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.
‘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.
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.