I didn’t enter the studio at all in January, and have unusually not wanted to either. It tells me that I have needed to take a break after putting up my show in Nuneaton, and the stress of the last few months working towards it. Trying to juggle my family life, my studio work, and my job at the same time can all prove to be a bit much, especially during these dark winter months and the mania that is Christmas. I’m enjoying not doing anything, but there have a few things that have got me thinking about where I might take my painting work next.
I went into the studio one evening last week and cleared all my walls of the Scandinavian studies I made last year and on my trip in 2012. I carefully piled them in my plan chest, enjoying exposing the bare walls and returning to a ‘blank’ space again. I’m left thinking that the burst of activity I had early last year making all these pieces in about a month was the ‘art’ I needed to make from my experience there, and that’s enough. I’m aiming to go to Sweden and Denmark again later this year to visit my artist friend Jamie again, and we’ll see what happens then. He has a large studio in rural Sweden that I hope to work from.
I had an interesting conversation down the pub with my artist friend, Andrew Smith recently, where we discussed the whole ‘edgelands’ thing and the danger of ‘aestheticizing’ these sites and places through art, writing, photography etc. It is worth remembering that much of this landscape has been created in the wake of deindustrialization, the global economy, and the destructive policies of the right, notably Margaret Thatcher and her government, on huge swathes of different working class communities, largely in the Midlands and the North of England. Many of these communities and towns have never recovered, but adapted to the rise of the consumer and service driven industries which have transformed the character and individual identities of our towns and cities, so that everywhere now looks the same. I would not like my own paintings to ‘aestheticize’ these places, and have hoped that my more recent paintings of the canal underneath the motorway present some ideas about this experience and the legacy of such policies and vicissitudes on the present-day Black Country.
‘Could this erosion of descriptive detail, and consequent blurring of specific identity, echo the transformations that have overtaken this whole region? Does this reduction of a subject towards formal concerns, recall the plight of a community once rooted in proud tradition but now shifted towards increasing disconnectedness and anonymity?’
It was interesting to read Hugh’s reading of the paintings in those terms, as so much of what he says here echoes my thoughts and feelings about the present day Black Country landscape, and how much it has physically transformed from when I was a boy. I lived for ten years away from it between 1990-1999, and when I returned I didn’t recognize it, so great was some of the transformations it had undertaken, and I felt incredibly alienated from it. These changes were by no means exclusive to this region however; you see them wherever you look in the post-industrial, global landscape of England’s edgelands. Of course, these feelings have informed my paintings and their formal language. It’s great having someone like Hugh recognize it and discuss these issues in relation to my work. Thanks, Hugh. Here’s a link to the rest of his piece: