Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 9, 2015

John Singer Sargent

Filed under: Art History,Portraits,Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 5:46 pm

I had an opportunity to visit the National Portrait Gallery where they had an exhibition of John Singer Sargent, I had of course gone to see the Grayson Perry exhibits where he wonderfully sums up the nation’s beating heart by having a computer darn some words on a bit of cloth. It was more overwhelming than I had expected with all the words in different colours, a real treat. Having a bit of time spare I thought I would take in the Sargent too. It was fascinating, showing just how far art has advanced in recent decades. For a start every picture is ruined by the gratuitous use of skill. This takes them immediately beyond the reach of the ordinary man and into the muddy waters of elitism. He may be sublimely talented, but does he really have to push it into our faces? A more subtle artist would have painted them really clumsily, thus showing us the inner monsters we all wrestle with. Indeed standing in front of some of them you even feel as if there is a real person there who might start breathing. This is fundamentally dishonest to the materials of paint and canvas. There was also no excrement that I could see, which would have helped a lot I feel.

One of the first pictures he had obviously given up on it, and I could well see why.


I quite like the passage bottom left and wonder why he didn’t do it all the same way. He plainly wants to impress us with the way he has indicated the glasses with hardly any marks. Her name was Violet Paget but went under the name of Vernon. This is good gender aware stuff, but Sargent takes it nowhere, you only get the feeling of her character and that the painter was fond of her, rather than the deep political waters that ran under society’s polite upper crust. The drawing is worryingly precise, but still lost and found, distressingly clever. A more confident painter would have put all the lines in the wrong place. Not for the first time Sargent’s skill lets him down.

John Bratby

Here for comparison is how a real artist paints a person with red lips and glasses. This is by the astounding John Bratby. Here the paint is good honest paint not trying to pretend to be flesh. The drawing as well is wonderfully incorrect with no edge at all in the right place. He carefully avoids all subtlety here and if he has any skill at all he wisely hides it.



The artist travelled a lot in Europe and met many of the Impressionists. Here he makes a good beginning in using just the one colour mixed with black. Then he ruins it all by making the paint take on the illusion of a man. This catastrophically undermines the redness of the red. Most of my favourite artists just use colour straight from the tube, just adding a bit of white or black maybe. Here alas Sargeant wanders of into many subtle shades of the colour thus being untrue to what was written on the side of the tube and introducing unnecessary complexity and depth.



I tried to imagine what the immortal Rothko would have made of this subject matter. Even with my poor photoshop skills I produced something far better than the oh so talented Mr Sargent. I might actually do a canvas of this for next years RA show.

I was starting to feel pretty grim by now but spurred on by the memory of Grayson’s lovely pots with wobbly thick rims and crude sgraffito I persevered.


Singer Sargent

I had hopes of this one. The bloke in the background has no face. The other two do which rather ruins it all. He just can’t resist painting things well. Of course he is using brushes, I think here I would have used a mountain bike.



There were a few drawings. I didn’t bother to read the titles as I was loosing the will to live. What right has this man to push his superiority into our faces? Thank God we no longer torment our art students by forcing them to gain any of the skills that can produce such monstrosities as this. If they don’t have the skill or the ability in the first place then it saves so much work unlearning it later on.


Tracy Emin

Here is what a mature artist who has never taken the fatal step of learning to draw can achieve when taking on a woman with a hat! Here everything is gloriously wrong, better still it is not even wrong in a good way. In this Tracy Emin avoids getting hardly anything right. My one minor criticism is that she got the crown on the head and that you can tell it is a crown, no body fluids either which is a pity.


Singer Sargent

I could not carry on and had to escape. I wandered for a bit around the galleries and as if he was haunting me there he was again. Unlike the first one there isn’t the nice abstract bit bottom left. Even though it looks as if he dashed it all down in a few minutes it is distractingly real, far more alas that a photo. What really puts Sargent way down in the minor league of portrait artists is that he always goes for the obvious and hangs them with the head at the top. Despite it all if he had never wasted those years learning to draw divinely and paint as if angels guided his brush he could I feel have been a half way decent artist.



I leave you with a proper bit of painting by the supreme George Baselitz. Here everything is perfect the paint is right out of the tube with none of that fancy mixing. The drawing is nonexistent. Best of all though I have a suspicion that might be excrement in the background!


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.

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