Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

May 27, 2015

Art and Science

The rise of science roughly mirrors the downfall of the arts in society’s estimation. Art had been very much in the camp of belief as to put it baldly: that was where the work was. Art and artists have always adapted to the needs of whoever was at the top of the heap. This new master of reason and experimentally tested knowledge had no real need of paintings. The futurists, Bauhaus and constuctivists all made hopeful offerings, but neither science, industry nor the general public were much interested. The artists let’s be honest didn’t find much inspiring in it either, there were a few portraits of worthy enquirers next to their instruments and Rembrandt’s autopsy, also that one of the dove dying in a glass sphere by Joseph Wright. Hook’s wonderful drawings of what he saw through the microscope deserve an honourable mention too.

Religion faced much the same problem. The religious establishment at first welcomed scientific enquiry, confident it would inevitably confirm their beliefs. However once the discoveries of science began to squeeze the Deity into a smaller and smaller corner they lost their enthusiasm and started to lock the scientists up and threaten to burn them if they didn’t deny their findings. Painting in a similar way as religion was a lens through which the world might be seen in a new perspective, but science had an ace… it was demonstrably true. Religion might say that miracles occurred and heavy objects might fly through the air, but they couldn’t come up with the goods to order like science could. A jumbo jet would have been given a miraculous cause if seen by our forbears. Indeed that is exactly what happened when isolated tribes saw American planes landing on strips cut into their jungles. Aha, they thought, if we cut a strip of our own then planes carrying treasure will be drawn to land. Poignantly they even carved the radio equipment out of wood. Cargo cults are a fascinating window into religious logic.

Now we might think how foolish those islanders were, but given the state of their inherited knowledge I think it was a pretty good call. What is more uncomfortable is that the current thinking underpinning the worth and purpose of Art is several degrees worse. How this occurs in the first place is worthy of consideration. Roger Scruton has talked interestingly on this and introduces the idea of the “liar” and the “fake”. The liar is aware of his or her own dishonesty, but the fake intentionally chooses for whatever reason to believe in or espouse something untrue. Or as I myself think, think they carefully don’t examine certain underlying concepts as that might bring the whole intellectual house down. Certainly art theorists and critics often seem to elevate weak suppositions into axioms to bolster their view of things.

Is it really possible that our whole current art thinking is just a fantasy? Well, looking back in history you would have to say yes. At some point in history some probably perfectly intelligent persons thought that killing children might improve the crops… or carving huge stone heads secure the future. The idea that an object becomes imbued with an extra iconic quality merely because an artist says so is just as silly. There must have been people who thought and even said that sacrificing children was not the way, but public and establishment opinion was plainly not on their side. So it is today, I might rant and rail, I can attempt to make sure my arguments are coherent and well founded, but almost certainly to no avail.

The art lie is a very profitable lie. It is the same with quackery. Once upon a time you merely said that this or that object was blessed by some saint or other and would heal you. Now they make up sciencey sounding nonsense about energies, realignments, detoxes and infinite dilutions. Art has stepped neatly in the footsteps of quackery, artists now explore, investigate, experiment and question. It grieves me I have to say that my chosen activity in life seems to require hawking the results in a somewhat dishonest manner. I know that my paintings have no special extra quality. There is no spiritual energy in them, they cannot really reach out but only offer the possibility of aesthetic reward if the viewer reaches in. They are what they are: board, paper and paint arranged in a pattern, there is no magic quality. That does not however mean that they cannot be interesting or gauged to attract attention and give pleasure.

Now that is an idea that is out of vogue… visual pleasure, a fair few contemporary painters would recoil in horror at the thought. However if there is one thing that I have found by painting out of doors is that people get pleasure from paintings. Perhaps one in fifty walking by will stop and exclaim that your painting is beautiful and there must be more that are intrigued but too shy to say. Now 2% is a lot of people, so all hope is not lost! The problem is that that 2% have very few places to see current painting, and even if they do we have an art establishment and media assuring them that they are backward looking and irrelevant in any case. As with the child sacrificers and the heretic burners most people will just accept it if the powers that be say it must be so.

The real magic, if it can be so called, is the astonishing luck of being embodied as a conscious thinking being who is capable of appreciating paintings and all the other wonderful things that surround us..

I have been enjoying the oils now that I have my new studio up and running. having a sky light is wonderful and makes it so much easier to judge tones. Clear days give a rather blue cast which has to be taken into consideration, but painting in there is a real pleasure. It is also lovely sitting with the doors wide open and the sound of the birds, bees, tractors, screaming children, lawn mowers and chainsaws drifting in.


Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, oil painting

This is the famous “Hovis” view of Gold Hill in Shaftesbury in Dorset. It took a couple of goes as by the time I had finished drawing it out the light had moved on to the fronts of the houses which wasn’t the picture I wanted to paint. Next day the light was better though, softer with a delicious haze into the distance. Chocolate box I know, but it is not the sort of subject that lends itself to a painting with any street cred. Maybe I should add a skip and a burnt out car or two… 10in by 12in Oils.


Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Nocturne, Oil Painting

A week later I washed up in Shaftesbury again, but late in the evening to attend a friend’s private view. After eating a curry, I had a mad urge to paint a nocturne… this is not it really as I don’t think any of the first session is left! The atmosphere and general tones survive though. 12in by 16in Oils.


Battersea, Thames, London, plein air, oil painting, barge

A quick trip up to town to paint with the Brass Monkeys. This is Battersea, I don’t paint many barges but this one took my fancy due to the angle at which it was moored. 8in by 10in Oils.


Blandford Forum, Wet day, street, Dorset, oil painting

This was an experiment in that I did a grisaille to establish the tones. I was working in part from a pen drawing done on the spot and also from a rather blurry phone snap. Here it is in its first stages about half an hour in.


Blandford Forum, Dorset, Oil Painting

The subject is Blandford Forum in Dorset again. As rebuilt in early Georgian times by the Bastard Brothers after the old town was destroyed by a great fire. Doing the monochrome layer underneath gives a great unity of tone which is important in a picture like this where many of the tones are quite close. Dull days are especially interesting to paint for this reason. 12in by 16in Oils.


Wells, St Cuthberts, oil painting, Somerset

This is Wells in Somerset. Not the cathedral but St Cuthberts. It was a fantastic day with tremendous light but I didn’t have my oils with me so this is a studio picture. Lots to paint in Wells and it is only 40 min away. I really am spoilt for choice where I am now. 12in by 16in Oils.


Baker Arms, Child Okeford, Dorset, watercolour

I quick dash with the watercolours. this is Child Okeford and my local pub The Baker Arms. Would love to paint this angle en plein air, but a 4 by 4 would run you over, so this is studio. Watercolour. 7in by 12in


Thames, London, Tower Bridge, pen and ink, drawing

To town again to meet with the Wapping Group. I travelled light so stuck to the pen and ink.


Southwark, London, pen and ink, Drawing

This busy corner took my eye and I crouched under my brolly to do this.


Southwark, London, Pen and Ink, cathedral

Last one of the day. This is Southwark Cathedral.


Child Okeford, St Nicholas, Dorset, pen and Ink

This is St Nicholas in Child Okeford, I was very taken with the splashes of afternoon light across the road. I sometimes get chastised for putting in vans and such… but who could leave out a magnificent example of a 2014 Mercedes Sprinter? I shall ignore them, philistines all…

May 15, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — Rob Adams @ 9:04 am

I have tried in this blog to share a little of my own confusion as to why we make art and how we should understand it. I even to some degree find some of my own posts made early on naive and too happy to believe in my own unfounded beliefs. So inevitably there are times when I contradict myself. I have read enough about human motivation to know that if we have a cherished holy cow then we will assess opinions that affirm said cow’s holiness differently than any heretical ones that dismiss the cow’s saintliness. Indeed it has been shown that we even rate the trustworthiness and honesty of the person delivering the views according to our unproven and often unconsidered views. There has been research done that shows this quite definitively. Worse, it shows that the more strongly we are challenged the more fiercely we cling to our cosy assumptions. I do my best to be fair but I realise I am doomed to failure. In any case unfairness makes a far better read!

So to this posts topic. Copying. Until recently all artists learning their craft would learn by copying the works of those who had gone before. I may be making one of those terrible assumptions, but I suspect not many abstract expressionists sit down and copy a Rothko or a Pollock. Indeed since the Impressionists artists have rarely copied works from history. Looking back however very few of the great stars in the art constellation didn’t learn from copying. However what would be the point of copying Martin Creed’s light bulb… Wait a minute I shall pause in typing and try it in the kitchen… Well I’m back… but not any wiser,  the neighbours may think I am signalling someone. You might conclude that this is because there is nothing there to learn.

It is only in the visual and plastic arts copying is possible. You could not copy a piece of music or a novel or a poem. You can copy a Chippendale chair, or a Bernard Leach pot or a Rembrandt. The other side of copying is emulating the style, so you might do a pastiche in the manner of Mozart or write a poem in the voice of Wordsworth. Here is where it gets interesting. I can see no way I could do a painting that would pass for a good Velasquez. I might make something in the style that he might have knocked out when off colour from a dose of flue, but not anything from when he was firing on all cylinders. However I could do a Jackson Pollock. Indeed I have done several. They are easy. Not only easy almost impossible to tell by eye from Jackson’s own. If I researched the type of house paint and canvas I reckon I could fool even the experts. I have also done pastiches of Giacometti for an advert for Fiat. The Giacometti institute or whatever complained I had copied. However I hadn’t I had just made up some new ones. This made me reassess Giacometti who I had previously admired, later I saw an exhibition of his work in Basel and thought his earlier abstracts better than his later work. I still like them but realise that he is a one trick pony and a simple trick at that.

On the other side of the coin I was asked to do a copy of the Thinker by Rodin. This was very hard I found, even though I had very good reference. The result was pretty convincing, but I could not have made a sculpture in the manner of Rodin that would have fooled anyone. Again for an advert I was asked to paint a section of the Sistine Chapel. Just copying it was monstrously difficult and I had to start again twice. To invent an extra Sybil that would sit happily amongst the others on that oh so famous ceiling would be verging on the impossible. To do a Rothko that would sit happily in the Tate beside the others would however be relativly easy. So what are we to make of this? I am inclined perhaps to rate works by how easy they would be to emulate. This is entirely separate from how I might enjoy artists works, for example I rather enjoy Rothko’s sombre monoliths. My assessment however is of an artist for another artist. I need to do this to judge my own erratic progress, not out of any real desire to topple anyone’s heroes from their pedestals.

I have since I started taking part in online society seen many people try to copy Singer Sargent, none in my opinion have succeeded, but I bet they were all wiser from the experience. I certainly was after battling with Michelangelo for a couple of weeks! So why do we scorn this quite straightforward means of self improvement? Do you know what? I just don’t have any idea. Why do we no longer walk down this rich and easily available avenue of instruction? It is a mystery. I would lay money on no students in Fine Art degree courses doing much or indeed any of it. They would I suspect react with horror or scorn at the thought. It is due to this attitude that I myself have done barely any copying. I did set to and copy Thomas Girtin and a few Turners in my twenties I destroyed the results which says something about how I felt, it was perhaps a shameful activity. Whatever, I do remember I learnt lots from the process. For me it is just more evidence that the state of the fine art world is pretty dire and most of the theories that wrap around it nonsense. It is the words that have doused this once great lamp of human achievement, proving I suppose that though the pen might fail to slay a sword swinging barbarian it has had no trouble dispatching anyone wielding a paint brush.

I have been working hard recently, there is no doubt the more intensively you paint the easier and more fluent the process becomes. I am also trying to carry on refining paintings so many of these pictures in this post have moved on a little.

Henley Regatta, oil painting, thames

I have been asked to exhibit some pictures at this years Henley Regatta, I went last year and took lots of reference. I enjoyed painting these far more than I expected to, I had actually been putting off painting any Henley pictures and was considering not exhibiting. Once started though I saw all sorts of possibilities. This one was almost right in the reference, photos tell you too much really. I had lots of other shots to flick through too to give me a feel of the atmosphere of the day. 10in by 12in Oils.


Henley Regatta, oil painting

Another Henley one, this has had surgery since so this is a first state. I have since cut the board down but it still probably won’t make the exhibition. 12in by 20in oils.


Henley Regatta, oil painting, Thames, river

Another work in progress although nearly done. I liked the split between river and crowd. I am still working on some of the near faces which need to be more painterly. I find it quite a good method to first do the face with too much detail which looks stiff and then use that as guide to overlay simpler brush strokes. A difficult composition as it has no real focus other than the division between land and water. 12in by 24in oils.


Henley Regatta, oil painting

This one has had a few touches after this scan. I skimmed a bit off the man’s face and toned down his cuff. I wanted to do one that had the people in it as characters rather than as decorative objects in a scene. Here I have made the painting deliberately uncomfortable by having two people look directly at you. This prevents the eye settling as it ends up shuttling between the two. It also makes you think about yourself in their eyes… I think we can say they don’t think much of you! 10in by 12in oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, plein air, oil painting

Back to landscape with a bit of a lurch. A morning near Hambledon Hill in Dorset. The light was changing with great rapidity so I had to paint quickly. At the time I was a little disappointed I had not quite captured the drama so I painted a studio version as soon as I was home. Seeing it later I liked it though which was strange as I very nearly wiped it off when I got home. One thing doing the Henley pictures had told me, canvas is far better to paint on than primed MDF, so for this sketch I just taped a bit of off cut canvas to a board. I will have to adapt my plein air kit so I can use canvas in future. 7in by 12in oils.


Hambledon Hill, Dorset, oil painting

Here is the studio version, I am quite pleased with both of them really, this one stresses the abstract divisions more, but the plein air captures the feel of the day better. 12in by 20in Oils.

Now for a few life drawings, I cannot stress enough how important this activity is. Drawing directly from the human form is the hardest thing any artist can do. I brings with it a very high chance of abject failure! I would happily myself put a life drawing in a frame on the wall, but few people would so they just stack up and I mercilessly cull them now and again. So here are a few survivors, they may well be for the fire next time!


Life drawing


Life drawing


life drawing


life drawing


life drawing


life drawing


life drawing

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