Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 17, 2015

France the Oils and Vivre La Revolution

Filed under: Dorset,France,Painting,Surrey,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:37 am

I was watching an excellent documentary about Bohemians by Victoria Coren recently. It was full many of the usual slightly sad cases with an overweening egotism undermined by the worm of insecurity. As I watched a very odd thought crossed my mind, these tear up the rules, live my life without reference to others types were all rather similar. They were all different and mold-breaking in much the same way, they all seemed to cleave to the same view: that individuality was all. Indeed none of them seemed capable of uttering any sentence that did not focus around the words “Me” or “I”. All these claims of special individuality were undermined I felt by the odd way they mostly seemed very conformist to their self advertised type. They all wanted to break rules but even more importantly to be seen by others to break them.

How awful I realised to be born of a generation where all available rules have already been torn up and discarded. We are not shocked by boys dressed as girls, or any conceivable sexual permutation. You might offend with overt sexism or racism, but no one is really going to be shocked or surprised. It must be like being a school child who having realised an ambition to be sent to stand on the naughty step finds that the rest of the school including the teachers are already there. I was especially touched by a set of art students studying painting. They spouted the usual guff about their art being oh so important, how they expressed their inner selves and broke all the rules, all the time not realising that they were actually being conformists. That is how we expect and require artists to be nowadays. One young lad spreading red paint over a canvas in a desultory manner plainly felt he was being daring by referring to genitalia and dressing like a watered down recently weaned version of Francis Bacon. He was however just regurgitating the guff he had been taught, he had plainly not thought about the ideas he was espousing, he had just accepted unquestioningly what he had been taught.

Art and the idea of being an artist ran like a thread through the program. Because if you are breaking rules and and making society face up to its own hypocrisy then that is what you are? Right? Well if the number one rule is not to respect rules then you are in a bit of a dilemma. No one cares a fig if you break bygone rules. If you declare all rules are made to be broken then once they are all torn up where do you look next? Why is it that artists in particular should be required to do all this rule breaking? Well as with fashion I suppose at least they are fairly harmless rules, easily discarded without much effort mental or otherwise. A brain surgeon who declared he or she would break all the rules would be distinctly worrying, a painter less so.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that none of the so called taboos broken by the art revolution were much to write home about. The artist cries out, “I abhor figuration, I shall work in pure colour and form.” It must have been nice to live in an age where such a cry would be met with horror, but even when such poses were first struck it was not exactly a major apple cart that was being over set. So you are going to put some paint on a canvas a bit differently… hardly seismic in the larger scheme of things is it? Painting is actually quite a humble trade. It is difficult as are many things, but not as important as plumbing or dentistry. If you paint a picture in what ever style that gives others a small moment of pleasure then the job is well done. If you want to shock and scare a few horses then perhaps you have chosen the wrong activity.

The whole business is made more complex for the poor souls studying art in that art is no longer what they study. They strive instead to become shamanic figures who are expected to produce supposedly talismanic objects. Artists have been pressed into service as a make-do replacements for druids and priests. We no longer believe that a bit of mumbling and a sprinkle of H2O gives an object any healing properties and thus, more to the point, increased retail value, but we do seem to believe that a random object backed up by impenetrable art-mumbling adds cachet and investment potential. Both are to my mind superstitions founded on the imaginary “special” qualities of certain individuals in society. It is nice of course to say, “I am an Artist” and immediately get a status upgrade from shabby middle age bloke to interesting aesthete. It is very pleasant for collectors, curators and assorted oracular types to be able to gaze at a clumsy daub and pretend to discern imaginary philosophical depths and spiritual qualities. Which is of course why the whole circus will stay on the road.

For the artist today it is perhaps a relief that all the sacred cows are now slaughtered, and their entrails theatrically and well and truly trodden into the ground. I don’t have to look for any assumptions to challenge, or taboos to threaten. There is no need to seek out the new just for the sake of it, so fashion and style can be ignored. All I need to apply myself to is the simple task of doing a difficult and hard to learn thing well. Also striving to each and every time to do it just that little bit better. Artists who just paint pictures should realise a few hard facts. Nobody needs what you do. What you do is entertainment. You are not advancing human thought in any important way by choosing to carry out this activity. If no one likes what you do it is not the fault of the audience but of the performer. There is never again going to be an age where you can claim to be misunderstood, “The world is just not ready for me.” etc, those times are past and will not be returning for the foreseeable future.

Well now I have that off my chest a few paintings of elsewhere then France…

Richmond, plein air, painting, art


Firstly Richmond. I got this all blocked in and almost done on site but messed up the road overstating the relative brightness. It is so easy to see ground surfaces almost as bright if not brighter than the sky. In actual fact this is almost never so except when there is the direct reflection of the sun in a wet surface, or when black storm clouds crowd the horizon. In all other cases the sky will be brighter than any ground or wall surface. I check this as I have said before by making a small ring with finger and thumb and looking through it flick quickly between different areas. This will immediately tell you what is lighter or darker and roughly by how much. In the studio I scanned my too light road and repainted it 3 tones darker which improved the whole picture hugely. 10in by 12in oils.


Stour, river, dorset, plein air, landscape, painting

An unresolved one here. I find this sort of picture very hard. I have painted everything adequately, but it is at the end of the day boring. I considered adding a canoeist, but whenever you have such thoughts it is probably a sign that the painting should be consigned to the bin! The story of this picture was the reflection, but that was upstaged in reality by the field, a problem which will not be resolved by adding watercraft or hippos to drag the eye back to the river. 12in by 20in oils.


Le Croisic, nocturne, oil painting, France, plein air

France at last! This is the harbour in Le Croisic. On previous visits I have struggled with oils and the first I attempted this time did not bode well and was wiped off. This one I painted after eating and drinking so I was relaxed and bashed the whole thing in in 25min or so. I was very pleased that I had got the coloration mostly right, just a little strong in hue. 10in by 14in.


Le Croisic, salt pans, oil painting, France, plein air

Le Croisic again. I wanted to paint the salt pans which are one of the main features of the area. My problem was I could not get a backdrop I liked. On the way to the salt pans I saw a great view of Guerande and I had the idea I might combine the two… so foreground and background are about 1Km apart! Only a very slight sketch but I enjoyed painting it. 6in by 10in oils.


Le Croisic, France, boat yard, plein air oil painting

I walked back to the town along the shore as the tide was out. This brought me into the local boat yard. I was very taken by this “into the light” subject and also delighted that there was the shade of a huge mobile boat lift to paint from. All very quick to do I actually mixed all my tones before starting which is something I often forget to do but I always find makes life a lot easier. It probably took me as long to mix the tones as it did to paint the picture! It was only as I left the yard by the road that I saw the sign forbidding entry to the general public… 8in by 10in oils.


Le Croisic, France, oil painting, plein air

More Le Croisic. I rather over tidied this later, but was pleased that I got resolved an issue that had been plaguing me in this bright light that seemed to bounce around everywhere. I wiped my first painting of the town because all the shadowed buildings went muddy and dirty. In this one I found a solution by mixing Quinacridone Magenta with various earth colours. This allowed me to get the feel of shadowing, contrast and age of the surfaces without the end result being grubby. 10in by 12in Oils.


Honfleur, France, Plein air, oil painting, church

This is Honfleur. I was really starting to enjoy the oils now. This tremendously bright morning scene was such fun to paint. I was in an awkward spot with shopkeepers setting up around me so I splashed it in as quickly as possible. I won’t mess with it as I love the feel and immediacy of it. I decided against people as it seemed to suit the, early morning before many folk were about, feel. 10in by 10in Oils.


Honfleur, France, plein air, oil painting

Honfleur again. A complex scene for a small painting. I really wanted to catch the intensity of the light on the square. I had to be very quick, no longer than 45min as the sun was coming round on to the facades which changed the whole scene beyond recognition. 7in by 10in Oils.

That’s it just the Watercolours to come…

June 15, 2015

The curse of the category

Filed under: Drawing,London,Painting,Surrey,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:18 am

I am of course going to consider the penchant we have of pigeonholing. We love to sort things into groups and give them names. Then we can ascribe other qualities with a broad and uncaring brush. With life forms we call this taxonomy. With paintings we use  categories based on style, content, historical period, use, intent etc. So if we have a painting it might be an illustration or a decoration or fine art and so forth. With taxonomy the rules are clear a life form cannot be a member of more than one genus. With paintings however a work might be comfortably placed in several. So one of Raphael’s frescos in the Vatican might be a) a work of art, b) illustrating a theme, c) decorating a room. d) an example of renaissance painting. Not so easy here to differentiate and put into discrete categories.

In conversation with other artists they all seem to agree with the current wisdom that contemporary illustration cannot be considered fine art. However if I ask, “Is Rembrandt’s “Feast of Balthazar” fine art?” they say yes it is. I then say but it is an illustration of a biblical event. I might get the reply that it was a personal response to a story by the artist. I add that actually it was a commission. Then the conversation usually goes down hill from there. Despite it being true in earlier times artists today generally seem unwilling to allow illustration up on the pedestal of fine art, but do wish to share the pedestal with great works of previous eras that I think fall comfortably into the illustration category. I have had this conversation many times now always with the same result, people believe that illustration is somehow inferior in the aesthetic stakes, but cannot come up with any cogent argument as to why that should be true now but not in the past.

So what is going on? This post is as much to pick the arguments apart for my own benefit as to promote any views on the matter. I have been both sides of the divide, so maybe that gives me a perspective on the conundrum that gives some small insight. Another area where this effect is seen is literature. A book can be a work of literature, or a genre. If it is genre, say a detective story, then the Booker people are not going to be interested whatever the literary merits. All genres are not equal of course, “historical” is above “mystery” which is in turn above “science fiction” which is above “romance”. These categories are to do with marketing not the end product not with the quality of the wordsmithing in-between the covers. However critics and most readers appear to use the marketing category to assign aesthetic worth. I have lost count of the number of times  have recommended a book only to have someone say, “I don’t like science fiction.” I ask have you read any? They say “No” I say have you read “Brave new world” They say, “Yes.” I say “Aha! That’s science fiction!” and once more the conversation goes downhill from there. One thing is always the same, no one will reconsider their opinion and when they have the basis of that opinion questioned and find they cannot justify it they seem to hold that opinion even more firmly that before.

If you think I am going to give the impression I am above this trait then you would be wrong. If you read Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” you might reluctantly have to admit as I did that many of our opinions and most of our intuitively held views are very poorly founded and often wrong entirely. What Kahneman shows is that even when this is pointed out to us we still cleave to our previous opinion because it is programmed in at a lower level. This part of our minds delivers snap judgements on anything and everything without the need for cogitation. In everyday life this is wonderful as it gives us a way of dealing with a hugely complex world that would overwhelm us otherwise. We could not possibly take the time to reason through everything in life.

This process works with pictures too. People often say that they don’t like this or that sort of painting. Choose your genre, say Pre Raphaelites. This is one that has caused me a deal of difficulty. One of my first experiences with paintings in galleries was at the Birmingham Art Gallery. Is a boy of twelve or so I was entranced by the glowing colours and did not know to dislike the sickly sweet emotions portrayed. Later when doing a degree in fine art I learnt to dislike them as was de-rigueur in a college of that period. So I had two opposing instinctive responses to that kind of work. If I was a computer I would crash and need to be rebooted, but humans are made of sterner stuff and can believe both opposing views at the same time! If I stand back and am analytic then I would have to say most of the Pre-raph output is average to poor, but I can find some gold amongst the spoil as well. IE exactly the same as any other genre or period of work. Nonetheless despite knowing that when I first glance at one of their paintings it is the unconscious assessments all be it conflicting that are first through the gate.

This also works with positives. We might be educated that this or that artist is “important” this in turn makes us see the works in a different way that has less to do with the actual visual stimulus being received than we might imagine. This was brought into focus for me a few years back when I saw a huge Van Gogh exhibition in Basel. I arrived with the learnt and unquestioned opinion that he was one of the all time greats and a pivotal figure in painting. I believe there were 14 rooms in total in strict chronological order. I was entranced by room 13 where his works take on a visionary glow, then less impressed by room 14 where derangement sets in. Puzzled I went back and did the first rooms again. When I really thought and looked as dispassionately as I was able the early rooms were almost entirely between dreadful through to dull but worthy with the odd bright spark of things to come. Looking at the time line it would seem that Gaugin’s influence was the key to Van Gogh’s brief transcendent moment. Van Gogh’s paintings from that period are lovely and decorative, but did they inspire later painters to paint in that manner..? Well like most idiosyncratic artists such as Blake, not really as the manner is so personal.

It is very hard for anyone including myself to separate out the received wisdom on Van Gogh as our subconscious has been so well primed. This is not really a problem for a gallery visitor, as they will enjoy the works and not be concerned as to the genesis of their reactions. For an artist it is a different matter, we need to be able to pick out concrete factors that might lift our own work a step up. I am afraid that the knee jerk assessments of our subconscious really do not help in this regard. My intellect tells me that all types of painting from illustration to portraiture to abstraction will throw up up high peaks on the graph of excellence, however personal and intangible the factors that make such judgements are. For myself I try to look out for these highs wherever they might be found. As we all do I will inevitably miss many that might hold useful inspiration merely because my lazy conscious mind is on autopilot and being steered by the unthinking and largely unfounded judgements delivered up by my unconscious. I feel sure this trope will have neither  convinced nor unconvinced anybody, but any contrary argument not founded on opinion would be welcome, especially if it confounds me!

Only a few paintings since last post, I am gearing up to go to France, so the next post will have a continental flavour!

Fulham Palace, London, Plein air, Brass Monkeys

This is the gate to the walled garden at Fulham Palace. It was drizzling and very quiet so I was happy painting away. I loved the soft tones that the rain gave. 8in by 10in oils.


Fulham Palace, oil painting, London, plein air

The rain really set in after we had had a leisurely sandwich and coffee. I was lucky, sheltered under a substantial tree, others of The Brass monkeys were out in the full downpour… This is the main entrance to the palace, it is a lovely place that the tourists don’t seem to find. 10in by 8in oils.


Hampshire, Fordingbridge, plein air, oil painting

It is hard to believe that this is the same day! After leaving Fulham I drove back to Dorset via the New Forest. This is Fordingbridge, this scene looked so lovely I decided to stop and paint. Hard to get a good viewpoint, in the end I parked my car conveniently for me and inconveniently for everyone else and painted from in front of it. I was forced to be very quick so this is about 30 minutes worth. 10in by 7.5in Oils.


Richmond, surrey, oil painting, plein air

This is Richmond Green on a day out with The Wappers, I have painted this corner a few times before. This time I really struggled, the first one from a different angle I wiped off. Then I started this but just could not get it to gel, I had bollards across the foreground and some near figures. I had it up on my kitchen dresser for a few days and decided in the end the story was about the line of activity running across the lower third. I took out everything that conflicted with that and suddenly I had a picture. It is always gratifying to rescue a painting that goes astray! 10in by 14in Oils.


Richmond Hill, Pen and Ink, Wapping Group

Before I did the last painting I did a couple of pen drawings. This is Richmond Hill, I love the simplicity of the medium. I have a lot of these drawings now and wonder what to do with them. People don’t buy drawings really nowadays, I might get some printed up into cards.


Richmond Bridge, Pen and ink, drawing

Last one. This is Richmond Bridge. It is quite hard to find new views on the River front. This one had taken my eye a few years ago so I decided to have a go at it. Though it looks simple it was avery difficult subject with lots of elements that needed to be right. I did a much more careful pencil layout than normal. I shall do a painting of this at some stage.

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