I was watching an excellent documentary about Bohemians by Victoria Coren recently. It was full many of the usual slightly sad cases with an overweening egotism undermined by the worm of insecurity. As I watched a very odd thought crossed my mind, these tear up the rules, live my life without reference to others types were all rather similar. They were all different and mold-breaking in much the same way, they all seemed to cleave to the same view: that individuality was all. Indeed none of them seemed capable of uttering any sentence that did not focus around the words “Me” or “I”. All these claims of special individuality were undermined I felt by the odd way they mostly seemed very conformist to their self advertised type. They all wanted to break rules but even more importantly to be seen by others to break them.
How awful I realised to be born of a generation where all available rules have already been torn up and discarded. We are not shocked by boys dressed as girls, or any conceivable sexual permutation. You might offend with overt sexism or racism, but no one is really going to be shocked or surprised. It must be like being a school child who having realised an ambition to be sent to stand on the naughty step finds that the rest of the school including the teachers are already there. I was especially touched by a set of art students studying painting. They spouted the usual guff about their art being oh so important, how they expressed their inner selves and broke all the rules, all the time not realising that they were actually being conformists. That is how we expect and require artists to be nowadays. One young lad spreading red paint over a canvas in a desultory manner plainly felt he was being daring by referring to genitalia and dressing like a watered down recently weaned version of Francis Bacon. He was however just regurgitating the guff he had been taught, he had plainly not thought about the ideas he was espousing, he had just accepted unquestioningly what he had been taught.
Art and the idea of being an artist ran like a thread through the program. Because if you are breaking rules and and making society face up to its own hypocrisy then that is what you are? Right? Well if the number one rule is not to respect rules then you are in a bit of a dilemma. No one cares a fig if you break bygone rules. If you declare all rules are made to be broken then once they are all torn up where do you look next? Why is it that artists in particular should be required to do all this rule breaking? Well as with fashion I suppose at least they are fairly harmless rules, easily discarded without much effort mental or otherwise. A brain surgeon who declared he or she would break all the rules would be distinctly worrying, a painter less so.
It is hard not to come to the conclusion that none of the so called taboos broken by the art revolution were much to write home about. The artist cries out, “I abhor figuration, I shall work in pure colour and form.” It must have been nice to live in an age where such a cry would be met with horror, but even when such poses were first struck it was not exactly a major apple cart that was being over set. So you are going to put some paint on a canvas a bit differently… hardly seismic in the larger scheme of things is it? Painting is actually quite a humble trade. It is difficult as are many things, but not as important as plumbing or dentistry. If you paint a picture in what ever style that gives others a small moment of pleasure then the job is well done. If you want to shock and scare a few horses then perhaps you have chosen the wrong activity.
The whole business is made more complex for the poor souls studying art in that art is no longer what they study. They strive instead to become shamanic figures who are expected to produce supposedly talismanic objects. Artists have been pressed into service as a make-do replacements for druids and priests. We no longer believe that a bit of mumbling and a sprinkle of H2O gives an object any healing properties and thus, more to the point, increased retail value, but we do seem to believe that a random object backed up by impenetrable art-mumbling adds cachet and investment potential. Both are to my mind superstitions founded on the imaginary “special” qualities of certain individuals in society. It is nice of course to say, “I am an Artist” and immediately get a status upgrade from shabby middle age bloke to interesting aesthete. It is very pleasant for collectors, curators and assorted oracular types to be able to gaze at a clumsy daub and pretend to discern imaginary philosophical depths and spiritual qualities. Which is of course why the whole circus will stay on the road.
For the artist today it is perhaps a relief that all the sacred cows are now slaughtered, and their entrails theatrically and well and truly trodden into the ground. I don’t have to look for any assumptions to challenge, or taboos to threaten. There is no need to seek out the new just for the sake of it, so fashion and style can be ignored. All I need to apply myself to is the simple task of doing a difficult and hard to learn thing well. Also striving to each and every time to do it just that little bit better. Artists who just paint pictures should realise a few hard facts. Nobody needs what you do. What you do is entertainment. You are not advancing human thought in any important way by choosing to carry out this activity. If no one likes what you do it is not the fault of the audience but of the performer. There is never again going to be an age where you can claim to be misunderstood, “The world is just not ready for me.” etc, those times are past and will not be returning for the foreseeable future.
Well now I have that off my chest a few paintings of elsewhere then France…
Firstly Richmond. I got this all blocked in and almost done on site but messed up the road overstating the relative brightness. It is so easy to see ground surfaces almost as bright if not brighter than the sky. In actual fact this is almost never so except when there is the direct reflection of the sun in a wet surface, or when black storm clouds crowd the horizon. In all other cases the sky will be brighter than any ground or wall surface. I check this as I have said before by making a small ring with finger and thumb and looking through it flick quickly between different areas. This will immediately tell you what is lighter or darker and roughly by how much. In the studio I scanned my too light road and repainted it 3 tones darker which improved the whole picture hugely. 10in by 12in oils.
An unresolved one here. I find this sort of picture very hard. I have painted everything adequately, but it is at the end of the day boring. I considered adding a canoeist, but whenever you have such thoughts it is probably a sign that the painting should be consigned to the bin! The story of this picture was the reflection, but that was upstaged in reality by the field, a problem which will not be resolved by adding watercraft or hippos to drag the eye back to the river. 12in by 20in oils.
France at last! This is the harbour in Le Croisic. On previous visits I have struggled with oils and the first I attempted this time did not bode well and was wiped off. This one I painted after eating and drinking so I was relaxed and bashed the whole thing in in 25min or so. I was very pleased that I had got the coloration mostly right, just a little strong in hue. 10in by 14in.
Le Croisic again. I wanted to paint the salt pans which are one of the main features of the area. My problem was I could not get a backdrop I liked. On the way to the salt pans I saw a great view of Guerande and I had the idea I might combine the two… so foreground and background are about 1Km apart! Only a very slight sketch but I enjoyed painting it. 6in by 10in oils.
I walked back to the town along the shore as the tide was out. This brought me into the local boat yard. I was very taken by this “into the light” subject and also delighted that there was the shade of a huge mobile boat lift to paint from. All very quick to do I actually mixed all my tones before starting which is something I often forget to do but I always find makes life a lot easier. It probably took me as long to mix the tones as it did to paint the picture! It was only as I left the yard by the road that I saw the sign forbidding entry to the general public… 8in by 10in oils.
More Le Croisic. I rather over tidied this later, but was pleased that I got resolved an issue that had been plaguing me in this bright light that seemed to bounce around everywhere. I wiped my first painting of the town because all the shadowed buildings went muddy and dirty. In this one I found a solution by mixing Quinacridone Magenta with various earth colours. This allowed me to get the feel of shadowing, contrast and age of the surfaces without the end result being grubby. 10in by 12in Oils.
This is Honfleur. I was really starting to enjoy the oils now. This tremendously bright morning scene was such fun to paint. I was in an awkward spot with shopkeepers setting up around me so I splashed it in as quickly as possible. I won’t mess with it as I love the feel and immediacy of it. I decided against people as it seemed to suit the, early morning before many folk were about, feel. 10in by 10in Oils.
Honfleur again. A complex scene for a small painting. I really wanted to catch the intensity of the light on the square. I had to be very quick, no longer than 45min as the sun was coming round on to the facades which changed the whole scene beyond recognition. 7in by 10in Oils.
That’s it just the Watercolours to come…