Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

November 7, 2015

What are we?

Is this really a topic for a painting blog? Well yes I feel so. Trying to articulate how it is to be a human being is pretty key to being an artist. Descartes decided that we are real things due to being aware of our own thinking which is on the whole good news. The bad news was that is about all he could be sure of.

For an artist there is the constant problem of only getting the odd hint of what others respond to or enjoy from their speech or mannerisms. For the rest we have to extrapolate from what we ourselves like, to make a guess as to what might float anyone else’s boat. The egoist will assume that what he likes others will like because he or she is plainly the best the world has to offer. The more humble soul will be left in a state of perhaps more realistic uncertainty.

So what is human being and how might we divine what this strange beasty likes? There is the body, with it’s cells and hormones. It seems pretty clear to me that there is no mysterious supernatural component. That does not mean that the meat is all there is though. The “nature vs nurture” debate has been rumbling on for a few centuries. Christianity  hoped to prove the existence of the divine by finding a child brought up by animals with no human upbringing. They were disappointed, legend has it, to find such a poor creature had no innate knowledge of the almighty.

It is in keeping with contemporary thought to consider ourselves in the terms of hardware and software. If our tabula rosa has no input from parents or society then there is no language and if no language none of the tools we use to visualise our own selves. I dare say such a being would have no interest in art or indeed a pleasant scene. Food, warmth, safety and shelter would be the driving forces as in any animal. It is of course not just humans that combine software and hardware, all social animals do some sort of programming the young.

It is fair to say though that humans take it further. It might even be best to think of the accrued knowledge of society as a separate entity independent of the individual. We are none of us vital, but each might add a little that gets passed on. I might paint a painting, post it online and then track the slight ripple that passes around the world briefly before fading. However small it has become part of the huge edifice of knowledge and supposition that is mankind.

If this accrued and now artificially stored information is really what mankind is, what of the individual? In our society we prize freedoms and our own personal uniqueness. I have to feel after much mental to-ing and fro-ing that this is an illusion, we make a great deal of our small differences but actually we are as alike as peas in a pod. Just as well really, as if we were really different communication between us would be all but impossible. If you look at the imagery of our planet from space you would have to conclude that mankind is akin to a hive creature. Although we don’t feel we are acting at the behest of the whole, most of us are doing just that. Is our collected knowledge of the universe honey? It makes one worry there might be a beekeeper out there somewhere!

It does give the artist a sliver of a reason to go on doing stuff. Each thing we do adds a little to the whole. How that might be used in any future is beyond prediction, but on the whole I feel that artistic activity is a plus for humanity. How is that for self justification?

Right enough of the navel gazing! Some pictures. Mostly drawing, life seems to be keeping me from my studio at present which is distinctly irritating.

Cannon St, London, oil painting, St Pauls

Over the last few years I have been rather over successful at selling plein air sketches of London. Most of the best ones I intended to use as inspiration for studio pictures, once sold however this slipped from my agenda. So I have decided to try and catch up. This is the first of several I hope. I spent a fair while messing with the composition on this. That is the joy of studio work you can add all sorts of subtleties that would be impossible in the heat of the moment on site. It is however important to try an not let that show overtly in the way the final thing is painted! 12in by 20in oils.


Pen and ink, drawing, dog

Something I don’t do very often. A drawing as a gift to an old friend. The dog was a fondly remembered pet so I was in danger of over doing the sentiment. The Victorians revelled in such stuff with the dog gazing soulfully at its master. I hope I escaped that… just! Pen and ink.

Stour, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing, river

A sketch done near to where I live in Dorset. This is the Stour where it meanders through rich pastures below Hambledon Hill. The light was very constant so I could take my time. A little too neat maybe but in a way that adds to the calm feel which was very much the atmosphere of the day. Pen and Ink


Pentre Ifan, Wales, pembrokeshire, pen and ink, drawing

This is another go at Pentre Ifan in Pembrokeshire. Slightly tongue in cheek as I am not much of a new ager! Pen and ink.


Tenby, Harbour, wales, pen and ink, drawing

This is the harbour at Tenby in Wales. This started out as the merest pencil scribble done in less than 10 min. I enjoyed developing it with the pen and will do a larger oil in a while. Somewhat of a grudge match as I made a horrible mess of an oil of this same subject three or four years ago… pen and ink.


Fontmell Down, pen and ink, dorset

I am pondering how to translate the Dorset landscape into lino cuts. I don’t want to do straight renderings there has to be a stylising and simplification. This may be the way to go but not with the celtic stuff. I might use earlier incised patterns as used on beakers found in burials in the area. The sky escaping is a bit OTT so I might just allow the pasture to break the frame. Pen and Ink.


Okeford Hill, dorset, pen and ink, drawing

The largest pen drawing I have managed on site. I used a brush pen loaded with the same ink as my pens which speeded things along. I still had to finish the foreground hatching later. Rather a painful process on site as I am suffering in the back department at present. This is Okeford Hill. Pen and ink.


Belfast, northern Ireland, drawing, pen and ink

Some countryside near Belfast. I love just using water to dissolve the colour out from the ink. I actually combine two inks one waterproof and one not to get this result. Very fast sketch about 20min. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, albert tower, pen and ink, drawing, northern Ireland

This is a clock tower dedicated to Albert in Belfast itself. A bit scrappy but too painful to sit too long. Pen and Ink.


Belfast, pen and ink, drawing, northern ireland

More Belfast. The brush pen was great for knocking in all the darks. Had to be very quick as the last of the light was fading rapidly. Pen and ink.


Gt Victoria Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, pen and ink, drawing

With my back working again after returning I couldn’t resist doing this of Gt Victoria Street in Belfast again. I loved the grand streets in the city and would like to return and paint it properly. Pen and ink

January 13, 2014

Of Convention and the Abstract Nirvana

Filed under: Essex,Ireland,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:33 pm

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?


Leigh on Sea, Thames, Essex, Brass Monkeys, Plein air, oil painting

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.


Leigh on Sea

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.


Leigh on Sea, Essex, plein air, Brass Monkeys, oil painting

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.


Leigh on sea, Essex, Brass Monkeys, oil painting

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.


Gleninagh, Castle, Burren, Ireland, Plein air, 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.


Camus Bridge, Tipperary, Ireland, plein air, oil painting

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.

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