Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

January 14, 2012

Oils from Ireland and Abstract Musings.

Filed under: Art History,Drawing,Ireland,Life Drawing,Painting,Wales,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 11:21 pm

I have been thinking of late about the nature of representation and abstraction which, you might say, have shared components of symbolism, illusion, pattern, language and appreciation of substance and quality. To try and gain some idea of how such elements might have been combined I have looked at how they appeared in the earliest times. First may have been appreciation of surface quality, useful you would think in identifying things that might aid survival. Which may spill over into a more abstract appreciation for a coloured or shiny stone, shells and feathers etc. Next might come the association of symbolism with these items, certainly it seems some of the first human non practical objects fall into the personal adornment category. It would be not too unreasonable to suspect a sexual attractiveness/status element here I suppose. Patterning is an early element too with chevrons, diamonds and herringbone arrangements of incised lines appearing. To some extent these are examples of ordering. Beads upon a string in alternate colours, lines or shapes made in different sequences. Weaving of natural materials could have caused development of patterns from a practical antecedent. You might weave a mat out of grass but if you have out different grass types then all sorts of possibilities arise out of the order of combination, leading in turn to generating patterns.

About 35 ,000 years ago, according to our discoveries thus far, we started to make images underground in caves. It is here we see the first evidence of illusory markings. The drawings of animals, are representational in a way we recognise immediately despite the vast gulf of time and social development that separates us from their creators. Oddly humans are mostly dealt with in a more symbolic manner with little of the anatomical observation we see in the images of bison and such. Whatever the totemic uses of such images the actual process of observing and delineation would I suspect be pretty much familiar. I dare say even that studies done “in the field” might have been brought down into the caves to aid execution rather than just relying on memory. Looking at paintings from different ages and locations we seem to have the full spread from entirely symbolic with almost no direct observation to finely observed drawings and everything in between. It is the actual production of these different types that intrigues me, the makers had to do a different sort of observing to attempt a replication of the predominantly “seeing” experience of an animal. Presumably the viewers of such creations appreciated these images in much the same way as gazing at the actual thing. There would not be maybe be the need for an added layer of deciphering and interpretation required for a symbolic image. Different cultures seemed to have various balances, with Australian aboriginal peoples being more slanted towards the pattern and symbolic, compared with the European examples which lean more towards the illusory. It is tempting to compare the relative degrees of change over the millennia of the different cultures. Certainly the Australian peoples remained unchanged until recent times, whereas other cultures display a more mercurial nature, due I suspect to environmental pressures. Whether this is connected is moot, but possible I suppose. I does seem to be true that certain key ideas such as wheels or agriculture are not at all things that are at all certain to be developed by a culture however complex and sophisticated otherwise.

Representing the direct visual experience does have an advantage that symbolic images of the world do not. To decipher a symbolic image a shared inherited culture is needed, with an illusory image that is not so much the case. We today understand the simple aspects of Egyptian imagery without needing to be aware of the underlying symbolic meaning. Interestingly many cultures assemble imagery of a predominantly illusory/observational nature into sequences that have a narrative or symbolic purpose. Chinese painting, for example, combines observed elements arranged and used much in the way we would compose a poem individual of words. It also allows a key development when you begin to combine parts of illusory images that would not usually occur together. So you might attach the head of a jackal to a man bringing in to being an imaginary creation. It is harder to do this with purely symbolic imagery, which maybe such chimera don’t appear as much in Aboriginal creations. So rather counter to reason realistic observation can become an engine of imaginative “unreal” creativity.

It seems to be quite late on that observational imagery of place appears. In Chinese painting there are arrangements of mountains and waterfalls and fruit trees but these are observed parts not a coherent observed whole. Egyptian imagery has foreground detail of plants but no distant hills. In most cultures imagery concentrates mainly on the protagonists and their prized possessions. It is not really until the representation of saints in Christian art that coherent depictions of place occur. Then we must wait a few more centuries until the first landscapes that are concerned only with place make their appearance. Further centuries will pass before people and place will be brought together in compositions that combine the two equally. These works also are also the end result of a slow draining of symbolism from painted images in particular. Impressionism is the extreme version of this.

The revolution we term “modern art” is to some degree a return to symbolic content and pattern by arrangement. A good abstract painting might be only calling on the appreciation of surface quality, or pattern in arranging colour. Surrealists go back to combining observed content with symbolic. In both cases they represent a step back into the deep past (I am making no judgement of worth here) When looking to the future I do wonder if, as in other reconsiderations of earlier times, if a rapprochement will take place between proponents of illusionistic representation and those of abstraction and if so what it would look like. Certainly the production of work that uses the power of illusory image-making to create unreal or impossible visual experiences proceeds apace in the commercial arena. Sadly for the most part neither group will deign to consider the other with any respect. A situation I find a little odd. People engaged in the the production of imaginary illustrative content scorn the often admittedly weak technical skills of the fine art world and in response the fine art world rather hypocritically dismisses illustration, which tends to suffer from weak intellectual underpinnings, as mere commerce and of no cultural significance. Both positions are in my view misguided. Rather sidelined and marooned are those who work away at some historical style such as impressionism or classicism. Again each seem to revert to the Orwellian two legs good four legs bad position. The former scorning any narrative content the latter nailing their colours to the restrictive mast of the atelier system of development. Most by ways and backwaters of art history have their proponents in our content rich world, and that is perhaps in the end the defining characteristic of our time. Never before has so much visual eye candy from so many ages been there to appreciate and absorb. It is hardly surprising that the result is fragmentation. I would put in a plea for artists and critics of all persuasions to celebrate this diversity and not spent fruitless energy in attempting the worthless task of promoting their particular corner of creation to prominence over others. Alas due to human nature this is unlikely I suppose, current top dogs and recipients of state largesse will no doubt hang on like grim death, stamping down and decrying any possible competition.

Now for some light relief a few paintings and drawings. My Christmas expedition wasn’t terribly productive oil painting wise, but a few got started and almost done despite the elements. I have also managed a couple of studio efforts. These and a few life drawings added on for garnish are all I have to offer this post. The oils can be clicked for a larger image the drawings not.


Ireland, Eire, Oils, Plein air, Painting, Clare, Rob Adams

The weather was against me here, it was windy and drizzling as well which combined to turn the paint into mayonnaise! So a fair amount of tidying

up needed, but the painting didn’t change in essence so by my very unpurist judgement this is a plein air.


Burren, Clare, Ireland, eire, plein air, oils, painting, Rob Adams

The only oil I completed plein air this Christmas. The chances of the weather and light being agreeable at the same time were slim so this was done very

close to base… The upside is that such changeable weather does produce wonderful moments of light. At sunset or any other time of day a certain subject

will produce a scene that is more or less the same, I have many photos from different years that show this is so. But inclement weather will consistently

throw up unique lighting combinations that can make the humblest of subjects look glorious.


Ballyvaughn, Clare, Eire Ireland, Plein air, oil painting, Rob Adams

I got the drawing done and the sky and reflections in the water, then had to run for dear life for the car as the heavens opened. Still once these elements

were established the cottages and foreground rocks were straightforward to finish. There is something that desperate haste adds to a painting that is

hard to quantify but often a good thing… except when the whole thing gets scraped later of course.


Famine Rd, Oil, painting, Clare, Ireland, Eire, Rob Adams

This one I had only drawn in when a large tractor and trailer forced me to move on. I wasn’t terribly taken with the subject so I moved on. Once home

however I thought it worth finishing. Not sure about this one but it did prompt me to experiment on the next one in a way that I found very interesting.

On this I worked scrubbing in as dry as I could and then working over, but on the next…


Famine Road, east Clare, Ireland, Eire, oil painting, Rob Adams

This is looking along a “famine road” built during the Irish potato famine to provide labour for the destitute. Oddly one of the requirements was that they

had to go nowhere. Here I tried an experiment I laid the areas down almost as I would a watercolour painting putting in one tone and leaving clean primed

board where the next tone was to go. So almost no brushstroke was laid on top of another but only side by side. I allowed the ragged edge of the bristle

brush to define the edges between strokes. Once the prime was all covered I did the least I could to pull it all together, in the simplest terms I looked for bits

that didn’t quite work and replaced them with stuff that did, until nothing caught my eye as being out of place. The I stood back and looked at it as a whole

and accentuated some areas and suppressed others. Overall I am pleased at the result, this sort of subject is always on the verge of turning to mud but in this

case the mixed greens and browns retained their individual character and stayed fresh.


Life drawing, nude, rob adams

A few life drawings to finish off.


Life drawing, Rob adams


Life drawing, Rob adams


Life drawing, Rob Adams


Life drawing, Rob Adams


Life drawing, Rob Adams

That’s it… new life drawing starts on Monday, a great if frustrating pleasure!

January 8, 2012

A Wet and Windy Yule

Filed under: Ireland,Painting,Wales,Watercolour — Rob Adams @ 6:03 pm

For many years I have visited old (and patient) friends at Christmas who live in an iron age roundhouse in the Burren in the far West of County Clare. The landscape is bleak and beautiful in the winter months but very hard to paint. Last year was all frosts and cold, but this one was all wind and rain. Either of these are possible to paint in but both at the same time are more or less impossible. The best I have managed for the most part is to paint a sketch from the car with the windscreen wipers going. The oils were all rained off half done, so this post is watercolours. Only a few got finished wholly on site, the humidity making drying a bit of a trial. On a couple I was driven to putting the car heater and fan on full blast in order to dry my initial washes. Those are the downsides, but the upside is that the dramatic storms brought some wonderful moments where cloud sun and landscape all contrived to put on a show. These fleeting subjects are almost impossible to paint plein air so photos are needed for reference, though I try to paint from them very soon after taking the picture, somehow unless the photo is very good the essence gets forgotten. The first few are from Wales where I stayed on my way over to Ireland. Some pictures can as usual be clicked for a larger image.



Watercolour, Wales, Newport, sea, painting, Rob Adams

 This is Newport Pembrokeshire which has a wonderful long beach with this rocky area ti the northern end. It was very windy with the light going over

when I took the reference photo for this. I reduced my palette to only three colours for this to enhance the silvery mood, Ultramarine,

Quinacridone Gold and Venetian red to darken the Ultramarine to grey. 14in by 11in.


Pembrokeshire, Wales, Watercolour, painting, Rob Adams

A small 7in by 5in sketch. This is Strumble Head near Fishguard. The lighthouse nearby looked fantastic but no chance of painting it as the wind was

really wild. This was done from a sheltered bit down the cliff. At least the wind was doing a good job of drying for me. Looking at this compared to the

oils in my last post I can’t help feeling that my watercolours are still a way ahead of my oils, in catching the mood of the sea at any rate.


Newport, Pembrokeshire, Wales, Rob Adams, watercolour, painting, plein air

Another small 7in by 5in, my small sketch book was the easiest to use as the wind was still a bit frisky! This is a view that I have painted many times

but I never mind that, the light always brings a new mood. Only three colours again, Naples Yellow, Venetian Red and Ultramarine.


Pembrokeshire, wales, watercolour, painting, Plein air, Rob Adams

This is Cwm yr Eglwys on the North side of Dinas head. The south side of the head was blowing a gale but oddly here on the North it was still and I

could sit and paint without holding on to everything for dear life. 7in by 5in again.


Pembrokeshire, Wales, watercolour, painting, plein air, Rob Adams

This is Ceibwr Bay, the wind was so fierce I had to paint from the car, which in turn had to be positioned in a precarious and probably illegal position.

The light was superb raking over the cliffs from inland. In my middling sketch book which is 9in by 7in.


Nore, Inistioge, Kilkenny, Ireland, Watercolour, Painting, Rob Adams

A bridge over the river Nore near Inistioge in Kilkenny. After a night crossing I slept for a while in the car and this was my morning view. This area

is criss crossed with beautiful rivers and very rich in subjects. I must make a longer visit sometime in the near future. From photo ref 14in by 11in.


Clara Castle, Kilkenny, watercolour, painting, Rob Adams, Ireland

I think this castle is called Foulksrath Castle, often when I take photos I have an idea which are possible paintings but in the event it is often other quick

snaps that take the eye when going through them later. In Kilkenny I think, 14in by 11in.


Burren, County Clare, Ireland, watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams

A moment of dry allowed me to get out. These are so called erratic boulders in the Burren. I have painted these almost every visit for 20 odd years!

9in by 7in.


Dysert, Clare, Ireland, Watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams

Dysert O’Dea castle. Another brief remission in the rain allowed me to sit and paint this. It took nearly 2 hrs due to drying time. 9in by 7in.


Finvarra, Galway, Ireland, watercolour, Rob Adams, Painting

A causeway near Finvarra. I sketched this out from my car window then painted it in the warm and dry! 9in by 7in.


Galway, watercolour, painting, Rob Adams, ireland

Dramatic light in Galway City, I had to take shelter a few minutes after snapping the photo for this! 7in by 5in.


ireland, Clare, watercolour, Painting, Rob Adams

East Clare track. In the east the ground turns to clay and sandstone giving a different character to the landscape. Done from a photo on a very wet

afternoon! 14in by 11in.


Clare, Burren, watercolour, painting, Rob Adams

In contrast here is a road in the west on the limestone. Another wet day’s entertainment… 14in by 11in.


Sea storm, Black head, clare, watercolour, Rob Adams

This is Black Head on the edge of the Burren. No chance of plein air… I could barely stand up and my new hat, given for Christmas, was whisked off

my head and blown out to sea! I would have liked to stay longer and taken more photos but it was just too uncomfortable. 14in by 11in.


Burren, Clare, Ireland, watercolour, Rob Adams

Another “out of the car window” job. Even so I had to do a fair bit afterwards. This a very typical road in the less rocky bits of the Burren. 9in by 7in.


East Clare, Lough Derg, watercolour, plein air, Rob Adams, ireland

This is Mountshannon on the shores of Lough Derg. Painted with the windscreen washers going to clear the constant drizzle 7in by 5in. That’s all

for now there are a few oils in varying states of rainedoffness to come but despite the poor weather I am quite pleased at the results. It just goes to show

there is no bad weather for painting and though unpleasant it brings moods that are worth attempting to capture.

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