Rob Adams a Painter's Blog painter's progress

September 27, 2015


Beliefs are strange things. They are things that you think are true without sufficient evidence. Even the things that you think are true and don’t require faith actually do. If you read Descartes’ Meditations he points out that nothing at all is rock solid certain. He settles on “I think there fore I am.” almost in desperation, though nowadays that is in doubt as well. The current view seems to be that we aren’t but basic physical processes give the illusion that we are. Nevertheless our systematic probing of our supposed reality has brought a high probability of many things being true. We have today far more and better founded certainty than any of our forebears. Unfortunately many of the enhanced certainties are less than welcome. All the honeyed promises by religions of a better life or a rise to transcendence look distinctly thin.

Nonetheless we cling to magic. We believe in homeopathy and astrology, souls and spirits and money and art. All of these things require belief without evidence. The numbers that stand for our wealth in some financial institution’s computer require everyone’s faith that they are of worth, as do the objects in our galleries. If that belief is challenged and fails then they will no longer be exchangeable for things of tangible value. You only have to look at the Tulip bubble where the value of tulip bulbs reached dizzy heights before belief failed and the perceived value plummeted. Surely money could not do that? Well yes it can and has many times. Not art I hear you say, well yes there was an art bubble in the Low countries in generic scenes, portraits and still lives which crashed and left many artists including Rembrandt broke.

At the moment we have an “Art Bubble” objects such as Tracy Emin’s bed (how I love that bed!) are given an arbitrary value unrelated to the object itself. The object is made to have value by the same process that makes the Turin shroud holy. IE unsubstantiated belief and faith. Both of these items are demonstrably worthless, but they also both have institutions working hard to keep up the illusion. I might add to efficiently hold up the value or holiness of such objects requires said institutions not to believe in the fantasy themselves. So I doubt anyone senior in the Catholic Church believes that the shroud is genuine, but they will believe that it is important that the laity believes. So to art galleries, if one of the sainted Emin’s works looks likely to tank in an auction they will step in and buy it back at a thumping loss, because if the belief sets in that Tracy’s works are of low worth then all the ones they have in the cupboard back at the office will also be devalued. Also all the rich and often powerful clients they have advised will find that they bought a pig in a poke and start to question the worth of any other works they may have acquired.

You might argue: all these people say these things are iconic and valuable so how could they be wrong? Well a wee peek at history gives a clue here. At some point in history people at the top thought that sacrificing people might improve the crops or stop a drought. The Egyptians elite though that building vast piles of stone and filling them with goodies would help an individual be comfy after they were dead. Also absurdly there was an age where people thought taking an unmade bed and putting it in a public space made it meaningful and hugely valuable… whoops that’s us!

So is art actually worthless? Well no. The tulips eventually settled down to a sensible level of value and spawned a healthy industry that survives there until today. The Flemish still lives painted by the acre are still bought and sold. The difference is in the cynicism of the current art world. They know that the values they espouse are imaginary and work hard to prevent anything to threaten the dream. There is no criticism allowed only reverent analysis and reportage. If you have a negative view of contemporary art it will not find any place in any paper whatever its political leaning. If I wrote a book deriding it, it would not be printed by a mainstream publisher. Even quotes such as this get dismissed “I think it is humbug myself. That is my own private opinion… I just don’t believe in Joseph Kosuth’s slogan ‘art as idea as idea’—if it is an idea it has never entered the world.” Who could have said such a thing… well Carl Andre (he of the bricks) is the man.

Will the bubble burst? Well my guess is yes and like all catastrophes of these kinds many of the undeserving will be taken down with the frauds and the simple minded believers. Can it be predicted? Well probably not, but the edifice is looking shaky to my eyes. What will be left? I think things made by someone who has devoted their lives to getting good at some skill will always end up being valuable because they are rare as well as covetable in themselves. Well made things enhance out lives in almost invisible increments. A beautifully shaped back to a chair will reward us a little as we slide out hands across the wood. A subtle passage in a painting that we hadn’t noticed hereto will halt our gaze for a fraction and give us a moment’s pause. Things that shout to be noticed tend to pall quickly and have only that dimension. Much contemporary art I find fun, but only in the way that a comic postcard might be. I will look and chuckle, but not put it on the wall to be part of the fabric of my every day.

Everything is contriving to prevent me painting at present, exhibitions, cars dying, social engagements all conspire to eat up my time. Still some bits and bobs have been done so here they are.


Dorchester, pen and ink, drawing, dorset

Going into Dorchester one day the light was fantastic. I sketched this in pencil and then inked it afterwards at home. These slightly larger A4 drawings are too big to finish on site. Besides I rather enjoy partially imagining the light. I resisted the temptation to peek at the photos of the scene until the very end. This meant I couldn’t put much detail in and in the end it didn’t need it. I only adjusted a few of the tonal relationships and added the figure in the end.


Fontmell down, Dorset, drawing, pen and ink, art

More drawing. This one I really did take to a finish on site. It took 3hrs though. Since my car is hors de combat I had to walk there too so this took all day! Still the light was fantastic so well worth it. A4 pen and ink.


compton abbas, airfield, dorset, gypsy moth, airplane, dorset, pen and ink, drawing

Here is something I have never drawn before. A Gypsy Moth at Compton Abbas airfield. Very quick A5 scribble but fun to do.


Child Okeford, watercolour

I decided to do a few watercolours as I have rather neglected the medium for a month or so. This is what I call a backward water colour of Child Okeford where I lay in all the darks first whilst bearing in mind how the big washes that will go over them will soften and alter the hue. It is important to use non stainers for the lay in as you want them to partially dissolve when the next layers go over.


Child Okeford, Dorset, watercolour, painting, art

Here It is with the washes laid over. See how the shadow areas have softened and gained texture. Once the washes are in you can “tickle” areas with a small bristle brush to soften. Also colours can be dropped in to add variety. You have to be careful not to stir too much or it will all go to mud! 9in by 7in Watercolour.


Ibberton, watercolour, Dorset, painting

This is near Ibberton, I was taken by the chimneys. I find Dorset’s somewhat over pretty villages a bit of a challenge so I tried to make this one less chocolate box by constraining the palette and retaining the cars and wires. Though I am coming to think you just have to accept the prettiness however unfashionable it is in painting today. The village are pretty for heaven’s sake so to unpretty them or just paint the skips round the back seems perverse. 1/4 sheet watercolour.


hod Hill, watercolour, dorset, painting

This is a view of Hod hill the other hill fort nearby. My car had briefly come back to life so I decided to tackle a 1/2 sheet en plein air. The weather wasn’t in the mood to cooperate though as once I had got the sky  and the field in the heavens opened and I had to run for it with the board over my head.

I am off to Wales next so I hope to do a few paintings even though it is a social trip rather than a painting one.

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.

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