Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 31, 2015

Landscape Art

In my newspaper today there was a review of Richard Long the land artist. When I was a student he and Andy Goldsworthy were first making their mark. I, as almost everyone else, quite liked what they did, indeed who wouldn’t. The work is engaging pleasant and made of nice stuff often in a beautiful setting, hard indeed to find anything about it all that is not pleasant. They make what is called “interventions” on the landscape. The defining factor seems to be that it should not be a practical intervention such as a useful one like a drystone wall for keeping animals in. Oh and also it shouldn’t be a folly either like the great estate owners were fond of… now I think of it garden design has to be omitted too… whoops, some ancient monuments have to be excluded as well. So really it has to be made by a person who defines themselves as an artist. You could have four identical drystone objects one crafted by an artist one by an architect and one by a landscape designer and one by a drystone waller and it seems that the art cognoscenti say only the artist made one would be art. If they were placed side by side of course it would be impossible to tell one from another. So did the “artiness” come from the object being made or you being told it was by an artist? I seems to me plain that the “art” ingredient was added by you being informed of the fact not the object being made nor you perusing it. So by my way of thinking the art act was the labelling of it. So group of friends hiking might come across an intriguing drystone construction and one of them might pipe up, “Oh that is a Richard Long” all the group would then have an “art” moment. The piper might be wrong, but regardless of that the art experience was had. Was the hiker actually the artist? Well it’s a thought.


A few different land art sort of items, can you spot the art?

Now you may think I am going to deny the artiness of the monkish Mr Long and fey Mr Goldsworthy, but no I want to say that they are all made with craft and therefore capable of being looked at as art. My argument would be that they are not a particularly high individual achievement. We ascribe special status to folk like Rembrandt because very very few human beings through history are going to be able to do what he did as well and with as deep long term appeal, depth of expression  and subtle nuances. Perhaps one or two in a generation. However anyone with a bit of patience could make a Richard Long you would not have to wait half a century for another person good enough at arranging rocks! So an object made by man might be lovely to look at, it might be instructive, it might be moving. But it is not that which we celebrate. We celebrate the high points of human achievement. Most of us write, but very few of us write War and Peace. So we value Mr Tolstoy and his works. So the land artists could be safely placed in “pleasant essay” territory rather than “towering achievement”.

With high jumpers we celebrate the person who leaps over the highest bar. We may clap if a portly person makes an impressive attempt at a much lower bar but the record books won’t be adjusted. So to my mind the difficulty of achieving a result and the amount of life that has had to be expended to be able to do that thing is a large factor in the art value of a made thing. With the difficulty of attainment comes rarity and in most cases with rarity comes value. All of the objects both rare and common may well provoke a pleasant and meaningful visual experience. But the rare one is an example of high human achievement and it is that event that we should celebrate.

This edition I am offering a bit of landscape art rather than land art. I am at last getting to grips with painting different subjects now that I am finally full time in pastoral surroundings. Not that it is easy, I am being fairly experimental in my approach so a good few failures will result.


Honfleur, France,  Notre Dame de Grace, pen and ink drawing

A few orphans from France that needed finishing later due to a high shrubbery content! I added a raw sienna wash to my media on the last day just to add another element. Very nice for adding bulk to trees and differentiating areas. This is Notre Dame de Grace high above Honfleur. I would like to have painted but I found it on the last day and didn’t get the chance.


Le Croisic, France, drawing, pen and ink

This is Le Croisic, I added the wash after and am pleased with the result I found a subtle mix of the sienna and the white I use made a lovely warm white which contrasts nicely with the cooler version used in the clouds.


Swanage, Dorset, pen and ink, wellington clock tower

This is the Wellington clock tower in Swanage which rather oddly originally once stood at the southern end of London Bridge in London. It was moved to the seaside in 1854 at a cost of £700 as it did not keep good time and with increasing traffic it had became something of an obstruction. The faulty clock never came. I am told it used to possess a spire but that became unsafe and was removed in 1904. A very quick sketch, I was out on a pier and in the way of fishing folk.


Corfe, Dorset, pen and wash, drawing

On my way back from Swanage I couldn’t resist this view of Corfe castle with the train. It is on a reproduction of paper as used by David Cox in the 18th century which is a pleasant oatmeal colour. Fab view which I shall come back to. Although it looks arcadian you have to imagine lorries belting past a couple of feet behind me!


Hambledon hill, drawing, dorset, pen and ink

A bit of pen and ink madness, I started this last winter on site, but having done Hambledon hill I decided on a wild circular hatch for the sky… slow work so I had to give up when hypothermia set in! I finished it off a few days ago sitting in the sun in my garden. Has a slightly Samuel Palmerish feel, maybe the first signs of madness.


Salisbury, carving, cathedra,l wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

A visit to diy store Wickes in Salisbury. The store was a bit boring so I went on to the distinctly more drawable cathedral. This is a carving on the facade warning you of what might happen to you if you sin… I got a crick in my neck doing this!


Salisbury Cathedral, wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

Yes it’s that famous view Constable painted. I decided to have lunch in a pub by the river but got lured into doing this. By the time I got to the pub they had stopped serving which served me right for getting distracted.


Hambledon Hill, water colour, plein air, painting, art

This post is a bit Hambledon Hill heavy I fear! I am determined to get some paintings that catch the character of the place. It is easy enough doing distant views but although it is fantastic visually up on the hill itself, making a painting that catches that is very hard. It is like those wide views that you photograph when on holiday. They look wonderful when you are there but once you are home the photos look ho hum. Photographs taken from the hill have that same quality. So I set out on a blustery hazy afternoon to do my best. This is looking right out over the verdant Blackmore Vale and I am quite pleased with it. I might try some different formats, tall and thin or square the straight landscape proportions don’t quite work for me. 1/4 sheet Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, watercolour, art, painting, Dorset, hill fort

I started very boldly here with a full and very wet wash. I need maybe to strengthen the fore ground to push the distance back. I might do a studio version to try and get the balance better. It was so windy the painting blew away a couple of times! 1/4 sheet Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, hill fort, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

Not the most cheery of watercolours of Hambledon but I am quite pleased with it on the whole. It was quite different day with the wind driving rain showers up the Stour valley unlike the previous dry windy days the washes just wouldn’t dry. Still I must get up there on some wet days with the oils as I love the mood. I struggled down the hill after carrying my painting gingerly at arms length as it was still very wet. 1/4 sheet, Watercolour.


Fontmell Down, watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

I got up at the crack of dawn to do this, even before the dog walkers, but not as you may have noticed, the sheep. Only a little 9in by 6in but it was lovely to do. Not a mood for wild wet into wet washes so I did it in areas which gives it a calm still mood perfect for the scene. People do go on about “wet into wet” and so forth as if it is the only way to paint. I like both the wild and splashy and the carefully laid down and find that the approach can be infinitely varied from the exuberantly expressive to the quietly meditative to suit the feeling of different subjects and moods. The rule is for me that the technique should be at the service of the subject not the other way round. The subject here is the wonderful Fontmell Down.


Eggardon Hill, Watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

This is the view from Eggardon Hill another hill fort in Dorset. A studio painting done on the David Cox paper. Very hard to stretch as it wrenches any gumstrip off. You have to staple all round the edge and even then it pulls free. I must use my Artmate paper stretcher in future. The paper is much thinner than what we use today and is technically quite hard to paint on. Too wet and it turns into an impression of the alps cockling fiercely. On the other hand the beautiful surface with little flecks of brown and yellow gives a lovely quality. You soon understand why the 18th century masters used body colour. To get a bright wash you just have to add some white to the wash. Not enough to remove the transparency but just enough to add brilliance to the colour. I enjoyed doing this tremendously and love the quality it brings to the paint. 14in by 9in, watercolour.

That’s it for this edition. I feel some oil painting is due as I have neglected it in the last week or so, like everything if you don’t keep doing it you loose the edge that comes with regular practice. Painting is very not like riding a bicycle you do forget all too easily!




July 25, 2015

How to Make Art

Filed under: Art History,Satire,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 2:20 pm

Many people I have found do not really grasp how to make art. They think it is just magicked up by the artist from some sort of internal wellspring of inspiration. What I want to do here is to show the long and tortured path that actually describes the birth and creation of the wonderful art we see in our galleries. I hope with this revealing of the process to lay to rest forever the “A child could do it.” and other related comments. I am going to use one of my own recent works, “Untitled 124A” which was a personal breakthrough piece that has since shaped the direction of my work. Firstly my realm of concern is landscape and the light that reveals it to the eye and thence to the mind. So to start with the inspiration.

My starting point here was a local feature Hambledon Hill in Dorset which I have painted many times. It has an ancient hill fort on top which gives it a distinctive profile. Above is a photo I took while painting it. With the photo it is a straightforward image that anyone can appreciate. However I want to be able to explore how that image relates to a given flat surface and the distribution of paint marks upon that surface. To this end I set up my easel and painted a plein air. Placing as far as I could equivalent tones and hues into related positions upon the surface. At all times during the process I tried to keep aware of the place and history and my connection to it. Once the last mark was in place I stood back and considered my work. Below is a photo I took of it on the easel as soon as it was finished.

As you see there are many problems. Firstly the image looks like the place. It is, as most of you will have realised, not the place but paint placed upon a surface. Also Hambledon hill is quite large 1/2 a mile long but my painting is much smaller. Hambledon is made of chalk and earth and what grows upon it, which my simple minded representational painting could not encompass. All in all very depressing. Another weakness is that a lot of the drawing was vaguely accurate. But what does “accurate” mean in relation to an ancient hill? Accurate like a map? Accurate like a photo? There was no getting away from it I had managed to miss the essence of the place by doing the work too well. All the years of learning how to draw and paint were proving an obstacle rather than a help.
My “road to Damascus” moment came as I trudged back to the car. I tripped on a furrow and lost grip on my wet painting which landed face down on a fresh cow pat. Now thoroughly depressed I rescued it and looked at the damage. Then it struck me, The painting which had previously been merely an illusion had been transformed by the excrement. It was now truly “of” the place. An accidental intervention of the land itself (me tripping on a landscape feature) had resulted in a more complete conceptual connection to the land. Realising I now had a real work of art to deal with I put on my curator’s conservation grade white gloves to carry it reverently back to the car. Below is a photographic representation.

Once home I reconsidered the whole process that had led to the engendering of a work of art. As you see the cow shit has moderated those old fashioned irrelevant representational weaknesses bringing a down to earth truth to the materials employed. This was truly a breakthrough I could almost feel the shackles of my overly traditional thinking shattering! Here at last was truth and it was brown and rather smelly. You may think that bad, but the addition of an extra sensory level was hugely exciting. I was so overcome I had to lie down in a darkened room for a bit.
The next day I woke up determined to grasp this conceptual nettle and follow it wherever it might lead. I had started the week as a no hope landscape painter trying pointlessly to use skill and experience to capture the world around me, now I needed to leave all that behind me. Everything was up for grabs, I had to rethink the whole thing from the ground up, question everything and take nothing for granted.
Firstly why use paint when there is excrement available? It seems so obvious once it is in front of you steaming slightly. The grass grows on the land drawing sustenance from it and the air above, it is then eaten by cattle and transformed into ordure, which in turn augments the landscape.
One weakness I could see in my work of art was that I had too much influence in it’s creation, the facile obstacle of my own pernicious skill had to be overcome. The work had to be made by the place to be of it. Inspired I fixed my canvas to a pole and set off up the hill. The thing was I realised to get the excrement to be directly delivered on to the given surface. I could have laid canvasses randomly about the hill in the hope that a cow would score a direct hit but with the long pole I could perhaps make an artistic intervention with the canvas into the flow of my chosen medium.
This was the beginning of several fruitless decades. However hard I tried the cattle would detect my presence and move away. In fact as soon as they spotted me heading up the path they would leave the hill precipitously. I even tried wearing a cow suit but to no avail. Finally I was asked by the farmer to desist as the milk yields were suffering.

Then I went through the wilderness years. My creative well was dry. Suddenly one day, when working on the 87th version of my artist’s statement, the answer came to me out of the blue. I had been working with cows. The female component. But I was male, so what I needed was something that would reflect the way I related to the land via my sexuality. If I used a bull there would be a congruency with my own gender that would be hugely significant in the most significant way possible. It took nearly a year to convince the farmer and he also wanted paying more than I could have usually afforded. Luckily quite by chance after writing 500 or so letters I had just received an Arts Council grant in recognition of the fact that I had been completely unproductive for a decade or more and thus was plainly on the verge of something hugely important. They could not have been more right!
Filled with confidence and more than a little trepidation I at last placed my canvas on the ground behind a fine Hereford bull and waited. The fine beast caught my eye and there was a moment of bonding then with a gush art was fulfilled. Success at last it was all that I had dreamed of for all those years and more. Exuberant I headed home with my long sought after prize. I could not wait to tell my Gallery the good news.
Then disaster struck. When carrying my art into the studio one of my conservator’s grade curator’s gloves slipped and in trying to save my masterpiece I tripped and fell forward onto my precious work. All was lost, I had inadvertently intervened with my face and chest and the purity of the work was destroyed.
It is just at the lowest ebb of misery and despair that inspiration strikes the true artist. As I lay in the bath washing away the ruins of my masterpiece all of the years of searching, the agonies of self doubt suddenly came together. It was blindingly simple. I had been trying to express an idea by using “stuff” which was plainly inadequate. We express ideas in words, why couldn’t I express my idea that way? At last I had reached the very peak of Mount Parnassus. After drying myself I lifted the phone and spoke to my local printer. Just like that the deed was done. Anyone could do this of course, but only I had trodden that rocky and gruelling creative road that leads to the creation of a seminal piece of art. Below is the final work, “Untitled 124A” I have had hints that the Turner Prize committee is hugely excited and I am expecting a call from Charles Saatchi, but I will leave the art to speak for itself via the link below.



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