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.
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.
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.
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]
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.]
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.
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.
Madonna of the Toboggan (Oil on canvas, 36 x 48 in) DESTROYED 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.
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.
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.
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 nowsadly depleted, but there's a good Turner and this painting which I particularly liked.
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.
Sun Insurance Building, Newcastle (Oil on board, 12 x 24 ins) SOLD 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
Gateshead Millennnium Bridge (work in progress) (Oil on canvas, 48 x 60 ins) Destroyed. 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hancock: Hall of the Fossil Tree (Charcoal, compressed charcoal and coloured Conte across two pages of A4 sketchbook) Although it probably wasn't intentional, the design of the new curved display panels under the somewhat elderly museum lighting system gave a strange otherworldly aspect to the hall where the fossilised tree stood.
It was really cold on Friday and the windy was blustery, shaking the tops of the cypress tree outside, but here in Gateshead we were lucky to escape the snow that afflicted most of the country. As I sat in my third floor study working on the computer, I glanced through the window and spotted this dove settling down on the windowsill. It seemed unconcerned by the light I had to put on as the day darkened and when I went closer to look it simply looked back at me. I left the blinds open so as not to chance scaring it, but it seemed unperturbed by anything I did. It stayed there for the rest of the night (I checked on it around 1.30 am), but by the morning it had gone, leaving me a little present on the windowsill.
Bamboo (detail) (Chinese ink on Xuan paper) Today I finally overcame the obstacles preventing me from attending a meeting of Gateshead Art Society. As I've explained previously, I won't be able to work in oils there so water media of some sort will be what I have to get to grips with. Finding subject matter to work that way and a general mental resistance have held me back, so when I realised that today's session would consist of a workshop in basic Chinese painting techniques I figured that that at least would relieve me of the need for subject matter.
The tutor was enthusiastic and demonstrated the basic strokes for painting bamboo stems and leaves very clearly. I have to say, however, that by the time I'd covered the (quite large) piece of paper with bamboo and leaves, I'd probably had enough of bamboo. What I did enjoy was using the brush and learning how to get the best out of it. When we finished the session by learning how to do the "8 stroke panda" I began to lose patience a little. While I understand the tremendously long tradition behind this kind of painting, it goes against all my instincts to learn a "how to" technique to paint anything. It's like students I've heard asking "How do I paint a tree?" or worse, tutors who tell you "This is how to paint a tree." You learn how to paint a tree by looking at it. I guess you learn how to paint a panda by looking at it too. As painting an 8 stroke panda was on the cards, I did one. But it looked lonely, so I painted two more. If only there was an instruction on how to paint a bowl of porridge.
Hancock: Relic Case (Charcoal and compressed charcoal across two pages of A4 sketchbook) More a cabinet of curiosities than a modern presentation of scientifically catalogued archaeology, this glass case is just the sort of collected wonder I loved as a child, so it was a delight to find it still there when I was drawing in my fifties. Sadly, I'm sure the new version of the museum will have declared this sort of exhibit passé .
Hancock: Moa Legbone (Compressed charcoal and coloured Conte in A4 sketchbook) The moa were giant flightless birds in New Zealand and are generally believed to have died out due to over-hunting by Maoris. All that remain are bones like this which hint at what impressively massive birds they must have been. I really liked the way the bones stood (literally!) in silhouette against the light from the cases in the background.
Hancock Main Hall and Gallery (Mixed media) Not exactly a sketch, but it is in the sketchbook. I started this with a monochrome photograph which I'd photocopied on the library copier. Then I worked over it with coloured Conte sticks and finally ran the result through the library colour Xerox machine, tweaking the effects.
I picked up the April edition of The Artist yesterday so I'd have a file copy of my piece in the Editor's Choice section. For those of you too mean, too poor or too far away to buy a copy, this is what you're missing.
Shipley Art Gallery (Oil on canvas, 9 x 12 ins) At the beginning of the 1970s I joined Gateshead Art Society and for a while went along to their Tuesday night meetings in Gateshead's Shipley Art Gallery. It was there that I met Dave Richardson who persuaded me to take an 'A' Level course in Art at night classes and so launched me into a career in the world of art. In the process, I left Gateshead Art Society and although I've thought about rejoining in the intervening years, the Tuesday night meetings were never convenient. Now, however, the Society has changed its meetings to Friday afternoons and as I'm unsure about continuing membership of the North of England Art Club, I'm going along to my first meeting tomorrow. The facilities at the Gallery are limited and there's nowhere to store wet oil paintings so I'll be forced to return to water-based media, something I have very little experience with but which I've lately been thinking would be useful in my search for a new direction. If I produce anything worth looking at, I'll be posting it here, but don't hold your breath. I will report back, however. [Later] I didn't go. There are weighty factors working against me in this regard, but be assured, I will get there eventually.
Houses above Staithes Beck (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 ins) While I'm still trying out things to find a new way forward, I felt the need to get some finished work done. So here's a new painting, based on the drawing I did last year:
Houses above Staithes Beck ( (4B pencil in 21 x 26 cm sketchbook)
Hancock Museum, Bird Gallery (Charcoal and compressed charcoal in A4 sketchbook) I loved this eerie part of the Hancock. It always seemed to be deserted, except, of course, for the stuffed birds in their glass cases who sat on their branches and stared down at me.
Hancock Museum, Main Hall 31.10.97 (Charcoal on two pages of A4 sketchbook) Looking down from one of the galleries, I could work away without being noticed by the punters downstairs. The only problem was that the lighting was so poor up there that it was difficult to see what I was doing.
Welcome to my blog. I'm a professional artist whose work is mainly derived from the study of towns and cities. For many years I've worked mainly in oil paint, but am trying my hand with acrylics at present. I'm still very much a figurative painter aiming at some kind of modern representation. I believe in the continuing value of painting and follow in its long and honourable tradition.
For one year only, I'm posting my Dad's Diary entries from 1947, the year I was born.