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.

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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