Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

January 25, 2019

Art Bollocks

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Satire,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:10 pm

In the 18thC Antoine Coypel, president of the French Academy and purveyor of syrupy classical scenes, complained of the “Vapid and bizarre jargon” used by artists and critics when describing paintings. A complaint that seems as appropriate now as it when it was first made. I might notice I suppose that both were said in an age of rampant academicism, however I suspect that Art Bollocks has a long and venerably tedious history. I am not going to amuse you with too many examples of art speak, almost every “artist’s statement” is a parody composed entirely of such waffle.  My question is more why do people feel the need to descend into obfuscation and incomprehensible language when faced with talking about art? Is it just the art world that suffers?

The answer to that is a no. Wine critics seem to be badly afflicted too, philosophers and theologians as well to name but a few. A link between the differing areas is hard to discern. Up there with the most likely is perhaps that all of these topics are trying to express and describe the indefinable. Every bottle of plonk tastes different to each swigger and each one of these in turn will come up with some memorable bogus metaphor.

The cartoonist Thurber mocked wine speak in a 1937 cartoon:

Evelyn Waugh took a poke in Brideshead Revisited:

“It is a little, shy wine, like a gazelle.”
“Like a leprechaun.”
“Dappled, in a tapestry meadow.”
“Like a flute by still water.”
“And this is a wise old wine.”
“A prophet in a cave.”

and so forth. The link is plainer to me after reading an article on wine bollocks, it hit me like an alligator dropped on my head by a drunken protractor, the descriptor I am seeking is “Metaphor” Shakespeare’s example is the classic one:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances …”

Here we have things we are familiar with compared to other things we are familiar with so we can reflect on the similarities. With wine and art speak the problem is that the metaphors are assembled from things we cannot with any certainty know a great deal about.

So it is hardly a surprise that attempting to describe subjective qualities with objective and poetic terms results in a word salad. The next mystery is why would any one take the texts seriously? Here is art writer and professor Carolyn Guertin writing in her essay called Wanderlust:

“The shuffling and unfolding of the information of her body in sensory space is enacted across a gap or trajectory of subjecthood that is multiple and present. Subjectivity is the lens and connector through which the spatio-temporal dislocation gets focused and bridged. The gap is outside vision – felt not seen – and always existing on the threshold in between nodes. Like the monster’s subjectivities, all knots in the matrix are linked.”

Would anyone care to have a stab at what the previous quote might mean? She is not really attempting to communicate, so what is the real intent. The text is composed in a way that feels like it is making an important point, but on closer attention the point or indeed any point appears to be absent. For those who think seeing the passage in context might help… believe me it doesn’t. However you could skim it quickly without interrogating the meaning too much and feel that something deep and thoughtful has been said.

Perhaps we might trawl further back into history to the Oracle at Delphi from which we get the word “delphic”. Horoscopes today deal with the problem of talking about things you cannot know about by phrasing in way that is as non specific as possible. They never say that at 10AM today all Libras will crash their bicycles into lampposts. They might however say, that they may experience accidents today, but although the result may be uplifting or not they mostly do not effect the positive feelings that the conjunction with Saturn encourages.

So in a way Art Speak is perfectly designed to fit with contemporary art. The requirement of the consumer of each is that they bring the meaning to the words or the art works themselves rather than the onus being on the writing or creating. Obfuscation in either area points I feel to insecurity. The Oracle cannot foretell the future in any detail so must be vague, so she can say she was right whatever the future holds. If the art critic has nothing to communicate about art that says nothing then Art Speak is perfect for the job. If an artist has nothing to say in their work the the same language is ideal for a statement that speaks of serious intent where there is none.

Well that was jolly.

On with the backlog of paintings.

Sea, oil painting, plain air

Here I wished to express the impermanence of form and explore the terminus of the shadow between resurgent reality and expectation. Or a quick daub of a bit of surf on Portland. 12in by 8in Oils.

Weymouth, beach, plain air, oil painting Dorset

Here I test the boundaries between individual experience and the transition to the ineffable isolation of the individual. Or some paint I smeared about to suggest a bloke  on Weymouth beach. 14in by 10in Oils

Portland Bill, Dorset, plein air, painting

Here I explore the dilemma of substance versus illusion, working on the periphery of dishonesty, I sought to enlarge the paradigm of truth and material. Or a moody old seascape with Portland lighthouse in it painted by a tediously boring painter on a bit of cheap reconstituted wood. 10in by 16in Oils.

Studland bay, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is a statement of ephemeral uncertainty described by using the anodyne security of a historical modus operandi and delineating how the ego is juxtaposed with transcendent ignorance of a futile world. Or a plein air of Studland Bay done by a painter thinking more about breakfast than art and worried that unless he paints a bit quicker his feet will get wet. 12in by 8in Oils.

Old Harry, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

Here I reacted to the endless repeated depositions of the unreconcilable slimeaval past and its post structural decay in opposition to the semi-permeable crisis of the ideal self. Or a quick knock off of Old Harry by a painter desperate for a sale. 10in by 10in oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, Dorset, oil painting

Here I investigate the inextricable interface between being and not being using ironic reference to the desperate cry of primeval man marooned in an age of mechanisation and home baking. Or it was a really wet nasty day so I painted a picture of Portland Bill in the studio to pass the time pleasantly? 24in by 8in Oils.

That’s it I am off to the studio to wrestle with imponderables for all you poor folk who aren’t artists. So you can see beyond your poor mundane existences and be uplifted for a brief moment nearer to the unreachable mysteries that underly our improbable incorporation into sentient flesh.

March 24, 2018

Art for the End of Times

Filed under: Art History,Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:11 am

The age of discovery is drawing to a close. The scientific theories are done with, there will never be another dramatic moment of displacement in a bathtub that prompts the cry of Eureka! No fresh and shiny E = mc 2‘s no more 2πr2′s hidden in the woodwork. We will never again discover the unexpected fact that blood circulates, or find out how nerves do their electrochemical tango. There will be no more elements that last longer than a pico second to extend the periodic table. No new languages, no new geometries, we have found it all, made it all. The world of knowledge is perhaps a little like a sphere and we have pretty much mapped out all the continents upon it.

So now we are in the age of refinement, dotting the i’s, looking after the p’s and q’s. We might voyage to new planets, but never be surprised that they were there in the first place. We are encyclopaedia collators, we are indexers, we arrange ducks in rows. We wistfully talk of escaping the box and finding some mythical bleeding edge, but really we are at the end of innovation and at the beginning of a long age of tinkering with infinitely recessive boundaries.

There will be no new art movements, no new impressionists, we have been abstract, surreal and can only repeat the old well trodden expressions, there will be no more new, just warmed over old. Who could have expected human understanding to have grown so fast? We have the jigsaw puzzle on the table and the box is nearly empty. There are only a couple of pieces of sky to go and a bit of sea lost under the sofa, but the picture on the whole is just about complete. We are just a little disappointed that it does not quite match the one with the jolly bearded chap in the clouds that we imagined might be printed on the box!

Should we retire? Is our job done, like Deep Thought in Hitchhikers Guide have we found our 42? Should we become whimsical and quirky, always looking for some brief glimmer of newness to punctuate the ennui? Return to big wigs and farthingales, go mad for Steampunk? Butterfly at being this of that for just a day or two before moving on to paint a prettier flower? The world has enough books, tunes, plays and paintings to amuse anyone for a century or more. It sometimes seems pointless to paint another when there are so many better ones already available.

There is that word, “available” we are drowning in available. If I want to look at Russian painting, clickety click on my key board, and hey presto there it is. Not only that but most of the images are better than the ones you would have got in that 60 quid book 20 years ago, certainly there are far more of them. Affluenza doesn’t just effect material things it effects culture too. In times past you had a music collection… serried ranks of cd’s and Lp’s proudly displayed. Now you can rent any tune for the price of an advertisement. We don’t need collections, I sold all my art books, I never looked at them, they just took up space.

So, I must ask, does it matter? Most of human lives throughout history have been lived without a hint of new. In Tudor times, before the revelatory rush had really got started, it was a compliment to tell an artist that what he had done was almost as good as what everyone had always done before. They had guilds to prevent any possibility of innovation or deviation from the approved way. So no, maybe it does not matter.

Still for an artist today the idea of originality and newness is made out to be of vital importance. How cruel fate can be! We are like explorers born just as the last of the “Terra Incognitas” are filled in and the final “Here be Dragons” neatly erased. We have explored right round the world and met ourselves coming back in the other direction. Fortunately for us the world of ideas is fractal as a fern. We have broadly mapped out the major fronds, but each frond is made of smaller fronds and they too of smaller yet. So perhaps our world is unconfined, I can paint landscapes that make just a section of a part of the serrated edge of our landscape frond a tiny bit frillier.

For what is vaguely known as contemporary art this is a slight problem. Its avowed mission is to find new fronds, to go as Star Trek tells you, “Where no man has been before.” To this end they rush about making submarines out of tyres, piling up things to make other things, incongruity is king. All to no avail though, as, like our explorers who spot a hopeful new shore, upon landing they find footprints of men who were there before them in the sand, already softened by the tide. They have all the time only been filling in a few small wriggles in a coastline already mapped.

What has brought all this on you might wonder? Well the fear of Venice is beginning to set in. The most painted place ever. The most mapped in paint, its every mood, however transient, daubed by someone. There is a veritable Everest of paintings, an unstoppable grinding glacier of topographical art heading my way! All sorts of silly ideas pop up in my head, ignore the famous scenes, just paint dead ends and wheelie bins. Get behind the hollow tourist facade and tell it how it really is. I know of course that reality is not Venice’s strong suit, it is the oldest and most successful Disneyland on the planet.

In the event of course I will go and paint and draw stuff that looks pretty much like what everyone else has painted. I will then put them in my attic as Venice paintings don’t sell in Dorset. They will make a dandy blog post and garner a few ego boosting “likes” on Facebook and I will move on. The real gain will be inside my head. I will have been and looked. I will have observed tricks of the light, embellishments of stone, reflections in water. I will have been immersed in the place and be made a little bit different inside. An extra, hopefully elegant, wrinkle will be defined on my own personal frond. Like painting a portrait, they are much the same, we have been painting faces and bodies for thousands of years, but this will be through my eyes which will be, in the smallest humblest way, a first. Then I will paint Blandford with a little bit of Venice sitting behind my eyes.

Fontmel Down, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting

A bright and breezy morning up on Fontmel Down, I’m not quite done with it yet and might have to return for another bash. I am showing it here with the bottom cropped, but I might reverse that and crop the top instead. It is one of those that has a decent picture in there somewhere, I just have to muck about with it until it gels. 16in by 10in Oils.

Fontmel Magna, oil painting, Dorset, plein air

Here is Fontmel Magna later the same day once the rain had set in. Quite pleased with this one as it is great subject and I managed to get a feeling of the day down. I need to try it again in different lights and a slightly more refined composition. I love painting in the rain, everything is transformed, if only the practicalities of holding the umbrella and such were easier. Though the painting stayed mostly dry, the rain ran down my neck and made my boxers soggy! 14in by 10in Oils.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, oil painting

A studio painting of the famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury from the first bout of snow. By the time I arrived here I was too cold to paint any more so just took snaps. Great fun to paint, I mixed up all my tones first as without sun the contrasts were very subtle. With snow scenes it is very tempting to take every area to white which ends up looking crude. 16in by 10in Oils.

Portland, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Here we are on the Isle of Portland, the snow is gone and the sun is out. This is a great spot on the West side of the island I had not been to before. This was only one of the possible paintings to be done on this spot. The morning was quite misty with the last of the sea fret being dissolved by the sun. The tone of the distance was very hard to nail down. Too light and there was not enough contrast with the sea and sky, to dark and the feel of the atmosphere between you and the cliffs is lost. 10in by 12in Oils.

Portland Bill, Dorset, sea, plein air, oil painting

Are we in Corfu? Is this the Adriatic? No this is the same day looking South from Portland Bill! There was a great vantage point for the waves coming in so I decided a sea study was the thing to do. When people paint sea they often struggle with the fact that it is always the same but always different too. The result is that they impose their imagination upon it and it becomes rather static. My tactic is to get the tones and colours of the whole scattered about but not really resolved. Then I observe each smaller area and do a snap shot study of what is going on. Once done I just watched for a bit before putting a few features that tied the whole together. So the main wave was the very last thing to go in. 10in by 12in Oils.

Hambledon Hill, snow, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

The Mediterranean is gone and the Arctic swiftly returns! Our second batch of snow was bonus and I was determined to paint it. I waited and waited for the light to move from grey to sun before going up Hambledon Hill. When I got there I found the wind and sun had removed the snow from raised areas revealing the scars in the ground left by the walkers ascending to the earthworks that crown the hill. I got completely lost in painting this it had such fascinating contrasts. The snow came in handy too as I could build a level platform to paint from by kicking it in a heap and stamping it flat! Once again I took a deep breath before starting and mixed the key tones before doing anything else. 10in by 10in Oils.

Child Okeford, Church, snow, oil painting

The last of the snow. On my way back the light on the church and reflecting on the remains of the snow look pearlescent and very beautiful. However I was pretty cold and had a very wet bum from sliding down Hambledon Hill so I just blocked the bare bones of the focal point of the view and took a few photos. Thank heaven I did even that small amount as when I looked at my snaps they were just grey with none of the colours I remember seeing! So I had to work mostly from imagination colour wise and there is none of the original lay in left. In the last stages I put the photos away and allowed myself to play. 14in b y 10in Oils.

Next Post will suppose be Venice… wish me luck!

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