Rob Adams a Painter's Blog

August 14, 2014

Observationalism

Filed under: Art History,Drawing,Painting,Philosophy,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rob Adams @ 4:29 pm

Yes a new “ism” I had thought there must have been a movement in art history that had laid claim to the term, but it seems not. Well now it’s mine! I thought of it when I was trying to find a term for what I was doing. In simple terms I am translating what I see on to a flat surface using paint or other media. The key to this is in the “translation” word. I am not copying, I am finding equivalents.

So some definitions, being an Observationalist means you are empirical taking your cues from the world, responding to the experiences of the world that your senses bring you. You are neither trying to add a subtext from elsewhere nor trying to exclude all your individual nature. You are rendering how you personally see it, filtered through the constraints of ability and medium. I am trying to make an object that is eloquent in presenting how I saw a time and place, but not an unbiased representational record.

Realism, has aspects of Observationalism but tries to exclude style and idealisation. When you re-arrange a landscape to improve the composition or adjust the tones to create a focus then you are idealising. If you make all your trees like Claude Lorraine then you are inventing or fantasising, which is different. Style comes in two flavours, the part that results from the manner in which you carry out the act of painting and the other variety that is adopting the style of another. An Observationalist should embrace the former, but the latter should only be influence not aping. There is a difference between being influenced by Wesson and “Painting the Wesson Way”. If you are an Observationalist you are painting your own way based upon personal practical experience, which includes influences from looking at the work of others.

There can be a degree of abstraction but abstraction is not the point. There can be a degree of impressionism but impressionism is a method not an ambition. There can be an element of photographic realism, we are so influenced by the photographic image that some influence is inevitable. So we might shift the tones of our painting towards how a camera might see a scene but not try to make an image that could be confused with a mechanically produced image. If painting from the figure there can be character and activity but not story telling. So a few people sitting at a table would be fine but to have them arranged to make some moral point would not. I will add some images to make the finer distinctions clear as words are not adequate.

Some of the ideas from this screed came when a few days ago I was working upon a studio picture. It consists of a London scene with quite a few cyclists passing by. It came about when I was photographing a scene that I thought had potential for a painting when a stream of bicycles passed by. Thinking that they looked wonderful I took a whole sequence of pictures and the studio picture will contain various cyclists arrange to form a composition. The final image should look completely naturalistic. To my mind this will fit into my new “Ism” if I added a chimpanzee riding one of the bicycles it would not. I had experienced the cyclists but not the chimp!

To refine the thinking a little further. Suppose I am painting a landscape. The composition would be improved with a tree holding up one side of the composition. This would fit our new school to my mind. If however I had  a rather dull landscape and invented a dramatic tree to be the centre of interest then it might not. I could paint a dramatic tree but find it’s location a disappointment. I might then walk a few yards further on and see a setting that was perfect, stop and paint in a new background. This would be fine as both elements are observed. What I am saying is that a picture may be a mixture of observed elements, indeed some such as figures might be made up using the experience of previous observations. However if I made a portmanteaux image of observed elements on one canvas then there would no longer be a single plausible view point and the viewer could no longer put themselves behind the eyes of the painter.

To dice it finer still painting a crashed car would be on message. Painting the crash in action with one car in mid air less so. Just to make my own life difficult, how about if I welded up a support to hold a car in a dramatic in the air position and then sat and painted it? To my mind not as you would be adding a narrative that was the real subject of the painting not the object itself. However this is art, and we cannot draw hard and fast lines. I am not trying to be prescriptive. There would inevitably paintings that had a degree of observational content but had some other raison d’être. An example of this would be an allegorical scene produced using studies from life. I would feel the studies themselves would fall into the Observational net, but the final painting not, as it is about the Allegory not the observed parts.

So, are you an Observationalist?

Steve Mumford, iraq,drawing

This drawing is by Steve Mumford done in Iraq. To my mind purely observational even though there are current political overtones the drawing has no agenda. Click on the picture to see more of his work.

 

gassed sketch, singer sergeant

This sketch for Gassed by John Singer Sargent is also observational, but posed for a narrative purpose so one step away from pure observationalism.

 

Gassed, Singer Sargent

The final picture is a further step away, here observation is a tool at the service of the narrative.

 

Paul Nash

Lastly a painting by Paul Nash. Here the observational content is even less, the narrative and abstract qualities dominate.

 

So there we are I have created a new school. Unlike most new art “isms” it already has members… Rembrandt with his portraits, Monet with his landscapes, Turner in his sketches, Degas with his laundry women, even perhaps our cave man drawing a bison. It is good to feel the weight of history on your side!

 

July 22, 2014

Competitions, Clubs and Criticism

A lot of my painting days out are done as part of a group. With the Wapping Group painting every Wednesday and the Brass Monkeys every other Sunday I keep quite busy. I do feel perhaps I am not doing enough going out and painting by myself. The dynamic is quite different with a group of fellow painters, very pleasant of course with chatting and coffees to punctuate the painting. I think most of this posts offerings are in the group category. Rather a large gap in posting this time too as my laptop died and needed bits replacing.

I also attended the Pintar Rapido competition in Chelsea which was great fun. I was a little more organised this time and went there a few days before to decide on a subject. The previous year I wandered about looking for one and had to settle on a subject I wasn’t wholly in tune with.

The results when seen in the exhibition were as last year a mixture of all styles and levels of attainment. Interesting to see what I guess are art school students trying to paint the real world. They have almost no skills as such and have this naive idea that if they just go for it then a miracle will occur. Alas miracles are thin on the ground, but their self belief in unshakable. I talked to a few and they all seemed to feel skill was a minor consideration in painting. On the other hand they all seemed to admire it in others. I didn’t say I felt it was vital, as I wanted to gauge their feelings on the matter rather than impose my own views.

In the exhibition it was plain that some of the buyers didn’t think craft mattered either, but on the whole the well crafted sold better than the randomly intuitive, which is cheering. Another thing that struck me when whispering critical comments to a companion is how thin on the ground criticism is. We were whispering in case the artist was hovering nearby and our opinions overheard. In essence so that the person who might be the most likely benefit couldn’t possibly hear! Passing comment to the artist doesn’t really happen in the clubs either. I do sometimes offer an opinion if I see something really wrong that is easily corrected but try and restrain myself for the most part as offence is a very likely result.

It’s not that the criticism isn’t made, we judge and evaluate automatically. We also share our views with each other… but almost never with the artist themselves… which is odd really as they would surely be the ones most likely to get the most out of it. The result is that you tend to only hear anodyne  positives or inscrutable silences. I am in the habit of forcing the issue and asking for comments. This makes some uncomfortable and others will just tell you all is well whatever the real state of affairs!

Politeness is of course the reason for this lack of plain speaking. There is the uncomfortable fact that none of us welcome hearing that one of our efforts falls short and even less that it has fallen short in some way we hadn’t spotted. The truth is though we would all benefit from the clear sight of an uninvolved eye however bad the news, especially if that eye is educated.

What is needed I suppose is a forum where praise is banned and only observed room for improvement is mentioned. You would need rules of course. A comment like, “That is rubbish!” is of no use to any one. But a comment like “The perspective is out on that building.” or  “I’m not sure about that red patch as it takes the eye too much.” is useful as it gives a clue about putting something right. I have seen some attempts at this, the most successful being in the Life Drawing forum on WetCanvas. There people commented on anatomy and other aspects without too much bad feeling being expressed. However I think a forum where only critical comments were expressly required might work better. There are some I suppose for whom any negative comment is undermining and damaging for confidence, but IMO excellence in art (or indeed anything else) is a hard road and if you are that delicate then perhaps serious pursuit of it isn’t for you. On that harsh note some pictures… feel free to make painful but valid comments!

 

Erith, yacht club, drawing, Thames, Wapping Group

A day out with the Wappers at Erith Yacht Club. Very hot day and I was late getting there. I had just received a set of new sketch books with reproduction “Turner blue” paper. I hatched the sky but should have blocked it in with the white acrylic pen as the line work is too fussy. I might start to use white chalk as Turner himself did.

 

Erith, Thames, watercolour

I liked the way the light had developed so I did the same scene again. I am rather liking doing watercolour on the hot pressed paper. I tried using it years ago with little success but rather like its qualities now. I softened the clouds a little after this was scanned. I was pleased at how easy that was.

 

Amboise, france, watercolour, chateaux

Another historical paper effort. This is on “Girtin” type paper. Again an interesting effect. Wet into wet is almost imposssible as the paper cockles brutally.

 

Amboise, Romanesque, france, watercolour

This is the door of the church of St Denis in Amboise. The Romanesque part dates from 1107AD. Denis lost his head due to an axe. After his head was chopped off Denis is said to have picked it up and walked six miles from the summit of the hill preaching a sermon… 12in by 9in Watercolour. Done on Arches 140 paper from a large roll, I’m very glad I stocked up before the quality dropped!

 

Ransomes Dock, thames, London, Barge

Another Wapping day. This is Ransomes Dock near Albert Bridge. 10in by 10in. I thought of taking this further but decided not as it might ruin the feel which I rather liked.

 

Albert Bridge, Oil painting, plein air, thames, London

I had a short while on the foreshore to paint this as the tide raced in. Albert bridge is very pretty but I don’t like bridge pictures a great deal and wonder now why I bothered to paint this… dull but worthy alas! 10in by 16in.

 

portobello, london, pen and wash

This is Portobello, a great day with the Brass Monkeys. The road was full of life despite is being a non market day. I am enjoying the pen and wash it is great fun to splash over the pen work.

 

portobello, london, watercolour

Another very quick sketch, leaving out the pen this time. Portobello again.

 

portobello, london, pen, drawing

Last one from Portobello… it’s that Turner blue again.

 

Sloane Sq, chelsea, London, Pintar Rapido

Here’s my effort from Pintar Rapido. Not the greatest photo of the painting as I forgot to snap it in the open air and had to take the picture in low light at the exhibition. 12in by 16in Sloane Square, Oils. I had set my heart on a rainy painting and the forecast looked to be on my side. When I arrived the streets were wet from earlier rain but that was the last rain we saw! The reflections therefore are imaginary. I enjoyed painting it hugely and was delighted that it sold. If the buyer reads this they are welcome to bring it to my studio in about 3 months as it will need varnishing!

 

Rob Adams, Pintar Rapido

Here I am painting away in a somewhat colour coordinated manner.

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