Oh what high reasons we must have to put paint brush to paper nowadays. Looking at a bit of blurb on the Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters one person was reassessing the landscape, they don’t appear to have been referring to any previous assessment which seemed odd. Another presented what looked like a bit of old wall which was really a worried bit of overworked painted paper. He was concerned about almost invisible scuffs and scrapes, pleasant enough in a polite Ben Nicholson, don’t scare the sheep sort of way, but hardly plumbing the intellectual depths. One was keen to be challenging convention, seemingly unaware that the conventions she was challenging had died the death 50 years ago and that almost every artist since has been self-righteously kicking the long cold corpse ever since. Also she seemed to be challenging convention by sticking firmly to the current set of conventions, which as I keep on saying are getting quite long in the tooth.
Yes artists revolted against the stultifying grip of academicism and the history painters and rightly so, but that was a hundred years ago as I have mentioned before. That battle has been fought and won. To present yourself as still fighting the forces of “traditionalism” today in the 21st century is absurd one would think. It all comes I think from the lovely feeling of kicking against the traces. The Bauhaus the Blau Richter and a plethora of others were kicking against real traces not ones long broken by the efforts of others! How easy it is to revolt against something that is long gone and a mere ghost. You can be revolting but still gathered into the bosom of the establishment which thinks that revolution (of the right sort) is the bees knees.
The triumph of contemporary art as we term it is an odd thing at first glance. Most of the practitioners do the most dreary of day to day actions. In fact the drearier the better, so arranging a few thousand tyres into a big submarine or painting a thousand individual dots is just the thing. Personally I would rather spend all day putting the walnuts on a never-ending line of walnut whips as they would give the public more potential joy, but each to their own. Much of it is so little fun it can be safely farmed out to assistants and art facilitators of various kinds. While you as the artist are left to do the meeting and greeting, marketing and partying that are I suspect the mainstay of the artistic life. It is only when you look at it this way you realise what a strong hand modern and post-modern art has.
You don’t have to spend years and years getting skilful at something and then realise you still have an endless amount still to learn. You stand very little chance of being sneered at for your lack of talent. It brings job opportunities where doing bugger all but appearing mysteriously superior is the mainstay of your day. You have a secure but slightly racy position in the social hierarchy. You have a simple answer to the “What do you do?” question at parties that prompts interest and conversation. You are freed from lots of tiresome social requirements such as consideration of others, modesty and any dress code. All of this and you are also a cool subversive revolutionary storming the barricades of tradition and convention! As the troops that once defended these barricades are long dead you don’t even need take any risk. All in all, what’s not to like?
Well there is a downside. You cannot assess your own progress, as that is decided by others. Nobody really wants what you do except as maybe a counter in a financial game or a notch on a collectors bedpost. You have really not helped anyone much except yourself, which makes for the emptiest of lives. In John Carrel’s “Smallcreeps Day” the protagonist seeks to find out what the part he has been assembling his whole life was actually for. He traces it through the huge factory and eventually discovers that the other half of the factory is devoted to disassembling what has been already made. Returning the parts to bins to be taken for reassembly once more in a futile endless circle. That is why artists talk of reassessing and exploring, they want somehow to feel they are doing work of some social import. Well an artist might cheer an individual life here and there, but to change, reassess or reform society itself is aiming perhaps a little too high. Though taking up the stance that you might be spreading some important message must be good for the ego I suppose.
Another underlying trend is the jealousness towards science. Ever since science has been such a success everybody tries to steal its clothes. The snake oil and cosmetic firms, the nutritionalists and quacks all seek to talk up their work with sciencey words. Even religion wants a piece of the action despite the self evident risks. Art suffers in much the same way. Scientific terms such as investigation, experimental and so forth litter artists statements. As if they are undertaking some portentous and important work of discovery or exploration which will further the wisdom of mankind for the benefit of all. Well I am pretty sure that is not the case. I feel however to make something humble that brings a little light or joy momentarily into somebody’s life is a worthwhile act. But science it ain’t.
Art Historians seem to have suffered from the science bug from early on. Art history became presented as a series of discoveries and advancements to ape the progress of science. So we have the “discovery” of perspective, and the imposition of the progress towards abstraction via the Impressionists. Almost as if abstraction had not existed before, ignoring the fact that patterning and the arranging of shapes was likely the first sort of art mankind made. There is not even the slightest reason indeed why abstraction should be considered an advance. Still artists and art writers like to plot progress towards abstraction as if by casting off of shallow representational concerns the artist is reaching towards nirvana and a true purity of expression.
I suppose at some time in the past an artist was a seer. I dare say religion, art and even power shared the same bed in prehistoric times. Even in the Renaissance artists held a special position responsible for encouraging the troops. The power had long since been stripped from the profession of course, but they had a real place in the hierarchy. Oh how we are fallen now. We purvey decorative items for the home and investment items for the rich and gullible. This is not altogether a sneer. I feel making something beautiful that has a place in someone’s home that they may glance at now and again in a pleasurable manner is a very worthwhile activity. Even if the feeling of the owner is partly made up of pride of possession. I have items like that of my own. I have an 18th century watercolour that hangs in my bedroom. I may not notice it for months at a time, but every now and again it catches my eye and brings a little pleasure. What more could an artist ask?
Somewhat short on paintings this post, I have been rather busy with commercial work. I have at some stage to stop doing paid work but at least
I have reduced it to a quite small number of days that I like to get out of the way early in the year! The picture above is from the first outing for
the Brass Monkeys this year. It is the glorious mud of Leigh on Sea in Essex. I have put a photo below which shows how easy it is to be over-
whelmed by the scene before you! When presented by such a vista it is very easy to become paralysed by the sheer immensity of it. Also while you
paint it is hard to see your own effort as anything other than a very dim reflection of the real thing. here I tried to get down the feel of the light
first and foremost. The arrangement of boats etc was very secondary. 10in by 16in oils.
As you can see my poor wee painting is swamped by the glorious scene! Interesting how the camera sees the whole thing in more cool tones
than my eye. People often say how much better the eye is but I have to say I often like what both see. I often peer at the little screen of my camera
to see what the technological seer makes of the view I am about to paint. Indeed it often gives a very good idea of the main tonal divisions. This is
because the eye had a built in constantly updating tonal adjustment that varies over the whole scene before us. It is like a multiple exposure but can
have a flattening effect because we very often get the mid to dark areas too light. Here we tend to see the mud as bright as the sky, but in reality it is not.
I narrowed the focus for this one. I reality the blues ranged from Turquoise to Ultramarine, but I made them all Cobalt based to give harmony.
I have painted this view before and made a bit of a mess of it so was glad to make a better fist of it this time. I shall do a studio picture from
this day but it probably won’t have the charm and immediacy of these 45min sketches. 8in by 10in oils.
Last one from Leigh on Sea. The sky had been fantastic all day, I could easily have just done repeated sky studies. The wide horizons make Leigh
a perfect venue for the activity. 8in by 10in oils.
Some of the backlog from Ireland. I didn’t get the chance to do many oils. This is Gleninagh Castle on the wild Atlantic shore of the Burren.
I have painted the distinctive rock formations of the Burren a lot of times now and am beginning to get the hang of the stuff. The blues of
the sky went muddy on site so had to be freshened later. 8in by 10in oils.
This is an un-named castle at Camus Bridge on the Suir. I had only a very brief go at this only half an hour. Though it looks a peaceful scene
I was standing with my pochade on a wall with traffic whizzing past my backside! After a lorry nearly took me out I decided to retreat…
8in by 10in oils.