Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

September 12, 2014

The perils of perfection

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:47 am

I have always been interested in big questions. What we are doing here etc. As I have read and lived longer I no longer expect answers but rather find the questions engaging for their own sake. Reading about philosophy, religion and science have been an abiding interest my whole life.

I tend to focus on the world in which I find myself rather than my own internal workings. I have meditated and it has taught me that I am possibly the least interesting thing in my own world. I have gazed at my navel and found it distinctly dull! Initially everything as far as I can see comes from the outside in. You can give out no reaction into the world other than a reaction to what has been previously perceived. Yes, I’m afraid we are back to painting… That damn silly idea that we are somehow painting what is within us.

To make it absolutely clear. As far as I can see everything you emote, paint, write or crochet was prompted by external influence. You only processed the information, gave it back a little changed or perhaps garbled. You might say gave it back as a reflection seen dimly in a flawed mirror. You can perhaps glean a little of the painter from a painting it could maybe say a little about out inner nature, but the hints and clues are encoded into the imperfections of what we create when we echo back our perceptions on to canvas.

So here we go, this post’s idea. Imperfections are sometimes a good thing. Firstly we all find it hard to relate to perfection. Those stark modernist interiors so loved by architects seem made for some other more ideal, tidier person than ourselves. The obsessive recreations of photographs which seem to me to have little resonance other than the marvelling at the patience of the artist and whatever charms the original image had. Perfectly executed abstracts with no indecision to be seen are like a door shut in my face.

To consider the obverse for a moment there is also a problem with those works which are all imperfections through lack of intent or skill. A resonant imperfection is perhaps an aiming high and falling short or hitting a another part of the target than that which was aimed for. Wildly throwing stuff over your canvas is telling others very little about the artist, only about the nature of randomness or the physics of falling and dribbling paint. Many seem to think that expressiveness is caused by the vigour of the application and the suppression of the intellect. Such a work may well be decorative and exciting to behold, but only has a subtext that the viewer brings to it not what the creater imbued it with. A work of art is not a certainty expressed but more of an uncertainty made flesh.

Making a work of art is always I feel treading on the edge of what is possible for an individual human being to achieve. Un-intuitively if you set yourself a goal that simple enough to be actually achievable then you have I suspect by definition already failed.

I often hear painters referring to the work of others as too tight, or “Tight as a duck’s arse.” There might be no element in the painting wrong but still there is no life. What it really means is that if everything is resolved then there is no mystery for the imagination of the viewer to dwell in. Excessive clarity and certainty lock the viewer out, they can view but not inhabit the painting. I have been wondering of late why this is so and come to a few tentative conclusions.

We do not for the most part perceive things accurately, it would take up too much processing power. So what we do is look for discontinuities. If something is vaguely plausible then the eye will accept it, but if it somehow falls outside those bounds it draws more attention as a potential risk area. When this ability to sort the seen environment developed it was, I am guessing, for spotting problems and threats, not looking at paintings. However I think much the same happens with a made image. If you take an abstract, say in the manner of Barnet Newman, then spray a representational face in one corner, that face will destroy the abstract qualities and a hue and cry will duly follow. Adding another stripe while the museum attendant isn’t looking could be missed for weeks or longer. The first is incongruous the second in keeping.

When you paint an observed image of a city the same sort of thing occurs. A variation in the style of the windows will pass unnoticed but an inaccuracy in the perspective will cause unease. When you paint a scene there is a locus of position and other attributes that lies within the possible, but if you overstep those bounds then it will feel wrong to the veiwer. This is not necessarily something to be avoided it is more of a tool to be aware of and exploit. The more an image is defined the more the possibility of some part feeling wrong increases and also the further it gets from the way we actually perceive the world.

This is the reason I find over defined figures feel stiff and can look frozen in place. If the flower garden you paint is too perfect then it feels as if the wind could never blow nor birds fly. As I get older my paintings seem to get untidier. This is partly reducing patience but also because I fear killing the painting by overworking. It is better I have discovered to stop early than to go on until it has no life!

Not so many paintings as I have been busy painting house walls white rather than pictures.


Southwark, London, plein air, oil painting, wapping group

The Shard has changed many scenes in London, this is the view from Southwark Cathedral. It is a dramatic object that tends to dominate any scene, but on the whole I like it. It is a struggle to fit into a painting though. 10in by 10in oils.


Shard, London Bridge, London, Southwark, oil painting, Wapping group

A sucker for punishment I took it on again! I thought the vertical format would be a good idea but seeing it on screen tells me that cropping 4in off the top would improve the picture hugely. So much so that I might do a studio one of this. I will have to go back and look at it in various lights first. 16in by 10in. Oils.


Southwark, London, plein air, oils, wapping group

Last one from Southwark. It was a Wapping Group day so I sat with Steve Alexander and did this. Only 30 min or so but the best of the day. I had to adjust a few of the figures later to make the composition revolve around the two lighter figures. 8in by 10in oils.


St John Smiths Square, London, plein air, Wapping group, oil painting

Another Wapping Group day this time around the Westminster area. This is St John Smiths Square. A very beautiful square but hard to get away from the church which fills the centre. The light teased me horribly on this one, the light through the trees attracted me to paint it then the day went gloomy! I pegged away at it and was just packing up when the sun came back, so I whipped out my brushes again and added the touches of light. Amazing how so few touches of tone can transform an otherwise dull painting. 10in by 14in oils.


St John Smiths Square, London, plein air, oil painting, wapping group

I moved around the square for this one, only a sketch I shan’t take it further but I will return to the square as it has a couple of great subjects to paint. 10in by 10in oils.


mill bank, London, thames, wapping group, oil painting

I stood with the traffic bombing past me along the Millbank opposite the Tate. I liked the swoop of the road and the afternoon light which was warming as the evening drew on. It is not possible to resolve a complex picture like this in an hour, but I try to work over them evenly so everything is at the same level of focus. If you do this they feel finished even though much is left incomplete. 10in by 16in.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour

While working on my new house in Dorset I managed to get a couple of sketches done on my daily walk over Hambledon Hill. I am really looking forward to painting these landscapes more intensively. While painting this the the wind was moving the paint across the paper like mad… so I can’t really claim to have painted the sky it was mostly done by the weather! 8in by 10in watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour

Another view of the hill, it transforms dramatically with the light. The next day I went up later and the light was fabulous but I didn’t have my paints with me and my camera ran out of battery! 5in by 7in watercolour.


Hambledon hill, Dorset, watercolour

It is hard to make good compositions on the hill. This look wonderful to the eye but somehow doesn’t come together into a picture. 5in by 7in watercolour.

August 24, 2014

The Royal Academy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 12:01 pm

The first time for visiting this in many a year. I went several times in the 70’s and 80’s but not often since. I had expected bad but not this bad. There were all the various ways people imagine they can be original on show. Every style that meets official approval in fact. So a smorgasbord of painting styles from 1915 onwards. There was nothing at all that could not have been done in 1950. What struck me was how poor the renditions of these various styles was. None of them really got close to the earlier works that inspired them. There were expressionists that were just clumsy and not very expressive. Abstracts with no sense of balance or depth, I excuse Mr Scully here.  The winner of the main prize was a photograph printed very large. It was big, it was red and it was hung in a prominent position. This is all that the judges noticed it would seem. The last dregs of the old school were ghettoised into a small corner, Fred Cumins, Ken Howard and Bernard Dunstan, along with Norman Ackroyd almost the last sign of skill on show. We have to let off the Architect’s model makers who were skilled but uncredited.

The work by some luminaries was weak beyond belief Martin Creed, he of the Turner prize light bulb, had had a neon sign made that said, “ARSEHOLES”. Not even new he had made it years ago and just dragged it out of the cupboard. People were entirely unshocked by it, indeed seemed not to notice it at all. I was appalled at the sheer cack-handedness of most of the work. There was a rather good abstract arrangement of turning white squares, but the flat grey framing had been toshed as if with house paint. IE the artist had tried to get it perfect but failed due to technical inability.

I want to be shocked by the Summer show, I want things I can really hate as well as like and admire. However rooms and rooms full of tired, uninspired, inept and overworked regurgitations of historical styles and ideas from the first half of the 20th century don’t really cut any kind of mustard. It was just mountainously dull, not even interestingly bad. There were only 20 or so works that inspired any kind of emotion in me at all.

The other thing that stood out was how unsophisticated for the most part the use of colour was. Many had plainly just squeezed out the given tube colour and either added black or white. This had the unexpected effect of making Sean Scully’s big abstract in blacks and dull browns a real attention grabber. The other strand was of course to eschew colour and just be monochrome or mono-hued.

So who’s fault is this? Well in my opinion it is the selectors. The Royal Academy has been entirely taken over by the clique that controls the Tate and the art schools. In other words the establishment. Never in any age has the gate for what is worth hanging on a wall been narrower in intellectual breadth. Never has the gate ever been so well defended that anything that does not fit the gospel of the modern and contemporary could possibly make it through. When everything on the walls tries to scream “Me me me!” the result is just tedium. Truly the this institution has come to fit its name and has become the worst kind of frozen in time academic desert.

Will it change? It is hard to see how, the official art machine has complete control, it cries “Revolution!” whilst battling to to maintain the status quo.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, a few paintings and drawings.


Warrior, portsmouth, hard, watercolour

This is the Warrior seen from the Hard in Portsmouth. I added some figures attending to the fishing boat after this  was scanned. 1/2 sheet watercolour.


Teifi, Cardigan, wales, watercolour

A view down the river Teifi near Cardigan. I painted the original oil years ago in the drizzle, but I remember thinking at the time that this would make a good watercolour. 8in by 12in.


Newport bay, Parrog, Wales, watercolour

This is Newport Bay and the Parrog in Pembrokeshire. A dramatic day of fierce squalls which soaked me several times in the day. This was accepted for the RSMA show this year.


Mortlake, Wapping group, thames, london, watercolour

A view of Mortlake on the Thames. A grand day out painting with the Wapping group.


Barnes, Thames, london, watercolour

Another from the same day, this is the path by the river at Barnes.


Barnes, London, pen drawing

Last one from Barnes, a little bit hasty but I was perched uncomfortably on a very hard wall!


Saatchi Gallery, chelsea, London, pen drawing

Another pen sketch done a few weeks previously, this is the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea… no chance of my efforts ever gracing the inside!


Three Mills, London

A day with the Brass Monkeys. I don’t quite know why I settled on this, it falls firmly into the “Dull but worthy” category! It is Three Mills on the river Lee.


Three mills, River Lee, London


Second on from the Three Mills. Very interesting area where rivers canals, paths, railways and roads collide.

Richmond, Thames, Surrey

A very quick oil sketch done on a day out with the Brass Monkeys. Dull light is always a challenge, I tried to not get too specific, I must work harder on my figures some are getting to generic and clumsy. 8in by 10in oils.


Richmond, oil painting, Brass Monkeys

Second one from Richmond This may well become a larger studio picture, I did think of taking this sketch further but think it is best left. 10in by 16in oils.


Oare, Kent, Wapping Group, oil painting, boats

Another day out with the Wappers. This is Oare Creek. Super skies so I made that the main event of this picture. Oils 8in by 14in.

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