I thought a while about putting any thoughts as to the nature of art and painting into this blog. I have with some reservations decided I should. I have been a professional artist all my life so there is a deal I know about the subject, but couching what I have learnt in words is very hard, for a start most of the important realisations I have had about my craft are not even slightly prescriptive and might only properly relate to my individual circumstance. I have learnt no definitive rules. Painting is also about the order and nature of the decisions you make as you progress with a work, so a decision in one case might seem to conflict with that in another. I shall try and avoid the dogmatic and I hope I can clearly define which is merely the best opinion I can come up with as against say a historical or observational fact.
I do sometimes find it difficult to find a reason to paint. It’s an old problem, once photography was on the scene painting lost much of its everyday purpose. A few niche areas were left, painting scenery for film, theatre and TV. Making images of things that don’t exist. Indeed that is where I have laboured a whole lifetime. There is the business of making “collectables” and supplying fodder for big institutional galleries, enthusiasts and collectors of every stripe, what we would put under the title “fine art”.
It was not always so, painters in say Ruben’s time were a business turning out images that trumpeted the status of their possessors. They mostly don’t speak to us now, we are moved more by the tender drawings he made of his wife and children and not the wild and overblown concoctions from myth, allegory and history he made his name with. He was of course not trying to make art, merely to fulfil commissions and to that end he had many assistants so I would guess that the atmosphere in his studio would have had a fairly industrial feeling. Still in the output of that business some paintings appear to carry some extra freight of meaning, some elevation or sublimity, whether this is actual and definable or something that time, social outlook or individual view brings to the object, is something I cannot judge.
I would like to believe that a Rembrandt self portrait would speak to anyone, but in going around galleries with art historically uneducated friends gives the lie to that, they are not arrested in my steps as I am, their eye slides by the masterpiece unhalted, if I point out the name tag then a reaction might be elicited of the sort, “This is great art I must display the correct response or I am diminished in the eyes of others.” This is I know unkind but it is tempting to think that might be the case. More realistically I suspect, once informed of the association to greatness the brain will supply the appropriate “I am strongly moved by the depth of this.” reaction on cue.
Modern, Postmodern or Contemporary Art ( IMO these are one movement really) sometimes seems desperate for a stopped in your tracks reaction, so unsettling by shock, disgust etc is a natural route. Other well trod paths are make it very big, make it puzzling, the “What the fuck is that?” method, make it incongruous, make one thing out of a lot of smaller things, an elephant out of mousetraps or whatever … all are levelled in a white art gallery where the surprising etc has become the expected norm. I will set out my feelings about the divisions in art, real or imagined, elsewhere.
Skill is another cause for admiration, unsophisticated viewers love detail, or sexy women, or grisly monsters, maybe pretty flowers etc. The more visually erudite will admire skill in creating an impression that comes together in the eye but is still unashamedly still brush strokes and applied paint on canvas. A bit like looking at those printed 3d pictures where you have to uncross your eyes it brings a certain pride in the viewer that they can “get it” while others can’t.
So there it is and I think we must accept it, painting used to be the method to broadcast and advertise but now that is done by TV and other mechanical means. Other mediums whether “modern” “traditional” or any of the mirriad smaller niches are going to be “narrowcast” whether we like it or not. Even broadcasting is fragmenting, which is I guess just a bi product of wide, easy availability combined with the new on line delivery methods.
So efforts to speak to everyone are vain I feel, it just results in the visual equivalent of shouting. I am going simply to choose to believe that there is an indefinable “something” that sometimes adds an extra weight and meaning, and also to believe that this is a capricious thing not available to order. But I am also going to believe that it comes from skill, learning and application. I am not going to believe an illiterate person can write a fine novel, not because of individual worth, they might tell a good story so the skill of speech and telling is there of course but not the skill of writing. I am not going to believe that a jazz clarinettist can play a fine solo without the time spent on mastery. So it is with any art and splashing paint about on canvas is as far as I can see no exception. These things are hard to define, it might be the difference between looking and seeing, or knowing and understanding. As a concrete example it is a common weakness for lesser skilled representational artists to unintentionally paint what they know rather than what they see, the more skilled might accurately paint what they see, but better still in my opinion is to see both possibilities and choose the degree of each to include to achieve the finest result.
As for this unproven and unprovable extra quality , well I am happy I suppose to call it Art, an elevation of the lowercase, no other word is available really. However in the intentional making of it I have come to feel there is a built in very high certainty of failure if you set about creating Art with a capital A as an avowed purpose. It’s one of those double think things, if you start with that intention or goal then the will’o’the wisp will most likely elude you. this is certainly I find true with music, it’s just too hard to have a reasoned internal dialogue and carry out the act. If you are conscious of what you are doing you need to do it more to attempt to attain a state where you merely do. Few of us of course can magic up or hold such a “zen” state to order or hold it continuously, but it is possible to dip in and out of it, working with complete unconscious concentration then withdrawing to contemplate, if any of you can achieve both states at once then I take my hat off to you.
So I am minded to pursue a humble course of painting what moves or merely interests me in the most capable way I can manage, with no expectation of others either liking or being moved by my efforts. I do see the indefinable in a few of my own paintings (likely wishful) and often in the work of others (possibly delusional) , not just in paintings but in buildings, furniture anything that “mind” creates. It is a different something than what I might appreciate in nature, a wasps nest, a mighty range of mountains. But I can only feel and hope that, never know it.
What I am attempting to do is making an image of a place and time, no angle, no hidden agenda, no stylistic quirk. I am unfortunately aware that this is a product that is not required by anyone. There is a small market I suppose for paintings that depict fond locations, people or other subjects, there are decorative uses provided the carpet doesn’t clash. You might if persistent become, “collectable” whatever that means… a pension pot that can be hung on the wall. Hopefully there also exists a group that just enjoys the act of looking and living with a painting. My favourite paintings are ones that reward an occasional glance, and build a relationship over time. They are not often paintings that “grab” you.
This is an edit almost 2 years after starting this blog. I think I have found what I wish to show in my work. I have always been pretty wide ranging in my interests but I have come to think what I wish to show is ordinary things around me in moments of extraordinary beauty. It is very easy to play up to the “gritty” aspect of a city and makes for fashionable paintings but for the most of us that is not the side of life we see everyday. There is something sad about a middle class artist going somewhere deprived and derelict to paint in order to get street cred and further their own career.
Whoops rather mass of verbiage there but I’m afraid I do occasionally indulge in navel gazing, never while I’m painting though…
Since this post has become sort of about “why I bother to splash the paint around” and found its home in the “about” section, I’ll add some portraits.
This is of my Father, painted little after he died, he was a professional photographer and railway enthusiast. This is painted in
acrylics and is about 20 ins high. It was done quite quickly and unusually for a portraits didn’t take lots of tiny adjustments to catch
some of his character.
To complete the set, my Mother. I painted this in oils when she was in her late 70’s. We sat opposite each other and painted simultaneous
portraits each keeping still for the other at key moments. I found it at home after she had entered a nursing home but never came across
the one she did of me. She was a keen painter and was the person who sparked an interest in painting in me, but I was never driven to it by my
parent’s ambitions as some poor souls are. Indeed she didn’t want me to become an artist feeling with some reason that it was an uncertain
way of making a living.
Here I am at almost the same time as the portrait above. Another early oil painting, I am in my thirties I suppose. I remember I did
two of them one after the other and only had quite a small mirror, from the lines on the underpainting it looks as if I had drawn a
grid in felt tip on the mirror… cunning eh?
Not really a portrait as likenesses were very secondary to the scene. Made up of several photos with a fair bit of fiddling with the figures to get.
the companionable atmosphere I wanted. It is always difficult painting yourself, friends or family because you lose the independent observer
status that is such a help when painting others. The result is unavoidably tinged with memory and emotion, but that doesn’t have to be all bad.
This was done after returning from a holiday in the north of Portugal. Each morning we breakfasted on this beautiful balcony looking over the garden.
This was painted from a picture I took combined with another taken by a friend, I am considering painting myself out of this picture as I think it would
improve the calm feeling without me gawping out of the frame…