Tuesday, 30 December 2008

2008 Pictures, Words and Noises

I really enjoy poring over all the different reviews of the best cultural events of the last 12 months at this time of year. This year, what with having my own blog now, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to share some of my own experiences of things I have particularly enjoyed in 2008 rather than just keeping them in my notebooks where they take the form of endless lists and scribbly reflections to myself.

Unsurprisingly I’m always visiting exhibitions of some kind. I think we are pretty spoiled in the Midlands with good galleries and venues and most months there is always something to seek out. At the Ikon Gallery this year, I enjoyed great exhibitions by Jurgen Partenheimer, Ruth Claxton, and I also the urban/industrial sculptures of Martin Boyce later in the year.

The exhibitions at Compton Verney are some of the most intelligently curated shows around, and a brilliant show this year was The Fabric of Myth, which drew together artists, ideas and influences from a hugely diverse range of sources in this wonderful exhibition of textile art. I normally enjoy exhibitions at BMAG’s Waterhall Gallery too, but the current show ‘The Art Of Birmingham 1918-Present’ seemed incredibly tired. As an artist working in this great city, I felt thoroughly depressed by the whole experience as I nipped in the other day for an hour’s respite from the Christmas shopping.

By far the best exhibition I’ve seen this year was Alison Watt’s ‘Phantom’ at the National Gallery. It was the culmination of her experiences as Artist in Residence there, and her enormous canvasses of folded and twisted fabric inspired by paintings in the Collection such as Ingres’ Madame Moitessier’ and Zurbaran’s ‘Saint Francis in Meditation’, I found incredibly moving. The work possessed a real honesty, sensitivity and sense of engagement which I think can be hard to find in lots of contemporary art. Indeed it was certainly hard to find in this year’s John Moore’s Painting Prize at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. This year it was selected by the Chapman Brothers, Sacha Craddock and Graham Crowley. There were some really interesting pieces, (I loved Julian Brain’s painting) but equally so many looked like they had actually been painted by the Chapman Brothers themselves. I felt rather cheated by it all, having expected much more from this, supposedly the premier painting exhibition in the country.

My other real artistic highlight was a trip to Florence in October with my wife, Diane. There are too many things to mention here and by the end of the week we both felt like we had overfed ourselves on Renaissance art. How wonderful it was though to visit the Brancaci Chapel, and the Monastery at San Marco to view the Fra Angelico’s. I also loved Pontormo’s Mannerist deposition masterpiece in the Church of Saint Felicitia. It seemed absurdly but magically enhanced by the way it was lit up when I put my euros in the little pay box.

Books I’ve enjoyed this year are largely older ones I’ve caught up with rather than ones from this year. These include ‘Come On In’ new poems by Charles Bukowski; ‘The Road,’ by Cormac McCarthy; and ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ by Jonathan Safron Foer amongst others. I’d really recommend this funny and moving account of a boy seeking clues about his father’s past after he dies in 9/11. A great one for all lovers of New York. I also greatly enjoyed ‘Chuck Close: Work’ by Christopher Finch, a huge, brilliantly produced monograph on one of my favourite artists. A visit to the Francis Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain also prompted a re-reading of his famous interviews with David Sylvester. I’ll catch up with some of this year’s books in the next year or two.

Television and films seemed to pass me by this year, apart from the brilliant Dexter. Like many, I think I may have to enter the world of the DVD Box Set. Most the films that seem remotely interesting are on such a limited release or not around at all in Birmingham. I feel frustrated that I’ve not been able to see ‘The Hunger’, directed by Steve McQueen and will have to wait for a DVD release, which is not the same experience. It will be good when the MAC re-opens it’s doors.

And finally, my musical highlights. These have been many and include Fleet Foxes and ‘Seldom Seen Kid’ by Elbow, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ by Bon Iver, ‘Tell Tales Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol 8’ by Bob Dylan, as well as discovering Bob’s earlier ‘Saved’ and ‘Shot of Love’, and listening to all 50 of the first season of Theme Time Radio Hour’ during the summer in the studio. Bob proved great company and a musical education about early American music. And what can you say about his brilliant jokes? I also enjoyed ‘To Survive’ by Joan as Policewoman, the superb Felice Brothers, and the brilliant ‘Third’ by Portishead. My album of the year though has to be Glasvegas’ debut. A record so stirring and full of heart that it just has to be played at ear-splitting volume in the car whenever possible. Well it has been by me anyway.

I’ve seen some great live gigs this year too from Jah Wobble’s Chinese Dub (amazing!), to Henry Rollins’ spoken word, to Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks all at the Glee Club. Goldfrapp at Symphony Hall, to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Cardiff Millenium Stadium. There is nothing to add there really- he just is The Boss. But the best live act I’ve seen this year was Leonard Cohen at the NEC. I wasn’t sure how Leonard would work in such a venue, but he did. It was one of the most incredible and also moving concerts I’ve ever seen.

Phew! I think it’s best I leave it there. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Alan Davie

I was reading the new painting magazine, ‘Turps Banana’ (not sure what the title is all about) the other day and was delighted to see an interview with painter Alan Davie. I’ve always been a huge admirer of his work but not seen much written about him for ages. He always seemed to be in a place with his painting that I used to regard with both great joy and great envy. I still do.

Alan is now in his late eighties, and continues to paint every day. The article mentions how in the sixties he said that his work had absolutely nothing to do with self-expression and that self expression and art were irreconcilable. ‘That’s the antithesis of art, self-expression- one’s got to lose one’s self to produce art really. The expression of one’s self is only of use to one’s self,’ he says. It’s a point of view that I’m really sympathetic with, although I think it also highlights the complexities of painting and one’s motivations in doing so. As a painter I’m very interested in removing myself from the subject. No subject is more or less important than another. I try to look at things totally objectively in order to get to the core of the thing I’m trying to represent. I think it’s important to also create a space for the audience to bring something of themselves to the painting and in a sense ‘complete’ it, without my asserting a greater authority. And yet I am trying to present a certain aesthetic through the work but this is more to do with an interest in the personality of the artist being present than a form of ‘self-expression’. As I said, it’s complicated….

I’ve gotten into a slightly more philosophical ramble here, when all I wanted to say was how much I love Alan Davies’ work!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

December 2008

Welcome to my new website. I hope that it will act as a useful and informative forum for my artwork. I aim to update the site fairly regularly as I produce new work. I hope the blog will be a creative tool in itself in discussing the development of things at various stages; from the ideas and influences, to how things evolve in the sketchbook or studio. I hope it to also encompass discussion on a broader range of artistic and cultural issues. We’ll see how it goes!

Over the autumn, since completing my commission for Joseph Chamberlain College, I’ve been occupied with a few different things. I’m currently participating in the Artist’s Access to Art Colleges Scheme, where you as an artist can use the facilities at one of the countries many universities. I’m currently working at Wolverhampton University in the printmaking department. I’m trying to get to grips with printmaking more successfully after many false starts, in an attempt to develop the portfolio of drawings I created for the ‘Seek My Face’ commission in West Bromwich. I’ve been experimenting with drypoint and etching to date. I’m enjoying it, and it is really getting me to think with much greater rigour about drawing and the marks I make when describing form. The drawings I am working from were done in pencil which is much more forgiving than the etched line. I’ve not created anything I’m pleased with yet, but it is very early days. I need to be patient and to keep exploring the process to get to grips with this first. I’ve got to be careful here- I sound like I’m talking to one of my students! As a lecturer for many years, you forget how easy it can be give the advice, but not how difficult it can be to act on it.

One of the reasons I’m also trying to develop these drawings into prints is that I have the idea of trying to create a book of prints based on the portraits of ‘Seek My Face’. Hopefully, it could be kept in a place like West Bromwich library in the archives department, as a visual accompaniment to all the rather more dry archived material. I think it would be great to create a more permanent reminder of this work (I created around 60 individual portrait drawings- a wealth of material!) that could be kept in the town for local people to view in the future. I recently met with Sarah Chubb from the Sandwell Archives department. She was enthusiastic about the idea, and she agreed that it would be a great shame if these drawings were lost to the town. As with most things though, I just need to source some funding to develop it any further. I’ll keep you posted.

Every autumn, I always say to myself that I’m going to develop some paintings inspired by the autumnal trees and their colour. I find it a beautiful time of year, but over so quickly. I don’t use photographs in the creation of my work, preferring to work from direct observation only. This inevitably places restrictions on the creation of suitable studies that I can develop, particularly in having the time, as I lecture four days a week. This autumn I got a little bit nearer though by making a couple of small paintings of a tree in my street outside the house. I was really struck by this beacon of colour in this very ordinary setting. It would be nice to explore this in some larger paintings.

The other week I made my first portrait drawing since the summer. ‘Jeanette’ is a service user at the Day Centre that my wife, Diane, works at for people with learning disabilities. Jeanette has been nagging Diane for ages about posing for me. I’m keen to do more work about this seemingly ‘invisible’ section of our community. (‘Sara’ from the ‘Seek My Face’ project was someone who used a day centre in West Brom), but getting people able to consent to pose is a difficulty. I enjoyed working with Jeanette, but my initial drawing will need a lot of refining before I think about making a painting from it.