Sunday, 27 June 2010

Paint It Black

I’ve recently completed two new portrait paintings. ‘Safeera’, below, is the most recent and the one that I’m most pleased with. It’s based on a drawing I made of one of the students at JCC where I teach, when I was working on the ‘Audience’ commission for the college’s new building in 2008. I did include Safeera in one of the group portraits I made at the time. It was also always one of my favourite portraits from the whole project, and one that I have been keen to attempt in a second single portrait painting ever since.


oil on canvas, 120 x 90cms, 2010

There were a lot of portrait drawings that I made for this commission, many that I have never used. I have been particularly interested in developing some portraits of the young Muslim women that posed. It’s obviously a community under a lot of media scrutiny at the moment, which has interested me working at JCC where 95% of the students are Muslim, but I have been motivated by more formal interests which interest me more as a painter. This includes things such as depicting the drapery of the headscarves (which has fascinated me since seeing Alison Watts exhibition at the National Gallery), and an interest in black as a colour, and looking at areas of different blacks against each other. This comes out of an interest in Ad Reinhardts black abstract paintings, and the master painter of blacks, Velasquez (I’m putting myself in good company here, aren’t I?). I’ve been wanting to try something along Reinhardt’s lines in relation to my representational paintings for a long time. I can spend hours in front of the Reinhardt at Tate Modern.

This second portrait, ‘Tyrone’ is to be seen with my two other recent portraits, ‘Sam’ and ‘Alan’. The motivation for this one came from a slighter stranger formal place, and that was the sitters’ shared feature of male pattern baldness, which I thought would be interesting together. This seems as good a motivation for a painting as many.

oil on canvas, 90 x 60cms, 2010

Since completing the painting, I’ve been putting together the finishing touches to a film about my portraits, and realised how many of my portraits feature men with similarly bald features over the years. I thought it would be great to exhibit them as part of a larger group installation sometime. It’s got me so excited that I think I might do this as my contribution to this year’s Art Festival at JCC on the weekend of July 17th and 18th.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

'Up There'

A friend sent me a great link to this short film by The Ritual Project the other day. It shows the work of Sky High Murals (above). A group of craftsmen dedicated to their trade, the Sky High painters are some of the last purveyors of the hand-painted advertising tradition. Many of the painters can be seen in the film, ‘UP THERE,’ a documentary about the fading craft of wall painting.

Whenever I’ve visited New York I’ve always been fascinated by these huge advertising paintings on the sides of the buildings, wondering who they were made by and curious that such a seemingly antiquated tradition still seemed to persist in these days of modern advertising hoardings. I wonder if they have any jobs going….? I'm handy with a big brush.

Here's the link:

Thursday, 10 June 2010


England's Feeling The Strain, 210 x 180cms, 1996-97

Unless you live in a cave (which let’s face it is kind of tempting sometimes), you’re probably aware that the World Cup is about to open tomorrow in South Africa. The buzz around it has prompted me to remember how over the years the so-called ‘beautiful game’ has featured in many of my paintings and drawings.

It’s not that I’m a huge football fan or anything, but I have often been interested in the culture surrounding football and it’s impact on ordinary lives. My Dad and older brother are huge football fans, supporting West Bromwich Albion, so it has always formed a backdrop to my early family life with the ritual of the Results at Saturday teatime, and filling in the pools coupon. There was also a period in the 1990’s when terrace culture really overlapped with club culture, which was what I was exploring in my paintings at this time. The painting above was an attempt to reflect this, with the floodlight also reminiscent of a nightclub strobe, and the nightclub spotlight doubling as one of the many surveillance cameras that are embedded in the areas around football grounds. John King’s debut novel, ‘The Football Factory’, which I read at the time, inspired some of the ideas in this painting, including the title. I don’t think it’s a brilliant read, but at the time it had a more contemporary take on white, working class culture which I found interesting. The painting also contains quite a lot of references to Goya’s work, which I was obsessed with at the time., and the Euro 96 competition. The painting evolved into a much darker piece as England were knocked out and rioting fans spilled out into the streets.

This painting, where the players look like the seventies ‘Star Soccer’ heroes, was about the escape football, and other sports such as boxing, has been for the working class over the decades, whether that is in becoming a professional player, or just through a brief respite from otherwise tough lives in a game with friends, which is what this painting was about. The ideas seem a bit sentimental now, as the modern game seems very dislocated from these roots to me. That’s also me in the background, as the location for this painting is based on a place I used to play football as a teenager.

Away From Home, oil on canvas, 150 x 220cms, 1997

‘Club Football’ below is a bit mad isn’t it? It touches on ideas of theme clubs and bars which were popular at the time. I actually entered this painting for the Royal Scottish Academy Summer Open Exhibition which was hopelessly na├»ve of me! Needless to say it was rejected. At this time I could knock out big, complicated and dense paintings like these quite easily, which is one of the reasons I stopped doing them. The other painting, ‘Peterborough’, is seen in an installation of ‘Local Derby’, an exhibition my friend Andy Page and I held in Cambridge. We were asked to produce football inspired pieces around the theme. My painting is based on the moments after a summer evening football match amongst friends at the local park. Perversely, but typical of me really, I produced a painting without a football to be seen!

Club Football, oil on canvas, 180 x 120cms, 1998
Peterborough, oil on canvas, 210 x 210cms, 1999

It’s hard to believe, but I transported both of these huge paintings down Edinburgh’s Prince’s Street on my friend Donald’s customised skateboard, which you could screw your painting to and wheel it along. The things you do as a skint and struggling artist. You couldn’t make it up, but I wouldn’t want it any other way really. Would I?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

John McLean- Painting to Sculpture

'Traffic Yellow', steel, powder coated steel and powder coated aluminium, 102 x 55 x 33cms

I enjoyed these sculptures by John McLean at Bourne Fine Art on a recent visit to Edinburgh. He is a painter I’ve admired for a long time, and these seemed an interesting development. They seemed to owe a lot to Matisse, as do his paintings despite their pure abstraction, but then again who doesn’t? I can hardly talk. I think it’s still difficult to get around Matisse for anyone trying to create anything in paint that explores the area between the representational and abstract values of the medium. But I digress…here’s what John McLean had to say about these new works:
“Making sculpture is more an impulse than an idea for me. An artist’s intentions are multiplex and hard to pin down. And when they can be clearly articulated, they are not necessarily relevant. Ideally, no one should be suggesting what the viewer ought to see. I have always wanted my work to speak for itself.”

“All of my free-standing pieces are close to my paintings and collages. They have the same vocabulary of simple shapes and are equally reliant on colour. Polychromy in sculpture never died out, but since Cubism it has had new vigour.”

“No matter what the medium I work towards such an interdependence of parts that nothing could be added or taken away- a kind of absolute. When it happens, the eye and the spirit join up, just as the ear and soul do when you listen to a fine song.”

I love this quote. It is so well expressed. It speaks volumes to me about my own interests and values in painting that I struggle to articulate when talking about much of my own work. Below is a nice example of the paintings McLean is well known for. There is so much to enjoy and learn from in his work.
L'Eventail, acrylic on paper, 77 x 57,5cms