Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

July 25, 2015

How to Make Art

Filed under: Art History,Satire,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Rob Adams @ 2:20 pm

Many people I have found do not really grasp how to make art. They think it is just magicked up by the artist from some sort of internal wellspring of inspiration. What I want to do here is to show the long and tortured path that actually describes the birth and creation of the wonderful art we see in our galleries. I hope with this revealing of the process to lay to rest forever the “A child could do it.” and other related comments. I am going to use one of my own recent works, “Untitled 124A” which was a personal breakthrough piece that has since shaped the direction of my work. Firstly my realm of concern is landscape and the light that reveals it to the eye and thence to the mind. So to start with the inspiration.

My starting point here was a local feature Hambledon Hill in Dorset which I have painted many times. It has an ancient hill fort on top which gives it a distinctive profile. Above is a photo I took while painting it. With the photo it is a straightforward image that anyone can appreciate. However I want to be able to explore how that image relates to a given flat surface and the distribution of paint marks upon that surface. To this end I set up my easel and painted a plein air. Placing as far as I could equivalent tones and hues into related positions upon the surface. At all times during the process I tried to keep aware of the place and history and my connection to it. Once the last mark was in place I stood back and considered my work. Below is a photo I took of it on the easel as soon as it was finished.

As you see there are many problems. Firstly the image looks like the place. It is, as most of you will have realised, not the place but paint placed upon a surface. Also Hambledon hill is quite large 1/2 a mile long but my painting is much smaller. Hambledon is made of chalk and earth and what grows upon it, which my simple minded representational painting could not encompass. All in all very depressing. Another weakness is that a lot of the drawing was vaguely accurate. But what does “accurate” mean in relation to an ancient hill? Accurate like a map? Accurate like a photo? There was no getting away from it I had managed to miss the essence of the place by doing the work too well. All the years of learning how to draw and paint were proving an obstacle rather than a help.
My “road to Damascus” moment came as I trudged back to the car. I tripped on a furrow and lost grip on my wet painting which landed face down on a fresh cow pat. Now thoroughly depressed I rescued it and looked at the damage. Then it struck me, The painting which had previously been merely an illusion had been transformed by the excrement. It was now truly “of” the place. An accidental intervention of the land itself (me tripping on a landscape feature) had resulted in a more complete conceptual connection to the land. Realising I now had a real work of art to deal with I put on my curator’s conservation grade white gloves to carry it reverently back to the car. Below is a photographic representation.

Once home I reconsidered the whole process that had led to the engendering of a work of art. As you see the cow shit has moderated those old fashioned irrelevant representational weaknesses bringing a down to earth truth to the materials employed. This was truly a breakthrough I could almost feel the shackles of my overly traditional thinking shattering! Here at last was truth and it was brown and rather smelly. You may think that bad, but the addition of an extra sensory level was hugely exciting. I was so overcome I had to lie down in a darkened room for a bit.
The next day I woke up determined to grasp this conceptual nettle and follow it wherever it might lead. I had started the week as a no hope landscape painter trying pointlessly to use skill and experience to capture the world around me, now I needed to leave all that behind me. Everything was up for grabs, I had to rethink the whole thing from the ground up, question everything and take nothing for granted.
Firstly why use paint when there is excrement available? It seems so obvious once it is in front of you steaming slightly. The grass grows on the land drawing sustenance from it and the air above, it is then eaten by cattle and transformed into ordure, which in turn augments the landscape.
One weakness I could see in my work of art was that I had too much influence in it’s creation, the facile obstacle of my own pernicious skill had to be overcome. The work had to be made by the place to be of it. Inspired I fixed my canvas to a pole and set off up the hill. The thing was I realised to get the excrement to be directly delivered on to the given surface. I could have laid canvasses randomly about the hill in the hope that a cow would score a direct hit but with the long pole I could perhaps make an artistic intervention with the canvas into the flow of my chosen medium.
This was the beginning of several fruitless decades. However hard I tried the cattle would detect my presence and move away. In fact as soon as they spotted me heading up the path they would leave the hill precipitously. I even tried wearing a cow suit but to no avail. Finally I was asked by the farmer to desist as the milk yields were suffering.

Then I went through the wilderness years. My creative well was dry. Suddenly one day, when working on the 87th version of my artist’s statement, the answer came to me out of the blue. I had been working with cows. The female component. But I was male, so what I needed was something that would reflect the way I related to the land via my sexuality. If I used a bull there would be a congruency with my own gender that would be hugely significant in the most significant way possible. It took nearly a year to convince the farmer and he also wanted paying more than I could have usually afforded. Luckily quite by chance after writing 500 or so letters I had just received an Arts Council grant in recognition of the fact that I had been completely unproductive for a decade or more and thus was plainly on the verge of something hugely important. They could not have been more right!
Filled with confidence and more than a little trepidation I at last placed my canvas on the ground behind a fine Hereford bull and waited. The fine beast caught my eye and there was a moment of bonding then with a gush art was fulfilled. Success at last it was all that I had dreamed of for all those years and more. Exuberant I headed home with my long sought after prize. I could not wait to tell my Gallery the good news.
Then disaster struck. When carrying my art into the studio one of my conservator’s grade curator’s gloves slipped and in trying to save my masterpiece I tripped and fell forward onto my precious work. All was lost, I had inadvertently intervened with my face and chest and the purity of the work was destroyed.
It is just at the lowest ebb of misery and despair that inspiration strikes the true artist. As I lay in the bath washing away the ruins of my masterpiece all of the years of searching, the agonies of self doubt suddenly came together. It was blindingly simple. I had been trying to express an idea by using “stuff” which was plainly inadequate. We express ideas in words, why couldn’t I express my idea that way? At last I had reached the very peak of Mount Parnassus. After drying myself I lifted the phone and spoke to my local printer. Just like that the deed was done. Anyone could do this of course, but only I had trodden that rocky and gruelling creative road that leads to the creation of a seminal piece of art. Below is the final work, “Untitled 124A” I have had hints that the Turner Prize committee is hugely excited and I am expecting a call from Charles Saatchi, but I will leave the art to speak for itself via the link below.



Click Here

July 22, 2015

France the Watercolours, Plotting a course

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 9:16 am

I am about to write a post about something I don’t really do. Is it really possible to plot your creative future in advance? When I was at college the Systems painters had their painting futures almost mapped out to the grave, and they were only twenty. I thought at the time how dreary the process of producing their work was. 50 years of painting eye wrenching Bridgit Riley patterns would drive me mad… I could never plan series of works in the way that they do. I was tempted recently to try and do a multiple of a particular scene in different lights, but then thought whatever is the point in making one painting contingent on another? I know Monet did this but I don’t think it is for me. The arrangement and sequence become as, if not more important than the individual painting or the paint on the surface, which I don’t want.

Having goals is a different matter. I have always had targets I aim for, learning to paint pictures for framing and to become familiar with working in oils are recent ones. I have had many other goals from mastering 3d computer graphics to learning how to make celtic manuscripts. Each has broadened my view of art and opened unsuspected doors to interesting possibilities. If blessed, (or cursed) with immortality then I think I would have wandered on in much the same manner. Impending extinction does have a way of focussing the mind. It slowly becomes obvious, even with the most optimistic guess at the active span of time I have before me, that I was not going to get all the different things I fancied learning to do done. In a way that simplifies things, many projects I would like to pursue are not possible as they could never be completed. So that novel, the autobiography, the learning to wood carve and knit jumpers have to be ditched. I am left with only a few really, paint and draw landscapes until I have learnt as much as I can and move from drawing people clad or unclad to painting them. Music as well I have to carry on with that though I didn’t start early enough in life to be able to inhabit the medium as I see those fortunate souls who learnt from childhood do.

If I was to summarise, perhaps for my younger self dreaming of conquering the comic book world, it would be don’t hang on to your ambitions after they have passed their sell by date. I continued with book illustration far longer than I should have for example, long after it was quite plain that I was not enjoying it. Sometimes once you achieve an ambition it is only to find that it is not for you. Also don’t fear giving up a paying proposition that has lost its shine to follow a glittery new dream. I have taken a fair few leaps of faith in my life and regretted none of them, nor did any of the changes of course result in penury. The years you might lend to servicing what you imagine at the time to be grim necessity will never come back and you really will run out of life and days to do anything worthwhile. If you do anything really well people will be prepared to give you money to do it, not untold wealth but at least enough to scrape by.

I often see people with unrealistic artistic ambitions, in the same way as I have them myself in the area of music. Though I might dream of playing the flute to a soloists standard I know that this is unlikely to occur. But I find that this doesn’t in any way damage the pleasure in trying anyhow. There is no shame in doing something casually for pleasure and to reach for the stars with no expectation of success. There is after all pleasure to be gained and sights to be seen from climbing a hill as well as the more painful prospect of ascending Everest. With art as well there is the lottery effect, you might just get lucky and paint a world beater! I am myself also having to come to terms with the fact that at a certain stage I might stop making any improvement. This is a hard and uncomfortable thought as is the one that my abilities will inevitably decline.

On a more cheerful note here are my efforts with the splishy splashy stuff in France.

Shaftesbury, watercolour, painting, art

We start in Dorset, this is Shaftesbury, I decided that I needed to do a larger watercolour to ring the changes. It is always hard to balance the two requirements of being reasonably accurate and the other of not killing the whole thing by being too finicky. As with all things different subjects need different approaches, so with a townscape you might well manage to leap in and get all the washes free and expressive, but if the underlying drawing is poor then the painting will be too. I very often see artists inspired by Alvaro Castagnet and others hurling paint at the paper in what they hope is a free and emotive way only to get some basic thing such as perspective or scale of figures so incorrect that the final work is fatally compromised. Here I have painted everything pretty freely with a large mop. My drawing out was pretty accurate, but I did not slavishly stick to the lines only using them as a guide as to where paint strokes should lie. Some like to have dribbles and splashes on show but I dislike that as it is a meaningless gesture trying to tell the viewer how energetically the painter worked. As such for me a style quirk and to be avoided. 1/2 sheet Watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour

Every year I have a go at those scary greens that look so lovely in real life but not so great in a painting. This is Hambledon Hill and a bit ho hum. Nothing fearfully wrong just a bit dull. I am going to have to up my game with the landscape watercolours. Days when the light is dramatic or the weather doing exciting things are easy enough, but it is the glorious sunny summer days that give me problems. 1/4 sheet Watercolour.


Le Croisic, France, watercolour, plein air, painting

France at last! This is Le Croisic, I was faced immediately with the dazzling light you get from being that little bit further south. Not the greatest of compositions as the locals have replaced what was once I suspect a paintable bridge with an ugly one. I was pleased to get the feel of the light though. 7in by 5in Watercolour.


le Croisic, watercolour, sketch, france

Here is one that went wrong. I was trying to get the contrasts right but should have picked a less widescreen view. I ended up throwing the kitchen sink at it in the end with pen and body colour. No matter though I learnt a lot doing it and whenever I look at this little sketch I will remember! 7in by 5in Watercolour.


Le Croisic, watercolour, plein air, painting

I set out to Le Croisic early on this day with intent. As is often the case I couldn’t find anything to get my teeth into. I settled in the end for doing a small sketch of this very ordinary street. I liked the contrasts and it was areal pleasure to paint. 5in by 7in Watercolour.


Le Croisic, watercolour, plein air, painting, france

Next I moved on to do a larger one of the church, lots I like about this and I might do a studio version. The foreground needs simplifying and the car is a little too dominant, just the lighter one behind would have been better. I don’t like to leave the cars out as many do because they are such an integral part of our times. The light was very milky which was great fun to try and catch. 10in by 8in Watercolour.


Guerande, moat, plein air, painting, watercolour, France

This is Guerande across the salt marshes from Le Croisic. The town retains it’s walls and is very paintable. I enjoyed sitting and doing this though the paint was drying furiously fast. Later I saw a group of figures lingering on the right of the tree which would have worked better compositionally, but I shan’t mess with this one. 10in by 7in Watercolour.


Guerande, france, watercolour, plein air

After sitting and drawing in the full sun I needed some shade. When I saw a vacant bench under a tree I occupied it pronto. I did this just to amuse myself and got nearly everything wrong. Just goes to show you can never scrimp on the initial drawing! 7in by 5in. Watercolour.


St Nazaire, France, Watercolour, plein air, painting

This is St Nazaire, blindingly hot so the washes dried instantly. I was in full sun and found even the paint in the palette would need constant rewetting. One for the cupboard rather than the frame I fear! 10in by 8in Watercolour.


Honfleur, France, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is Honfleur, I couldn’t resist the perspective over the rooftops, once again I was in blistering sun so painted it in patches rather than full washes. Pleased with the result and will attempt a studio one from it. 10in by 7in Watercolour.


Honfleur, France, Watercolour, plein air, painting

Last one from Honfleur, I couldn’t resist this scene as it was so typical. I liked the way it broke into a big diagonal with one of the resultant triangles full of stuff and the other almost empty. Also I was in the shade so I could get big wet washes in place which so helps with unity in the final result. I drew the motor bike to very, very carefully as it was so key to the whole picture. Best one of the trip. 10in by 8in Watercolour.

That’s it from France, I enjoyed the trip hugely. Next I am going to try and get the landscape watercolours going in Dorset, I need to find an idiom that catches the grandeur without becoming too picturesque.

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