Wednesday, 28 December 2011

...Under The Bridge

'Stolen Car', pastel on paper, A4 size

I’ve been working on some small chalk pastel drawings in the last couple of weeks before Christmas. I’ve been trying to looking at colour more in these motorway studies, and am fascinated by the illumination of the surrounding area by the sodium light permeating from the M5 above. The contrast between the hard, black concrete shapes and the softness of the trees and bushes is interesting to explore. These pastels also serve as a bit more of a ‘bridge’ in my preparation to try and attempt a large oil painting based on these drawings I’ve been making. I have a canvas stretched and primed to start on in the next few days. I feel really nervous about it.

'Stolen Car', pastel on paper, A4 size

'Stolen Car', pastel on paper, A4 size

These pastels seem an apt end to 2011. These are dark and troubling times to be living in. So much of my year has ben spent in a state of anger and anxiety at the sweeping changes being made by this terrible and dangerous government across the country. I can't help but feel that these images reflect something of my state of mind as I enter 2012

Friday, 16 December 2011

Something Concrete...

'Camberwell Flats By Night', oil on canvas, 199 x 260cms, 1983

In reference to his interest in architecture and buildings, I was discussing with a student the work of painter David Hepher the other day. Hepher is well known for his large paintings depicting various London housing estates, largely populated by looming tower blocks. Over the years he has moved from an almost photo-realist style to something more traditional and painterly, but with his use of graffiti layered on top of the images, and by now actually painting on concrete too instead of canvas they seem very modern. I really like them, and they are a good reference for my current interest in the ‘edgelands’ that I had forgotten about, despite admiring his work for many years.

'Durrington Towers III', oil on concrete, 210 x 150cms, 2007

Hepher was the Head of Painting at The Slade until retiring fairly recently. He was also the External Examiner for my MA Course at Norwich School of Art, so I found myself being interviewed at key points in my course about my own work. He had a very professorial manner about him. He would sit there cross-legged, notepad on knee, listening intently as you rambled on. A friend said it felt a bit like going to the doctor. I felt it was more like confessing your sins.

He had a genuine air of authority though that you had to respect. I remember after talking at length with him about a large painting I had just made, he got up to leave and then turned and said, ‘It’s a good painting, though’, and nothing made me feel like I had gotten somewhere as these words. It just seemed to mean something more to me on a deeper level than anything else I had been told that year.

Anyway, here is a link to a video that accompanied his recent exhibition at Flowers East. He is seen in his studio, discussing his practice and painting.

Interestingly, he talked about how traditional his methods of depiction are, but not his subjects, and when he was younger the debate in studios and galleries was always about how you painted not what you painted. Style was everything. Not so for Hepher, who was always much more lead by his subject matter. As someone who for the last ten or so years has been more interested in style over subject, I found this resonated with my own current thinking. As the new year approaches I’m trying to get to grips with working with more particular subject matter again and try to move my painting practice away from concerns preoccupied with style on to newer territories…to the edgelands.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Up The Junction (working all the way through the winter, the weather brass and bitter..)

I took a group of my students drawing underneath Spaghetti Junction last Friday (poor kids, I take them to all the glamorous places). Like many people I drive under and on this famous section of the UK’s highways frequently and I often spy places I think would be good to get out and explore. So, motivated by the current landscape project this group are working on, I thought I would once again flex my new minibus driving muscles and head over there.

And what a terrific location it proved to be. It was incredibly intense under there. These huge, cathedral like motorways high above us weaved across each other in a complex network of concrete and steel, while below we walked the canals that pass underneath with our sketchbooks and cameras. It was the deafening noise of the enormous amount of traffic that I found difficult to be around after a while. I made a few drawings, but it was too cold to do much even for me, but I came away thinking I must return again as I really enjoyed making the drawings that I did. I thought it would be too complex, but actually it was great fun, as I moved from one part to the next looking at all the spatial relationships. If you get this right, the drawing just seemed to build itself. But I don't think the drawings are worth sharing yet, but the photographs that accompany this post are. The top one is mine, but the others are by Laura Gale, occasional guest on the blog, and the photography teacher at JCC. They seem to capture something of the atmosphere of this unique location really well.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

You Get So Alone It Just Makes Sense

Hours spent in the studio have been a bit scarce lately, but I enjoyed a long day there the other day, working into the evening quite compelled and lost in my own little world. This world happened to be the world of my studio, as I painted a couple of small still lives of some of the ephemera I keep about that interests me. I’ve been collecting what I call ‘crapola’ for a while now: disposable coffee cups; cup holders; paper bags; bits of packaging. They serve as reminders of my many hours spent drinking coffee on my own, often travelling between places. If it doesn’t sound too fanciful, they can often serve to remind me of a sense of dislocation and alienation I often feel too, and the objects are carriers of some of these feelings…as well as just being interesting things to paint…

I painted this ice-cream cup and this small, dirty jar from the studio that I had used to clean my paint brushes. I also re-painted the backgrounds to several other small paintings like these, trying different colour combinations with the yellow of the table the objects sit on. I just like to work on things like these occasionally, and think maybe something bigger may emerge from it one day. Maybe. I enjoyed myself anyway and that’s enough.

I had gone to the studio with different intentions but sometimes you’ve just got to go where you’ve got to go….it’s nothing to do with me.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Floater (Too Much To Ask)

I managed to get to London to visit ‘Panorama: a Retrospective of Gerhard Richter’ at Tate Modern last weekend. It was too important an exhibition to miss, as, like many, I view Richter as being probably the most important living painter working today. It was also a rare opportunity to see such an extensive collection of his work in one place….and yet, despite it being a retrospective, and a terrific exhibition, I left aware of how much work wasn’t there as much as how much was. A retrospective of Richter is such a difficult thing to pull off, as his output has been so prolific on the one hand, but also so much of his work has been produced in huge series’. I left somehow wanting more….

But still it was great, and it has occupied my thoughts all week. It is the depth and intensity of his enquiry that is so mind-boggling, and seems to really bore down into your very soul being the longer you spend with the work. Those series of grey monochrome paintings; the clouds; the colour chart series; the large ‘abstracts’ of details; the enormous squeegeed abstract paintings; the portraits of his children; his SS uniformed uncle; the aunt murdered by the SS; the Baader-Meinhoff portraits; the recent 9/11 painting.

Here is an artist with an unparalleled creative and restless mind that has questioned so much what it is to paint in modern times: representation vs abstraction; painting from ‘found’ photographs only; painting from his own photographs; painting only in grey; full, joyous colour paintings; the landscape romanticized; the landscape destroyed; an image built up; an image obliterated. And amongst this constant formal and conceptual questioning he has revealed and provoked so many questions about politics, history and culture. There can’t be a university painting department in the western world where his work isn’t discussed and debated. If there is, you shouldn't bother studying there...

Like I said, it was a deeply intense experience.