Wednesday, April 30, 2003

My visit to Worcester Art Gallery on Monday was a depressing experience. Why is it that art educators these days seem to be lost in their own peculiar world which has little reference to the world of exciting and interesting development which the rest of us experience. More creative ingenuity is displayed in contemporary technology than you will find in the Art Colleges.

The contemporary artists which really interest me are those who are largely self taught and have become painters out of love for the craft after experience in a different kind of work. John Yardley and John Blockley are examples from an older generation, another is Mark Leach who works mostly in pastels and whose work tends towards abstract landscape. Generally when these painters talk or write about painting they express themselves in plain words – a refreshing change from the unintelligible prattle of the academics.

Here is a brief quotation from an article which Mark Leach wrote in ‘The Artist’ in April 2003. It interests me because it challenges traditional practice.

‘Each painting is a recollection. To that end, I rarely do preliminary studies, and hardly ever work on site. This I now realise just confuses my feelings. I literally cannot see the wood for the trees. What I try to do is make use of my memory. I want the finished paintings to be like a memory where the mind over time has sieved out all extraneous detail and left only the relevant.’

Mark is developing a web site at

Monday, April 28, 2003

I paid a visit to Worcester today where there is a nice Municipal Art Gallery sad bout the work they show though. The current show in the main gallery had the intriguing title of ‘Ellipsis’ – so I entered in a state of curious anticipation. The first exhibit in the gallery was a poster with the heading ‘Artists’ statement.’ It is always a bad sign when an artist feels the need to explain his work before you get a chance to look at it – it is an indication that it will be obscure and bad.

The gallery was lined with abstract daubs and scrapes applied to small panels of MDF about 30cm square. All showing dribbles of paint on the edges of the sub frames – lazy this even Howard Hodgkin who paints similar but more sensitive abstracts puts his work in a frame and then incorporates the painted frame as part of his picture. None of the works bore titles or prices.

The whole show was rather sad and meaningless. It seemed like the work of a recently graduated fine art student who had been badly let down by his course. I made this point to the lady at the information desk at the end of the gallery and received the surprising news that the artist was a college lecturer in his fifties. God help his students after all he is old enough to know better.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

The May issue of 'The Artist' magazine carried an article with the intriguing title'‘A Journey with Pastels.' The author’s idea was to explain the process of developing his Cumbrian landscapes into abstract paintings by emphasizing the observed patterns and textures. Every artist feels the need to move on and develop and I suppose it is useful to use the analogy of embarking on a journey – an artistic, if not an actual one. A local artist friend Joan Baker, who studied with John Blockley used the same analogy and produced an interesting little book with the title 'My Artistic Journey' Her work like that of John Blockley developed towards abstraction though in John’s case his concern was to exploit the properties of paint itself rather than looking for formal patterns and textures. John liked to simply play with paint and there is nothing wrong with that if the result pleases the eye. The concept of embarking on an artistic journey as a way of developing one’s work in new ways is a helpful one. It is more constructive than being self critical about trying to produce ‘better’ work. We never live long enough to become ‘better’ we only change with experience

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Applying a coat of wood preserver to my garden shed is a task that is not likely to generate aesthetic excitement. Yet today as I removed green encrusted lichen I became aware of the subtle colour contrasts in the weathered wood. There were subtle contrasts of grey and green which made quiet harmonies that could be used as the basis of colour composition in a painting. It was important to make a note of them to aid memory. When the work was done I used pastel as a quick medium too record the effects I had observed.

Monday, April 14, 2003

I have decided you can’t be an artist and a gardener. I try to paint or draw every day but at this time of year plant growth takes over and unless the garden is tamed there will be little chance of any artistic activity through the summer. I normally try to do at least one drawing each day even if the opportunity to pick up a paint brush doesn’t present itself. The best way to grab a drawing opportunity is to pick up the most readily available tool usually a fountain pen, grab a sketchbook and draw the first object that comes into your line of sight. There may only be ten minutes or so available but the practice keeps your eye in. Here is one such drawing grabbed in a brief interval before having to face some tiresome routine chore.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Campo dei Frari
There are many quiet corners in Venice which are a delight to sketch. This quick pen drawing was done with a Rotring Art Pen and the tonal washes created with an index finger moistened with saliva. A technique I first saw demonstrated by Sir Hugh Casson in a BBC programme. I’ve since refined the technique by using a Pentel brush pen which has a reservoir in the handle that can be filled with water. This drawing supplemented by photographs of the foreground gondolas has been the starting point for paintings in various media.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

I had another look at Grahame Sydney’s web site tonight and I never cease to be amazed by the way he creates a painting from the most unpromising material, a limp windsock on an airstrip in a bare landscape dominated by the sky. Or an old shed which may be used for shearing or as the bar of the Dog Trials Club. Central Otago is a strange lonely place and he captures the spirit of the place perfectly. I only have a brief experience of it and I couldn’t make any painterly sense of it. Grahame Sydney Gallery/shop Page 6

I spent a month sketching my way around New Zealand and had more luck on North Island where the character of the landscape is quite different. There is open space but there are the trees and lush vegetation of the bush. You are also acutely aware of volcanic activity on North Island – there are still active volcanoes and the hot sulphur springs are indicators of the fact that molten magma is not far below the surface. North Island’s thermal reserves are fascinating places full of colour from the brightly coloured algae which thrive in the hot springs. One of my favourites is Orakei Korako near Taupo. To reach it you are taken by boat across the Waikato River to a laid out trail in the bush which climbs up silica terraces passing several hot springs and steam vents. I made a pastel painting based on watercolour sketches made on the reserve.

Orakei Korako, Silica Rapids. Pastel

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

We completed our day in the Cotswolds with a visit to Burford ­ another nice Cotswold village with interesting galleries. I noticed a nice watercolour by Alan Simpson and in another gallery there was a show of contemporary Scottish painters. This was unusual, except for the likes of Joan Eardley, Alan Davie or Elizabeth Blackadder who are featured in municipal galleries Scottish work rarely gets shown in England.

Then an oil painting with a four figure price tag and a red spot on the label caught my eye in the window of the Brian Sinfield Gallery. It was a painting of a Swiss ski resort and it turned out to be by Bob Brown who was being given a one man show. I was miffed because the gallery was closed and I could see very little except for the window display. I would have liked to see his work again. The last occasion I saw his work was at an exhibition by members of the New English Art Club in Cardiff. The NEAC ran two one-day drawing workshops in St. David’s Hall in association with the exhibition.

I enrolled for one and Bob was the tutor. It was an enjoyable day and having exhausted the possibilities of sketching rather restricted street views from the windows of St. David’s Hall Bob suggested I work from the street and he set me the task of drawing ‘The Hayles’ from the main entrance of the Hall. He dropped by to see how I was getting on, then I became totally engrossed in the drawing and when I came back to reality found it was time the course was due to end. Returning to the exhibition I found other students packing their gear and Bob had gone home! He owes me a crit.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Sheila and I had a day in the Cotswolds yesterday. It was a glorious sunny spring day trees bursting into leaf and celandines and primroses in the roadside verges. There was a time when we would have taken to field paths to observe the reawakening natural world more closely. We had other more material concerns on this day out. For me it was a spell of gallery going, for Sheila household shopping.

First stop was Stow on the Wold where I always look in on one or two galleries. Thompsons who took over John Blockley’s gallery a few years ago is my first choice because they usually have an oil painting by Fred Cuming on show. Sure enough there was a lovely atmospheric oil of his trademark subject just sand, sea and sky with perhaps an occasional figure. I’m bowled over by everyone I see. Always the paintings have a aubtle, limited range of colours which harmonise perfectly. Yet the paint surface is not descriptive, a dash of paint reads as a cloud but doesn’t describe or classify any particular type co cloud formation. The pictures are just beautiful paint surface and I love them. They motivate me to get a primed board on the easel and paint which is why I look at a Fred Cuming painting whenever I can.