Thursday, 24 February 2011

'The Sly and Unseen Day'- George Shaw

Further North this morning I find myself at Gateshead’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art at ‘The Sly and Unseen Day’, a retrospective of the work of the ‘Monet of the Midlands’ (according to last week’s Observer Review), George Shaw. I don’t want to write too much about Shaw’s paintings, as it has all been written about so well by others elsewhere and they speak so eloquently for themselves like all the best art. It was however, a slightly surreal experience to be confronted with an enormous banner on the front of the Centre depicting one of Shaw’s paintings of the Tile Hill housing estate where he grew up in Coventry. Who would have thought that such an image I can so closely identify with would be seen in such a context?

I say this as an echo of something Shaw himself touches upon in a conversation with novelist Gordon Burn in the exhibition catalogue. In it he says, ‘I troll around contemporary art spaces and look at contemporary art and I’m bored, I just find it the dullest experience, and I’m just trudging around, kind of going ‘Oh interesting, interesting’, and I don’t feel anything.

Burn: ‘Ever?’

Shaw: ’Very rarely. But when it does hit you it’s like ‘Fucking hell, I’ll have that, let’s find out more about that.’ Sometimes movies do that, bits of TV. It’s very rare. Maybe I’m just a horrible person, uneducated to understand the sensitivities that are being dealt to me, but I think time is too short to be spent on things that actually don’t tell you anything about your own life, your own relationship with things. I don’t even know where the contemporary galleries are!’
Yeah, I felt like I was him when I read that. It’s one of the reasons I and so many others like Shaw’s paintings so much…

I find them so affecting (he is also such a brilliant painter of trees).The humbrol enamel paint he uses I think really helps with this. In the Observer piece mentioned he explains why he uses this:

The Humbrol sheen lifts the paintings out of the realm of the purely representational, the ultra-realist, and takes it somewhere else, somewhere both old-fashioned and timeless, conservative yet contemporary. "It's that glow that you only see when you're walking home from the pub alone," he says. "That solitary glow, the glow of a telly though a window or streetlights reflected on rain on the streets."

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Hit The North...

I delivered the two paintings that I recently sold to the Open Art Project in West Yorkshire yesterday. Their offices are based near Holmfirth in Kirklees, near Huddersfield. I hired a van for the day and hit the road north. It was great to be back, and I really enjoyed the drive as the horizon line became higher and higher as I headed into the valleys and steep winding hills the region is well known for. I found my CD’s and books flying all over the cabin as I crunched up and down the gears trying to navigate the sharp bends and climbing passes.

I say great to be back, as I used to live in various locations in West Yorkshire on and off for about four years in the 1990’s, and did my teaching training at Huddersfield University, and had various exhibitions there too. Places like Dewsbury, Batley, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Slaithwaite are all places I lived and had studios.

Yesterday I was able to appreciate the staggering beauty of the place once again, as my memory is a bit clouded with some of the difficult times I had there: always skint, trying to get the next bit of work, which was often in community arts. I made plenty of firm friends there though, and I’m still in touch with most of them. My degree work and MA show was a series of paintings inspired by the frequent visits and eccentric characters I often met in the nightclubs and bars of Dewsbury and Batley of all places. The people there always had a real spring in their step and a great attitude and warmth. It was a place of enduring inspiration on many levels.

Above and below are a couple of lovely David Hockney watercolours and his iPad of his native Yorkshire, which reminded me of my journey yesterday.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Water, water everywhere...

Leon Kossoff, 'Sunday Morning Swimming Pool', oil on canvas

I normally find myself at the swimming pool on Saturday mornings with my wife, Diane and our son, Isaac. He’s only two and a half but he loves the water. It’s been great seeing him go from being very nervous to being this confident little boy splashing around. He’s great at the backstroke at the moment, his little laughing head bobbing about with these furiously kicking legs, splashing everyone in the vicinity.

The pool is an inspiring place for a people watcher like me. It’s inspiring and often quite moving seeing other parents and grandparents tenderly playing with their kids and introducing them to the pool for the first time. The exchanged looks between them seem to communicate a myriad of feelings. I really enjoy being a part of it.

I’m also fascinated by the array of tattoos that seem to adorn pale flesh these days. Everyone seems to have one. I’m not a fan, and their popularity makes me even less inclined to even consider having one myself. Most of them just seem like really bad art.
Anyway, the experience at the pool today made me think of the way some artists have tried to describe water and the experience of swimming and translate it into forms like painting. Here’s a few I particularly like…

Leon Kossoff’s thick, impastoed Sunday morning swimming pool series (above) completed in the 80’s must be some of his most joyful works. They are based in the East End of London, where Kossoff locates most of his work. They were some of the first paintings I was encouraged to look at as a student painter. They seem to really convey the light reflected from the shiny walls, water and mass of bodies, but also the noise of the busy pool. There is a nice one from this series in the collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Michael Andrews is an artist who explored lots of interesting ways to depict water, particularly in his paintings of the Thames Estuary. I’ve always liked this one below though of the artist with his daughter. It captures something of that tenderness between the parent and child.

Michael Andrews, 'Me and Melanie Swimming', acrylic on canvas

It has been said that water is one the most difficult subjects to depict (alongside flowers). It has weight, volume, movement and light. I think David Hockney’s experiments with paint and also paper pulp (below) from the 1970’s are incredibly convincing, and also so visually exciting. He’s one of my favourite artists.

David Hockney, 'Swimming Pool', paper pulp on paper

I’ve only ever done a couple of paintings of water, but it’s a subject I’ve thought about exploring further at some point with all the waterways and canals to be found in the region. They formed a big part of my early life growing up in the Black Country. There was rarely a weekend that I didn’t find myself cycling or walking alongside a canal somewhere during my teens.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Call and Response...

'Autumn Again', 100 x 142cms, oil on canvas, 2010

I’m pleased to announce that I sold two of my recent paintings last week to the Great Places Housing Group in Manchester. They have been working with the Open Art Project in Huddersfield to purchase a range of different artworks for one of their new sheltered housing schemes. A friend of mine from Open Art saw a recent painting, ‘Autumn Again’, through the website and asked if I’d be interested in submitting some work for consideration by Great Places. I did, and from a total of 38 other artist’s submissions they enthusiastically, by all accounts, selected some of my work. They chose this one, and ‘Winter Painting’ below.

'Winter Painting', oil on canvas, 100 x 100cms, 2010

It’s a great feeling, but also some validation for the hard work I’ve been putting in trying to develop this side of my work. I feel I’m currently making some difficult decisions about the direction I want to take, but despite this, I’m enjoying making the work tremendously. More so than in a long time, and I feel very involved with things.

It’s also a strange thing to be wrapping and delivering paintings I’ve not had the opportunity to exhibit and share more widely. I’m particularly pleased with ‘Autumn Again’. I only did it in November too, so I haven’t had much time to ‘live’ with it either. I'm not even sure if that is the title yet. But what can I do? This is a great opportunity, and it’s great someone else likes it enough to want to buy it, and for a good price too. What else will it do? Sit in my studio because I happen to like it? The next one is more important.

You can’t have it all ways in my position….

Then again, it may be good to have 'Autumn Again' leave. It has created a real 'bounce' in the studio since I made it, where every consequent painting has been made as a response to it in some way. It has created a sort of 'call and response', like in the gospel singing tradition. For example, it lead to one painting that I've just re-painted, because the one I made after it gave me fresh ideas for the former. This has then created a 'bounce' with this new painting, where I now need to re-paint this, because some of the techniques I've now learned from the re-painting of the previous one would work well on the new one to take it further. Confused? Me too...