Thursday, 19 April 2012

Even better....

I’ve been working out on location today. It’s the first real time I’ve been out making new studies other than my tree at Padstone since my grant award which has made me a little anxious despite being busy on paintings back in the studio. Anyway, after a couple of hours in the city this morning (I was trying to choose some small gifts for my AS Art students. I had set them some pretty challenging Easter break homework and promised prizes for the best three. The talented little buggers only went and produced some amazing work, which made me very proud of them and think that this idea may have been a good one, but I do feel slightly less well off today, which didn’t feel so good..), I stuffed a pasty in my pocket and drove down to Spaghetti Junction in the lashing rain.

(I had decided in my mind to avoid Spaghetti Junction after having seen the recent paintings of Birmingham based artist Rueben Colley of the place in his gallery in Moseley. I was slightly aghast when I saw them, as I had just embarked on my own nocturnal motorway drawings and felt slightly beaten to it again. And indeed, when I showed the gallery my pieces they felt it was too close to Colley’s own work to consider showing, which wasn’t a surprise. But I have to say they aren’t anything like mine. But I have to say this…and in a perverse frame of mind I headed there today as if I was going to prove this and also because I like the place too and felt why shouldn’t I go there as well).

I worked for a few hours in all weathers: from one minute spring sunshine then spring showers, to brief, but heavy, downpours to finally a hail storm whilst I was finishing a small oil painting. I headed for shelter under the motorway, but the painting only just survived the hail (see picture). I also made a study on my new I-Pad. Yes, my new I-Pad! In a recent moment of madness I decided to invest in one as a tool to work outdoors and also develop quicker ideas in electronic ‘paint’ using the ‘Brushes’ app as used by Hockney. I’m really enjoying it, and finding it very flexible. My own efforts are a far cry from Hockney as yet, looking more like bad felt tip drawings, but I’m slowly discovering how to get more subtle effects. I’m achieving these by exploring many of the strange mark-making tools available which I wouldn’t thought I would be attracted too, me being a purist and all that, but actually these are great and have helped me get to grips more easily with the idea that this isn’t painting, but a different media with its own qualities to explore. Here I am bravely sharing a few examples…

It’s a good tool, but I have to say it was great to get my paints out later…

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Better Grist to the Mill...

oil on canvas, 100 x 120cms, 2012

I’ve made these three large oils in the last couple of months. They are meant to be seen together and represent different perspectives of quite a small area under and around the motorway as you approach it and as you find yourself under it. I’m pretty pleased with these, and I feel they represent a more successful and interesting move forward from my charcoal drawings and the first new motorway painting that I made back in January. They seem much more their own thing with a strong and dynamic interplay between my interests in abstraction and the language of abstract painting set against realist motifs.

oil on canvas, 100 x 120cms, 2012

Today, I had my first studio visit with one of my mentor’s, Marian Edwards. She was really excited about them too as this was the first time she had seen any of my newer work. It was a huge relief and Marian seemed to ‘get them’ straight away (if that is the right phrase?), as despite being pleased with them myself, I have more than anything else I’ve made in along time wondered how they would be perceived by other people. Of course as with most of my work, there are many artistic references to be found, but I have felt that these particular pieces don’t remind me much of anything else I’ve seen. This feels really exciting but comes with a great deal of uncertainty too. Marian discussed how the trees, which seemed almost Romantic, also reminded her in a funny way of the English landscape tradition. A coincidence, as I’ve been looking at the likes of Constable lately.

Oil on canvas, 100 x 120cms, 2012

It was great to share all this with Marian and to get a more critical response. I used to work alongside other artists and lecturers more in my last job, including Marian, where there was a good dialogue and interest in each other’s practice. In my current job I’m the only practicing Fine Artist in the department with very little opportunity to talk about one’s work. It has led me to feel increasingly isolated in the last five years. If nothing else comes out of the way I use this Grant Award in the next few months, the seeking of critical advice with help from mentors like Marian will be worth everything else, and hopefully help lift me out of this isolation…

(Please forgive the quality of my photographs. Photographing all these black shapes is proving difficult. A good photographer friend, Danny has offered to help shoot them professionally when I need to, I'm glad to say...)

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Grist to the Mill...

I love painting and drawing. I love art. I love the experience of visiting exhibitions and galleries and how over the years I have encountered exhibitions or artworks that have changed my life. I love the places in my mind I find myself in everyday from being involved in my own creative endeavours, despite all the inherent difficulties with this. But as an artist the experience of trying to negotiate opportunities to exhibit your work, gain some sort of exposure, generate contacts, raise funds, apply for commissions and grants, all the stuff to do with the business of being an artist, I can find tedious beyond belief.

It’s no use complaining really as these things go hand in hand if you care about what you are doing and want other people to care about it too, but sometimes you wonder why you are doing it when so much of this stuff seems like so much anathema to what you really want to do, which is just make stuff. I’ve had a couple of weeks like this where you find yourself going back to the studio thinking ‘I JUST DON’T NEED THIS CRAP!’

Since my grant award, I’ve been working with Angela, an arts consultant who is acting as a mentor to help me negotiate some of this stuff more easily. When we met recently, I questioned how I might get my work seen by curators and a local young curator’s name came up that Angela knew and said she would try and invite to the studio. The answer that came back was that said curator wasn’t interested in doing a show with me (I’m not sure where this came from? I wasn’t interested either!), but would be willing for a nice fee to offer me a consultation on the Birmingham Arts Scene! I may not that be active on the network of said scene, but as an artist based in the city for many years now, I know pretty much all I need to know about it. It might be worth stating here that one of my reasons for applying for a grant was to seek opportunities outside of the region, frustrated at not finding a suitable ‘place’ for my work, after much effort trying and researching into EVERY gallery in the area. I dreaded the thought of being horribly patronized by this curator, but I also thought ‘bloody cheek…’

On the other end of the scale, this weekend I decided to enter a couple of paintings in an Open Exhibition advertised by a previously unheard of gallery in Hockley which sounded like a good chance to get some work out there with little hassle. Who knew? Maybe I may even get a bit of feedback, he thought optimistically.

When I turned up with my two little still life ‘crapola’ paintings, the owner just said, ‘but they’re not framed’, to which I replied ‘well, your advert said canvasses did not need to be framed, and besides I don’t like to frame my paintings’, ‘Well, we won’t show unframed work’. I looked around at the pastel seascapes and Mohammed Ali and Evel Knievel prints on the wall, ready to leave again. ‘You’re a commercial gallery, eh?’ I remarked. ‘Oh no, my friend we’re not’ this is all about the art, we’re not interested in selling’. I didn’t understand. ‘Don’t worry’, he said taking my paintings, ‘if you get selected we’ll frame them’, and he pulled out a ridiculous baroque frame and placed it around my rather sad painting of crap, empty drink cartons. I was getting restless at this point. ‘Well that’s no good, is it’, I remarked. ‘Well, what sort of frame do you usually have?, ‘I told you…’ but it was too late. He had a more discreet white frame on my painting. ‘It’s all about presentation’, he said. ‘You can have those for twenty quid’. I felt trapped as he then proceeded to show me around the gallery. The best paintings were definitely the ones by his mother-in-law. ‘Look, if they get selected let me know before you do anything about framing’, I said as I headed for the door. ‘Don’t worry, they’ll get in’, he smiled as he closed the door behind me. My head was spinning as I drove home feeling like I had been horribly conned, and was soon to be several quid lighter.

Today I went back and reclaimed my paintings with my three year old to protect me. ‘I want my paintings back’, I said. ‘You don’t want to sell them?’ ‘No’. I took them home and hung them back on the studio walls.


(The Philip Guston paintings on display here seemed to fit the mood of this particular post)