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.

January 21, 2019


Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 6:45 pm

Much of painting is understanding things. Working out exactly what it is you are seeing and getting it down in an elegant a manner as possible. Or so I thought for many years. I understood that over resolving would make a picture dead and mostly I hope avoided it, but I never quite understood until fairly recently why that is the case.

I have touched on this before, but I wanted to do a post on it to organise my own thoughts on the issue. It turns I think around certainty. When you glance at a subject much about it is unclear. If you take a longer look then more things are resolved by understanding and interpreting the visual information. So you now have a composite image in your mind’s eye the visual input and the interpretive overlay of understanding and assumption. So the question is: which of these do you paint?

I have decided that for me it is just another choice. It is for me to decide how much of my understanding of the subject I transfer and to what degree. If I choose to do the first fleeting glimpse then the problem is to winnow out those elements. Easy to say but hard to do though! Painting inevitably involves looking for a period and that looking brings with it insights into what exactly is in front of you. It is very hard to regain that “first glance” moment. It takes  a stretch of the imagination to unlearn things and recreate a simulation of an initial impression.

Life drawing helps me in this regard I find. If you cannot quite make out the bottom edge of an arm because it is in shadow then defining it will probably take away from the effectiveness of your drawing. If the side of a cheek is a little hard to resolve because it curves away from you in differing degrees, then your drawing should perhaps reflect that uncertainty in some way. This in some part answers my longstanding puzzlement as to why those 5min quick poses so often produce the most satisfying result of a session. People seem to wish to believe that it is the rush and the letting go that frees you up, cutting that pesky consciousness out of the equation, but I suspect not.

So, to try and put all that together. We are not painting or drawing elements we are sure of, we are painting degrees of uncertainty. Once you start to think of it that way then all sorts of possibilities come to mind. Not just in making things less resolved here and there, but in controlling the degree of resolution that you feel suits the various parts of your composition. So what you are doing is not just unifying and simplifying, which is the usual route and often removes delicacy and subtlety from any resulting work. It is choosing which parts of your observations to put on the canvas and at the same time varying the definiteness of the information.

Plainly this cannot reliably be done by splashing and hoping. I quite often knowingly over paint a subject. This means that when you are done you can erase, blur or knock back anything that is a bit to prominent. I might even when painting plein air deliberately over detail as I know that I can simplify later. If a painting won’t come together it is far from a bad tactic to knock the whole lot back and bring it forward again as many times as is necessary.

I am blogging less frequently at present, in some ways because I have covered a great deal of ground over the years so subjects where I feel I have something useful to say are inevitably getting fewer. However I made a new year resolution to do a post per month and not to put every picture I paint up here as I had originally intended. I do however intend to carry on posting the ones that go wrong as often they are the ones that benefit from a post-mortem.

So oils it is…

Blandford, Dorset, bridge, plein air, painting

This is the bridge over the Stour at Blandford. I didn’t set out with many hopes as the day was flat grey, but this scene had some interesting contrasts. I always find bridges hard to work into a composition and this scene was no exception. What makes it work I feel is the punctuation  the reeds bring by cutting through the water to bridge line. 14in by 8in oils.

Sue Fawthrop, portrait, oils

This is my friend Sue Fawthrop who was exhibiting with me a selection of life paintings, so we decided to each do a painting of the other painting. A sort of brushes at dawn moment. I did one prior to this which still needs attention, but I had to stop as there was too much wet paint to continue. This one I did very quickly in 20 or so minutes and of course it came out better than the more worked version. However in such cases it is well to bear in mind that I probably could not have painted this without all the looking that went into the first effort! 12in sq Oils.

Golden cap, dorset, plein air, oil painting

This was a fearsomely windy day above Golden Cap on the Jurassic coast. I had to hold on to everything while I painted. Not sure I quite caught the scene as it looks quite peaceful, perhaps a flying brolly or bullock would have helped tell the story! 10in by 5in Oils.

Lyme Regis, sea, plein air, oil painting, dorset

Another wrestling match with the wind later on in the day. This is Lyme Regis, 45 min of almost continual bad language as I strove to prevent my easel and painting from heading off towards France! Great fun though a more placid day would never have delivered the same results. 10in by 8in Oils

Durdle Door, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is a franken-painting made up of two plein airs. It is also the first time I have painted the famous Durdle Door. Such iconic scenes always bring problems linked to the inevitable fact that everyone already knows what the place looks like. The first picture had a decent Durdle with a boring sky, the second had a poorly composed Durdle with a decent sky. So I wiped of the sub-standard cliffy bits and painted in the Durdle from the other. Finally I wiped off the first one to hide the evidence. I regret this now as it would have been interesting to compare the two before surgery. 12in by 12in Oils

Chesil, Dorset, Abbotsbury, plein air, painting

This is Chesil as seen from Abbotsbury castle. The light wasn’t ideal but a great view that I will return to. I am more and more coming to like the idea of repeatedly returning to scenes I know are interesting. It makes sense that if you get an inspiring subject on an inspiring moment you will be more likely to paint a winner. 12in by 7in Oils.

Well that is the oils partially caught up with… only 20 more to go!

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