Sunday, 18 November 2012

What a week....

'If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words Then Why Can't I Paint', private view evening
Well, here I am writing this on a Sunday evening feeling considerably more relaxed (well, sort of) than I did this time last Sunday and also at the end of what has been a long, stressful, but ultimately rewarding, week. I’m talking about the experience of hanging ‘If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words Then Why Can’t I Paint’, last Monday and the private view on Friday night.
The hanging of the show went well, and all the work seemed to go together, complement and bounce off each other in lots of pleasing and unexpected ways. We hoped it would when ‘curating’ it (it sort of seems too grand a word) but when you have only seen the work of the different artists individually you just never know. In fact the biggest headache for me was trying to find a place for my dark motorway paintings with their big swathes of black, orange and purples. They just didn’t seem to fit with anything each time they were placed next to other pieces. Eventually they found a home though, and I was pleased with how they looked within the show.
The rest of the week was spent running around trying to remember and organize countless little things ahead of Friday’s private view, alongside evenings spent rehearsing with Andy our music piece, which was tiring (with sleepless nights with our ‘tune’ nervously echoing in my head) and trying to do my job too somewhere amongst it all. But come Friday night it all seemed worthwhile.
 The evening proved to be a real success and the room was absolutely packed by about half seven. It was the busiest private view I’ve ever been a part of: I never stopped talking to different people all night. The exhibition itself was also importantly really well received, with lots of very positive comments about all the work, which was, as planned, a very eclectic mix. I hadn’t seen an exhibition quite like it in the area, which was partly the point. 
Me 'performing' 'Music For Service Stations', with artist Andrew Smith
Box Of Knives performing in front of my paintings (seemed a good backdrop!)
I had many interesting conversations about my own paintings which seemed to create a strong impression with visitors: about their locations; their atmosphere: the use of colour and light: their ‘early in the morning after the night before’ feel (I liked this one): to connections with Edward Hopper (not an influence) and Baroque painting (not an influence either, but soon may become one…). One couldn’t ask for much more… well, apart from a better performance of our music. This unfortunately didn’t work out that well on the night, a combination of nerves and still under-rehearsed timing and development of the whole thing. Still, I was sort of glad I got up and did it as I had been working on it for a long time with Andy, and it did add a different dimension to the private view too, I just wish it had sounded as good as it did at one of our rehearsals earlier in the week. I think I will stick to my paintbrush rather than the plectrum in future. Still, we were followed more successfully by Box of Knives, a band fronted by Sally Cartwright who I lecture alongside who were pretty impressive.
 the artists from l-r: Craig Underhill, Hugh Marwood, Shaun Morris, Chris Cowdrill and Andrew Smith
So, a success so far, and for the launch of Indigo Octagon too. Badges were taken away, catalogues sold, lots of friends along, and there also seemed lots of new faces who visited too. It seemed like our pretty extensive publicity material had done some work. Hurrah and thank goodness. Here are a few photos from the private view. I’ll post some more about the actual artwork in another post.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Nice One...

Jock MacFadyen, oil on canvas, 152x 270cms, 

I liked this I came across by art writer Karen Wright's  account of her studio visit with the painter Jock McFadyen:
Jock McFadyen’s East End studio is infused with the heady perfume of paint and turps. Painting, now seemingly the least fashionable of arts, is literally getting up my nose here. When I ask McFadyen if he minds practising the art form seemingly not at the forefront of chic curating, his defence is instantaneous and robust: “The great thing about painting is that it’s not fashionable.”
I ask if he always wanted to be an artist, and his response illuminates the current divide in art. “I don’t want to be an artist. I want to be a painter. The man in the street might think you make art out of dirt and string. It is embarrassing to be an artist.”
There’s something in that…I’m a painter, too. 
Jock MacFadyen,oil on canvas, 115 x 173cms

'If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words Then Why Can't I Paint'

Tomorrow I’m hanging, with most of the other artists involved, ‘If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words Then Why Can’t I Paint’ at The Works Gallery, Birmingham. It has been several months in the planning and these last few weeks have been a bit frantic and stressful trying to co-ordinate and pull all the different strands together, and I’m naturally a bit nervous about it all. There still seems a few questions hanging in the air even at this late stage, so I’m anticipating another busy week as we work towards a private view on Friday evening.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow though, and the chance to see all the work together and be involved in the creative process of selecting and presenting it all to hopefully it’s best effect. The bits I’m continually nervous about is a performance of a piece of music I’ve been working on with artist, Andrew Smith which still needs further rehearsal, and the usual necessary banalities of getting ready for the private view, and just hoping we get a few people along to see the work and enjoy it.  It wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t trying to juggle work and family life too, but that’s how things are for most artists I know.
 It is also the first event by Indigo Octagon, a small core group of artists, Chris Cowdrill and Andrew Smith, that I’ve started working with and who are participating in the show too. The idea in it’s simplest terms is to raise the profile of our own work by working in collaboration, but also to get involved with a more diverse range of artists and activities from different backgrounds of practice, not just fine art, to share ideas, practices and stage different activities and events, not just exhibitions, but publications; writing; workshops: inviting different people whose work we like to get involved in at different times. For this exhibition, illustrator Chris Cowdrill has worked with the other artists to produce a small publication that brings different strands of the contributing artist’s practice together alongside a poem written by Andrew Smith. This will be printed as a limited run of 50 and available for a nominal cost at the exhibition (each with a badge no less!) but you can see it online here: 
The hope is that it disseminates some of the ideas and work in the exhibition beyond the confines of the gallery and also the length of the show. Below is the press release, which hopefully will interest you to come along:
Indigo Octagon Presents
 If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words Then Why Can’t I Paint
The Works Gallery, Birmingham
Tuesday 13th November to Friday 23rd November 2012

 ‘If A Picture Paints A Thousand Words Then Why Can’t I Paint’ is the inaugural exhibition by Indigo Octagon, a loose collective of Birmingham based artists, designers and makers. The exhibition is eclectic, bringing together a diverse range of work by 5 Midlands artists. The show has a sense of a ‘mix tape’ aesthetic, ideas and themes presented in the work of one artist being taken on in the work of another.
In Hugh Marwood’s mixed media paintings for example, inspiration is taken from the layers of graffiti and writing to be found on urban surfaces, the walls and boarded-up windows and doors that the artist passes on his many walks as he considers the psychogeography of the city of Leicester. While a form of writing is collected and re-presented in Marwood’s works, it is, by contrast, obscured in the abstract paintings of Harvey Smoke, which take as their starting point the artist’s autobiographical writing painted onto the bare canvas. Smoke then paints, pours and builds up over time, a complex series of marks, colours and shapes that, in revealing themselves, bury the originally, now secret, text.
Craig Underhill’s sculptural ceramics reflect his interest in evoking the feeling of landscapes that he has travelled through. He is influenced by the visual effects created in these landscapes by human action, in particular the often overlooked physical marks, structures or patterns that are the traces of everyday life, and which are revealing, in various ways, of our relationship with the natural world. The direction and development of Underhill’s work is strongly affected by his interest in exploring materials and techniques. Like many ceramicists he is fascinated by the aesthetics and characteristics of materials, the ways they are transformed by artistic, and other, processes.
A direct link with Craig Underhill’s slab-built vessels can be seen in the dark shapes of the cast concrete columns beneath the M5 motorway at night, as depicted in the atmospheric and psychologically-charged paintings of Shaun Morris. The sodium light that spills from the motorway above, cutting through the black void of night, reveals shards of the landscape below, and in so doing brings the English Romantic landscape hard up against the lessons of post Abstract painting. Images and the painting process battle it out, with the large areas of depthless black set against more representational elements that create a dynamic illusion of space. Illusion is further explored in Andy Smith’s painted photographs. Patched-up, neglected buildings, a carelessly daubed steel bollard, painstakingly painted over by the artist, seamlessly blending the printed and painted surface. There is a playfulness in the seemingly banal non-subjects, the neglected detritus carefully rendered in paint.
A similar sense of care for the forgotten and overlooked can be seen in the illustrations of Chris Cowdrill. Weeds, wild flowers and plants intertwined around an ugly wire fence are beautifully drawn. A blackbird perched on bare winter branches evokes the atmosphere and texture of winter with great precision and clarity. Cowdrill’s illustrations invite us in to look more deeply at the nature that insistently, quietly, asserts itself around us.

Join Indigo Octagon at the Private View on Friday 16th November from 6-9pm. Refreshments will be available, you can meet the artists, and there will also be a musical performance by artists Andy Smith and Shaun Morris composed in response to the exhibition, as well as live music by local up and coming band, Box Of Knives.

I hope you will come and join us...

Monday, 5 November 2012

...the wood for the trees

i-pad painting
I’ve been developing on my I-Pad some of the drawings I made in my sketchbook during my time in Norway this last week. I’m getting more fluid on the Brushes app it and it’s a great tool for painting on and to experiment with different effects to adjust the light, colours, and tonal values, as well as various textural mark-making. Many of these experiments are unlikely to be seen in the finished images (in fact I hope they aren’t), and despite their digital origins I think the studies still appear very painterly.
I particularly like this canoe image (top) but one can’t help feel canoes on lakes are out of bounds thanks to Peter Doig’s famous paintings of canoes on lakes. The empty canoe just brought a different dimension to the image that I like. I’m still working on the image of the forest, and this week I also completed a larger oil painting of a similar scene after a small study I had made. 
i-pad painting
A few people have visited the studio lately or commented on the online images of the work I made in Scandinavia. Many people have enjoyed the natural beauty in the images, others have made clear connections with my motorway paintings, while others have bemoaned the lack of ‘meatiness’ in them, but I struggle with words like that and what that actually means. I think it may mean they lack a more social dimension, but that’s not ever really my intention. I just strive for an authentic relationship with my material, and hope that translates into something worthwhile. I certainly don’t strive for ‘meaning’. Rather I hope the meaning will reveal itself to me.
As I’ve made these pieces lately I have found myself right back in that Norwegian forest which has felt quite gripping and powerful because of my experience there. It feels like I’m beginning to approach landscape in a more personal way, and understand more deeply what it is to try and depict a particular place.

     Per Petterson
'Out Stealing Horses'
I’ve also been really enjoying reading Norwegian author Per Petterson’s ‘Out Stealing Horses’, an excellent novel set in this area of Norway.  It describes so vividly the natural landscape, with the character’s relationship to the forest and lakes forming a backdrop to a very moving story of grief and loss. Through working on location there my own relationship with this place seems that much more embedded in my mind, and I find myself much more able to put myself in the story. In starting to make my own paintings from my trip I also feel I’m beginning to tell my own story of those few days…