Wednesday, 18 December 2013


'Nightime', oil on canvas, 150 x 100cms
I made this new painting the other day. I’m really pleased with it. It seems to bring together many of the concerns I’ve been exploring about the canal and the motorway, but also nudge things along a bit. I hope it has some of the more ambiguous and mobile poetic qualities I’ve been trying to tap into, influenced by Roy Fisher’s poems about his journeys through the Midlands landscape, often on the canal.  

All my compositions are carefully planned out beforehand, for all sorts of reasons. One being to achieve a perfect balance of elements in the drawing, which takes a lot of consideration, especially to achieve something that does not feel too forcefully ‘considered’ or ‘perfect’ or ‘balanced’. Time too is a factor, as I like to execute the paintings quickly, and avoid any sort of laboring with the drawing, allowing me to just concentrate on the act of painting when it comes to it. The drawing is the scaffold that allows for this. And, in a rather banal way, because of the lack of time I have to make work, working for several evenings on a drawing feeds my need to be in the studio making stuff, thinking and exploring, until an opportunity presents itself to tackle a large painting like the one above. 
 Other studio activity- making Xmas cards and drinking beer

When it comes to painting however, I found myself reflecting while making this one, on how much I experiment and work totally intuitively throughout the act of painting itself. I always spend a fair amount of time mixing the colours beforehand, to achieve a freedom, so, once started, I don’t have to stop and think about this again if it all possible, but after that, once I do start nervously applying paint, I’m forever playing around with the application, and using different brushes for different marks, almost willfully trying ones that I think may cause problems to see what happens, and to continually open up the responses I have to make to each mark I lay down. I think it’s a bit like how Jazz musicians develop a cool technique, their own scaffold, that they can play around and improvise with, although that does sound fanciful I know! 

For painting nerds (like me), the blacks in this one are much warmer than in other recent paintings, and as a consequence, it seems to bring a very different feel to the piece. I have mixed the blacks from a combination of Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue, rather than the colder Raw Umber, which I normally favour. But it doesn’t stop there, geeks- after laying in this ‘black’ I then apply, wet into wet, another, much richer black over the top of the first, made from a combination of Prussian Blue and Raw or Burnt Umber which seems to give things much more body and depth. I never use black paint, which I find flat (though tell that to Velazquez or Manet I suppose. I’m continually arguing with my students about not using black paint, that they now nervously, but jokingly, hide it from me when they notice me staring aghast at it on their palettes). 
After painting this, the rest of my studio time in the evening was spent making this year’s Christmas cards. I ran off a run of relief Styrofoam prints adapted from some of my son’s drawings, which is quite easy and fun, craft lovers…

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