Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Journey Into Autumn


oil on canvas, 90 x 210cms, 2011

Here are some of the paintings that I have been working on over the last six months or so. These are the ones I’m pretty pleased with. I’ve made several others that did not work out and were scrapped after a few failed attempts. It’s been quite an intense period. I’ve been reluctant to post too much on the blog about the work, as I’ve wanted to keep things to myself whilst in the middle of it all. I now feel a bit mentally exhausted from it and am trying to step back and reflect, which isn’t easy when one works in such isolation. I feel at the end of a sort of ‘cycle’ of painting that I feel might be worth sharing now.

I’ve been trying to develop my landscape painting for some time, and had created some studies at night, including some photographs, around the motorway outside West Bromwich at the end of the summer last year. I went off on a tangent however, when autumn arrived.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy the magnificent splendour of the colours of autumn, and last year I felt particularly moved by them. The passing of the seasons served to heighten once again feelings about the death of my brother in 2009 and I found myself again deeply saddened and painfully aware of moving on without him. The seasons can be a romantic and clichéd expression of the idea of the passing of time, which I was very aware of, yet my feelings did not feel either clichéd or romantic so I decided to follow my instincts. I’d already made several paintings that explored my feelings about my brother’s death just before and after he died using trees and wild flowers symbolically the year before, but I found myself thinking there was more to explore.



In the studio, I found myself picking up previous small oil studies I had made years before at autumn time that I had not been inspired to do anything with previously. I started to crop sections of them, which I hadn’t tried before, and different possibilities immediately opened up, which lead to the ‘Autumn Again’ (above) painting.




'Bring Down',

oil on canvas, 150 x 90cms, 2010


Excited by this image I decided to pursue the theme further and started looking at lots of old studies made of trees in sketchbooks and in paint. ‘Bring Down’ (above) came from this. For me it almost seems like a portrait of Stu, and is an expression of sorts for me of trying to imagine what he mentally must have gone through as his cancer progressed. Despite its seeming simplicity, it’s an image I find myself getting really lost in. The more I look, the more I see. I can only really barely imagine what he, or anyone else living with cancer, goes through in his or her mind.





I then found myself working on two paintings (above) that I just couldn’t get to work after re-painting them several times. This was mainly because it just didn’t have anything supporting work in the form of stronger studies, simple as that. I was a bit wrapped up in looking at artists like John McLean, Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Ivon Hitchins and others. I was trying a more improvised approach to the paintings, just starting with a very bare compositional structure to work from, and creating more abstract images. This approach also manifested itself in some smaller almost entirely abstract pieces and another big painting, which took on many different forms, such as the yellow painting above, before I finally repainted it entirely last week (top) bringing it back to a tougher, more structured piece based on an earlier smaller painting I had made. The abstract pieces seemed to continually fall down between two stools, not sure what they needed to be.



oil on canvas, 90 x 210cms

In between this I painted this large painting above with I have yet to title. I’m pleased with it, but it has divided opinion in my home, with my wife Diane not liking it all. She exclaimed ‘you’ve really lost the plot with this one!’ when she saw it for the first time, which made me laugh and despair both at once. Yet another painter friend thought it ‘beautiful’ and seemed to ‘get’ what I was trying to do. I preferred her response to Diane’s (!) as for a while I did wonder whether I had found myself not seeing the woods for the trees (excuse the sad pun). Although I quite enjoyed the extreme reaction by Diane (she really didn’t like it), as my work rarely provokes this sort of feeling, I thought it was the nicest thing I’d done in ages, and couldn’t see the problem. My friends more positive reaction at least made me think I hadn’t gone completely mad. I’m keen to develop further things along this line.



oil on canvas, 100cms x 100cms

The large painting that I completed most recently at the top of this blog entry was preceded by a smaller work (above), which was painted over an existing painting. As you can see it has a lot of very expressive energy, and I’m not sure it is complete. It was painted very spontaneously. Creating this made me want to re-work the big yellow one more radically and try get some of this energy into it. In the end I found myself taking this piece one somewhere else; something more structured and done more slowly over a few sessions. Slowing down felt really important in the end, and this painting definitely marks an end for now of this period of work. I was getting to the point of feeling almost possessed with trying to reach something in the work that I just couldn’t.


Earlier I said that these paintings were originally motivated by continued feelings about my brother’s death. This feeling of trying to reach something in the work that has somehow seemed unreachable, particularly as I made more and more work with increasing frustration and almost desperation, sort of tallies with my feelings right now, almost two years to the day since he died. The work I made before and just after this seemed to have a resonance with my feelings at the time. The pain of loss and grief was much more acute at this time, and I think this is reflected in the work. Now, two years on I’m left with a feeling of so much unfinished business, and still a sense of disbelief that he is dead at 36 and is not here. It is a mixture of complex emotions and thoughts, that perhaps I was hoping the painting would help me focus on and possibly, naively it seems now, work through. Instead it has just added to my confusion and sense of loss. I feel drained and in need of a rest and a re-think.


I hope that this blog has not been too self-indulgent. I’m aware that writing about one’s own work can often be seen like this. I’m just trying to be open about the painting after a particular period of creativity. I’m now keen to draw a line under this period and move on. I also think about what I as a reader would like from this blog. Hopefully, I can convey a sense of honesty and commitment to the people who do take the time to occasionally read this..


Any comments on the work or anything else are of course always welcome…

2 comments:

Frank Hobbs said...

Do you know the work of Lois Dodd? She's an American painter now in her 80s. I think you'd find her a "kindred spirit." Thanks for your thoughts.

John Smith said...

Wonderful pictures, thanks, there's a review on pharmacy reviews about the painter. I didn't know that she was dead..