Monthly Archives: November 2011


It was the Ouseburn open studios this weekend so I was in yesterday and today. Here are some of the drawings I did today, the single drawing being the final one of the day, all the rest leading up to it.




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Ouseburn Open Studios 2011

It’s the Ouseburn open studios this weekend, 26 & 27 November. Artists at the Biscuit Tin studios amongst others across the Ouseburn in Newcastle will be opening their doors. Last years event was effectively snowed off but this weekend the weather is forecast to be more clement.

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Alasdair Gray at the Lit and Phil

After the publication of his first novel Lanark in 1982, Alasdair Gray quickly joined that set of newly prominent Scottish writers that any self-respecting student had to read or at least have on display on his or her bookshelf.

But where other writers might have used a grim realism to capture what was happening to Britain at the time (and particular industrial Britain) under Thatcher’s monetarist experiment, Gray mixed social realism with, I suppose, magic realism and fantasy. This I think was what made his stories particularly attractive for art students and of course Gray was an artist as well as a writer.

Today Alasdair Gray was at the Lit and Phil Library in Newcastle, reading from his own verse play Fleck and Goethe’s Faust, which Fleck is based upon. The reading was part of the Profane Myth, a series of exhibitions running at various venues in Newcastle until 22 November.

The exhibition is about exploring mythology in contemporary art but I’m not sure that Gray stuck too closely to his brief. Directly contrasting passages from Faust with Fleck, Gray entertained his audience for about an hour and a quarter with his energetic reading from both texts (though particularly his own!).

There’s an element of whimsy or impishness about Gray and his shambling style, as he starts off on one subject, diverting onto another before coming to a sudden halt as we wonders how he has got to where he has, is a bit disarming. When questions were taken at the end, I’m not sure any one of them had a proper or straightforward answer.

Given how obviously well read Gray is, and what’s more impressive his ability to recall what he has read and to use to give context to his writing and ideas, I do wonder if his eccentricity is partly an act. But actually no, maybe he does play up some of the absent or wandering mindedness, but what we saw in Newcastle this afternoon was probably the genuine Alasdair Gray. Which must have made him either an infuriating or inspiring teacher depending on your patience.

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Mervyn Peake at the Laing Art Gallery

To the Laing Gallery at lunch time today where an exhibition of Mervyn Peake’s illustrations is on show. The works include drawings made for Peake’s own stories, notably Gormenghast and illustrations of other writers work, including Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Lewis Carrol’s poem The Hunting of the Snark. Peake was undoubtedly a good draughtsman, his pen and ink work has a confident line. However I have to admit most of the drawings, despite the obvious skill in them, didn’t do a lot for me. They reminded me (unsurprisingly probably) of children’s book illustrations I saw when growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, but unless you’re feeling especially nostalgic, that’s the problem.

Peake’s style is of its time. It’s underpinned by a tastefulness and a benign humour that makes it difficult for the drawings to escape their job as illustrations for children’s stories. Where Peake’s drawings seem to develop an edge is when he illustrates other writers work. The Jekyll and Hyde and the Snark illustrations are for me much more interesting. And the studies for characters from the Gormenghast trilogy too have a life about them that enables you to appreciate them as art works independent of the story they were created for.

It was instructive to compare Peake’s drawings with a series of prints by Jake and Dinos Chapman in a neighbouring room, on display as part of the International Print Biennale, on at various venues across the North East. The Chapman’s prints, called Etchasketchathon adopt a similar children’s book aesthetic but, as might be expected, subvert it by introducing a note of horror or unease. Amongst the prints are quotes from Goya’s Disasters of War, one depicts a disemboweled toy bear, hanging in the middle of a swastika, other prints don’t include anything horrific but you find yourself standing in front of them searching for the shock.

Maybe its a sign of inherent cynicism that I can’t enjoy the simple pleasures of Mervyn Peake’s work but find the Chapman’s (artists who’s work I find often tries too hard) compelling. The other artist I thought of as I walked around Peake’s exhibition was Robert Crumb, who has complained that his own style is cursed by a cuteness he developed whilst working at a greetings card firm early in his career. Superficially Crumb’s drawings aren’t that far from Peake’s, although he is the younger artist, a sign perhaps of the pervasiveness of a certain graphic style up until about the 1960’s and the coming of the underground comix movement. Crumb however, like the Chapman’s would have undermined the ‘niceness’ of Peake’s compositions with his hybrid women, leering men and hefty thighed girls.

If your in Newcastle I would recommend going to see the Peake exhibition, despite all the above reservations, and if you know his stories, (I don’t), you might find it a more rewarding experience than I did.


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For some reason I’ve always found it easier to make more abstract work in sculpture than in painting.
This is part of a series of sculptures I’ve started making on a loosely fetishistic theme, following on from my recent interest in surrealism and Dada


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two short videos

Here are two very short videos I made recently (on You Tube they’ve had the grand total of about 30 views between them, which I see as success!)
The influences on them are fairly obvious I think, I’ve tagged them as surrealist, because they’re made up of random little shots (recalling I think Dadaist and Surrealist montage) I made when out and about, there is no attempt to present a rational story. Although almost inevitably you look for some sort of narrative in an attempt to make sense of what you see.
I quite enjoyed playing around with Apple’s iMovie software to make these and I’ll making more I’m sure,
This one I’ve titled flashing light

and this one goat (I did it in the weeks before halloween hence the underlying gothicness)

And if you want to see surrealism on film done properly watch this

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New(ish) paintings

I’ve posted three recent-ish paintings on my paintings page. The single portrait Emily was completed last month, the other two, Emily and Dave, and My parents were painted earlier in the year.
A perennial problem for anyone making art is, if like me you have to balance your practice with full time employment, simply finding the time to make the stuff. An effect of this I feel is that the painting I’m starting at any time has a significance it wouldn’t have if I had more time to produce. And more work would mean more confidence to experiment and to develop.

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