Wednesday 23 January 2008

Pushing on

Vaporetto 2 (third day)
I decided I need to push on with one of these vaporetto pictures and get it to a conclusion. I have no real idea of what any of them will look like when complete, so having one finished could be very useful.
I started today's work by glazing over the water with a greenish-blue mixture of phthalo turquoise and raw sienna, then scraping it lightly off again with a palette knife. It's a little dark now, but I think it's working better as compositional band between the vaporetto roof and the canal-side buildings. When it's dry, I'll think about dragging over some blue again to re-establish the waves.
The figures are coming to life a little more, although I have no intention of making them very realistic. What I'm after is an understanding of the space they occupy, and gradually working over them, changing their position slightly, altering the colour build-up, gives me that.

Friday 18 January 2008

George Colston

Although I enjoyed meeting up with the guys at the Art Club yesterday, there was a subdued quality to the conversation.

One of our members, George Colston died recently, following a by-pass operation. I didn't know George well, but I liked his work a great deal and he always seemed a cheery and helpful sort of bloke. I was looking forward to getting to know him better.

In one of life's cruel ironies, there's a three or four page article on George and his work in the February issue of The Artists & Illustrators Magazine. He may never have lived to see it (although I'd hope that the publishers would have sent him at least a proof). Certainly, he hasn't lived to benefit from whatever extra success such exposure might have brought him.

Thursday 17 January 2008

The First Vaporetto Again

I went to the Art Club today - the first visit since before Xmas - and renewed acquaintance with the first of the Vaporetto series. I'd forgotten how much I'd moved it on since I posted an image of it here.

For various reasons, I didn't have the time I needed to get back into it, so just sat with some of the guys and caught up with the crack. But every now and again, I'd sneak a look at the picture and surprise myself with how it seems to have taken a slightly different route from the others, probably because it's been done in a different studio environment. It's much more restrained in terms of colour, having a somewhat misty look to it. It may well change as I get back into it, but I like it the way it is at the moment and there are things about it I'll try to keep.

Vaporetto No.1 (2nd stage)

Wednesday 16 January 2008

All aboard

Spotlight (2nd day)

Vaporetto 2 (2nd day)

Vaporetto 3 (2nd day)

[The photographs are not good: they were taken in the studio at the end of the day, without any flash, so the colours are a bit dark in places, too light in others.]

It may look like nothing much has actually changed in these three pictures, but today I've been gradually adjusting and readjusting the figures. Some were too large, some too small, and they all benefit from being worked over, being made more substantial.

I have to say that this is the tiring stage. Even to me it looks like a lot of work to no great effect, except that I know there's been a change, and for the better. The most noticeable change is in Vaporetto 3, I guess, because the figures are becoming more alive. But I must find a suitable background for it soon, so that it can be integrated into the paint as the picture progresses.

Monday 14 January 2008


After the Private View on Thursday night, we wandered over the road to The Springfield Hotel, not wanting to abandon the evening's fun too early. Patsy123 was a little hungry, so she asked what they had to nibble on.

"Mini-Cheddars" were amongst the usual list of crisps and things.

"I'll have some of those," she said.

"Yes madam. What flavour?" said the barmaid, looking at the packets behind her.

"Err ... cheese?" said Patsy123, a little taken aback.

"Of course, I'll go and get some."

Saturday 12 January 2008

Q & A

Over the past few years I've been approached by GCSE A level students asking to use me as the subject for their Art Project. There must have been about 6 or 7 of them so far. At first they asked for a face-to-face interview and I gave in to that. But when my request for a copy of what they eventually wrote was always promised but never supplied, I switched to offering to answer questions put to me by email. At least that way I have a record of what I said, which can be useful to me in considering my work

I answered the most recent questionnaire in December and I thought it might be of interest if I posted an edited version of it here:

1. What was your earliest realisation that you wanted to become an artist?

Although I’ve always spent a lot of time drawing, it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I began to think of it seriously. Even then I don’t think I realised it might be possible for me to be a professional artist. It wasn’t until I became involved with people in the publishing industry throughout the 1970s and 1980s that I began to consider and look for ways of becoming an illustrator. This led to a greater involvement with painting and by about 1985 I knew that I needed to paint full time. It took a long time to come to this conclusion, but sometimes it does seem that what you really want to do dawns on you only slowly.

2. Which artists do you admire and why?

In no particular order:

David Bomberg – beautiful drawings and paintings of London and Spain.
Walter Sickert – solidly structured paintings of great tonal strength.
Graham Sutherland - I wrote my Dissertation on his Pembrokeshire landscapes.
Paul Nash –landscapes with a very English Surrealist slant.
Carel Weight – his pictures are very English, with quirky happenings.
John Piper – his mixed media evocations of the British landscape are so Romantic.
Bill Jacklin – another excellent contemporary painter of the urban scene.
Balthus – a painter of strange, unsettling pictures.
Edward Hopper – the quintessential 20thC painter of townscapes.
Richard Diebenkorn – his still lifes and suburban landscapes are masterpieces.
Wolf Kahn – for his daring use of colours which quite simply shouldn’t work together, but do.
Wayne Thiebaud – for his West Coast townscapes, landscapes and paintings of pies, ice cream cones and gumball machines. A great realist painter.

3. What were the most significant influences on your style?

A love of the contrast of light and dark and a somewhat melancholic disposition which sometimes produces pictures imbued with a lonely or even eerie atmosphere.

4. What are the most significant influences on your choice of subject matter?

I was born in Gateshead, where I still live, and growing up there I was surrounded by Tyneside’s urban sprawl. When it came to finding suitable subject matter for paintings, it was inevitable, I suppose, that urban subjects should be what I turned to.

5. What inspires you?

It’s always something seen. Something catches my eye and I know that it has the potential to make a painting. Usually, what I notice first is an arrangement of shapes produced by strong sunlight and the resultant shadows on a group of buildings.

6. How has your work developed and changed throughout your career? What influences caused this?

The first influence on my work was Andrew Gifford. He was studying for his BA at Newcastle when I was attending OCA tutorials there. I used to see Gifford’s work in the studios and I began to find a language in his views of the Tyne that I could use in my own paintings. At the same time, the OCA tutor encouraged me to adopt a broad approach to my picture-making on the principle that “it’s better to suggest than to describe.” Following these two sources, I developed a series of rather sombre paintings of the Tyne gorge.

Eventually my reading brought me to more colourful painters, like the Americans Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud. Diebenkorn’s mid-career figurative work was colourful and loosely painted as befits his beginnings as a Bay Area Abstract Expressionist and Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of the vertiginous streets of San Francisco showed what could be done with the city as subject.

At University I was encouraged to use soft brushes and to eliminate the more obvious effects of a personal handwriting, which produced work in more of a tightly-delineated realist vein. It took me several years after graduation to realise that wasn’t what I wanted and I’m only now divesting myself of much of that approach.

In the last couple of years I’ve been looking at the work of Wolf Kahn, another American painter whose own fascination is with the interaction of pure colour applied to the landscape. Together with increased travelling in the Mediterranean area, this has led me into investigations of much more colour-dominated work.

Running throughout all of this time, of course, has been an interest in the work of Edward Hopper. Hopper remains for me the quintessential urban painter.

7. What ambitions do you have for the future?

Only to go on painting and, as often as possible, getting the pictures on walls where people can see them. I don’t believe the creative process is finished until the pictures have been exhibited.

8. How do you see your work developing in the future?

Difficult to say. My most recent work has seen an increased interest in the use of colour, but I think I’m stepping back a little from that now. As a naturally tonal painter, I find I’m uncomfortable with the inevitable loss of tonal form that the real colourist has to embrace. But my interest in the formal structure of the painting continues. My most recent work displays greater emphasis on the picture plane, with flattened perspective, banding and more gestural mark making. Inevitably, however, the making of pictures suggests ways of development, so that, however much you may intellectualise about the direction you want to take, the work will lead you in unforeseen directions.

9. Which work/s do you consider to be your most successful and/or significant to date?

The most recent one is always the most interesting, but it’s difficult to look at any of them and regard them as successful. Some are more successful than others, but almost all are flawed. At any one time, however, I could single out a different painting and find new inspiration in it. Art comes from art.

Friday 11 January 2008

Private View

I thought the show at Gateshead Library Gallery looked really good last night. In fact, I believe this is the best looking show we've put on, in terms of gallery space. The lighting is excellent, the walls are clean, white and even with no unfilled holes and the staff couldn't have been more helpful.

Despite our having opened on the same night as the annual Norman Cornish show over the river, there was a respectable turn out. It was made more interesting for me by the arrival of my cousin whom I haven't seen or spoken to for 35 years. We live half a mile apart.

Comments from people I spoke to were uniformly positive and in particular there seemed to be a lot of approval for my painting of the Central Station. The title of my Capriccio painting seemed to inspire a great deal of thought and puzzlement and I was asked several times through the night to explain "Digging up the King." But I didn't.
Not everyone was thrilled, of course. Before the show officially opened, one or two punters wandered in from the library section next door and left their thoughts in the comments book. Mostly they seemed to be on the lines of, "pretty good but vastly over-priced." So don't buy one. Stick with your Vettriano print from Boots. I'll check in later in the week to see if the comments have become more warming.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

When the Boat Comes In.

A running sore in my finances was finally healed today. I did some work in November 2006 and have been waiting for payment ever since. Apparently, there was a Misunderstanding. Whatever the reason, a four figure gap in my income has now been closed and I feel like a million dollars. Wait, that's seven figures ...

Tuesday 8 January 2008

First Show of the Year

We've been setting up the first of the 2008 Figure 8 shows this week.

For this new show opening on Thursday night, Gateshead Library offered us transport, which we initially turned down. However, as the deadline for the show drew nearer, I started to realise it offered me the opportunity to show a painting I originally did for my Degree Show in 2001. The tutors didn't like, so I withdrew it, but I always liked it. Because it's 5ft square, it wouldn't fit into anyone's car, so it's never been shown before and has sat in my bedroom ever since. At most, about half a dozen people have seen it.

It was a wonderful sight yesterday - a huge pantechnicon arrived at my door and we carefully carried my one big picture into the echoing vastness of the van. The four others are only 20 ins square and hid in a corner.

I'm pleased with the way it looks in the gallery. It has a wall all to itself and during the day is nicely lit by a big adjacent picture window.

This is the painting. It's not a good photograph, a little faded due to the low light and no flash, but it gives some idea of how it looks.

Capriccio (Digging up the King) (Oil on canvas; 60 x 60 ins)

A capriccio in this sense, is a painting representing a fantasy or a mixture of real and imaginary features. In this case it's made up of buildings in and around Newcastle, reconfigured to give a new city.