Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

April 17, 2015

Representation

Representation has had a bad century or so. First of all photography turned up and seemed to offer something better at the press of a button. Then abstraction and conceptualism said it was irrelevant anyhow. Enough time has passed now to see that none of the new kids on the block are doing a very good job of reaching people other than the cognoscenti . The art market loves the idea that it is they and they alone who assign worth and the afficianados revel in the obscureness of it all. The average person if such exists however seems unmoved. There is plenty of visual fodder for the everyday viewer, film tv etc supply an endless stream of content. Very little aesthetic stimulation is supplied by paint on canvas however.

The interest is there. If I paint in the street a plenty of interested people watch you and come and chat to you. That is in itself odd as it takes quite a lot for most people to engage a total stranger in conversation. When a while ago I painted outside the Bankside Gallery, a more or less constant stream of people stopped and chatted. I know some of the interest is to some degree similar to watching a magician pull things out of hats, but most comment on the image as well as the act of making it. How to harness all this interest is a conundrum though.

So why do painted images of our world still hold such fascination? You would think there would be little interest, it is not that you are making a copy of the scene, cameras do that all the time. No one ever hovers near to an iPad snapper to see how the picture came out. Photos have perhaps become so ubiquitous that we tend to dismiss them and those who take them. We are after all of us casual photographers now, the process has no mystery for us, the revolution that the Box Brownie started has run it’s course. In some ways I wonder if the small renaissance in representational painting is being helped along by the over abundance of the mechanicaly produced image. There is also as I said before the fascination of seeing something that is very hard to do done well, just as we like to watch high achieving sports persons, the same seems to apply to painters.

Painters however are not street performers they produce an end product. Unfortunately the market for such items could be kindly described as “niche”. Though companies like to sponsor sport, opera and theatre, individual or groups artists are unlikely to become recipients of such munificence. I suppose I could try product placement with Coca Cola cans prominently featuring in the picture!

We make images designed to be “hung on the wall” which alas look increasingly out of place in a modern pared down interior. Framing has become a nightmare as you have to imagine what will look good when teamed with an Ikea  coffee table called Schnurdle! The annoying thing is that I suspect many people would gain pleasure from having a landscape on their wall but somehow the picture selling business cannot reach them. Galleries don’t help, often by seeming unwelcoming to the casual browser. I quite like galleries with cafes, in the same way as bookshops have found, people will pop in for a coffee and then hopefully look at the paintings too.

I have now completed my exodus to the country so hopefully I will be getting a more regular flow of posts going. I have already got a list of scenes I would like to paint. Here are a few to start with!

 

Fontmell Down, dorset, landscape, oil painting, sheep

At last I have my studio up and running so to celebrate I painted this. I realised I had hardly touched the oils recently once I started as I felt distinctly rusty. This is the wonderful Fontmell Down in Dorset. 20in by 20in oils.

 

Gold Hill Farm, tractor, Oil painting, farm

Full of the joys of spring I set out on another only to get a little stuck. I find pictures that almost work harder to come to terms with than outright failures. They tend to sit around waiting for their moment to be scrapped or fixed. This one of a local Dorset farm was meant to be about the milky light… but somehow became about a tractor. I have decided to crop it cruelly so it will have to wait to be a little dryer before I re-stretch it to a new format. Below is how I feel it should be cut down.

 

Dorset, farm, oil painting

Much more to be done but I think this has more potential.

 

Dorset, lane, Child Okeford, oil painting, plein air

This is a bridleway a few hundred yards from my new house in Child Okeford. So great to see that the light is good and be able to pop out and paint. 7in by 10in Oils.

 

Mudeford, oil painting, beach huts, plein air, dorset

Another I am not happy with, the balance between sky and foreground is wrong. I will have to glaze back the foreground so the sky feels more luminous. These beach huts are at Mudeford. 7in by 14in

 

Springhead, Dorset, oil painting, plein air

This is Springhead near Fontmell Magna, lovely gardens almost too pretty to paint. Some lovely subtle colours and it was fun trying to show the transparency of the spring foliage. 10in by 14in oils.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, Oil painting, plein air, ploughed field

Last of the oils, I love this view of Hambledon Hill as it changes so much with the light. I did this slightly larger than I usually paint outside at 10in by 26in with the result that it would not go in my panel carrier… I duly dropped it butter side down as I carried everything back to the car! A little grit adds character I suppose.

 

Blandford Forum, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing

This took a couple of visits as I got rained off. I can handle just rain but as soon as the wind gets up a bit you just have to stop. I returned almost a week later to finish. Dry alas so I had to imagine some of the reflections.

 

Wappers, drawing

Lastly a sketch of Steve Alexander and John Bryce painting away on the foreshore at Isleworth before the Wapping Group AGM.

March 20, 2015

Of Luck and Calculation

All of life depends on predicting the future. Even the humblest single celled creature does something to skew the probabilities in its favour. When you evolve an eye you can predict when something big is intending to eat you. If you are a plant you can grow towards where the light will most likely be. It is in fact this ability to look forwards in time even the tiniest bit that makes living stuff different to other matter. Once you can make this prediction the possible course of future events you can then act to increase the possibility of a good outcome for your own continuance. If you guess right you get to live and reproduce, so evolution has been honing our future gazing abilities over billions of years.

If you are a tree then you need to be able to look ahead and predict the turning seasons. If a bird also, if you wish to migrate or breed successfully. This sort of prediction means remembering the way cycles reoccur, if it happened once this way then the probabilities have to be high of it happening the same way again. So memory is a big advantage. Being able to pass this predictive information down from generation to generation via inheritance or nurture is another big weight tipping the scales of survival your way. If you can encode past occurrences, calculate their underlying cycles and then make predictions you are top of the heap.

The downside to this is if any of the underlying cycles, such as length of seasons or climate change then you need to adapt fast. The fossil record underlines this fact. If a change occurs such as temperature or another species learning a new trick then you may not be able to update your predictive database in time to survive. So if your predictive capacity is encoded in DNA then you are vulnerable, but if it is in memory then you have a better chance. You can take risks and pass the ones that paid off to the next generation. How could Einstein be so wrong? It seems God is indeed very fond of playing dice.

You may be wondering how this all fits into a painting blog? Well strange though it may seem such factors are one of the things that make producing artworks rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. As an artist you try things you have seen others do and by your successes and failures you increase the probability of your work turning out satisfactorily. If you are lucky you get someone who has already developed a method to pass on information, thus shortcutting your own learning process. Nowadays you can access a vast compendium of information and the artworks produced by many generations. All of this helps but as with all life there are no guarantees.

So what we need to do is increase the probabilities of succeeding. Gain skill in drawing, become familiar with how mediums react. Practice to hone your manual dexterity until it is automatic. In other words do everything you possibly can to load those dice in your favour. With a medium such as watercolour this is especially true. Quite a lot of the process is inevitably effected by chance, so luck is a big factor. The humidity of the day, its temperature, whether the wind is blowing or not, all can make a big difference. So you need to paint differently on a wet day to a summer scorcher. Even the kind of water makes a contribution to the way the paint lies and reacts to the paper, which is in turn another key variable.

There can never be complete certainty and if you do stick to what is safe then you will end up in the doldrums reprising old paintings ad nauseam. Each time we paint we should gamble, but like any gambler we should shorten the odds in our favour as much as possible.

I am still in the process of moving so paintings are a bit thin on the ground.

West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

This is West Bay near Bridport in Dorset. A difficult composition which doesn’t quite work. Need to be there very early or very late I’m thinking for it to be at it’s best.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, Watercolour, painting, art

A parked Open Reach truck allowed me to get most of this down without being run over. I always look out for roadworks and similar as they sometimes give a chance at a view that would be impossible otherwise!

 

Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

This was very hard going. Just after dawn with a lovely mist but the paint wouldn’t dry. By the time I had finished the sun was out and the mist completely gone. So partly plein air and partly memory. In actual fact once a subject has changed that much it becomes almost a distraction rather than that much of a help.

 

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Watercolour, art

This is Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, I’ve done it from the top in pen and now here it is again from the bottom in watercolour. This is from reference but I must do it again on a wet and murky day.

 

National Gallery, St Martins in the Fields, pen and ink drawing

A visit to London to meet up with the Brass Monkeys. I ended up missing them due to the train being diverted via Tasmania, but got some drawing done anyway. This will be posted again as I have added washes.

 

William Pitt, bust, sculpture, pen and ink, drawing

This is William Pitt the elder in the National Portrait Gallery. I drew this in pencil and then did the pen on the train as it went back to Dorset via Tasmania.

 

Old Compton St, London, pen and ink, drawing

This is looking up Old Compton St. I loved the Bentley surrounded by bin bags! I did the darks with a brush first and then added hatching. I shall do more of this as I rather like the effect.

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