Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

February 4, 2019


Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 12:05 pm

In 1827 through to 1885 the way we saw the world and ourselves changed. From Daguerre via Fox Talbot to Eastman selling film the photographic image had arrived. Slowly over the following decades it became the dominant way in which we see our ever-changing world held still for examination. We forget now that when such images arrived they were at odds with the way people expected the world to look. People were used to prints and paintings where the world was carefully composed and tidy. Photographs after the novelty was over did not at first really catch on as a medium to record everyday life. It was portraits where the sitters were arranged before painted backgrounds to mimic paintings that first became a commercial success. Once the cameras found their way into amateur hands that all changed.

At first due to the limits of long exposures groups of sitters still look contrived, but mostly gone is the attempt to ape the qualities of a painting. As the exposures shortened it was possible on a bright day to capture the hustle and bustle of a busy city, with the horses, carts, hawkers and jaywalkers making up the general hurly-burly. People were cropped off frame and caught in unbalanced poses. It was the Impressionists who first noticed it was a new way of seeing and many of those impressionist masterpieces you know and love were painted or refined from photographs. Monet, Degas and Renoir were all keen photographers.

After that the hand painted view of the world was in irreversible decline. In the following decades we see the majority of representation both private, commercial and public recorded by the mechanical eye. Hand drawn illustrations have become in the minority and such work has largely been pushed to the edges of representation where a thing is imaginary, does not exist yet, or does not exist any more.

Nowadays In am guessing the bulk of figurative artists probably work at least in part from photos, it being more convenient and cheaper than the alternative which might include hiring models etc. An important reason however is also that photographs are now how we see the world. None of us can help comparing any handmade representational image to the photographed image. Starting from an early age we all just see so many photographs that we cannot see any other way. It is hard to believe that when people first saw photographs of the familiar world they lived in they thought they looked wrong. We can never recapture how they saw or even recreate it by imagination.

Now we tend to accept all the distortions that photographs suffer from without even noticing. The tonal compression the distortions of form, colour and proportion. We accept the perspective warping in wide angles or when we point the camera up or down, without a thought. If we look at one of those pictures of a social group 20 people wide then we do not notice that the ones at the edges are twice as fat as the ones in the middle. Artists even emulate the photographic inaccuracies, lens flare etc, to give extra veracity to their pictures! You frequently see people watching video in the wrong screen scaling, either squashed or stretched, without being aware that something is amiss.

So where does this leave the observational painter of today? Well there seem to be several tactics. Firstly you might give your work a quirk that goes against the photographic grain. Do it in angular shapes in thick paint, incorporate dramatic drips and smears that cry out hand made. I often like paintings done in these ways, but there is always the uncomfortable feeling they are a bit like cheesy photographic effects applied to holiday snaps. Indeed Photoshop artists now regularly steal the quirks developed by painters in order to get that painterly feeling into a photo.

I have to end this little essay without a conclusion. We have perhaps still not finished developing our relationship to the mechanical image. Indeed with digital photo editing tools the photograph can become more “handmade” than many paintings on canvas. An observational painter such as myself has no alternative other than to play second fiddle to the captured image. I still wince when someone comments, “I thought it was a photo at first!” I know they mean well…

More catching up on the oils now.

Portland Bill, Dorset, oil painting

Sometimes paintings are a real struggle. After one session I ended up with this widescreen take on Portland Bill. Working from reference taken with a few variations I was having trouble getting the whole lot to come to life. I find paintings that have some good bits but don’t quite add up to a whole the hardest to resolve. This one was so much so that I put it face to the studio wall and promptly forgot it! Later when I came across the canvas I decided to have a do or die bash at finishing it.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, oil painting, Dorset

Unfortunately I am missing a stage, the above is the final version. However on the second bash I changed the sky to give it more focus. However the general colour was still in the grey/ tan range. It still didn’t quite do what I wanted so I let it dry for a week or two and then glazed transparent colour over the top. To do this you must make sure you choose a transparent colour and use a decent glaze medium. You mix down the medium 4 parts turps to one part medium and then add colour to taste. You don’t want to make the colour too strong and it is best to build up in layers. On this I had just two glaze colours a quinacridone red and ultramarine. Glazing is very much like doing a watercolour over a grey painting, with the added advantage that you can wipe off and redo as many times as you want. 24in by 8in Oils.

Old harry Rocks, Dorset, oil painting

I did an earlier plein air of this one of Old Harry and at the time wished I had brought a wider board with me. So I set about a wider version. I think as with the previous painting this is a first stage. I can see potential but it needs more “zing” and focus. Again glazes are ideal for this sort of adjusting as all the fresh underlying brushwork is retained so you do not run the risk of it all getting too overworked. I will post the end result and try and take some photos of the different stages. 24in by 8ins Oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, oil painting

This is a very quick but quite large sketch of Portland for a bigger painting. We had a series of days with wonderful skies so I wanted to do a large studio painting where the sky was the main event. This works OK but I didn’t really finish it as I felt that the land was still too important and could be reduced to a smaller scaled simplified strip at the bottom. I might adapt this one before setting out on a bigger canvas, we shall see. 16in by 16in Oils.

seascape, oil painting, waves

I had enjoyed working on the larger square format so I did a sea study on the other canvas I had ready. I wanted to use cleaner hues than I usually do so I exaggerated the colour a little. I had intended to glaze it later but having had it on the wall for a week or two I think I will leave it be. 16in by 16in Oils

Corfe Castle, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

After a string of studio paintings it was great to get out and do some plein air at Corfe Castle. We got up early to catch the first light, but alas still arrived an hour too late! I think for this view you need to be there before dawn and paint it as it happens. Still this was great fun, painting from real life is in some ways so much easier than photos! 12in by 12in Oils.

Corfe Castle, oil painting, plein air, Dorset

There same view a little bit later. I nearly always find the second painting of the day is better than the first, it takes one painting to get proper focus perhaps. 12in by 6in Oils.

Golden Cap, Dorset, Jurassic Coast, oil painting, Dorset, sea

This was done as a demo for a local art group. It is always a little nerve wracking doing a painting live while an audience watches. I told myself before starting it would be educational for them if I made a dogs dinner of it… it would certainly have increased their vocabulary! I was in the end quite pleased with the result. I have to suppress the detail in the sea to the right with a glaze or two to focus the main interest on Golden Cap and then it is done. 24in by 8in Oils.

I am still not caught up so more waffle quite soon I expect.

January 25, 2019

Art Bollocks

Filed under: Dorset,Painting,Satire,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:10 pm

In the 18thC Antoine Coypel, president of the French Academy and purveyor of syrupy classical scenes, complained of the “Vapid and bizarre jargon” used by artists and critics when describing paintings. A complaint that seems as appropriate now as it when it was first made. I might notice I suppose that both were said in an age of rampant academicism, however I suspect that Art Bollocks has a long and venerably tedious history. I am not going to amuse you with too many examples of art speak, almost every “artist’s statement” is a parody composed entirely of such waffle.  My question is more why do people feel the need to descend into obfuscation and incomprehensible language when faced with talking about art? Is it just the art world that suffers?

The answer to that is a no. Wine critics seem to be badly afflicted too, philosophers and theologians as well to name but a few. A link between the differing areas is hard to discern. Up there with the most likely is perhaps that all of these topics are trying to express and describe the indefinable. Every bottle of plonk tastes different to each swigger and each one of these in turn will come up with some memorable bogus metaphor.

The cartoonist Thurber mocked wine speak in a 1937 cartoon:

Evelyn Waugh took a poke in Brideshead Revisited:

“It is a little, shy wine, like a gazelle.”
“Like a leprechaun.”
“Dappled, in a tapestry meadow.”
“Like a flute by still water.”
“And this is a wise old wine.”
“A prophet in a cave.”

and so forth. The link is plainer to me after reading an article on wine bollocks, it hit me like an alligator dropped on my head by a drunken protractor, the descriptor I am seeking is “Metaphor” Shakespeare’s example is the classic one:

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances …”

Here we have things we are familiar with compared to other things we are familiar with so we can reflect on the similarities. With wine and art speak the problem is that the metaphors are assembled from things we cannot with any certainty know a great deal about.

So it is hardly a surprise that attempting to describe subjective qualities with objective and poetic terms results in a word salad. The next mystery is why would any one take the texts seriously? Here is art writer and professor Carolyn Guertin writing in her essay called Wanderlust:

“The shuffling and unfolding of the information of her body in sensory space is enacted across a gap or trajectory of subjecthood that is multiple and present. Subjectivity is the lens and connector through which the spatio-temporal dislocation gets focused and bridged. The gap is outside vision – felt not seen – and always existing on the threshold in between nodes. Like the monster’s subjectivities, all knots in the matrix are linked.”

Would anyone care to have a stab at what the previous quote might mean? She is not really attempting to communicate, so what is the real intent. The text is composed in a way that feels like it is making an important point, but on closer attention the point or indeed any point appears to be absent. For those who think seeing the passage in context might help… believe me it doesn’t. However you could skim it quickly without interrogating the meaning too much and feel that something deep and thoughtful has been said.

Perhaps we might trawl further back into history to the Oracle at Delphi from which we get the word “delphic”. Horoscopes today deal with the problem of talking about things you cannot know about by phrasing in way that is as non specific as possible. They never say that at 10AM today all Libras will crash their bicycles into lampposts. They might however say, that they may experience accidents today, but although the result may be uplifting or not they mostly do not effect the positive feelings that the conjunction with Saturn encourages.

So in a way Art Speak is perfectly designed to fit with contemporary art. The requirement of the consumer of each is that they bring the meaning to the words or the art works themselves rather than the onus being on the writing or creating. Obfuscation in either area points I feel to insecurity. The Oracle cannot foretell the future in any detail so must be vague, so she can say she was right whatever the future holds. If the art critic has nothing to communicate about art that says nothing then Art Speak is perfect for the job. If an artist has nothing to say in their work the the same language is ideal for a statement that speaks of serious intent where there is none.

Well that was jolly.

On with the backlog of paintings.

Sea, oil painting, plain air

Here I wished to express the impermanence of form and explore the terminus of the shadow between resurgent reality and expectation. Or a quick daub of a bit of surf on Portland. 12in by 8in Oils.

Weymouth, beach, plain air, oil painting Dorset

Here I test the boundaries between individual experience and the transition to the ineffable isolation of the individual. Or some paint I smeared about to suggest a bloke  on Weymouth beach. 14in by 10in Oils

Portland Bill, Dorset, plein air, painting

Here I explore the dilemma of substance versus illusion, working on the periphery of dishonesty, I sought to enlarge the paradigm of truth and material. Or a moody old seascape with Portland lighthouse in it painted by a tediously boring painter on a bit of cheap reconstituted wood. 10in by 16in Oils.

Studland bay, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

This is a statement of ephemeral uncertainty described by using the anodyne security of a historical modus operandi and delineating how the ego is juxtaposed with transcendent ignorance of a futile world. Or a plein air of Studland Bay done by a painter thinking more about breakfast than art and worried that unless he paints a bit quicker his feet will get wet. 12in by 8in Oils.

Old Harry, plein air, oil painting, Dorset

Here I reacted to the endless repeated depositions of the unreconcilable slimeaval past and its post structural decay in opposition to the semi-permeable crisis of the ideal self. Or a quick knock off of Old Harry by a painter desperate for a sale. 10in by 10in oils.

Portland Bill, lighthouse, Dorset, oil painting

Here I investigate the inextricable interface between being and not being using ironic reference to the desperate cry of primeval man marooned in an age of mechanisation and home baking. Or it was a really wet nasty day so I painted a picture of Portland Bill in the studio to pass the time pleasantly? 24in by 8in Oils.

That’s it I am off to the studio to wrestle with imponderables for all you poor folk who aren’t artists. So you can see beyond your poor mundane existences and be uplifted for a brief moment nearer to the unreachable mysteries that underly our improbable incorporation into sentient flesh.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress

error: Content is protected !!