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.
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.
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 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.
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.