Saturday, 19 December 2015

Same Old Same Old....

(Photos taken on the journey)
I travelled up to Sheffield to take my work down from the Blue Moon Café last Tuesday. Nothing had been sold I’m afraid to say, but when I called in to Cupola Gallery later on they said they still interested in representing my work, so at least that was positive. They particularly liked my lorry paintings too, which I was pleased about, as this is the current stuff. 
I enjoyed a visit to the fantastic Graves Art Gallery whilst I was in the city, which had an exceptional painting collection. I took a lot of inspiration from it, finding it good soul food in that way that only painting can provide for me. I couldn’t take my paintings down from the café until three in the afternoon when it was quieter, so I had a late lunch there and a final opportunity to view my paintings before I took them off the walls. I was pleased with how they looked, but on observing everyone in the café I was struck by how not one person seemed to notice that they were there as they ate and conversed. I’ve been glad of the opportunity presented by Cupola, but it felt problematic experiencing my work like this. 
I left feeling a bit flat about it all, and tired from the journey and events of the last few months. I was glad to have my paintings back with me.  They sort of feel like old friends sometimes. They go up again at Artrix Arts Centre on January 4th in my first exhibition of the New Year. It feels a bit like Bob Dylan’s Never Ending Tour sometimes, only he manages to get a bit more interest than me. 

As I joined the M1 south back to Birmingham, I put Beirut’s ‘Realpeople Holland’ album on the car stereo. ‘My Night With The Prostitute From Marseille’ and the other, lovely in their synthesizer melancholy, songs always cheer me up…

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Failing To Impress

I was recently interviewed for a Feeney Fellowship, following a proposal I made in response to a call for applicants. The Fellowship awards two bursaries a year of up to £3000 to Birmingham based arts practitioners to, as outlined on their website, ‘broaden their expertise and develop their careers…the proposal should allow exposure to new, outside influences…rather than simply giving the applicant time to develop a new body of work’. 
  My proposal was centred on an interest I’ve had for some time in developing some sculptural ceramics based on my interest in the urban environment, and in particular based on the recent lorry and vehicle paintings. The idea of the trucks as ‘vessels’ or containers seemed to naturally lend itself to this idea and, for the proposal at least, seemed like a good opportunity to potentially extend my practise and skills. I know plenty of ceramicists whose work I admire, and have very much been a part in fostering my interest in this art form, who were happy to support me in my endeavours with their knowledge and expertise, and, most importantly, their kilns (!). 

Anyway, this is all a bit circumspect as, following my interview, I was unsuccessful in the end, and did not receive a bursary. For the interview I had to give a brief presentation in support of my proposal. I decided it would be a different approach to develop and present a sketchbook of possible design ideas, and so during the time I have been signed off work I spent a few days working on this. I made nearly eighty studies over thirty pages, which I enjoyed a great deal: making initial drawings from my son’s toy trucks and then developing ideas about different surface treatments using paint and collage. As I said, it’s all a bit circumspect now, but I thought it might be nice to share some of these in this post. 
Road Mending Machine Teapot!
My good friend, Marian, who acted as a referee, was very disappointed I was turned down and wondered if her reference had not been, in her words, ‘sophisticated enough’. I am certain that this would not have been the case, but rather more likely to be the lack of sophistication in my ideas that would have been the problem. I think also that it may be that it looked, and probably correctly, like I would be producing a whole new body of work, rather than extending my existing practise. I will never know….Still, despite this I do think some of the designs have potential to be carried further, and maybe, without the pressure the Fellowship would have undoubtedly brought, I could attempt something in clay yet in the New Year. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015


I love all the webs that we get much nearer to the house in the autumn as the spiders seek the warmth. I’m often walking face first into their dewy, glistening large tangles, strung from wall to fence, and occupied by some magnificent, and often very large, spiders as I make my way down the garden to the studio. 
  The studio itself is a real home for them, and big ones too, as they seek homes in the high roof and in the insulated walls. I’ve often been in there and heard a gentle thud as one large and hairy spider drops to the floor and scampers away (that may seem an exaggeration, but check out the one in the photo), or I catch sight of them slowly crawling across the walls from the corner of my eye. 
  The studio is also full of their dried out and desiccated corpses as they eventually die. I’m always finding their papery bodies in unusual places, like inside these old jars of sticky, dried out linseed oil. I suspect they have dropped dead from the ceiling into the jars, rather than making their way into my oil and dying a slow death. I hope so anyway. I’ve become really fond of them. They are the only company I have in the studio.  

I’ve felt a bit like those spiders trapped in the oily jar of late, as I have recently undergone surgery to have some pre cancerous skin cancer cells removed from my face. I’ve felt rather frozen and inert waiting for the days to pass to when I would hear the results of tests to discover whether they had taken root in other parts of my face, which would require more surgery. Thankfully, I’ve now heard they haven’t and I’ve been given the all clear. It’s been a scary, and sometimes traumatic, time. 
                                                       Vija Celmans, Untitled (Web 2) Mezzotint on Paper, 17 x 19cms
All this talk of spider webs can’t help bring to mind artist Vija Celmins eerie and beautiful drawings of spider webs. I really like these pieces and the evocative symbolism they conjure up, as do all her pieces, which include images of the sea and even constellations of stars. There is a strangeness to all her work which simultaneously draws you in but also keeps you at a distance, unable to mentally grasp onto things. These are feelings that seem to echo my own recent state of mind as I have spent time waiting and recovering.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Steeltown- 'Black Highway' at Cupola@Blue Moon Cafe, Sheffield

'Auto Portrait' and smaller works at Blue Moon Cafe, Sheffield
I was in Sheffield on Friday to install an exhibition of my paintings at last at the Blue Moon Café in association with Cupola Gallery. I say at last as the last few weeks have been pretty preoccupied with preparations for it. So it was great to throw things in the van and hit the M1 north. I went with my Dad as an extra pair of hands and welcome company. 
'Shudder' and 'Black Highway'
 The paintings were hung on wires on a picture rail, which were a bit fiddly to get things in position with at times, especially with trying to hang the work around the café clientele as well. I was lucky that the café was quiet in the afternoon after the lunchtime rush (I was not allowed to do anything until after 2pm), but the only two customers there were sat in really awkward spots for me to move around. I was rather foolishly too polite to ask them to shift, and they seemed to not even notice I was there with my big canvasses, so it was a little frustrating at times.  
 This guy wasn't moving for love nor money!
I was also frustrated that we eventually ran out of the hanging wires supplied by the gallery and I had to leave out three of my smaller paintings which I had had framed. I was disappointed about this, but still….I have a few more shows coming up where I can hopefully show them.  
  I’m pleased with these little paintings, as I struggle to make smaller works I’m happy with. Indeed, I called in Cupola Gallery on the way to pick up one of the larger paintings they had and some smaller framed drawings and paintings. One of the smaller paintings I now thought looked awful, and yet I had exhibited it in 2014 at Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery. I guess it’s with the benefit of distance that I can see its weaknesses now.  I had actually decided this with other ones I had exhibited in the same show, and some of the canvasses in this show are painted over the ones from then. Re-use and recycle. 
 'Canal' and 'Silence'

I’m pleased with how the exhibition looks now it is up. I wonder what other’s reactions will be? Sadly, I couldn’t leave a comments book but I hope to hear a few things. Here are a few photos…If anyone fancies a visit, you can combine it with a lovely vegan meal at the café too, it’s on until December 8th.  
Blue Moon is right next to Sheffield Cathedral in a great spot in the city. Here is a link with the address:

Friday, 18 September 2015


oil on panel
With the current refugee crisis sweeping Europe and the awful stories of people smuggling in the backs of suffocating lorries this small painting I completed the other night (above) seemed to possess a different and very present currency. Most of my lorry paintings feature just the decoupled cab without any cargo, but I like this painting and wonder whether it should be developed further. 
I’ve also been busy planning my exhibition at the Blue Moon Café in Sheffield by making these little ‘maquettes’ on bits of old mount card of the café walls from the dimensions and photos Cupola Gallery has sent me. It’s been really important to plan it carefully in the end as apparently I won’t have much time to install the work. I also want to exhibit some more accessibly priced smaller works, so I have needed to decide which ones and get them framed. I’ve made a few more small square lorry paintings to go with other similar pieces last week too. 
I’m also struggling to price my work as the gallery takes a 50% commission on everything: I would like to attempt to sell things and therefore try and price them reasonably so that the price tag may appeal, and yet I don’t want to give things away either. Any money I make will almost certainly be less than if I was selling them on my own, but you can’t have it all ways. For me at this stage, It’s more important that I am working with the support of a gallery so that is a price I will have to pay for now. What with this and all the good news about Jeremy Corbyn, it’s all taken up a bit of head space lately…

Monday, 24 August 2015


Wolverhampton Art Gallery Hire Space Gallery

I’ve put a bit of time aside during the summer break to visit again some of the venues that I’m exhibiting in during the coming months between October until March 2016. The aim being to try and get my head around what I want to show, what space is available to show it, and what do I want to ‘say’ in each exhibition. I ask myself this, as each place is quite different, and two of the exhibitions will be very close to each other, in January at the Artrix Arts Centre and March at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.  
The first exhibition in October is at the Blue Moon Café in Sheffield in association with Cupola Gallery, so this has a more commercial slant to it from my point of view, although the Gallery has said they are happy for me to exhibit whatever I want. I don’t think paintings of crashed cars will do me any favours though or go down that well with the vegan clientele of the café, so I’m trying to think what may be a good mix of work that will combine with my intention of putting on a good, striking exhibition that will hopefully sow the seeds for more interest from Cupola in the long term, but also sell some pieces, which will again make the gallery more interested in me as an artist, and make the most of the opportunity that exhibiting in this sort of venue and with Cupola’s support presents. 

In the past, I might have turned my nose up a bit at showing in a café like this, but I think it is a good venue: lots of wall space and lots of people seeing the work but with the added bonus of a credible gallery supporting you, rather than working totally independently.  The gallery has said that some artists sell lots of work when exhibiting at Blue Moon, others none. It is, as ever, very hard to predict. I don’t want to think too much about this really. The gallery is promoting the exhibition, which I have again called ‘Black Highway’, through their regular marketing strategies of pamphlets, newsletters and social media, but as it’s so far away I’m not planning an opening of any sort. I have enough trouble trying to persuade people to come along to any local things I’m in. I’m looking forward to doing something different, feeling somewhat tired of all the other normal types of exhibitions I do in public or artist-run spaces. As I say, I’m also hoping it may help me foster a longer term relationship with Cupola Gallery.  
Current painting, oil on canvas, 138 x 100cms

I’ve decided to exhibit a mixture of older and new work too: older, as I still think there is a lot of exhibition mileage in some of my better motorway paintings which haven’t been seen out of the region, and these are also the pieces the gallery were originally interested in; and newer pieces to hopefully nudge the conversation forward a bit with the gallery. I’ve been working on this new lorry painting (above) with it’s dominant slashing yellow and blacks with the view of it hanging well alongside these other paintings. 
'Silence', oil on canvas, 100 x 120cms, 2012
 'Canal', oil on canvas, 120 x 150cms, 2014

The next exhibition is more like the things I usually do, and will be in January 2016 at the Artrix Arts Centre in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. I exhibited here in 2006 and enjoyed it; the three wall spaces are generous and you can put quite an extensive show together, which is what I hope to do. I originally thought I may combine some of the, now older, motorway paintings with the newer ones made in the last two years, but I’m moving away from that idea now, and think I just want to exhibit all new work as I seem to have made quite a lot of it now. This is also in light of visiting Wolverhampton Art Gallery too, and my thoughts about this space. 
 One of the walls at Atrix Arts Centre, Bromsgrove (but not my paintings!)
Wolverhampton Art Gallery Hire Space

This space, the Hire Gallery, is seemingly quite generous with its wall space but it also quite awkward: it is narrow and hard to plan that easily for. With this in mind, I’ve therefore decided to try and develop a series of new larger, more ambitious, paintings specifically for the space. It would be a good venue to try something a little less safe in scale, as there will be plenty of visitors to this busy gallery, and also try and create a more coherent statement of some kind in relation to the lorry theme I’m currently exploring; something that will bring the different strands of ideas together. With the two exhibitions so close together I’m also thinking it may be an interesting idea to promote them as a two-part exhibition: the first a collection that represents the diversity of things and experimental work from the last two years; the second part the larger paintings that will try to lock down some of this into something stronger and more coherent. Sounds like a plan? Well, we’ll see…I’ll probably have a different idea next week…

Sunday, 23 August 2015


'Depot 2', oil on canvas, 150 x 100cms, 2014

Earlier this year, in February, together with my artist friend, Andrew Smith, I became a member of Birmingham’s Eastside Projects’, an artist-run gallery in Digbeth,  ‘Extra Special People’. This is a membership scheme that offers artist’s access to a range of different opportunities that the gallery is involved in directly or indirectly, including seminars; residencies; exhibitions; networking events; funding etc. Andy I both put ourselves forward for the monthly ‘crit club’ that they organise. It seems to be programmed as a series over a block of four months within the year, where each month three different artists present and discuss their work and ideas to any other ESP members that may be interested (not many in my experience so far- it’s mainly just the artists that turn up and me and Andy), with the session, which lasts approximately two hours, being led by one of Eastside’s Artist-Directors.

Andy’s went well in May, where he discussed his paintings and previewed ‘Orfeo’ (1), the film he recently made with artist friend Hugh Marwood which featured in their recent ‘Mental Mappings’ exhibition in Rugby. This looked great projected onto a big screen. 

In July I took my turn at The Lombard Method, a studio group and project space in Digbeth, with artists James Harris and Nick Mobbs. Sadly, Andy couldn’t make it this time due to ill health.  The session was presided over by Anna, the ESP coordinator, who early on apologized for her lack of knowledge about painting but she was the only one from Eastside Projects available to facilitate the session, and then followed that with declaring that she had no interest in the ‘enclosed and closed space’ of the traditional gallery experience, which was even more of a pity as we were all making fairly traditional wall based work which would normally find a home in such spaces! (I found that sort of a bit ironic though as it is a criticism often leveled at institutions such as Eastside Projects: that they operate in a very ‘enclosed and closed’ esoteric world). She was very nice though. The only other person present was an artist friend of James’.

I enjoyed listening to James, a young artist, who happily discussed his homo-erotic drawings, which were shared around the group. There were quite a collection of these, some of them very explicit with obvious debts to Picasso, and just one abstract painting hanging on a multi coloured pastel stained wall, which in many ways seemed pretty unrelated, a point not lost on James.  The wall was a bit lost on me to be honest, as I thought the staining was just left over from some previous activity until James drew our attention to it. James discussed with passion his lack of interest in exhibiting his work anywhere: it was the process of making it that was more important. These are feelings I am totally in tune with on one level, but did think that the work would benefit from some sort of focus of some kind, which I think an exhibition can offer (or perhaps a crit like this).  I have no images of James’ work to share I’m afraid. 
 Nick Mobbs, 'Game', screenprint, 2011, 61 x 54cms
Where James was very ebullient and happy to talk freely about his work, Nick Mobbs held everything back, more interested to listen to our responses to a recent print hung on the wall and a video work in progress of cowled, or hooded, figures, an ongoing theme (2), but more recently represented in absurdist images from the internet of celebrities masking their identities from the spying paparazzi with blankets or other things over their heads. As we discussed the work, Nick recorded our responses in a small notebook. Our responses ranged from enjoying some humour in them, to, in my own case, being disturbed by them and reading in them a more social and political dimension: the veiled, or covered head, and my relationship to the Muslim community I work at the heart of in Birmingham.  I don’t think this was that popular a view when shared, except with Anna, who it transpired lives in this community too. The images of celebrities were culturally lost on me, as I have so little knowledge or interest in this these days. For me, it highlighted the issue of how important the idea is of how we individually always bring our own social and political perspective to our encounters with art, particularly when Nick was not interested in talking about them himself. It was all really intriguing but can be more fully explained in the interview link with Nick from his website (3).

I can’t find an image of Nick’s related to our discussion, but here is one (above) from his website that we did also touch upon when I bought this up. 

'Cargo', oil on canvas, 65 x 90cms, 2015

When it came to my turn I too decided that I would just show the work and say nothing about it beforehand to see what people thought without any direction from me. I had taken seven of my fairly large paintings of lorries and vehicles, the most that night, and spread them across the studio wall. Much like my motivation for exhibiting these at the college Arts Festival I wanted to gauge people’s reactions to this new work. Slowly people started to comment. Anna remarked upon their ‘humanistic’ quality and the idea of what was behind the black windscreen shield of the lorry: were the drivers sleeping? with a prostitute? They seemed ‘funny at first, then very sad’ to others; ‘Edward Hopper’ like; ‘obsessive: I should narrow it down to just doing the same truck for the rest of my life‘; some seemed like they contained a narrative, other ones were like an advert for a cool truck, which was ‘not a bad thing’ apparently; the scale: some should be bigger and others, like the advert one, smaller (I didn’t take my smaller ones). 
'Dirty From The Rain' (re-painted)

The drips that have entered the most recent paintings (“Under The Bridge’ and ‘Dirty From The Rain’) troubled people the most though, which I found interesting as they also trouble me. It was agreed by all of us that they looked most like ‘art marks’ (my phrase, paraphrased from Chuck Close ). That is, those gestural marks in painting, most often found in abstract painting, that somehow aim to convince the audience that this is ‘real art’ borne from the struggle and sweat of the artist’s brow, but can often actually carry very little real meaning. Now, I like gestural marks, but I also like to disguise them, and have tried for years to attempt to create in three marks what I would in the past have created in thirty. I think the ‘Under The Bridge’ painting is a little problematic in the sense that the heavy drips and runs of turpsy paint look somehow more ‘arty’ but in a more superficial way, which is what I’m clumsily trying to explain here, although that was far from my intention; I was just trying to push the materials to see where the image could go that was different to the others. (This was generally picked up on and liked in the crit: the fact that they were all paintings of the subject, but all seemed very different). When exhibited at the college it was the painting I was least happy with, but actually was most people’s favourite, which I felt a bit cynical about because of these reasons of ‘artiness’ discussed above. I was pleased that the crit also shared my reservations, but in some way I wish I hadn’t taken the piece as it was also a bit distracting as too much focus ended up being on what in my mind has become one of the least interesting pieces of the last few months.

Still, I have found myself painting over the excessive drip-work since in both of these paintings in an attempt to get them looking simpler and tougher, but I’m not going to change them too much.
 'Under The Bridge' (re-painted)
Anyway, it has been good to put the work, and myself, out there in both events; the college exhibition and the crit. Overall, the work has been positively received. My friend, artist Andrew Tift, commented recently that he thought my lorries were the best thing I had done and that they were much more ‘fresh and original’. So it’s keep on truckin’ I guess…