Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

December 22, 2014

What is a picture?

I occasionally try to reassess where I am, having just had a very unsuccessful exhibition with no sales or indeed visitors to it. It is easy to be despondent, but I am a veteran of pulling myself up by my bootstraps so I tend not to go into a emotional spin as I would have done a decade or so earlier. I have sold enough paintings to know people will buy them and with no visitors going to the show, I am plainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. The problem for me is that I don’t really want another career, I have had three or four already. I am forced to the obvious conclusion that successfully selling pictures will take more of my time than painting them. At my stage of life I just do not have that time to spare. I am hugely fortunate that I don’t need as yet to sell them to put food on the table! So what I want to consider is what a painting should and should not be from my own selfish point of view.

I do a particular sort of painting which is intended to be processed in a certain way. I don’t paint something that has any surprises hidden away. So no incongruities, my early work was rife with them and I still do them occasionally as in this year’s Christmas card. They are fun but a cheap trick really. I could make my images out of a lot of smaller things, buttons insects you name it. This is quite popular direction at the moment but another cheap trick that soon palls. I could make my paintings very big or very small, or paint them on an unexpected surface like an elephant. Again fun, but only for a moment. So what am I up to?

Well, I don’t want any stylistic, methodistic or conceptual quirk. No easy fashionable trait that appeals to some ephemeral interest. I want to trim away any connection to conceptualism, I am not a purveyor of ideas in paint. I do not want to foist my emotion upon you, or the sweaty recesses of my subconscious. I don’t want to shock, educate, challenge or disgust you. I do not want to explore new possibilities or break new ground, I want no box to think outside of, no edge to bleed. I do not want to have originality and novelty as my guiding light. I don’t want to re-appraise the past or anticipate some imaginary future.

I paint on flat surfaces that are rectangular not because they are interesting, but because they are mundane. They are the average the unremarkable, I don’t want what I do to gain any especial significance from its form. I don’t wish to record for any posterity or comment on any contemporary shared experience. I want neither the poetic , the gritty reality nor the romantic. Of course I inevitably do many of the things listed above, but perhaps I should count it as a failure when I do. It is easier indeed to list the things I do not wish my work to contain than to dissect out the things that I do.

So, what is this picture I wish to paint? Firstly it is a picture. This means it is to be looked at and processed with the every day equipment we use on the actuality that surrounds us. So it is an illusion, but a knowing one, there is no expectation of fooling anyone or deluding them. It is easy to be lured down the path of abstraction, to believe that by simplifying you are distilling and increasing the potency of your work. Simplicity and complexity are however just tools in the box to be used at will, not ambitions to be striven for.

I suppose I get nearest to my aim very occasionally with a simple life drawing. Perhaps something that took 5 minutes. You have no time to consider or plan, no chance to fear failure. There is merely the surface, the paint, the eye, the hand with the brush and the subject. There is one other thing though. There are the myriad tangled paths laid down over many years in the few pints of porridge in my head, without these nothing can occur, but with them maybe something approaching a small miracles can be achieved, humble ones it is true, but miracles none the less. Lazarus is raised from his bed, but not perfectly, a bit of a squint and a bad limp, but I hope breathing not dead!

On a few watercolours recently I really tried to track my thinking, emotion and get at how that related to the actual process and progress of the making. Which bit of me is being satisfied and what is it that provokes me to continue. Firstly just the exercise of a skill that has been built up over a lifetime is rewarding. Not in any deep sense, but in the simple sense of solving a difficult crossword. All paintings start with the hope of what they might be, like a skier you are at the top of the mountain with the steep route down laid out before you. Like our skier I anticipate the run ahead. Also like the skier once you have pushed off gravity and dealing with events on the ground to be covered form the actual experience. So there is that excitement of thrills and potential spills about the activity. The analogy breaks down though due to the fact that a painting is a thing that accrues from many small actions many of which are evident in the final work.

The final moments of a picture are the ones that have the greatest emotional weight. The idea of when something is finished is a difficult one that I am I think going to struggle to define. I actually don’t like the word finished, complete is a better term I feel. In the event a painting could be considered complete at quite a few stages in its development. We all know the sinking feeling that your picture probably looked better half an hour ago! The real reward though is when it all comes together and the result is greater than the sum of the actions that made it. That is what I mean by complete, when it needs nothing added or taken away.  Only the artist feels this feeling, whether it adds up to a painting that others might enjoy I don’t know. I do know that a day that includes a painting that I am pleased with is a very good day perhaps indeed that is all that matters!!

This post is quite heavy on the life drawings, as I have said these are some of the things that please me most but are least liked by others I suspect. Certainly I can’t imagine them ever selling. I have been very busy building a new studio but have managed to sally forth and paint a few times.

 

Blackheath, sunset, London, oil painting

This one of Blackheath in London was very fast and furious, the sun was setting fast so it all had to be done in 30 min. Great fun to do, the colours are especially hard to judge as the light fades on your palette and painting until you can’t really see what you are doing. I try to remember where I mixed each area of colour so that once home I am not unpleasantly surprised! 10in by 16in Oils.

 

Child Okeford, Dorset, High St, Oil painting

There could hardly be more contrast! From glorious sunset at the end of a lovely day to the grey beginnings of a very wet one. This is Child Okeford where I now live, so you will see more from here. I have a few unfinished ones of this scene as it looks good in different lights. Unfortunately the best views are from standing in the road so they will have to be done from reference. 10in by 14in. Oils.

 

Dungeon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

This is the view from the interestingly name Dungeon Hill just south of where I am now in Dorset. There is a forgotten hill fort on top of the hill where I will paint again in the future. 8in by 10in watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, Painting.

This is the wonderful Hambledon Hill on a very chilly morning. I had to really struggle to get the soft feeling that the light had and to keep the areas of contrast balanced. 6in by 11in Watercolour.

 

Sketch, figure painting

Rather a swathe of figure work now I fear! I have joined a local group of life drawers. The session takes place in a village hall where on wall is glass. I absolutely love the light which streams in from one side. This is 10 min.

 

life drawing

Even less time for this, 5min or so, just enough time to get the silhouette and the stance roughly in.

 

Life drawing

Another very quick one, these quick studies are very good for honing your observational skills, there is no time to be fussy.

 

life drawing

Another 5 min. Watercolour is wonderful for these rapid studies.

 

figure drawing

A slightly longer pose this was 15 min I think.

 

life drawing

I loved doing this one, I only just had time to pick out the figure from the initial broad washes.

 

life drawing

At last a 30 min one, I love foreshortening it is so hard to get it convincing and not just looking misshapen!

 

life drawing

This session I tried to really reduce my media to just two elements, wash and line in two colours. I start with the wash and then add just enough line to explain the form.

 

life drawing

I very much enjoyed painting this against the light. You have to try to avoid over stating any area. Here I overworked the hand on the knee, whereas the hand on the chin is just the right level of tone and line.

 

life drawing

More foreshortening I was almost sitting on that foot!

 

life drawing

I actually stopped before the pose finished here, there seemed nothing more to add.

 

life drawing

On the next session I added toned paper to the mix.

 

Life drawing

Very quick again about 5min.

 

I added touches of chalk here, maybe paint would have been better.

 

I will do more of these line and wash ones they are great for stating the basics, the line and the wash each compliment and don’t do each others work.

 

life drawing

Longer poses I think paint rather than chalk in future. The line gets a little lost here I must be less heavy handed with the tones on the longer poses.

 

life drawing

Last one I got all the elements working decently here. Sorry for the swathe of life drawing now for something completely different…

 

Christmas Card

Many thanks and a Happy Christmas to all the people who read my waffle or look at the pictures and the odd poor soul who peruses both!

December 6, 2014

Anthony Gormley

Filed under: Art History,Uncategorized — Tags: , — Rob Adams @ 9:12 am

Another in the BBC series of “What Artists do all Day” dealt with Anthony Gormley which I enjoyed I must say. They have done comic strip artists and so forth and haven’t for the most part done the obvious genuflections to the fine art elite.

Anthony Gormley is an interesting figure. He fits almost too well into the “Modern Artist” mould. He is just of that generation where the battles were all fought and won by earlier artists and so is well placed to take his comfortable place at the table. He has taken the approved course in his career, settling on one subject and pursuing in remorselessly, indeed some might say ad nauseam.

Part of my problem with him is that I vaguely like his work, it would indeed be a challenge for anyone to dislike it. It is thoughtful, polite, quite well conceived and generally well executed. There have been a few moments of resistance to his public works, but none of his work is really going to scare any horses in the longer term. He is I suppose very safe. I could find a certain amount of criticism of him, not only eulogy, but even the attacks on him from the Guardian and the Evening Standard lack intellectual bite. More on message critics are oddly reserved about him as he really does seem to offend no one, which is in contemporary terms his weak suit.

It is I find quite hard to focus on his work long enough to form any view. His large works are large without any intellectual reason for scale. Interviews show that he hasn’t quite grasped how expansion works in the universe, (he thinks getting bigger but staying the same shape) everything moving away from everything else at the same speed from any chosen point is a mental step too far for him perhaps.

The film was based in his studio that encompassed a host of studenty elves who carry out the tedious work of manufacture. I couldn’t help but notice that almost none of the work would be a great deal of fun to make. All drudgery and not much pleasure with barely any personal satisfaction, must be their lot. He stressed an art community ethos, but benevolent, austere autocracy looked like more the actuality. I felt a little sorry for all the young folk forced to endure uncomfortably egalitarian and probably vegetarian lunches, with the great man determinedly not physically at the head of the table. It would be more courageous and sensitive, I would have thought, to occupy the physical location that reflected the actual statuses in play. I tried during the film to spot anyone over 35 but couldn’t which is a little odd. Does he live in a world as a solitary patriarch, with no one of his own generation to threaten and intrude on his monopoly of  temporal perspective?

There was a particularly funny section where people were taking, to my eye, crude 3d scans of his much observed carcass. They then rather randomly and solemnly created cubic volumes to occupy a vaguely similar space. The master stroke was then scaling these each from their centres until they became abstract intersecting forms. (Some poor bastard then had to weld them up in steel afterwards no doubt). That the scan looked to be of poor quality in the first place throws some doubt on the whole procedure, the 3D form was weak sculpturally so by adding cubes it could only improve. It was a process for its own sake, without as far as I could see any real worthwhile intellectual thought.

Another illuminating moment was when some fellow artist arrived from China on a visit. Gormley told us admiringly that the chap had been dipping a paint brush in paint every morning as a sort of ritual and it was now 30kg or so in dried paint. He seemed to think this interesting and admirable rather than risible and dull. I wondered if it was Yue Minjun as he uses figures in the repetitive way that Gormley does. Repetition indeed is Gormley’s main attribute. Other than his fondness for his own body as raw material he does that thing that so many artists do which is making a big thing out of a lot of little things. He did it once successfully with Field early on and I suppose he thinks it might work twice. Field however works because of the eyes… which he doesn’t appear to have realised, as eyes are notably absent from his work for the most part. He avoids any body part that carries any weight of character, so hands and facial features are downplayed.

I ended up feeling a little sorry for him. A large slightly clumsy and uncertain man whose mind was probably abused by priests when young (he stresses his education by monks) so as to remove too much pleasure in self worth. He looks inside himself and sees an empty void, his body  as a container that bounds an empty space rather than supporting and nurturing a personality. He tries to reach within but ends up repeatedly reaching outwards, unable to come to terms with being lost and alone in the world. He is a man, like many overly large men, who has perhaps gone through life in a slightly hunched manner attempting to come to terms with the excessive space he takes up.

On the whole I suppose I liked him, despite that irritatingly superior and deeply superficial zen manner that people who have flirted with Buddhism seem to be plagued with. I can never help suspecting (probably unfairly) that such impossibly calm people actually run around stamping and shouting if a real disaster or crisis occurs! Do I think his work worth his while? Well on the whole yes, I think he would serve his ideas better if he didn’t inflate them so much. He is trying to say something intimate in a mock heroic manner which feels a little forced. However the general idea of a body either filling, occupying or containing a void is an interesting one and streets ahead of his contemporaries.

I was more impressed with a previous artist in the series Frank Quitely who draws comic strips. Frank know exactly what he is doing and why, doesn’t expect or want our admiration and is completely absorbed in his work. He is skilled and subtle beyond the bounds of Gormley but will never attract the serious attentions of an art critic. He also has an audience far larger than the famous sculptor, but not of course made up of the appropriate sort of people!

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