Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The power of a flower

Larger than life, 
this oil painting is about 1M wide, and delivers quite considerable impact.
I held on to the compositional grid as mentioned in a previous blog. After the turquoise layer came a green-grey layer with crimson flowers, much of which is still visible. Looking long and hard at this I needed a little guidance, Chardin came off the shelf, after a few moments I alighted on 'woman taking tea' . She has a grey-green background, lightened with pale blue behind a red chest of drawers, an Idea I thought I could adapt for my flowers.
I worked much of the crimson out with some brighter red, then lightened the back with blue towards a cold pink, all to good effect. I resisted the temptation to add detail to the central leaves while keeping a very broad treatment with these final colours. Adding lines (pale blue and raw sienna) with oil sticks earlier on gave divisions and segments roughly suggested by the grid underneath and that now kept me on course.
The bare wood frame has been ordered, I still need to varnish the painting and do a proper paint job on the frame, then after assembly by the framer - it will be ready for Oct 8. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Old town

The past plays tricks with me.
Last February I visited Rochester Castle with my grandchildren, we looked at dungeons, we climbed the ramparts, from the tower we viewed the town, and the cathedral. I took a photo for it looked so grand.
I write this on Saturday, for today I painted an interpretation of that photo. Last evening I prepared a large sheet of paper and today I painted in watercolour a picture of Rochester, laid out in ancient splendour. Above is a detail, showing my method of paint distribution adopted in order to create the illusion of houses and streets. This in turn needed to describe the underlying landmass on which it is built, for I wanted the land, the river and the town to co-exist as a natural form. This to me was more important that a narrow accuracy of street and path.

It portrays a pre-Renaissance hierarchy of thinking that has been largely abandoned in our age, but here stands a noble monument to that grand idea.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

a vigorous aside

Torso - form

The recurring demands of a series of drawings from five years back forced some action yesterday. Having no beautiful hardwood blank to hand I quickly glued a great wadge of chipboard, MDF and scrap timber together and left it in the vice overnight,
At the end of work today I took it out with a view to making a 'torso'. Here then is my baulk of assembled wood forms on which I have made some suggestive marks to for me to follow. Tomorrow is earmarked for watercolour so this will become a 'vigorous aside', a relief from the pressure of that most delicate of activities

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Paint job

A frame for 'Figures at Mamra'

Last weeks post 'The waiting game' showed a picture with three standing figures, this work needed a title and a frame. Figures at Mamra worked for me as a title and the frame was already made as the previous post indicated, but in white lacked any connection to Mamra. I opted for a very simple pattern worked into the paint in two shades of grey as shown above. Using household emulsion I use layers to integrate the pattern and here I cut it back with wet & dry to find a super smooth finish. All this effort builds on the image, pulling it away from convention to an ancient modernity. Varnish for the painting and polish for the frame will see it completed and I will be rewarded.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The waiting game

There is often quite a long period between the inception of a drawing and the paintings they generate. There was about a year in this case, with a series of charcoal line drawings being shuffled into drawers, rediscovered, pinned on the wall, ignored and then one day a moment comes as was the case here. That moment occurred when I drew them on a canvas that had  a dirty green base. Drawn in a dark tone with a rigger I saw potential, yet again they were left, this time for about 3 months, not knowing how to proceed.
'Indian yellow' came to me one morning in association with this drawn image and I immediately set to work and added two other colours and left it. Again weeks passed. Then, with a book of traditional Saransatic Japanese fabric samples on one side, I worked the white patterns, Mixed the turquoise and the pale mauve to over-paint earlier mistakes and it came together. A matter of waiting and knowing - then working.
Shown here is a mock up frame in white that is awaiting completion, the white seems unfinished, perhaps another wait . . . . .

Friday, August 19, 2011

Picnic at La Gacilly 2

In Praise of Sensory Perception

Sensory perception, or Empirical thinking, has lost out in our age. Discredited, seen now as base and unreliable, it is a far cry from those pre-renaissance days when it was regarded as a noble thing. This change tends to weaken our ability to be elevated in a serious way by art and poetry (and faith), but even so, as my last post on this Picnic piece indicated, I set out to communicate the experience of our interaction with each other and the natural world on that afternoon in July in line and colour.
So, the work is done, and shown here is a detail. Ruth and I on the bank of the river Aff below La Gacilly suffused in drifts of green and blue. I have kept to elements of realism that disintegrate into overwhelming colour saturation not dissimilar to the way our senses are worked on by these situations.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Finding Rima

Jacob Epstein and the Hudson Memorial in Hyde Park

London is very busy in August. The National Gallery was full to overflowing, I was glad to slip down to the basement to see the current free Exhibition 'Devotion by design', a beautifully presented collection of pre 1500 altarpieces. They came alive in the half light, music and flickering candles added to the powerful atmosphere. Away from the crowds I could gaze at that superb Mantegna, along with other memorable pieces in peace and quiet.
Leaving there I called into the Mall galleries and had an expresso with a custard tart.
Then, with time to spare I took it into my head to find The Hudson Memorial. I had examined reproductions in my books of Epsteins remarkable relief carvings of the Venezuelan goddess Rima.
I walked up the Mall past the palace to Hyde Park Corner, scrutinizing the public map I saw way off in the middle of Hyde Park 'The Hudson Memorial', skirting the Serpentine I walked on up the wide sloping paths on a summers afternoon among the deckchairs and picnics. after 40 mins I caught sight of my Epstein! I approached with anticipation. Almost better than I had hoped, Perfect proportions, immaculate surroundings, a peaceful sanctuary and perfect memorial for the naturalist Hudson. A small panel, about 3 x 4 foot, but with such power joined to ascendant lightness. I think it superb, unbelievable that when unveiled in May 1925 it caused uproar as the personification of ugliness! Some 90yrs on it has worn well, and I was glad the crowds were all round the Hay Wain, I had Rima to myself.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A table for Hercules

Thoughts on 'Hercules at the Court of Omphale'

It was clear from the beginning that this shaped unframed panel finished uneasily at the bottom, it needed 'something'.
The garden studio was awash with summer light,  Maria Callas sang, and I made a shelf. Well, a sort of shelf, more like one of Cezanne's sloping tables on which I;ve placed some objects. Now as I continue to paint, I will include this quirky addition, colouring it as I go.
The objects cannot slip off the shelf as they are made to fit in a locating hole, this will mean the client can rearrange the objects over time to change the composition as they like!

Thursday, August 11, 2011



There is some authority about this piece, both in what is painted and how it is painted.
I have studied it for some time, even though it has taken on a new level of immediacy or what may be construed as roughness I cannot bring myself to make any further alteration. It takes the viewer with a degree of force that is satisfying.
This work will yield a number of readings (hence the title) and I have no wish to authorise any particular view be it gender or attitude. It is certainly multi-layered and complicated in its message and all I can say is, that as usual my thinking has a metaphysical bias.
The pale Turquoise and Naples yellow make an interesting base for the palette and its 'flatness' in rendering takes me to those Assyrian low relief's in the British Museum.
Any thoughts on interpretation are always interesting - do let me know . . . . 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Picnic at La Gacilly

While in France during July I went with the family to a picnic on the bank of a river, a few photos were taken, there were waterlilies, kingfishers, wine to drink with cold meat and a french loaf. All quite memorable.
I thought it may translate into a painting, and to that end I made a drawing or two, a detail of one is reproduced above.
That same day I had in my hand an old discarded painting that was predominantly Cobalt blue and bright green with a little red ochre. This I retrieved and quickly made the gouache sketch shown below that will guide me while painting.
Now the six foot wide canvas is ready and today (wed) is free of interruptions.
Can I, with swathes of colour reproduce the sensation of sunshine, white wine and kingfishers?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Flowers 2

Degas still speaks to me

Recently I painted some flowers on a wet afternoon.
I thought they were an aside, a diversion.
While looking at them today I wondered, how would they look if they were reworked much bigger, and I wondered about those four divisions that I recognized in the smaller work.
Degas also came to mind, for one of his students recalled that while copying in the Louvre, was told by the master to be sure his prepared ground was coloured with a strong viridian, nothing else would do.
As these thoughts converged in my mind I resolved to paint a new ground for what will be 'Flowers 2'
This canvas is around 1M square has received the strongly coloured ground it deserves.
I think it rather handsome.
In Photoshop I test the idea with a simple overlay, - interesting, but not quite how I see it in my mind. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Flowers on a wet afternoon

Painting Flowers on a wet afternoon

One of the important discoveries for me when examining reprints of Picasso's sketchbooks was the way he returns to realism every now and again, just as you would whistle a tune or drum your fingers while waiting for the next move. So yesterday when nothing was happening, lunchtime passed and the rain continued steadily,  . . . it was then I noticed these flowers on the table.
Making a satisfactory arrangement of colours on a board is not easy, and coupled with the representation of surface type and the engaging quality of summer flowers, the job was quite demanding.
The picture has formal qualities, retrospectively I see a grid, four section horizontally and four sections vertically that have predominant colour types.
Although concerned at the time the vase base was barely visible I felt no compulsion to change things and now the rightness of that judgement asserts itself as I view the work today.
The separation of abstract and realism is a thin one.  A wide range of view and practice will widen our ability to translate the appearance of things into a reality with some truthfulness. How abstract or how much verisimilitude will be a matter for our translation on the day.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Cezanne & Noguchi

One song from different masters
Development, the growth of understanding in an artist, interests me. This interest is either as a comfort - a sort of identification with them where I can find encouragement or a mode of simply learning from their discoveries in perception and technique. A recent literary acquisition is Roger Fry's 'Cezanne, a study of his development', A title I could not easily pass by, and written by a man was both and artist and a critical writer. I am reading this alongside 'Isamu Noguchi,a journey without borders' and finding surprising parallels. Both knew from childhood that they were artists and both having to work through false expectations in order to extract what Fry calls 'that reality under the veil of appearance'. This unlikely couple had a mutual sense of not belonging alongside reclusive working with a remarkable purity of vision.
Noguchi's pared down Japanese modernity that he draws from ancient traditional values entrenched in the craftsmen he worked with seems to resonate with the labours of that grand old man in Aix.
This is a thread I think worthy of emulation, that simplicity, rhythm and vision.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hercules begun

Yesterday I spent time revising the figure group in Cranach's 'Hercules at the Court of Omphale'. My renewed interest in the period and my love for Cranach took me back to this piece. The arrangement of figure groups, the pictorial forms created in medieval paintings is very powerful, I want here to draw on that heritage and translate it as well as I can into the present moment.
This is a few colours laid in as a base, I have two or three pencil drawings to guide me when the painting begins in earnest.

Hans Cranach 1537

Monday, August 1, 2011


At the back of my garden shed there was stored this shaped ground, four feet wide with 1993 written on the back, The date I made it. In a moment of enthusiasm I thought it worth a bit of attention, brought it in and prepared it to paint on.
It will need some panache to carry this one off, I think a shelf at the bottom with purpose made items and a little decoration on the top to play the game fully.
 . . . .and I have a picture of Hercules at the palace of Adolphe from around 1400 in my mind . . . . . .   more later