As anyone reading this will know we are living for the month in a small bedsit on the harbour in Scalloway on the Shetlands and its proper lovely as we Devon folk say. In fact when the sun shines (and we’ve more good days than not) it reminds one of how the West Country seemed to be when I was a child. Nowadays the crowds down in Devon & Cornwall make it harder to love but back then before motorways etc. Anyway enough of my misremembering as, apart from sitting staring out the window or visiting unspoilt and empty beaches, we are here to work.
But the rub is that you start to think about what you do and how you go about it. Yes I know one should be doing that all the time anyway…but holidays just exacerbate this…and added to which there are fewer materials and supports to hand…and ideas get stuck in your head in ways that just don’t happen at home. Its all rather confusing! So here I am rethinking, tinkering really, with both the Wonky Geometry and the notion I had arrived with (outlined a few weeks back) and fetching up with something that’s quite a departure. Should I be worried or concerned?
So shortly we are off to the Shetlands, to Scalloway and to The Booth. For a month we will be living and working there and it is always tricky on such an expedition deciding what to take by way of materials. You don’t want to be too prescriptive on the one hand but properly equipped on the other. Especially so as material supplies may be tricky there (though of course it might be much easier than I’m imagining). Nonetheless I have drafted a sort of plan! Some time back I was rather taken by a small clutch of Knitting Sheaths that reside in the museum there – I’m hoping to see them during our stay.
And I’ve riffed on them over the past few months in photoshop…so I have at least the beginning of imagery that hopefully relates to my Wonky Geometry. Then a trip to the Ashmolean a while back with my pal Simon to see the wonderful Raphael drawing show had us wandering through the room of Japanese scrolls – kakejuki…brilliant! Just the thing for a trip away…paper based and roll em’ up to transport back easily.
What constitutes content in abstraction will, I suspect, always evade us. Damn good job too. It is probably one of the handful of things that can sustain painting as an activity in the contemporary world. Anyway this is a detail from a picture I’m working on now – and in my head it has something of a festive feel to it. So I’m using it as my way to wish all a very contented yuletide. I always struggled with Christmas as a youngster…I felt trapped by the shut down of ‘real life’…but now it seems to be a welcome (and all too brief) moment of calm in what seems now to be an increasingly sour and vulgar world. I hope it gives all of you a sense of calm and contentment too…and comes with my very best wishes.
between different projects is often difficult to divine. There are times when the focus is clearer and times when its not. Its one of those not times. There’s a suite of small wonky geometries on the go. They are still at the early stage of ‘roughing out’ – the broad structure is in place (further variations on the 5/6/7 sided figure interactions) but the colour combinations and variations are, as yet, very unclear. They are amongst a group of panels to be offered for selection for a show entitled Colour Bliss so there’s a challenge!
Alongside these I’m playing with a collection of over 100 small paperworks – that are even more wacky variants of the same repertoire of basic regular sided shapes expanded to include 3/4 sided appearances and a host of other marks and forms. These are pretty much just for fun and to keep myself busy when the other project gets too tricky.
There’s actually another even more mindless long term project that uses up quantities of mixed colour so as not to waste it. And when I say longterm I really mean it. I guess my casual interest in colouring in maps (!) started in my early teens. On one of my first trips abroad (a scout jamboree in the Netherlands) a pal asked me why I was clutching a sheaf of maps (picked up in various locations) on the return journey. I couldn’t answer him satisfactorily but it began a habit that has lived with me through over fifty years now. Some time later…exactly how long I’m not sure (though by the time I started my Foundation studies)…I began in idle moments (and to keep me engaged in some activity in the studio) to fill in these having glued them into sketchbooks. Goodness knows how many there are now but its a lot. Some time back I actually collated a few into a pamphlet that I called Rough Cartography. Here’s one that has been mushed up in the last couple days…it amuses me to think about why I do them and whether I’ll ever use them for any more elevated artistic purpose. I am also (obviously easily pleased) amused at the way the locations are obliterated by my actions…if they were shown would others be able to recognise them? What about the one here? First answer received gets a copy of Rough Cartography signed by the artist! Well it’s Christmas innit!
Somehow I have conspired to spend most of my adult life living as far from the coast as it is possible to get on this relatively small island. Of course because of this it isn’t actually that far away…but you know how it is with all that ‘stuff’ in the way. Nowadays we have enough space in our lives to get to the coast more regularly and its just about the most blissful thing I can think of. We’ve just been to Pembrokeshire and because it is less known to me all the more rewarding. I’d been once before but all too briefly and this time around, although it was all too short a visit we had the good sense to stay in one location and at least explore that space.
How these experiences feed into my painting practice I’ve no real idea, and I’m not sure I want to. But what I do know is my times away in these locations certainly do inform my thinking about my practice whether or not I have the intellectual or emotional capacity to understand why or how.
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.
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.
Another 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.
on a day when I was hoping to put to bed one of my ‘Wonky Geometry‘ series up pops the most recent of the Jazz group of paintings and good ol’ Dexter Gordon furnishes the title. As it happens his Our Man In Paris album is an old favourite of mine. I even managed to get my own way with the name of my third child after it. And strangely enough he fetched up at the house at just the time when it finally resolved itself (like most young men he rarely shows up at home). Getting the picture to this point meant completely repainting the ground with this pale yellow green as the way in which the various elements could properly come together. Oddly enough my wife had furnished the critique that led to the decision and she had also pointed me in the direction of this useful text on painting, a small part of which seemed very relevant to the way in which these pictures have come together, for which I’m (as often) very grateful!
The text in case you haven’t followed the link contains a sentence that sure resonates with me in wrestling with this picture (and the Wonky ones yet to be resolved)…
“It is, as an artist I know has said, one semi-mistaken brushstroke after another applied until a kind of truce against the possibility of a perfect painting is reached.”