Monday, 31 October 2011

Dark Eyes...

'Stolen Car', charcoal on paper, A2 size

I finished this last night. I really like the fact that this huge black shape dominates over half of the image. It really reminds me of my countless journeys under that motorway at night and the fear I’ve often felt as I’ve approached and walked under it.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Sign On The Window

After nearly 3 months and 8000 words later I finally submitted an application to the Arts Council for a Grant for the Arts this morning. It’s a huge relief just to send it off as it has really taken a lot of effort, but also been difficult to deal with alongside all my planning for my lecturing every day and my painting practise. The latter has really taken a back seat for this time.

Still, I’m not complaining as you have to try and apply for these things, and they do take serious thought, effort and time. I’m not complaining if it does not prove fruitful either (although just from doing the application and contacting people I’ve creating some exciting future opportunities that I’ll discuss at some point).The process has been really useful in focussing my ideas and thinking around my art. And besides, what is the alternative? Not to apply and just continue as I have ben? That hasn’t seemed an option for a long while. Whatever the outcome, it has all been worthwhile.

It was great to press ‘submit’ and then go down the studio for the rest of the day and work on a few things. I have been messing around with these small still life studies (above) for a while. Today I decided to drop a dark background behind these four paintings of ‘crapola’ (after Guston and Roth’s idea), to try and enhance the figures from the ground. They look a bit like Dutch still lives now which wasn’t the intention, so I’m think they’ll end up changing again.

I then set to task on working on the next charcoal drawing in my motorway series for a few hours. This is it so far. I need a few more hours on it yet. I’m pleased with this and the previous one I made and I’m keen to develop them into paintings, but I just can’t imagine the scale at the moment.

At around four I heard the ring of the wind chimes that hang on the gate on the top of the garden. I opened the studio door to see my little boy, Isaac come racing down. ‘We do some painting in Daddy’s BIG shed!’ he shouted excitedly as he pushed past me and ran inside. Let’s hope so over the next few months I thought…this is what it’s all about.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Everything is Broken...

'You have to reject one expression of the band first, before you get to the next expression of the band. And in between you have nothing. You’ve to risk it ALL’

This is a quote from Bono of U2 from last week’s documentary on BBC4, ‘Down From The Blue Sky’, which told the story of the crisis the band faced after their ‘Rattle and Hum’ album and film, and the band they found they had become and hated. We then followed their relocation to Berlin to record ‘Achtung Baby!, the album that would redefine them for a new generation.

I’m really not a fan of U2’s music, and Bono really irritates me, but I was really fascinated by the story told in this documentary. I’m really interested in the nature of creativity, and I love reading or watching films such as this about the struggles and lengths that artist’s go to in that search for what is so often unidentifiable, personal and hard to explain, but is instantly recognisable to the artist when it decides to step out of the shadows and reveal itself: be that a painting, a song, prose etc. Bob Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’ autobiography is a brilliant read in this regard, with the absorbing section about the making of his ‘Oh Mercy’ album in New Orleans. ‘Chuck Close: A Portrait in Progress’, the film about the hugely talented and celebrated painter, is also a film I never grow tired of watching.

It’s important for any artist to face a crisis: out of this hopefully things will emerge from a much more deeply felt place. When I studied for my MA in Fine Art many years ago, it was presented to us at the start that if the course was to be a success for the students it was expected that we would go through a period of crisis: we would take apart what we were doing to try and piece it back together again in a different form. Fairly confident at this stage of what I wanted I wanted to do on the MA, I viewed this with a fair amount of scepticism. It wasn’t long however, that I was having a crisis every day. Sometimes it got so bad I would spend all morning in crisis, go for lunch, head back to the studio, and find myself head in hands facing another crisis.

This experience really equipped me with the skills to deal with the creative problems that one can face, and the many holes and dead ends you find yourself in when trying to extend yourself. They are experiences I’ve also drawn upon in moments of more personal crisis too. I’m beginning to recognise that I’ve been in a sort of crisis for nearly three years that has come to a bit of a head in these last few months. I feel in a better place conceptually with my ideas, but feel a bit like Bono in the quote at the top of this blog: I’m at a point of rejecting one form of expression, before I can get to the next one. And in between I feel I have nothing.

There are lots of problems as ever. But they are good problems to have.

(I couldn’t bring myself to illustrate this blog with a photo of Bono and U2, so I’ve included a picture of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver instead, whose own, well documented creative crises I’ve enjoyed reading about lately…and whose music I can’t get enough of lately either)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Black Hands...

I worked on this drawing, above, over several nights last week. It’s a charcoal piece based on the M5 at night again, and I’ve really enjoyed the process of creating it. I’ve never really made any really good ‘finished’ pieces in this media, I just use it these days to make ‘cartoons’ for my paintings. I fancied approaching this composition differently, however by making a more detailed study for a possible painting that might also stand up on it’s own.

I’m pretty pleased with it. It was great getting my hands really black and grimy as I pushed the charcoal around, but I also enjoyed working more slowly for a change. I think I may do more of these.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Shedding Skin...

Time has been a real issue lately, but it is always in September when I return to my lecturing job after the summer break. New term, new students, new timetable, preparation, planning. It all takes over for several weeks until things start to embed themselves.

On top of all this I’m still painfully slowly completing an application for some funding to develop my work that I can’t seem to get completed. I am nearly there now though, and hope to send it off soon. I’m not especially optimistic, far from it, but the process of working on it has been extremely useful in itself. It has really helped me distil and refine my thinking about what my intentions with my painting really are, and how to get things onto a different sort of plane. I’m very excited about it, as I know much more clearly about what I want to do, and more importantly what I don’t want to do, and how I am going to pursue this. Strangely given this clearer thinking, I also for the first time in years I have no idea about how some of the things I hope to create in the coming months will appear and take shape. It feels very liberating. I feel like I’m almost shedding skin.

Underpinning a lot of my thinking and writing has been a lot of research around different ideas and influences that I will hopefully share in the blog a bit more. One of my current obsessions has been the work of acclaimed American photographer Stephen Shore, whose work illustrates this post. I’ve been looking at his ‘Uncommon Places’ and ‘American Surfaces’ series, and really enjoying his images of the seemingly banal and commonplace. Approached without any irony, but with a great eye for the details and textures of our lives across a range of subjects encountered on his many journeys, I find myself really attracted to these photos and the way the artist re-presents the world back to us, the viewer. I do believe the banal can be a very powerful form of expression, and Shore’s images really assert this.