mercredi 26 décembre 2012

End of year paintings.

oil on canvas 160x120 cms.

oil on canvas 160x120 cms.

I feel that there might be a chance that these paintings mark a shift: it could be nothing of course but a year of painting has brought me here and it feels different. There is probably more work to be done but I have something else on the go too so I'll put these aside for a while and read a good book.

I am still dipping into James Elkins and this piece seems relevant: Like Alchemy, Painting has always been insecure about its most basic store of information. Perhaps the alchemical labor is the work of a full, long lifetime, spent scouring the libraries of Europe and preparing elaborate, year long experiments....but on the other hand it might be a flash of inspiration or a moment of supreme profound comprehension.  Contrast something learned slowly, from the ground up, in a four year course or a long apprenticeship with something intuitive. Perhaps great painting happens like that, with no planning at all.

mercredi 21 novembre 2012

New /Old landscape painting.

                                                  Hedge. oil on canvas. 160x120cms.

Starting a new painting is like taking up with an old friend: time has passed and what one thought one knew has been challenged by the interval. Beginning again is often about learning a new perspective. One thinks that the ground is familiar and indeed it is but there is often new stuff which comes out in the course of the renewed conversation.

This is very much how it feels with the last two paintings. I am familiar with the source material, the world outside my window, the paths around me, the photographs that I have taken, the actions of my hand and eye and yet something unexpected can happen, something not seen previously. It may be just a small thing or an accretion of small things which adds to my understanding.

I was in England recently: didn't see any shows but in a friends house saw a small painting, a still life, the result of his contemplation of painting, which made me anxious to return to work. In another friends house two drawings, one by John Minton and one by John Muscutt which re-affirmed my sometimes shaky recognition of fine drawing.

Small encounters add up.

mercredi 24 octobre 2012

Six days on.

oil on canvas. 50x50cms.

oil on canvas. 160x120cms.

In the last six days I have read more of Elkins's, What Painting is and really feel that something has connected. Working on a self portrait, my mind has constantly ranged over the things that he has proposed. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Go forth and buy it, all of you.

jeudi 18 octobre 2012

If paintings could count.

If paintings could count they would just say the number one over and over again: each would insist upon it's own uniqueness. These three paintings, following on from the previous drawings, looking out of the window, are still that fleeting glimpse of the imagined work, which on quickly turning to catch sight of it, disappears.




This post is to recommend What Painting Is, by James Elkins, published by Routledge. There is a sense he says, that counting happens in painting, in the sense of the way marks exist together making sets and groups. There is no way to tell in advance how they might relate together and each mark is unique. I know that once that mark has been painted over, it is gone and cannot be retrieved. However each set or group consists of two separate elements existing together yet making something new. 1+1= 1.

dimanche 7 octobre 2012

The Flounder and the garden.





  Can one trust ones teacher?  The garden surrounds my workplace and invades my thinking to the extent that I must address it and make use of it.  In this case I decided to look at a part of the garden and think of what I could learn from it - what it might teach me- and move me forward. I have a history of painting and like all history it is subject to review and re-writing. For me this means repainting. I ask myself if this means I have learnt something along the way. In a painting show my work was once described as being about lives lived, about caring very much for lives lived: but it wasn't my life that was being lived. So I am returning to the garden where I do live and trying to be receptive to what I think I see there. It is not going to change the world but it might change me.                                                                

mardi 25 septembre 2012

A gentle plea for chaos.

light rain, wind and sun. oil on paper. 150x150cms.

Because that is how it seems to be. The state of chaos out of which one tries to construct order. Yet in the midst of this is something that I for one need to recognise: I have been thinking about what painting is and does (I have touched upon this before) and, if I can narrow it down to landscape based painting, what Kenneth Clarke speculated upon in his comments on the future (then 1947) of landscape painting.
"Can we escape from our fears by creating once again the image of an enclosed garden? It is a possible way of life: is it a possible basis for art?" He concludes that it is not: that Science has taught us that the idea of the enclosed garden of the fifteenth century, based upon a living idea of a friendly and harmonious nature is not the case and that nature is the reverse and that we shall not recover our confidence in her until we have learnt a great deal more.
 So can we find a more imaginative approach and discover a new sense of unity with the world? Some biologists argue that there is hope, E.O.Wilson is one, and I am reading The Origins of Virtue, by Matt Ridley for another view but Wilson describes a dilemma as "the machine in the garden": The natural world is the refuge of the spirit, remote, static, richer even than human imagination. But we cannot exist in this paradise without the machine which tears it apart. For him, the role of science, like of art, is to blend exact imagery with more distant meaning and the unique province of the artist is to offer images which represent a reparation in the spiritual realm. So out of the chaos that we might begin with in the process of painting, the myriad problems of looking, editing, contemplating comes a reordering and an understanding of what it is that we can extract and develop.

dimanche 9 septembre 2012

Painting what you see ?

I am always looking out of the window - which got me into trouble at school -trying to make sense of what I am seeing. The scene is always shifting and the act of drawing and painting is often about trying to pin down this movement. A bodily shift forwards or backward alters everything. Somewhere in the process of looking and fixing a decision is made consciously or not about what the interaction with seeing and doing is about. If one decides that one wants to set down what one sees a decision must be made as to how. The complication for me is in the what. What is it? a drawing? what is that? A painting? There is no comfort in the definition of the two.

ink, emulsion on paper. 96x57 cms.

oil on wood panel, 50x50cms.

I have been looking out  at the space framed by the window: light changes, there is movement, I move. There are no plumb lines and no marks on the floor or upon the glass (although that might help) and I am not entirely sure of what it is that I am seeing or where it is. Sometimes objects appear different: their size, density and colour changes as I work through a period of time. Is this painting what one sees?

vendredi 17 août 2012

Summer painting holiday.

This is where I have been in the last few weeks. 
The result of engaging with the drawings that I have already posted has been this: I didn't imagine the consequence of drawing would bring me here and when I was asked the other day whether it was a painting about light on the hill by the house, I knew that that observation was about right. I just had not made it my goal, which is not to say that I was unaware of the influence. This seems a small painting to me and would very much like to make something bigger now.

                                                   oil on paper on board. 125x125 cms.

Everyone is encouraged to take along holiday reading, soI have brought Straw Dogs,Thoughts on Humans and other animals. John Gray. Granta Books. After which I do need a holiday.

mercredi 1 août 2012

Never satisfied.

And with good reason you might think.

 I have had to repaint areas of the summer storm  because it just was not working. This is driving me bonkers because it is a hard thing to walk the line between abstraction and figuration and to make a painting that speaks of the event over time, of an experience. Perhaps this is still too close to a landscape to work as a painting. I really do not know and will have to think about it some more.

In the meantime I have made another drawing and am painting, in conjunction with the drawings, a piece that tries again to be both descriptive (of the event) and abstracting it to be about the act of painting. I realise that say painting an apple can be both and indeed I have painted many an apple but attempting to paint the day, or the hour, after all that has been done in the past seems impossible. And yet one keeps trying.

samedi 14 juillet 2012

Drawing ideas together.

oil and ink on paper 120x103 cms.

oil and ink on paper. 120x110cms.

Having said that I made drawings for paintings, or as part of the thinking about painting, here are three that I made  as I move towards making my new painting. I have begun it (the painting)  but I am making these at the same time so that there might be an intercourse between painting and drawing. What I will not be doing is turning the drawing into the painting but rather working back and forth between them. At the end of next week I'll see where I've got to.

Meanwhile I stumbled across this by Roy Oxlade. I can't find anything further so perhaps nothing was published after issue three.

lundi 9 juillet 2012

Thing one and... apologies to Dr. Seuss.

winter. oil on canvas. 120x120cms.

While battling daily with Summer Storm which just will not do as it's told, I have worked on another which seemed more acquiescent- eventually- or at least worked with me a bit. I used a number of collages as an aid but let the painting be the place where the combination of looking and experimenting took place. I don't draw for the painting although I have made a lot of drawings which have their own short shelf life. The torn photographs give me marks that I don't think I would have thought of.

Thing two.

Usually first thing I have a go at my head, whichever one is first to hand. Here I do draw a lot and revisit the drawings, altering them, tearing them up and reworking them and sometimes just looking at them. There has been a recent discussion about painting from photographs. Okay, I get that but it isn't for me and I'm too bloody minded to give up on what happens when you look in the mirror. I'll probably never make a decent self portrait but trying is all I've got.

mercredi 27 juin 2012

Where things come from.

And I should add, where they go. This one still didn't feel right : some changes have been made and I have collaged some photographs to aid my thinking. I can't remember the author, but it might have been Dylan Thomas, who said that he had spent all morning putting in an apostrophe and all afternoon taking it out. Just how I feel.

samedi 16 juin 2012

Summer afternoon ,storm approaching.

oil on panel. 160x120cms.

Painting from observation is not quite what it may seem: not plein- air in this case, rather a distillation of looking out at, being out in, collaging photographs of and pulling together disparate elements of the experience (s) of an event.

D.H.Lawrence once opined that landscape doesn't call up the more powerful responses of the human imagination, the sensual, passional responses. Hence it is the favourite modern form of expression in painting. There is no deep conflict...The english have delighted in landscape,and have succeeded in it well. It is a form of escape for them from their actual body that they so hate and fear.

I don't agree. Even in a secular age as we are experiencing in the West I think that there is the possibility of a very deep response to the experience of painting from nature. Procreation and death ; knowledge of transient passage, and to this is added the problem of how paint can be itself and yet stand for something else.

In these paintings I do not want to replicate in paint the objects around me but I do want to say something about how I perceive them, how I stand in relation to the experience.

For me that is the fundamental problem.

mardi 5 juin 2012

Two paintings about landscape.

I have finally got to a finishing point with my gust of wind. A fairly long gust it has been too. Each time I thought it might have been resolved a reappraisal convinced me otherwise. I have to turn it to the wall now to avoid another bout of reworking it.


A gust of wind. oil on canvas. 80x80 cms.

untitled. oil on canvas. 160x120 cms.

This painting has been developing for three years or more and like so often with my ideas, it finally yielded after a couple of days intensive work. But now I really want to make a slow painting: a painting for which unusually, I already have a title, Summer afternoon, storm coming on.
 I don't so much work quickly as work for a long time on a piece, using the painting as a surface to think on. Both these two are based on on observation, which is why I use the term figurative if I must describe what I do. 

dimanche 27 mai 2012

Terrain, inside and out,

One can speak of being inside and outside landscape: observing and participating. The window on the world is something that we have long been familiar with and there is a stasis which has worked  to place us in relation to landscape as an onlooker. The problem of describing involvement with landscape has also been addressed, one doesn't have to think hard about this, and I have mentioned Peter Lanyon in a previous post although with him there is the cultural engagement too. 

I was reading about Simon Edmonson yesterday, the paintings that he had been making in Spain, the concept of I within It, John Clare; Ortega y Gasset, who proclaimed that "I am I and my circumstances", Gerard Manley Hopkins. What I wonder can be said in paint about Landscape and human existence. How is paint to be used to set down what is seen and felt just being in IT. And what is IT? The wind in the trees, the sun on the face, the force that is the fundamental basis of nature, and nothing to do with us.  It is a poor thing I think to try to use coloured stuff squeezed from a tube, a poet would come nearer, words are more than adequate, words are progenitive, I say tree and you think of any number of different trees, the word gives birth to its offspring and expands our sense of the world: what use is paint? 

Terrain. oil on wood panel. 50x50 cms.


                                              A gust of wind.  oil on canvas. 80x80 cms.

mercredi 23 mai 2012

PWD - Prostrate with dismal.

It is an expression we use and usually makes us laugh so it's a good header for a quick post. I have been looking at blogs dealing with the portrait -so many of them - and thinking about a very moving novel by Chaim Potok, called My Name is Asher Lev. This is still available in print at Amazon. I can recommend it

jeudi 17 mai 2012

Art Today- against the grain.

I came across a copy of The Human Clay catalogue and in it R.B.Kitaj saying this: I have thought how good it would be to make at least some pictures keeping ordinary people in mind along with some of the other things kept in mind while making a picture. Maybe not to do that kind of thing every day of the week but to do it (and have the imagination to communicate the act) some of the time.It can only be a recognition of how ordinary one is oneself.When I'm told that good art has never been like that ,I doubt it.

And further he says, if you have a great subject, a person or people or a face or some complex theme, you have no right to be negligent about form and colour. Great themes demand the highest artistic qualities and ambitions. Now, what I can't figure out is this: do form and colour, do the highest artistic qualities demand great subjects? Or can it be said to be negligent to isolate these qualities. The only real answer must be: for some of us yes, for some of us no.

dimanche 6 mai 2012


This is picking up where I left off to work on the painting of the head, which still has a long way to go.

In an article that I have been reading, an interview with Euan Uglow, he talks about whether a painting is true to life and states that he doesn't know what that is. He gets a visual experience and it is that that he trying to make the concept of the painting, but that doesn't mean that it is true to life and he doesn't paint from photographs because he likes the poignancy of the right light at the right time hitting a bit of colour. As this painting progresses getting the right bit of colour and the right space for it to be in seems to be essential but hard to achieve. In the painting of the head it is not the individuals visual characteristics that is the problem but how to make the space that the head inhabits and reacts with. Not going too well at the moment and has had to be scraped back and reworked a lot. However with this painting the accretions are slowly moving to create the space that feels like looking and shifting my focus. True to life it is not: true to the process of looking - I hope so.

jeudi 26 avril 2012

Time passing / passing time.

The days here are very grey, unusually so at the moment. Because I need the light to be able to work more on a painting, I have turned once more to trying to teach myself about painting a head, and mine is readily available. It is not portraiture -I don't know how to do that- but for me it is about seeing what paint will do and how over time one tries different approaches and learns something. There is a painting that I have been revisiting for over twenty years and I must have made the initial drawings at least twenty five years ago. In the process much has happened and I have got older but the title that has been in my head has always been, Am I becoming my father? Anyway, these two are in progress and may well be for some time yet, this is just where I am now.

am I becoming my  father?
oil on wood panel 120x120cms .in progress.

oil on wood panel.40x20cms. in progress.

By the bye, there are two interesting blogs that I have come across recently: Making a mark, by Katherine Tyrrell ( and Ilaria Rosselli Del Turco , see particularly her Wrapped series.

mardi 24 avril 2012

New season at La Tour, Montsales

The new season of exhibitions opens at La Tour, Montsales, near Villeneuve D'Aveyron on the 29th April with work by local amateur and professional artists. The full programme can be viewed here.

man in a green fleece. oil on wood. 90x90cms.

lundi 16 avril 2012

New paintings in changeable weather.

Cold weather front. oil on canvas. 120x120cms.

  Time and Place. oil on canvas. 120x120cms.

New paintings always leave me wondering where this is going. I am still taking photographs and becoming more aware of the ambiguity present in an image: just what is it that I am looking at when the surface changes so much whilst  the painting progresses? Are these romantic paintings in the sense that aspects of the natural world are recognisable as "organs of feeling" ? I make them as a necessity but often they feel reckless as paintings of the imagination, not paintings of a particular site. One cannot go there but one can see where they have their beginnings .  

samedi 7 avril 2012


This is from Alan Feltus: Words on art, reproduced initially on Frank Hobbs painting blog at Ohio Weslyan University. 

oil on canvas. 160x120cms.

I think art wants to be something people can turn to for a kind of meaning in their lives, or for a calm place within the turbulance of our modern world. Art doesn’t have to explain our situation within the complexity of a chaotic and unstable society. Art can become social commentary, but it can also serve a much needed purpose providing a place of refuge wherein one can find a reason, or justification, for all the battling we have to do, mentally or physically, most of every day of our lives. After all, we love the art of the past for itself, generally being ignorant of the context, the politics, let’s say, of the time and place in which it was made. We hold onto our favorite pieces in our favorite museums or churches, in our books, and we love to be moved by the beauty of something newly found. Art should have that kind of place in our lives. Art should be about transcendence. It should not merely reflect our surroundings like a mirror, adding to the clutter, but become something more wonderful, more meaningful than that. It wants to be remembered and returned to over and over again. Good art feeds us. It is so important.

jeudi 5 avril 2012

A problem with abstraction.

                                           Surface. oil on canvas. 46x106 cms.

A problem I have with abstraction is that one is painting onto a flat surface in the twenty first century when Cezanne has made a statement about being in the landscape, Peter Lanyon has made landscape relevant to personal history, Joan Mitchell has worked with landscape. There are others and I am not overlooking Paul Klee.

So where does one go on ones own. Painting what one knows? What does one know? For me the sense of being in the landscape is tied up with being in the painting as opposed to the Renaissance sense of a distant observer. Constable comes to mind as creating a sense of weather, of being wet, of making the stuff of the paint be the light, rain, wind, sun certainly recalling it viscerally. I am outside and inside: I am in it and it is in me. The problem is how to make that sense have its equivalent on that flat surface .

mardi 27 mars 2012

Painting before noon.

Early morning, Spring. oil on canvas. 80x80 cms.

The light can be luminous here, in all seasons but in the early part of the year it glows and shadows can be a vivid blue. The land continues to offer so much information: it is often a real problem paring down that
information to pin down the essence of what is being experienced to form an image that will convey the sensation as well as create the object. Martin Buber spoke of Gegenstandt und Gegenwart, Presence and Object.

mercredi 21 mars 2012

First bonfire of Spring. V2.

oil on canvas. 120x120 cms.

I just could not leave it alone, and even at this stage, having repainted it a number of times, I still feel that I could keep going. 
There is an interesting piece about Cezanne, from Merleau - Ponty describing the paradox of Cezanne's art, in which he says: he was pursuing reality without giving up the sensuous surface, with no other guide than the immediate impression of nature, without following the contours, with no outline to enclose the colour, with no perspectival or pictorial arrangement......aiming for reality while denying himself the means to attain it.



surface. oil on canvas. 61x46 cms.

The reworking of paintings is a common and in itself very interesting activity. The temptation to see what else can be done or the realisation that something is not right or even the need to re-use the surface can all lead to a new direction, or resolution of an idea.

This painting is an attempt to explore the ambiguity that arises often through looking at a surface and not being sure what the initial focus is and how it shifts.

jeudi 8 mars 2012

Not walking but looking.

First bonfire in Spring. oil on canvas. 120x120 cms.

After a forced absence from my workplace I have spent some time on this, as winter releases its grip. At this time of the year one of the local farmers can be relied upon to set fire to a swathe of land and give the fire brigade an opportunity that they could probably do without. On a more intimate scale garden bonfires are commonplace.

Because I have not been walking, I have been looking at at small area within the purview of my window again. Like previous posts, this is a painting subject to change and it has changed a lot already in response both to the light on the land, as well as the demands of the painting process. The shifting light was very noticeable some days: it's a problem that requires a solution. It has affected this painting more than I realised because I thought that I was not making a piece about this bit of garden, but using the view to help make a painting.

Some years ago, I made paintings which clearly articulated an idea of the clash of natural phenomena and the threat to man whose implied image was fragile. What I find interesting is that that inter-relation
is still there in what I paint, but small in scale, through the walking, observing, and the standing still. There is this temporal bodily experience relating to a painting made up of successive, overlayering.

I think that making a landscape based (or perhaps a place based) painting requires one to be cereberally,
as well as physically present. The making of the painting proceeds then with all that that implies connected to the sense of place.

At Christmas I received a copy of Chris Stephens's monograph of Peter Lanyon.( 21 Publishing. 2000.)
and though I was aware of his name I had not seen any of his work. It is next on my reading list.

vendredi 10 février 2012

Points of Focus.

Points of focus. oil on canvas, 80x80 cms.

This painting is a couple of years old: I have kept it because I keep coming back to the idea that observation is a matter of constantly refocussing as one looks and I would like to have made a painting about how this might work. It was Spring when I tried this for the first time and subsequently lost the plot. Not being able to work for more than ten minutes at a time at the moment has given me pause for thought as to how to engage with this again.

jeudi 12 janvier 2012

Ivon Hitchens

Painting has come to a temporary halt due to the return of the dreaded sciatica. Doesn't interfere with reading, so I have this on the go.