Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

November 11, 2014

Getting Old

Filed under: Dorset,Drawing,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 6:39 pm

It is a common idea that as painters age they gain in wisdom and depth which makes their late works more resonant and moving. This idea was key to Simon Schama’s latest program on the late Rembrandt. I  enjoyed the program but it was an extremely orthodox view which I am tempted to question. If you look at the great man’s paintings they actually in my opinion fall off a great deal in quality. I suspect some problems with his vision as Titian and Turner show much the same retreat into inchoate yellow orange tones. With Rembrandt of course falling off in quality is a relative term, he was in my opinion one of the all time greats. What I dislike is the hijacking of this change in quality, probably brought about by diminuition of sight, as a harbinger of modernism. This was the final line of Shama’s spiel. I have heard this argument and commented on it in relation to Turner in earlier posts. In my opinion to take this view is deeply silly. None of these artists as far as I can see could have had any understanding or sympathy with what we call modernism. What we see in their works is physical decline not a new visionary conceptual direction.

This is well illustrated by this quote from a letter from Monet to Marc Elder, in 1922 He wrote, “in the end I was forced to recognize that I was spoiling them [the paintings], that I was no longer capable of doing anything good. So I destroyed several of my panels. Now I’m almost blind and I’m having to abandon work altogether. It’s hard but that’s the way it is: a sad end despite my good health!” . Yet these same canvasses are now held up as the artist making a bold step forwards towards abstraction. For Monet however they were a desparate struggle against increasing blindness. Why abstraction should so often be regarded as a step forward in this road to Damascus manner rather irritates me as abstraction has always been with us in one form or another and cannot really seen as step toward nirvana. There it is though, we are constantly assured that moving from representation to abstraction is like gaining adulthood and leaving the whimsy and the toys of childhood behind.

I have been rather distracted by building a studio in my new garden and the general hassle of relocating a hundred miles from London. It has been very frustrating seeing the countryside of Dorset looking very paintable while I was doomed to be wheeling barrows of concrete for foundations. Still I have managed a few bits and bobs. Also I have a fair few pictures in this exhibition at Bankside with the United society of Artists.

 

oil painting, Dorset, plein air

A tiny oil I snatched the time to paint, it is going to take a little while to adapt fully to doing pure landscape. The relative lack of people will be one of the greatest changes.

 

Child Okeford, fog plein air, oil painting

I did this in about 15 min on a damp foggy morning. Walking through the village to get my morning pint of milk was so magical that I had do rush out and try to catch it.

 

St Martins Lane, London Plein air, oil painting

Briefly back in London to paint with the Brass monkeys. I am experimenting with different primes on my boards, this is wuite a rough one with marble dust in the acrylic gesso. Unusually I took this to a finish on site. oils 10in by 14in.

 

Admiralty Arch, London, plein air, oil painting

After making a mess of two looking down Whitehall I settled to paint Admiralty Arch, only about 45min for this little sketch but I was pleased with the feel. 8in by 10in oils.

 

Surrey St, London, plein air, Oil painting

I managed another quick excursion before heading back to the country. This is looking down Surrey St from Mary Le Strand. 10in by 14in oils.

 

Parsons Green, Fulham, New Kings Rd, pen and ink

I got up to London for a single day but just took my drawing stuff. It was a fantastic day around Parsons Green in Fulham, the low winter light is fantastic and you can draw or paint all day really. This is the New Kings Rd .

 

Parsons Green, Fulham, London, pen and ink, drawing

A very quick sketch on the way back to the station. This is the North end of Parsons Green. Pen and ink.

 

Southbank Carousel, drawing, pen and ink.

As my train wasn’t until 8pm I sat on the Thames South Bank and drew the Carousel. After doing a very rough pencil outline I got the figures in first, some are just sketched from passers by, and others cribbed from snaps on my iPhone. Much of the sky hatching I did on the train home! That’s it Posts will be a bit few and far between for a while but I shall still be snatching the odd chance to paint and draw.

September 12, 2014

The perils of perfection

Filed under: Dorset,London,Painting,Thames,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:47 am

I have always been interested in big questions. What we are doing here etc. As I have read and lived longer I no longer expect answers but rather find the questions engaging for their own sake. Reading about philosophy, religion and science have been an abiding interest my whole life.

I tend to focus on the world in which I find myself rather than my own internal workings. I have meditated and it has taught me that I am possibly the least interesting thing in my own world. I have gazed at my navel and found it distinctly dull! Initially everything as far as I can see comes from the outside in. You can give out no reaction into the world other than a reaction to what has been previously perceived. Yes, I’m afraid we are back to painting… That damn silly idea that we are somehow painting what is within us.

To make it absolutely clear. As far as I can see everything you emote, paint, write or crochet was prompted by external influence. You only processed the information, gave it back a little changed or perhaps garbled. You might say gave it back as a reflection seen dimly in a flawed mirror. You can perhaps glean a little of the painter from a painting it could maybe say a little about out inner nature, but the hints and clues are encoded into the imperfections of what we create when we echo back our perceptions on to canvas.

So here we go, this post’s idea. Imperfections are sometimes a good thing. Firstly we all find it hard to relate to perfection. Those stark modernist interiors so loved by architects seem made for some other more ideal, tidier person than ourselves. The obsessive recreations of photographs which seem to me to have little resonance other than the marvelling at the patience of the artist and whatever charms the original image had. Perfectly executed abstracts with no indecision to be seen are like a door shut in my face.

To consider the obverse for a moment there is also a problem with those works which are all imperfections through lack of intent or skill. A resonant imperfection is perhaps an aiming high and falling short or hitting a another part of the target than that which was aimed for. Wildly throwing stuff over your canvas is telling others very little about the artist, only about the nature of randomness or the physics of falling and dribbling paint. Many seem to think that expressiveness is caused by the vigour of the application and the suppression of the intellect. Such a work may well be decorative and exciting to behold, but only has a subtext that the viewer brings to it not what the creater imbued it with. A work of art is not a certainty expressed but more of an uncertainty made flesh.

Making a work of art is always I feel treading on the edge of what is possible for an individual human being to achieve. Un-intuitively if you set yourself a goal that simple enough to be actually achievable then you have I suspect by definition already failed.

I often hear painters referring to the work of others as too tight, or “Tight as a duck’s arse.” There might be no element in the painting wrong but still there is no life. What it really means is that if everything is resolved then there is no mystery for the imagination of the viewer to dwell in. Excessive clarity and certainty lock the viewer out, they can view but not inhabit the painting. I have been wondering of late why this is so and come to a few tentative conclusions.

We do not for the most part perceive things accurately, it would take up too much processing power. So what we do is look for discontinuities. If something is vaguely plausible then the eye will accept it, but if it somehow falls outside those bounds it draws more attention as a potential risk area. When this ability to sort the seen environment developed it was, I am guessing, for spotting problems and threats, not looking at paintings. However I think much the same happens with a made image. If you take an abstract, say in the manner of Barnet Newman, then spray a representational face in one corner, that face will destroy the abstract qualities and a hue and cry will duly follow. Adding another stripe while the museum attendant isn’t looking could be missed for weeks or longer. The first is incongruous the second in keeping.

When you paint an observed image of a city the same sort of thing occurs. A variation in the style of the windows will pass unnoticed but an inaccuracy in the perspective will cause unease. When you paint a scene there is a locus of position and other attributes that lies within the possible, but if you overstep those bounds then it will feel wrong to the veiwer. This is not necessarily something to be avoided it is more of a tool to be aware of and exploit. The more an image is defined the more the possibility of some part feeling wrong increases and also the further it gets from the way we actually perceive the world.

This is the reason I find over defined figures feel stiff and can look frozen in place. If the flower garden you paint is too perfect then it feels as if the wind could never blow nor birds fly. As I get older my paintings seem to get untidier. This is partly reducing patience but also because I fear killing the painting by overworking. It is better I have discovered to stop early than to go on until it has no life!

Not so many paintings as I have been busy painting house walls white rather than pictures.

 

Southwark, London, plein air, oil painting, wapping group

The Shard has changed many scenes in London, this is the view from Southwark Cathedral. It is a dramatic object that tends to dominate any scene, but on the whole I like it. It is a struggle to fit into a painting though. 10in by 10in oils.

 

Shard, London Bridge, London, Southwark, oil painting, Wapping group

A sucker for punishment I took it on again! I thought the vertical format would be a good idea but seeing it on screen tells me that cropping 4in off the top would improve the picture hugely. So much so that I might do a studio one of this. I will have to go back and look at it in various lights first. 16in by 10in. Oils.

 

Southwark, London, plein air, oils, wapping group

Last one from Southwark. It was a Wapping Group day so I sat with Steve Alexander and did this. Only 30 min or so but the best of the day. I had to adjust a few of the figures later to make the composition revolve around the two lighter figures. 8in by 10in oils.

 

St John Smiths Square, London, plein air, Wapping group, oil painting

Another Wapping Group day this time around the Westminster area. This is St John Smiths Square. A very beautiful square but hard to get away from the church which fills the centre. The light teased me horribly on this one, the light through the trees attracted me to paint it then the day went gloomy! I pegged away at it and was just packing up when the sun came back, so I whipped out my brushes again and added the touches of light. Amazing how so few touches of tone can transform an otherwise dull painting. 10in by 14in oils.

 

St John Smiths Square, London, plein air, oil painting, wapping group

I moved around the square for this one, only a sketch I shan’t take it further but I will return to the square as it has a couple of great subjects to paint. 10in by 10in oils.

 

mill bank, London, thames, wapping group, oil painting

I stood with the traffic bombing past me along the Millbank opposite the Tate. I liked the swoop of the road and the afternoon light which was warming as the evening drew on. It is not possible to resolve a complex picture like this in an hour, but I try to work over them evenly so everything is at the same level of focus. If you do this they feel finished even though much is left incomplete. 10in by 16in.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour

While working on my new house in Dorset I managed to get a couple of sketches done on my daily walk over Hambledon Hill. I am really looking forward to painting these landscapes more intensively. While painting this the the wind was moving the paint across the paper like mad… so I can’t really claim to have painted the sky it was mostly done by the weather! 8in by 10in watercolour.

 

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour

Another view of the hill, it transforms dramatically with the light. The next day I went up later and the light was fabulous but I didn’t have my paints with me and my camera ran out of battery! 5in by 7in watercolour.

 

Hambledon hill, Dorset, watercolour

It is hard to make good compositions on the hill. This look wonderful to the eye but somehow doesn’t come together into a picture. 5in by 7in watercolour.

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