Friday, 21 December 2018

Expecting To Fly


oil on canvas, 100 x 76cms, 2018
I haven’t posted anything on the blog for some time. Despite having a lot I would like to share about things I’ve recently read and exhibitions seen I just never seem to be able to carve the time out to write. Any time I do have I prefer to carve out in the studio.  As we head to Christmas and the year’s end, however, I thought it might be timely to share some of the recent paintings I’ve been engaged with.

I’ve been working in fits and starts with varying degrees of success. I’m trying to get the work onto a different footing, since the exhibition in Nottingham really, where I felt pretty unhappy with the almost relentless depressive mood the paintings seemed to have found themselves in. I’m more pleased with many of the actual paintings themselves, which I thought had many good new things technically and formally about them, but I’ve just wanted to look up and try and create something new and well, a bit more upbeat, really, although I don’t really do upbeat very well, and I’m not even sure if that is the right word to use either but still… Another aspect of them is that they are borne out of, and seem to keep me in, a dark place psychologically too, which I am keen to try and leave behind. On a personal level, I believe there is a ‘truth’ in them, in the sense that they do seem to encapsulate in visual form very well the mood I frequently carry around with me.  When you are in the process of creating a body of work, either consciously or unconsciously, however, the work does get a grip on your mind that shapes and twists your thinking, so perhaps that is why I feel a bit 
depressed by them too.  So…to cut a long story short(!), I have wanted to at least try and open it up again and move things on, for my own mental well-being as much as anything!
Studio studies, oil on paper and prints
I spent some time making some small oils on paper based on the sea defences on the East coast I posted about after the summer. These included a couple of canvasses, including quite a large one which I eventually abandoned. The others I have since painted over. But I didn’t feel happy, or ready, about taking this any further just yet.
oil on canvas, 59 x 50cms, 2018
I therefore returned to some more street nocturnes thinking about my forthcoming exhibition at Wolverhampton's Asylum Gallery in March 2019, with the view to replace a couple of the paintings from this series which I have sold. But I didn’t want to just replace those pieces, I have wanted to also gently nudge the work along a bit if I could, which I think I have with this one of the car in snow (above), but even more so with this view from a bridge above the M5 motorway, which I painted much more directly and quickly. 
oil on canvas, 30 x 42cms, 2018
This painting does nothing for my mood however, as I find myself thinking of the woman who threw herself off a bridge onto the traffic of the M5 motorway below a few years ago after fearing she would lose everything after being presented with a bill for the nasty Bedroom Tax. This was after her son had left home and vacated the room in their council house where they had happily lived all their lives…a tragic story, amongst many, many tragic stories I read about life in Austerity Britain, that I feel a haunted by. The Tories just seem to be raging an ideological Class War in the last ten years, the like of which I have never experienced in my lifetime. It seems even worse than the Thatcherite Eighties which I grew up in. The recent UN report seems to support this, but the lack of meaningful media coverage it received, and the scorn dealt out by the awful Amber Rudd towards it, just seems to epitomise the state we are in. See what I mean about my depressive mood?!
oil on canvas, 59 x 50cms, 2018
oil on canvas, 59 x 50cms, 2018
I digress…alongside doing these, I also worked on these more colourful paintings above, based on scenes at Birmingham Airport’s carpark of the bus stop and the ticket machine, where I had found myself in the early evening a few weeks previously. These are more obviously, through their use of colour and the treatment of the space, a break into something newer, but I don’t think they are quite there yet. They went through many different stages, including being very dark at one point. I feel they are a tad overworked, and the drawing is not quite right in the ticket machine one, and the light not so in the bus stop.
oil on canvas, 59 x 50cms, 2018
However, this other one above, of the same size I painted in one quick go and feel this is much stronger. It has a good energy in the brushwork and drawing, that is balanced well with the colour and light. Interestingly, I did this one in a morning, and this led me to paint the motorway one in the same way, which I then led onto me painting this much bigger painting,at the top of this blog post, the following week in a similarly direct way.

This is the one I am most pleased with. I think it is a better composition, but because of the more ‘flat-footed’ and deliberately direct manner in which it has been painted it seems better at avoiding those clich├ęd, more painterly ‘art marks’ that I had felt were seeping back into my work which I have being trying to avoid for years.  My early portrait paintings were developed out of a considerable effort to get away from the type of painterly mark-making that I, like many, many painters, found myself constantly falling back on, and could do easily too, to make the paintings look more like ‘art’ or artful when I had nothing else to offer. I also think this painting makes a link back to my first landscape paintings of the motorways which I like about it too.
oil on canvas, 35 x 46cms, 2018
So I’m now throwing my energies into creating more paintings in this way, with greater simplification, painted directly onto the white canvas like I used to, to hopefully avoid them looking overworked, but instead as they if have almost arrived fully formed. The white of the canvas combined with my thin application of paint has really helped the colours glow. 
oil on canvas, 30 x 41cms, 2018
This approach is also giving me more confidence to begin to introduce different subject matter back into the work, such as these coastal scenes. After a few tricky months I feel pretty excited again as I move into 2019…but they are admittedly little steps just now, but slightly more upbeat little steps…