Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

September 12, 2014

The perils of perfection

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:47 am

I have always been interested in big questions. What we are doing here etc. As I have read and lived longer I no longer expect answers but rather find the questions engaging for their own sake. Reading about philosophy, religion and science have been an abiding interest my whole life.

I tend to focus on the world in which I find myself rather than my own internal workings. I have meditated and it has taught me that I am possibly the least interesting thing in my own world. I have gazed at my navel and found it distinctly dull! Initially everything as far as I can see comes from the outside in. You can give out no reaction into the world other than a reaction to what has been previously perceived. Yes, I’m afraid we are back to painting… That damn silly idea that we are somehow painting what is within us.

To make it absolutely clear. As far as I can see everything you emote, paint, write or crochet was prompted by external influence. You only processed the information, gave it back a little changed or perhaps garbled. You might say gave it back as a reflection seen dimly in a flawed mirror. You can perhaps glean a little of the painter from a painting it could maybe say a little about out inner nature, but the hints and clues are encoded into the imperfections of what we create when we echo back our perceptions on to canvas.

So here we go, this post’s idea. Imperfections are sometimes a good thing. Firstly we all find it hard to relate to perfection. Those stark modernist interiors so loved by architects seem made for some other more ideal, tidier person than ourselves. The obsessive recreations of photographs which seem to me to have little resonance other than the marvelling at the patience of the artist and whatever charms the original image had. Perfectly executed abstracts with no indecision to be seen are like a door shut in my face.

To consider the obverse for a moment there is also a problem with those works which are all imperfections through lack of intent or skill. A resonant imperfection is perhaps an aiming high and falling short or hitting a another part of the target than that which was aimed for. Wildly throwing stuff over your canvas is telling others very little about the artist, only about the nature of randomness or the physics of falling and dribbling paint. Many seem to think that expressiveness is caused by the vigour of the application and the suppression of the intellect. Such a work may well be decorative and exciting to behold, but only has a subtext that the viewer brings to it not what the creater imbued it with. A work of art is not a certainty expressed but more of an uncertainty made flesh.

Making a work of art is always I feel treading on the edge of what is possible for an individual human being to achieve. Un-intuitively if you set yourself a goal that simple enough to be actually achievable then you have I suspect by definition already failed.

I often hear painters referring to the work of others as too tight, or “Tight as a duck’s arse.” There might be no element in the painting wrong but still there is no life. What it really means is that if everything is resolved then there is no mystery for the imagination of the viewer to dwell in. Excessive clarity and certainty lock the viewer out, they can view but not inhabit the painting. I have been wondering of late why this is so and come to a few tentative conclusions.

We do not for the most part perceive things accurately, it would take up too much processing power. So what we do is look for discontinuities. If something is vaguely plausible then the eye will accept it, but if it somehow falls outside those bounds it draws more attention as a potential risk area. When this ability to sort the seen environment developed it was, I am guessing, for spotting problems and threats, not looking at paintings. However I think much the same happens with a made image. If you take an abstract, say in the manner of Barnet Newman, then spray a representational face in one corner, that face will destroy the abstract qualities and a hue and cry will duly follow. Adding another stripe while the museum attendant isn’t looking could be missed for weeks or longer. The first is incongruous the second in keeping.

When you paint an observed image of a city the same sort of thing occurs. A variation in the style of the windows will pass unnoticed but an inaccuracy in the perspective will cause unease. When you paint a scene there is a locus of position and other attributes that lies within the possible, but if you overstep those bounds then it will feel wrong to the veiwer. This is not necessarily something to be avoided it is more of a tool to be aware of and exploit. The more an image is defined the more the possibility of some part feeling wrong increases and also the further it gets from the way we actually perceive the world.

This is the reason I find over defined figures feel stiff and can look frozen in place. If the flower garden you paint is too perfect then it feels as if the wind could never blow nor birds fly. As I get older my paintings seem to get untidier. This is partly reducing patience but also because I fear killing the painting by overworking. It is better I have discovered to stop early than to go on until it has no life!

Not so many paintings as I have been busy painting house walls white rather than pictures.

 

Southwark, London, plein air, oil painting, wapping group

The Shard has changed many scenes in London, this is the view from Southwark Cathedral. It is a dramatic object that tends to dominate any scene, but on the whole I like it. It is a struggle to fit into a painting though. 10in by 10in oils.

 

Shard, London Bridge, London, Southwark, oil painting, Wapping group

A sucker for punishment I took it on again! I thought the vertical format would be a good idea but seeing it on screen tells me that cropping 4in off the top would improve the picture hugely. So much so that I might do a studio one of this. I will have to go back and look at it in various lights first. 16in by 10in. Oils.

 

Southwark, London, plein air, oils, wapping group

Last one from Southwark. It was a Wapping Group day so I sat with Steve Alexander and did this. Only 30 min or so but the best of the day. I had to adjust a few of the figures later to make the composition revolve around the two lighter figures. 8in by 10in oils.

 

St John Smiths Square, London, plein air, Wapping group, oil painting

Another Wapping Group day this time around the Westminster area. This is St John Smiths Square. A very beautiful square but hard to get away from the church which fills the centre. The light teased me horribly on this one, the light through the trees attracted me to paint it then the day went gloomy! I pegged away at it and was just packing up when the sun came back, so I whipped out my brushes again and added the touches of light. Amazing how so few touches of tone can transform an otherwise dull painting. 10in by 14in oils.

 

St John Smiths Square, London, plein air, oil painting, wapping group

I moved around the square for this one, only a sketch I shan’t take it further but I will return to the square as it has a couple of great subjects to paint. 10in by 10in oils.

 

mill bank, London, thames, wapping group, oil painting

I stood with the traffic bombing past me along the Millbank opposite the Tate. I liked the swoop of the road and the afternoon light which was warming as the evening drew on. It is not possible to resolve a complex picture like this in an hour, but I try to work over them evenly so everything is at the same level of focus. If you do this they feel finished even though much is left incomplete. 10in by 16in.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour

While working on my new house in Dorset I managed to get a couple of sketches done on my daily walk over Hambledon Hill. I am really looking forward to painting these landscapes more intensively. While painting this the the wind was moving the paint across the paper like mad… so I can’t really claim to have painted the sky it was mostly done by the weather! 8in by 10in watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour

Another view of the hill, it transforms dramatically with the light. The next day I went up later and the light was fabulous but I didn’t have my paints with me and my camera ran out of battery! 5in by 7in watercolour.

 

Hambledon hill, Dorset, watercolour

It is hard to make good compositions on the hill. This look wonderful to the eye but somehow doesn’t come together into a picture. 5in by 7in watercolour.

July 22, 2014

Competitions, Clubs and Criticism

A lot of my painting days out are done as part of a group. With the Wapping Group painting every Wednesday and the Brass Monkeys every other Sunday I keep quite busy. I do feel perhaps I am not doing enough going out and painting by myself. The dynamic is quite different with a group of fellow painters, very pleasant of course with chatting and coffees to punctuate the painting. I think most of this posts offerings are in the group category. Rather a large gap in posting this time too as my laptop died and needed bits replacing.

I also attended the Pintar Rapido competition in Chelsea which was great fun. I was a little more organised this time and went there a few days before to decide on a subject. The previous year I wandered about looking for one and had to settle on a subject I wasn’t wholly in tune with.

The results when seen in the exhibition were as last year a mixture of all styles and levels of attainment. Interesting to see what I guess are art school students trying to paint the real world. They have almost no skills as such and have this naive idea that if they just go for it then a miracle will occur. Alas miracles are thin on the ground, but their self belief in unshakable. I talked to a few and they all seemed to feel skill was a minor consideration in painting. On the other hand they all seemed to admire it in others. I didn’t say I felt it was vital, as I wanted to gauge their feelings on the matter rather than impose my own views.

In the exhibition it was plain that some of the buyers didn’t think craft mattered either, but on the whole the well crafted sold better than the randomly intuitive, which is cheering. Another thing that struck me when whispering critical comments to a companion is how thin on the ground criticism is. We were whispering in case the artist was hovering nearby and our opinions overheard. In essence so that the person who might be the most likely benefit couldn’t possibly hear! Passing comment to the artist doesn’t really happen in the clubs either. I do sometimes offer an opinion if I see something really wrong that is easily corrected but try and restrain myself for the most part as offence is a very likely result.

It’s not that the criticism isn’t made, we judge and evaluate automatically. We also share our views with each other… but almost never with the artist themselves… which is odd really as they would surely be the ones most likely to get the most out of it. The result is that you tend to only hear anodyne  positives or inscrutable silences. I am in the habit of forcing the issue and asking for comments. This makes some uncomfortable and others will just tell you all is well whatever the real state of affairs!

Politeness is of course the reason for this lack of plain speaking. There is the uncomfortable fact that none of us welcome hearing that one of our efforts falls short and even less that it has fallen short in some way we hadn’t spotted. The truth is though we would all benefit from the clear sight of an uninvolved eye however bad the news, especially if that eye is educated.

What is needed I suppose is a forum where praise is banned and only observed room for improvement is mentioned. You would need rules of course. A comment like, “That is rubbish!” is of no use to any one. But a comment like “The perspective is out on that building.” or  “I’m not sure about that red patch as it takes the eye too much.” is useful as it gives a clue about putting something right. I have seen some attempts at this, the most successful being in the Life Drawing forum on WetCanvas. There people commented on anatomy and other aspects without too much bad feeling being expressed. However I think a forum where only critical comments were expressly required might work better. There are some I suppose for whom any negative comment is undermining and damaging for confidence, but IMO excellence in art (or indeed anything else) is a hard road and if you are that delicate then perhaps serious pursuit of it isn’t for you. On that harsh note some pictures… feel free to make painful but valid comments!

 

Erith, yacht club, drawing, Thames, Wapping Group

A day out with the Wappers at Erith Yacht Club. Very hot day and I was late getting there. I had just received a set of new sketch books with reproduction “Turner blue” paper. I hatched the sky but should have blocked it in with the white acrylic pen as the line work is too fussy. I might start to use white chalk as Turner himself did.

 

Erith, Thames, watercolour

I liked the way the light had developed so I did the same scene again. I am rather liking doing watercolour on the hot pressed paper. I tried using it years ago with little success but rather like its qualities now. I softened the clouds a little after this was scanned. I was pleased at how easy that was.

 

Amboise, france, watercolour, chateaux

Another historical paper effort. This is on “Girtin” type paper. Again an interesting effect. Wet into wet is almost imposssible as the paper cockles brutally.

 

Amboise, Romanesque, france, watercolour

This is the door of the church of St Denis in Amboise. The Romanesque part dates from 1107AD. Denis lost his head due to an axe. After his head was chopped off Denis is said to have picked it up and walked six miles from the summit of the hill preaching a sermon… 12in by 9in Watercolour. Done on Arches 140 paper from a large roll, I’m very glad I stocked up before the quality dropped!

 

Ransomes Dock, thames, London, Barge

Another Wapping day. This is Ransomes Dock near Albert Bridge. 10in by 10in. I thought of taking this further but decided not as it might ruin the feel which I rather liked.

 

Albert Bridge, Oil painting, plein air, thames, London

I had a short while on the foreshore to paint this as the tide raced in. Albert bridge is very pretty but I don’t like bridge pictures a great deal and wonder now why I bothered to paint this… dull but worthy alas! 10in by 16in.

 

portobello, london, pen and wash

This is Portobello, a great day with the Brass Monkeys. The road was full of life despite is being a non market day. I am enjoying the pen and wash it is great fun to splash over the pen work.

 

portobello, london, watercolour

Another very quick sketch, leaving out the pen this time. Portobello again.

 

portobello, london, pen, drawing

Last one from Portobello… it’s that Turner blue again.

 

Sloane Sq, chelsea, London, Pintar Rapido

Here’s my effort from Pintar Rapido. Not the greatest photo of the painting as I forgot to snap it in the open air and had to take the picture in low light at the exhibition. 12in by 16in Sloane Square, Oils. I had set my heart on a rainy painting and the forecast looked to be on my side. When I arrived the streets were wet from earlier rain but that was the last rain we saw! The reflections therefore are imaginary. I enjoyed painting it hugely and was delighted that it sold. If the buyer reads this they are welcome to bring it to my studio in about 3 months as it will need varnishing!

 

Rob Adams, Pintar Rapido

Here I am painting away in a somewhat colour coordinated manner.

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