Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

August 26, 2015

Art and Architecture

What a blight the so called “International style” of architecture has been on our planet. It has wiped out all local and ethnic styles of building the world over. People hoot and howl if their spoken language is threatened by a Lingua Franca but hooteth not when their vernacular style of building is wiped off the map. Europe has for the most part just surrounded their historical centres with a ring of dreary concrete leaving the old encysted by the new. Britain due to the unfortunate rise of the town planner in the fifties and sixties has lost a great deal more. If you took photos from around the world of recent everyday urban developments and removed any signs in Photoshop then I doubt if anybody could place them geographically. So how did this appalling state of affairs come about, how did it happen that what was once considered the greatest of the arts was reduced to engineering and quantity surveying?

Before the invention of architects as distinct profession most structures and all vernacular structures were built by tradesmen. In medieval times a “Master Builder” was employed on the greatest projects. We know little of most of these men, the most famous are more properly military engineers since that was area many of the really big projects were being carried out. Leonardo, Michelangelo and many others drew elaborate bastions with all the lines of fire drawn in. In our towns and villages however the builder was your man. He operated I dare say via tradition that was slowly pushed forwards by the desire of their clients to embrace new fashions. These fashions were mostly imported by the aristocracy and royalty and slowly made their way into the everyday vernacular styles.

To this end many books of architectural detail were printed, which were in effect catalogues that a builder or client could choose from. Outside of building for display most utilitarian structures were simply made along traditional lines from local materials. The result is for the most part unintentionally harmonious but varied and if destinations favoured by tourists are any guide still pleasing today. We rather cruelly and disparagingly refer to the effect as “pretty” or “quaint” but no such intention was intended in their original construction. It is interesting how when architects try and fake this organic and empirical development the result is lack lustre to say the least. The arts and crafts developments are the most convincing as they have an agenda of their own and mostly do mot seek to mimic but to make a new form from an old idiom.

Vernacular building design has always followed a step or three behind the styles of the great projects of any time. The great Renaissance and Baroque revolutions first appeared in the big cities paid for by the church and nobles. It is interesting to not that although we started to have architects they were all artists first and foremost. Bramante, Bernini, Michelangelo and others were all high achieving artists in their own right. Today that is far from the case. I was initially going to be an architect and applied to do a degree. In the run up I went and worked for various local architects my father knew. I soon realised most architecture had no art in it whatsoever but a great deal of accountancy. In truth most of the projects would have proceeded better with just a builder and an engineer, the architect was just an irritation.

So it is that in our age we see feats of engineering but not of art. Our cityscapes have no consistency of overall form, but a deadening uniformity of detail and material. This is not by the way a call for change, we are too late architecture is dead and will not be returning. There is a tendency for people bemoaning the visual state of our built environment to recommend a return to Tudorbethan or Mock-Georgian but this is painfully naive and where it is tried fails due to there being no one with the visual training to make it convincing. No there is no going back, buildings are going to be by the hugest of majorities soulless and ugly for the remainder of man’s existence. The reason for this is not the great projects by the “Starchitects” but the innumerable small developments by jobbing architects who have for the most part no interest in the history of their craft or any decent training in composition, massing, decoration or proportion. So however good a modern building is it will inevitably drown in the vast ocean of workaday dreariness. Indeed anything that is at all good makes the surrounding clutter seem emptier of beauty by comparison. Still architects do keep the market for black polo necked jumpers and expensive round spectacle frames afloat.

We actually have laws to prevent buildings looking beautiful. The regulations that control sill height and window size mean that most fenestration will be ugly. That of course tends to preclude any facade from being at all elegant. The manufacture of windows to standard sizes of clumsy proportion and design puts the final nail in the coffin. Should we care? Well probably not. The generation that does care is ageing fast and the next will not understand what I am complaining about. Past styles are fodder for theme parks and film designers only and not to be ever seen again in our everyday built environments. Who should we blame for this visual poverty that future generations must live with? Well building has to some degree always been about enclosing practical space for the least possible cost. This is where the International Style delivers without question. Building has also always been a display of prestige, but now we tend to be swayed by post code and whether there is a 2 acre underground gym. We are interested in contents rather than any external appearance. You may rail against the horrid boxy uniformity of a Bovis estate, but though the buildings are of execrable design they are cheap enough to make so that a far higher proportion than in any other age can live in their perfectly adequate and convenient comfort.

Now that is of my chest and on to yours I can post some paintings. After a stint of watercolour back to the oils again.

 

Okeford Hill, Dorset oils, painting, art

A panoramic view from Okeford Hill. I did a small watercolour a year or so ago of this and decided to make a larger studio oil from it. The result wasn’t great so I went back to the location with the studio painting. I was very lucky in that the cloud shadows were adding splashes of light across the valley which looked great. With that and a new sky the whole thing is much improved. Oils 12in by 26in.

Okeford Hill, Dorset, watercolour

Here is the original watercolour, I worked from both this and photos taken at the time. I don’t much like working from just a photo, it seems to be easier if I have drawn or painted the scene however slight the sketch. The thing is that doing the looking fixes memories in your head that re-emerge when you come to paint in the studio.

 

Dorset, Hambledon Hill, oil painting, art

Hambledon Hill with a threatening storm. Another done from a previous plein air watercolour. I didn’t need to revisit the site this time. It would have ben pointless in any case as the lighting was everything. Oils 12in by 12in.

 

Nottinghill Gate, oils, plein air.

I am still visiting London to paint with the Brass Monkeys, this is Notting Hill Gate. This was  a struggle as the light was varying constantly. I might cut this down to a square format as the stuff at the top is bringing nothing to the party. With the best will in the world it is very hard to make the best compositional decisions when racing to get some small part of what you see down. That any of them ever turn into a decent picture is a miracle! Oils 12in by 8in.

 

London, plein air, Notting Hill, painting, art

Another from the same day. Not quite sure what this needs… will probably go into a drawer to be found only after my final demise! Oils 8in by 12in.

 

Surrey, oil painting, plein air, art

Somewhere in Surrey… a very quick sketch, but a great scene. I am experimenting with surfaces at present. I have decided that the primed MDF I have been using is too limited and I don’t much like the “feel” of the paintings done on it when varnished and framed. The quality worryingly reminds me of hand made place mats! 6in by 12in Oils.

 

Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, plein air, oil painting, art

The same day and 60 mile East. My friend Steve Alexander was busy painting the interior so I went and stood in the drizzle to do this. I love trying to catch the day however gloomy. Whether anyone would ever want the resulting daub on their wall is of course another matter! This is Romsey Abbey in Hampshire. 6in by 12in Oils.

 

Romsey Abbey, pen and ink, drawing

Before doing the grey day oil I did this quick sketch of the interior of the abbey. Romsey is one of my favourite buildings it has a wonderful scale and elegance. When tackling such a subject it is very important to start in a manner that is practical. I could have made an accurate architectural drawing, but that would have taken too long. The charm of these sketches is in some part due to the constraints of time and media. I am always amazed at just how much you can express of a very complex subject with relatively few lines. Pen and Ink.

 

Shroton, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting, art

Steve had accompanied me back to Dorset so we set out to paint the day away. This is Shroton in Dorset a mile or so from me. The forecast had been for rain but this is what we got instead. I rather like the double square as a board proportion especially for landscape. Oils 6in by 12in.

 

Shroton, church, oil painting, plein air, art, dorset

Next up was Shroton church. I love pictures of graveyards and so do other artists I know… but no one will ever buy one! I just had fun with this I didn’t want to over elaborate a very simple scene. There was a figure but it fell to centrally and so got expunged. Oils 8in by 10in.

Fontmell Down, Dorset, plein air, oil painting.

We next went to the wonderful Fontmell Down. Unfortunately there was a herd of very rumbustious bullocks in the field so we had to retreat. On the plus side though I got some wonderful photos of them with the down in the background which will in due course be a studio painting.  10in by 12in Oils

 

Still life, kettle, flowers, oil painting

Now, as they say, for something completely different. As the rain had well and truly arrived Steve and I set up a still life. I have only done 3 or four such paintings in my whole life. Not because I dislike them but just never got around to doing any. I must do more and Dorset will no doubt supply plenty of wet days in which to paint them. There was a loaf in the picture too, but it was too close and I eventually painted it out. This meant waiting for the area to dry a bit so I had to set the whole thing up again just to finish the table cloth. Great fun though and very good practice to try and capture the various surfaces without getting fussy. I am not much of a fan of “dutch” style over finished still lives. Oils 12in by 16in.

I have an upcoming exhibition so I have been framing pictures like mad. My first solo show so very nervous!

exhibition

July 31, 2015

Landscape Art

In my newspaper today there was a review of Richard Long the land artist. When I was a student he and Andy Goldsworthy were first making their mark. I, as almost everyone else, quite liked what they did, indeed who wouldn’t. The work is engaging pleasant and made of nice stuff often in a beautiful setting, hard indeed to find anything about it all that is not pleasant. They make what is called “interventions” on the landscape. The defining factor seems to be that it should not be a practical intervention such as a useful one like a drystone wall for keeping animals in. Oh and also it shouldn’t be a folly either like the great estate owners were fond of… now I think of it garden design has to be omitted too… whoops, some ancient monuments have to be excluded as well. So really it has to be made by a person who defines themselves as an artist. You could have four identical drystone objects one crafted by an artist one by an architect and one by a landscape designer and one by a drystone waller and it seems that the art cognoscenti say only the artist made one would be art. If they were placed side by side of course it would be impossible to tell one from another. So did the “artiness” come from the object being made or you being told it was by an artist? I seems to me plain that the “art” ingredient was added by you being informed of the fact not the object being made nor you perusing it. So by my way of thinking the art act was the labelling of it. So group of friends hiking might come across an intriguing drystone construction and one of them might pipe up, “Oh that is a Richard Long” all the group would then have an “art” moment. The piper might be wrong, but regardless of that the art experience was had. Was the hiker actually the artist? Well it’s a thought.

long

A few different land art sort of items, can you spot the art?

Now you may think I am going to deny the artiness of the monkish Mr Long and fey Mr Goldsworthy, but no I want to say that they are all made with craft and therefore capable of being looked at as art. My argument would be that they are not a particularly high individual achievement. We ascribe special status to folk like Rembrandt because very very few human beings through history are going to be able to do what he did as well and with as deep long term appeal, depth of expression  and subtle nuances. Perhaps one or two in a generation. However anyone with a bit of patience could make a Richard Long you would not have to wait half a century for another person good enough at arranging rocks! So an object made by man might be lovely to look at, it might be instructive, it might be moving. But it is not that which we celebrate. We celebrate the high points of human achievement. Most of us write, but very few of us write War and Peace. So we value Mr Tolstoy and his works. So the land artists could be safely placed in “pleasant essay” territory rather than “towering achievement”.

With high jumpers we celebrate the person who leaps over the highest bar. We may clap if a portly person makes an impressive attempt at a much lower bar but the record books won’t be adjusted. So to my mind the difficulty of achieving a result and the amount of life that has had to be expended to be able to do that thing is a large factor in the art value of a made thing. With the difficulty of attainment comes rarity and in most cases with rarity comes value. All of the objects both rare and common may well provoke a pleasant and meaningful visual experience. But the rare one is an example of high human achievement and it is that event that we should celebrate.

This edition I am offering a bit of landscape art rather than land art. I am at last getting to grips with painting different subjects now that I am finally full time in pastoral surroundings. Not that it is easy, I am being fairly experimental in my approach so a good few failures will result.

 

Honfleur, France,  Notre Dame de Grace, pen and ink drawing

A few orphans from France that needed finishing later due to a high shrubbery content! I added a raw sienna wash to my media on the last day just to add another element. Very nice for adding bulk to trees and differentiating areas. This is Notre Dame de Grace high above Honfleur. I would like to have painted but I found it on the last day and didn’t get the chance.

 

Le Croisic, France, drawing, pen and ink

This is Le Croisic, I added the wash after and am pleased with the result I found a subtle mix of the sienna and the white I use made a lovely warm white which contrasts nicely with the cooler version used in the clouds.

 

Swanage, Dorset, pen and ink, wellington clock tower

This is the Wellington clock tower in Swanage which rather oddly originally once stood at the southern end of London Bridge in London. It was moved to the seaside in 1854 at a cost of £700 as it did not keep good time and with increasing traffic it had became something of an obstruction. The faulty clock never came. I am told it used to possess a spire but that became unsafe and was removed in 1904. A very quick sketch, I was out on a pier and in the way of fishing folk.

 

Corfe, Dorset, pen and wash, drawing

On my way back from Swanage I couldn’t resist this view of Corfe castle with the train. It is on a reproduction of paper as used by David Cox in the 18th century which is a pleasant oatmeal colour. Fab view which I shall come back to. Although it looks arcadian you have to imagine lorries belting past a couple of feet behind me!

 

Hambledon hill, drawing, dorset, pen and ink

A bit of pen and ink madness, I started this last winter on site, but having done Hambledon hill I decided on a wild circular hatch for the sky… slow work so I had to give up when hypothermia set in! I finished it off a few days ago sitting in the sun in my garden. Has a slightly Samuel Palmerish feel, maybe the first signs of madness.

 

Salisbury, carving, cathedra,l wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

A visit to diy store Wickes in Salisbury. The store was a bit boring so I went on to the distinctly more drawable cathedral. This is a carving on the facade warning you of what might happen to you if you sin… I got a crick in my neck doing this!

 

Salisbury Cathedral, wiltshire, pen and ink, drawing

Yes it’s that famous view Constable painted. I decided to have lunch in a pub by the river but got lured into doing this. By the time I got to the pub they had stopped serving which served me right for getting distracted.

 

Hambledon Hill, water colour, plein air, painting, art

This post is a bit Hambledon Hill heavy I fear! I am determined to get some paintings that catch the character of the place. It is easy enough doing distant views but although it is fantastic visually up on the hill itself, making a painting that catches that is very hard. It is like those wide views that you photograph when on holiday. They look wonderful when you are there but once you are home the photos look ho hum. Photographs taken from the hill have that same quality. So I set out on a blustery hazy afternoon to do my best. This is looking right out over the verdant Blackmore Vale and I am quite pleased with it. I might try some different formats, tall and thin or square the straight landscape proportions don’t quite work for me. 1/4 sheet Watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, watercolour, art, painting, Dorset, hill fort

I started very boldly here with a full and very wet wash. I need maybe to strengthen the fore ground to push the distance back. I might do a studio version to try and get the balance better. It was so windy the painting blew away a couple of times! 1/4 sheet Watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, hill fort, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

Not the most cheery of watercolours of Hambledon but I am quite pleased with it on the whole. It was quite different day with the wind driving rain showers up the Stour valley unlike the previous dry windy days the washes just wouldn’t dry. Still I must get up there on some wet days with the oils as I love the mood. I struggled down the hill after carrying my painting gingerly at arms length as it was still very wet. 1/4 sheet, Watercolour.

 

Fontmell Down, watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

I got up at the crack of dawn to do this, even before the dog walkers, but not as you may have noticed, the sheep. Only a little 9in by 6in but it was lovely to do. Not a mood for wild wet into wet washes so I did it in areas which gives it a calm still mood perfect for the scene. People do go on about “wet into wet” and so forth as if it is the only way to paint. I like both the wild and splashy and the carefully laid down and find that the approach can be infinitely varied from the exuberantly expressive to the quietly meditative to suit the feeling of different subjects and moods. The rule is for me that the technique should be at the service of the subject not the other way round. The subject here is the wonderful Fontmell Down.

 

Eggardon Hill, Watercolour, Dorset, painting, art

This is the view from Eggardon Hill another hill fort in Dorset. A studio painting done on the David Cox paper. Very hard to stretch as it wrenches any gumstrip off. You have to staple all round the edge and even then it pulls free. I must use my Artmate paper stretcher in future. The paper is much thinner than what we use today and is technically quite hard to paint on. Too wet and it turns into an impression of the alps cockling fiercely. On the other hand the beautiful surface with little flecks of brown and yellow gives a lovely quality. You soon understand why the 18th century masters used body colour. To get a bright wash you just have to add some white to the wash. Not enough to remove the transparency but just enough to add brilliance to the colour. I enjoyed doing this tremendously and love the quality it brings to the paint. 14in by 9in, watercolour.

That’s it for this edition. I feel some oil painting is due as I have neglected it in the last week or so, like everything if you don’t keep doing it you loose the edge that comes with regular practice. Painting is very not like riding a bicycle you do forget all too easily!

 

 

 

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