Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 13, 2022

How to make art

Filed under: Dorset,How to do,London,Painting,Satire,Thames,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Rob Adams @ 1:49 pm

Just as the Pandemic is dying away some chap in Russia, who was born a bit shorter than he would have preferred, decides world war three might be a good idea. History is just one damn thing after another. Still I am going back to writing about the important subject of art and explaining why I don’t understand it. For those who live in the South West of the UK I have open studios in the coming weeks. So I am now entirely stressed out with the preparations.

I have done a few how to do’s for drawing and painting in earlier posts. I know many, when seeing my own paintings, will wonder how I have the cheek, being mostly self taught and what is worse painting things that your great granny might like. However in one area, Fine Art or Contemporary Art, whichever moniker you prefer, I am officially qualified and have a bit of paper to say so. Looking back I have woefully failed to cater for those with a more traditional avant-guard bent.

So here is my ‘how to do’ for all those hoping to get an exhibition in the White Cube, be picked for the RA Summer show, or if very ambitious get on the shortlist for the Turner prize.

So firstly your back story. Do you have a good one? Are you a child of disfunctional parents who brought you up on an uninhabited rock in the North Atlantic? O maybe you were adopted by chain smoking badgers on the outskirts of Luton? If so you don’t need to read on, just do any old thing and they will lap it up.

However if you are a pleasant middle-class person who went to a good school, but alas wasn’t bright enough to go to university, not especially good looking and crap at sport to boot, then I bring hope. Even though they like to give the impression that they are agonised and marginalised, most artists are in that category and spend their evenings drinking fizzy wine and watching Game of Thrones whilst eating a Waitrose ready meal.

So painting first, though it is important that you remember that any or all of the categories below can be mixed together, so you could do a painting on a video monitor for example. For your video running underneath you could use film of an abattoir, something shocking or ironic, someone wallpapering a room with copies of the Financial Times whilst wearing a tutu.

If you are determined to do a proper canvas job then here are a few guide lines. Firstly make it big, no one looks at small pictures in or out of frames, there is nothing like the category “small abstract” to make you into an amateur no hoper. Box canvasses are out too it takes longer to do the edges that it does to do the bloody front and no one will ever take you seriously.

I feel it is better if you have no skills whatsoever as they will only get in the way. Next you have to isolate what “quirk” you are going to have. We all know about elephant poo, but really anything will do. It needs to be be trait with an edge: used cat litter embedded in thick paint would tick a few boxes used cats would be even better, but it’s best not to annoy pet lovers. Shock, disgust etc is vital. How you apply the paint can be made an issue too, though it is hard to come up with ways of getting the paint on the canvas as most have been already covered. You could put tubes of paint sandwiched between two canvasses through an old fashioned mangle so they squish leaving the tubes embedded… not seen that one done, you would get 2 paintings for the effort of 1. Don’t do steam rollers as that is passé as is any wheeled means of applying paint, roller-skates bicycles, lawn mowers… best not.

Harder is the “serious painter” category. We are in Rothko territory here and I really would advise against it. You have to do the same tedious thing again and again for decades. It is only when people spot that you have been painting brown stripes in a damp basement for three decades that they decide you can only have been doing that because you are very deep and driven. You then get labelled “important” and are given a retrospective at the Tate Modern a few weeks before you pop your clogs. The art world would really prefer you topped yourself before being discovered, as that makes a better story.

You can of course do a lot with a title such as “Dyspeptic Turtle no 351 (untitled 62)” The important thing here is that the canvas must have no hint of turtle in it. Just splash the stuff on thick in contrasting colours and give it a quick scrape around with a squeegee. A good trick here is to do a rough Artex coat underneath then it looks like you have spent ages building it up in agonised, compulsive and laborious layers.

If you are very, very bad at drawing then perhaps portraiture could be your thing. Do the old rough claggy canvas thing first then get a 6 inch brush and some contrasting paint and do a quick cartoon of your mate. Then do three more in different colours over the top of the first one. If unfortunately it still looks slightly like a face then turn it upside down or set fire to it a bit.

Right that’s traditional media out of the way. Now for the fun stuff. I’ll do it in categories, but remember you can mix them up together.

  1. Film or video. This has got more difficult as cheap cameras have got better. In the old days a grainy old VHS of someone doing something meaningfully ironic would do the trick. Standing naked while repeatedly pouring baked beans over your head while singing Son of My Father by Chicory Tip sort of thing. Being incongruous is the trick, try writing random identities, actions and objects down and pulling them out of a hat in threes. So you might end up with a bishop ironing fruit in a skip. The important thing is that it be very badly framed and shot, you can use a filter in iMovie to add the grain afterwards.
  2. Assemblage. This is just getting any old stuff and putting it into a gallery. This is just so easy that the category has become rather overpopulated. So what people have taken to is making things out of other things. A big model lamb out of empty mint sauce bottles or some such. It could be be nauseously worthy like a blue whale out of recycled bottles or ironic like a huge Barbie doll made up entirely of cosmetic packaging. I know this needs skill but if you have the dosh there are companies out there that will make your art for you which is a lot less effort. Some will even think it up for you as well which gives you more time for being an artist and going to parties.
  3. Make something of the wrong stuff. With this you just carve a fishfinger, your car keys, or your false teeth out of marble, or cast them huge in bronze. If you can’t afford marble, then lard or frozen horse urine. It is best if you get experts to actually make whatever it is, as this takes skill. Don’t worry, as it is you that tells them to do it it is “your” art not theirs, the act of genius was thinking it up after all.
  4. Performance. The important thing here is that it should not be at all interesting. Just stick your telly and sofa in the gallery and watch box sets of Downton Abbey for a week while dining on pot noodles. Or get a washing machine and wash crockery so it gets smashed up on the spin cycle. You could then make a heap the resulting of bits that could become a saleable sculpture afterwards.
  5. Text. Just write something on the wall, use mud or chilli sauce, anything really. What you say is unimportant, just one word, like “moist” or an ironic phrase like “lonely with you”. As this can take skill you could get a signwriter to do it for you. You can of course just stick an A4 typed description of the work you might make and stick that on the wall, or even take that a stage further and just declaim out loud that you will in due course type out a description, thus combining performance with text.
  6. Photography. Here the photograph doesn’t matter other than it should not of course be well framed or interesting in any way. Just print it very very big.
  7. Combinations. Here we can really go to town. Mix it up! Paint the word “embarrassed” on a plaque of frozen Prosecco with maggots and car keys embedded in it. Attach it to the gallery wall then video it as it melts. If you put a canvas behind it and along the floor the resultant slurry will become a painting. So you get a performance piece, a painting and a video work. You could also write a description of the process as a text piece.

I hope this very brief run through the possibilities helps people who want to be artists, but don’t really have that much time or ability. Remember to never be modest or self depreciating in any way. The work must be anguished and torn from your inner core, or at the very least world weary and ironic.

Some are no doubt at this point wondering, why bother? The attraction is not money or fame. It is just that at parties when the dreaded, “what do you do” question is asked you can reply, “I am an artist.” This instantly gives you status and also tends makes people forgive your less appealing social traits, poor personal hygiene and overall intellectual dullness. You no longer need to worry about dressing badly or washing, as all these traits only add to your anguished artiness. It is just about the only profession you can join by just be saying you are one rather than actually having to do or learn stuff. Well you can just say you are a brain surgeon at parties, but you might be unlucky and say it to a real one. The great thing with the artist thing is that any other artist you encounter will be blagging too, so they won’t blow your cover.

You will of course at some point be challenged. Here is where contemporary art comes into its own. You can just advise that if they really try and open themselves up to their inner feelings they will begin to understand your work. You can kindly say that you know that what you do can be too “difficult” or “challenging” for the unsophisticated to understand. This leaves them with the problem of potentially admitting, to themselves or worse others, that they are shallow, lack depth and are culturally ignorant to boot. Most will retreat.

Whew! Well that is the hard ideas based concept driven work covered. As I don’t have any hidden depths myself and am not particularly anguished by the human condition other than my own decline, I have to just paint landscapes and other easy obvious stuff. I just hope that my work isn’t cutting any edges or, by some ironic quirk of fate, in danger of becoming an unexpected brand new cutting edge.

Now you are all clear on that, here are some more paintings.

A corner of a muddy field with Hambledon Hill in the background. The sort of scene that I love painting but will never see a frame. Quiet brown paintings of nothing in particular are not big sellers! Oils.

It is always a thrill to find a view you didn’t know about. This view of Fontmel Magna was hidden away down an alley. Very wintery and a bit chilly, I shall venture back at different times and seasons. Oils.

Swanage on a flat grey day. With water you always have the possibility of a decent picture on any day. Oils.

Child Okeford in Dorset where I reside has an amazing selection of green lanes, roads that never quite made it into the public road system. Some are very ancient, or so they say, since no one has actually dug one up to see, the experts are actually just guessing. I would like them to be right though. Oils.

A commission I very rarely do these, but I was missing days painting by the Thames a bit so I agreed to do this one of Henley. It was amazing how once I started memories of the day painting with the Wapping Group came back to me. 16in by 20in Oils.

The view from the Russell-Cotes Museum in Bournemouth. Full of mad bric-a-brac and paintings of dubious taste. I sketched this out in pencil on a board as they don’t approve of oil paint on the soft furnishings. Oils.

I enjoyed my day in Bournemouth, I enjoy walking a town to see what it has to offer. I took my hand held box so I could only paint little square ones. 6in Sq Oils.

Another small one, this is Bath rd in Bournemouth. 6in sq. Oils.

The Pier at Bournemouth again. Amazing how the different direction of the light changes the mood. These take about 20min each. I actually set my phone to time me so I don’t go on too long. 6in sq Oils.

Wareham. The Church St Martin’s on the Walls is Saxon and was built on the earth bank that surrounds the town. There is only one way to paint this view, you have to be parked on the very last parking space before the yellow lines. So this was my lucky day, my car now has paint on the steering wheel. 6in Sq Oils.

A frosty morning near my house. The frost was still in the shadows but gone from elsewhere making great warm/cool contrasts. I have been enjoying painting hand held, it gets a lot easier with practice but I wouldn’t paint anything bigger that 8in sq. This one is a comfortable 6in sq which is fine. Oils.

I hope to get back to posting once a month again, it is silly but blogging does spur me on to paint, funny how the mind works.

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.

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