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…

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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