Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

October 30, 2013

Spirituality and Art

No not a post about religion, you can relax! A post prompted by two things, one Grayson Perry’s Reith lectures on the art world and discussions on an on line forum about drawing. They both caused me to think about how artists think about themselves. There is I have come to think a disconnect between what artists would like to believe they are and what they actually seem to be.
On the forum discussion (about drawing) I suggested that drawing was a craft, like making shoes or chairs. This drew howls of protest from the public gallery. No it seems drawing was a way of channelling your soul on to paper, a meditation on the possibilities of the infinite, anything, anything but craft! I tried logical argument (or so I thought) but to no avail, I was asked why I was demeaning drawing.
It occurred to me that drawing had been promoted while I wasn’t paying attention to the purest form of prayer, the Lords prayer of artistic spiritual communing. People who know me will not be surprised that the appearance of a sacred cow will always prompt me to ask awkward questions.
In the spirit (if I may use the term) of research I looked at a selection of well known artists CV’s Emin etc. A high proportion stressed how drawing was very important to their process. I did consider posting some of their efforts and I really did try and find evidence of skill, but truly there was none. If any of them had shown up at Rubens’ door seeking a job they would have been out of luck. Below is the prospectus for a life drawing class at St Martins.

“Over the course of a week you will be encouraged to lose your inhibitions though a wide variety of practices and materials. You will be asked to confront your own ambitions within your artistic practice and to consider how to make your work relevant to yourself and to contemporary artistic practices in the wider sense.

During each session you will be introduced to a new approach to thinking and making. We will look at the work of living artists and explore relevant themes and practices. Some workshops will make use of sound or involve a live performer such as an actor or dancer. You will be encouraged to engage with new concepts and practices and to try a wide variety of differing materials – some traditional, others less so.

You will be encouraged to work with the skills that you already possess. We will not teach you ‘how to draw’ but rather aim to enable you to fully engage with and realise your own creative potential, build up confidence in your own artistic identity and think like an artist.”

I particularly like the encouragement to work with “the skills you already possess.” and the “we will not teach you, how to draw” heavens no that would be terrible. The results of the sessions are here so you can judge for yourself. St Martins Drawings there are some efforts that look like the student has potential, but knowing current art teaching they would have been told to loosen up and draw worse! One cannot help but notice that the model is lit by a single light plonked behind her. Which to my mind speaks of a monumental insensitivity to the visual world. You would not catch a photographer trying to capture the human form in that uncaring way.

I digress, but only to show that skill is very much not part of drawing to the contemporary mind. Nor is representation of the external. So what are we left with. The last line of the prospectus gives a clue. “realise your own creative potential” but leaves us puzzled as we are being allowed no tools whereby that might occur. You would not tell a music student “We won’t tell you how to play a musical instrument, here’s a room full of stuff with a few musical instruments thrown in, just give them a go and seek your own personal music.”

How does this connect with the “spiritual” I am not using it in the religious way, but in the way that people refer to things having indefinable qualities. We use (or misuse) the word “energy” in a similar way. Great artists are meant to imbued with an unparalleled access to this force, after all it couldn’t just be practice and hard work could it? I hinted online that maybe Michelangelo had his off days too… I was completely unprepared by the reaction. I was told that such a thought was absurd and only a jealous no hoper would demean the greatest of drawers. In reality I admire Michelangelo hugely, so it felt odd that they thought I disliked him. The problem of course was that I had said that an official beatified saint of drawing was a mortal and like us all occasionally had feet of clay.

Once again I refer to the excellent St Martins prospectus. “you will be encouraged to loose your inhibitions.” and later “build up confidence” now here I agree confidence is key. You do not however gain confidence by loosing your inhibitions. You increase confidence by becoming increased in your capabilities and you gain capabilities through study, practice and hard work. Many of the “inhibitions” can be due to lack of skill!

Later they refer to the “artistic potential” here at last we are getting to the heart of the matter. What is this thing that is assumed to be there, this “potential” ? Does it lie within us like a curled up flower within a bud just waiting for the clouds of inhibition to be swept away in order to unfurl in its glory? Why that is astounding! How wonderful, it means that somewhere  in my head must be a great novel, a stirring symphony fully formed just waiting to be released.

Of course this is absurd, but we very much like the idea. We so much want to be more than this fleshly robe. We want soul, we want an animating spirit, we don’t want biology and physics. We want art to flow from us like a river, we want to mine our inner selves for buried treasures. We do not want to dig foundations and build up brick by tedious brick until we have a house that has beauty but also all the signs of our own frailty.

I’d better give you some pictures after that lot… a few life paintings will be tagged on at the end in order to fully demonstrate that my own feet are well weighted with clay!

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Greenwich, watercolour, plein air, painting

A well known view. I did it in three sessions, the first a plein air drawing with a couple of washes. I had to stop as I was a little too late in getting there

and I am taking a little more time to draw of late as well. Once home I established the basic tonality from reference but returned next evening to finish.

1/4 sheet Watercolour.

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Croom's Hill, Greenwich, watercolour

This is Croom’s Hill leading down to Greenwich. At last the autumn colours are showing. I have found this wonderful colour in the Daniel Smiths range

called Zoicite that is a murky green with wonderful granulating properties. Quite tricky to use but adds interest and texture to greens.

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Self portrait, Rob Adams, oil painting

Here is a rare beast, a self portrait! I was preparing to lop my hair off one evening when I was taken by my rather wild appearance

in the mirror. So barbering had to be delayed while I painted. I managed after a fair amount of buggering about and cursing to get a half decent

photo to finish it from. Always good to assess the damage that life is doing to your face. 12in by 10in Oils

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Greenwich, London, plein air, oil painting

I did a drawing buildings tutorial with two friends, and managed to fit this sketch in as they wrestled with the horrors of architecture. this is part of the

Maritime Museum in Greenwich. 8in by 10in oils.

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Greenwich, Thames, plein air, river, oil painting

On my way back to the car a storm was coming in, I just couldn’t resist trying to catch the drama. I had to lash my tripod to the railings! It is so easy

to just walk by these opportunities. Thames at Greenwich. 6in by 12in oils.

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Life drawing, nude, watercolour

7min.

Life drawing, nude, figure, watercolour

5min

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Life drawing

two 7min

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Life Drawing, nude, watercolour

7min, was pleased with this one, every now and again you catch something in the quick sketches.

I nearly always prefer them to the longer paintings.

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Nude, Life drawing, watercolour

7min. Esther is a fantastic model who takes up some very challenging poses!

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nude, live drawing

Another wonderful model Alice. Here’s one where the feet of clay are very much in evidence, lovely pose, great lighting but the drawing was too far out.

30min.

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life drawing, nude

Alice again. A bit better here despite not doing an initial drawing but just diving in with the paint. 30min.

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Life drawing, nude, watercolour

Another one with no initial drawing. Flat on poses are the some of the hardest. I was painting here on hot pressed

Arches with flat sables. In fact the whole painting was done with a half inch brush!

30min.

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Life drawing, nude, watercolour

The best one of the session with Esther I had a little longer at 45 min.

October 21, 2013

Artists Statement

Well my pictures are selling, I’m getting into exhibitions, the time has come for an “artists statement”! Like everything I do I like to be properly prepared so I did a little research… well actually quite a lot.

Firstly it can’t be in English, it must be in Artspeak. If it is in understandable English then it immediately tells anyone in the big money art world that I am an interloper and a fraud. There are certain words that need to be got in such as “dialectic” ‘juxtaposition” “concerns” though any word if sufficiently indefinite can be pressed into service. Operators such as focus, resolving, imbuing, inhabiting seem very useful.

How to start? Well, I might say: “I am a landscape painter who paints what I see as well as I am able.” This plainly won’t do, I mean you understood it, and that is a complete non starter. So here’s a translation: “I am concerned with the ephemeral uncertainties of place and time and try to use skill in an ironic manner to juxtapose paint, surface and the uncertainties of perceived reality upon the picture plane.” Not bad for a first line, but I need more.

“I mostly paint from direct observation or am guided by that when painting in the studio from reference.” Again worryingly clear, it needs a make over: “I attempt to absorb  direct spectral stimulation relating to place and landscape and then analyse/metamorphose it real time in spatio-textural terms. Later I refer to regions of past biological and mechanical memory when exploring ideas of past place and the illumination of other days. Finally I transfer them to an interior conceptual structure anchored in conceptual and remembered truth refocussed by the lens of craft, always making a continued dialogue to preserve honesty to the physical materials employed.”

Getting there, but not pushing enough of those arty buttons yet. Proper art speak has impossible conflicting ideas, such as, “The silence I find in painting deafens me with its empty complexities/simplicities.” See this shows you are really “up there”intellectually, able to ponder imponderables and to listen when silence shouts at you! If you can manage this sort of thinking then the painting must be damn good even if it looks rubbish to the eye. Also it mustn’t be easy this stuff is hauled up from your inner being leaving unhealed wounds as you give birth to it!

So a bit about process… “I draw it out first then paint it from important to less important simplifying and combining as I go and try to stop once it seems complete.”

That more or less what I do, but it need lots more drama: “I first wrestle with the nature of line and continuity, I attune my inner being with the beginnings and endings of things and attempt to redefine the actual in terms of linear diversity and the certainty of death. I am always concerned with the ambivalence of mark making to the given surface. I continue to state and re-state the half understood in a quest for causing its final form to coalesce from the specific to the general. I always try to respond/resonate to the hierarchical dependencies inherent in my immediate concerns. I am always seeking the end, the whole, the word that speaks of the true emptiness of being.” Hmm maybe bringing death in at that moment is a bit much… but I need to get mortality into it somehow. I mean if I’m so damn sensitive it must be on my mind lots and lots. Living on the edge, hanging by a string, skating on thin rhetoric, this stuff needs to be dangerous.

The only slight concern so far is that often artists write as if it is someone else spouting this guff. Almost as if a reviewer is writing the piece having been overcome by the genius, tension and pathos of your efforts. It also says that you as an artist are swimming in the rarified airs that waft around the very peak of Mt Parnassus and so could not possibly stoop to writing anything as mundane as a statement. Maybe later when I am more established in the artistic constellations!

We need some sort of resolution of goals what am I trying to say with my work… in reality I am not trying to say anything. If I could say it I would use speech and save myself a lot of effort. It is the great weakness I have, I am espousing no message, there are no subtexts. I am making no complaints about the state of mankind or the world. I am not trying to shock, disgust, disorientate, confuse or perplex. I am trying to deliver visual interest and pleasure via the mood and atmosphere of renderings of real places. This might be a start, I can use the word “elagaic” which must be worth a few art points. I’ll use this as an ending. So here we go with some on the fly editing!

Artists Statement:

As a painter I am concerned with the ephemeral uncertainties of place and time and try to use skill and contrivance in an ironic manner to resolve the juxtapositions of paint, surface and the uncertainties of perceived reality upon the given form of the picture plane.

I attempt to respond to the direct spectral stimulation relating to place and landscape with the formal intention to analyse/metamorphose personal reality in spatio-textural terms. Later I refer to regions of past biological and learned mechanical memory to explore ideas of past place and the illumination of other days. Finally I transfer them to an interior conceptual structure anchored in conceptual and remembered truth refocussed by the lens of craft, always making a continual dialectical assessment to preserve honesty to the physical materials employed and offset the inherent dishonesty of illusory craft.

In creating a work I first wrestle with the nature of line and continuity, I attune my inner being with the beginnings and endings of things and attempt to redefine the actual in terms of linear diversity and the tension of spatial relationships. I am always concerned with the ambivalence of mark making to the given surface. I continue to state and re-state the half understood in a quest for causing its final form to coalesce from the specific to the general. I always try to respond/resonate to the hierarchical dependencies inherent in my immediate concerns. I am always seeking the end, the whole, the word that speaks to the true fullness inherent  in the emptiness of being.

I am always seeking to provoke an elagaic response to the tension and pathos of the landscapes that bound and constrain my realms of concern, thus creating a dialogue between the acceptance/impossibility of mortality in the emotional/intellectual landscape of the viewer.

Now you have read that you are going to be so impressed with my credentials that you will fail to notice whether my actual paintings are any good or not. Try it, I bet you can’t tell which ones are rubbish! Remember if you do have any doubts about any of them you are just showing that you don’t have the intellectual or emotional depth to understand them, it is not the paintings that are falling short but your ability to appreciate them! I am coming round to this contemporary art thing. It really is win win for the artists, dealers and galleries, no wonder it caught on. The onus is no longer on me the painter to paint but on you the viewer to see or at least to pretend to see in order to avoid embarrassment and people thinking you are shallow.

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Heckfield Church, Surrey, watercolour, Plein air

I was very kindly invited by Steven Alexander to paint in Surrey. This is Heckfield Church. 1/4 sheet. Lovely spot I was much taken by the Bullrushes!

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Hartley Wintney, Surrey, plein air, watercolour

A very rushed painting of Hartley Wintney, I only had 45min which was not enough for a 1/4 sheet. I probably should have done a smaller one but the

light was lovely so I had to have a go.

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Tony Lawman, portrait, oils

The weather then proceeded to be cruel to us. Wind I can handle or rain, but both at once is impossible in any media. Not to be put off we sat in a circle

and painted each other painting each other! This is Tony Lawman who is painting me. I loved the light in Steve’s studio, just catching edges but allowing

other areas to merge. 10in by 14in oils. Reminds me I must do some more portraits as I really enjoy doing them.

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Albury St, Deptford, watercolour, plein air

This is Albury St one of the few streets in Deptford the planners didn’t knock down in the service of the modern. The old housed fetch a bundle now not

bad for houses zoned as slum clearance. 5in by 7in Watercolour.

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Deptford Market, Watercolour, plein air

This is Deptford market on a quiet afternoon. I worked really hard on the drawing before stating this as the structure was so important. The lady I sketched

on the verso of the previous picture. It is so much better to do that than try and put figures directly in. I did have to make her larger though, she was tiny

well under 4ft! 5in by 7in watercolour.

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Blackheath, Plein air, London, Brassmonkeys, oils, London

Another Brass Monkey day this time in Blackheath. Despite the cataclysmic wether forecast the day was mostly lovely. So nice to

paint in a group both for the company and also because you end up trying things you might not have if alone. 12in by 10in oils.

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Blackheath, cafe, plein air, london, oil painting

This subject was spotted by Graham Davies. Not something I often do but I enjoyed it and like the result. 12in by 10in oils.

The story of the Brass Monkey day is here in a separate blog I have started… as it I needed more distractions!

Brass Monkeys

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