural touchstone (rare that is in later life I think) for your view of what the world comprises, how it operates and what on earth it means for us to be briefly a part of it.  If you don’t know his work I would urge you to drop everything and go find one of the four great prose works (Austerlitz, The Emigrants, Vertigo and the simply sublime The Rings Of Saturn) and sit and read it.  In one of four commentaries on the published extract (the book of four essays is being published in the UK on 2nd May I think) it is suggested that nowadays it is impossible to write about place and memory without being in a sense ‘Sebaldian’, and I’d share that view about the making of artworks, certainly those that retain some vestige of the idea of narrative or the use of indexicality in its most evanescent form (most often, though not exclusively, through Photography) and that draw upon ideas and images from history.

Of course for someone whose core activity and interest is in abstract painting all this might seem a long distance to travel and I guess that, perhaps, one’s being drawn into such a literary context suggests a certain failure of focus (most of those artists for whom Sebald holds the greatest fascination have tended to be more ‘literary’ in their chosen forms of expression – you might want to look at the book Searching For Sebald for superb examples of how much influence he has had on photography, drawing, installation etc.) and a desire to move towards a more discursive and loaded form of art making than that which non-figurative painting offers.  I’ve mused on this before – and it might well be the accounting of why my own practice has oscillated wildly over the years – and yet always come back to thinking that some way has to be found that can encompass these thoughts and ideas and yet remain both resolutely abstract in conception and also have both formal and material integrity as a painting.  I suspect however that I’ll not find a way, but maybe others will…I’ve yet to see works that I am totally convinced have taken on the task and completely succeeded though the works of my artist friend David Ainley make a pretty good fist of trying.

Sebald was very fond of simple, modest, b&w images that acted as visual interruptions as much as anything else to his texts…so I’ve chosen one of the many small photographs that get taken (nowadays on the mobile of course) as I go about the place myself.  This one was taken on a trip out to Calke Abbey, a place I visit pretty regularly and for which I have a great affection, that is both a fairly typical English Country House and surrounding lands and at the same time a curious and eccentric ‘one off’.  Part of the charm of it comes from the fact that time was, in a sense, ‘stilled’ for several generations before it became a part of the National Trust and as a consequence (and through the Trust’s good sense) there are many examples of things that reflect the passing of time, the enduring quality of the landscape through decay and renewal and the ways in which objects can speak to us through the years…all things that Sebald’s genius and legacy brings back to us time and again.