Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

September 16, 2015

Checking on Reality

I am in the last stages of assembling my first ever one man show. There is a lot to do with the touch ups that I had never got around to, varnishing and the considerable effort of framing. I could pay to have them framed but to get what I want that would cost £200 quid a picture at least as against £20 and a couple of hours of my time. During this process, which I quite enjoy as I get pleasure from the making process, I have thought a good deal about picture making in our current age.

One thing that strikes me is that there are so many people painting. Just look on line and there are thousands of sites with the title: “The Art of ……….” . It seems certain there are many more being painted than there are walls to put them on. It must be a minority in our society that has an original work upon their walls. A vanishingly small group have one of mine! So I must ask the question: Are these paintings being painted to go on walls or to be seen on a laptop screen? If they are never going on the wall then you might as well paint them on the same reused bit of board and save money and space! I am actually considering this for plein air sketches and ho hum studio ones. Certainly I could paint on both sides of the board.

The question still bugs me. Am I painting for people’s walls or laptop screens? Because if it is the latter then I might go about it differently. I could for example re work them on the computer. I already do this to decide how to make changes to paintings. I scan it in and try out things before committing myself to paint. With over all glazes especially this is a great boon. Would people care? I would feel honour bound to make the process clear. Painters would generally disapprove perhaps. This is not, I might add, a course I intend to take I am just thinking it through. I cannot abide the idea that I am doing all this work just to please myself. I get pleasure from the process of course or at least it keeps me sane, however I equally loathe the idea that I just do it for therapy.

There is the element of being noticed, it is nice to be noticed. Though maybe few would admit it a hundred or so Facebook “likes” bring a certain warm feeling. We most of us, if not crave, at least enjoy attention for ourselves and what we do. We call this fame I suppose though that is usually now reserved for the moment when the searchlight of organised media picks one out from the crowd. Do we secretly hope that might happen? I don’t think I do, but I suppose a small bit of me might like the idea. We are in our society almost all brought up with the idea of success and “making it”.

I often consider the world of music making in relation to painting. I really do make music for therapy. I don’t play for others it is something for me. Also a tune played is in the air for a moment then gone leaving no trace. With paintings the evidence of our creativity takes concrete form to haunt our future. Part of me wants to just paint away and not worry my little head about such things. Another part wants this skill I have invested so much of myself into to survive and spread and there is no better way of doing that than by example.

Another area I consider is history. If I look back then I see almost no examples of making beautiful things being done purely for the pleasure of the maker. That the craftsperson relished the making might be true, but it is the desires of others to own that drives the process. It is hard to pinpoint when the change in the primary artist’s intent changed from the satisfaction of others to the satisfaction of self. Slowly over a fair span of time. France with the mostly leisured gentlemen who liked to paint overblown historical subjects in opulent studios is perhaps the beginning. Then there came a prolonged tussle with the technical aspects of the nature of an image. The impressionists considered how we see, and then moved on to from where and what aspect we might see, then inevitably to why we see. Which it now seems is a dead end as there is no plausible hope of any hint of an answer or even any halfway interesting way of framing the question.

When I stopped doing useful paid work I did so with an excitement for getting all the things I had not had time for done. All those pictures I had imagined, all those accomplishments I coveted, but had not had time to learn. To put to use the skills already attained over many years of pleasing others to my own purpose. Like all dreams after a while the reality must be assessed. I am making progress, I am enjoying the process, I am not loosing momentum or interest. All plusses so far. It has however opened up some questions I have few answers for. I have settled on the world about me as my subject. Not a conscious decision, just that having decided to make representational paintings they must be of something. I had to choice between imagination or actuality and perhaps surprisingly even to myself I seem to have chosen the latter. Odd since I have spent 40 or more years doing mostly the imagination part. What is strange is that it plays almost no part in what I do now. As a young man I dreamt of painting fey maidens, castles and dragons, but now older, if not wiser, I paint people, houses, hills and trees.

Well, no answers I fear. Just a feeling that I may be missing something obvious that I should be seeing. One thing is becoming clear, the process of displaying what has been produced takes up far more time than the production itself. This is not a complaint as I feel doing so is an integral and inseparable part of the whole activity. It is more that I am irritated that, despite it being quite obvious given even a moments thought, I had not properly anticipated the fact.

Well this has been a while between posts as the show mentioned above is now sorted and at the Gallery on the Square in Poundbury until the 19th October. It has also meant not much painting had been done either. Below is a snap of the show.


Gallery, poundbury

It was great to see all my stuff hung in one space and am very pleased with the result. A picture sold on the preview which is heartening!

I’ll start this post with a few of duff oils!


Kingston, thames, plein air, oils, painting

Well this one isn’t too bad. Difficult light that couldn’t decide whether to be dull or bright. It actually looks much better to me now than when I painted it which shows how mutable and unreliable the artist’s own view of their work is! This is the riverside park in Kingston upon Thames. 10in b y 8in Oils.


Kingston upon Thames, pen and ink, drawing, art

The day turned really dull so I drew the market square in Kingston which is still quite pleasant. Only 2 things held me back… I had forgotten my pens… a nearby Rymans supplied some nasty felt tips and a seemingly endless supply of garrulous drunks clutching tins of Tenants Super Lager! It was also preparing to rain which is why this is so frantically scribbled.


Thames, Kingston, pen and ink, drawing

This vantage had the advantage of being under a dense tree so the rain could not get at me. I was accompanied by several Wappers as it was aWapping Group day, we all gave up and went to the pub in the end as the rain got really determined.


Richmond Hill, landscape, Thames, oil painting, plein air

This is the much painted view from Richmond Hill. It is a wonderful sight with the curve of the river. I got into a bit of a mess with this but I think I can still make it work. The building needs knocking back so it does not compete with the river. The sky is a write off and needs repainting. As I finished some lovely dashes of sunlight made their way across the landscape so one of these should finish the job! The board was an old one that was very smooth which really does not suit my style. I need the drag on the brush and it also means that dry brushing is not an option which is quite limiting. 12in by 16in oils.


Thames, Richmond Hill, oil painting, plein air, landscape

It was a relief to get on to this old canvas board! The day had changed so much it was a completely different scene. I did this very quickly no more than 20min. 10in by 8in oils.


Mudeford, Dorset, fishing, oil painting, plein air

A very quick sketch of people crabbing at Mudeford near Christchurch in Dorset. I bashed this in very quickly so lots wrong. I got some great photos as the light came round though so this sketch will be invaluable when I do the studio painting I have planned. 10in by 12in Oils.


Mudeford, Dorset, boats, painting oil, plein air

The day went flat on us but I enjoyed painting this on a tiny 10in by 5in off cut of board. Hard to know what to do with such sketches I have so many of them now.


London, Canon St, pen and ink, drawing

This started as a working sketch for a painting, but it got distinctly out of hand! Tremendous fun to draw. I had to take great care of the tones in the distance. Something easy in paint but hard in pen and ink. Cannon St towards St Pauls. Pen and Ink 12in by 10in.


Wooland, Dorset, pen and ink, drawing, landscape

This is near Wooland in Dorset. I only got a pencil sketch done on site as what appeared to be a quiet lane was actually a mad race track. I was drawing from infront of my car which was in a passing place so I felt very exposed! For the best in the end as the inking was quite laborious with all those darks. It is important with pen and ink not to completely cover the paper when doing dark areas. Little bits of paper add sparkle that is easily lost. It is possible to use solid blacks but they are compositionally very strong so care is needed. I usually apply them with a brush rather than the pen. If I was to use that method here I would use it on the car which has the largest area of solid black. 9in by 12in pen and ink.

June 15, 2015

The curse of the category

Filed under: Drawing,London,Painting,Surrey,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 10:18 am

I am of course going to consider the penchant we have of pigeonholing. We love to sort things into groups and give them names. Then we can ascribe other qualities with a broad and uncaring brush. With life forms we call this taxonomy. With paintings we use  categories based on style, content, historical period, use, intent etc. So if we have a painting it might be an illustration or a decoration or fine art and so forth. With taxonomy the rules are clear a life form cannot be a member of more than one genus. With paintings however a work might be comfortably placed in several. So one of Raphael’s frescos in the Vatican might be a) a work of art, b) illustrating a theme, c) decorating a room. d) an example of renaissance painting. Not so easy here to differentiate and put into discrete categories.

In conversation with other artists they all seem to agree with the current wisdom that contemporary illustration cannot be considered fine art. However if I ask, “Is Rembrandt’s “Feast of Balthazar” fine art?” they say yes it is. I then say but it is an illustration of a biblical event. I might get the reply that it was a personal response to a story by the artist. I add that actually it was a commission. Then the conversation usually goes down hill from there. Despite it being true in earlier times artists today generally seem unwilling to allow illustration up on the pedestal of fine art, but do wish to share the pedestal with great works of previous eras that I think fall comfortably into the illustration category. I have had this conversation many times now always with the same result, people believe that illustration is somehow inferior in the aesthetic stakes, but cannot come up with any cogent argument as to why that should be true now but not in the past.

So what is going on? This post is as much to pick the arguments apart for my own benefit as to promote any views on the matter. I have been both sides of the divide, so maybe that gives me a perspective on the conundrum that gives some small insight. Another area where this effect is seen is literature. A book can be a work of literature, or a genre. If it is genre, say a detective story, then the Booker people are not going to be interested whatever the literary merits. All genres are not equal of course, “historical” is above “mystery” which is in turn above “science fiction” which is above “romance”. These categories are to do with marketing not the end product not with the quality of the wordsmithing in-between the covers. However critics and most readers appear to use the marketing category to assign aesthetic worth. I have lost count of the number of times  have recommended a book only to have someone say, “I don’t like science fiction.” I ask have you read any? They say “No” I say have you read “Brave new world” They say, “Yes.” I say “Aha! That’s science fiction!” and once more the conversation goes downhill from there. One thing is always the same, no one will reconsider their opinion and when they have the basis of that opinion questioned and find they cannot justify it they seem to hold that opinion even more firmly that before.

If you think I am going to give the impression I am above this trait then you would be wrong. If you read Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” you might reluctantly have to admit as I did that many of our opinions and most of our intuitively held views are very poorly founded and often wrong entirely. What Kahneman shows is that even when this is pointed out to us we still cleave to our previous opinion because it is programmed in at a lower level. This part of our minds delivers snap judgements on anything and everything without the need for cogitation. In everyday life this is wonderful as it gives us a way of dealing with a hugely complex world that would overwhelm us otherwise. We could not possibly take the time to reason through everything in life.

This process works with pictures too. People often say that they don’t like this or that sort of painting. Choose your genre, say Pre Raphaelites. This is one that has caused me a deal of difficulty. One of my first experiences with paintings in galleries was at the Birmingham Art Gallery. Is a boy of twelve or so I was entranced by the glowing colours and did not know to dislike the sickly sweet emotions portrayed. Later when doing a degree in fine art I learnt to dislike them as was de-rigueur in a college of that period. So I had two opposing instinctive responses to that kind of work. If I was a computer I would crash and need to be rebooted, but humans are made of sterner stuff and can believe both opposing views at the same time! If I stand back and am analytic then I would have to say most of the Pre-raph output is average to poor, but I can find some gold amongst the spoil as well. IE exactly the same as any other genre or period of work. Nonetheless despite knowing that when I first glance at one of their paintings it is the unconscious assessments all be it conflicting that are first through the gate.

This also works with positives. We might be educated that this or that artist is “important” this in turn makes us see the works in a different way that has less to do with the actual visual stimulus being received than we might imagine. This was brought into focus for me a few years back when I saw a huge Van Gogh exhibition in Basel. I arrived with the learnt and unquestioned opinion that he was one of the all time greats and a pivotal figure in painting. I believe there were 14 rooms in total in strict chronological order. I was entranced by room 13 where his works take on a visionary glow, then less impressed by room 14 where derangement sets in. Puzzled I went back and did the first rooms again. When I really thought and looked as dispassionately as I was able the early rooms were almost entirely between dreadful through to dull but worthy with the odd bright spark of things to come. Looking at the time line it would seem that Gaugin’s influence was the key to Van Gogh’s brief transcendent moment. Van Gogh’s paintings from that period are lovely and decorative, but did they inspire later painters to paint in that manner..? Well like most idiosyncratic artists such as Blake, not really as the manner is so personal.

It is very hard for anyone including myself to separate out the received wisdom on Van Gogh as our subconscious has been so well primed. This is not really a problem for a gallery visitor, as they will enjoy the works and not be concerned as to the genesis of their reactions. For an artist it is a different matter, we need to be able to pick out concrete factors that might lift our own work a step up. I am afraid that the knee jerk assessments of our subconscious really do not help in this regard. My intellect tells me that all types of painting from illustration to portraiture to abstraction will throw up up high peaks on the graph of excellence, however personal and intangible the factors that make such judgements are. For myself I try to look out for these highs wherever they might be found. As we all do I will inevitably miss many that might hold useful inspiration merely because my lazy conscious mind is on autopilot and being steered by the unthinking and largely unfounded judgements delivered up by my unconscious. I feel sure this trope will have neither  convinced nor unconvinced anybody, but any contrary argument not founded on opinion would be welcome, especially if it confounds me!

Only a few paintings since last post, I am gearing up to go to France, so the next post will have a continental flavour!

Fulham Palace, London, Plein air, Brass Monkeys

This is the gate to the walled garden at Fulham Palace. It was drizzling and very quiet so I was happy painting away. I loved the soft tones that the rain gave. 8in by 10in oils.


Fulham Palace, oil painting, London, plein air

The rain really set in after we had had a leisurely sandwich and coffee. I was lucky, sheltered under a substantial tree, others of The Brass monkeys were out in the full downpour… This is the main entrance to the palace, it is a lovely place that the tourists don’t seem to find. 10in by 8in oils.


Hampshire, Fordingbridge, plein air, oil painting

It is hard to believe that this is the same day! After leaving Fulham I drove back to Dorset via the New Forest. This is Fordingbridge, this scene looked so lovely I decided to stop and paint. Hard to get a good viewpoint, in the end I parked my car conveniently for me and inconveniently for everyone else and painted from in front of it. I was forced to be very quick so this is about 30 minutes worth. 10in by 7.5in Oils.


Richmond, surrey, oil painting, plein air

This is Richmond Green on a day out with The Wappers, I have painted this corner a few times before. This time I really struggled, the first one from a different angle I wiped off. Then I started this but just could not get it to gel, I had bollards across the foreground and some near figures. I had it up on my kitchen dresser for a few days and decided in the end the story was about the line of activity running across the lower third. I took out everything that conflicted with that and suddenly I had a picture. It is always gratifying to rescue a painting that goes astray! 10in by 14in Oils.


Richmond Hill, Pen and Ink, Wapping Group

Before I did the last painting I did a couple of pen drawings. This is Richmond Hill, I love the simplicity of the medium. I have a lot of these drawings now and wonder what to do with them. People don’t buy drawings really nowadays, I might get some printed up into cards.


Richmond Bridge, Pen and ink, drawing

Last one. This is Richmond Bridge. It is quite hard to find new views on the River front. This one had taken my eye a few years ago so I decided to have a go at it. Though it looks simple it was avery difficult subject with lots of elements that needed to be right. I did a much more careful pencil layout than normal. I shall do a painting of this at some stage.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress