Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

August 17, 2018

Birds Bees and Modernism

Filed under: Dorset,Italy,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 5:10 pm

Modernism is inextricably bound up with the historical period of its genesis. It is a reaction to a world where the goal posts have abruptly moved. The industrial revolution was the historical event, but its effects only became overwhelming in the 1840’s and later when it impinged upon every part of life in the countries initially effected. The driver was of course the successes of scientific thought. A systematic investigation of the natural world had resulted in a seismic change.

It is perhaps impossible in our age to understand how slow the evolution of society was before that point. There had of course been waves of religious ideas causing turmoil, wars and the other frictions from populations rubbing up against each other. Everyday life had however hardly changed. Its pace remained constant tied to the turning of the seasons. A medieval person would have noticed changes if moved to the 18th century, but perhaps not ones that ran very deep.

The age of manufacturing and mechanised transport changed all of this. Previously intellectual changes had only effected the upper reaches of society and the higher echelons of the church, but had left the bulk of the rural population unchanged. The industrial revolution however uprooted whole swathes of the poor and put them into a whole new circumstance.

It also vastly enlarged the middle classes as new areas of expertise were created. No longer just the blacksmith, the tanner, the joiner and the cooper, a whole new set of trades and associated skills appeared. These new occupations had no prior traditions and were evolving year by year which was an entirely new thing. Many in this new group of consumers were fascinated by new discoveries and the world outside their everyday environment.

Artists responded to this by supplying imagery of far distant lands and the curiosities they contained. Painters still painted subjects from legend and history, but with less and less confidence. Slowly that content withered and as we see with Turner and before him Claude, is finally overwhelmed by the imaginary stage sets that used to be merely the settings for classical dramas. There were of course romantic yearning glances into the rear view mirror, such as the Pre Raphaelites, but in a way they only reinforced the conviction that those days were gone forever.

Having mostly adapted to the disruption caused by the cheap reproduction of imagery the arrival of photography meant that the painters and their purpose to society were finally and irrevocably undermined. The result was a wild and exciting attempt to remake art. It was going to serve a new world. It was going to carve a niche for itself in tandem with mass production. It was going to supply the intellectual and spiritual grist to the industrial mill. The only problem being that industry did not feel the same way.

If you look at the writings of the time many seemed to believe a new and better world was to be made from the old. We still pretty much have those beliefs today although they are becoming strained. Change was to do its work and then plateau and have an end in a new and improved world for all. We have modified this a little to a dream of sustainability and living in a new harmony with the planet and each other, despite it being against all the rules that govern living things. Evolution requires that any creature that gets the upper hand multiplies until it runs out of resources or something more potent evolves.

During this time there came the idea of constant revolution. First imagined by political thinkers to prevent any future subjugation of the workers by capitalist forces, it has slowly become our everyday life. We are slowly waking up to the realisation that change is never going to settle down into a new equilibrium, or not one we will survive. So change itself becomes the only unchanging thing.

Modernism was perhaps expected to become the new vernacular. A better and more rational way of doing things that would sweep away the superstition and inertia of the old order. It was to gain something from the methods of science. Individual areas could be examined and explored. As with Newton splitting light the components of art could be separated out into elements, examined and a new understanding reached. So artists could take colour, feeling, form, narrative or any other possible attributes of an art object, as their central subject.

In architecture and industrial design the science overwhelmed the art. Buildings are practical things with budgets and many other constraints. Modern architecture might be labeled modernist, but might be better termed as pragmatist. Due to their importance as personal status objects cars and electronic devices are perhaps the most successful blending of art and science, they may perhaps be what is placed in the art galleries of some distant future.

Whatever we make it is about the “now” speaking to the times yet to come. Should we think of art as a radio station transmitting to the future? All art after all speaks the future in some way even if it is to the near future of the contemporary. A painting is made for the future gaze of another, in a similar way in which a flower blooms in the anticipation of the future attention of some hoped for bee.

So the question for artists is maybe what sort of “flower” should we paint. We can look at previous blooms that have created a buzz and attempt to emulate their success, or we can make a new flower in the hope that it might just be the future bee’s knees.

There is no answer of course, but it is an age where we can produce work in any manner we wish. Everything is old fashioned as soon as it is finished. There is no meaning left in the words, traditional, contemporary, new or indeed art. A change we perhaps haven’t yet quite caught up to is that the age of “-isms” and “-ists” is well on its way to being dead and gone.

So what is to become of all the art we produce? Those who collect and deal in art and populate our galleries have no interest in quality. The works themselves are only tokens of symbolic value in a game of oneupmanship played by the wealthy. For this use indeed measurable parameters of quality are a disadvantage, a possible weakness that might be assessed and then criticised. You can call for change all you want but I suspect it will not happen. It is easy for art schools to train an artist with no skills or any future need for them. The art investment world and the subsidy bodies, both governmental and charitable, need work that is free of the potential for concrete appraisal. The relationship is mutually beneficial and I see no way it will end.

The real art of our time may come from the commercial and amateur worlds, alas most will not reap much of a reward of either money or official recognition in their lifetimes. All artist’s work will from now on always be remembered though. There can be few painters who are not leaving a trail of digital images strewn across the internet. How this overwhelming tsunami of paintings past and present will effect the future is hard to say, but I begin to feel the result might be stagnation.

I have been distracted by painting rather than blogging recently so a miss mash of paintings… to follow.

Poole harbour, plein air, oil painting, dorset

I have been concentrating on the oils recently with an eye to improving my compositional choices. I sometimes tend to go with the obvious view when faced with a scene to get down before the light changes. This is Poole Harbour and a glorious dazzling late afternoon. I spent an age getting the relationship between the pavement and the shadows to be thrown upon it right. If the pavement was too light then the highlighted strips would lack punch, too dark and the shadows wouldn’t describe the bright sun. 14in by 8in Oils.

Poole harbour, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

After fish and chips in the pub I set about this view. Odd how a very ordinary scene can be transformed by good light. Here I worked hard at getting the underlying tones in a good relationship that explained the time of day. 16in by 10in Oils.

Sculpture on the lakes, Dorset, plein air, oil painting.

We were kindly invited to paint at Simon Gudgeon’s Sculpture by the Lakes with his sculptures set in an extensive park. The day was blindingly hot and bright with the sun high in the sky. Eventually I found this corner where the river Frome borders the gardens. 10in by 8in Oils.

Plein air, stone carver, oil painting

I was going to seek shade but I was attracted by a stone carver working near the cafe. The light was just coming over the steel wall and catching him in brilliant light. Very hard to catch this sort of subject en plein air so there was a fair bit of fiddling once I got home to get it to work properly. 10in by 8in Oils.

Sculpture by the Lakes, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

I decided a shady spot was needed next so chose this simple view. I started on a dark blue grey board so most of the shadowed areas are left unpainted by using negative shapes. Great fun and I completely lost myself in it. 10in by 8in Oils.

venice, girl, figure, brolly, oil painting

I had a few started but not finished paintings of Venice, so I spent a day trying to make something of them. This had a different figure in it and was rather boring. I had however taken snaps of passers by at the time so this lady with the lurid brolly took my fancy. Since I scanned it I repainted the background too so almost none of the original left! 6in by 12in Oils.

Venice, students, oil painting

I was very taken by these 4 Venetian students chatting outside their college. I very quickly painted their silhouettes on the spot but they moved on too quickly for anything more. I was lucky really the stayed as long as they did. With my subject gone I filled in the background and had to finish the figures from phone snaps. 10in by 8in Oils.

Venice, figures, oil painting

Another Venice one to finish off. I started this then realised it was just too busy where I was set up, so had to abandon. I had cribbed the figures from a phone snap any how so had the info to finish. This is what I started with.

Venice, tourists, oil painting, figures

Here’s the end result, the main problem was not taking it too far and loosing the mood. 8in by 10in Oils.

Garden, leaves, oil painting

Something a bit different for me… I have been meaning to paint in my garden for a while. To find my subject I got an empty 16in by 10in frame and wandered about framing bits of random shrubbery until I found something I liked. Got a crick in the neck doing this though. I started on quite a dark ground and put in the brightest areas first. Then I added the darks and finally the greens and browns. It is important to remember to draw at each point, it is oh so easy to start slapping paint on with out getting full value out of the brushstrokes. 16in by 10in Oils.

Apples, grass, oil painting

I found my next subject almost between my feet. I actually left the frame on the grass as it helped me see the tones. To do the grass I painted random dark negative shapes on my ground and then added a couple of layers of yellows and greens on top. 12in by 6in Oils.

Hengistbury Head, dorset, plein air, oil painting

Let’s get up at dawn and go painting at Hengistbury Head… that was the plan. So 7in the morning staggering out on to the beach semi conscious to attempt to paint. The light was very soft and subtle so I didn’t jump straight in but thought it through a bit. The headland needed to be dark enough to stand forward against the sky but still not above a 50% grey in tonal strength. I loved the joggers and the dog walkers so just stood for while taking photos of them was they passed. Once home I settled on these two joggers which brought my strongest dark and brightest light together. 14in by 10in Oils.

Christchurch, Priory, plein air, oil painting

A pause for breakfast and then we explored the views of Christchurch priory from across the river. As I worked I hoped for a dash of light to hit the tower. No such luck so I left it unlit… I could have made one up I suppose, but that would not be cricket… 10in by 8in Oils.

Christchurch Priory, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Another view of the Priory from across the marshes this time. I must go back here to paint late in the evening as I suspect it would be lovely. The hard part here was organising all those pesky greens and not getting any of them too lurid. I have recently added an Emerald green to my palette instead of viridian which is a wee bit scary. Still is always interesting to change your palette around, too many painters always use the same set of colours which means their pictures tend to look similar in mood whenever or wherever they paint. 10in by 10in Oils.

Blandford Forum, dorset, plein air, oil painting

I was coming out from judging the local art show in Blandford Forum when I was greeted by this sight! I took a few phone snaps and went back a day or so later. I reckoned I would not have much time so I roughly drew it out on the board from my snaps and blocked in the whole of the buildings with a dark glaze. I’m glad I did because it was a real rush with the shadows climbing up the buildings at a terrifying rate of knots! 14in by 8in Oils.

 

March 21, 2018

Significance.

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized,Watercolour — Tags: , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 9:56 pm

How important is history and context to art? Last night I watched a documentary that plainly thought context was everything. Simon Schama in the series Civilisation was of the view that art, specifically contemporary art, was fulfilling a visceral need and helping us come to terms with our lot of living in a deeply flawed and unjust world.

Fine sentiments, but where was the evidence for this? Well millions of people visiting to look at the stuff that is surely a good solid fact. So if we take Tate Modern which draws in 5.5 million per year, it sounds a lot doesn’t it? However London receives 19 million tourists per annum so most Tate visitors are in this category. We actually don’t know how many visitors are Londoners, very few I suspect. How many of these visitors gain some sort of moral solace from their visits? I would propose almost none. The numbers gaining gastronomic satisfaction in the cafe could be much higher I might suggest.

There are 60 odd million souls in the UK so how many of these are being reached? The answer is of course vanishingly small. If there really is this deeply seated need that Mr Schama went on about, almost none are getting it satisfied by looking at contemporary art. It is worthwhile considering that the three most popular soaps gain an audience of 1050 million people a year which pretty much dwarfs the art figures IE one 200th.

We are plainly, on average, not too keen on getting our art fix. Could this be because it is largely irrelevant to our lives? I am by the way not claiming any extra relevance for old art, it manages much the same sort of figures with the national gallery coming in at 6.5 million. So Art with a capital A is not important to us as a nation at all. It is only viewed by a vanishingly small elite, even more minuscule if we remove the casual tourist drop-ins and only consider the serious art viewers. So what sort of visual eye candy is enriching the average UK citizen’s eye on a day to day basis? Well a front runner must be packaging. Packaging is probably the most message heavy and art heavy imagery that crosses our visual field on a day to day basis.

Mr Schama was keen on showing artists that were, he thought, dealing in hard subjects of injustice and oppression. However you need to look more critically than Mr Schama who is too keen on greasy schmoozing with the artists to engage any critical faculties. There was a bit of work about refugees by Ai Weiwei. A huge black inflatable filled with black inflatable refugees. An interesting object, but does it make us any wiser about the plight of refugees? Who benefitted from its making and display? I suspect not the refugees in any practical way. Ai Weiwei and the galleries seem the greatest beneficiaries. I am not sneering at the artist’s efforts or questioning the worthiness of his intent, it is just that the making of the art has and can have no real bearing on the tragedy, it just feeds on it. If there were no tragedy there would have been no art and the object is meaningless once its context is removed and the tragedy forgotten. Imagine the same object bright pink and in a shopping mall.

Mr Shama hasn’t a critical bone in his body though. Another Chinese artist did forgettable stuff with gunpowder… I can’t even be bothered to look him up. The process and results were in my opinion laughable, a side show at best, all bang and no buck. The relevance of it all to big ideas and what it was meant to be commenting on were vague too. Our host oozed wonder and sycophantic praise at the results, which I have to admit infuriated me so much it made me shout at the telly.

In the initial program (I watched them in the wrong order) dealing with the first signs of ancient art underlined his poor thinking and dogmatism. When looking at cave drawings in Spain he averred: “These were not just works of art, but works of memory.” Her states this as a certainty. In his world our ancestor looked at the buffalo on the plain, fixed it’s aspect in their no doubt deeply shamanic mind and then scuttled down into the depths to draw these distinctly realistic looking bison. So did our ancient predecessors only make such images in caves? It seems more likely that the only surviving ones are in caves and they actually used such imagery elsewhere above ground too. Yet as artists we know that practice makes perfect… so the cave artist must have sketched on slate or bark, or skin to gain the facility to make the marks. It seems likely the artist looked at bison while doing this… it would be silly not to. Why would they not take sketches down with them? Alas no, Mr Shama believes in the magic man, it surely it could not be anything as prosaic as practice and observation producing these ritual images. Well the drawings look exactly the same as observed drawings do, so it seems perverse to propose they are anything other than just what they appear to be.

Indeed Shama seems to believe in the “an artist is a special person” theory in his bones. For him artists are there looking at the big picture, warning and chiding us to become better people. A sort of priesthood of whistle blowers calling time on man’s inhumanity to man. A race set apart seeing our weaknesses from a lofty height. Seeing significance that other poor mortal eyes cannot distinguish. Why poor old artists should be lumbered with this role rather than plumbers is beyond me. Throughout history artists have, as far as I can see, not attempted to undertake this role merely because it is not the best medium to communicate ideas or moral standpoints. Writing and speaking are the weapons of choice in this arena, not paint. Of course they have frequently been asked to “sell” moral stand points for others, but that is just a job of work.

The second in the series on the human form in art hosted this time by Mary Beard could not have been more different. She had real insights as the the connection between the objects and the cultures that produced them. She stressed that the figures on Greek vases were everyday things bringing small pleasures to people in their everyday lives. Where Mr Schama is dogmatic and so sure he himself exists on a morally superior level, Ms Beard is full of may be’s and might be’s, alive to the ambiguities rather than trumpeting personally held certainties

In the third programme Shama makes his portentous way through my own speciality, landscape. He writes well, he is eloquent, but he is also a fantasist, drunk on his own mellifluous words. He is like one of those old Disney wildlife programmes which constantly tries to see animals in a humanised anthropomorphic manner. He is, you might say, more Johnny Morris than David Attenborough. He wants to shoehorn contemporary concerns and intentions into historical painter’s minds. I suppose because he cannot imagine any other mental landscape or feels that because they were artists they must have thought that way even though none of them mentioned it at the time. A survey of landscape that misses out both Impressionism and the earlier topographical revolution in Britain is in any case fatally flawed in my view. Where was Claude Lorraine, or Constable we wonder?

I was naive in thinking it could not get worse. His meditation on colour was verbal diarrhoea, with him gurning franticly at the camera as his mostly unfounded flights of verbal fantasy were expounded. He knows almost nothing it would seem of the craft of painting. He cannot look beyond the febrile visions it produces in his own head. Never thinking for a moment that the artists and others might have differing experiences. Such is the peril of an overinflated ego.

He confuses of course the making of art with the consumption of art. An art object may of course become iconic or shamanic at any point after it is made, but this happens after the artist has dealt with all the practical aspects. The artist does not imbue an object with any iconic significance, the viewer does. We know this really, if we put Ms Emin’s bed in a twenty something’s bedroom it is prosaic. If we put it in a gallery it is significant. The bed is the same in both instances so it is the act of putting it in a gallery that added the iconic element. The actual making of the thing was irrelevant. You might say it is Ms Emin’s decision to exhibit it that was the art act. However if we consider Sigmund Freud’s famous couch, now in his museum. Which it seems to me could be considered to be an iconic object in very much the same way as Ms Emin’s bed is. Since he bought it he was the person who is responsible for its current placement and context. Now we would not think Freud was a visual artist, or indeed the couch maker, or the upholsterer. It’s significance is entirely created by the viewer and by the viewer’s prior knowledge of Freud.

There is of course no real problem with Simon, and no doubt most of his viewers, believing in fairy stories. It is however a problem if artists begin to believe it themselves. As with storytellers artists must stand at a distance from the tale they tell. Do not confuse the inner music of a musician with the landscape created by the music in a listener’s mind.

Well I’m glad to get that off my chest. Time to catch up on the watercolours…

Dorset, watercolour, painting, plein air

I was here at the wrong time of day really. It does not look like it, but 6in behind my backside when I painted this is the A350… immanent threat of death by lorry certainly makes you paint fast! I have seen this view look so magical but it has to be 6am on a misty day. 9in by 6in watercolour.

Child Okeford, watercolour, painting, Dorset

In Child Okeford this is often my view in the morning coming back fro the shop with my pint of milk and a paper. I often looks wonderful so I thought I had better paint it. A very simple watercolour done in two colours and only about 4 tones. 10in by 6.5 in Watercolour.

Eggarden Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

This is the view from Eggardon hill. Quite a complex subject but a simple method. I painted all the shadow areas first taking as much time as it needed. Then I laid the colour washes over the top in big areas allowing them to wash back some of the initial shadows. Lastly I strengthened a few of the nearby darks. 10in by 8in watercolour.

The Stour, Dorset, river, flood, watercolour, painting

Another one with the traffic uncomfortably close! This is the river Stour in full spate. I had to stand on a narrow bit of concrete on the bridge so a little rushed, but I have some great photos so I hope to do a studio one in a while. 10in by 7in Watercolour.

Hambledon Hill, Dorset, watercolour, painting

I can never resist this view of Hambledon Hill, it is one of those scenes that transforms dramatically with the light. Every time I pass I stop to admire it and if it looks good and I have time I paint it. 10in by 6in Watercolour.

Corfe Castle, Dorset, watercolour, painting

This and the next one were done from phone snaps, but are of an interesting vantage point of Corfe Castle. A great spot and the land owner has said he is happy for us to paint there so I will be back! 14in by 7in Watercolour.

Corfe castle, Dorset, watercolour, painting

Last one hard to believe this is only a few yards from the previous view. I must go back at some differing times of day to see how it changes. 14in by 7in Watercolour.

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