Tuesday, 18 November 2014

We Used To Think The Motorway Looked Like A River...

I’ve been using the camera on my phone a bit like a sketchbook lately. I love the spontaneity it offers and it’s ease of ability to capture something seen more by chance. I’m finding it a great way of generating ideas as I travel through the landscape.  It seems to take quite a good picture at night, but the imperfections of it and the weird lighting effects it seems to sometime capture interest me too. Here are some recent ones looking down on the M5, and of some factories passed and motorway service stations stopped at, the parked lorries catching my attention. 
  The title of this post is adapted from an album title, ‘We Used To Think The Freeway Looked Like A River’, by Richmond Fontaine, which seemed to fit that image. It’s a pretty good record, not great, but the lyrics are really interesting. I recently read ‘The Motel Life’ by Willy Vlautin, the band’s songwriter and lyricist. This was a terrific tale of two brothers trying to escape their shared past. The prose style was incredibly engaging: very spare yet packed with observation and detail. Just up my street, and often very sad and moving at times. I’d really recommend it. Not so the record…

Author/songwriter Willy Vlautin, 'The Motel Life' 

In recent months I’ve also loved reading ‘How I Killed Margaret Thatcher’ by Dudley born, Anthony Cartwright. This is his third book after ‘The Afterglow’ and ‘Heartland’ set in the Black Country, and I’ve enjoyed all three. This one tells its story through the eyes of a nine-year old boy, who, as the narrator, bears witness to the devastating policies of Thatcher in the 1980’s on his hometown of Dudley and the surrounding factories, and the impact this has on his own family. It’s a both sad and angry book, and made me feel both sad and angry too. Finishing the book and then stepping back out it made me reflect on the world around me as it is now and see how much has been lost in our communities and society thanks to that woman’s policies.  The current coalition government are doing a devastatingly good job of hammering the last nails in the coffin. 
  Anyway, on a last, and less bitter note, other records I have enjoyed in recent months, include London Grammar’s debut  ‘If You Wait’, from last year, which is a wonderful warm, late-night listen. It’s been a record to get lost to to in the studio.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

'Not Much Good Painting' -The West Midlands Open 2014

'The Gaze', oil on canvas, 210 x 150cms, in The West Midlands Open 2014, Gas Hall, Birmingham

It’s been a few weeks now since it opened and from when I went to the Private View, but I’m pleased with how my large painting ‘The Gaze’ looks in the ‘West Midlands Open 2014’ exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s Gas Hall. It looks great against this green wall, and it’s so nice to see it with some space around it as it hangs on a wall on it’s own. In fact, it’s the biggest painting in the show, which is a bit of a surprise in some respects, but in others it’s not. There does seem a current vogue for more modestly scaled painting, which I also felt when I exhibited in the ‘Worcester Open’ last year. My painting in that show, although at only five feet across and so not terribly large, was the biggest painting there too. It seemed to sit very awkwardly in that particularly show, like how I often feel at parties, and I didn’t like how it looked. I’m much more pleased with this representation of my work in the Gas Hall. 

Digging that green wall....

I just wished some of the punters visiting the exhibition felt the same. The comments book, although full of many complimentary things to say about the show, also has it’s fair share of, often quite outrageously rude, condemnatory comments too. I don’t know, as it is with these things, it’s a mixed bag, but I thought a good mixture of things if you are willing to look a bit harder than the feeling I got from some of the said commentators. Oh well. Each to their own.  Apparently there is ‘not much good painting’ in the show. Well, I didn’t notice that. Instead, here are some rather good examples that caught my eye…
Paul Newman, 'The Fly', mixed media on canvas
Angela Maloney, 'Danny Boy', oil and acrylic on canvas
Celia De Serra, 'Isabella', pencil on paper

The show runs until February 2015. I think it's well worth a visit. 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Lest We Forget

CRW Nevinson, 'After a Push', 1918
There were a few activities organized by different departments across the college to mark today’s hundredth year anniversary of the beginning of World War 1.  I held a presentation of art created from the period by different artists from both Britain and Germany, as well as looking at more contemporary examples by artists in more recent conflicts.  Here are some of the examples of paintings I shared with my students and colleagues today to remember the terrible loss and sacrifice made by so many, and the key role art, from painting to poetry, has played in helping us attempt to understand the horrors of war and conflict.  
CRW Nevinson, 'Bursting Shell', 1915
Paul Nash, 'The Ypres Salient at Night', 1916
Otto Dix, 'Der Krieg', etching and aquatint, 1921
Otto Dix, 'Skat Players', oil and collage on board, 1920
The brilliant Otto Dix, like so many German artists, was never afraid to look at things head on. Here in this painting he mercilessly depicts the former generals and officers who sent so many innocent men to their deaths with their terribly mutilated bodies and crude artificial limbs and 'tin jaws', yet still looking smart in their uniforms, medals proudly worn. Sights of ex veterans like these were common on the streets of post war Germany.
Henry Tonks, 'Portraits of Injured Soldiers', pastel
Tonks, a former doctor before becoming an artist, was asked to detail the terrible facial injuries suffered by 15% of soldiers on the frontline to aid early practitioners of plastic surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons. 
Peter Howson, 'Bosnian Harvest', 1994
Howson, a former soldier himself, was commissioned by The Times and The Imperial War Museum to be the official War Artist in Bosnia in 1993. Gruesome scenes like these, where local women collect the mutilated limbs of dead civilians, sent Howson to the edge of a breakdown.

Lest we forget.