Tag Archives: abstract

some landscapes (plus one studio painting)

I spent last week on holiday in Ullapool, in north west of Scotland, where I found time to paint a number of landscapes, all acrylic on paper and all approximately 22×26 inches, apart from one which is approx 22×74. It seems the natural thing to today, when surrounded by the drama of the Scottish highlands and the ever changing weather, to try and capture it, however ineffectively, in paint.

During the week I was reading Painter as Critic, a selection of criticism by Patrick Heron. Written mostly during the 1950’s and 60’s, Heron was obsessed with the creation of a space within the picture plane that doesn’t rely on Renaissance drawing or perspective but instead uses colour, texture and new forms.

Heron seemed to reject the notion of purely abstract painting and Clement Greenberg’s obsession with the flatness of the picture plane, arguing instead that the painter or sculptor always draws their ideas, however tentatively, from the natural world.

In the Ullapool paintings I’ve used (as I’ve being doing in some recent still life’s) a fairly heavy black outline as a way to reduce and flatten the space in the picture, and isolate areas of worked colour. However as the week went on, influenced perhaps by Heron’s writing, some of that harsh delineation lifted, leaving the colours to react to each other directly.

When I got back to the studio in Newcastle, I spent a few hours working on a painting (again on paper) which I’d begun a few weeks previously. The painting was essentially figurative but using abstract forms and rhythms and vertical in shape. At the end of the morning however I looked at it sideways on and could see an (unconscious?) influence of the landscape painting in Ullapool.

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two figures, reclining

the long painting in the middle was begun about two weeks ago, finished it off today, poster paints on paper, pasted and stapled together, dimensions approx 80inches by 23inches…

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19 May 2012

I have to mark yesterday’s date because it’s the date Heart of Midlothian FC beat Edinburgh rivals Hibs 5 – 1 to lift the Scottish Cup for the eighth time. After such an achievement art pretty much takes second place. Also the studios were open this weekend for the Late Shows, Newcastle and Gateshead’s annual late night cultural event that sees a variety of arts venues open up for two nights with special events and exhibitions.
Whilst its always good to welcome people into your studio space and get some feedback from them about your work it’s not always the best circumstances in which to do any work, what with the mess of wet paint and all. But it wasn’t as busy as the November open studio events so I did the chance to paint this card and plaster sculpture that’s been standing bare for ages.

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I painted it pink to give an echo of (pale pinky) flesh, the vertical and horizontal shapes conjuring up a a distant experience of a reclining figure. Anyway that was the plan, only time will decide whether it’s a success or not.

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Sculpture

Photos of this mornings effort, made from glueing pieces of cardboard together. Painting it black has unified the overall form of the piece but makes it a bit difficult to see the detail in the photos

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a cultural afternoon in Middlesbrough

Off to Middlesbrough yesterday where the AV Festival extends its reach to MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) to see a show of work by John Gerrard and Cyprien Gaillard.

Both artists use film but of the two it was Gerrard’s crumbling Cuban schools that I found the more engaging. Although I think Gerrard’s films did benefit from the ambient music accompanying Gaillard’s films which drifted through the galleries.

The subject of both Gerrard’s films are decaying schools, built in 60’s Cuba in the International style that seems to have influenced all municipal architecture of the time. The camera slowly and continually revolves around the schools through a 24 hour/365 day cycle. Both schools sit in a surprisingly flat and featureless landscape. Apparently a caretaker appears in both films at the beginning and end of the day but nobody in the gallery yesterday had seen the caretaker. It added a certain excitement to watching the films when we noticed the sun low on the horizon and thought we might catch a glimpse of the caretaker but sadly she didn’t appear.

What I didn’t realise at first however is that Gerrard’s films are both computer generated animations of real buildings. Only after watching the first film for a couple of minutes did it occur to me that the grass had the same look and visual texture found in computer games. Text accompanying Gerrard’s films burble on about them ‘powerfully marking the melancholic demise of a political vision’. That’s fair enough but what Gerrard also seems to be doing is what all (or virtually all) artists have always done, which is to create an alternative in paint or other medium to the natural world and using that alternative reality to make comment or respond, (however obliquely) to the society around them. And by using computer generated images Gerrard gains complete control over the virtual world he’s created. Is the land around the schools quite as flat in ‘real life’? I found the films had an immersive, restful quality to them, particularly Cuban School (Sancti Spiritu) 2011, which is projected across the gallery wall.

Upstairs at MIMA, away from the slow pace of the AV Festival is an exhibition of works on paper by Sean Scully. Made in 1974 – 75 the drawings have recently been rediscovered. I don’t know that much about Scully’s work expect that he often, or always, uses vertical and horizontal bands of colour to build up his paintings. These works on paper look to me as if they have been painted by someone just beginning to find a new way of expressing his ideas. They are modestly sized but meticulously done. Nowadays Scully’s paintings appear to have a painterly quality about them that whilst not entirely absent from these works is constrained by the careful, regular application of masking tape and pencil line. That may not be the case at all of course and for all I know Scully had already started making his large painterly works on canvas but that is how it looked to me.

After leaving MIMA we went on a long, circuitous route to find Anish Kapoor’s Temenos, Britain’s largest public sculpture. It sits on the docks amidst a hotchpotch of regeneration projects, including Middlesbrough College’s remarkably Soviet looking new building (from the back anyway) – a return to ‘60’s International Style perhaps. But nothing looks properly finished and whether the area ever will be finished off given the massive cuts made by the coalition government to regeneration funding who knows?

Temenos didn’t look especially large, though obviously it is big. It struggles however to compete with its surroundings. From where we stood Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium effectively spoilt the view. Walking around Temenos, which we didn’t do, the college, a single block of flats, the Transporter Bridge or the rusting heap of the Tuxedo Princess (a boat come nightclub which was once moored on Gateshead’s Quayside) might each interrupt any contemplation of Kapoor’s sculpture. What Temenos needs is the flat, computer generated landscape of Gerrard’s crumbling Cuban schools.

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Between Twombly and Auerbach

I remember the first time I saw one of Cy Twombly’s paintings. It was in Edward Lucie Smith’s door step sized study, Art Today. The painting was no more than as line of scribbles across the canvas and appeared to be the work of a matter of minutes. Exhibiting work of such minimal (physical) effort would seem to be an act of great self confidence and assuredness in your work or alternatively Twombly was just taking the piss. I’m sure Twombly wasn’t taking the piss (and if he was it was clearly lucrative for him; I read a report this week that his estate was over a billion dollars). The decision that a painting was finished at stage when the majority of painters would probably consider it barely started must have been for Twombly a purely aesthetic one.

A painter at the other end of this particular ‘is it finished/isn’t it’ spectrum is Frank Auerbach. Like his fellow School of Londoner Leon Kossoff, Auerbach’s technique involves applying paint to the canvas, scraping off and starting all over again until he finally reaches a point when the painting is finished. A painting by Auerbach takes ages. In Robert Hughes monograph of Auerbach, a set of photographs follow the progress of charcoal portrait. The photos cover two pages and at almost any stage in the drawing Auerbach could have stopped with the result a perfectly fine and recognisable Auerbach. But instead he soldiered on until a hole is rubbed into the paper requiring a new piece to be stuck over the worn out spot before Auerbach continues drawing.

The point at which you can say a painting or drawing (or probably any other piece of art) is finished is a very personal one. You have to judge the point at which your about to ruin everything and therefore stop whilst being sure you’ve pushed the work (and yourself) far enough to make the wholething worth it. I’ve been working on a series of large abstract monochrome paintings that have developed out of the sketchbook studies I posted an example of recently. I’m reasonably pleased with them so far but when to stop applying paint? The second painting in particular I felt early on I had done enough to leave it. But worried it would look merely unfinished I kept working on. The end result is fine I think but did I loose something better by not stopping when I first thought to?

Because its non-representational the decision of when to stop is I think even more difficult or elusive. How did Twombly do it? This is relatively new territory for me and as the paintings develop I might become more confident about leaving the painting at that ‘taking the piss’ stage.

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Abstract studies

A couple of abstract studies, although I don’t consider them abstract in the sense they are about no more paint on a flat support. As ever the rhythm and gestural sweep of the human figure (in this case two) provide the starting point.

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