Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Malta Sketchbook #5: Tigne Battery - Roofscape

Tigne Battery - Roofscape
(Charcoal and compressed charcoal over two pages of A4 sketchbook)

A rather overcast day, but that lent a sombre aspect to this drawing of the concrete roofs of the Battery, looking out over the countryside. 

I wonder if it brings to your mind, as it does to mine, the eerily vacant townscapes of de Chirico? Or is it a case of fixing on a landscape a predetermined aspect? There's no doubt that, even allowing for the reduced lighting, the drawing has become more about me than the place itself. 

John Ruskin saw this practice of projecting our own moods onto trees, clouds or complete landscapes as misguided and branded it the pathetic fallacy.  His view was very influential but failed to kill it off: witness the work of Nash, Sutherland, Piper and a whole host of other painters down to the present day. 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Malta Sketchbook #4: Tigne Battery - Gun Emplacement

Tigne Battery - Gun Emplacement
(2B mechanical pencil in A4 sketchbook)

Sometimes it's great to just sit and take the time to make a careful drawing of something. That's what I did with this page of the sketchbook, using only a 2B pencil to capture the tones of this concrete structure which used to house some of the defensive weaponry.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Malta Sketchbook #3: Tigne Battery - Gnomon

Tigne Battery - Gnomon 
(Rotring Art Pens, black and sepia, over two pages of A4 sketchbook)

For some reason, I stopped dating the drawings in this sketchbook, so I'll have to give them titles. This one I've called "Gnomon" after the part of a sundial that casts the shadow.

You can see that this concrete building was badly damaged by the Luftwaffe during the War, leaving it shattered and pockmarked. I find this sort of ruin every bit as fascinating as some ancient archaeological site, like Stonehenge or Lanyon Quoit. It would be better if the graffiti, drinks cans and bottles, used condoms and syringes were cleared away, but hey, you can't have everything when it comes to urban archaeology.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Malta Sketchbook #2: Tigne Battery 15 Sept

Tigne Battery 15 September 1995
(Charcoal and compressed charcoal over two pages of A4 sketchbook)

I went back to the Battery the next day and with two kinds of charcoal, got this image down. I loved the grooves of the concrete walls and the way the arm of the metal hoist curved across the darkened entrance.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Pension Kastelli

Pension Kastelli (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in) Private Collection

I painted this after our last trip to Crete and gave it to Pat as a Xmas present. It's a picture of Pension Kastelli, the place we stayed in in Chania and I'm posting it now because we're going back again!

Last year I was so dogged with poor health that there never seemed a time when a holiday would have been enjoyable. Things in the eye department have settled down now and we think a trip abroad to see the Spring flowers on Crete in May is just what the doctor ordered.

We decided on this almost immediately after seeing the John Craxton Retrospective at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Although he always rejected the label of Neo-Romantic, John Craxton was certainly influenced by the 19th century sources of that movement, William Blake and Samuel Palmer, as well as Picasso's Cubism and spent some time with Graham Sutherland in Pembrokeshire.

However, it was his discovery of the idyllic landscapes of Poros, Hydra and Crete that opened the way to paintings of breathtaking shimmering light with a fascinating technique using coloured lines "to explain the play of light on contours."

John Craxton: Landscape, Hydra (Tempera on canvas)

Of all the paintings in the show, I think it was the one showing asphodels that decided it for us - asphodels are always dead and shrivelled in September when we normally go on holiday: 

John Craxton: Reclining figure with asphodels.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Malta Sketchbook #1: Tigne Battery 14 Sept

Tigne Battery 14 Sept 1995 
(Charcoal, coloured Conte and 2B pencil, over two pages of A4 sketchbook)

A couple of days after arriving in Malta, I came across Tigne Battery. Barely discernible through graffiti (including a swastika), a commemorative stone read:


Looking about, it was clear the Battery had been badly deconstructed after that, during the Seige of Malta in the Second World War, but to me it was immediately fascinating. Broken and stained concrete, rusting metal; what's not to like?

I hurried back to the hotel, collected my drawing bag and discarding the smaller sketchbook, got to work in an A4 sketchbook. This is the first drawing I did, showing the entrance to a gun emplacement, the gun having long been removed, of course. There's a long tradition of pictures looking through from one room to another and this a variant, I suppose. I like the feeling that something or someone may be waiting in that darkened interior.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Malta Sketchbook

View of Malta, 12 Sept 1995 
(Pencil and watercolour over two pages of 6 x 8 in sketchbook)

OK, let's try to get this blog back on tracks.

I've only been to Malta once; I didn't much care for it. I know many people like the island and there are certainly quite a few artists who go there regularly to draw and paint, but though I've toyed with the possibility of returning, I've never been able to persuade myself that it would be worthwhile. Unless it were with the sole purpose of going back to Tigne Battery (more of which later).

If you're a Malta fan, let me put my case before you throw up your hands in horror. When I was considering a trip there, I asked a friend at work who had been there what he thought of it. His reply was succinct: "It's beige," he said. And so it proved to be. The island and all the buildings are made of limestone which, unlike the limestones of the Greek islands, is not white but, well, beige. I did this drawing of the capital Valletta, on the first day there and found the buildings just blended into one another such that I eventually gave up trying to sort it out. It's not a bad drawing (not very good either), but it didn't satisfy me at the time and still doesn't.

We were staying in Sliema on the northeast coast of the island and a bus took us to the hotel from the airport. On the way there, we fell into conversation with a couple who told us they had been holidaying on Malta for 25 years. They loved it. But it soon became clear they never went out during the day, not because they were vampires but because they were something much more exotic - sequence dancers.

It seems sequence dancing clubs are very big amongst a certain section of the British population and wherever British servicemen have been stationed, there you'll find a sequence dancing club. To cater for their passion, package holiday companies take them on holidays all over the Med - Cyprus, Gibraltar, Malta and the usual bits of Spain. It being too hot during the day to trip any light fantastic, They Only Come Out at Night.

So dancing in the dark is obviously one reason for Malta's attraction. The beer is pretty good, too, being British styled but lighter for the climate. However, when we were there the pubs and even the cafes stuck rigidly to an afternoon closing schedule which made life quite difficult. One day while sitting outside a pub finishing off a pint, they came and took away the umbrellas and left us in the fierce heat., yet there was still a good half hour of opening time to go. Sitting in a cafe we'd just got our sandwiches before 2 pm; five minutes later, other customers were turned away.

The buses were wonderful old machines, beautifully painted and decorated with rosaries and religious icons but all of them went into and out of the main bus station, which meant that if you wanted to go anywhere other than Valletta, you still had to go into Valletta bus station, change buses and out again. I understand there's been a shake-up of the transport now: the old buses have gone and Arriva has taken over. My experience of Arriva in this country doesn't make me any more cheerful to hear that.

Oh, let's finish on the food. I had the worst pizza of my whole life in a restaurant in Sliema. The wait for it was considerable and when it arrived there was a huge bubble in the pastry which had made the topping slide off to one side, leaving a dry lump of pastry bubble at the other side. I was so astonished and so very hungry that I didn't bother to complain.

So there you have it: not what I hoped for from a holiday. I was on the point of giving up on the idea of getting any drawing done when I discovered Tigne Battery. More next time.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Newcastle Skyline

Newcastle Skyline 1995 (Oil on board, 10.5 x 36 in)

I was contacted yesterday through my page on Facebook by someone asking if this painting, which he now owns, was one of mine. Signed "HRBELL95", it is indeed one of mine. It's one of the first paintings I ever sold and I'm delighted to be reminded of it. 

This painting was to be part of my first solo show but after I'd delivered it to Northumbria Gallery, and before it could be sent off to the framer, a man charged with putting together a corporate art collection bought it from the gallery along with one or two others. I was really pleased, of course, even though it meant I had to suddenly produce more work to fill the gaps in the show.

The kind person who contacted me on Facebook is a Geordie living in Berwick who says he loves having this memory of Tyneside in his home. For my part, I'm heartened to learn that my work is still providing pleasure.

It's always instructive to look again at old work and this one reminds me of ways of working which I've abandoned in recent years. In these times of self-doubt and uncertainty, it helps to get my mind into new, or even old ways of thinking and I can already see where I might be going.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year

Garden Gate (Oil on canvas, 16 x 16 in) Private Collection

2013 was not my favourite year by any stretch of the imagination. It began with a pre-existing eye condition getting out of control, went on to encompass two operations on my left eye and ended with a death in my partner's family.

So I'm not unhappy to bid farewell to the old year, even though it did have some saving graces: Pat, my partner bought a house much closer to my own and we're now able to spend more time together.

I've done no real painting since March. Partly because of the problems with my eyesight, but also due to a definite pause in the creative urge. I've written before about a feeling that I need a new direction to revitalise what I'm doing and I'm still in that uncertain state. But I always like the challenge of a New Year and intend to get some ideas sorted out this month so that I can start to move on.

Meanwhile, what can you expect from me here on Boogie Street, assuming that is that I'm still talking to at least my Regular Reader?  A while ago I promised to resume posting from my collection of unfinished sketchbooks. The Malta Sketchbook is the one I think should come next, so watch out for drawings from that island.

Finally, there are exhibitions in the offing. Two are lined up with Figure 8 this year and I'm delighted to say that I'll be putting on a solo show for the first time in my home town of Gateshead in April/May. So there should be news of those as we get nearer.

Let me end by wishing you and those you love a Very Happy New Year indeed. We all deserve it, you know; let no one tell you otherwise.

Friday, 22 November 2013


My friend Henri from WorkArt called round this evening to collect these three paintings. They'll be installed in the offices of Brewin Dolphin in Newcastle for the next six months and I'll be paid a fee for their hire. It's a good arrangement that has worked well for me in the past.

View from the Keep (Oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in)

High Level (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 in)

The Side, with Snow (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 in)

Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Swimmer (Oil on board, 12 x 12 in)

Rooting about in the studio the other day, I came across this painting.

Painted around 20 years ago, it was never shown anywhere before today because the subject didn't like it. 

I think it's safe to show it now.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Gateshead Art Society Annual Exhibition 2013

The preview of the Art Society's Annual Exhibition at the Shipley Gallery went well today. A good turnout, including some old friends I was able to chat to and catch up with. But the financial climate was demonstrated by the lack of red spots; usually there's a decent scattering at this regular event, even if it's the cheaper paintings that go, but not this year. Only two red spots.

Still, apart from two hung in a darkish corner (I've asked if the lights can be adjusted), it was good to see these seven of my submitted eight pictures hanging in a good gallery.

St James's from Windmill Hills

Clouds over Holy Island

Sunset, Holy Island


South Tyne Valley Landscape

In the South Tyne Valley

Venetian Balcony

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Eye eye!

I had another operation on my left eye yesterday, this one to clear up some scarring produced by the first one in April. Bear with me while this heals - there'll be more posts here very soon!

[In case you were worried, the photo is not of my eye, but of a flooded ceiling light in Cambridge]

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Baker's Wife's Siesta

The Baker's Wife's Siesta (Oil on board, 12 x 12 in)

Since the operation on my eye in April I've been disinclined to do any work, but yesterday, with the approach of the first Painters' Group meeting of the season, I thought it was time to try to get something done.

I don't remember when I started this painting. It's been hanging around the studio for an awfully long time and now and again I'd put it on the easel and fiddle with it. I see that I last mentioned it here at about this time two years ago. I think I've finally got it to the stage where I won't do any more and in that sense, it's finished.

[Later: the painting was well received at the Painters' Group meeting, better than I think I expected. Someone even called it "lovely" which can't be bad.]

Sunday, 6 October 2013

George III

This handsome devil with the big Hanoverian hooter is George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland from 1760 to 1820. I came across him in the grounds of Lincoln Castle last weekend and was surprised that no information about the bust was displayed, not even a plaque with his name.

A little research reveals that the stone bust, part of a 15ft statue of the monarch, was originally attached to the top of Dunston Pillar, south of Lincoln, in 1810, to celebrate the 50th year of George's reign. 

The full-length statue was taken down in 1940 and put into storage because the RAF feared the structure could be a hazard to low-flying aircraft.Fragments of it were reassembled into a bust in 1970 and put on public display until 2007, when it was found to be cracking up and was put back into storage.

Further restoration was carried out and the bust was returned to public display in 2010. The legs and the rest of him are still in storage.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Farm in Langdale

Farm in Langdale (Oil on board, 16 x 16 in) SOLD

I spent last weekend in Lincoln with a group of friends. Much fun was had and a great deal of walking done. I also came back with at least one idea for a new painting. Now all I have to do is ...well, paint it.

Later in the week came this unexpected sale. This painting, done a few years ago, marked the beginning of a determined attempt to get into painting the landscape rather than the city. I still don't feel I can call myself a landscape painter, but I'm on the way.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Bonfire of the Vanities 2

Madonna of the Toboggan (Oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in)

Destroying this painting took more thought than destroying the previous ones. It was based on a photograph I took at The Hoppings on Newcastle's Town Moor, but the photograph was always better than the painting which dates from 2004.

I'd considered destroying or painting over the Madonna in the past. but decided against it when I allowed the parts that appealed to me to sway my decision. And then I found a use for it in a show last year, where it added to the overall theme of isolation and what I thought of as "people in containers". For similar reasons, I thought about keeping some of the cut up painting but as the best parts were the bits of brightly coloured machinery in the background, you can probably see that there wasn't much that could stand alone.

To be honest, I destroyed better paintings while at University, so when it came to it I didn't really regret the loss.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Newcastle Keep

Newcastle Keep from the River 
(Oil on board, dimensions n/a) SOLD

I've been a little hampered in my posting of late, because I needed to get a new scanner and load Photoshop onto the new computer. All done now and a kind of normality seems to have returned to that part of my life, at least.

This painting is one of those I mentioned selling a short while ago. I had a photograph but needed a scanner to upload it. I did the painting at university as an experiment, using a very limited palette I'd found in a book by Chip Chadbourn - yellow ochre, burnt sienna and ultramarine, with white.

I was always quite fond of it, especially in the way I'd handled the water, so it was good when someone poking about in the studio came across it and liked it.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Erased Canvas

Sixty years ago, the American artist Robert Rauschenberg obtained a drawing from another US artist, Willem de Kooning and proceeded to erase it. The result, titled "Erased de Kooning Drawing, Robert Rauschenberg, 1953" is in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of this piece of work, I was reminded of it when today I embarked on a similar project.

Of the larger canvases I brought home from University in 2001, one was four by four feet, stretched and primed and pristine white. Too big to store easily in the studio downstairs, it's been tucked behind another similarly-sized completed painting in my bedroom. But there's no room for such a picture, devoid of imagery or no, in my next studio, so today I began the process of taking the blank one apart.

First of all the canvas had to be pulled away from the stretcher, the staples popping out and falling to the floor. Using my Gran's dressmaker's shears, I cut the canvas into strips and put them in the bin. Next I took out the screws. This showed that the bloke I bought it from ( he'd made several and didn't need two of them) had cunningly made use of several short lengths of wood, fastening them together with four-hole metal joining strips. So, more holes and more screws.

Once the screws were out, the stretcher still held together because of the thin strips of MDF round the edge which provide the canvas with lift away from the wooden stretcher. They had to be eased off with the screwdriver. Once everything was apart and on the floor, it looked a little like a flat-pack item from IKEA, laid out to check against the sheet of assembly diagrams. But I was going backwards, and the wood was broken up into shorter lengths and binned.

OK, I don't think this was an artwork, though I'm sure a video of the afternoon's work would entrance just as many people as those I see being ignored so often in galleries. And as a philosophical exercise, it kept me on track to shake off the ridiculous idea that possessions make me who I am.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Paintings at Cragside

ITALIAN GIRL WITH DOVES, 1866 by Rafaello Sorbi (1844-1931)

Lord Armstrong, the man behind the construction of Cragside, died without an heir and his estate passed to his great nephew. In the tradition of undeserving inheritors, he quickly spent much of the fortune and to pay his bills many of the prime artworks in the family collection, including paintings by  Millais, Turner, Wilkie and Leighton, were sold in 1910.

The collection is therefore now sadly depleted, but there's a good Turner and this painting which I particularly liked.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Cragside Wall Tiles

This is a view of Cragside from the gardens below:

Some of the corridor walls at the house were covered in rather splendid ceramic tiles. Here's a selection.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

William Morris at Cragside

It's some years since I was last at Cragside, the house and estate built by Lord Armstrong in the 19th century. Now owned by the National Trust, the house is a fascinating place to visit, full of labour-saving devices invented by Armstrong himself, including a hydraulic lift, automatically-turned spits, and the Library which was the first room in the world to be lit by Joseph Swan’s newly invented filament light bulbs. 

With our good friends Roy and Kathleen, Pat and I went to Cragside last week. The weather was excellent, the food in the Visitor Centre well made and delicious and the walk round the house made more interesting by the helpful attendants.

In one of the rooms, on either side of the chimney breast, are these four stained glass windows designed by William Morris.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Sun Insurance Building

Sun Insurance Building, Newcastle (Oil on board, 12 x 24 ins)

An interesting week, about which I may have more to say in the coming days, but notable in part for some sales of paintings. This is one of them. 

The painting shows the top of one of Newcastle's fine buildings, built originally for Sun Insurance, although they no longer have offices there. The work dates from a period when I was very interested in looking up at the tops of buildings, something that few people do, and is a kind of companion to this one (owned by the same purchaser):

Bigg Market Buildings (Oil on board, 5 x 7 ins)
Private Collection

Monday, 29 July 2013

Bonfire of the Vanities

Gateshead Millennnium Bridge (work in progress)
(Oil on canvas, 48 x 60 ins)

I began the difficult task of destroying canvases today. With a house move on the horizon, some downsizing is necessary and the studio contains some very big canvases which I know will never fit my new studio space.

Ripping up unfinished work that I know would never amount to anything was easy (psychologically, at least; physically it wears me out!), but when I got to one that I could see might well have been a good painting had I finished it -- that's hard.

The painting above was started in a greater mood of optimism than I currently enjoy.The canvas was one of several large ones I brought back from University and I began this painting of Gateshead's iconic bridge without any real thought of what I might do with it should it be finished. It soon became clear, however, that even were it to be finished, at four by six feet it would be much too large for me to transport to any of the exhibitions I could see in the future.

Looking at it now, I think it might be worthwhile doing a new version on a much reduced scale. File under: Future Thoughts.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

O Sole Mio

(Serving suggestion)

I had a nice pair of sandals. Bought them at Next, oh, some years ago, and although they weren't particularly worn, I gave up wearing them because they had a fastening at the heel that I found increasingly difficult to get at as my back became stiffer.

Yesterday I slipped them on again, it being a sunny day, and went out to Newcastle with a pair of bags full of heavy books for Oxfam. Stepping off the bus in town, I thought the heel of my left sandal seemed to be sloping the wrong way. Also there seemed to be a lot of black crap sticking out from the sole of the right one. I scraped it off and walked on.

It's only a few hundred yards from the bus stop to the Oxfam shop, but by the time I got there, I could hardly walk. I realised that the soles of both sandals were in a state if disintegration. Handing over the two bags to the old bloke on the desk, I started to walk - hobble - out. He said, "You've dropped something off your shoe."

"I know," I said, "My shoes are falling apart. Sorry about that." I suppose he expected me to pick up the piece of black crap, but in turning back to the door, the whole heel of the right shoe fell off.

I kicked it out the door and limped across the road to the taxi rank. Ten quid to give some books away. Tsk.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Still here ....

I thought I should reassure my Regular Reader that I'm still here, still standing, still soldiering on.

Last month I had an operation on my left eye. It's taking time for the effects of that to settle down and I expect there will be other difficulties along the way, but I haven't given up my art. I had to lay down my brushes in March when I found it too awkward to work and I've yet to pick them up again, but I do have ideas whirling in my head for future projects.

Meanwhile, other things are also taking up my attention. I have a new computer which is giving me things to sort out to make it work the way I want it to and there's a house move looming. The latter will require a great deal of Declutterisation (go on, it must be a word!), so that 's occupying my thoughts a lot.

All of which I hope goes to show why there haven't been posts on the billboards down Boogie Street. I hope you'll stick with me, though: there's life in the old dog yet.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Random Textures

Random Textures 
(Random pieces of texture, copied in two colours)

The Museum Sketchbook has come to an end and I intend now to move on to another - the Malta Sketchbook. Before doing so, however, I have a sketchbook with only this solitary piece in it. 

In 1994 the office introduced a Xerox machine that all the staff had access to, rather than sending work for out of office copying. As a result I went through a short period of experimentation with the Xerox process and this is the only remaining result. I copied various pieces of printed texture, together with a roll of tape, first on blue paper, then on yellow paper. This work is a collage of pieces of blue and yellow prints.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Museum Sketchbook # 9: Hanging Screens

Hancock: Hanging Screens 
(Charcoal, compressed charcoal and coloured Conte in A4 sketchbook)

The strange environment created by the designers within the old halls of the Hancock Museum, using sheets of MDF, extended to the ceiling. From there hung screens on which occasional videos were projected. They managed to create an otherworldly atmosphere, but failed to convey anything of the contents of the Museum.

Monday, 6 May 2013

South Seas Case (Work in Progress)

South Seas Case (work in progress)

After posting the Ethnographic Case drawing from the Museum Sketchbook, I recently recalled that after I started a painting based on it, I took a photograph; and here it is. Although the painting is tucked away at the back of the studio right now, I think I moved it along a little after taking the photograph and it's possible that I changed the format, taking off the right hand section to leave a square.

I wish I could remember the size of the canvas, because I have some plans to start thinning out large, unfinished work from the studio and I'd be sorry to see this one go.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Museum Sketchbook # 8: Ethnographic Case

Hancock: Ethnographic Case 
(Charcoal, compressed charcoal across two pages of A4 sketchbook)

On one of the galleries of the Hancock Museum was a set of Ethnographic Cases devoted to artifacts from around the world. This one displayed items from the South Seas: shields, unidentified wooden objects and brightly coloured stuffed birds.

Somewhere in the studio, there's an unfinished painting based on this drawing, but I can't locate it right now.