Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 8, 2017

Being Different

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 9:39 am

A year or so ago I went to the RA summer show and was mostly unimpressed. Since then I have every now and again pondered exactly why it was so uninspiring. Many of the things there were quite entertaining, which I certainly don’t object to. Some were amusing, some disturbing, but more trying to disturb but failing. One thing I did notice was that almost all the works were either monochrome or in playroom primaries. There seemed to be few neutrals or modulated colours, for the larger part everything was straight out of the tube with only white added to pale. This has the effect of making Sean Scully’s quiet brown and black abstract leap off the wall in contrast. An odd effect in a room full of shouty creations each desperately crying out “Look at me!”.

Previously I had commented, after trawling through the Saatchi Online site, that everyone had been original in much the same way. All this has led me to wonder why is it that the ambition to be different and stand out from the crowd should result in apparent uniformity. Artists have of course always wanted to stand out and be noticed by being better than their competition at portraiture, or altarpieces, or whatever. Now how ever the chosen method of drawing attention is to try to be different or as we say “original”.

Looking back in time you might choose someone like Hieronymus Bosch as an early example, but really he was just doing that medieval, scare the pants off the faithful, thing better than his contemporaries. Giuseppe Arcimboldo who did hybrid still lives and portraits was maybe the first obvious novelty artist. He worked as a court artist so presumably the novelty side of his work was just that and the bulk of his output is even today unnoticed. After his own time he was unremembered until the Surrealists discovered him and claimed him as a forerunner of their style. I think however that as Bosch he is just the expression of the love of grotesques that was common in the period.

It is very hard to spot when being “original” became a common ambition. Having searched back in time I think it is much more recent than you might think. There was always novelty of course but it is the ambition and deliberate intention to be novel to establish your own personal artistic individuality that I am interested in. The Surrealists were looking for a new interior subject matter for painting, the Impressionists a new way of seeing. Abstract painters sought a form of painting divorced from subject. Expressionists sought to paint pure emotion. The real driver for people to wish to overtly seek newness as a foundation of a separate and distinct identity seems to me to be the arrival of the mass media.

Only with the availability of mass produced and widely distributed imagery was the artist faced with the huge spread of what other artists both contemporary and historical had been up to. You want to paint a portrait? Well you are up against Van Dyke, Rembrandt and Singer Sargent. In every area someone better than you has been there and done that. However good your portrait offering is likely to look a little weak next to Rembrandt’s effort. The reaction to this conundrum was to look for a new “area” or as my tutors of college were keen on saying, “Your realm of concern”. You had to find your own little patch of originality and cultivate it exclusively.

It is easy to pick out the artists produced by this trend. Richard Long who trots about arranging rocks and photographing his activities. Damien Hurst who moves the advertising campaign from the page and screen to the gallery. Rachel Whiteread who displays interior spaces as solid forms. Anthony Gormley who presents his own body in different ways. Each has gone looking for their own row and once found proceeded to hoe it ad nauseam.

If we take Gormley (who’s work by the way I quite like). He constantly seeks to find a new ways of expressing and or placing the volume his body takes up. He doesn’t you must note seem to seek to improve the quality of making, only to produce endless variations on the riff he is already playing. He does I know do other work but this is the defining thread in his output. He casts and scans his own form interminably but does not seem to have the ambition to improve his own abilities in the actual making of forms. The same with many others they seek new ways or variations of rowing their particular row, but they don’t seem to seek or want to improve their hoeing technique!

There I think is the nub of it. We no longer value in the same way the ambition of an individual to fly as high as they possibly can. Rembrandt and others real achievement was in refining their own abilities to the point where they could create apparent miracles. Rembrandt’s real art as it were was to refine himself as a creator of images, the paintings themselves were merely the results of the long struggle to improve. Whenever I am assessing an artist I always seek the drawings as they are always revealing. Gormley’s show an interest in the different ways of drawing, but not in developing his own ability to make them. IE if it was piano playing there are only attempts at whole sonatas, there is no evidence of endless hours of the playing of scales. He is seeking to make drawings that might be art  rather than get better at the process of drawing.

I feel it is not, as we currently seem to believe, the intention of an artist to make art that results in art. It is the striving of the artist to improve their own abilities and perceptiveness that produces what we call art. Art is the physical evidence left behind of their struggle to progress. In the same way that a pearl is the evidence of an oyster’s struggle to survive in this dangerous world, not its intended ambition in life. So we should value the results of an individuals quest to get good at an impossibly difficult activity, because as with natural pearls the objects produced are rare and often very beautiful.

As a wee experiment I did a bit of real “Art” I decided on a deconstructionist moment.

real art, London, oil painting, surreal

Very simple I just broke the frame and imagined it pushed out by the imagery within. A frame is no longer a frame if it doesn’t confine. So it loses it purpose and in this case becomes part of the art object. This is just the sort of quirk or “originality” that infests the art world. Is it fun? Well yes it makes a surreal object on the wall. It certainly draws attention nobody commented on any other painting when it was hung on the wall.  It is very easy to think of endless variations on this theme, I could fill gallery with them. Only then could it sit comfortably on a wall with other pictures in the same vein. In other words it is “shouty” in that it does not only reach out to grab attention by being discordant but it suppresses other imagery hung near it. No one really looked at it as a picture, even though I went to some pains to paint it decently. It was no longer a gateway to elsewhere but a one line cartoon, a quick ho ho look at that and move on.

Just for fun I then Photoshopped it into staid conformity!

art

Composition is left a bit on the dodgy side as I designed it for the weird frame, but now you can imagine how it might have been in London on that day!

Now a few misshapen pearls of my own… in the spirit of the oyster, a seaside theme this time…

Dancing Ledge, Purbecks, Dorset, Plein air, oil painting

I have not been doing enough of the coast so I have bitten the bullet and crawled out of my comfy bed before dawn a few times. Just as well as the middle of the day isn’t great with the South facing shore line here in Dorset. This is Dancing Ledge in the Purbecks. It was all Happening so quickly I was very rushed. The tones are wonderfully subtle in the rocks, a real challenge to get even a rough approximation down. 12in by 10in Oils.

Dancing ledge, purbeck, plein air, oil painting

I did this straight after. Slightly less rushed since after the sun is up the light changes a little more slowly. When I arrived I had the place to myself, but by the time I finished this it was like rush hour at Oxford Circus!

Dancing Ledge, Purbeck, Dorset, oil painting

With all that buzzing around my head I set about a studio one as soon as possible. I had thought to do a dawn one but when I looked at my snaps how it looked as I took my leave rather appealed to me. I liked the balance between sea and rock and the way they fitted together in a jagged jigsaw line. 14in by 10in Oils.

Dancing Ledge, purbecks, Dorset, oil painting, plein air, sea, cliffs

Yes up before sparrow fart again. The tourists never see the place at its very best. It is hard to define what is so beguiling about dawns. I suppose because it is a “reveal” at first there is just murk and then it develops slowly. For the painter this causes difficulties because your subject transforms so quickly. With a sunset it becomes more and more mysterious as you paint, with a dawn the mystery evaporates before you can get it down on the board.

Dancing Ledge, Purbecks, cliffs, sea, plein air, oil painting

This dawn was amazingly like the previous one even with an identikit sky. I got so carried away with the sky and sea that I ran out of time and left with the land portion just blocked in rough tones. Next day that looked sort of Ok so I just added the minimum of descriptive marks on top of the base tones to finish. 12in by 10in Oils.

Weymouth, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

On this day I went to Corfe… and ended up painting Weymouth! The light was all wrong at the castle so after a quick sketch I upped stumps and headed to Weymouth which I had never visited before. So many subjects there I will be returning. I only settled to do this after walking miles to take it all in. Plein air painting takes more time looking for what to paint than it does to actually do the daub! Weymouth old harbour has a great feel with a ton of possible viewpoints so I think it would be paintable at a lot of different times of day as you could move round with the light. 14in by 6in oils.

Mudeford, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This was a very difficult day, flat light and very still. I should have just sketched and drawn but was lured into painting. I might cut off the top and bottom of this to make it very “letter box”. One of those things, I painted it well enough but it was all just a bit too dull! 16in by 8in oils.

Mudeford, plein air, Dorset, oil painting

Being a sucker for punishment I set out to do another dreary painting of Mudeford. Again I painted it sort of alright, but just shouldn’t have bothered in the first place. The gulls knew because I could tell they were laughing at me… I did a pen drawing after which was the best thing of the the day other than the cake. 14in by 9in oils.

Portland, Cheyne Weares, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Another dull day but more to get yer teeth into here. This is the view from Cheyne Weares on Portland. The distant shore and Weymouth were completely invisible. Great fun trying to keep the tones subtle enough. It is very hard mixing when the tiniest addition of colour to a mix can easily send it the wrong way. When faced with this dilemma I mix one obviously bit too dark and one plainly a bit to light side by side and then smear  the two roughly together. Then you can pick out close but subtly different tones quite easily. 10in by 10in oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, sea, oil painting, Dorset

Here’s a studio painting of Portland Bill to finish off this determinedly coastal post. It is done on top of a plein air I started looking 180 degrees round from this that never went anywhere. It is frustrating when the day completely changes halfway through a painting but also something that makes painting outside such a rewarding challenge. You just know however much you do it you will always be on the verge of falling flat on your face!

March 31, 2017

The Internet

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Portraits,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:20 pm

I was reading an interesting article about the ghettoisation that is beginning occur on the web. The gist was that the search engines try to find out what you like and what you believe in and then attempts to build a profile and feed you stuff that you would approve of. A little research showed it to be a strange truth. The internet is dividing us up not drawing us together. So eco folk tend to get only stories about how the planet is being ruined and fracking was invented by the devil, presumably deniers get stories about how the global warming theories are wrong and its all a plot by pinko liberal commies. You can try it yourself search for something balmy like chemtrails and it will bring up lots of views for and against. If you just click and browse the sites of the chemtrail believers then next time you search the loonies will come higher up. So people tend to exist in a tailor-made bubble of information they broadly tend to agree with rather than the full spread of wildly conflicting information.

How does this relate to art? Well as a representational painter with certain preferences I will tend to be served images and information I approve of. Also my posted images in turn will be served to those who have previously shown similar tastes. I do not mean this will be a 100% correlation, just that things that fit my profile will predominate. This process is just getting started and will I assume become more effective and widespread as time goes by. So people interested in conceptual art will get the sort of fodder that they approve of and plein air artists the same. There is nothing specifically wrong about this but it does tend to split human interests into separate bubbles that have very little cross talk. Just look at any discussion forum that propounds any view political, religious or otherwise, they consist almost entirely of people who are true believers plus a few trolls, who only serve to emphasise what horrid people those who disagree with the local majority view are.

The other thing that effects me as a painter is how much time the internet eats. You see a picture you like by a painter you hadn’t heard of and off you go searching for more and then maybe finding other related artists that painted in the same place or time. Next thing you know an afternoon has gone. It seems to speak directly to our hunter gatherer instincts. I now have folders and folders full of paintings that may, but probably won’t in some unforeseen future, inspire me to paint a better picture myself. I suppose to look at them all has been educational, but possibly not as much as painting something myself. It is much the same with kit, I recently wasted almost a whole day looking at etching presses. Reading about which types  were good and which were less so. Looking at sites that sell them (and other tempting goodies of course) or scanning ebay for a bargain second hand one.

Of course the evil web has some bonuses. As I put my paintings on line they are seen by more people than they ever would have in a previous era. It is however possibly easier to go unnoticed due to the sheer quantity of others doing the same thing. This blog is apparently the 13th most popular painting blog, the 6th if we are just counting artists. This is the result of the 10,000 or so hits I get a month. Is this all due to my nifty painting skills? Well my ego would like to think so, but a little bit of me knows that much better painters than I languish in the lower regions of popularity. So my web skills have to take some credit, I know how to make life easy for the search engines and how to attract their attention in the areas I wish them to notice.

I have written before about the feeling I get that I am only painting and drawing to supply images to be seen on screen. I don’t think that is necessarily bad though. After all musicians are mostly heard second hand in a recording, their actual live performances are in many cases never heard at all as they don’t play any gigs. Painters often forget that they are a part of the entertainment industry, not as many would like to think part of the spiritual and philosophical world. We do sensory gratification not ideas.

So hopefully here are some images that gratify more than just me in the painting of them!

dave, portrait, oil painting, zorn palette

Another portrait of Dave, who featured in my last post. Here I was trying out the Zorn palette of Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black, Cadmium Red and White. I actually liked it a lot. Reducing you choices actually smooths the process, it certainly makes remixing colours a lot easier. I intended to only do an hour on this but went about 20 min over. Annoyingly this is a better likeness than the ones where I tried harder to get his character to show through. 10in by 12in oils.

 

rob adams, self portrait, oil painting

A self portrait here, I was interested in doing a different angle again with a restricted palette. This one is Naples Yellow, Cad red, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber and Tit White. I intended to just do an hour, but as the light outside was flat and unchanging I only stopped when the sun came out and realised I had been painting away for two hours! Interesting what adding a blue does. 12in by 10in oils.

 

Wareham, Dorset, river, boats, plein air, oil painting

This is the view down the river Frome at Wareham. It was very flat and hazy which rather suited this view. Only 30 odd min as it didn’t really grab me as subject. 10in by 6in oils.

 

Wareham, Dorset, church, plein air, oil painting

Wareham again, this time seen from across the marshes I actually worked on another painting (below) at the same time with the boards one above the other on the easel. The second scene was straight ahead of me and this one at right angles. 10in by 5in oils.

 

Wareham, oil painting, plein air, dorset

Here’s the view 90 degrees to the left. Amazing how the change to looking more into the light transforms the mood. You would hardly think the were painted simultaneously if they were hung side by side. Such lovely tones and subtle hues at this time of year. Soon I will have to wrestle with the spring greens. 10i by 5in oils.

 

Satans square, Sutton Waldron, oil painting, Dorset, landscape

A studio painting this time. I did this from a watercolour (below) which is something I should do more often. This is the a path that runs to the dramatically named Satan’s Square and is near Sutton Waldron. I drew it out from a photo then painted it from the watercolour, hard to resist checking the photo as you work initially, but as you get into it the temptation fades! 16in by 12in oils.

 

Sutton Waldron, Dorset, watercolour, painting, plein air

Here is the watercolour for comparison. This is mostly plein air I just did a few bits of darkening and delineating later. I love this view and will be back to paint it in some different lights. 10in by 7in Watercolour.

 

Fontmell Down, watercolour, painting plein air

This is Fontmell Down and painted just before the previous one. I wish I had taken a much wider view, which is a lesson to me to put a few differently proportioned bits of paper in the car. Went a bit grubby as I got the tone in the foreground wrong twice and had to overlay more washes than I like to normally. I was working under some strain though as the wind was attempting to blow everything up to Glasgow! Watercolour 10in by 7in.

That’s it, some London stuff next. I have sadly resigned from the Wapping Group as I now live too far away to get to their painting days on a regular basis. I owe them a great deal of gratitude for prompting me to go out and paint the river and the city which has really transformed the way I paint. Hopefully I will still join them occasionally on an ad hoc basis so it will not mean the end of cityscapes!

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