Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 10, 2017

Chairs

Chairs are interesting objects, they have been around for a very long time and have many variations. What I am interested in here though is the chair as an everyday object which is a more recent arrival. In earlier times and cultures chairs were really thrones as they indicated status. Ordinary folk sat on floors, benches, chests or stools. Even when chairs arrived into domestic use  it was only the master of the house who had one, hence the word “chairman” to indicate precedence.

A chair is a sort of seat, but by sitting on an object you do not make it a chair. So if you sit on a rock it briefly becomes a seat not a chair. A chair is a seat for one person and has a back, no back and it is a stool rather than a chair. A chair can have arms and be upholstered. It can rock, it can fold, you can have one in your garden or your kitchen, your dentist and your barber both possess them.

My interest here though is in the chair as an everyday object that combines both aesthetic and practical qualities.

If a man with little skill screws together a few offcuts of wood with no particular care, other than to conform to the basic chair shapes, the result might have perfectly good utility. It might even be comfortable. It is unlikely however to be beautiful or desirable as an object.

If a master craftsman makes a chair it will also conform to the general shape, it may or may not be comfortable. I think it  would almost certainly be more pleasing to the hand and eye and definitely more desirable as an indicator of the owner’s status and discernment. It might however be no better or even worse than the rough one as far as utility goes.

You can with a bit of thought quantify the different qualities that could be embodied in this common object.

  1. Utility. You must be able to sit on it. If a Dadaist adds spikes to the seat then it is no longer a chair.
  2. Quality of materials. A chair can be made of cheap stuff or of valuable stuff. Gold or withies.
  3. Individuality of making. It can be made in a factory, or even nowadays with almost no human hand at all in vast numbers. It can be made by the hand of one individual, or several, or many.
  4. Quality of making. A person with no skill might knock one up, or a skilled bodger might turn the parts to one. A CNC machine might dice up wood into chair parts or one of Thomas Chippendale’s craftsmen might hand carve the elements to an elegant plan.
  5. History. It might have been made, owned or sat upon by someone of note. It might be rare, only a few having been made.
  6. Design, decoration, elegance and other aesthetic considerations.
  7. Value. this might depend on all of the above. As well as rarity and state of repair.

Looking at the list above you can see any specific chair might have more or less of any of the above qualities. The summation of these attributes might all contribute to the desirability or otherwise of the chair. They are all, after no 1, add ons to the basic chairness, things that are not necessary for its basic usage.

I am of course considering chairs for the possible parallels to paintings. Chairs have the advantage of being shorn of most of the egotistical and mystical baggage that anything labeled “art” carries.

So I will go back through my list of attributes of chairs and consider how they might relate to the object called a painting.

  1. Utility. A painting’s purpose is to be decorative. Many artists will raise their hackles at the idea, but I cannot think of any painting that does not have decorative as a part of its makeup. Paintings are made to place in or on manmade structures. They take their place there with whatever else is present. Their function is to supply foci and visual interest, or to signal the wealth and status of the owner whether an individual or an institution. If your painting for example is painted in dry ice and will last only a moment then it fails the test of utility. Paintings of course have another utility that chairs may have a little of but paintings should have in greater degree. They are decorative as I have already stated, but they must also engage with the senses as window does, as openings to another place. They must take the mind from the space the painting is in and transport it elsewhere.
  2. Quality of materials. We accept paintings can be great whatever the quality of the materials. For example The Scream by Munch in painted on cardboard. Generally though I cannot see why paintings should not be marked up or down for quality of paint, substrate etc. Such factors have a direct bearing upon longevity and durability. There are many paintings whose worth has declined due to age and decay.
  3. Individuality of Making. This is plainly of more importance in a painting than in chair. Nonetheless many valuable and important paintings are the work of more than one hand. The increase in concern about this factor is perhaps quite recent, although many contemporary artists such as Bridgit Riley have for many years produced their work by using teams of people. Damian Hurst also commissions or employs others to make his work. Chippendale or Sheraton did not personally construct their famous chairs. Due to this I don’t see why we should care too much about who actually makes our paintings either. Indeed some painting equivalents such as photos are created by people pointing cameras and are displayed entirely through the use of machines.
  4. Quality of making. Many would say this has little or no bearing on a good or bad painting. I disagree, the degree of skill of the makers, whosoever they may be, impinges upon most of the other considerations we take to determine the worth of an object both commercially and aesthetically.
  5. History. Or as they say in the art world, provenance. With painting this is mostly concerned with being sure the object is as advertised and not a fake. Perhaps not as important as we believe. A painting being faked does not necessarily impinge on any other factor, especially if it is successful one that has not been spotted.
  6. Design, decorative and aesthetic quality. Well again the modern artist might quake at the idea of being decorative, but as per attribute 1. pretty much the whole reason for bringing the object into existence is its decorative usage. A painting that cannot be displayed in a space is a bit like a chair with spikes on the seat.
  7. Value. This is just about the same as for chairs, except of the role galleries play in bidding up or buying their own work in order to protect the value of those in stock or already sold to collectors.
  8. Imaginary, attributes. Here is perhaps where paintings can differ somewhat. A Russian icon for example has an extra attribute and use as an object of prayer and meditation. However these attributes are not embodied in the object itself but in the user (Value and History are much the same in this regard). Chairs could have this quality too children might use a chair in an imaginary game as a fort or a car. Although these qualities are imaginary the perception that the object might possess them nonetheless impinges on both Utility and Value.

Gore Vidal said, “Craft is always the same, but art must always be different.” A sentiment most contemporary artists and my past self would have agreed with. I now lean towards the belief that craft is inextricably interlinked with art and there is little chance of art without skill, not because the skill is necessarily evident in the work, but due to what the learning of a skill does to a person. In music a skilled musician might play a simple piece that a beginner might manage, but  the rendition will still likely be more nuanced and deeper when played by the experienced player. For paintings if they do not, when examined, cut through the wall upon which they reside and transport you then they are not doing their job. You would not read novel that did not take you elsewhere and neither perhaps should you bother to value or attend very much to a painting that does not manage the same feat.

After all that you are probably feeling a little faint, so here are some soothing watercolours.

 

Regents Street, London, plein air, watercolour, painting

A visit to London to set up the Wapping Group show at the Mall. Also a chance to snatch a few brief moments to paint the city. This is Regents St. I have made small boards to clip to my smaller watercolour palette so I can paint standing up holding the painting in one hand. This worked fine but I should have taken single sheets of paper rather than my Moleskin. Although the book is small and light it starts to feel like it weighs a ton after 30min of painting. This is a backwards watercolour so I did all the dark accents first and then added washes over the top. 7in by 5in watercolour.

Princes St, city of London, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is looking down Princes St towards the Exchange. I have thought about doing this scene several times but this is the first time the light was really good. Another reverse watercolour, some accents are under the washes others to strengthen over. 7in by 5in Watercolour.

 

Friendly St, Deptford, London, Watercolour, plein air, painting

It was nice to visit my old stamping grounds. This is Friendly St in Deptford. The light was fantastic I could have painted all day. 7in by 5in Watercolour.

 

St Martins Lane, London, watercolour, plein air, painting

Last one from London, this is St Martins Lane. A bit of a rush job but I only had 30min or so before I had to do my stint watching over the exhibition. 7in by 5in Watercolour.

Dancing Ledge, Dorset, sea, Cliffs, watercolour, plein air, painting

This is the view you get as you walk down to Dancing Ledge on the Purbeck coast. More of this next time as I have been trying to get some coastal pictures done. The trouble is that the sunrises and sunsets are getting further apart with a painting wilderness in-between. I only got the drawing, sea and sky done before I had to move as it was a Sunday and it was busier than London had been! 9in by 6in Watercolour.

Satans Square, Dorset, Sutton Waldron, watercolour, plein air, painting

I posted a previous watercolour of this which is here for comparison. The spring is well underway and all those glorious purples and russets are being overwhelmed by a tide of green. I know it is odd, but as painter I am always a little sad to see the winter go as it is better for painting really. The light is low all day and the colours are more varied. There’s no getting around it that green paintings don’t sell for some reason. Most painters avoid the issue by painting the shrubbery in any colour but the one they see… but I feel I should give it a go despite the certainty the result will be in my attic until I pop my clogs!

I shall have to post again soon as my painting is getting so far ahead of my blogging that I shall never catch up…

October 18, 2016

Authenticity

For an artist it is a bit strange to consider what might happen to a painting after it leaves your care. I suspect long dead artists would be bemused by what is said and paid for their works. Each painting carries with it a story, a bit of history true or false, that makes up its provenance. As well as this there is the story attached to the artist, which may or may not represent the true course of his or her’s life. The difficulty arises of course in that all this information is not actually attached to the physical work of art and the connection can get lost, forgotten or forged.

Where I wonder is the visual value of the work itself? Indeed it seems the actual appearance of a painting is of a lesser importance than the story attached to it. So you might have a terrible Monet (and there are plenty of pretty average ones) with a cast iron paper trail from artist to current owner and it would be worth far less that a brilliant painting by a lesser known soul. The fact that the Monet hung on the wall would disappoint and the other painting reward on every viewing seems irrelevant.

Paintings can fall from grace, a Van Dyke can be demoted to “School of” and the painting will be dismissed with a brief glance rather than admired. Again this is seemingly unconnected to the actual painting. What about the people who admired the picture before its fall from grace, was their aesthetic appreciation wasted… wrong or misguided? You can imagine after research a label being changed by a gallery assistant. A visitor who had been particularly taken with the painting could return ten minutes later for another look and might find that the “Van Dykeness” of the painting had evaporated!

I can only conclude that the only guide is your eyes and the less back story you know the better. All those words only obscure and don’t illuminate the actual object. They do change how we view a painting, but sometimes not in a useful way. It might be better indeed if galleries didn’t label pictures at all. The could just have numbers and if you liked a picture you could call up its known history.

With some painters the mystique of the artist completely overwhelms the artwork. Andy Warhol’s work I find after first impressions dreary and dull, like a quite good one liner repeated ad nauseam, but his story of decadence and nihilism and his place in his milieu is fascinating. Except for a very brief period Van Gogh’s was I feel pretty uninspiring, but his life story and monumental self pity make a great story.

Really we should be looking for those brief moments when an artist by some confluence of skill, inspiration and luck creates a masterpiece. This might be only once in a career, or indeed for most of us, never. It is fine to give extra admiration to artists like Rembrandt who scaled the heights more than others, but not alright to inappropriately elevate works where he fell short. It is unfair to the artist also. Imagine if you came back from the dead to find everyone admiring some complete stinker you painted!

I have got a bit behind with posting, I was vaguely thinking of splitting post into oils watercolour or prints but I think it is best to stick to a vaguely linear storyline. I vary between thinking I do too many different media to thinking I must try some others. Printing is occupying my thoughts a fair bit as it is new territory and now I have got started I begin to see all sorts of exciting possibilities. So I’l start with that.

 

Hammersmith Bridge, London, linocut, print

So this is a reduction print of Hammersmith Bridge. For those who are not linocutters the reduction method is where all the colours are produced with the same block. The palest colour is cut first and all the edition printed, then more of the block is cut away for the next colour. So all the colours overlay. I based this on a plein air rather than the photo of the same scene as the painting already had a simplified tonal scheme and I did not want it to be too precise. Next I am going to attempt a double reduction print where two plates are cut away to produce one image.

It is holiday time and this year I went to Newport, the one in Pembrokeshire  Wales. As the holiday was a social one only a few scribbles got done, but I came back with plenty of photos and ideas.

White Sands, pembrokeshire, wales, watercolour, plein air

This is literally 20 min splashing away at Whitesands near St Davids. The wind was so brisk that holding everything was a nightmare. I had to hold down my palette with my food to prevent it taking to the air! It is also quite tricky when the wind is constantly fluttering your paper. The odd thing is though that when painting outside all this somehow adds to the result. The impossibility of being precise made me just go for the brilliant autumn light, which was really all the scene needed. 7in by 5in watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, dorset, hill fort, watercolour, painting

On my return I was determined to get up Hambledon Hill which is directly behind my house. I do not go and sketch up there enough. I decided the very end of the day would be best and very lovely it was. It is one of those scenes though that looks astounding to the eye but is very hard to translate into a painting. I settled on this as it had great flowing structure. 7in by 5in Watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, blackmoor vale, watercolour, painting

I started this more in hope than expectation. I couldn’t get into a position where the hill would figure in the composition so I just did a square on job attempting to catch the light. I must start to mark down compositions on the hill I like and return to them, rather than trying to find a new picture each time. 7in by 5in Watercolour.

 

Old Harry, Dorset, cliffs, sea, oil painting

At last a chance to sit down and get some studio pictures done. I wanted to do an oil of Old Harry based on the drawing I had already done. Remembering how nice it was how the cliffs came out of the blue on the paper in the pen drawing I wanted to do the same here but more dramatically. After drawing out I spent a lot of time mixing the tone base of the sea. It had to be dark enough to allow the cliffs to be brilliantly lit, but light enough to take dark reflections. Once I had decided on a tone I swept it right across using a 2in brush and then wiped out the bits where the stacks were to go. I don’t take this approach often enough really. It does have some disadvantages though as it can look too slick and pat, which is why I usual paint round rather than through. But in this case it worked well. 16in by 10in oils.

 

Newport Bay, Pembrokeshire, wales, oil painting

Here is the first of the Welsh ones. This is the view over Newport Bay which I have painted many times before. It is one of those views I always find something new in. It would be great to do a whole series through the seasons. I love the tone of the greens this time of year they become a warm olive colour which was a great contrast to the hillside where the grasses and bracken were already in there autumn colours. 16in by 10in oils.

 

Newport sands, beach, wales, pembrokeshire, oil painting

This is Newport sands, wonderfully reflective as the sea had only just withdrawn. Scanning makes it rather more contrasty than it really is, it is very hard to catch subtleties in images to go on line. 12in by 12in Oils.

 

Porthclais Harbour, wales, pembrokeshire, oil painting

I started this picture of Porthclais Harbour near St Davids thinking the distance and wedge of sky was the main thing. The painting soon informed me I was wrong and the water was the main event!  16in by 10in oils.

That is all for Wales, I find it very hard to paint from reference after the memory of the real place fades.

 

Hambledon Hill, dorset, hill fort, oil painting

Hambledon Hill again. This was done the next evening after the earlier watercolour. I had intended to do the same view but decided to try to catch the milky light. Not helped by the fact I forgot my brush roll so only had a 1in sable that was in the bottom of my bag left over from life drawing. Still the soft brush was oddly appropriate and allowed me to drag in the subtler tones in broad strokes. 16in by 10in Oils.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, oil painting, hill fort

Last one, a studio oil based on my earlier watercolour. I had to put away the watercolour in the end as this became quite a different painting. I decided in the end what I wanted to do was contrast the texture on the foreground right with the hazy smoothness of the distance. Quite pleased with the result as it emphasises the wonderful flow that the hill has. 24in by 12in Oils.

 

 

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

error: Content is protected !!