Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 9, 2015

John Singer Sargent

Filed under: Art History,Portraits,Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 5:46 pm

I had an opportunity to visit the National Portrait Gallery where they had an exhibition of John Singer Sargent, I had of course gone to see the Grayson Perry exhibits where he wonderfully sums up the nation’s beating heart by having a computer darn some words on a bit of cloth. It was more overwhelming than I had expected with all the words in different colours, a real treat. Having a bit of time spare I thought I would take in the Sargent too. It was fascinating, showing just how far art has advanced in recent decades. For a start every picture is ruined by the gratuitous use of skill. This takes them immediately beyond the reach of the ordinary man and into the muddy waters of elitism. He may be sublimely talented, but does he really have to push it into our faces? A more subtle artist would have painted them really clumsily, thus showing us the inner monsters we all wrestle with. Indeed standing in front of some of them you even feel as if there is a real person there who might start breathing. This is fundamentally dishonest to the materials of paint and canvas. There was also no excrement that I could see, which would have helped a lot I feel.

One of the first pictures he had obviously given up on it, and I could well see why.


I quite like the passage bottom left and wonder why he didn’t do it all the same way. He plainly wants to impress us with the way he has indicated the glasses with hardly any marks. Her name was Violet Paget but went under the name of Vernon. This is good gender aware stuff, but Sargent takes it nowhere, you only get the feeling of her character and that the painter was fond of her, rather than the deep political waters that ran under society’s polite upper crust. The drawing is worryingly precise, but still lost and found, distressingly clever. A more confident painter would have put all the lines in the wrong place. Not for the first time Sargent’s skill lets him down.

John Bratby

Here for comparison is how a real artist paints a person with red lips and glasses. This is by the astounding John Bratby. Here the paint is good honest paint not trying to pretend to be flesh. The drawing as well is wonderfully incorrect with no edge at all in the right place. He carefully avoids all subtlety here and if he has any skill at all he wisely hides it.



The artist travelled a lot in Europe and met many of the Impressionists. Here he makes a good beginning in using just the one colour mixed with black. Then he ruins it all by making the paint take on the illusion of a man. This catastrophically undermines the redness of the red. Most of my favourite artists just use colour straight from the tube, just adding a bit of white or black maybe. Here alas Sargeant wanders of into many subtle shades of the colour thus being untrue to what was written on the side of the tube and introducing unnecessary complexity and depth.



I tried to imagine what the immortal Rothko would have made of this subject matter. Even with my poor photoshop skills I produced something far better than the oh so talented Mr Sargent. I might actually do a canvas of this for next years RA show.

I was starting to feel pretty grim by now but spurred on by the memory of Grayson’s lovely pots with wobbly thick rims and crude sgraffito I persevered.


Singer Sargent

I had hopes of this one. The bloke in the background has no face. The other two do which rather ruins it all. He just can’t resist painting things well. Of course he is using brushes, I think here I would have used a mountain bike.



There were a few drawings. I didn’t bother to read the titles as I was loosing the will to live. What right has this man to push his superiority into our faces? Thank God we no longer torment our art students by forcing them to gain any of the skills that can produce such monstrosities as this. If they don’t have the skill or the ability in the first place then it saves so much work unlearning it later on.


Tracy Emin

Here is what a mature artist who has never taken the fatal step of learning to draw can achieve when taking on a woman with a hat! Here everything is gloriously wrong, better still it is not even wrong in a good way. In this Tracy Emin avoids getting hardly anything right. My one minor criticism is that she got the crown on the head and that you can tell it is a crown, no body fluids either which is a pity.


Singer Sargent

I could not carry on and had to escape. I wandered for a bit around the galleries and as if he was haunting me there he was again. Unlike the first one there isn’t the nice abstract bit bottom left. Even though it looks as if he dashed it all down in a few minutes it is distractingly real, far more alas that a photo. What really puts Sargent way down in the minor league of portrait artists is that he always goes for the obvious and hangs them with the head at the top. Despite it all if he had never wasted those years learning to draw divinely and paint as if angels guided his brush he could I feel have been a half way decent artist.



I leave you with a proper bit of painting by the supreme George Baselitz. Here everything is perfect the paint is right out of the tube with none of that fancy mixing. The drawing is nonexistent. Best of all though I have a suspicion that might be excrement in the background!


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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