Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

August 24, 2014

The Royal Academy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 12:01 pm

The first time for visiting this in many a year. I went several times in the 70’s and 80’s but not often since. I had expected bad but not this bad. There were all the various ways people imagine they can be original on show. Every style that meets official approval in fact. So a smorgasbord of painting styles from 1915 onwards. There was nothing at all that could not have been done in 1950. What struck me was how poor the renditions of these various styles was. None of them really got close to the earlier works that inspired them. There were expressionists that were just clumsy and not very expressive. Abstracts with no sense of balance or depth, I excuse Mr Scully here.  The winner of the main prize was a photograph printed very large. It was big, it was red and it was hung in a prominent position. This is all that the judges noticed it would seem. The last dregs of the old school were ghettoised into a small corner, Fred Cumins, Ken Howard and Bernard Dunstan, along with Norman Ackroyd almost the last sign of skill on show. We have to let off the Architect’s model makers who were skilled but uncredited.

The work by some luminaries was weak beyond belief Martin Creed, he of the Turner prize light bulb, had had a neon sign made that said, “ARSEHOLES”. Not even new he had made it years ago and just dragged it out of the cupboard. People were entirely unshocked by it, indeed seemed not to notice it at all. I was appalled at the sheer cack-handedness of most of the work. There was a rather good abstract arrangement of turning white squares, but the flat grey framing had been toshed as if with house paint. IE the artist had tried to get it perfect but failed due to technical inability.

I want to be shocked by the Summer show, I want things I can really hate as well as like and admire. However rooms and rooms full of tired, uninspired, inept and overworked regurgitations of historical styles and ideas from the first half of the 20th century don’t really cut any kind of mustard. It was just mountainously dull, not even interestingly bad. There were only 20 or so works that inspired any kind of emotion in me at all.

The other thing that stood out was how unsophisticated for the most part the use of colour was. Many had plainly just squeezed out the given tube colour and either added black or white. This had the unexpected effect of making Sean Scully’s big abstract in blacks and dull browns a real attention grabber. The other strand was of course to eschew colour and just be monochrome or mono-hued.

So who’s fault is this? Well in my opinion it is the selectors. The Royal Academy has been entirely taken over by the clique that controls the Tate and the art schools. In other words the establishment. Never in any age has the gate for what is worth hanging on a wall been narrower in intellectual breadth. Never has the gate ever been so well defended that anything that does not fit the gospel of the modern and contemporary could possibly make it through. When everything on the walls tries to scream “Me me me!” the result is just tedium. Truly the this institution has come to fit its name and has become the worst kind of frozen in time academic desert.

Will it change? It is hard to see how, the official art machine has complete control, it cries “Revolution!” whilst battling to to maintain the status quo.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, a few paintings and drawings.


Warrior, portsmouth, hard, watercolour

This is the Warrior seen from the Hard in Portsmouth. I added some figures attending to the fishing boat after this  was scanned. 1/2 sheet watercolour.


Teifi, Cardigan, wales, watercolour

A view down the river Teifi near Cardigan. I painted the original oil years ago in the drizzle, but I remember thinking at the time that this would make a good watercolour. 8in by 12in.


Newport bay, Parrog, Wales, watercolour

This is Newport Bay and the Parrog in Pembrokeshire. A dramatic day of fierce squalls which soaked me several times in the day. This was accepted for the RSMA show this year.


Mortlake, Wapping group, thames, london, watercolour

A view of Mortlake on the Thames. A grand day out painting with the Wapping group.


Barnes, Thames, london, watercolour

Another from the same day, this is the path by the river at Barnes.


Barnes, London, pen drawing

Last one from Barnes, a little bit hasty but I was perched uncomfortably on a very hard wall!


Saatchi Gallery, chelsea, London, pen drawing

Another pen sketch done a few weeks previously, this is the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea… no chance of my efforts ever gracing the inside!


Three Mills, London

A day with the Brass Monkeys. I don’t quite know why I settled on this, it falls firmly into the “Dull but worthy” category! It is Three Mills on the river Lee.


Three mills, River Lee, London


Second on from the Three Mills. Very interesting area where rivers canals, paths, railways and roads collide.

Richmond, Thames, Surrey

A very quick oil sketch done on a day out with the Brass Monkeys. Dull light is always a challenge, I tried to not get too specific, I must work harder on my figures some are getting to generic and clumsy. 8in by 10in oils.


Richmond, oil painting, Brass Monkeys

Second one from Richmond This may well become a larger studio picture, I did think of taking this sketch further but think it is best left. 10in by 16in oils.


Oare, Kent, Wapping Group, oil painting, boats

Another day out with the Wappers. This is Oare Creek. Super skies so I made that the main event of this picture. Oils 8in by 14in.

August 14, 2014


Filed under: Art History,Drawing,Painting,Philosophy,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Rob Adams @ 4:29 pm

Yes a new “ism” I had thought there must have been a movement in art history that had laid claim to the term, but it seems not. Well now it’s mine! I thought of it when I was trying to find a term for what I was doing. In simple terms I am translating what I see on to a flat surface using paint or other media. The key to this is in the “translation” word. I am not copying, I am finding equivalents.

So some definitions, being an Observationalist means you are empirical taking your cues from the world, responding to the experiences of the world that your senses bring you. You are neither trying to add a subtext from elsewhere nor trying to exclude all your individual nature. You are rendering how you personally see it, filtered through the constraints of ability and medium. I am trying to make an object that is eloquent in presenting how I saw a time and place, but not an unbiased representational record.

Realism, has aspects of Observationalism but tries to exclude style and idealisation. When you re-arrange a landscape to improve the composition or adjust the tones to create a focus then you are idealising. If you make all your trees like Claude Lorraine then you are inventing or fantasising, which is different. Style comes in two flavours, the part that results from the manner in which you carry out the act of painting and the other variety that is adopting the style of another. An Observationalist should embrace the former, but the latter should only be influence not aping. There is a difference between being influenced by Wesson and “Painting the Wesson Way”. If you are an Observationalist you are painting your own way based upon personal practical experience, which includes influences from looking at the work of others.

There can be a degree of abstraction but abstraction is not the point. There can be a degree of impressionism but impressionism is a method not an ambition. There can be an element of photographic realism, we are so influenced by the photographic image that some influence is inevitable. So we might shift the tones of our painting towards how a camera might see a scene but not try to make an image that could be confused with a mechanically produced image. If painting from the figure there can be character and activity but not story telling. So a few people sitting at a table would be fine but to have them arranged to make some moral point would not. I will add some images to make the finer distinctions clear as words are not adequate.

Some of the ideas from this screed came when a few days ago I was working upon a studio picture. It consists of a London scene with quite a few cyclists passing by. It came about when I was photographing a scene that I thought had potential for a painting when a stream of bicycles passed by. Thinking that they looked wonderful I took a whole sequence of pictures and the studio picture will contain various cyclists arrange to form a composition. The final image should look completely naturalistic. To my mind this will fit into my new “Ism” if I added a chimpanzee riding one of the bicycles it would not. I had experienced the cyclists but not the chimp!

To refine the thinking a little further. Suppose I am painting a landscape. The composition would be improved with a tree holding up one side of the composition. This would fit our new school to my mind. If however I had  a rather dull landscape and invented a dramatic tree to be the centre of interest then it might not. I could paint a dramatic tree but find it’s location a disappointment. I might then walk a few yards further on and see a setting that was perfect, stop and paint in a new background. This would be fine as both elements are observed. What I am saying is that a picture may be a mixture of observed elements, indeed some such as figures might be made up using the experience of previous observations. However if I made a portmanteaux image of observed elements on one canvas then there would no longer be a single plausible view point and the viewer could no longer put themselves behind the eyes of the painter.

To dice it finer still painting a crashed car would be on message. Painting the crash in action with one car in mid air less so. Just to make my own life difficult, how about if I welded up a support to hold a car in a dramatic in the air position and then sat and painted it? To my mind not as you would be adding a narrative that was the real subject of the painting not the object itself. However this is art, and we cannot draw hard and fast lines. I am not trying to be prescriptive. There would inevitably paintings that had a degree of observational content but had some other raison d’être. An example of this would be an allegorical scene produced using studies from life. I would feel the studies themselves would fall into the Observational net, but the final painting not, as it is about the Allegory not the observed parts.

So, are you an Observationalist?

Steve Mumford, iraq,drawing

This drawing is by Steve Mumford done in Iraq. To my mind purely observational even though there are current political overtones the drawing has no agenda. Click on the picture to see more of his work.


gassed sketch, singer sergeant

This sketch for Gassed by John Singer Sargent is also observational, but posed for a narrative purpose so one step away from pure observationalism.


Gassed, Singer Sargent

The final picture is a further step away, here observation is a tool at the service of the narrative.


Paul Nash

Lastly a painting by Paul Nash. Here the observational content is even less, the narrative and abstract qualities dominate.


So there we are I have created a new school. Unlike most new art “isms” it already has members… Rembrandt with his portraits, Monet with his landscapes, Turner in his sketches, Degas with his laundry women, even perhaps our cave man drawing a bison. It is good to feel the weight of history on your side!


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