Friday, 23 December 2016

Fear Itself: Notes From The Studio

Current view of the studio
These last few months in the studio have been an attempt to scratch around a bit more with the work and see what, if anything, comes to the surface. I have always found it useful in the past to work quickly, and more spontaneously, on a large series of studies and paintings and then spend some time reflecting on what has happened and if there any potential in any of it. Whereas with my portrait work for over ten years I moved completely away from that and everything was very carefully planned with very little room for any spontaneity.  I’ve found myself with these recent paintings, and increasingly with all my landscape work, loosening it all up again and returning to a more spontaneous way of working in an attempt to make something happen.  On recent visits to the studio I have found myself just looking at these paintings, moving them around, putting groupings together of some of them and thinking about what next. 
recent painting, oil on canvas, 2016
I feel that some of the paintings, particularly the ones of empty transit and distribution depots, or seemingly abandoned trucks, evoke a kind of post-Brexit mood and the endless and increasingly futile discussions about the ‘left behind’ which are epitomised in the post-industrial landscape of the Black Country they are derived from. That, and the other recent catastrophe that is the Trump election, have certainly been at the forefront of my thoughts in recent months. I feel a certain sort of sickness and tired and deeply frustrated resignation, despair, but also real fear with it all recently.  I’m certain I am not the only one.
recent painting, oil on canvas, 2016
Other paintings seem increasingly more personal and in possession of a slightly different sort of psychology with their scenes of isolated, enclosed and turned away forms. They reflect something of my inner mood and in that sense could be self-portraits of a kind, an idea that somehow runs through all of my paintings of lorries and vehicles.
recent painting, oil on canvas, 2016
recent painting, oil on canvas, 2016
There also exists a slight hint of horror and the supernatural in some of them influenced by ‘Fear Itself’, an extraordinary essay-film about the horror movie genre and the dread and fear in the banal and every day which I watched in the summer. It is only available to watch for a limited period on the BBC I-Player and can still be seen here:, .
'Fear Itself', still image
Its ideas and the deep unease I felt throughout watching it has lingered with me since. This unease was as much provoked by the structure of the film as much as the content, where the focus was consistently on the scenes ‘in between’ the big reveal or shock scenes of the genre which tend to break the tension. Here the tension was never broken and so watching was almost agonising over the one and a half hours of the films duration. And now I find myself continually in a similar state of deep unease since the political events of the summer and more recently in the US.
 recent painting, oil on canvas, 2016
Anyway, it’s hard to say what is evoked in my own work: these are just some of the thoughts bubbling under the surface. I don’t want to speculate, analyse or write too much. My main thoughts are with making the next painting. I do lately, however, often have an overriding sense of trying to do something a bit more optimistic and life affirming in what has, and is, a very dark time for the world, as much to do something to keep me sane, and to avoid painting myself into my own dark corner, and to do something that is in some way oppositional.
Jackson Pollock, 'Blue Poles'
I recently went to see the large (12 rooms!) ‘Abstract Expressionism’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts and realised how much of this stuff really resonates with my painting practice in relation to how I approach depicting the landscape and where my interests consistently lie re the formal. Things in the exhibition seem to suggest how I could develop some of these recent smaller paintings. It was a wonderful exhibition, with particular favourites including the De Koonings (easily the most technically sophisticated), the Klines, and the very large Pollock paintings. Not to mention the Rothko’s, Gottlieb’s, Tworkov’s, Reinhardt’s etc…! It was great. Well worth a visit.  

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