Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 27, 2015

Art and Science

The rise of science roughly mirrors the downfall of the arts in society’s estimation. Art had been very much in the camp of belief as to put it baldly: that was where the work was. Art and artists have always adapted to the needs of whoever was at the top of the heap. This new master of reason and experimentally tested knowledge had no real need of paintings. The futurists, Bauhaus and constuctivists all made hopeful offerings, but neither science, industry nor the general public were much interested. The artists let’s be honest didn’t find much inspiring in it either, there were a few portraits of worthy enquirers next to their instruments and Rembrandt’s autopsy, also that one of the dove dying in a glass sphere by Joseph Wright. Hook’s wonderful drawings of what he saw through the microscope deserve an honourable mention too.

Religion faced much the same problem. The religious establishment at first welcomed scientific enquiry, confident it would inevitably confirm their beliefs. However once the discoveries of science began to squeeze the Deity into a smaller and smaller corner they lost their enthusiasm and started to lock the scientists up and threaten to burn them if they didn’t deny their findings. Painting in a similar way as religion was a lens through which the world might be seen in a new perspective, but science had an ace… it was demonstrably true. Religion might say that miracles occurred and heavy objects might fly through the air, but they couldn’t come up with the goods to order like science could. A jumbo jet would have been given a miraculous cause if seen by our forbears. Indeed that is exactly what happened when isolated tribes saw American planes landing on strips cut into their jungles. Aha, they thought, if we cut a strip of our own then planes carrying treasure will be drawn to land. Poignantly they even carved the radio equipment out of wood. Cargo cults are a fascinating window into religious logic.

Now we might think how foolish those islanders were, but given the state of their inherited knowledge I think it was a pretty good call. What is more uncomfortable is that the current thinking underpinning the worth and purpose of Art is several degrees worse. How this occurs in the first place is worthy of consideration. Roger Scruton has talked interestingly on this and introduces the idea of the “liar” and the “fake”. The liar is aware of his or her own dishonesty, but the fake intentionally chooses for whatever reason to believe in or espouse something untrue. Or as I myself think, think they carefully don’t examine certain underlying concepts as that might bring the whole intellectual house down. Certainly art theorists and critics often seem to elevate weak suppositions into axioms to bolster their view of things.

Is it really possible that our whole current art thinking is just a fantasy? Well, looking back in history you would have to say yes. At some point in history some probably perfectly intelligent persons thought that killing children might improve the crops… or carving huge stone heads secure the future. The idea that an object becomes imbued with an extra iconic quality merely because an artist says so is just as silly. There must have been people who thought and even said that sacrificing children was not the way, but public and establishment opinion was plainly not on their side. So it is today, I might rant and rail, I can attempt to make sure my arguments are coherent and well founded, but almost certainly to no avail.

The art lie is a very profitable lie. It is the same with quackery. Once upon a time you merely said that this or that object was blessed by some saint or other and would heal you. Now they make up sciencey sounding nonsense about energies, realignments, detoxes and infinite dilutions. Art has stepped neatly in the footsteps of quackery, artists now explore, investigate, experiment and question. It grieves me I have to say that my chosen activity in life seems to require hawking the results in a somewhat dishonest manner. I know that my paintings have no special extra quality. There is no spiritual energy in them, they cannot really reach out but only offer the possibility of aesthetic reward if the viewer reaches in. They are what they are: board, paper and paint arranged in a pattern, there is no magic quality. That does not however mean that they cannot be interesting or gauged to attract attention and give pleasure.

Now that is an idea that is out of vogue… visual pleasure, a fair few contemporary painters would recoil in horror at the thought. However if there is one thing that I have found by painting out of doors is that people get pleasure from paintings. Perhaps one in fifty walking by will stop and exclaim that your painting is beautiful and there must be more that are intrigued but too shy to say. Now 2% is a lot of people, so all hope is not lost! The problem is that that 2% have very few places to see current painting, and even if they do we have an art establishment and media assuring them that they are backward looking and irrelevant in any case. As with the child sacrificers and the heretic burners most people will just accept it if the powers that be say it must be so.

The real magic, if it can be so called, is the astonishing luck of being embodied as a conscious thinking being who is capable of appreciating paintings and all the other wonderful things that surround us..

I have been enjoying the oils now that I have my new studio up and running. having a sky light is wonderful and makes it so much easier to judge tones. Clear days give a rather blue cast which has to be taken into consideration, but painting in there is a real pleasure. It is also lovely sitting with the doors wide open and the sound of the birds, bees, tractors, screaming children, lawn mowers and chainsaws drifting in.

 

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, oil painting

This is the famous “Hovis” view of Gold Hill in Shaftesbury in Dorset. It took a couple of goes as by the time I had finished drawing it out the light had moved on to the fronts of the houses which wasn’t the picture I wanted to paint. Next day the light was better though, softer with a delicious haze into the distance. Chocolate box I know, but it is not the sort of subject that lends itself to a painting with any street cred. Maybe I should add a skip and a burnt out car or two… 10in by 12in Oils.

 

Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Nocturne, Oil Painting

A week later I washed up in Shaftesbury again, but late in the evening to attend a friend’s private view. After eating a curry, I had a mad urge to paint a nocturne… this is not it really as I don’t think any of the first session is left! The atmosphere and general tones survive though. 12in by 16in Oils.

 

Battersea, Thames, London, plein air, oil painting, barge

A quick trip up to town to paint with the Brass Monkeys. This is Battersea, I don’t paint many barges but this one took my fancy due to the angle at which it was moored. 8in by 10in Oils.

 

Blandford Forum, Wet day, street, Dorset, oil painting

This was an experiment in that I did a grisaille to establish the tones. I was working in part from a pen drawing done on the spot and also from a rather blurry phone snap. Here it is in its first stages about half an hour in.

 

Blandford Forum, Dorset, Oil Painting

The subject is Blandford Forum in Dorset again. As rebuilt in early Georgian times by the Bastard Brothers after the old town was destroyed by a great fire. Doing the monochrome layer underneath gives a great unity of tone which is important in a picture like this where many of the tones are quite close. Dull days are especially interesting to paint for this reason. 12in by 16in Oils.

 

Wells, St Cuthberts, oil painting, Somerset

This is Wells in Somerset. Not the cathedral but St Cuthberts. It was a fantastic day with tremendous light but I didn’t have my oils with me so this is a studio picture. Lots to paint in Wells and it is only 40 min away. I really am spoilt for choice where I am now. 12in by 16in Oils.

 

Baker Arms, Child Okeford, Dorset, watercolour

I quick dash with the watercolours. this is Child Okeford and my local pub The Baker Arms. Would love to paint this angle en plein air, but a 4 by 4 would run you over, so this is studio. Watercolour. 7in by 12in

 

Thames, London, Tower Bridge, pen and ink, drawing

To town again to meet with the Wapping Group. I travelled light so stuck to the pen and ink.

 

Southwark, London, pen and ink, Drawing

This busy corner took my eye and I crouched under my brolly to do this.

 

Southwark, London, Pen and Ink, cathedral

Last one of the day. This is Southwark Cathedral.

 

Child Okeford, St Nicholas, Dorset, pen and Ink

This is St Nicholas in Child Okeford, I was very taken with the splashes of afternoon light across the road. I sometimes get chastised for putting in vans and such… but who could leave out a magnificent example of a 2014 Mercedes Sprinter? I shall ignore them, philistines all…

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.

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