Monday 22 December 2014

Spoaching and Basting

As a child, I used the verb "to spoach" all the time but over the years since then I've been unable to find anyone else who used it or any reference to it on the Interweb. I began to think it was just one of those words that families invented for themselves.
But no! Today I found a reference to it online and sure enough it turns out to be a word we shared with our Scottish neighbours and means what it always meant to me: "To pry, rummage or poke about (in)". As in "What are ye spoachin in that drawer for?"
It's a pity such a useful word seems to have been lost from our vocabulary.

It's been a good day for finding online references that back up my childhood memories. When I was a child schools would be closed on election day so that they could serve as polling stations. Those days were what we called Baster Day and we'd get our parents to make us what we called basters - rolled and folded newspapers tied with a length of string.
Then we'd go round in a gang and whenever we came across some other kids we'd demand to know how they were voting (ignoring the fact that anyone of that age had no vote). If they answered "Conservative" (or "Tory" or "Rent & Ratepayer", all the same thing), we'd give them a good whacking with our basters.
All good clean fun. Presumably there were some Conservative Basters around but I never suffered at their hands.
Anyway, this is one of those traditions that I can find no support for. No one I know remembers doing it and there's nothing on line about it. However, I did at least find a reference today for the word itself:
"baste (v)(tr)
1. To beat vigorously; thrash: basted the attacker with a club.
2. To scold; berate.
[Probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse beysta; ....]"

Saturday 13 December 2014

Lisbon Ceramics

There's a wonderful Tile Museum in Lisbon - the Museu Nacional do Azulejo. In addition to a splendid range of Portuguese ceramic tiles through history (and the modern ones are really something), there's a changing exhibition of ceramics in the broader sense. 

When we were there the show was called Art Submerged 2014 and the artist, Sylvain Bongard had made a collection of fish of various species, molluscs, crustaceans and marine plants:

 as well as old boots, keys and other stuff you might find on the sea bed:

I was particularly taken with a set of heads which seemed to be the underwater equivalent of the Green Man :

Thursday 11 December 2014

Lisbon Tiles

No, look, I promise I'm going to get back to regular posting here on Boogie Street.

Lisbon is noted for its ceramic tiles.Whole houses are covered in them.

Here are a few I photographed both in the streets and in the Tile Museum.

Some were quirky:

and some were just weird:

And while the pavements weren't tiled they were certainly eye-catching:

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Wedding Bells

Perhaps this photograph will give some idea of the reason for the lack of posts on my blog. Here, Pat and I arrive for our marriage on 17th October at Gateshead Register Office.

Here's a family group, taken by my good friend Roy, who was my best man:

After that we had a week in Lisbon. There will be photographs from that trip soon.

Sunday 14 September 2014

Figure 8 Exhibition

Short notice, I know, but the Preview is Monday 15th September (tomorrow!), from 6.30 to 8.30 . Hope to see you there.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Mud on the Tyne

Pat and I went for a walk up the River Tyne today, on the Gateshead side. It was a lovely sunny day and the tide was just on the turn, the river flowing upstream. There were gulls pecking in the mud and one sat on a tyre and disappeared upstream until it was out of sight. 

We walked as far as Dunston Staithes where I took this picture of the mud (the Staithes are in the background). Apparently the nearness of the moon at the moment is producing very low tides and more mud than usual is being uncovered. I think it's rather beautiful. If you like mud, that is.

Wednesday 10 September 2014


Montezuma (Oil on canvas, 15 x 18 in)

I last looked at this boat painting in 2008 and although I've shown it once, I never felt it was finished. Now it is, even if what I did to it wouldn't be noticed by anyone but me. Now it's framed and ready for a show coming up (more on that soon).

Monday 4 August 2014

Wall of Paintings

My good friends Roy and Kathleen recently sent me this photograph of a wall in their house. They've hung it with paintings they've bought from me over the last few years and I'm thrilled with the way it looks.

Isn't it rewarding to see your work obviously giving pleasure to those who've bought it?

Friday 1 August 2014

Malta Sketchbook #6: Tigne Battery - Clifftop

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

OK, let's try to get this blog rolling again in its new home. Back to Malta, then, and my Malta Sketchbook from 1995. This is a view down onto a clifftop gun emplacement.

I'd be interested in hearing if you're still following this series of drawings. There are a few more in this sketchbook, and once I'm properly settled into this studio there should be new work to show you.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

New Studio

Monday's partial furniture move went off much better than I thought it might; we only forgot and had to go back for one desk and half my computer equipment. Setting up the computer in its new home didn't go too badly at all. Once I figured out that someone had switched off the surge protector, everything powered up OK. Apart from the scanner, because I seemed to have mislaid the power cable. And then only a 15 minute wrestle with the interweb connection. 

There are boxes of materials to empty before I can think about getting back to work, of course, but I'm very happy with the way things are looking.

Later today I went back and found the missing scanner cable, filled up a bag with more books and CDs and walked up the wearying hill. When I got in the studio, I found I'd left the cable behind.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Treasure Trove

I spent the afternoon clearing out some drawers in the studio, ready for a future move. What a treasure trove of oil bars, pastels, oil pastels, watercolour tubes and sets, and a huge selection of coloured pencils! All bought over the years and more or less neglected as I pursued my dedication to oils.

I think I see a new period of experimentation coming up, once I'm sorted.

Monday 14 July 2014

Bonfire of the Vanities 3

Another work in progress consigned to the bin. It's been lying round the studio for a few years without attracting any further paint. I felt there was something there worth saving, but really it was just too big. I think I may look again at this photo at some time in the future and try the subject on a smaller scale.

Saturday 12 July 2014


Chalice (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in)

Still not a perfect photograph, I'm afraid. Even after a coat of satin varnish followed by one of  matt varnish, the painting still reflects in the camera.  

I may try another thin coat of matt varnish, but until then this will have to do. Squint a little when you look at it; it helps.

Saturday 28 June 2014

Nordic Transcendence

I suppose it must be something to do with Sod's Law that when I go to the last (and for me, the only) meeting of the Painters' Group this season, I should miss the bus because it came early. I shall be glad to be free of this one-an-hour bus service.

Sod's Law continued to apply when I got to the Hatton Gallery where the Group usually meets: it was Newcastle University's Open Day and the gallery was full of folk. And no one from the Group, of course. So by the time I'd trotted over the road to the Northumbria Gallery, the fallback venue, I was only just in time to put my Chalice painting amongst the others and sit down for the crit.

I wasn't sure how it would be received, but everyone seemed to like it, including Bill V., our tutor. The term he used in reference to it was "Nordic Transcendence" which I thought somewhat appropriate. I remember two years ago seeing and enjoying the exhibition  Van Gogh to Kandinsky | Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910, not so much for the well known painters but for the lesser known works by artists such as Kallela and Willumsen. I found a a real connection with those paintings.

Whether or not Chalice represents a new departure. I honestly can't say, but it's stirring up some ideas from the past that may need to be looked at again.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Chalice (WIP)

Chalice (Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in) Work in Progress

The Painters' Group is holding its final meeting of the season on Saturday. Because of other commitments and not a little to do with poor health I've missed most of the meetings this year, so I thought I might make an effort to catch this one.

I could go without any work, but I do like to take something when I go, so I pulled this one from the racks and had another go at it. It's been through various stages and the addition of the chalice is only the latest attempt to make something of the painting.

I actually find it interesting and it certainly looks better than the photograph might suggest. The photograph is picking up too much of the texture of old paint and dropping the background away from the chalice. I'll look at it again later and get another photograph.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Convalescence in Crete

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

I'm sorry to have neglected posting on Boogie Street for such a long time. Things have been going on, some of them good, some not so good.

Just as I thought I was getting over the effects of the eye operations, I got hit with a a mystery illness which left me without any energy for more than a month. I had to decamp to Pat's house for a while and my thoughts and energy (what there was of it) had to be directed to things other than my blogging.

Gradually, things improved and my energy slowly returned. What helped immensely was a week in Crete in May, when we simply walked about, sat and had drinks or food and just enjoyed ourselves.  I took a sketchbook, but the muse wasn't with me.

It was really, really hot when we got to Crete and the day after the sirocco, the hot southern wind, kicked in and made it even hotter. Then the wind changed and for the rest of the week we had (mainly) sun, but sometimes a really cold wind, especially at night. The resourceful tavern owners now have sections of windows to put in place to screen the wind and, of course, the handy patio heaters. Our enjoyment was never spoiled.

The place we were staying in (Pension Kasteli) in Chania hasn't changed to any great extent and Alex the owner is still garrulous and full of stories about Moroccans stealing stuff at every opportunity. The room we had last time (seven years ago!) wasn't available, but we had a bigger one at the front with a nice balcony to sit on and watch Alex wander up and down the street looking for people to talk to.

The people in Chania were still as warm and welcoming as ever, always prepared to ask where we were from, and talk generally about all sorts of stuff. The food was almost uniformly excellent, only being let down a bit by a taverna that seems to have hired a Scottish chef, in that everything on a meze plate we ordered was deep fried and the kitchen paper must have run out. But we soon found a couple of regular eating places - one on the harbour front where we had breakfast and some evening meals, and another in the town where we had the best most garlicky tzatziki I've ever tasted. We also had some lovely prawns cooked in ouzo at a restaurant we'd been to before. It's an old derelict building in which tall trees have grown, but with the help of some canopies it's a really nice restaurant where two musicians (guitar and bouzouki) play and sing great Greek and Cretan folksongs. 

Every day I was finding myself able to get about more and more, strength recovering. Mostly we just walked round the narrow streets of the town, looking at stuff, and sitting down for a drink or lunch. Last time we were there, it was a regular that they'd give you a free drink with the bill, but now (as a consequence of the economic downturn and the need to compete for money I guess) we were given ice cream and raki, ice cream, cake and raki, and on our final night, baklava and raki.

One of the things we've done in the past was to walk round the coast a bit to a cove which had once been quite industrialised (still not sure what they did in the stone built warehouses) but which seemed to be undergoing something of an uplift, a kind of gentrification, so I wanted to see how things had gone in the intervening years. Once I felt up to it, we went there again, but if anything, things have gone back a bit. More run down than the last time, certainly, though there was still a brave taverna with tables out.

On the way back we passed a taverna we'd visited last time. On that occasion we'd gone in for a drink and maybe a Greek salad, but were offered fresh fish caught that day. It couldn't happen again, could it? But it did. We had 11 red mullet, a Cretan salad (includes rusks) and some chips with a small bottle of quite drinkable Cretan white wine. 

Sometimes you can go back.

(Photo: Pat Mailer)

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.