Wednesday, 28 July 2010

'Art In Empty Spaces' with Dave the Butcher

I’ve been in Queens Square, West Bromwich today installing a selection of my ‘Seek My Face’ portraits in a series of empty shops there. It’s part of an initiative by Sandwell Arts called ‘Art in Empty Spaces’. The shop fronts have been re-fitted, together with another unit which has been turned more into a ‘white cube’ gallery space, with the aim to exhibit artist’s work in the region and do something more creative with these once busy retail units. My paintings have been used with the hope that they may raise some interest by local artists in putting proposals forward for exhibitions and projects.

I enjoyed seeing the work in such a different context such as the old butcher’s window, after some initial uncertainties about the idea, particularly after the paintings have already been shown twice in the town at the Town Hall and The Public. The portraits are all based on people from West Bromwich though, and I have a firm conviction that they should be more widely seen in the community they reflect. This seems like a great opportunity in this regard, and they certainly attracted a lot of interest from passers-by.

Before hanging, I had all 30-odd paintings spread out along the arcade to help me select. They looked great, and I’m kicking myself for not photographing this. I eventually chose nine, and am hoping to go along each week in the two months they will be up to change one or two of them. I think it help keep the installation a bit more active with this passing audience.

It looks almost like a West End Gallery in the picture above...!

I stored all the unused paintings in the empty butcher’s behind the exhibition walls. It’s a fascinating and eerie space, with it’s bloody history indelibly printed in the walls. My nephew Luke, who helped me hang the work, said it was like something out of the ‘Saw’ movies. Creepy….

Thursday, 22 July 2010


...and this is Anwar, who posed for me earlier today. This is at my request. Anwar is another student at JCC who is from Etritia. He is a big bear of a guy with a very sculptural and complex face.

I found this drawing much more difficult, and I'm not sure about it at this stage. I think I overworked it, but I think I can develop it further in another study, perhaps in charcoal. When drawing from observation the sitters head tends to move a little over time. This can be seen in this drawing, where the planes of the face appear a little flattened and distorted as the angle of the head has shifted slightly. And yet Anwar has a very unusual face, which is why I was keen to draw him which I need to remember. You see these faces everyday, but you don't 'look' in the same way that a drawing forces you to do. I'd like to think a large painting can be made of Anwar, but I think there is alot of work to do beforehand to develop this study. I'll pin it on the studio wall, and live with it a while...


I made this pencil drawing yesterday of Mohammed, one of my students. He’s been nagging me if he could pose for the last two years of his course after seeing my ‘Audience’ paintings of staff and students at JCC. I finally relented in his last week of study.

I think we were both very nervous, me especially as I hadn’t made a portrait drawing in ages, but we were both pleased with the results. After a bit of a break I’ve been slowly finding that portraits are coming back into focus as a subject in my painting….

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Art Tastic!

We held our second Summer Arts Festival at Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College where I work, over the weekend. It was great fun with lots of different activities ranging from printmaking, pinhole photography, pottery demonstrations, badge-making, origami, textiles, portrait drawing, and textiles. This was held all alongside different exhibitions and stalls by professional artists and craftspeople as well as our annual exhibition of student work. I must say the standard of student work was really strong this year, and I felt very inspired by all sorts of different things but in particular by some of the printmaking on display such as this small collagraph portrait.

My personal highlight of the weekend was the Student Fashion show on Sunday afternoon. It was great to see such imaginative and creative costumes made by the students studying Textiles under the guidance of Sally Cartwright our excellent Textiles lecturer (or Genius and Master Weaver as she is known in the office!). The girls looked so glamorous as they paraded around the catwalk/college gardens, and were obviously loving the attention. It was wonderful.

Ceramicist Serge Sangheera who I have previously mentioned in relation to our Christmas Art Fair was also there, and gave some excellent performances on both days. I love his ceramic vessels. Since buying one of his pieces at the last fair it has become one of my favourite things at home. Here’s an excellent photograph of Serge in action with his samurai sword taken by my JCC colleague, Danny Pardoe. Danny took most of these photos.

Here is a photograph of yours truly with Safeera Hickson, in front of one of my recent paintings in which she is the subject. She has been a lovely student to work with and her work won the ‘Best In Show’ category in our end of year exhibition. Safeera will be studying a BA (Hons) in Photography at Coventry University next year.

I found myself buying a couple of pieces over the weekend too. I bought a lovely collection of framed animal badges by my illustrator friend, Chris Cowdrill for my son, Isaac’s room. I also bought a drawing in oil sticks of the Catalonia landscape in Spain from my friend Marian Edwards. This was part of a series she completed in 2007 and are rooted in her experience of having lost most of her sight five years ago as a side effect of her MS. Below is a photograph of some of her drawings and a statement explaining the work and her experience of sight loss. I used to work with Marian and she has been a big influence in my life, especially in my appreciation of art.

Once lost, sight, seems a faculty miraculous and precious. Drawing has helped me to ‘record’ what I can now only barely see. It gives form to a fleeting, visual experience which is all the more illusive when sight is seriously impaired.
To learn to draw is to learn to look and drawing has helped me recover some of the disorientation sight loss presents. ‘Oil sticks’ provide an instant medium alongside graphite, charcoal and watercolour.

Well, as you can see it was a pretty action packed weekend! And this is a pretty action packed blog. It was a great event for kids, and here’s a nice drawing to sign off on made by my friend and Head of Department, Pat’s daughter, Jasmin, that shows Pat, myself and Chris all working hard… Sorry for the lame title of this blog- I just couldn’t think of anything smarter!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Alice Neel at Whitechapel Gallery

I must go and see the current Alice Neel (1900-1984) retrospective exhibition at London’s Whitechapel Gallery which runs until September. Of all the portrait painters I look at, for me she is the most compelling modern one. Despite painting so many portraits myself, there are not many modern portrait painters I really like. Too many can seem too academic, or obsessed with obtaining a likeness from slavishly copying from photographs. Too ‘A’ level...

Alice Neel’s portraits in oil have none of these characteristics. They have a raw directness and an often intense psychological feeling. With their often heightened colour, exciting, expressive brushwork and often wonky drawing they possess a real compelling energy that seems to really bring the subject to life. I also enjoy the way Neel depicts the sitter’s clothes and hairstyles. There appears to be a real relationship between these and the bodies inside them. They also make the paintings seem a real document of their times and give the images a real warmth and charm.

I’d love to get more of these qualities in some of my own portrait paintings. I think the fact that she painted directly from the model ( at least I think she did) helps get that energy and feeling in the work, whereas I just draw with the sitter and then make my painting from this experience back in the studio alone. I like to play around with the drawings too, exploring scale, colour and composition. Besides, I just don’t have the time to work with a sitter for so long because of my job. I have therefore developed ways of working to compensate for this. And yet....I have been thinking for some years of painting more directly from the subject, not just in my portraits but also in my other work. Maybe seeing Alice Neel’s exhibition will give me the motivation I need to get past these obstacles and bring some changes to my approach...