Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 15, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 9:04 am

I have tried in this blog to share a little of my own confusion as to why we make art and how we should understand it. I even to some degree find some of my own posts made early on naive and too happy to believe in my own unfounded beliefs. So inevitably there are times when I contradict myself. I have read enough about human motivation to know that if we have a cherished holy cow then we will assess opinions that affirm said cow’s holiness differently than any heretical ones that dismiss the cow’s saintliness. Indeed it has been shown that we even rate the trustworthiness and honesty of the person delivering the views according to our unproven and often unconsidered views. There has been research done that shows this quite definitively. Worse, it shows that the more strongly we are challenged the more fiercely we cling to our cosy assumptions. I do my best to be fair but I realise I am doomed to failure. In any case unfairness makes a far better read!

So to this posts topic. Copying. Until recently all artists learning their craft would learn by copying the works of those who had gone before. I may be making one of those terrible assumptions, but I suspect not many abstract expressionists sit down and copy a Rothko or a Pollock. Indeed since the Impressionists artists have rarely copied works from history. Looking back however very few of the great stars in the art constellation didn’t learn from copying. However what would be the point of copying Martin Creed’s light bulb… Wait a minute I shall pause in typing and try it in the kitchen… Well I’m back… but not any wiser,  the neighbours may think I am signalling someone. You might conclude that this is because there is nothing there to learn.

It is only in the visual and plastic arts copying is possible. You could not copy a piece of music or a novel or a poem. You can copy a Chippendale chair, or a Bernard Leach pot or a Rembrandt. The other side of copying is emulating the style, so you might do a pastiche in the manner of Mozart or write a poem in the voice of Wordsworth. Here is where it gets interesting. I can see no way I could do a painting that would pass for a good Velasquez. I might make something in the style that he might have knocked out when off colour from a dose of flue, but not anything from when he was firing on all cylinders. However I could do a Jackson Pollock. Indeed I have done several. They are easy. Not only easy almost impossible to tell by eye from Jackson’s own. If I researched the type of house paint and canvas I reckon I could fool even the experts. I have also done pastiches of Giacometti for an advert for Fiat. The Giacometti institute or whatever complained I had copied. However I hadn’t I had just made up some new ones. This made me reassess Giacometti who I had previously admired, later I saw an exhibition of his work in Basel and thought his earlier abstracts better than his later work. I still like them but realise that he is a one trick pony and a simple trick at that.

On the other side of the coin I was asked to do a copy of the Thinker by Rodin. This was very hard I found, even though I had very good reference. The result was pretty convincing, but I could not have made a sculpture in the manner of Rodin that would have fooled anyone. Again for an advert I was asked to paint a section of the Sistine Chapel. Just copying it was monstrously difficult and I had to start again twice. To invent an extra Sybil that would sit happily amongst the others on that oh so famous ceiling would be verging on the impossible. To do a Rothko that would sit happily in the Tate beside the others would however be relativly easy. So what are we to make of this? I am inclined perhaps to rate works by how easy they would be to emulate. This is entirely separate from how I might enjoy artists works, for example I rather enjoy Rothko’s sombre monoliths. My assessment however is of an artist for another artist. I need to do this to judge my own erratic progress, not out of any real desire to topple anyone’s heroes from their pedestals.

I have since I started taking part in online society seen many people try to copy Singer Sargent, none in my opinion have succeeded, but I bet they were all wiser from the experience. I certainly was after battling with Michelangelo for a couple of weeks! So why do we scorn this quite straightforward means of self improvement? Do you know what? I just don’t have any idea. Why do we no longer walk down this rich and easily available avenue of instruction? It is a mystery. I would lay money on no students in Fine Art degree courses doing much or indeed any of it. They would I suspect react with horror or scorn at the thought. It is due to this attitude that I myself have done barely any copying. I did set to and copy Thomas Girtin and a few Turners in my twenties I destroyed the results which says something about how I felt, it was perhaps a shameful activity. Whatever, I do remember I learnt lots from the process. For me it is just more evidence that the state of the fine art world is pretty dire and most of the theories that wrap around it nonsense. It is the words that have doused this once great lamp of human achievement, proving I suppose that though the pen might fail to slay a sword swinging barbarian it has had no trouble dispatching anyone wielding a paint brush.

I have been working hard recently, there is no doubt the more intensively you paint the easier and more fluent the process becomes. I am also trying to carry on refining paintings so many of these pictures in this post have moved on a little.

Henley Regatta, oil painting, thames

I have been asked to exhibit some pictures at this years Henley Regatta, I went last year and took lots of reference. I enjoyed painting these far more than I expected to, I had actually been putting off painting any Henley pictures and was considering not exhibiting. Once started though I saw all sorts of possibilities. This one was almost right in the reference, photos tell you too much really. I had lots of other shots to flick through too to give me a feel of the atmosphere of the day. 10in by 12in Oils.


Henley Regatta, oil painting

Another Henley one, this has had surgery since so this is a first state. I have since cut the board down but it still probably won’t make the exhibition. 12in by 20in oils.


Henley Regatta, oil painting, Thames, river

Another work in progress although nearly done. I liked the split between river and crowd. I am still working on some of the near faces which need to be more painterly. I find it quite a good method to first do the face with too much detail which looks stiff and then use that as guide to overlay simpler brush strokes. A difficult composition as it has no real focus other than the division between land and water. 12in by 24in oils.


Henley Regatta, oil painting

This one has had a few touches after this scan. I skimmed a bit off the man’s face and toned down his cuff. I wanted to do one that had the people in it as characters rather than as decorative objects in a scene. Here I have made the painting deliberately uncomfortable by having two people look directly at you. This prevents the eye settling as it ends up shuttling between the two. It also makes you think about yourself in their eyes… I think we can say they don’t think much of you! 10in by 12in oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Back to landscape with a bit of a lurch. A morning near Hambledon Hill in Dorset. The light was changing with great rapidity so I had to paint quickly. At the time I was a little disappointed I had not quite captured the drama so I painted a studio version as soon as I was home. Seeing it later I liked it though which was strange as I very nearly wiped it off when I got home. One thing doing the Henley pictures had told me, canvas is far better to paint on than primed MDF, so for this sketch I just taped a bit of off cut canvas to a board. I will have to adapt my plein air kit so I can use canvas in future. 7in by 12in oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, oil painting

Here is the studio version, I am quite pleased with both of them really, this one stresses the abstract divisions more, but the plein air captures the feel of the day better. 12in by 20in Oils.

Now for a few life drawings, I cannot stress enough how important this activity is. Drawing directly from the human form is the hardest thing any artist can do. I brings with it a very high chance of abject failure! I would happily myself put a life drawing in a frame on the wall, but few people would so they just stack up and I mercilessly cull them now and again. So here are a few survivors, they may well be for the fire next time!


Life drawing


Life drawing


life drawing


life drawing


life drawing


life drawing


life drawing

May 4, 2015

It’s all the Viewer’s Fault

I watched a whole slew of YouTube videos on what art is recently. Well it was a dull evening on telly and I didn’t feel like painting! I’ll attempt to embed one below that I found interesting.

She talks entertainingly and tries to persuade us that heaps of rubbish, Mr Creed’s light bulb and Ms Emin’s bed are relevant to all of us and interesting. She essentially says that the viewers who could not see anything in the works are not taking the next step and thinking philosophically about where the works might lead. So it is the viewers that are lacking, not the work. Now this is not a total loss as an argument. A tribes people from the Amazon were unable to recognise photographs at first. However I would go on to say that they got the hang of it very quickly and that is not the case with the works mentioned above. Nonetheless this is one of the best explanations of the current art model I have seen or read.

She argues that Emin’s white bed when empty is essentially no different from a blank canvas and the accrued debris is no different from the paint another artist might apply. These items she says tell a story of an everyday existence in a similar way. The argument does however not work so well when extended. You might say that when a museum display case is empty then it is as a blank canvas and if you place anything within it then it is art. Many contemporary artists would be happy with that, the famous pickled shark is an example. Or an empty fridge becomes art when you put a pint of milk in it. Emin and our lecturer are saying we should look at these things in our lives and appreciate their aesthetic qualities and the deeper things they tell us about our lives.

This is all well and good and it sort of adds up. However even though all this is explained to me it still doesn’t cause me to be moved in the aesthetic sense. I might think the folds in the sheets beautiful or whatever, but that is not due to Emin’s intervention. There are beautiful and intriguing sights to be had in most everyday things if we take the trouble to notice. However we are judging Emin’s intervention here not the intrinsic qualities of the objects. The lecturer says the work might lead us to examine our own unnoticed fetish of tidiness, or a mother’s obsession with a teenager’s revolting bedroom which is fair enough, but I cannot help but think that an article in a magazine about it would do the job better. Indeed she says that most don’t manage to get into that territory when seeing the installation. Once explained anyone could make their bed into an art object it merely requires removing it into another context. An unmade bed is a remarkable object on a railway station concourse, but an unremarkable one in a bedroom. We do of course often take ubiquitous objects and separate them out. At the V&A museum they display everyday objects out of context so that we can appreciate and compare their design qualities. No one thinks they have become art through this process though. I could argue that Emin’s bed falls into the informative display category not the art one.

She says several times that people look and dismiss but do not take the next intellectual step. Then her explanation of the next step is so underwhelming that I struggle to find it remotely interesting. It certainly does not illuminate my mental landscape even when it is a light bulb. She says it is philosophy but if it is it is not very profound. She stresses the word “conversation” a great deal. She says that unless we attempt to answer the questions asked by such works then we are locked out from properly appreciating them. The problem with this is that the works are all questions and art in my opinion is about seeing possible answers or observing and defining qualities. It is very much not a quiz, exam question or a philosophical puzzle.

She effectively undermines her own arguments at the very beginning with a devastating statistic. On both Emin’s and Hirst’s shows the average time each work was considered and was calculated by examining the cctv footage of visitors to the shows. The result was less than 5sec per work… not much time for a conversation of any kind in that time frame, let alone a deep philosophical awakening. It shows that contemporary art is mostly very poor at contriving the initial connection that draws people in to look. Although not at all scientific I recently visited the Tate Modern and ended up watching the people rather than looking at the art. They watched the video installations longest, static artworks received only very cursory attention. Indeed the installation that seemed to provoke most intense consideration was the cake display in the cafe. People are drawn to looking at a painting by the possibility of an aesthetic reward, much in the way that a laden dinner table is offering the potential of sustenance and pleasurable or exciting tastes. If the painting does not offer the cues of potential reward or deliberately denies any such possibility then no one will stop to appreciate. Why would they?

The argument that you must reach into a work or “engage” as they are fond of saying is very poor. If you assume your audience has a similar social programming as the artist, then any work worth its salt should attract attention however blatantly or subtly. The better the work is at reaching those with differing or divergent social programming, either due to culture or time passing the better the work is. Will Emin’s work be pivotal in 5oo years? We don’t know but I suspect not, other than as a small footnote in social history.

I have been busy of late, but have still squeezed in a good deal of painting. With my new house liveable and my studio in operation it is easier to concentrate. I even managed a day out to the wonderful town of Wells… more on that below.


Oil painting, blandford forum, dorset, plein air

This is Blandford Forum one of the nearest towns to me. Unusual in that it mostly burnt down in 1731, due to this it was rebuilt in mostly Georgian style. I have drawn this view in pen but am planning a bigger painting so I went again to sketch from the same viewpoint. On the day I was there a market was happening on the left hand side but when I got home I didn’t like it so replaced it with stuff from the  pen drawing. 10in by 16in oils.

Child Okeford, Dorset, lane, plein air. oil painting

This painting of one of the ancient green lanes around Child Okeford was and still is a real struggle. It is too busy and I might have to add a figure but will need to get someone to pose. It has taken two plein air sessions to get this far and it is still not hanging together properly. In town I could just wait for a passerby but out here you could be waiting a fair while! 10in by 14in Oils.


Fontmell Magna, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

In between sessions on the green lane I went to Fontmell Magna and very quickly painted this. It went a bit swampy from getting too much paint on too quickly but catches the feel of the light adequately. Interesting view with strong silhouettes, I shall go back and see how it looks in other lights. 7in by 12in, Oils.


Sturminster Newton, oil painting, Dorset

This is the small town of Sturminster Newton. I actually started this months ago but only had time to sketch it out and lay in the main tones. I finished off using a phone snap but am rather pleased by the result. I think only the sky tone and the road survive from the original plein air. 10in by 12in oils.


London, soho, walkers court, plein air, oil painting

This is Meard St in Soho. The first time in a while I had taken my oils on a trip to London. I rather like the square format and will be doing more. 10in by 10in oils.


walkers court, soho, london, plein air, oil painting

This is the insalubrious alley called Walkers Court that leads through to Berwick St. I was very attracted by the light pushing through the alley. I had to paint very quickly as the wet pavement was drying rapidly as I painted. 10in by 10in Oils.


Wells, Cathedral, pen and ink, drawing

My first day out just for painting was to Wells. Almost too much to draw here and the day was gorgeous. I set out on this wondering how the hell I was going to get all that detail in without spending all day. I was very careful to set the level of simplification quite high. I essentially combined all the shadow areas into a simple broken vertical hatch, then indicated the architectural breaks with as few lines as possible. I stopped once there were enough hints to convey the rhythm the ornament produced. I love the way this blue paper takes a white highlight. Pen and Ink.


Somerset Levels, watercolour

This is a drainage ditch on the Somerset Levels, a bit rushed but I was painting in a very uncomfortable position! Watercolour.


Glastonbury Tor, somerset, watercolour

Last from my trip to Somerset, I drove miles trying to get a view I liked of Glastonbury Tor. I ended up miles away but loved the levels and will return to paint there again. watercolour.



Greenwich, Ballast quay, London, Thames, drawing, pen and ink

Another trip to London for the start of the season with the Wapping Group. This is Ballast Quay in Greenwich. Pen and Ink.


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