Saturday, December 31, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011


Working Drawings

I am always surprised when looking through old work files, that sort of year-end activity that happens easily on a damp afternoon. This one, 'Chamber' was a rare thing, sold long ago, I wonder where it is now.
I had some old drawings that I had acquired in a junk shop many years before, and this one, in pre-scanner days was taken to the library to be photocopied over 12 sheets to make up a large size. I soaked them and pasted them on to stretched paper. Gouache was worked over to colour, obliterate, enhance, change and mystify!
Now this gives me some ideas again - there is more mileage here . . . . . .

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Polke and Tiepolo

Yesterday afternoon I made this drawing of two figures. Its not unusual for me to draw such a thing and having read a lot of Roberto Calasso's book Tiepolo's Pink, to make a drawing that reflects late 18thC composition is to be expected. Although I am always drawn to the wonderful side of Tiepolo, is only a late flowering of a decadent wealth that I really dislike which makes me wonder why I emulate this style.
Another unfinished book by me is Sigma Polke: We Petty Bourgeoise, an artist to whom I am equally drawn and whose every stroke is to subvert and attack the establishment. 
My drawing was made as a compositional study for a new work and from the series  of studies it seemed the most satisfactory. Looking at it now it displays those 18thC characteristics of line and design that I admire while drawn in a rather jerky abrupt manner strangely at odds with the design. As I study the lines there is a distracting violence about them as they describe beauty that is not apparent at first. This I believe has always been part of my drawing and it is only now that I begin to see it.
Next I will have to transcribe this energy to the canvas and devise colour and tone schemes to complement the line type.
Can I really combine Polke and Tiepolo?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A white Christmas

Where Monet meets Constable

Some years ago I was called on to do a painting demonstration, and in order to give structure to the lesson took a copy of Constable's 'Hay Wain' and proceeded to translate it into a winter version with snow using a Monet reproduction as a colour reference for the winter weather.
The result as shown still pleases me, replacing the obvious wagon with a fallen bough helps and Monet's colours are always wonderful.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

'tis the season of new books

Lucien Freud on paper

We are just back from France with early Christmas presents! This new book of Freud's drawings  came my way as a present, wow, all those early drawings in one book with etchings as well.
From my reading newspapers on the boat from St Malo it seems that drawing is gaining favour, what with Tracey Emin's new marriage to the RA as professor of drawing  and Royal Acadamy's  new show 'Driven to draw' it seems drawing may be all right after all.
My new book contains all sorts of drawings by Freud to revive the spirits and full of links with the past, including the Watteau inspired drawings that are so wonderful. My weakness for books continues, but here it pays off as it fires up my mind and motivates me to draw much more.
2012 could be good!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Mary and Joseph come for Christmas
Last week I posted some thoughts on 'Direct Painting' that featured a couple on a yellow ground.  Recently I took up this canvas again to make some adjustments to it, the adjustments turned out more radical than expected!
Not only has that Indian Yellow ground been almost completely over painted but the woman now appears to have a baby! My revisions are usually driven by overall abstract qualities in areas of the work that are unsatisfactory. These revisions are a series of testings that enable me to find improvements to the grand scheme. Babies were not the idea, but a revision test that I approved of had a real suggestion of one and it has remained in the work.
The temptation to encourage this seasonal context is possible, that Jesus Christ should have a place in my work is OK by me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sketches of Spain

Los Remedios in Veher de la Frontera, Andalusia.

This oil painting hangs in my bedroom, I rather like it.
I have some habits when working, but I am not bound by them. The embryonic drawings are shown below are taken from the travelling sketchbook and show the source material. From my notes on the next page I was unsurprisingly much in mind of Matisse while in such heady surroundings. and looking at the drawings you can see I was not drawing what I could see in front of me but my experience of being there instead. I took no photograph, for the knowledge that I have a photo, stops me seeing and feeling.
In the studio, as I begin,  I have the drawing and a strong sensation with the memory. It is enough.
After some warm under-painting had dried, I began to establish a layout that followed the R/H drawing that itself imagined an elevated viewpoint, the oil drawing was now a sort of second generation imagination.
The key colours are the top ribbon of sky and trees that took time to co-ordinate, the worked down maintaining the harmony and creating interest within the colour/shape register already agreed in the top ribbon.
The loose foreground always pleases me.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Thinking aloud

I call this piece 'hotel' or away from home
away from myself
amid silent expectations

I found this in my archive
a recurrence
a beckoning

new year is like a new day
after the feast
will I listen?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Finding a hot beach in the winter

Finding a hot beach in the winter.

This picture is is warm to the touch! It is a theme I have worked on before, and as the weather turned cold I felt the need for some hot colours.
Assembled from figure drawings made while in Spain (see below) they take on the 'wall of figures' type of composition I saw in the British Museum recently.
Seen here in an unfinished state more colour revisions are called for to offset the rather simple blue orange combo that is in evidence here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Direct painting

 Couple on Yellow
Today (Saturday) I have worked on two paintings, this one in the afternoon. I like to clean the palette between pictures to keep the pictures fresh, old colour can influence me and taint the new colours - at least I find it so and that is how I work.
I favour a bold approach in order to achieve the most spontaneous effects working wet colour over dry. This piece has been worked on twice now and will need another session at least to solve all the remaining problems. The conflict is between simple and complex, time brings on complexity in the piece and then eradication occurs with swathes of new colour that reshapes things and so the cycle continues.
Once a colour combination with acceptable forms are arrived at finer issues can be addressed but with the same method.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

in the British Museum

The ancient halls in the British Museum

I love the British Museum. Filled with visual wonders from all time and all places, beautifully presented for all to see. Free.

This tiny Ivory relief has that figure composition that was common from 500 - 1500AD and a composition I use and need to study more to exploit its real power. The drawing below is an example of a recent use of this 'wall of figures' not unlike these ancient masters.

I find the quality, the sheer excellency of these work invigorating, a spur to do my best. Privileged to carry their ideas forwards in our time, these latent pieces of beauty can be resurrected to speak our language in our time. Understanding them is the first stage in recreating them.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Self awareness

Self awareness

This painting has just been sold, it has found its place to be.
It harks back to the early days when I sought to describe the sense or feeling of being alive. The unconscious gyroscopic ability to remain upright without apparently thinking, of seeing, respriation and the mental reconstruction of three dimensional space. More function than features. Thus to paint myself with this in my mind must result in a fairly unusual piece.
One can no more explain such a work as explain a love letter. It was an editing and a re-editing until some aproximation of my self awareness was reached. It contains no rational deduction, only a mapping of feeling in colour.
If you stand and focus on 'awareness' you will feel how this looks - try it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Aiming at the moon

Homage to the past

So many painters look at the past as the way to the future. The effect Poussin had on Cezanne and more recently Cy Twombly is remarkable. From my little side street I also dare to look at Poussin with a view to learning.
Below is an initial step towards an oil sketch that may in turn take me to a larger canvas, while feeling after that timeless master of classical painting. It is not a matter of copying things and colours, it's identifying with his purpose, one that is sublime and elegant.
Again, I aim at the moon - will I never learn!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The eloquent figure

The quest for an eloquent figure 

This is drawing #49. Yesterday afternoon I prepared 54 pieces of paper 21cm x 7cm and worked steadily drawing figures until something happened. This one sort of did something but more is needed.These new figures need to be succinct and enduring - no small brief for the artist. I remember Braque complaining about art that had no longevity and calling it journalism!   Longevity in art, that lasting classic quality seems to have fallen out of fashion.
One could rest easy and do what one knows, but where is the fun in that. I catch a glimpse of a better thing - I just have to persevere, at least for the next week or so!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Desperate measures

The sluggish painter

I suppose sluggish has to do with slugs. Today has been an uphill struggle, I have a few day to get back to painting after about seven weeks off which has resulted in a rather slug-like attitude. Far too much coffee was made today and far too much cake was eaten - a little work occurred later in the day.
I ask myself, should I leap into uncharted waters with brave new colours - or do what I know? In order to do something I opted for the latter and made three beginnings from old drawings because the old pump needs a little priming and any painting at this point is better than no painting. One can't re-invent the wheel every day so an old drawing served to kick start some action. This effort took place around 3.30pm when some pinks and greys were applied over an dry blue ground I found beside the plan chest. The black lines over the colour is the drawing below overlaid in photoshop for us to 'see' what's happening.
These forced starts are a real effort, with unpredictable success rate as far as the pictures are concerned but the spirit is coaxed into life by the sight and smell of the colours.
Tomorrow may be better.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Susa: the triptych

The Susa Triptych

One of the gallery sales for October was this small tripych (88cm wide) painted in spring 2010.
I found this piece quite satisfying and it hung in the studio for some time which says quite a lot for it. Made from four primed plywood panels, the back three joined with linen hinges and the flat 'table' stitched to them  with copper wire.
The emblems represent three people at a banquet. Esther according to the biblical narrative was queen at the palace at Susa, Queen Esther is on the left, her husband the king is central with the villain Haman on the right as per the drama played out in the text (see bible, Esther 5-7)
This narrative also prompted the video 'paper banquet' I made in April 2010.
This same Susa as represented by many interesting artifacts at the British Museum

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Cage paintings

I get to see Gerhard Richter at Tate Modern

I have read quite a lot of Richter's writings and it's bleak, very bleak. But todays visit to the 'Panorama' show at Tate Modern of Richter's work stirred me - this is good because I nearly did not go.

His approach is to undermine established art statements. Like the monumental impasse that Duchamp set up, Richter will attack it head on to demolish it. He is very irreverent. I admire this in a painter. I encourage you to see the show in order to see this mindset in action.

The big finish to the show are the six Cage Paintings. Named after John Cage, (pictured above) the American avant-garde composer, whose work Richter greatly admires. 

Perhaps this shows when he (Richter) say 'I have nothing to say and I am saying it'. Engaged in what may be the philosophy of seeing, he introduces doubt that can enhance clarity. Addressing the problem of knowledge he assembles clear glass to challenge the apparent.  An old fashioned painter of consummate skill, he is a modern master.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Hearing a story for the first time is very different to hearing it a second time, and making a story up is different again to reading it. Knowing the end affects the experience in various ways depending on the situations just cited.
For me, painting in some measure includes a known objective, like the story ending. This primary objective is not about colour or style, it is about sharing a subconscious or spiritual experience. Colour and style are just instruments, vehicles that will best communicate the designed sensation to the viewer.
I well remember Picasso saying the idea/form of a tree, a goat or a girl demands a different approach for they are different ideas and insist on being treated in different styles. Finding these diverse pictorial truths about the idea is the stuff of art.
This sketch is about just this journey, the search for a vehicle to carry an idea.
This approach maintains a genuine diversity that in turn prevents a monotonous voice.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Hobby Horse

Art for all

After ten years away, this rather battered Hobby Horse came home again. My five grandchildren no longer need it, all that imagination, energy and laughter has moved on to other things and the painted wooden horse was no longer needed. I made it years ago and it has served them well, for that painted broomstick has been on many journeys in their imagination that we will never know about.
I am pleased to see it again, very happy for all the enjoyment this little piece of art has given.
Now its in the loft, perhaps one day other children will need a horse and come looking for it.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wild fruits

Henry David Thoreau's last document

A late manuscript by Thoreau, of 'Walden' fame, is about the observation and experience of fruits found in the wild. An exquisite assemblage of material in a handwritten form was transcribed to form this unusual book, a book that passes on to us a suspension of time, of smell and taste. We sense the land and its orientation to wind and sun, of saplings striving for space and gnarled specimens in rocks strewn with fallen fruit.
I took a walk this evening in the spirit of Thoreau, leaving my car when the sun was low in the sky. After thirty minutes walking I left the path and entered a wood I know, pushing into the interior to where a large yew spreads over dry pond. I sat at the base of this tree for some time in the fading light and silence. I say silence, but when you stop for any length time in a wood its never silent, all manner of sounds become apparent to those who will listen. The wind in the trees, roosting birds and cows three fields away blend in gentle symphony.
I walked home as the moon rose in a clearing sky and I spoke to a man unloading keep sheep from Udimore.
It seems 'wildwoods and fruits' are still only 30 minutes away if we find the time to look.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Turner Contemporary

Three days in Thanet

I do like unexpected places. We have had three very interesting days staying at The Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate.
Beaches were walked on at Pegwell Bay and North Foreland, S/H bookshops were rummaged through on damp dark afternoons and a very acceptable French Restaurant close to the Hotel fed us superbly.
. . . . . and we went to the Turner Contemporary in Margate. Their current show 'Youth' picks up on the connection Margate has with rampant youth in the past with Mods, Rockers, Skinheads and Punk gangs who descended on dreamland in the past.
I found it a surprisingly moving show (and I have been to a few). The memory of adolescence, those days now gone, protest and suffering all returned at this cleverly curated show.
Looking back at all that youthful energy vented on the rich and the establishment that proved a such a potent mix was one thing, but looking at Margate now it's all rather dreary and deprived. So I did a double take while walking near the Turner Contemporary and overheard a man say to his toddler son while nodding at the Gallery 'it's the building that wants burning down'. Perhaps the arrival of all this new art and new money threatens the old guard, the slogans reproduced as 'art' inside may appear with more virility on the outside where they will not be viewed as art!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Testing my head

Drawing #005 gets the treatment.

One of 45, #005 was a Psalm response drawing, abstract ideas generated after thinking about the Psalms in general.
This clay maquette stands about 15cm high and is a careful scale copy of the ink drawing. Made for purpose of assessment as it is translated into three dimensions before I commit to the Oak piece. I expect I will add some primitive colour when the modelling clay is dry, colour markings as suggested by the original drawing.
This is slow deliberate progress, careful, measured and scaled - no wild experiments - I need to preserve what I was moved by.
When complete I will put it where I will see it and judge my response over time.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

New Head

Embryonic head drawing

It is my intention to make a three dimensional representation of this drawing in Oak. Beyond that things are unclear, except to mention I see the lines burnt on and some colour added. Also it not be carved from one piece, instead a number of pieces will be jointed to create the form.
Next I will make a wire and Plastacine model to examine 3D possibilities.
I have known this for months. a mental gestation. it will not go away. it insists on being made. it will come out.
it is possible my hands will spoil the idea because they run on rails.
Is the idea strong enough to circumvent the predictability of my making habits.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Jenny Holzer

Postmodernism at the V&A  

 As showmanship goes, it is absolutely brilliant, a dazzling showcase of all we know as 'postmodern' and a lot more. There is text, film, ceramics, architecture, fashion and design +.  
Earlier radical movements such as Impressionism and Punk have turned a profit as the protest becomes mainstream, adding the spice of rebellion to the dreary mediocrity of middle class living. For the V&A to catalogue this rage against the aesthetic and to invest in its icons proves that its power has peaked and it is now being subsumed into the establishment that it sought to undermine.
But I think not all, and these were the most memorable.
One for me was Jenny  Holzer's words in Times Square, PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT. It is so true that our whole planet destroying, soul destroying momentum is driven by our wills that makes this cry is so desperate. I wonder, just who is she addressing with these words? 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Woodland wonder

Dwellers in the land

Bringing Friday's woodland memories and merging them with my figure language brings me to this point. No more than an idea movement, this embryonic colour sketch needs work over more sheets to test its worth. This may see a sub-division into different genre's to extract the full content: pattern and abstract design continue to appeal to my thinking.
Open on my table are books on 11thC low relief and Byzantine architecture, this, joined to tomorrows visit to the Postmodern show at the V&A leaves me wide open to new influence alongside my core thoughts on the woodland experience.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Seeing the wood

Internal movements

For hundreds of years there has been a tug of war between the poetic/emotional and the systematic/scientific approach to many subjects. No less is the case when we look at landscape painting, my current hero Paul Nash being the poetic champion over against say Monet as an analytic colourist. It needs more than an eye, however great that eye maybe, it calls for a sensitivity and a deep feeling for the land that in turn reveals a rapport that an open heart understands at once. This has little to do with the majority of conservationists and protesters, but is more in tune with the woodmen and the crofters of our day who live hourly in a physical harness with the soil, the weather and the seasons.

I was fortunate to grow up alongside woodmen and farm labourers whose intuitive reading of their earthy mistress was uncanny. Can I still tap into that harmony between man and earth, that served our forebears so well, to find a language in line and tone to reconnect us again.

Late this afternoon in the damp October air I made a few charcoal drawings while standing on a lightly wooded hillside. I determined to reject preconceived solutions and known artistic language in order to allow a current response to occur. I saw no 'composition', I saw in front of me a mass of interactions over an undulation pierced by the burrows of small mammals.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shadwell curry

Taking in the sights.

A sparkling autumn day is an Architectural viewing day! We are scheduled with our French grandchildren (8+10) to visit London. We use the Jubilee line to see the Hopkins (deepest) stunning new tube station, then popping out 112' from Big Ben + hot chocolate in a back ally cafe, back down to the Jubilee line to Fosters station at Canary warf, coming up through these amazing portals from the earth to the brilliant light was well appreciated ("like Star Wars Gandpa"). The elevated Dockland Light (driver less) railway was too much to resist, quick as a flash we are all aboard - and then the spontaneous alighting at Shadwell, yes Shadwell (above) were we entered wonderful Asian markets and an equally wonderful architectural skyline. A curry here was a must - on Commercial Road- then round the corner to The Whitechapel Art Gallery (free) stepping inside changed our horizons again. A final tube to Tower Hill where we examined the workings of Tower Bridge with an enormous soft ice cream to finish our day.
The eagerness, the diversity, the wonder fed my artistic spirit - and the curry was brilliant as well.

Monday, October 24, 2011

at the movies


I am immersed in a world of eight year olds, with five grandchildren staying for a few days my days are not as they were.
Apart from continuous chatter and laughing I notice a huge variety of attitudes as they eat, climb, squirm, jump and wriggle. Then I saw them watching TV, as bodies matched their response to the drama - this reminded me of a photograph in a newspaper I was compelled to copy some years ago as reproduced here. The old cinema shot says everything about watching a film, of being completely entranced with the action.
As I debate in my own mind future work this liveliness, this motion of the body so much seen in history painting that I notice has largely disappeared  today. Now surrounded by bodies in motion, by drama and urgent streams of words I wonder how it could work in paint.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

William Morris

The Red House by Philip Webb

With a bit of time to spare, and after a pleasant lunch - we visited The Red House at Bexleyheath this afternoon. This National Trust Arts & Crafts flagship building has been on my list as a place to visit for some time and sunny October day was perfect.
Bought recently (last ten yrs) for 3million it has been barely touched by The Trust. It is beautifully run down and shabby, without heating, a ramshackle garden and wonderful staff. Alone in an endless conurbation by the A2 the red brick house nestles behind the original garden wall looking totally at odds with the surroundings - but once inside the wall you step back in time.
Following the eccentricities of Morris the orientation of the house is to the north, and 'pilgrim way' facing - on the one hand, very cold and unworkable and on the other hand it bows to Chaucer and his world. This duality continues throughout the house. Beautiful ideas and dropped arches, novel fitted furniture and a heavy brick oriel window, delightful 'pricked' and painted ceilings with recent white gloss panelling and so on. I am in two minds, although it has survived intact, it is in a bad way, If 'The Trust' sort the problems out, much of its homely personality, its honest failures and its integrity may be smothered in the worship of the A&C movement.
Go and see it now, it is intruiging as it is.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

new life


I painted this oil (see below) earlier this year, to capture the essence of a mother's love along with the security and comfort I remember experiencing as a child - precious things. The warmth of colour, simple patterns with searching tentative lines join in the song of love.
After three showings this year I heard last night from Fancis Iles galleries that it has been sold, which is good, for it has found a home where it can emanate its warmth from day to day. It can loose its price tag and its status as a commodity and begin its role as a friend and maybe a mentor.
I hope my sentiment is not too grand or fanciful, I hope it lives now on its own

Monday, October 17, 2011


 Crossing the river

The older I get, the more funerals I attend: death is very real and this afternoon I am reminded again. My work has often incorporated 'the ferry' as shown in the gouache above, and in my mind it has always referred to crossing that river we call death.
This afternoon I pay my last respects to a dear friend, David Obbard, an old man who lived very close to the land and to God. A wonderful man who was above all, a peacemaker, full of love and compassion. An unsung hero of faith who had no fear of the last enemy - he really was, just going home.

Friday, October 14, 2011

sleep mode

The sleeping artist

I am at present slumbering, having worked flat out for months now in order to meet my October deadline deadlines - the artistic zones are at present rather flat.
While idling I want to research Tintoretto and El Greco to study animated figure grouping that I may be able to make use of later. I am prone to have these flashes of interest and need to follow them up. Added to this is the notion of dusk, half light interests me, where colour fades and light slows. I will do some landscape studies in fading light to test the water.
'The coolibar tree'  (above) hangs in my bedroom - made from painted scrap wood on cerulean blue - is easy on the eye as I sleep in the afternoon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Atlantic Beach video clips

Ten years ago in March 2002 I went to the North Devon coast, and booked into the Hartland Quay Hotel that stands on a wild headland with a slipway down to the rock strewn beach. It was here I painted the 'Atlantic Beach' series in watercolour, working on the open beach in March alongside some heavy surf and dramatic surroundings. In the film that I have assembled from a number of rather low grade clips taken at the time you can how I worked and some glimpse of the wonderful landscape that inspired the those wild and memorable watercolours.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

working and not working

At present I've stopped working, a holiday from painting. Although painting is not far from my thinking, rest from actually painting is very much needed.
This painting above is titled 'working' from the the manifestation series, a piece that I recall was in itself hard work. Getting that sense of labour was problematic - not returning to period solutions, but turning to my own experience of labour and toil. Relief as experienced by the central figure describes weariness and ache that is central to labour, there is something good about physical weariness, giving rise to the joy of rest, of sitting and eating.
I am pleased that this piece sold at Meller Merceux last month so my work was not in vain!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


A meeting of the sublime and the ridiculous.

My figures look ridiculous - swimming in the sky with shopping baskets.
Paradoxically they are sublime, unfettered, free as birds from the weight of care.
To shop, to acquire things, attaches us to material things.
We cannot rise - we cannot fly when fettered with the weight of material things.
See - their baskets are empty - are they sublime or ridiculous?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

3D drawing

About ten years ago I made a small figure in copper from a series of drawings. After paper and wire mock ups I cut sheet copper and copper rod, used silver solder to assemble the 20cm maquette shown below. They were really made to use as models to draw from in the same manner as Daumier used figurines for composition arrangements.
There been suggections that to fabricate her x4 would be interesting.
Well, here she is, life size. I am finding it strangely haunting, like a living drawing. A drawing that changes as I walk past. The size and depth is disconcerting for my mind that no longer has to construct depth. I am coming to terms with this phenomena rather slower than I expected.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Elysian fields

I find it difficult to account for my paintings, it is like saying something I didn't expect.
As this one materialized I saw Antoine Watteau in it, maybe not surprising as I often browse reproductions his work. When in Dulwich Picture Gallery recently I was arrested by one of his paintings there, such a lovely experience to see the work that is so underrated today.
I worked for some time on this piece, untroubled by the 'pop up' nature of the individual main figures, indeed, it amused me as they reclined on the red ground in the heavenly spirit that the French call 'Champs-Élysées'