Saturday, 30 August 2008

Still Life with Botticelli

Still Life with Botticelli (Oil on canvas, 15 x 12 ins.)

I'm still hoping to hear from some of you with tips on how to approach the upcoming NewcastleGateshead Art Fair. Meanwhile, I'm working on the principle that the best use of my two linear metres of space will be to show small works, so I'm sorting through my stock to see what might fit the bill.

Last night I decided to do something with this picture. It's been with me for a year or two, but was much bigger and had a landscape in the background. I know what I wanted it to do, but it never quite came off. In the studio I found another, smaller picture which definitely hadn't worked out, so I stripped off the canvas, cut down the Aphrodite picture to the elements I liked, and re stretched it onto the smaller stretcher.

I think I like the result. What about you?

Friday, 29 August 2008

Old Drawings #14

Still Life with Lemon (Charcoal on cartridge paper, 15 x 17 ins.)

I don't have a date for this one, but it must have been round about 1991, I think. I was trying out some still life set-ups in a cardboard box and this was a study I did before making the painting. The painting was shown in one of the first exhibitions I entered and to my great surprise and delight it sold. I remember at the time being very much under the influence of David Leffel .

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Back on the Bridge

High Level Bridge (work in progress)

Back at the Club today, I decided not to take up the painting of The Gate again. Having tried to get an angle on the building twice now, and finding the result not to my taste, I think I'll write it off for now. Maybe I'm just not a painter of modern buildings

Instead, I spent a happy couple of hours getting this little picture under way. It's a view from the Newcastle end of the Tyne Bridge, looking towards the High Level Bridge with Gateshead beyond, and one of the buildings that cluster underneath the Bridge in the foreground.
I've done a lot of paintings from the Tyne Bridge in my time, but it must be a good ten years since I last did one. Recently I went onto the Bridge to take some reference photographs for a commission for Mrs Sums and while waiting for her to walk over from the Gateshead end, I took one or two other photographs. This painting is based on one of them. It's interesting, to me at least, to see how much my palette has changed over the years. This one, for instance, is one of the earlier series from 1993, A View from the Bridge:

View from the Bridge - The Black Chimney (Oil on board, private collection)

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Newcastle-Gateshead Art Fair

The next, and probably final, Figure 8 project of the year will be the NewcastleGateshead Art Fair next month. And despite the fact that it only takes up three days, it's been excercising our minds considerably.

The problem is that we don't know what to expect. We have good experience of gallery exhibitions, but an Art Fair is something new to us. I think it's a fact that none of us has ever even been to one. We're treating it as something of an experiment, just to see how it works, with no great expectation of sales. However, should we find ourselves in the happy position of people falling over themselves to buy our work, we have definite problems. We have no credit card facilities and the organisers aren't providing any, so we'll be reliant on punters with wads of cash or carrying cheque books, and who carries a cheque book these days?

I know that at least some of you out there in the blogosphere have experience of art fairs. If you'd care to share the benefit of that experience with tips, caveats and general advice, I'd be very grateful. If you'd rather email me than try to get it into the Comments, you can do so at harrybellartist at gmail dot com. You'll be doing me a big favour. Thanks.

Words of Praise

We took down the Colourworks exhibition yesterday, or at least the Caretaker and his mate did that, and wrapped all of the pictures. We just loaded them in the cars and took them home. The Curator was pleased with the response she'd had from visitors and suggested we show there again, albeit in about four or five years. This seems to be the expected timetable for repeat performances at municipal galleries.

She also gave us each copies of the comments from the gallery's Comments Book and I've enjoyed reading through them today. Unusually, there were none of the irrelevancies, like the one at another gallery: "There should be a toilet on the first floor." Indeed, apart from one comment about the alleged high prices (we've had that one before), and another that suggested it "could've been better," they were all very positive. You'll pardon me if I massage our collective ego by picking out some of the best:

Most exciting exhibition I've seen in a while. Brilliant.

Strong stuff! Wonderful. Thank you.

Keep working together; it''s produced cracking art.

Texture, colour and feeling, exactly what I like in my paintings!!

Very enjoyable. Something for all tastes. Cheered up a rainy day.

Well worth the trip from Lancashire! Diverse & exciting!

Ya knaa Missus! There's a lorra talent roond them Dales, like. Ding-Dong Harry Bell, gannin' doon the underpass wi' yella mack. Venetian ice-cream wi' Maureen Stephenson. Whee's gannin' plodgin' in Cauldron Snout. And starry nights to fall in love wi' some bonny lass by Frank Briffa. Missus! Ah likes them ALL. Keep up the good work. It brings joy to the likes of me.

Thanks - Good to see some committed genuine work - the prices are not high - lots of graft and skill.

I really enjoyed this exhibition. Very high standard - quality paintings. It seems to have been put together very thoughtfully - abstracts work well alongside the landscapes. Reassuring that this gallery can put on such a quality show.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Gate to Bollywood

The Gate (work in progress)

It's a couple of weeks since I put in an appearance at the Art Club, what with the trip to Cambridge and other distractions. When I do go there, it's usually to find most of the regulars have either left or are packing up. In a way, this is the pattern of my life: I think I live in a different time frame from everyone else, slightly out of phase.

Anyway, I was in for a surprise yesterday. The place was heaving. Admittedly heaving with people getting ready to go home, but the point was that they were new people. The Club has been leafleting various venues round the area and it seems to be paying off. This is excellent news, because the membership is aging and we need new blood to ensure the Club continues.

After a round of introductions and a catch-up chat with the Grumbler, I made an effort to get this picture of The gate moving. I'm really not sure about it. At one point towards the end of the session, I'd almost made up my mind to scrap it, but I think I'll carry on a little longer.

On the way out, the Grumbler and I had to step aside to allow an Asian film crew to carry in a load of camera and recording equipment. Many of the offices in the building are empty at the moment and the owners are struggling to find occupants. It might be rather nice to have Bollywood as our neighbours!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Pulse

As I mentioned recently, I took part in Seth Apter's The Pulse, "a project designed to bring together the online artistic community, introduce you to new artists, and help you get to know some familiar ones better."

Seth has just begun to show the answers that 95 artists gave to the seven questions posed by him. It's already shaping up to be a fascinating read. Why not give him a visit at The Altered Page?

Broken Benches

Broken Benches (Oil on board, 13 x 13 ins.) (Private Collection)

I've been combing my boxes of photographs recently to find and record pictures of paintings which have sold. This one was sold in a solo show I had at the Gallagher & Turner Gallery in 2000 in Newcastle. Ostensibly, the show was an exhibition of images from a holiday in Cyprus, but I threw this one in because it fitted the overall look of the show. It's actually based on a sketch I did in Nafplio in Greece in 1994:

Broken Benches, Nafplio (Watercolour and pastel, A5 sketchbook)

The painting was originally the same format as the sketch, but I cut it down to a square because I felt it focused more on the benches that way. For me, it's still an example of how unpromising material can produce an interesting painting.

Open the Box

Yesterday proved very productive. We've been in correspondence with the Red Box Gallery in Newcastle for a short while, and yesterday Mo and I went to see the curator there. We met with a very enthusiastic response and I'm delighted to say that Figure 8's first confirmed show in 2009 will be in September at Red Box!

This is quite a triumph. Red Box is a very prestigious gallery with a knowledgeable and affluent clientele. We'll be the first group to mount a show there (with one exception of a family of artists, they've always shown solo artists) and the curator is very excited at the prospect. As am I.

Now to get some work done.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Old Drawings #12 & #13

Snooker Table (Charcoal on cartridge paper, 16 x 8 ins)

I moved into my current house in 1991 because it had a large basement room, nearly 26 feet in length. By then I'd been with the Open College of the Arts (OCA) for two years and was painting seriously (no drawings seem to have survived from that period), so I was looking for good studio space.

When I moved into the house, the basement had a full sized snooker table in it, which the previous owners had inherited from the people they bought the house from and which they didn't want. I wasn't interested in snooker and billiards, but for a while I kept the table for visiting friends, and tried painting round it.

One of the projects in Year 3 of the OCA course, was to "Make a Painting in the Style of ...". I chose Georges Braque a) because I like him, and b) possibly because he had made paintings of billiard tables. After drawing some pastel copies of a few of his paintings (I remember noting how wobbly his lines were), I set up a still life on the snooker table and made the drawing above.

The next step was to make a colour sketch, so, ever the one for cutting corners, I photocopied the drawing and worked over it with pastel:

Snooker table (Pastel over photocopied drawing, 16 x 8 ins)

Finally, the painting, which still hangs on my living room wall:

Still Life with Snooker Table and Mandolin (Oil on board, 28 x 14 ins.)

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Return to Cambridge

I wish I could have been here to insert my two penn'orth as the interesting debate continued in the Comments on Truth, but I'll get to it as soon as I can.

I was away in Cambridge at the time. Pat and I spent a few days there with her son Andy and his partner. The weather was much like the last time we went, at least at the beginning, but later it cleared up sufficiently for us to get around and see the town.

The highlight was undoubtedly our visit to the house at Kettle's Yard. It was an absolute delight, beginning with the little old ladies who shepherded us in and explained the rules, their quirky cloakroom arrangements involving clothes pegs and little squares of paper with numbers written in biro. I know I wasn't the first to think, "When can I move in?" because one of the ladies said so. The place has a completely lived-in feel with arrangements of stones and bowls of feathers, lino cuts by Ben Nicholson standing on the floor, Gaudier-Brzeska sculptures everywhere, Winifred Nicholson and Alfred Wallis on the walls, art just everywhere! I could have spent hours in the library alone. Another visit must be arranged, I can see.

And several more visits will be needed to get to grips with the Fitzwilliam Museum. I particularly wanted to see the temporary exhibition of Christopher Le Brun's suite of Fifty Etchings 2005 and I wasn't disappointed. Thought-provoking and hugely imaginative.

Close by was a room containing The Arts of the 20th Century. A huge Alan Davie dominates one wall and opposite is a wonderfully dramatic painting in four panels by Keith Grant, Volcano and White Bird. (1974-75). In addition there's almost a whole wall of lovely small pictures by Nicholas de Staël.

While I was taking it all in, a group of French students came in and their tutor kept them standing in front of the only French painting there, while he rattled on at length. It was a Soulages and for my money the least interesting picture there, but it was French.

But the Fitzwilliam Collection is huge and I had no more time. There's never enough time.

We did find the time to have some good meals there, not least the excellent Thai pork curry Andy made using chillies and other produce grown on the balcony of his flat. I do think he might have made the effort to raise the pork there, too, though.. Bit slapdash really. But he made up for it later by treating us to dinner at the Back Street Bistro, a cheerful little place with really great food.

On Monday, before catching the train home, we spent the day with True Rat and his wife, who lured us into The Free Press, the kind of pub that's so rare these days, at least in the North East. Untouched by modern trends, it bans music and mobile phones and serves a fantastic home made steak and ale pie (or if you're Pat, conger eel and samphire).

Afterwards, we took too long over our visit to the King's College Chapel and wandering the streets, so we were forced to make a sprint for the train home. We had to catch a train to Peterborough to make our Newcastle connection, and got there with four minutes to spare. I think we could have made it, but the jobsworth on the ticket desk had other plans. He confirmed it hadn't gone yet, then insisted on seeing our Senior Rail Cards. Then asked to see Pat's again, after she'd put it away.. I thought I detected a smirk when he said, "Oh, it's gone off the screen now. You must have missed it."

On a long shot we caught a train to Ely then another to Peterborough, but the Newcastle train had gone. This left us faced with buying fresh tickets at over a hundred pounds. Pat must have looked pitiful as she recounted our story to the man on the ticket desk at Peterborough, because after a moment's consideration, he charged us nothing and endorsed our old tickets to allow us to travel to Newcastle on the next train. What a nice man. And how annoyed I'd have been to have had to pay the full whack when no one checked the tickets on the entire trip to Newcastle.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008


(Crayon on cartridge paper)

This is for Illustration Friday's brief, "Sail."

It's a bit of a cheat, really, , because it's actually a picture of a beach windbreak, and belongs in the Old Drawings series. It's something I did while at University as a study for a painting which included a figure. Didn't work out.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008


In the Comments on New & Old, there's a point been raised that I think is worthy of further discussion here.

Anna said... "I liked the old sky rather a lot, in fact I liked the literal record of that scene. You're interpreting it with your current eye. Is this a pity? Both are good work but the first is true."

But how true is it? I originally painted the picture in my studio at home, using photographs I'd taken on a weekend's visit to Catterline. In 2005, I'd been invited to put on a solo show in the Creel Inn at Catterline and it seemed only fair to include a painting of the Inn. But as the sky in the photograph I had was fairly nondescript, I used another photograph taken on the same day, but just over the hill from the Inn.

Maybe it was the knowledge that the two didn't actually marry up that preyed on my feeling for the picture, but I never accepted that it worked properly. Last year, possibly in a fit of frustration, I simply painted out the sky and put it to one side.

There's a wildness to the landscape round Catterline that I think is conveyed better in the new version, so it's interesting that ian gordon should say:

"I think anna's comment raises an interesting point; the artist's dilemma: When is something truly finished?But I find the latest version "truer", in as much as I get the sensation of being there. I think the sense of depth is much stronger now than before."

For me, despite my being removed from the scene by many miles and quite some time, I believe I've captured a "truer" picture of how I felt and what impression the area had on me. But truth in this sense is, of course, completely subjective. The photograph from which I worked is no nearer the truth than either of the paintings, but I think I've come closer to a personal truth than previously. And in the end, personal truth is all I can reasonably strive for.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008


(Fibretip, digital colour)

This week's Illustration Friday brief is "Poof!"

New & Old

The Gate (work in progress)

I feel like I'm struggling with this one, but I recognise there's been some progress today. Much of the colour has undergone subtle transformation, and the foreground is starting to emerge as cars and people. I'll keep at it until I make it how I think I want it to be (or until it tells me it's reached the stage of being how it wants to be!)

I painted this picture a few years ago but was always a little unhappy with how it turned out. I felt it had become too literal and a bit ... dull. I took it out of its frame, did some extra work on the landscape and painted out the sky. And there it stayed, incomplete, until today.

I painted the sky using a painting knife and the paint left over from working on The Gate, and touched up the landscape a little more. It strikes me at the moment as being overly busy, but that impression might fade in the next few days. Whether it does or not, I like the new version better. (As usual, my monitor is emphasising the reds in the picture; if yours does the same, please make allowances for that).

The Creel Inn, Catterline (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins.)

Friday, 1 August 2008

Too Much Colour?

The Gate (work in progress)

Because of a plumbing problem at home, I had little time to spend at the Club yesterday, but what time there was allowed me to reconsider this little picture I'd started last time I was there. In the intervening days I'd decided I didn't like it and intended to paint over it. Now that I've got it home again, I'm not so sure. I think I'll give it a little more work and see how it pans out. I suspect that what's troubling me, tonal painter that I am, is the full colour palette. Maybe it's a bit too Albert Irvin for my liking. Much as I like Albert Irvin, I don't think he's really me, or more exactly, that I'll ever really be him.

I'll start by toning down the magenta sky, I think (it's a lot stronger than the photograph suggest).

But I won't be able to start on it again today. I heard by letter that my picture in the People Show sold at the Gala evening last night, and as the show opens to the public today, I'm off to have a look at it with The Architect, who also has a picture in the show.

Later, we're meeting up with his wife, Mrs Sums, who wants me to consider a commission, so she's going to show me what it is she's interested in.