Saturday 28 April 2007

Shutters down on Boogie Street

I'm closing up Stately Zip Mansion for the next week and heading off to The Lakes. It's time for another Compo & Clegg Painting Week, this time somewhere in Langdale.

Seven days of drawing, painting, arsing about and exploring the insides of country taverns. I'll try not to be bored.

I suggest you do the same.

Friday 27 April 2007

Some days you eat the bear ...

... and some days the bear eats you.

Arrived at the Art Club yesterday to be greeted by a doleful Prospective Buyer. The Prospective Buyer's Wife had failed to come up with the necessary enthusiasm for buying my Wobbly Bridge picture. I put it in a bag and brought it home.

After a few hours of energetic painting, I realised that all was not well with my Old Gadgie and Buildings picture. In fact, I had to acknowledge that it was never going to work. I painted over it with the remaining paint from the palette.

Thursday 26 April 2007

Explain yourself!

Writing an Artist's Statement is one of those tasks I hate. Like many painters, I'm of the view that the work speaks for itself, but in these days of work having to be explained, Statements are obligatory.

I usually approach this onerous task by looking at what I've written before and seeing if it can be tweaked, enlarged or fused with another piece of fluff I've written to come up with a text that reads like it might possibly mean something.
I've just done it again for a proposed Figure 8 show in Darlington. We've been given the show, in fact, but the dates are yet to be arranged. Looks like four shows in the bag for 2008.

Anyway, this is what I ended up adding to our proposal:

The majority of my work is derived from the urban environment. I have long been fascinated by the play of light on buildings and my paintings have been constructed on strong compositional underpinnings based on the effects of sunlight and shadow. However, I am also increasingly concerned with the role of figures in urban spaces, where the mood may be mysterious and unsettling, or riotous and turbulent. The tonal approach I originally employed has given way to a brighter palette where colour can be seen to carry the main thrust of the painting. In addition, a greater emphasis on frontality and gesture signify a renewed concern for the integrity of the picture plane.

I'm not sure that this necessarily applies to the work I've been doing recently, some of which I've posted here. But one of the uses I find for such a Statement is to tell myself what it is I want to do, what direction I want the work to take. Whether it works that way remains to be seen.

Monday 23 April 2007

Happy St George's Day

Rose detail
The flags and bunting are out on Boogie Street and the fiddler is tuning up for the Rapper Sword Dancers. I smile benignly out at them from my window in the tower of Stately Zip Mansion and wish them all - and you - the very best for England's national day.
And while we're at it, let's also remember England's great playwright, William Shakespeare, who contrived to be born (1564) and die (1616) on St George's Day.

Friday 20 April 2007

Across the Wobbly Bridge

Millennium Bridge (Oil on canvas, 16 x 16 ins)

I guess that about does it. Like every picture, there are always touches and tickles that need to be done after a short while (for instance I want to take down the brightness of the St George's crest), but basically I'm done with this. The Prospective Buyer is going to bring his wife into the studio to have a look at it.

I felt like I was on a roll yesterday. I've not felt that way for some time and I think this may, in part, be put down to the pressure of getting things - expected things, done in an expected way - completed on time. One of the inevitable problems of having to earn a crust, I suppose.

Anyway, having put the Wobbly Bridge to bed, I pulled out a little landscape I've been performing surgery on. I made this landscape for a show a couple of years ago and ever since I've been unhappy with it. It showed a grassy foreground with a typically dark ploughed Scottish field beyond, and misty hills disappearing into a foggy sky. The hills and sky didn't convince me at all.

As an experiment, I thought I'd replace them with a sky I'd photographed from the window of Stately Zip Mansion. The initial knocking in was promising and the field, because of the change in surrounding colouration, took on the aspect of water. Yesterday I let myself go with the paint (mixed with Spectrum Matt Spectragel) and had fun producing this:

It needs a bit more work, especially at the point where hills and clouds meet, but I think this one will work out. As my Old Tutor used to say, "Do ten more!"

My last bit of work - more thinking than painting - was to try out a possible rescue of another painting gone out of favour with its creator.

One of the realisations I've come to in the past few weeks is that I have to break out of the topographically-inspired work I've been working away at ...well, more or less since I began painting. It's limiting my ability to show elsewhere. Although I feel the paintings I produce should be appreciated for themselves, I find that the punters want to recognise the place. I don't much care about the place; it's the painting, the composition, how it's painted, the texture etc, that makes it for me.

Following the punters' likes and dislikes has led me into Bad Ways. There are only so many places in NewcastleGateshead that people are interested in as places to be painted and I'm bored with them. I started a series of other places to try to make them of interest to the public, but to be honest, my heart's not in them. So I decided to Cease and Desist.

The one below is one I started and abandoned as part of the Cease & Desist project.. What I'm trying out here is an experiment to see if I might finally get into some of the figure painting I've talked about before. Yes, I know the figure is a cartoon; in fact he's appeared here before shortly after I met him. Doesn't bother me. I recorded him as a cartoon because it was the quickest way I knew to get him down after I'd got home, but also because he was, in himself, pretty much a caricature anyway.

Not only do I have to decide whether to proceed with this next week, but I also have to decide before then on his scale against the background. There are three possibilities:

I'd be interested in your views, even if I reserve the right to ignore them in a cavalier fashion.

Wednesday 18 April 2007

Gnawing Doubt

Before the Run (Oil on canvas, 36 x 36 ins)

My friends from the Figure 8 painters group came round to my house yesterday and we had a meeting with the curator of a gallery in Darlington. It went very well and it looks like we have yet another promised show, possibly at the end of the year, or into the new one.

The curator had called to see some of our work, before offering us the show, and one of the pictures I brought up from the studio was this pre-Great North Run picture. I hadn't looked at it for a while and I'm having definite doubts about it now. It looks quite good reduced here on the page, but in the flesh, as it were, I can see how I might have to work on it some more. My intention with it was to stop at a newer simplicity, but now I think it may have to be brought round to something like the state of the first one I did on this subject.

Monday 16 April 2007

The Annual Dilemma

The Great Moss (watercolour, sketchbook)

I'm no great shakes at watercolour; something which I think is adequately demonstrated by this example from my sketchbook. I'm not much of a plein air painter either. I think I turned to the sky over the Great Moss in desperation. I couldn't face looking into the wood behind me, so I looked out onto the peat bog. And watercolour seemed to be the only medium to hand to deal with the dramatic sky. I have little practice with it and I don't think the result is terribly good.

But it's come to that time of year when I start going through my materials wondering what to take on the annual Compo & Clegg Painting Week.

Last year we went to Grasmere in The Lakes, but there was little to show for it when I came back The best was a drawing I posted here.

The Great Moss watercolour sketch was done in South West Scotland in 2005. I also did this:

Dead Tree, Duntrune (4B pencil, sketchbook)

I think this is a much more confident piece of work which probably benefits from having no colour. But colour isn't always a problem. A few years earlier I did this in an old quarry:

Rock Form, Ford Moss (coloured Conte, sketchbook)

I suspect what it all comes down to is the subject matter and my old enemy, Green. Difficult to get away from Green in The Lakes, though. This year it's Langdale. I expect that, at the last minute, I'll just throw my usual drawing materials in the car and do what I always do, but it would be nice to push the boundaries of what I do, just for once.

Friday 13 April 2007

Guildhall Show

Venetian Wall (Oil on canvas, 16 x 16 ins)

Iron Cross (Oil on canvas, 16 x 16 ins.)

These are the pictures I put in the Art Club exhibition today. It's a small show, rather impromptu, as the opportunity to use the Guildhall came about unexpectedly, I understand.

It's currently the home of Newcastle's Information Centre, but has a reasonably sized small room which they let organisations use. The lighting is not ideal, with a couple of rather dimly lit walls, but we managed to make a decent fist of hanging the show (a hang which, from my point of view, happily kept my pictures off the dimly lit walls!)

There are things to be learned from these Art Club guys. The large Art Show - free entry signs printed on A2 plastic sheeting were a good idea: before we'd even finished setting up, there were people coming in off the street to wander round. I also liked the invitations to the preview which we've handed out in bulk to the several hotels round about.

I won't be able to make the preview, however. We - the Figure 8 painters, that is - have a meeting that day with the curator of yet another gallery. Blimey. It's all go.

Thursday 12 April 2007

Wobbly Bridge; 4th Pass

For anyone still following this apparently never-ending saga, here's the state of play after today's session down at the Art Club.

I wasn't able to get as much done as I'd hoped. I have to hand in two pictures tomorrow to a small exhibition organised by the Art Club. Most of my pictures are mirror-plated, but these have to be strung. I could find no D-rings anywhere round the house, so before I went to the Club today I had to scour the hardware shops - few and far between in these days of out-of-town shopping - looking for some.

When I got to the Art Club, of course, I discovered they keep a supply of D-rings in the cupboard.

I'm still not convinced by the awkward ribs at either side of the bridge, but the paving has been lightened and warmed up, which throws the figures more onto centre stage and draws the eye away from the peripheries of the bridge.

"You'll have to grade the tone of the paving, " said Plastic Man, "so that it recedes properly.".

"I can do anything I like with it," I said. "It's my picture and there's no reason why it should obey any laws but mine. You should welcome this rare example of Japanese-style flatness in my work."

"You're absolutely right," said Plastic Man.

I'll work on those ribs more next week. I'm confident I can get them to pull themselves into shape and the Prospective Buyer (did I mention there is a Prospective Buyer?) is pleased with the way it's going.

Saturday 7 April 2007

Rearranging the Deckchairs

After the session at the Art Club, I took a wander into town.

On a whim I strolled into J G Windows in the Central Arcade. There's always something of interest in Windows. They have a policy of buying one copy of every CD released in the UK. Naturally enough, they don't manage to sell them all, so it can be a profitable exercise to call in to check if they're having a sale.

Shock horror! The firm have been taken over and the store is being "rearranged."

The first and most obvious rearrangement is the absence of the the huge and chaotic CD racks behind the counter where they filed the discs to put into the cases when you went to buy. All replaced by an alcove with some DVDs and a fire-damaged piano.

Most deplorable of all, however, is the total absence of the helpful staff. In both the Jazz and the Classical sections, there were people who Knew Their Stuff. If they couldn't help you from their own personal knowledge, they had piles of catalogues and would spare no effort to find and order whatever it was you were looking for.

Now? There's a girl with a till. She can, however, "tell you where the jazz section is ..."

I walked off under a cloud. And found myself climbing the stairs up to the art section of Waterstones. Ever since Waterstones took over the Dillons chain, Newcastle has had the daft situation of two Waterstones stores staring at one another across the area round Grey's Monument. It might have seemed a sensible solution to rationalise the content of the two shops, putting some departments in one, the rest in another. But no, we have two bookshops with more or less the same stock. I was climbing the stairs in the one that used to be Dillons.

When I got to the Art section, there was a rather hassled-looking girl flinging books onto shelves with reckless abandon, oblivious to the few punters who stood about trying to see what she was putting on the shelves.

I went to the Poetry section and read some Simon Armitage until she was done with her rearrangement.

And what wonders had she wrought? Much of the stock - never very interesting, but sometimes containing a little neglected gem someone had thought to order in - had been whittled down and then padded out with Taschen books in their many sizes.

In what way is a bookshop fulfilling its function by putting seven copies of Taschen's Gauguin on a shelf, leaving the rest empty space?

I read recently that Waterstones is to close 34 of its stores round the country (this, after winning a contentious bid to take over the liked and respected Ottakers chain). In the rest of their shops they intend to concentrate on the more popular titles like celebrity biographies, cookery and so on.

Are these people absolutely mad?

It seems to me that Windows and Waterstones are set on demonstrating their complete misunderstanding of the modern market. Sales of books and records are falling off in the High Street because people are learning more and more the ease and lower costs involved in buying online. Where actual book and record stores can compete is in catering to the niche shopper. The person who likes to go to a shop and find unexpected treasures, things they wouldn't have known they were looking for, or couldn't find easily online.

With two major record stores (HMV, Virgin) and music departments in WHSmith and Woolworths all vying for custom, I think Windows are likely to go down the tubes and I'd be surprised if at least one of the Waterstones doesn't follow suit.

And the cultural life of Newcastle will only be the poorer.

More Wobbly Bridge

I've reached the slow, painstaking part of this picture. I'm not sure whether the photographs will show the differences between last week's state and what the picture looks like now, but using quite small brushes, I've painted in the top edges of the ribs of the bridge and have started to develop the figures.

A family group have pushed themselves into the space between the foreground figures and those crowding towards the back end of the bridge, linking the groups.

Some of the figures have turned around and are now walking back towards the viewer.

I've knocked back the red building by glazing over with a rather loose mixture of ultramarine blue and viridian. The medium I'm using at the moment is Daler-Rowney Alkyd Flow Medium. I bought it because the shop had no bottles of Winsor & Newton Liquin, my usual medium. I quite like the new one; it's more viscous than the Liquin, and "sets up" quicker, becoming thicker and stickier as the session goes on.

I found it easier to get work done at the Club this week. There was still the usual round of banter, but it's easy to establish a routine which takes account of the occasional break. People are sensitive enough to realise when you're working and don't really want to be disturbed, especially if you say, "Bugger off, I'm working and don't want to be disturbed."

I'm happy with the way this painting is going, but I'll be happier when it's done. There won't be too much more. The rib arrangement at the right needs dealing with, and some of those on the left aren't finished. After that, a little more tweaking of the figures and a rebalancing of the tones here and there and it'll be time to call it complete.