Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

February 23, 2015

Do Artists Change the World?

Recently when discussing art online someone said that art moves humanity culturally forwards. I was quite in agreement until it popped into my head later on and I thought a little more. I tried to think of any art that changed the world. I could think of inventions such as photography that changed humanity’s landscape, but not any bit of art. Even the greatest such as the Sistine Chapel only reflected ideas of the time and reinforced the views of the powers that be. No modern art has changed the world, you might say that the international style of architecture did, but it was really the underlying technological advances that made the difference. Architecture has always been driven by need, means and material so it follows change it does not I feel drive it.

Writing has changed the world, think of Marx and the Bible, but has any painting? The answer however unflattering to generations of daubers has to be no. Indeed once I started thinking it became apparent that one of the traits of the visual painted or drawn arts is the unchangingness. It hasn’t in essence changed since the very first paintings we see upon cave walls 20 or 30 thousand years ago. We see symbolism, abstraction and representation, much as we have today. They speak to us across an immense gulf of time telling us that despite all mankind has learnt we are still the same, each life lived just the once and each time afresh. It then occurred to me that it exactly that which attracts me. I am treading a path that innumerable generations have trodden before, and though the destination and the landscape travelled through are as old as the hills the journey is always newly minted for each human being that steps out upon the way.

Art is not about moving humanity forward, or making it wiser, but about continuity, about linking humanity today with those who lived before. It is saying that though we may live lives unimagined by our forbears, who in turn lived lives we can only distantly conceive of, there is this thread that joins us. If I draw a deer upon a bit of paper the man who traced an antelope upon the stone in  a deep place by flickering light, in another age at the dawn of humanity, would understand. Just as when I see his work an aeon later and find it still speaks a language I can understand and for a moment  perhaps share his experience and feel a glimmer of fellowship.

There is of course the accretion of cultural baggage in society, so the Sistine Chapel does influence later art, even the stone age work effects art today as images of it are freely available. All of this material is grist to the mill but does not produce the story of linear advancement that art historians are so fond of. The story of art is more like the laying down of layers of rock than a list of revolutionary advances. No one would say that limestone is more advanced than granite, it is merely more recent.

So all this self importance that artists assign to themselves as educators or consciences or explorers or questioners is entirely false. It is not an artist’s role to explore new territory but to retrace the steps of the paths through the oldest landscapes, to remind those that might have forgotten where they began, what they were and what they will always be. Art is an ancient identity renewed afresh for each new generation. The work left behind by each generation instructs the next by pointing the way the journey might be made. It cannot tell you what might be seen and felt upon the road only the direction of travel and the hope of an exciting journey.


It has been so hard with all the building a new home and refurbishing the old to sell to either paint or post here, still I am making progress and cannot wait to start painting the new landscape around me.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

This is the wonderful Hambledon Hill. I had painted it before from this view point but en plein air early in the morning. This is at the other end to the day and done in the studio. I have stretched up a heap of paper ready to go so that if I get the time I can bash out a painting!


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, drawing, pen and ink

It’s that hill again! This is not a natural pen and ink subject but that was all I had with me so I gave it my best shot. It was fascinating trying to find varying textures to explain the different surfaces and distances. I had to be very careful reserving the white areas that described the contours os the earthworks on the hill.


Richmond park, pencil, drawing, tree

A day out with the Brass Monkeys in Richmond Park. I arrived intending to do pen and ink but alas had brought an empty pen and no ink! I have always found pencil frustrating, I love pencil drawing done by others but find it terribly difficult myself. The answer of course would be to do more of it. Nonetheless I enjoyed this once I had got going.


Richmond Park, Pencil, drawing, trees

This one I was getting into the groove a little more, would have liked to have added white but I forgot that too!



Blackheath, London, drawing, pen and ink

Back in town, this is Blackheath. I love this view and must come back and do a more considered painting.


Deptford, church, pen and ink, drawing, London

This is St Pauls Deptford. Designed by Thomas Archer, just got this done when the rain started. I have done this view a few times before but never in the winter, the lack of leaves allows a view slightly to one side which is nice. In the summer the church would be obscured by leaves.


Jermyn St, Mayfair, London, Drawing, Pen and Ink

This is Jermyn St in Mayfair. Love this view and will do a bigger oil in due course. I was in town to go to the Wapping Group’s show so I was in my private view finery when I drew this. In the very posh Jermyn St I fitted right in! Glad to say I sold a painting in the show as well so I went home smiling.


Brook Green, Hammersmith, London, watercolour, Brass Monkeys

Another Brass Monkey day this time in Brook Green Hammersmith. Very cold but beautiful I had to do this pretty quickly as the morning light was moving quickly.


Brook Green, Hammersmith, London, pen and ink, drawing

Last one from Brook Green and this post. I love trying to get the atmosphere with pen and ink. People tend to think of pen as lines around things but it is perfectly capable of subtle tonal effects.

January 28, 2015


When writing another post I looked up Contemporary Art on Wikipedia. The entry is confused to say the least, but after a certain amount of dithering settles on “still living” as the deciding factor. Well I am still alive but I doubt if a “contemporary” gallery would put my work on its walls. The word “contemporary” is one that is guaranteed to provoke a rant from me. On the program “Grand Designs” nice but a bit dim Kevin uses it a lot. So do architects, kitchen and bathroom designers, architects and anyone else who wants to sell you stuff. This has been especially difficult for me as I have been browsing kitchen and bathroom online stores. It essentially means boring with no decoration. When modern designers do attempt decoration the result is often risible and clumsy. Decoration requires a degree of historical knowledge and proportion that is just not taught today.

Contemporary interiors are mostly zero clutter affairs mostly with no charm whatsoever. Not a patch on the simple Japanese interiors that it could be argued inspired them. “Japanese?”, you cry. Yes it all came from Japan. Some of the ideas came from Laozi, a philosopher and the founder of Taoism, who held to the “aesthetic ideal of emptiness”. Designers in the Bauhaus and elsewhere saw Japanese tea sets and writing sets all of which would look fine in one of todays so called contemporary spaces. They got their ideas back in the form of the international style which is still in the process of destroying beauty in architecture around the world.

I sometimes think the whole modernist movement is the avoidance of criticism. If you merely splash paint randomly on your canvas, or paint it a single colour or one colour with two stripes then you are reducing the number of things that can be criticised. With no reference points no concrete judgement can be made. If I draw a figure this is not the case, proportion, economy of line, quality of line, tonal arrangement, relation of the figure to the page, character, balance of light and shade, the list is really depressingly long! With a minimalist painting with only a fews elements the placing of those features is inevitably overwhelmingly important, which is why in my opinion good minimalist painters are so vanishingly thin on the ground. Post modernism is an odd thing as far as I can see it is modernism unchanged, it was just invented because people felt the need to move forward, but could not see how, so they just changed the name and carried on with the same old stuff.

One of my own experiences in the design world is that if you put anything interesting in it will be commented on, if it gets commented on people will have opinions, those opinions will differ and whatever was interesting will get cut. Something that inspires no comment will however slip by without really being considered. This all promotes a blank grey average which we can see today all around us. Partially it is due to democracy. We have this idea that if we take a broad spread of opinions about something and average them it will result in an improvement. This is not the case however with art or design. Much in the same way if you took everyone’s favourite colour and mixed them together you would not come up with anything other than muddy greeny grey.

Contemporary art tends to discourage intelligent opinions. People are reduced to saying, “Oh a child could do it!” often not because they are stupid or unsophisticated, but because the work itself has shut out all possibility of a worthwhile stance to take in regard to it. For me if it is not possible for a viewer to inhabit a work in some way, then it is poorly done.

Painting time has been thin on the ground of late, so not too much to show, and the longest gap between posts I have ever left in a number of years.


Watercolour, sisters

I was sneakily taking pictures at Christmas when I was sussed by two granddaughters of my host… the resulting snap had something I liked, I might make an oil painting out of this, the water colour doesn’t quite work but an oil might.


Drawing, regents canal, london, pen and ink

This was a day spent drawing in and around Roman Rd in London. This is just by the Regents canal. Very chilly wind but the day was lovely.


regents canal London, drawing, pen and ink

This is a few yards away looking the other direction into the city. Even colder here, like sitting in a wind tunnel! I just indicated the tones of the more dense hatched areas by doing a small section. Then filled in the rest somewhere warmer…


Roman Rd, London, pen and ink, drawing

I got even less of this done on site. Just the drawing and an indication of how the tones were to fade in the distance. Looking south from the Roman Rd.


Fontmell Down, Dorset, watercolour

Went walking with a friend and this view of Fontmell Down in Dorset looked wonderful. So I went back at the same time a couple of days later and I was in luck it looked even better! Watercolour.


West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, Railway station, watercolour

This is West Bay station near Bridport in Dorset. This is studio but I noted the time of day so shall go back and paint it en plain air when I get the chance. Watercolour.


Life Drawing, watercolour

A life sketch to finish up!

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