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…



Wednesday, 12 August 2015


oil on canvas, 100 x 150cms, 2015

Before I went away I painted this new painting based on one of my drawings of the car wreck that I have previously posted about. I spent some time this week adjusting and refining some parts of it. Since painted it it has evoked some uncomfortable feelings about taking this particular drawing into painting and how the image has become a full-blown technicolour, visceral and physical depiction of the aftermath of violence and possibly death, despite not knowing anything about the history of events that bought this car in this state to the kerbside.. It’s all in the not knowing though, and the associations and emotions the image projects or has projected onto it. These are not sensations I’ve been used to working with before, and I’m not sure I like being here. I feel rather naïve in my lack of anticipation about all of this.

My wife, Diane said I should stick to painting the lorries. I think she may be right.

Saturday, 8 August 2015


Artist David Hockney working 'en plein air' in the East Riding Wolds

I’ve just returned from a holiday with my wife and two children to the East Yorkshire Wolds, or East Riding as it is known, near the coastal town of Filey. When we booked it I, surprisingly, had forgotten about the area’s connection to being the landscape recently made famous by David Hockney in his extensive series of landscape paintings made ‘plein air’ and celebrated in ‘A Bigger Picture’, his enormous exhibition of this work at the Royal Academy in 2012. 
David Hockney, 'Path Through Wheat Field. July, 2005', oil on canvas, 61 x 91.4 cm 

I really enjoyed this exhibition and so it was a pleasant surprise to find myself driving along these winding country roads where yellow fields of barley and wheat seemed to stretch seemingly without end beyond the abundant hedgerows either side.  I felt like I had stepped into these gloriously colourful and light filled paintings, and as the landscape was so flat but above the sea, whose horizon was always in view, and with clear blue skies above dotted with white fluffy clouds, at times I felt like I was dizzyingly on top of the world. 

David Hockney, 'Sledmere View', oil on canvas, 2008, 90 x 150cms

It’s strange as we spent most of our week by the sea, on the nearby beach, or the beaches of nearby Bridlington, Filey or Scarborough, yet the sea is oddly absent from Hockney’s paintings of the region. 
David Hockney, 'The Big Hawthorne', 2008, oil on nine canvases, each 91 x 120cms
After a personal tragedy (1) the artist and his assistants seemed to almost abandon the Bridlington base he had worked from for nearly five years, in what was an incredibly creative period from this incredibly creative artist, overnight and return to his LA home he is more famous for. He has since returned to portraiture with his usual drive, despite suffering a minor stroke, but I must admit his recent exhibition in London of these seemed really disappointing (2)

                     Lucy Jones, 'Serenity', oil on canvas, 50 x 70cms, 2010

I did a few drawings of my own on holiday, but it is pretty impossible to give it any real time when you have two lively kids kicking sand in your sketchbook. I would love to develop more seriously my interest in ‘plein air’ painting again at some point in the future. 

The last painting on this post is by Lucy Jones (above), whose work I really like, and she works on these paintings, which are often very large six-feet across things, entirely in the ‘plein air’ tradition. She must overcome what must be immense physical difficulty to create these paintings as she suffers from cerebral palsy and works on her knees outside in all weathers (3). I think they are brilliant and so full of life.