Tuesday, 14 August 2012

'Views' by Boyd and Evans

'Clee Hill' oil on canvas, 137 x 152cms, 2009
I visited ‘Views’, a retrospective of the work of Boyd and Evans at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham the other day. There was a lot to enjoy in the paintings of these artists, who are also partners, who work together to creation their work. The earlier work made in the 1970’s, and airbrushed on in acrylic paint, explored an interest in surrealist ideas associated with collage and piecing seemingly disparate images or elements to create slightly disturbing and dreamlike juxtapositions. Narrative was also seemingly explored with many of the paintings existing as diptych’s, with the second image often looking like the next scene in some sort of movie, partly helped by the photographic ‘look’ of the paintings. I couldn’t help feeling rather disappointed and deflated however, when in an interview that accompanied the work in the gallery pamphlet, the artist’s proclaimed that if photoshop had been invented when they originally made the work, they would have not been paintings. They would have looked awful as photoshopped images. Weirdly, most of the paintings had a 1970’s prog rock record sleeve feel about them. 
'Underpass', acrylic on canvas, 91 x137cms, 1983
The later work was less personal in nature, and was inspired by trips the artist’s had made with the support of the British Council to some of the more remote areas of the United States and the spectacular nature to be found there. These landscapes were punctuated by human activity in the form of desolate towns, abandoned vehicles, trailers, the odd person, and areas of UFO sightings. I enjoyed these more, and made me reflect on my own forthcoming trip to Scandinavia, where I too will be exploring unfamiliar terrain as a visitor, an ‘outsider’, whereas most of my current landscape work has been located in more personal settings and my ‘own back yard’. The Boyd and Evans work did often look like paintings that owed too much to their photographic source material for my own tastes. They had a dispassionate quality, and lacked a certain charge despite (or because of) the psychology being layed on a bit thick, that I hope to avoid, despite often taking a seemingly dispassionate view myself in my approach to my subject matter. There were some very sophisticated images, but they weren’t very exciting paintings. The photographs that were also now being presented worked more successfully.
 'Ash Springs', Archival Pigment Transfer Print, 110 x 199cms, 2007
I left the exhibition not entirely convinced, but a little unsure as to why. At one point the work seemed a lot about the relationship between painting and photography, but then not so much in the later work. The work was painted in a very mundane way with a deliberate lack of style, but really I wished it had a bit more well, style. There was a lot made about the collaboration between the two artists, and the idea of two viewpoints in the work, who made what etc, but I didn’t care much for this and thought the work possessed a single unified vision if anything. I bought the catalogue hoping to find more in the concepts behind the work, but didn’t really. As with a lot of contemporary art that is held up as good practice, I was left wanting more…It might be worth stating that I did experience this exhibition with my lively little four-year old in tow. It might be worth a second visit on my own…

Sunday, 12 August 2012


There was an interesting article in The Observer last week about artist’s, be that visual artists, writers, actors, and the second job they need to take to support their artistic endeavors. I do know some artist’s that make a living solely from their work, indeed one of them, Andrew Tift, is currently acting as a mentor for me and my own work, but it remains a real difficulty to sustain yourself solely from your work. I’ve never managed it, and have always supported myself with part-time jobs. At present it is through lecturing, which is rewarding and feeds my practice a great deal, but in the past it has been through working in areas such as community arts, and also places such as the Post Office and factory work. It is only in the last six years that I have made any serious money as an artist largely through grants, commissions and sales through my website and exhibitions, not through being represented by a gallery, although this remains a long-term aim. 

HR Smoke, 'Personal Messages Obscured By Smoke', acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100cms, 2012

In my experience the energy and time required to get out there and apply for things, promote yourself, make networks etc, is a full-time job in itself, and really needs to go hand in hand with the creative output you try to achieve. I have writer friends who have agents to help with this, but in the visual arts it is the gallery who generally assumes this role. However, if you haven’t got a gallery behind you, then what? Well, after years of poor self promotion and hard lessons learned by continuous rejections, I’m currently working with a freelance arts consultant, Elizabeth Hawley, to help me think of more effective strategies to raise my profile and promote myself. Before this, I worked last year with another consultant, Angela Swan who helped me put together my bid to the Arts Council. Her breadth of experience and the precision of her advice was key to my success. Elizabeth recently reflected to me that she thinks more artists should seriously think about working with people like herself to develop and extend their networks, and not try to do it all themselves. I think this is true, and worth the financial investment (which has not been very much either), as hopefully it will repay itself in the long term.

Andrew Smith, 'Untitled', painted photographs, 2012

I think another good way of creating wider networks and support systems is by collaborating with other artists. I have to confess it’s not something I’ve enjoyed in the past, as being the loner (or control freak) I am I prefer doing things on my own, and like trying to create some sort of more personal statement with the installation of my work, that I often find difficult in group. More importantly, however I find it difficult to meet like-minded artists to work with and feel comfortable enough to have a more critical, honest and serious dialogue. I’ve found myself in many studio groups over the years, where politeness or silence seemed the rule, and nobody said much about each other’s work. A general air of paranoia seemed to pervade which is no good for the creative mind. I made some good friends there, but I don’t look back to working in places like that much in terms of the impact it made on my work. For years, most of the time I have just talked to myself through my journals and sketchbooks about what I do. This is one of the key reasons I wanted to initiate working with some artistic mentors, including Elizabeth, during this period of funded research.
 Hugh Marwood, 'Closed 2', acrylic and mixed media on board, 100 x 100cms, 2012

Lately though, I’m glad to say, in recent months all this has started to change. I’ve been getting to know and discuss my work, and even collaborate, with local artist Andy Smith, who is also a colleague and lecturer in English at the college I teach at. Andy himself makes some really interesting work, ranging from painting, photography, sculpture and writing, and all of these things combined. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more about his work, and Andy himself, and his visits to my own studio have been really useful. We have also decided to organize a group exhibition in November at The Works Gallery in Birmingham, together with other local artists Chris Cowdrill, Craig Underhill, and also Leicester based artist, Hugh Marwood, who I have been communicating with through my blog, and his own terrific blog (see link and imagebelow). ‘If A Picture Can Paint A Thousand Words Then Why Can’t I Paint’, promises to be an eclectic exhibition of painting, photography, illustration, ceramics, sculpture, with some spoken word performance, and possibly even a musical piece, which will be performed at the Private View, by myself and Andy in response to the themes in the work. I’ve dusted off my bass guitar for the occasion, but I have to say it is Andy who has all the ideas with this. Even so, it’s really exciting to be doing something different and a bit more playful.

So things are opening up for my practice lately thanks to all these really interesting and exciting individuals. It feels great….

Here’s a few links to keep you busy….