This is a short video of me at work on a relatively large painting. It will give you some idea of how I approach the challenge of working on big surfaces. This is a 200 x 150 cm custom made canvas and the scale presents new challenges, forcing you to adopt different methods and techniques.
I have deliberately avoided brushes for this stage of the painting: an assortment of rollers and palette knives are used to block in the main areas of colour. For me, it is important to establish the overall composition as quickly as I can, it really doesn’t matter if these early indications and suggestions are obscured or abandoned. I am always alive to the notion that the painting will undergo many changes of direction; in a sense each new direction can only be based on previous decisions and judgements. The key is to make some judgements and decisions, they can always be modified as the work progresses. These early layers are essentially a way of breaking the ice, they may be obliterated by subsequent layers but they do begin the process of finding a composition whilst simultaneously building impasto and texture.
Paintings on this scale use considerable amounts of material and this has to be taken into account at the outset. There would be little point in adopting a parsimonious attitude towards materials and thereby restricting your creative options. Part of the joy of painting this big is the freedom to use materials with genuine exuberance and conviction. If you are worried about the quantity of paint you are using, I imagine this concern and hesitation would inevitably show in the work. Painting big requires physical movement, energy and action and you have to resist the temptation to reach for the fine sable brushes. Playing safe always seems like an attractive option but it is generally counterproductive in painting; in an effort to exert control over the exciting events unfolding in front of you the encounter becomes more about accountancy than art.
As you can see, the painting is in the early stages, I’ll update you as I progress over the next few days and weeks. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.
In the last day or so I have added additional layers to this work and tried to ensure that the selected materials interact in both challenging and unexpected ways. The inclusion of shellac and emulsion paint with powdered pumice stone creates unpredictable textural qualities and patina. Gloss, satin and matt painting media combine to reflect and absorb light. Bitumen, partially diluted with turpentine has been allowed to flow across the surface settling in crevices and darker pools. I am much happier with the overall direction of the work now, although it would be fair to say that the more experimental approach has clearly resulted in a loss of definition and resolution. Whether this is acceptable in the long run…only tomorrow will tell, when I begin all over again.
I thought I would share some of my working methods with you today. This is a painting of a well known landscape in Cambridgeshire called ‘Devil’s Dyke’. I have photographed the location on numerous occasions and in many different weather conditions; I have always found something new and exciting to reveal. A while ago, I decided to translate this scene into oil paint on canvas using a cold wax medium to render textural qualities.
It is a work in progress and I have been developing different ideas for a couple of days now. I am trying to achieve a balance to the recording of the pathway, the fields and the tonality of the sky; as you can see there is a great deal more to do here. I enjoy the fact that cold wax allows you to draw directly into the paint surface but there is always a tension between the purely illusionistic elements of light, tone and colour and the physicality of raised marks and incisions.
I’ll keep you updated and show you the next stage in a week or so.
This painting is from my New Forest series and the materials used include oil paint, cold wax medium and a solid block of oak. The oak block is 20 x 20 x 5cm. I have worked on cradled boards many times and have found that the harder surface encourages a more aggressive approach to mark making. The weight and density of the oak block takes this strategy a stage further and allows you to exploit the resistance and grain of the wood. That my subject matter is trees and I am working directly on the ‘machined’ surface of a tree only enhances the poetry and mystery of this activity we call painting.
Swimming off the beach just beyond Gyles’ Quay is no longer considered safe. The truth is, it never was safe. The moment you enter the water from what appears to be a gentle gradient, the shore drops off steeply into open sea and powerful undercurrents hold sway. When we were kids we sometimes swam here, with no understanding or even awareness of the danger. Unbelievable, I wouldn’t even dip my toe in today……..the wisdom of age.
Gyles’ Quay is an isolated stretch of beach located 1 km south of the R173/R175 road in County Louth, Ireland. It was named after Ross Gyles who built a wood structure there in 1780. It was later rebuilt in stone in 1824 and survives to this day.
I just can’t resist the aesthetic of abandoned buildings. Yes, I know it’s a photographic cliche but there was something about this particular building that caught my attention. This was a house that had surrendered to the inevitable, engulfed by weeds and brambles and sinking beneath a tidal wave of vegetation, yet somehow it remained stoic and dignified. A personification of managed decline and acceptance in stone and slate.
For the photographers amongst you, I agree, I should have used a graduated filter or at least bracketed the exposure for the sky. On the plus side, the bleached out sky emphasises the symmetry and shape of the house.
Gyles’ Quay is an isolated stretch of beach located 1 km south of the R173/R175 road on the Cooley Peninsula in the north of County Louth in Ireland. It was named after Ross Gyles who built a wood structure there in 1780. It was later rebuilt in stone in 1824 and survives to this day.
I’m currently working on this painting… have been for quite a while now. It has gone through a series of changes and modifications, but that is just the way it always goes. The close up shots of the surface should give you an idea of the heavy impasto of the cold wax, the incisions and layering.
I increasingly find that a painting only really begins to ‘work’ after I have been through a stage of irrational confidence, followed by more rational misgivings and doubts to the final point of total despair. The point at which I lose all faith in the endeavour is the moment of maximum freedom, clarity and opportunity. That’s when I am liberated from my preconceptions and the false notions of correctness and quality…then I can begin to kick start the recovery. I repeat this ritual all the time….you would think that I would learn…but I can’t and I don’t.
These photographs were taken yesterday at The Locker Cafe in Cambridge. The exhibition of paintings and photography runs from 19th July – 19th August. If you are in town do come along and take a look. The Locker art cafe is located at 54 King Street, just opposite Tindalls art supplies.
The Locker Cafe
18th July – 18th August 2109
Mon – Fri 8:30 am – 5:30 pm, Sat 9:30 am – 5:30 pm, Sun 10am – 4:00pm
If you are in Cambridge between 18th July and 18th August come along to the Locker Cafe, just opposite Tindalls art shop at 54 Kings Street. I will be displaying a range of paintings and photography from the last couple of years so there should be something of interest for everyone. The Locker cafe is a lively ‘arts’ based cafe founded by father and son team John and Adam Hodges in 2017. The paintings are primarily large scale abstract pieces in a variety of media including acrylic, bitumen, cold wax and oil paint. The monochrome photographs are based on the Fenland landscape.
Acrylic Landscape Painting
This painting is based on the artificial lake called ‘Roswell Pit’ which is located on the edge of the City of Ely in Cambridgeshire. The work is something of a departure for me as I have used acrylic paint and a glazing medium and not oil paints and cold wax. To achieve luminosity and translucency I have applied multiple layers and short strokes of colour with a hatching technique. It is perhaps difficult to categorise the painting style but I see elements of Magritte and Surrealism, Monet and Impressionism and possibly aspects of colour field painting in the relative flatness of the picture plane.
This is a multi layered mixed media oil painting on a high quality canvas frame. This painting represents a development of my New Forest series and continues my engagement with nature and land. The surface consists of multiple layers of oil and cold wax, with a marked impasto and pronounced textural qualities.
The gold paint has a soft patina and mirrors elements of the colour and tones of the immediate environment. Gold leaf has been applied selectively to some of the vertical forms and provides intense points of a golden reflective light.
The abstract nature of the work reflects the process of growth, flowering and renewal. This painting is concerned with serenity and contemplation. The falling and rising arcs of paint are designed to be both hypnotic and calming.
This is an experimental painting on canvas using tar, oil paint and cold wax medium. Just recently, I have been trying to include more elements of drawing in my work, allowing the hand to make incisions without consciously controlling or dictating the final outcome. I guess I am attempting to eliminate myself from the process, to achieve a sense of originality and inevitability about the marks, undoubtedly a foolhardy enterprise. How can it be possible to draw without prior awareness of drawing? I recall the ‘blind drawing’ exercises we worked on in art classes; they often produced surprising and unexpected results. However, many of the students never quite grasped the purpose of these techniques and often felt they were creating interesting but more or less random ‘drawings’ lacking in observational skill.
How as an artist do you suppress and override all those aspects of knowledge surrounding line and form that we acquire over years of practice? The lyrical and poetic qualities of line become part of our skill set, our DNA, the sweep of the arm, the motion of the wrist; curves and contours, all the motor skills associated with looking and recording though drawing become ingrained and established.
I intend to explore and discuss this aspect of drawing further in the next few posts. I’ll be looking at the use of unconventional drawing implements and the significance of the material we choose to work with.
I took the opportunity during my Fine Art degree course at Manchester Art College to work in the print room. I really loved the process of etching, preparing the copper sheets, drawing into the wax surface, revealing the bare metal and immersing the plate in sulphuric acid. The depth of line being controlled by time and the concentration of the acid solution. It is always a magical process and difficult to predict the outcome. I guess in many ways I have come full circle; that was over 40 years ago and I’m still drawing, scoring into surfaces and creating marks.
This series of paintings use tar, oil paint and cold wax and to some extent they can be manipulated to echo the qualities found in intaglio etching. Many artists say they begin a work without preconceptions and just allow the image to emerge and take form.
One of the assumptions about this technique is that it leaves open the opportunity for the spontaneous and unexpected to arise as the work progresses. This may be the case with particular pieces and you may occasionally ‘get lucky’. I prefer to think that this approach is often quite calculated and measured. It is about generating visual ideas through accident and chance, then looking carefully and reflecting on what has been produced and intervening to strengthen those qualities.
The ‘detail’ images shown below will give you some indication of the nature of the marks and the subtlety of the wax and tar surface. Beeswax is a beautiful medium to work with; selective burnishing enhances reflective qualities and a sense of depth and texture.
I have just been working on a commission based on one of my recent New Forest paintings. It has taken over two months from start to completion and I am genuinely pleased with final outcome. For those of you who have worked on a commission before you will know that they can sometimes be problematic. I think it is extremely important to be clear about the nature of the painting process and to communicate this through discussion with the other party.
Each painting is inevitably unique and few artists would be able to recreate an existing painting or exact copy unless the style owed more to photographic realism and/or geometric precision. You will see from the close up details that this painting has been developed through the application of successive layers of oil paint and cold wax medium. The raised surface and tactile nature of the work embodies the textural qualities of the subject matter.
No one could ever accuse me of being a Monarchist and I know you must be thinking this is not my usual usual genre but, I was in Ely marketplace this morning, I had a camera with me and so why not.
I couldn’t be certain what Camilla was saying to Charles but I think given the body language, he may well have been taking directions. To be fair to both of them, they spent a great deal of time talking with the people of the town and they seemed to be upbeat and enjoying the experience…..they really tried to talk to everyone, now that is professionalism.
I think late Autumn and Winter are probably the best seasons for landscape photographers living in the Fenlands. I know that Cambridgeshire doesn’t have the dramatic landscapes of the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales or even the Trough of Bowland, but it does have something special.
At this time of year the landscape maintains a gritty and determined resolve. There is a complete absence of pretension and prettiness. The uneven roads and tilted telegraph poles, the isolated columns of tall trees, vast skies with fields stretching to the distant horizon makes me feel as if I have been cast adrift on an open sea.
John Clare: The Fens
There’s not a hill in all the view,
Save that a forked cloud or two
Upon the verge of distance lies
And into mountains cheats the eyes.
And as to trees the willows wear
Lopped heads as high as bushes are;
Some taller things the distance shrouds
That may be trees or stacks or clouds
Or may be nothing; still they wear
A semblance where there’s nought to spare.
There is something compelling about the roads and rivers of the Cambridgeshire Fenland. In fact, there is something compelling about all roads and rivers wherever they may be. Ever since the invention of the camera, roads have long held a particular fascination for photographers.. There are so many associations and connections for us; they are often used as symbols to reflect upon significant moments in our lives. If you do a little research you will find that roads feature in a wide range of poetry and songs. Below is a well known poem by Robert Frost about making those critical choices.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
There was a magnificent sunset this evening in Cambridgeshire and I captured the evening light on the River Great Ouse, not far from Wicken Fen.The sun had just disappeared below the horizon and the sky became a kaleidoscope of colour. The image was taken with a Fuji X100F on the Velvia film simulation setting.
I found this striking image from my Hong Kong collection. I believe these are Shaolin Buddhist monks who are trained to perform feats of incredible physical endurance. Skeptical commentators maintain that the spears are blunted and the angle of the body combined with the raised head ensures the body weight falls on the lower thighs. Even if this were the case, this is a genuine spectacle and simply spell binding to watch. For anyone who may be concerned, the young monk pictured was completely unscathed although I have to say his expression betrays a certain level of discomfort and anxiety
I have been looking through some old hard drives and came across a set of images from a visit to Hong Kong. This was taken in 2006 with a Canon 40D and 50mm f1.8 lens. Hong Kong is a very exciting city and nothing short of paradise for a street photographer. I’ll keep checking through the various files and folders and see what else I have in storage.
The late afternoon sun transforms an ordinary scene. Windows and doorways become dark rectangular shapes and intense sunlight reflects from plaster walls. In these images of geometry and order I see echoes of the surrealist Magritte, the mysterious city streets of the Italian artist Giorgio De Chirico and the cool detachment of the American painter, Joseph Albers.
For those of you also interested in the technical aspects of photography this image was taken on a Fuji X100s using the excellent Fuji Acros film simulation setting.
Please feel free to share your own thoughts and ideas.
These are the vast open landscapes of the Cambridgeshire Fenlands that influence my paintings. This image was taken with a Fuji X100F a couple of days ago when the sky was particularly dramatic. I have carried out some basic editing – mainly tonal adjustments and sharpening – using Silver Efex Pro2. I have to say the Fuji is a great little camera, easy to take with you and it produces really good jpg’s with the Acros settings. You can’t really tell from the photograph but it was an incredibly blustery day out in the Fens….the clouds were racing across the sky. Really should have used a tripod and a long exposure to capture the movement; maybe next time.
This is a large oil painting on a 122 x 92 cm canvas. It is semi abstract and expressionistic in terms of technique and approach. It is however, based indirectly on nature and more specifically on the hedgerows of the fenland in East Anglia. Trees, brambles and woody shrubs such as hawthorn, blackthorn and field maple create an exuberant entanglement of chaotic growth.
The material and paint I have used is applied with a variety of tools including brushes, palette knives and assorted scrapers. As you will see, the surface is built up in heavy impasto layers and translucent glazes accumulating over a period of time. I have been working on this piece for a couple of years now and it has undergone numerous changes; that is just part of my process. Some of you will no doubt see the influence of the contemporary artists Anselm Kiefer and Gerhardt Richter.
…..And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all.
Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.
There are other places
Which also are the world’s end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
From a poem by T.S. Eloit
The Fenlands are highly productive agricultural land and at this time of year, farmers can be seen ploughing and tilling the earth in readiness for the next year. The tilling blades comb the topsoil, mixing and aerating as they are dragged across the fields. I have used plaster, oil and cold wax medium, alternately scoring and layering the materials to recreate the furrowed surface. The late evening light at this time of year has a warm soft glow that I have tried to capture with gold iridescent paint.
‘The Three Realms’ by Peter Corr
For me, a title is an important element in the creation of a painting. I know that many abstract painters use numerical systems to identify and classify their work. I prefer to title each image and through the invention of the title, try to enhance the life, associations and potential relevance of the work. In this instance, I really wanted a title that would express in a very direct way, the inspiration and the key components of this painting which of course relate to landscape. The title of this painting therefore is relatively straightforward; it refers to the three realms of earth, sky and water. I wasn’t aware until later that ‘The Three Realms’ has other, in many ways more interesting connotations. In Nichiren Buddhism ‘The Three Realms’ are, according to Quora:
(1) the realm of the five components
(2) the realm of living beings
(3) the realm of the environment.
These could be thought of simply as, from the standpoint of a human being, the person, society and the environment.
The materials used in this painting include oil paint, pumice stone and cold wax medium. The heavy impasto creates an almost rough hewn marble like surface pitted and marked with successive layers of cold wax and oil paint.
The conceptual artist Richard Long would have enjoyed using these industrial machines. On the road leading to the village of Coveney, old irrigation ditches are being refurbished. Giant earth moving equipment cuts through the clay subsoil in V cross sections, like a knife through butter. Water immediately flows into the channel and mirrors the sky. These large scale sculptural interventions will never find their way to the Tate Modern turbine hall…but they really should.
‘Gilded Shore’ 100 x 75 cm
Gilded Shore is an abstract painting in terms of technique, style and intention. It is based on the flat, open landscapes of the East Anglian, Cambridgeshire Fenland. Semi transparent glazes give depth and luminosity as light is reflected through the layers of pigment. The variegated surface of the painting is achieved with thickly applied bitumen and cold wax medium. The lustrous quality or sheen is achieved through a combination of burnishing the wax surface and interleaved layers of metallic paint. A variety of tools and implements have been used to create incisions, marks and subtle textures that can be read as earth, sky, and water. The restricted references to three dimensional space is designed to create a subtle counterpoint the pictorial flatness of the deep raw and burnt umbers.
Below are 4 videos shot just after the exhibition was set up
Location: The Old Fire Engine House in Ely, Cambridgeshire: 25 St Mary’s St, Ely CB7 4ER
If you are visiting Ely in Cambridgeshire do come along to the Old Fire Engine House to see an exhibition of recent paintings by myself, Paul Janssens and Caroline Foward. The exhibition is called EXPLORE and the preview night is on the 3rd October, 6 – 8pm. We would love to see you there.
‘Look Before You Leap’
By Order of
Galway City Council
Swimming in the open sea is an Irish tradition and they clearly relish this encounter with the primal element. On a windswept coast in Galway, precariously balanced on top of a diving platform, I found myself taking photographs. Apparently, people of all ages fearlessly jump off here into the waves far below. I spoke to a very friendly local man in his 40’s who told me that only two years ago he had broken ‘his fecking neck’ jumping off the platform. He seemed to have made a full recovery from the accident. Indeed, this was clearly a significant achievement in his life and a moment of considerable personal pride. I could only agree, mission accomplished… I was ‘fecking’ impressed.
This was taken looking towards the Temple Bar district on the left back of the river.