mardi 27 décembre 2011

Painting in December.

mid- winter. Salabert. oil on canvas. 120x120 cms.

It is unusual for me to be able to make a painting straight out of the box. I am an inveterate fiddler and find it difficult to leave things alone to the point of reworking whole areas long after I have put a painting aside. They are rarely precious enough to keep as they are, but this one has come together in a seemless movement during the weeks of mid-winter.

I like Francis Bacon's remarks about splashing the stuff on, but also what he said about the way in which the painter deliberately loses what is there in order to risk some new gain. That ebb and flow on the canvas delights me, trying not to worry about what might be but what is now.

It is a different painting to that with which I ended last year: I am still exploring the photograph as a means of seeking out areas of light and dark, detail and spatial ambiguities. The last two paintings are based upon small areas, seen through my workroom door and it is these that I think offer clues to some that might be done during the new year.

jeudi 1 décembre 2011

Heads Up.

Over at Painters Table there have been some interesting posts on drawing and the portrait: Ingres, Philip Pearlstein, Paul Housley, Freud, Lorenzo Lotto. Very little is mentioned these days of Sickert, or Gilbert Spenser, Mathew Smith, or Keith Vaughn.

Painting the head, that closest of observation, is a fascinating commitment. John Rothenstein opined that it shouldn't be done too often but looking at Rembrandt's recurring visage suggests that there is much to learn by so doing.

On my table at the moment is a monologue on the Israeli artist Avigdor Arikha. Because I never learned to paint the head I need to look at a range of good work and I am grateful for Painters Table, and for books of course.

lundi 14 novembre 2011

A few thoughts on painting.

Hedge. oil on paper. 120x120 cms.

The last few weeks have been spent in re-reading Modern English Painters, by John Rothenstein. Published in 1952 it is an interesting book, and although in some ways out of synch with current thinking it sets out values which whilst being very personal, would be worthy of reappraisal.
I was shocked at my lack of knowledge of some of the painters included, but found that I wanted to think more about them as a result - my own Shock of the not so new and not new at all.

In addition to this, another expansive read has been Still Life with a Bridle, Zbigniew Herbert, published by Ecco Press. One of those collections that one can return to often.

mercredi 19 octobre 2011

Lost and found.

oil on canvas. 160x120 cms.

There come times when painters feel that what they are doing is somehow arbitrary, that the marks are too subject to chance and that the work is too soon over. This is the something that one wants to strive against: to be in control some of the time whilst acknowledging that once started, the painting process throws up surprises. I for one would not want to know how it ends.
There is a sense of arriving and leaving, moving away, losing in order to gain.

Here is a piece from Rilke:

Who turned us round like this, so
No matter what we do, we have
the air
Of somebody departing? As a
On the last hill, for the last time
All the home valley, turns, and stands, and lingers,
so we live, forever taking leave.

samedi 15 octobre 2011

Nothing to do with painting but......

This is still something akin to beauty.

lundi 19 septembre 2011

Unquiet landscape.

in progress, oil on wood panel. 150x150 cms.

Landscape painting has always been about what it is like to be in the world and in a particular condition. Landscape painting catches at those unexpected ideas and emotions that come, and so easily go, on days of no particular importance. It shows life not as a development but as a condition.

I have been reading and recommend highly, Unquiet Landscape, Places and Ideas in 20th Century English Painting. The author is Christopher Neve. Published by Faber and Faber. 1990.

vendredi 2 septembre 2011

In search of the self.

Charcoal on paper. 80x50 cms.

In the same way that not every painting of a man,woman or child is a portrait, not every portrait is intended to be recognised as such but there is an adventure, the adventure perhaps of seeing something unknown appear each day in front of the mirror. We approach the surface to be worked upon with a sense of setting out, of seeing what will happen, under scrutiny, sometimes working quickly, other times revisiting the same drawing or painting until it feels right. But no two are the same.

Thanks to the photograph, we think we know what we look like: but I think that the act of making the image in front of the mirror allows us to find out what we feel like when doing so.

oil on wood. 40x25 cms.


mercredi 24 août 2011

A common experience.

oil on canvas. 80x80 cms.

Making any painting, however enjoyable it is, inevitably poses questions about the value of the commitment. None of the people I know are so self assured that they do not ask themselves about this. One makes something and then one makes something else and even if it seems like stepping stones to something it can be difficult to say what that something is. Maybe the journey is indeed the important thing. And so is failing. Failing is one thing:failing well another. When I am asked about my painting I cannot find words adequate to the task of answering or rather the words can be corrupting and get nowhere near the sense of the ambition. A common enough experience I imagine.

mardi 9 août 2011

A fresh start. Four small paintings that might lead somewhere.

These four paintings began following some small paintings on paper, once again an outcome of observing small patches of terrain whilst walking.

I have been trying to keep the surface alive and allow the pentimenti to be influential. Imagining this first painting on a much larger scale of course leads one to ask how certain areas would work and whether more erasure would be needed, or whether further saturation of certain areas would be obvious once the scale increased.

Even with a small piece like this, I work with the surface flat and have no preference for which way is up. That decision will come later.

oil on canvas. 46x39 cms.

oil on canvas. 50x50 cms.

oil on canvas. 30x30 cms.

oil on canvas, 30x30 cms.

mardi 26 juillet 2011

Five new paintings.

Changeable weather. Oil on panel. 150 x 150 cms.

Where the wood opens out. oil on canvas. 160 x 120 cms.

untitled. edge of wood. oil on canvas. 50 x 50 cms.

untitled, edge of woods. oil on canvas. 30 x 30 cms.

untitled. oil on canvas. 80 x 50 cms.

Gerald Finzi. 1901 - 56.

The artist is like the coral reef insect, building his reef out of the transitory world around him and making a solid structure to last long after his own fragile and uncertain life.

mardi 28 juin 2011

Looking at the Overlooked.

Source. oil on wood. 140x120 cms.

Years ago now, Reaktion books published four essays on Still Life Painting, by Norman Bryson.

Today as I was re-reading it I came to this; Presentation, not representation: what is shown comes into being only inside the picture. The integrity and separate visibility of each dab of paint foregrounds the work of the brush in building the scene, over the scene itself. The thin application of pigment, and the fact that the canvas shows through in almost all areas (where it is not actually left blank) imply that we are able to follow all of the painter's stages of construction step by step, with nothing having been concealed. No erasure, everything that was painted remains on view.

Norman Bryson was talking about Cezanne and it just so happened that I had a reproduction of
a Cezanne landscape on the table, together with a Joan Mitchel and I felt that what he said applied in equal measure to them both.

The book is still in print.

mardi 14 juin 2011

A reading of Corot.

Untitled. oil on wood. 120x120 cms.

In a long article by Sarah Whitfield entitled A System of Vision, there is a passage which I find to be very pertinent in that it both describes a working practice and an interaction possible between the maker of and the viewer of a painting. Corot says, "I behave like a child blowing a soap bubble. It is very small but already round and he blows very softly until he is a afraid that it will burst."

The tension implicit in the idea of a painting ,(as Ms Whitfield says) inflated by a long slow exhalation of breath can be particularly apt. I like the idea of the work being inhaled; giving up
its delicacy slowly

vendredi 10 juin 2011

Painters' Table.

There is an excellent site with the above name: daily links to artists' blogs; art websites; criticism etc. Some will know of it already but for those of you who don't, I can recommend it.

jeudi 2 juin 2011

A Hard Singing of Country.

Shadow at the woods edge. 10:30 a.m.

From morning to evening. oil on canvas. 80x80 cms.

Nature is only an idea said Delacriox. Can we accept that landscape is not an object that exists but something created by our culture and our minds?

Landscape was once frightening, the place of dragons, bears, robbers, the unknown. To be travelled through in a carriage with the blinds drawn: too terrible to look at.

In feudal times landscape was a word in political usage, as donating land as belonging to a castle or a town. Later painters began to use the term in a more general sense unrelated to a specific feudal unit but simply as a beautiful landscape.

The word was then adopted by travellers and tourists who discovered beautiful landscapes everywhere which corresponded to those previously seen in paintings or had elaborated in the imagination. Writers described and constructed landscapes which had an even greater element of the universal: these were seductive in that readers could combine them with their own unpainted landscapes.

With these pictures and a sense of geography landscapes took on a new meaning, closer to the most ancient: landscapes are the defined places where we pass our holidays, landscapes are special then, but can pass from the timeless, charming, sweet remembered hills to an object of fashion and obsolescence.

jeudi 12 mai 2011

Face to Face.

The moment when a man comes to paint himself - he may do it only two or three times in a life-time, perhaps never - has in the nature of things a special significance. Lawrence Gowing. 1918 - 1991.

There is an excellent book on British self-portraits in the twentieth century, by Philip Vann, published by Sansom and Company. Sometimes hard to find but well worth persevering.

mardi 10 mai 2011

Thomas Hardy - Journal entry. January 1887.

Untitled. oil on wood. 120x120cms

After looking at the landscape ascribed to Bonnington in our drawing room I feel that Nature is played out as a beauty, but not as a Mystery....I want to see the deeper reality underlying the scenic, the expression of what are sometimes called abstract imaginings.

The exact truth as to material a student's style - the style of a period when the mind is serene and unawakened to the tragical mysteries of life; when it does not bring anything to the object that coalesces with and translates the qualities that are already there - half hidden, it may be-and the two united are depicted as the All.

lundi 25 avril 2011

The Cloud of Unknowing.

Cloud Shadow. oil on canvas. 50x50cm.

This is one of those paintings which, seen after a while, begs to be reworked. At the time of making it seemed to be heading in the direction I wanted but I had to put it aside because although I felt it needed to go further I couldn't see how. Actually I think my nerve fails me. However at some point the nettle needs to be grasped so to speak and this is where I am now. It might push me along a bit further: I hope so.

The title of the post comes from the fourteenth century book on Christian mysticism, a copy of which I received from a friend in Ireland. I keep reading it but I need to understand it.

jeudi 21 avril 2011

A word from Ruskin.

Shower.(Passover). 120x120cm. oil on canvas.

"While form is absolute....colour is wholly relative. Every hue throughout your work is altered by every touch that you add in other places.... In all the best arrangements of colour, the delight occasioned by their mode of succession is entirely inexplicable. Nor can it be reasoned about. We like it, just as we like an air in music, but cannot reason any refractory person into liking it if they do not. And yet there is distinctly a right and a wrong in it, and a good taste and a bad taste respecting it, as also in music."

At this time of year there is a vividness and sharpness to colour here: the air is very clear. It reminds me of Spring days in England when the smell of rain is in the air - though the light is softer there I think. The above painting was made on the floor and only moved to the vertical at what seemed the last minute and like most of my painting , may well change yet before I show it in an upcoming exhibition: whether it lasts the year will depend on how much I need the canvas.

jeudi 7 avril 2011

Painting from Nature.

John Constable. Dedham Lock,1820-25 oil on canvas on wood. 16.5x24.5cm

David Blackburn. Leaf Coast.1999. pastel on paper. 50x38cm.

Thomas Jones.Buildings in Naples. 1782.oil on paper.

Rain clears from the west. oil on wood panel. 120x120cm.

From an article by Merlin James:

What does it mean to give an accurate, Matter-OF-FACT description of the world or part of the world or something in the world? When I try to describe objectively what I perceive in front of me, or around me, how far in fact am I giving an account of myself, of my own impressions? How do I set limits on what I choose to describe? How do I decide what is the focus of my attention and what is incidental or "background". How much has to be asked - or left unquestioned- about the language I use in order for my description to be comprehensible, believable?.....and why make a copy of appearances at all if not in the anticipation of the absence of the "original"

I was in London recently and among the many images that I have carried with me since is a painting by Thomas Jones, made in 1782, in Naples. It was small and perfect and I would love to have it: but more, I would have loved to have made it.

I show another of his here, together with two pieces which have also had a similar impact, and a new one of my own.

dimanche 3 avril 2011

Picture for an exhibition.

untitled. oil on wood. 120x120cms.

There is to be an opening exhibition for La Tour, Montsales, 2011 season and I hope to take part in this with other local artists. It is a very small village but the exhibition space, has attracted a large audience in the two years that it has been operating. In this part of the Aveyron there are a number of excellent exhibition spaces with a variety of work being shown in and around Villefranche de Rouergue, Cajarc, Rodez, and Toulouse.

vendredi 25 mars 2011

A walk in progress

After rain. oil on canvas, 80x80cms.

untitled. oil on canvas. 80x80cms.

after rain 2 , oil on canvas. 80x80cms.

These three paintings are an extension of the idea of what one can bring back from the solitary walk. In the case of these the walk was not far, a matter of yards in fact. However the experience of one thing gives rise to another. The paintings will in time, I hope develop: they are small 80x80cms but could be, should be, much bigger. I can't at the moment remember who told me that small shows you what you can do and big shows you what you can't - referring to markmaking - but it is something to think about.

dimanche 13 mars 2011


Walk. oil on canvas. 150x110cm.

Contemplating a painting constitutes a pause from daily life , an external and an internal pause: the making of the painting is in itself part of daily life . In this painting the subject matter which I think of as having derived from the act of walking is frozen, a moment in time which has given rise to an action which has resulted in an object for contemplation and in fact, in contemplating this painting I know that it will prompt me to look again and change what I have done.

I read a poem by Derek Hyatt:

It is the space that matters most.
The line opens the space between objects. The line moves; the frozen objects change, melt.
The line is life and an image of time cutting space.
The line can be moved
there -
more visible than the trees, clouds and walls.
The line celebrates the mind moving across the
The line is the birds flight through the tree, cross the hillside and up to the invisible ledge
of the cumulus cloud.
Follow me, cries the line
Draw into me, cries the blue
Slice me in two, cries the yellow
Criss-cross my surface, cries the red
Bind us together, cries the lover.

jeudi 17 février 2011

Transience to permanence- of sorts.

Late afternoon (Red Centre) 120cm x 120 cm
oil on canvas.

Making work from found objects is not new: Prunella Clough springs to mind ; Henry Moore; Andy Goldsworthy but in the case of working with things seen, even transiently I came across the practice of Graham Sutherland. He said, The things one reacts to vary. I myself have sometimes noticed a juxtaposition of forms at the side of a road, and on passing the same place next week they are gone. It was only at the original moment of seeing that they had significance for me. In the studio I remember; it may be an hour ago or years , and I react afresh. The images dissolve; objects may lose their normal environment and relationship. It is the element of the accident and the accidental encounter which is important.
I have been thinking about this: accident, accidental encounter, taking place before and during the work in progress. The way that the work evolves , the attention to the intuitive and the planned construction are equally important and I'm thinking here of Wilhemina Barnes Graham saying that none of her marks were unplanned, but I can't help the fact that at the moment my painting proceeds from the casting of the first marks, as a construction, as a painted surface first and an invitation to the observer second.

lundi 31 janvier 2011

New year painting

This is the first piece of the new year and accompanying it is the last painting of the old year, tinkered with: I feel that tinkering has improved it. As I have mentioned before, this inability to leave things alone is part of my way of painting, re-working; re-using; revealing both uncertainty and the confidence to re-use work to try to get at what I want. I suppose that the nub of the problem is precisely that of having ideas and trying to make them work. In these paintings I feel that I am trying to say something about the sorts of spaces that we inhabit. With landscape it is tempting to moralise in the way of American painters of the nineteenth century or invite a cultural reading of the environment. It is true that nature is violent, true that in the midst of Arcadia there is destruction but what has this to do with the making of a painting that derives from nature? We are, it is. I observe it and take something for myself to use whilst all the while it, is indifferent.
Some while ago now the painter Jake Berthot said that "Making paintings is kind of like being a snake. a snake sheds its skin once in a while and so does a painter. The difference is that the snake is still a snake but the painter doesn't know what shape he is - one time he is shaped like a dump truck and the next he's shaped like a butterfly." I would say that nature is still nature: I might add that it knows nothing of what we call landscape.