Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

April 10, 2014


Artists need to exhibit they say. If the lists people attach to their Biographies on websites is to believed exhibiting is very important. If you say “I am a painter” then people will ask “do you exhibit”. Up until recently my answer would be a flat “no”. Having done a couple of years now of showing bits and bobs here and there I have mixed feelings. When people say exhibit they really mean exhibit for sale. I note none of the people who list their every minor show ever say that they didn’t sell, though this must be true for the most part.

What is most odd is that there must be people who look through a list of exhibitions and then look at the work differently as it seems to have been validated by others. I have I just realised typed the key word in this matter… “validation”. For a buyer or art lover it means that they are not completely relying on their own judgement if there is a list of shows to support any view.

I am of course very jealous of those who have long lists in chronological order of galleries and group shows. I have done nothing but paint in one way or another my whole life but have only a brief flurry of shows in recent years. I am a little taken aback that people seem to think that I didn’t exist before this time and that I have only just started on art in my later years. I don’t like to say ,”well actually I can paint almost anything in any style you wish.” which would sound rather big headed but is pretty much true, in a long career I have been asked to do a bit of everything really. I get no points for having designed ten or twelve ballets, or illustrated books, or designed attractions that millions enjoy. I did rather think I might be able to sort of jump into the picture painting world, not at the top but sort of halfway or something. Not the case however, the list of exhibitions is missing so starting at the bottom is required.

I talked to the secretary of one of the Societies at the private view of one of the open shows. She said if I kept on banging in work of that quality for six or so years I might be able to apply. It was it seems not about how good your work was, but how long your list was! This may be why these institutions can’t number that many of the best painters in their specialities as members. It also means that they get stuffed full of people who are worthy and patient rather than necessarily the best. There is of course the suspicion that the lesser abled members are not too keen on people who are embarrassingly good (no I don’t mean me!) my instinct is to dismiss this idea but some of my own experience and history maybe say otherwise. I am not complaining, I have had pretty good success at getting work accepted in the couple of years that I have been trying, it’s just that I’m now not sure if that is necessarily a good sign as to the quality of my work!

It is all to do with this thing called “reputation” which has to be built up over time. A “good” reputation says this person has done a certain thing well and consistently over a number of years according to the opinion of others. As this isn’t formalised in anyway it is of course open to gross manipulation and publicists can build reputations from nothing as many a vacant celebrity shows. In the same way artists bolster their list of shows with things like: Joint show Portsmouth Lion Terrace 1976…( two pictures in a corridor at college), Greenwich group show 2009, (1 picture taped to a railing…)! It is still a show it seems even if people just passed by the pictures without noticing them.

Times they are a changing though. The internet has made getting yourself into the public gaze much easier, this blog alone has had 150000 visitors in 4 years which is great. The whole internet thing is a little strange however in that people are looking at pictures of paintings on a screen not the painting itself. This more than anything else means I must persevere with showing paintings. I have a very small shared exhibition at Oil and Water in Wandsworth coming up on the 23rd April and later in the year Graham Davies and I are doing a joint show of London pictures near Blackheath which will be more substantial. Sooner or later I must chance my arm with a larger show in town but such events mean an investment of many thousands of pounds with no guaranteed return so I must plan carefully.

Mortlake, Thames, watercolour


This is Mortlake. On the way back from Strand on the Green Chris Burdett and I were checking out future venues for the Brass Monkeys. Watercolour 7in by 10in.


Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, watercolour, London


The Royal Naval Hospital Greenwich. This one needs a few more figures maybe. I was trying to catch the very subtle light that occurs just as the sun has dipped below the horizon. For a few minutes there is this almost dreamlike atmosphere.  14in by10in watercolour.


Greenwich, Royal Naval Hospital, London Watercolour


I did this immediately after allowing myself 30 min. this is how the same scene looked 30min before. It is great fun just to dash it in what you loose in subtlety you gain in energy. People tend to fall into two camps those for whom spontaneity is all and those who like subtle restraint. Just to be awkward I enjoy both. 10in by 14in.


The Paragon, Blackheath, London, watercolour


This is the very posh Paragon in Blackheath, I have tried to paint this a few times and failed. The challenge here is to get the balance of loose and tight just right. Not a complete success but this is the best I have managed of it so far. 12in by 20in watercolour.


Millenium Bridge, Thames, Bankside, St Pauls, London, watercolour


I stretched up some paper on very light ply boards so I could paint plein air on decent paper. I have found the Arches blocks are quite different to the roll paper. The sizing on the blocks is odd and the colour never granulates giving the washes a dead feel. This is a real irritation as I spent a 100 quid on blocks which are essentially useless. I did a very simple water brush sketch initially, then had to abandon the bridge as it was too busy. I decamped to a seat on the Bankside and finished off. As I worked the sky became the oddest colour due to the sand blowing over from the Sahara and London’s very own pollution. I did my best to catch it even though it meant this is very far from a “pure” watercolour! 7in by 10in.


St Johns, Deptford, watercolour, London


Another of my stretched up boards. Again I just sketched in the basics in a cool grey with a few dark accents. Then took it home to add colour and finish off. 7in by 10in watercolour.


Market, Deptford, London, watercolour


The last of my pre-stretched boards. Once again a simple waterbrush sketch putting in all the darks. I left all mid and light areas white and coloured it from memory rather than reality. 7in by 10in.


London, Trafalgar Square, St Martins, watercolour


A larger 13in by 20in watercolour. This has been sitting half done for three or four weeks. I reached a certain stage and couldn’t see my way forwards. Oddly it was no trouble to finish off. I’m not even sure what I was fretting about now!

That’s it a very watercolour heavy post. Next I am going to try to get a few studio oils done!


February 24, 2014

On Beauty

A risky topic I suspect and rather an unfashionable one too. Roger Scruton wrote a book on it recently which I must read. You cannot say what beauty is any more than you can define joy,  love or indeed art. Concepts that are intensely personal are prone to be abused by people in arguments because due to the flexibility and nebulousness of their definitions they can be used to make points that cannot be argued against. The argument will go for example that in a particular circumstance anything can be beautiful. The weakness in these arguments is I think that a cleanly defined beautiful/not-beautiful, art/not-art boundary is assumed. However such phantasms of the human spirit can be brought more into focus even if they are not subject to an outright definition. We can for example say that for the most part we find regular faces more pleasing than ones deformed from the norm. There is a lot of research in that area that shows we like the facial features to be symmetrical and averaged. The images of many faces overlaid and blended are disconcertingly beautiful and show that we are looking for differences from the norm as a way of deciding genetic worthiness/unworthiness.

This does not always follow with real encounters of course. Someone might have a face that is transformed by character and animation. Nonetheless perhaps our underlying assessments of beauty are slanted towards the reassuring. We might admire a verdant and peaceful landscape or a dramatic mountain scene, but we might assign them differing types of beauty. For an arable farmer the verdant land would be attractive as a home whereas the rugged mountain less so. Our farmer might find them both beautiful but in contrasting ways. It is quite plain to me that the early cave painters found beauty in the animals they hunted that went beyond the straight forward desire for a successful hunt.

Thus we are immediately mired in the boggy land of the aesthetic. Hurrying on the heels of aesthetics come those who would tell us what is fitting/fashionable and what is not. Currently beauty and decoration are very much off the menu. We are supposed to like the sparse. Our dream apartments have empty spaces, plain surfaces and white walls. I cannot help but wonder if this is perhaps a choice caused by hoovers rather than aesthetic concerns! When designing exhibitions of decorative items from historical times we place them in sparse minimal cases. To me they always look a little sad in such soulless arrays, like butterflies pinned in drawers. They seem like items in a shop rather than exhibits in a museum intended to fire our imaginations.

In architecture beauty has been completely outlawed it sometimes seems. There is little built that moves beyond the grim utilitarianism of financial objectives and cupidity. When decorative items are used they are plastic panel doors with cartoon graining, the result is depressing rather than uplifting. Architects generally seem to be comfortable with repetition but not rhythm. Being uplifting and enriching our daily lives is, we seem to have forgotten, the whole point of decoration. In furniture we are in the thrall of anally retentive Scandinavians or those who wish to emulate them. I am not totally in disagreement, bad decoration is indeed often worse than none. Alas because we don’t do much training in the area of decoration the few examples that do appear are for the most part weak pastiche cobbled together from found images using photoshop. The decorative arts were once a big thing and lauded, why this is no longer true is a puzzle.

The only real thing I can think of is the advent of mechanical production. We have adjusted our aesthetic to suit the available means of production, maintenance and distribution rather than the other way round. We perhaps associate the hand made with the crudeness of DIY, some hand made objects seem to need to advertise their handmadeness by adding rusticity or similar.

We also tend to confuse beauty in a seen thing such as a mountain or an object made with no visual intent such as a worn wall with the beauty inherent in an object made by a human being who has laboured to gain a skill. If you splash paint randomly or even semi randomly on a canvas it will be nice to look at. If I wet some watercolour paper and pour colour on it I may well get a very attractive and interesting surface. This however is mostly the same sort of beauty as we get from admiring the patterns on a beach. The beauty in an art object is different because of the skill and the fact that a person has sacrificed part of their life in order to achieve the ability. Due to the arguments put forwards in the 20th century we tend to conflate these kinds of beauty. The weathered wall is not of any real cultural significance even if torn from its place and put in a gallery.

Music mostly does not suffer from this confusion. We might get an emotional surge when we listen to the wind in the trees, but we do not confuse that, except in moments of poetic hyperbole, with music. We do not confuse a person noodling on the piano in a random untrained manner with music either… the difference to a concert pianist is obvious and no one would say that the random noodling is art of the same order as the pianist’s bravura performance.

The statement that everyone is an artist is very much not true. To be an artist you must firstly be a fully formed craftsperson, only then should a small proportion of the resultant work be deemed “Art”.


henley on Thames, Thames, flood, river, plein air, oil painting


This is the recent floods at Henley. Some fascinating transformations of familiar scenes. We were lucky to get some brilliant light and a mostly dry day.


henley upon Thames, Thames, Plein air, oil painting


Another from the same day. The shadows were only momentarily thrown across the road. 8in by 10in oils.


Thames Henley, river flood, oil painting


Last one of the day, we found a flooded road that reflected the last light. I had to paint this very rapidly! 12in by 12in oils. The first use of my new 12in by 20 in pochade… I will add pictures of it at the end for the painting gear nerds!


interior, oil painting


The next day was very wet and windy so we went to and painted an interior in a friend of Steven Alexander’s wonderfully cluttered cottage. 10in by 12in oils.


Jermyn St, Mayfair, London, street, oil painting


This is Jermyn Street in Mayfair painted on an expedition with the Brass Monkeys. Not quite sure what to do with this one, it is a bit like an empty stage waiting for the actors to arrive! 10in by 16in oils.


Jermyn St, Mayfair, London, Brass Monkeys, oil painting


Another from Jermyn St. I had to add a figure to reduce the dominance of the car. 8in by 10in oils.


Kent, track, Aylesford, oil painting.


A day out painting with friends. This is a track above Aylesford in Kent… we went to paint the dramatic wide view of the Medway valley and ended up painting a muddy track! 10in by 10in oils.


East Farleigh, Kent, oil painting


This is East Farleigh, the river was in full flood but I found the light in this very attractive. I was nearly run over a few times but really enjoyed trying to make something of the split composition. Painting up a hill always produces challenges to as you have to make sure that the cues are there to explain your view point. 10in by 16in oils.


Trafalgar Square, London


I don’t often do this kind of sketch, but as it was a Brass Monkey day and I also had to attend the Wapping Group private view I needed to wear clothes ungarnished with oil paint! So pen and wash was the order of the day. pen and wash is a great combination and I really should do more of them.


St Martins Lane, London, watercolour

Last one before heading to the Mall Galleries. The day was very flat but St Martins Lane always supplies some contrast due to the height of the buildings and the narrowness of the street. 5in by 7in watercolour.



Here it is… a mighty 12in by 20in. It is still light, but would be a bit of a handful in the wind! Due to the size it has some storage so I should be able just carry this and the tripos which will make quite a light set up for its size. Next I need to work out something for 16in by 20in canvasses…



I also created some rain protection from the brolly that bit the dust in Dulwich a week or so ago.

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