Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

March 24, 2018

Art for the End of Times

Filed under: Art History,Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 11:11 am

The age of discovery is drawing to a close. The scientific theories are done with, there will never be another dramatic moment of displacement in a bathtub that prompts the cry of Eureka! No fresh and shiny E = mc 2‘s no more 2πr2′s hidden in the woodwork. We will never again discover the unexpected fact that blood circulates, or find out how nerves do their electrochemical tango. There will be no more elements that last longer than a pico second to extend the periodic table. No new languages, no new geometries, we have found it all, made it all. The world of knowledge is perhaps a little like a sphere and we have pretty much mapped out all the continents upon it.

So now we are in the age of refinement, dotting the i’s, looking after the p’s and q’s. We might voyage to new planets, but never be surprised that they were there in the first place. We are encyclopaedia collators, we are indexers, we arrange ducks in rows. We wistfully talk of escaping the box and finding some mythical bleeding edge, but really we are at the end of innovation and at the beginning of a long age of tinkering with infinitely recessive boundaries.

There will be no new art movements, no new impressionists, we have been abstract, surreal and can only repeat the old well trodden expressions, there will be no more new, just warmed over old. Who could have expected human understanding to have grown so fast? We have the jigsaw puzzle on the table and the box is nearly empty. There are only a couple of pieces of sky to go and a bit of sea lost under the sofa, but the picture on the whole is just about complete. We are just a little disappointed that it does not quite match the one with the jolly bearded chap in the clouds that we imagined might be printed on the box!

Should we retire? Is our job done, like Deep Thought in Hitchhikers Guide have we found our 42? Should we become whimsical and quirky, always looking for some brief glimmer of newness to punctuate the ennui? Return to big wigs and farthingales, go mad for Steampunk? Butterfly at being this of that for just a day or two before moving on to paint a prettier flower? The world has enough books, tunes, plays and paintings to amuse anyone for a century or more. It sometimes seems pointless to paint another when there are so many better ones already available.

There is that word, “available” we are drowning in available. If I want to look at Russian painting, clickety click on my key board, and hey presto there it is. Not only that but most of the images are better than the ones you would have got in that 60 quid book 20 years ago, certainly there are far more of them. Affluenza doesn’t just effect material things it effects culture too. In times past you had a music collection… serried ranks of cd’s and Lp’s proudly displayed. Now you can rent any tune for the price of an advertisement. We don’t need collections, I sold all my art books, I never looked at them, they just took up space.

So, I must ask, does it matter? Most of human lives throughout history have been lived without a hint of new. In Tudor times, before the revelatory rush had really got started, it was a compliment to tell an artist that what he had done was almost as good as what everyone had always done before. They had guilds to prevent any possibility of innovation or deviation from the approved way. So no, maybe it does not matter.

Still for an artist today the idea of originality and newness is made out to be of vital importance. How cruel fate can be! We are like explorers born just as the last of the “Terra Incognitas” are filled in and the final “Here be Dragons” neatly erased. We have explored right round the world and met ourselves coming back in the other direction. Fortunately for us the world of ideas is fractal as a fern. We have broadly mapped out the major fronds, but each frond is made of smaller fronds and they too of smaller yet. So perhaps our world is unconfined, I can paint landscapes that make just a section of a part of the serrated edge of our landscape frond a tiny bit frillier.

For what is vaguely known as contemporary art this is a slight problem. Its avowed mission is to find new fronds, to go as Star Trek tells you, “Where no man has been before.” To this end they rush about making submarines out of tyres, piling up things to make other things, incongruity is king. All to no avail though, as, like our explorers who spot a hopeful new shore, upon landing they find footprints of men who were there before them in the sand, already softened by the tide. They have all the time only been filling in a few small wriggles in a coastline already mapped.

What has brought all this on you might wonder? Well the fear of Venice is beginning to set in. The most painted place ever. The most mapped in paint, its every mood, however transient, daubed by someone. There is a veritable Everest of paintings, an unstoppable grinding glacier of topographical art heading my way! All sorts of silly ideas pop up in my head, ignore the famous scenes, just paint dead ends and wheelie bins. Get behind the hollow tourist facade and tell it how it really is. I know of course that reality is not Venice’s strong suit, it is the oldest and most successful Disneyland on the planet.

In the event of course I will go and paint and draw stuff that looks pretty much like what everyone else has painted. I will then put them in my attic as Venice paintings don’t sell in Dorset. They will make a dandy blog post and garner a few ego boosting “likes” on Facebook and I will move on. The real gain will be inside my head. I will have been and looked. I will have observed tricks of the light, embellishments of stone, reflections in water. I will have been immersed in the place and be made a little bit different inside. An extra, hopefully elegant, wrinkle will be defined on my own personal frond. Like painting a portrait, they are much the same, we have been painting faces and bodies for thousands of years, but this will be through my eyes which will be, in the smallest humblest way, a first. Then I will paint Blandford with a little bit of Venice sitting behind my eyes.

Fontmel Down, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting

A bright and breezy morning up on Fontmel Down, I’m not quite done with it yet and might have to return for another bash. I am showing it here with the bottom cropped, but I might reverse that and crop the top instead. It is one of those that has a decent picture in there somewhere, I just have to muck about with it until it gels. 16in by 10in Oils.

Fontmel Magna, oil painting, Dorset, plein air

Here is Fontmel Magna later the same day once the rain had set in. Quite pleased with this one as it is great subject and I managed to get a feeling of the day down. I need to try it again in different lights and a slightly more refined composition. I love painting in the rain, everything is transformed, if only the practicalities of holding the umbrella and such were easier. Though the painting stayed mostly dry, the rain ran down my neck and made my boxers soggy! 14in by 10in Oils.

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, oil painting

A studio painting of the famous Gold Hill in Shaftesbury from the first bout of snow. By the time I arrived here I was too cold to paint any more so just took snaps. Great fun to paint, I mixed up all my tones first as without sun the contrasts were very subtle. With snow scenes it is very tempting to take every area to white which ends up looking crude. 16in by 10in Oils.

Portland, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Here we are on the Isle of Portland, the snow is gone and the sun is out. This is a great spot on the West side of the island I had not been to before. This was only one of the possible paintings to be done on this spot. The morning was quite misty with the last of the sea fret being dissolved by the sun. The tone of the distance was very hard to nail down. Too light and there was not enough contrast with the sea and sky, to dark and the feel of the atmosphere between you and the cliffs is lost. 10in by 12in Oils.

Portland Bill, Dorset, sea, plein air, oil painting

Are we in Corfu? Is this the Adriatic? No this is the same day looking South from Portland Bill! There was a great vantage point for the waves coming in so I decided a sea study was the thing to do. When people paint sea they often struggle with the fact that it is always the same but always different too. The result is that they impose their imagination upon it and it becomes rather static. My tactic is to get the tones and colours of the whole scattered about but not really resolved. Then I observe each smaller area and do a snap shot study of what is going on. Once done I just watched for a bit before putting a few features that tied the whole together. So the main wave was the very last thing to go in. 10in by 12in Oils.

Hambledon Hill, snow, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

The Mediterranean is gone and the Arctic swiftly returns! Our second batch of snow was bonus and I was determined to paint it. I waited and waited for the light to move from grey to sun before going up Hambledon Hill. When I got there I found the wind and sun had removed the snow from raised areas revealing the scars in the ground left by the walkers ascending to the earthworks that crown the hill. I got completely lost in painting this it had such fascinating contrasts. The snow came in handy too as I could build a level platform to paint from by kicking it in a heap and stamping it flat! Once again I took a deep breath before starting and mixed the key tones before doing anything else. 10in by 10in Oils.

Child Okeford, Church, snow, oil painting

The last of the snow. On my way back the light on the church and reflecting on the remains of the snow look pearlescent and very beautiful. However I was pretty cold and had a very wet bum from sliding down Hambledon Hill so I just blocked the bare bones of the focal point of the view and took a few photos. Thank heaven I did even that small amount as when I looked at my snaps they were just grey with none of the colours I remember seeing! So I had to work mostly from imagination colour wise and there is none of the original lay in left. In the last stages I put the photos away and allowed myself to play. 14in b y 10in Oils.

Next Post will suppose be Venice… wish me luck!

January 16, 2018

More Musings and Recent Oils

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 2:53 pm

Many things in the world are lovely or fascinating to look at. When in the West of Ireland, as I often am at this time of year, I will often stop to admire the growth of a lichen or some other wonder. Many of us admire the textures of rocks or a rusting gate. The paint flaking off an old door, the patina on an old workshop floor. You can transfer these objects directly into a gallery and the public will look and enjoy. Why wouldn’t they? The things are intrinsically interesting and if separating them from their context makes them more accessible to appreciation then all the better. It does not however in my opinion really make them art. Too much that is really just interesting in an old fashioned cabinet of mysteries way is hailed as art. Richard Long’s famed rock circles in galleries are just rocks, anyone could have arranged them in a circle in the gallery and the result would have been the same. The same with bisected sharks, it does not require a specific artist to present them.

This is of course why the much discussed urinal of Duchamp fame is art historically pivotal. How much or little intervention on an object is required to make it art? The urinal is an art historical comment and thus of interest, but not an aesthetic product of Duchamp’s hand and so the art content was supplied by the craftsman or designer who made the item. However the art world took it to mean that anything touched by the hand of the artist and declared to be art was henceforth thus sanctified. So how do we decide what is a sufficient input into a work to call it art and sit an object next to a Degas or a Rembrandt? The question is also relevant to objects made by accidental splashing or indeed painting flat areas of colour such as in a Barnett Newman. For me a hint is that a decorator with basic painting skills could do a pretty good painting in the manner of Newman, but very few people in the world, if any, could do a decent work in the manner of Rembrandt. I say “in the manner of” because we all know people can copy any painting, but that is not what I am considering here.

There are I think a few different things going on here. It is plain we have different degrees of interaction with the stuff or materials any work is made of. We also have different degrees of difficulty in the actions carried out. So how are we to link our Barnett Newman with our Rembrandt? They are both flat, both made to go on a wall, both paint applied to a surface, made for the same reason, to be looked at. We have to note however that Barnett in all likelihood could not have painted a Rembrandt, but Rembrandt could easily have painted a Barnett if he had so chosen. I think there is a clue in the difficulty of the task faced by each. Rembrandt had to balance and resolve all the things that Mr Newman had to deal with, colour, composition, structure and surface. then he had to deal with a whole other set of problems on top such as, subject, representation, space, narrative and content.

I am not saying that things that are difficult to achieve are intrinsically better. Only that the ambition is smaller with an abstract expressionist work. It is painted for an aesthetic elite. A Rembrandt may be commissioned for a wealthy individual, but it is intended to speak to all who see it. One is narrowcasting the other broadcasting. With art the wider the target is the harder it is to successfully hit it. What might please an intellectual might put off a simpler soul. To speak to each at their own level without condescension or false sophistry is an achievement indeed.

Rather a mish- mash of work this time as these oils are done over a month, I’ll add another post soon with the drawings and watercolours.

Bridport, market, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

This is the excellent Saturday market that takes place in Bridport. Very lucky both with the light and being able to squeeze myself into a gap that didn’t annoy too many people. Still I only had a little while as those lovely shadows were not going to sit there and wait for me. I very briefly sketched in both the lit pavement shapes and the sky shapes. Once I had blocked those areas in the drawing was really done as the in between prime colour stated the buildings. When I first started wit oils I used to paint tree branches over the top of my under painting. The result was never satisfactory so now I paint in the negative shapes instead. It takes longer but the result is more integrated and gives the feel of light coming between the branches. I took off 2 inches from the left when I framed it as it improved the composition. Oils 14in by 10in.

Bridport, market, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

Bridport again even quicker this one as it was time to move on. I blocked in very broadly and then scattered accents in more or less the right places! It is amazing how much you can get in with 20min of slapping the paint on. 10in by 7.5in Oils.

West Bay, plein air, oil painting, Dorset, beach

Then to the nearby West Bay. Only a colour note really as the light was going. I do find these looking down the beach paintings tricky. It is something about how the sea just runs off the painting edge. 10in by 5in oils.

Cann, melbury, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is looking towards Cann with Melbury Hill on the left. The weather was looking chancy but I love this scene with its winding undulating roads. It is nearby to me so I will give this another go in different light. 10in by 8in Oils.

satans square, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Talking of returning to old scenes, this the track to the threateningly named Satan’s Square. I have painted this 4 or 5 times now and it never fails to engross me. Here the light was going fast producing some wonderful hues in the landscape. I put the reflections on the track in very first thing and then built the picture out from there. 10in by 7.5in Oils.

Kingston Lacey, Badbury, Beeches, road, Dorset, Plein air, Oil painting

This is the wonderful beech avenue that leads to Kingston Lacey past Badbury Rings. I have painted it 3 or 4 time but this is nearest I’ve got to catching the feel of the place. Quite by chance I passed by with a friend on the way to Wimborne and thought that this was a perfect time of day light wise. So I returned at the same time a few days later. Initially it did not go well as the negative shapes between the branches took forever and the result didn’t look great. Once the tree tones were in I could see my way better and after messing with the tone of the sky and road several more times it more or less came together. 16in by 8in Oils.

Wareham, road, plein air, oil painting Dorset

This the road to Wareham where the road crosses some marshy moorland. The day was gorgeous with fantastic atmospheric perspective. A bit of nothing really but I was pleased with the mood as it caught a little of the magic of the day. I had to be pretty quick though as the sun was evaporating the magic in double quick time! 10in by 7.5in Oils.

Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset, plein air, oil painting, sea

This is the famous Kimmeridge bay which has dramatic strata on show when the tide is out… This you may well notice is with the tide in! I must get a set of tide tables… Still a great view with the Clavel tower on the headland. Most of the work was in the sea which seemed to have every tone and colour present in some part or other. It is very easy to fall into the lazy paint the sea all blue habit, but when you really look it is endlessly subtle and surprising. I suppressed everything else really and made the sea the star. 14in by 10in Oils.

Christchurch, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is Christchurch, the forecast was rain but in the event it was lovely. It just goes to show, never be put off by the weather forecast! Besides if you only paint on bright sunny days you will miss many of the best pictures. The sun came out halfway through doing this but I was too far on to change horses. I might well do a studio one of this as I have the sunlit photos. It is rarely a good idea to chase the light, making the facades brightly sunlit would have meant adjusting the underlying tone of every single area in order to be able to express the contrasts. 10in by 7.5in Oils.

Next up drawings and watercolours.

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