Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lost lovers

About five years ago I sketched and painted some ideas about Romeo and Juliet. Part of the project was an oil sketch had been lost for some time, well to be truthful, half of it had been lost. It annoyed me, so much so that more than once I hunted for the missing sections.
Today, to my great pleasure, they appeared from behind some old canvases.

The idea in the drawing is to map the passionate narrative of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Using oil sticks on primed MDF I traced my response to its rising exuberance and through to the bleak end. 

There would not have been any planned scheme or tested iconography - instead by reading the play and imbibing the sensations I would have approached the panels with the desire to translate my feelings into colour and line. 

I am not sure that the theories in yesterdays 'hard book' will help in a creative prospective way even if one can understand retrospectively what happens with the viewers apprehension of the work. How I put down emotion must I believe remain a mystery to be the most authentic.  

This sketch will have a place in next weeks show - see it there!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reading hard books

'awareness' by John Scarland

I am reading a book: quite a hard book.
In fact it is my second attempt to read it and master it.
The book is 'Art as a Social System' by Niklas Luhmann.

Just how do pictures work as communication tools?

Our internal mechanisms for self awareness and self referencing are sealed.
They just work. Seeing is about a making complete reconstruction of the external reality within the brain, all the time, for ourselves. We are sophisticated islands.

Intelligence with language, builds bridges of communication between these islands on one level. Perception and by extension, sensation, use the greater part of our brain power and have the major antenna up to receive other communication systems. Art is not a language based communication system, it is a sense based system even though it is talked about endlessly. Its function is a wordless transmission of sensation. 

Pictures themselves are a strange phenomena. They are emotional representations in two a dimensional form that are made and consumed by remote persons.

My book seeks to examine this in some depth.
Will I be better for unravelling these tangled threads: I am not sure.

I am fascinated when at an exhibition I observe the very different responses that happen and a little more understanding will amuse me.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Today the frame painting continues
A little handmade frame needs a special treatment.
Here is how it was done.
fill smooth and paint in a soft grey that pleases.
draw a simple design on the frame

Mix some dirty pink to a stiff viscosity.
Paint dots that stand up above the surface
and leave to dry well.

Paint over with a deeper grey that works with the picture
three coats and leave to dry well
with ultra fine emery paper smooth back to 'find' the pink dots.
polish with ultra fine wire wool
test picture

Leave overnight to judge worth. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

The gentle art of painting frames

The gentle art of painting frames

I have chosen to hand finish a number of frames. The Framer or I make the wooden frame - it is then smoothed, primed, undercoated and smoothed again.

Then begins the search for the right colour and the right tone for that colour. This choice must undergo constant revision as it is put alongside the artwork, against which it must support, enhance without upstaging it.

At this stage the specially mixed paint is thinned to maintain smoothness as layers are built up.

I have allowed three days for the task of finishing eight frames, and when finished they should be barely noticed as they do their important work.

Friday, September 24, 2010

avoiding cute

it's easy not to work!

Rabbit+cabbage, wine, warm autumn (apples and raisins) compote, dark chocolate and coffee all tend to reduce available energies from the mature man in the evening.

So, crank up the old Eurythmics CD, type and work standing up, get excited and refuse to roll over.

Put new colours out, believe - sing and dance - lo & behold, stuff happens!

I have a headless woman. The only painting task before the new show is is to give this particular woman a head! 
It doesn't sound much but heads are tricky. Heads say a lot.
I can easily stray over other areas to compensate for wrong moves and it can all hit the fan.
So, relax, let the paint speak.

I have a head and a face. Eyes would not work so I settled for a mouth. All a bit off key which reduces sweetness quite well. (the dreaded cute rushes in behind sweet)

size: head = 25mm

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Two wonders

How many times is a good picture lost to bad presentation.
Care and investment in the finish will always pay the artist a dividend in the end. These two panels with classical figures are having brass fillets inserted to act as a raised slip. It is precise and time consuming work to cut and mitre the brass at each corner by hand but the subtle effect adds quality to the piece at once.

Craft is a useful foil to art, here patience, experience and skill combine to deliver an elegance to contain and support the work of art. Art itself is a passion, an effusion of emotional energy that cannot be tied to convention or tradition. There is Art and there is Craft, each so different, each so wonderful, I love them both.

A letter from a friend

Neglected things

I had never heard of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham until yesterday. A friend who is blissfully removed from our techno-world occasionally writes to me a sheet of handwritten thoughts to which I respond. From yesterdays bunch of mail slipped an envelope with the familiar handwriting and the ensuing letter enthused over the forgotten Wilhelmina Barns-Graham.
An image search on google soon delivered an amazing set of drawings and paintings, many of earth and water forms of extraordinary precision and beauty that were then transformed into wonderful colour abstracts, emotional responses to the forms. These are a revelation to me, a parcel of unknown treasures to examine and learn from. 
You may of course know all about her, but if not, Wilhemina Barns-Graham is worth a little research.
For me though, time to turn off the computer, take a sheet of paper and write a letter to my friend  

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

straying into fecundity

seriousness is the ruination of art

a watercolour doodle that was the beginning of an idea.

freedom to play
strays into fecundity
lifting capacity

regardless of finish
playfully drawn
recall of the 'known'

ridiculous lines
fluid thoughts
engender laughter

Monday, September 20, 2010

a place to be

Flyer Extract

This is the latest in a long series of shelter/enclosure pieces. Not unlike the settlement works it seeks to portray an enclosure that is safe; a place to be. Union relates to the spiritual realm and not the geophysical. 
In a world of independent thinkers I rebel, like the ancient warrior/shepherd David. When writing his psalms he often describes a personal safe place: relying on his God. This picture, Union, could be a spiritual retreat, a personal safe place.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

sisters two

October 9th studio show - Flyer extract

The Sisters

These two oil panels are about five foot high and are based on the two daughters of Laban and subsequent wives of Jacob. 
I wanted some eastern nobility, some grandeur of personage to be obvious and I also feel they need to be displayed close together. 
During the development of these painting I made two wooden polychromatic figures as a three dimensional expansion of my thinking, they too will be in the forthcoming show. 
see this earlier blog

Friday, September 17, 2010

The approval of Klaas

Troilus and Criseyde have been given a space to be in. Before there was no space, they were suspended, in time and space. Now they inhabit a deep green space. But they themselves are flat.

I talked with my friend Klaas over coffee this morning about politics and religion. He often calls by, today he complains about the shortage of people to talk to, 'nobody thinks anymore' he says and he is bored. There is only shallow content with the retailing of trivial pre-digested soundbites.

Troilus is flat in my picture, I could give him form, I could make him round, or at least an illusion of roundness for my picture is flat with an illusion of depth. He can be flat or round according to my thinking. 
I want some truth, some substance in my work, but what truth is there in an illusion (a lie).
Picasso said 'Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.' 
This sounds a paradoxical maxim.
I am pleased with pictures that pose questions as this does.

Klaas wanted to see more passion in people's concepts, a passion that would translate into rigorous thinking and conversation.
I hope Klaas approves of my Troilus  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Twilight & Collis

a note about atmosphere

To transmit the feel of twilight or the smell of ploughed soil is a tall order. 
Corot managed it more than most.
Its not in study or science, it is a felt thing. 
As a young man I worked the land, not realising at the time the worth of this experience. The beauty of twilight joined to my own tiredness at the days end never leaves me.
John Stewart Collis in his remarkable book 'The Worm forgives the Plough' also records what he remembers as the unique joy of resting after work.

This small landscape has been worked on as an aside for a month or so. Its partner was destroyed yesterday as unsatisfactory, but this one whispers to me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Narrative instead

12.30pm I have a seven hour session. quiet solitude to summon the creative spirit.

As closed units we rely on communication, mainly language written or spoken, to reach out to other units. Aural is one thing aroma is another. If describing aroma with language one is reduced to parallels and associations. It is a poor translation or description of the power of smell.
Likewise conceiving an artistic communication is not assisted by passing it through the brain, it is a perception and as such it flows from me by my being me and you receive it by being you. Language is redundant. Colour and line are an emotional shorthand.
Art is not a domestic pet, it is more like a deer or a unicorn in a wood. Now you see it now you don't.
I am not able to whistle up a unicorn, all I can do is venture into the wood . . . . . 

I spend some time in the wood.

Insofar that we live in linear time, love too must have a linear aspect and yet it is a constant.  in our experience this constant is manifested as a narrative. Therefore in these late moves on this panoramic canvas about love I choose 'A narrative of love' as its title for today.
The piece defies comprehension. I just cannot bring myself to destroy it, so it stays as a homage to love.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Landscapes and settlement

landscapes & settlement  
Two small oils taken from ‘the 2009 Spanish sketchbook’ in the forthcoming show. Conil Beach was a direct response to an Andalusian beach drawing, They are not an observed likeness but an imbibed sense of place. The unusual frame was derived from a scribbled outline to the sketch which seemed an intrinsic part of the whole. Settlement (above) sees a greater shift from the drawing. The Ancient’s way of living had a nobility as do some remaining native people today. This light ecological footprint alongside a craft and art engagement is an ideal that is close to my heart. ‘Settlement’ is about earth and dwelling close to it.

Extract from the New Studio Show Flyer

Monday, September 13, 2010

painting my sisters, again

The wooden sisters
Part ii

I look at the sisters
feeling rank dissatisfaction with current state,
I clear space at get to it.
I reverse green base with red and apply black markings to figures.

To emulate primitive is sham. It is a give-away failure.
My ancestors are the wrong model.
Fake purpose will sabotage intention with impotence.
I need a personal pattern history, not global source manuals.

It is a long journey to find truth, 
then we discover that truth is often local and rarely exotic.  

Saturday, September 11, 2010

preview - a flyer extract


I look over my shoulder and catch sight of the various pictures and sculpture that have materialized over recent months, Painting for me is not a systematic, it is an organic expansion of feeling that can have meaning when viewed retrospectively. Graphic notes (drawings) that were important and had local meaning to me I have developed further. 
The medium and the subjects are on the whole familiar, well worn in previous work. The amount of erasure and wiping out that has occurred in the making of these pieces would indicate to me that they are not copies of earlier ideas, rather they are a visual indicators of a  change in thinking over time. The validity of a chair remains over time while its form continually morphs: likewise do my motifs.

an extract from the Exhibition flyer/handout for October 09.

Friday, September 10, 2010

turning to craft

October 9th Show is 4 weeks away.
The show will be open by appointment the week before and the week after for people who cannot make the day and may perhaps prefer a quieter look round.  
There are then just  21 days of finishing.

On the bench this morning were the two panels of the 'sisters'. Now content with the actual painting, I attend to the surface, applying here a clear gloss coat to encapsulate the panel. An improved frame will be needed to enclose the work and protect the surface. The panels curved tops will involve handmade sections for the best effect. 

This turning to craft from art is easier. Craft has fixed boundaries. After the idea is determined it becomes well made or badly made, a joint that fits or not. Once skills are learnt it is a matter of quality, this simplifies everything. This comes as a relief after the vagueness of making art. 

I have heard an ancient thought that may generalize things but has some truth in it . . . 

The labourer works with his hands,
The craftsman with his head and his hands,
The artist employs his heart, his head and his hands.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The machinery of Love

The machinery of Love

Thursday - a late paint
I work on a few parts for an hour
I refer to Gorky, make myself leave the work alone, 
it is done - more not be said by adding or subtracting.

I look to begin
releasing love.
I need to suffer incapacity,
precarious topple
and forbidden black.

I look to work:
damaged nice.
Torn angry care that weakens
local mediocrity
and renders hope.

I look to paint
your elevated dream.
Forms retreat the desperate ones
while vulnerability
a lullaby restores. 

words and completed imagery by John Scarland 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

someone to look after

Having a good picture framer is crucial. Someone who thinks and works with you is someone to look after. Here is my framer Martin being looked after! Before lunch we planned presentation for 15 pieces with lots more to do next week.  It is exciting stuff to see the transformation that occurs in the framers hands.
I am increasingly aware of time slipping away, there so many pieces are not yet to my satisfaction. So the pressure mounts, temporarily reduced by a quiet lunch.

Framing by Oyster framing in Lingfield Surrey is fantastic,
       go to
(and you don't have to buy him lunch for a good job)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

breaking chromatic silence

The fine September morning lifts me to a point where I resolve to colour the sisters. Two white wooden busts have stared at me from the sideboard for weeks. They have been patiently waiting for their colours. 

I had hoped for inspiration.
None came. 
The birth of colour has to be induced. 
I clear a space.
they are all white, 
I have to break this chromatic silence. 
quite a journey ensues
looking back - perhaps earlier was better
now deeper and suble
for the moment we rest here

Monday, September 6, 2010

recurring dreams

As a very small child I had a recurring dream that sixty years on I can still remember, and I can remember the disquiet I experienced each time the dream came. There were large coloured shapes that jostled close to me, they closed all around me and nudged me as perhaps a horse would. That was it, crowded and intimidated by colour that was bigger then I was.  Eventually the colour dreams passed.
Now there is an increasing return to such subconscious colour sensations. An inclination to 'jostle' with big colour but the prospect brings disquiet.
It may be some circle that is being completed later in life and it is a time for the realisation of that big colour, a time to jostle and be jostled.
Quite a thought, but the dream memory was prompted by the large problem canvas that is on the easel giving it an unusual authenticity. 
The detail shown above appears relaxed, but we know that so often it is not the case. This oil painting has jostled me quite enough.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

This is showtime.

This is an old sketch for 'Vulcans forge'
a sort of crucible
where raw turns into real

October 09 is the Saturday Open Day at my studio
I have 24 working days of preparation for October 9
This morning I counted 54 new items that need presenting

I see crucible and visualize the forthcoming activity. 
how the new show will look.
This is exciting.
This is showtime.

Curtain up 10.00 October 9
see you then

Friday, September 3, 2010

In a great storm


Six feet of canvas stare back at me, it demands revision. Orange and yellows set against grey are calling, with a suggestion of soft pinks. Fight the black and fight the drawing - follow the call. 

Now after lunch: end the procrastination and start the work.
I work
3.45pm after a break for tea and planting cabbages

It's wrong, still wrong
I have the poet Rilke on my mind, I find the remembered poem. 


I am like a flag by far spaces surrounded
I sense the winds that are coming, I must live them
while things down below are not yet moving:
the doors are still shutting gently, and the chimney is silence;
the windows are not yet trembling, and the dust is still heavy.

Then already I know the storms and I am stirred like the sea.
And spread myself out and fall back into myself
and fling myself off and am all alone
in a great storm.

       Rainer Maria Rilke

The storm strikes, I wipe everything, washed with three rinses white spirit and dried, only a little survives, and those traces now do not mock me.
I have to 'spread myself out and fall back into myself'

it has passed - The mess in cleaned and I sit quietly, calmer now.
Within the maelstrom of paint, I think I see with more clarity the way ahead.

Ruth spoke about Fresh Mackerel, with white wine and evening September sun -  the frayed ends could soon be restored.   

Thursday, September 2, 2010



Nina Simone's classic 'Piano' arrived as a CD from Amazon this morning.
I love a bit of new music.
This is the 'work' she wanted to be remembered by and what a personal set of 'non' songs it is. But so raw and real, I love the authentic power of it, it's wrongness is so right. 
Refreshing to hear this in these days clever commercialism. Her rendering of 'everyone's gone to the moon' proves the point. It may be subjective stuff but it is real human expression and courageous to do. 

I can learn from this artist.

What is the datum point for quality in visual art?
I return to the piece I began yesterday, and search for this very datum point. Neither acceptability or 'as good as xxx's art will hold as a datum. 14thC and 21stC are different and the same. Truth to my artistic sensibility is king.
I will listen to Nina all day to catch some her veracity.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

a silver moon


In those films and ads where emphasis on an action is needed they slow it down to an excruciating slowness. I feel a bit like that, loads to do and yet unable to perform at a suitable speed - just at an excruciating slowness. Things will never dry, things as yet  not started and no text or graphics.

When walking at half six this morning  I saw half a silver moon on a pale azure sky, a glimpse of the north downs and then down under trees to a long straight path. Everything stands still now, unaware of linear time and targets, here only daily cycles of gentle seasons. 

Rhythm is a beautiful thing, perhaps that silver moon and I will do what needs to be done. Synchronising with myself and my time is key. 

After painting for the day is done I retreat to make an unusual frame for Conil beach. It's a copy of the scribble around the original sketch. 

The moon and I agree on a new target and I feel better.