Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

January 28, 2015


When writing another post I looked up Contemporary Art on Wikipedia. The entry is confused to say the least, but after a certain amount of dithering settles on “still living” as the deciding factor. Well I am still alive but I doubt if a “contemporary” gallery would put my work on its walls. The word “contemporary” is one that is guaranteed to provoke a rant from me. On the program “Grand Designs” nice but a bit dim Kevin uses it a lot. So do architects, kitchen and bathroom designers, architects and anyone else who wants to sell you stuff. This has been especially difficult for me as I have been browsing kitchen and bathroom online stores. It essentially means boring with no decoration. When modern designers do attempt decoration the result is often risible and clumsy. Decoration requires a degree of historical knowledge and proportion that is just not taught today.

Contemporary interiors are mostly zero clutter affairs mostly with no charm whatsoever. Not a patch on the simple Japanese interiors that it could be argued inspired them. “Japanese?”, you cry. Yes it all came from Japan. Some of the ideas came from Laozi, a philosopher and the founder of Taoism, who held to the “aesthetic ideal of emptiness”. Designers in the Bauhaus and elsewhere saw Japanese tea sets and writing sets all of which would look fine in one of todays so called contemporary spaces. They got their ideas back in the form of the international style which is still in the process of destroying beauty in architecture around the world.

I sometimes think the whole modernist movement is the avoidance of criticism. If you merely splash paint randomly on your canvas, or paint it a single colour or one colour with two stripes then you are reducing the number of things that can be criticised. With no reference points no concrete judgement can be made. If I draw a figure this is not the case, proportion, economy of line, quality of line, tonal arrangement, relation of the figure to the page, character, balance of light and shade, the list is really depressingly long! With a minimalist painting with only a fews elements the placing of those features is inevitably overwhelmingly important, which is why in my opinion good minimalist painters are so vanishingly thin on the ground. Post modernism is an odd thing as far as I can see it is modernism unchanged, it was just invented because people felt the need to move forward, but could not see how, so they just changed the name and carried on with the same old stuff.

One of my own experiences in the design world is that if you put anything interesting in it will be commented on, if it gets commented on people will have opinions, those opinions will differ and whatever was interesting will get cut. Something that inspires no comment will however slip by without really being considered. This all promotes a blank grey average which we can see today all around us. Partially it is due to democracy. We have this idea that if we take a broad spread of opinions about something and average them it will result in an improvement. This is not the case however with art or design. Much in the same way if you took everyone’s favourite colour and mixed them together you would not come up with anything other than muddy greeny grey.

Contemporary art tends to discourage intelligent opinions. People are reduced to saying, “Oh a child could do it!” often not because they are stupid or unsophisticated, but because the work itself has shut out all possibility of a worthwhile stance to take in regard to it. For me if it is not possible for a viewer to inhabit a work in some way, then it is poorly done.

Painting time has been thin on the ground of late, so not too much to show, and the longest gap between posts I have ever left in a number of years.


Watercolour, sisters

I was sneakily taking pictures at Christmas when I was sussed by two granddaughters of my host… the resulting snap had something I liked, I might make an oil painting out of this, the water colour doesn’t quite work but an oil might.


Drawing, regents canal, london, pen and ink

This was a day spent drawing in and around Roman Rd in London. This is just by the Regents canal. Very chilly wind but the day was lovely.


regents canal London, drawing, pen and ink

This is a few yards away looking the other direction into the city. Even colder here, like sitting in a wind tunnel! I just indicated the tones of the more dense hatched areas by doing a small section. Then filled in the rest somewhere warmer…


Roman Rd, London, pen and ink, drawing

I got even less of this done on site. Just the drawing and an indication of how the tones were to fade in the distance. Looking south from the Roman Rd.


Fontmell Down, Dorset, watercolour

Went walking with a friend and this view of Fontmell Down in Dorset looked wonderful. So I went back at the same time a couple of days later and I was in luck it looked even better! Watercolour.


West Bay, Bridport, Dorset, Railway station, watercolour

This is West Bay station near Bridport in Dorset. This is studio but I noted the time of day so shall go back and paint it en plain air when I get the chance. Watercolour.


Life Drawing, watercolour

A life sketch to finish up!

December 22, 2014

What is a picture?

I occasionally try to reassess where I am, having just had a very unsuccessful exhibition with no sales or indeed visitors to it. It is easy to be despondent, but I am a veteran of pulling myself up by my bootstraps so I tend not to go into a emotional spin as I would have done a decade or so earlier. I have sold enough paintings to know people will buy them and with no visitors going to the show, I am plainly in the wrong place at the wrong time. The problem for me is that I don’t really want another career, I have had three or four already. I am forced to the obvious conclusion that successfully selling pictures will take more of my time than painting them. At my stage of life I just do not have that time to spare. I am hugely fortunate that I don’t need as yet to sell them to put food on the table! So what I want to consider is what a painting should and should not be from my own selfish point of view.

I do a particular sort of painting which is intended to be processed in a certain way. I don’t paint something that has any surprises hidden away. So no incongruities, my early work was rife with them and I still do them occasionally as in this year’s Christmas card. They are fun but a cheap trick really. I could make my images out of a lot of smaller things, buttons insects you name it. This is quite popular direction at the moment but another cheap trick that soon palls. I could make my paintings very big or very small, or paint them on an unexpected surface like an elephant. Again fun, but only for a moment. So what am I up to?

Well, I don’t want any stylistic, methodistic or conceptual quirk. No easy fashionable trait that appeals to some ephemeral interest. I want to trim away any connection to conceptualism, I am not a purveyor of ideas in paint. I do not want to foist my emotion upon you, or the sweaty recesses of my subconscious. I don’t want to shock, educate, challenge or disgust you. I do not want to explore new possibilities or break new ground, I want no box to think outside of, no edge to bleed. I do not want to have originality and novelty as my guiding light. I don’t want to re-appraise the past or anticipate some imaginary future.

I paint on flat surfaces that are rectangular not because they are interesting, but because they are mundane. They are the average the unremarkable, I don’t want what I do to gain any especial significance from its form. I don’t wish to record for any posterity or comment on any contemporary shared experience. I want neither the poetic , the gritty reality nor the romantic. Of course I inevitably do many of the things listed above, but perhaps I should count it as a failure when I do. It is easier indeed to list the things I do not wish my work to contain than to dissect out the things that I do.

So, what is this picture I wish to paint? Firstly it is a picture. This means it is to be looked at and processed with the every day equipment we use on the actuality that surrounds us. So it is an illusion, but a knowing one, there is no expectation of fooling anyone or deluding them. It is easy to be lured down the path of abstraction, to believe that by simplifying you are distilling and increasing the potency of your work. Simplicity and complexity are however just tools in the box to be used at will, not ambitions to be striven for.

I suppose I get nearest to my aim very occasionally with a simple life drawing. Perhaps something that took 5 minutes. You have no time to consider or plan, no chance to fear failure. There is merely the surface, the paint, the eye, the hand with the brush and the subject. There is one other thing though. There are the myriad tangled paths laid down over many years in the few pints of porridge in my head, without these nothing can occur, but with them maybe something approaching a small miracles can be achieved, humble ones it is true, but miracles none the less. Lazarus is raised from his bed, but not perfectly, a bit of a squint and a bad limp, but I hope breathing not dead!

On a few watercolours recently I really tried to track my thinking, emotion and get at how that related to the actual process and progress of the making. Which bit of me is being satisfied and what is it that provokes me to continue. Firstly just the exercise of a skill that has been built up over a lifetime is rewarding. Not in any deep sense, but in the simple sense of solving a difficult crossword. All paintings start with the hope of what they might be, like a skier you are at the top of the mountain with the steep route down laid out before you. Like our skier I anticipate the run ahead. Also like the skier once you have pushed off gravity and dealing with events on the ground to be covered form the actual experience. So there is that excitement of thrills and potential spills about the activity. The analogy breaks down though due to the fact that a painting is a thing that accrues from many small actions many of which are evident in the final work.

The final moments of a picture are the ones that have the greatest emotional weight. The idea of when something is finished is a difficult one that I am I think going to struggle to define. I actually don’t like the word finished, complete is a better term I feel. In the event a painting could be considered complete at quite a few stages in its development. We all know the sinking feeling that your picture probably looked better half an hour ago! The real reward though is when it all comes together and the result is greater than the sum of the actions that made it. That is what I mean by complete, when it needs nothing added or taken away.  Only the artist feels this feeling, whether it adds up to a painting that others might enjoy I don’t know. I do know that a day that includes a painting that I am pleased with is a very good day perhaps indeed that is all that matters!!

This post is quite heavy on the life drawings, as I have said these are some of the things that please me most but are least liked by others I suspect. Certainly I can’t imagine them ever selling. I have been very busy building a new studio but have managed to sally forth and paint a few times.


Blackheath, sunset, London, oil painting

This one of Blackheath in London was very fast and furious, the sun was setting fast so it all had to be done in 30 min. Great fun to do, the colours are especially hard to judge as the light fades on your palette and painting until you can’t really see what you are doing. I try to remember where I mixed each area of colour so that once home I am not unpleasantly surprised! 10in by 16in Oils.


Child Okeford, Dorset, High St, Oil painting

There could hardly be more contrast! From glorious sunset at the end of a lovely day to the grey beginnings of a very wet one. This is Child Okeford where I now live, so you will see more from here. I have a few unfinished ones of this scene as it looks good in different lights. Unfortunately the best views are from standing in the road so they will have to be done from reference. 10in by 14in. Oils.


Dungeon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

This is the view from the interestingly name Dungeon Hill just south of where I am now in Dorset. There is a forgotten hill fort on top of the hill where I will paint again in the future. 8in by 10in watercolour.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, Painting.

This is the wonderful Hambledon Hill on a very chilly morning. I had to really struggle to get the soft feeling that the light had and to keep the areas of contrast balanced. 6in by 11in Watercolour.


Sketch, figure painting

Rather a swathe of figure work now I fear! I have joined a local group of life drawers. The session takes place in a village hall where on wall is glass. I absolutely love the light which streams in from one side. This is 10 min.


life drawing

Even less time for this, 5min or so, just enough time to get the silhouette and the stance roughly in.


Life drawing

Another very quick one, these quick studies are very good for honing your observational skills, there is no time to be fussy.


life drawing

Another 5 min. Watercolour is wonderful for these rapid studies.


figure drawing

A slightly longer pose this was 15 min I think.


life drawing

I loved doing this one, I only just had time to pick out the figure from the initial broad washes.


life drawing

At last a 30 min one, I love foreshortening it is so hard to get it convincing and not just looking misshapen!


life drawing

This session I tried to really reduce my media to just two elements, wash and line in two colours. I start with the wash and then add just enough line to explain the form.


life drawing

I very much enjoyed painting this against the light. You have to try to avoid over stating any area. Here I overworked the hand on the knee, whereas the hand on the chin is just the right level of tone and line.


life drawing

More foreshortening I was almost sitting on that foot!


life drawing

I actually stopped before the pose finished here, there seemed nothing more to add.


life drawing

On the next session I added toned paper to the mix.


Life drawing

Very quick again about 5min.


I added touches of chalk here, maybe paint would have been better.


I will do more of these line and wash ones they are great for stating the basics, the line and the wash each compliment and don’t do each others work.


life drawing

Longer poses I think paint rather than chalk in future. The line gets a little lost here I must be less heavy handed with the tones on the longer poses.


life drawing

Last one I got all the elements working decently here. Sorry for the swathe of life drawing now for something completely different…


Christmas Card

Many thanks and a Happy Christmas to all the people who read my waffle or look at the pictures and the odd poor soul who peruses both!

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