Friday, 28 November 2008

Navel Gazing

I've been away travelling in my head and navel gazing at the same time. Not easy for a chap of a certain age! And apart from some fluff and biscuit crumbs there was not a lot to blog about. Except, that is, about some conclusions I have come to:
While I am fascinated with abstract painting and abstraction I may not be the best exponent of the art. It doesn't come particularly natural to me, and perhaps I should leave it to others who make a better go of it. So what am I to do? Every time I go round this dilemma the same answer comes back - figuration. Go back to doing what you really like best, that is drawing and painting figures. Now with fewer years ahead of me than lie behind it's about time I settled down to developing a singular and personal imagery which is mine, all mine, and nobody elses but mine!

So with that in mind I return to my sketchbooks and set out on the long road through the development of a painting:

Pencil on paper, A6 sketchbook: Two female figures seen from the back at last years Artburst Festival in the streets of East Kilbride Village. The Art Festival title is a bit of a misnomer. In my opinion it should be properly named the 'Open Air Piss-Up' since drink laws are relaxed for the three day duration and people can take their swally out into the street. Oh to be in Paris, or the side-walk cafes of Sorrento, but certainly not here about ten o'clock on a wet Saturday night! Still it gives me the opportunity to sketch my fellow revellers.

Working from those two sketches I bring the figures together and try to create some dynamic between them:

Neocolours on paper, 21x30cm: "Development 1: Girlfriends"; I invariably like compositions with only two figures to explore the interaction between them. But I need to go further, and larger:

Neocolours on paper, 44x60cm: "Development 2: Two Figures"; The figures are still female but a change is taking place - the one on the left has become more non-sex specific, and the other is now holding a long staff. Where that comes from I don't know but there you are. I think it was just a device to create an edge to the picture. What you do see here is an attempt to blur the edges such that background crosses over into the figures space. This device fascinates me.
But how to turn these sketches into a painting?:

Oils on board, 44x61cm: "Development 3: Standing Figures"; Using closely harmonising colours applied with palette knife I play with the image trying to create greater ambiguity (my current favourite word). But somehow when forming the right figure's head that touch of complementary colour explodes upwards. She's on fire! This kind of takes me back to my experiments with Free Abstracts where I just painted as it came to me, just going with the lava flow, which in this instance was bright orange and red! Anger? Amorous thoughts? Embarassment? You choose!
I'm pretty pleased with this development and now that I'm on a roll I need to do it again and hopefully take it further. The figure on the right was compromised by my placing such that I had to bend her arm upwards since I couldn't get it in outstretched as in the sketch. That was OK, but I want to shift the figures to one side and capture the extended arm again:

Oils on Board, 48x61cm: "Final Development: Guardians at the Gate"; Perhaps getting too mannerist but there they are, standing guard at a doorway. Where they came from is unknown but with each development new ideas, colours, and applications, spring forth. Excited by this development but I need to see if I can do it again, to consider it's merit. But that is for another day . See you soon, I hope!

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Nothing New

As some wag said: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun..."[Eclesiastes 1:9]

It would make you sick: just when you think you are doing great you turn a corner, go into a gallery, and see that it has all been done before - only better!

I'd been reading about "free abstraction" as done during the 1950's by the English artist Gillian Ayres ["...(her) painting refuses to present an image that might invite pictorial interpretation, or that might propose any analogy beyond that manifest in the energetic distribution of pigmented material across a characterless fabricated surface" (usually hardboard) to quote Mel Gooding in his 2001 biography of GA ]. I decided after reading this that what was required was to cast off inhibition and make my own attempts allowing my subconscious, and brush, free reign.

After a good few, stilted, disasters these three appeared out of the chaos of my mind:

Acrylics on paper, 60x45cm:"Free Abstraction #7";

Acrylics on paper, 60x45cm:"Free Abstraction #8";

Acrylics on paper, 45x60cm:"Free Abstraction #9";
There is no attempt to represent anything. What I am searching for is an expression of something intangible, ungraspable, inexpressable in words. They won't 'mean' anything to anyone else, but they mean something to me and gave me great satisfaction.


...until I walked into Roger Billcliffe's gallery in Glasgow and was astonished to see these fabulous freely expressed abstractions by Gail Harvey, a Glasgow artist now based in Shetland:

Mixed media on canvas, 177x152cm:"Journey";

Mixed media, 99x69cm:"Blue on the Horizon"
These just blew my socks off! I said to the young guy at the desk "these just look like one of my favourite artists Duncan Shanks, to which he replied - "Aye, she was taught by him!". to which I retorted:"I wish I had been taught by him too!".
Go and have a look at her stuff for yourselves here:
I have run out of words (at the moment) to describe just how much I love this stuff!

Friday, 14 November 2008


Took ourselves away for a week at my favourite self-catering cottage, Hope Cottage, on the island of Arran, just off the West coast of Scotland. This is our "bolt-hole" in times of stress and upset and every day we walked the hills, through the forests and across the moors all the time bathing in the most glorious weather we've had for a long time. Cleansing and refreshing, but no drawing or painting - couldn't get down to it.
So the best I can do at the moment is to translate some of the many photographs I took into these sketches:

Pencil on paper, A5: "Stone of Hope"; Fairly representational to start but a good exercise to remind myself about drawing.

Every morning I walked down to the shore to watch the Ringed Plover and Curlews, and throw some angry stones into the water:

Neocolour II on paper, A5: "Rock Pool"; Extending myself a bit further with a range of colour markings.

One afternoon after J had got her make-up on to face the world (takes all morning, y'know, and three cups of coffee! but it's worth it - a work of what I call Raw Visionary Art [but please don't tell her I said so :o} and we wouldn't like to scare any kids out there] we climbed up through the forests of Glenashdale, a circular route of only four miles but probably another two vertically! All the time you are puffing and stopping for some oxygen you look upwards at the towering pine trees, bare lower down their trunks showing glimpses of yellow Larch needles against a clear blue sky:

Neocolour II on paper, A5: "Towering Pines"; Trying to get this slender verticality in an A5 pad.
And then you break out into open ground where great swathes of forest have already been cleared leaving a small stand of European Larch turning to these wonderful shades of autumnal colour enhanced by the clear blue sky:

Neocolour II on paper: "Autumn Larches"; There may be other pine trees that are deciduous but these are probably the most common, and a beautiful sight to behold with the freshest green needles in Spring and these rich yellows and orange in the Autumn.
Lastly, looking across the Kilbrannan Sound in the gloaming:

Neocolour on paper, A5:"Kilbrannan Sundowners"; This is a wonderful stretch of water between Arran and the Mull of Kintyre. Often we see the most glorious sunsets looking in this direction and sometimes, if we are lucky, we can see whales or dolphins swimming down the Sound on their way to the open sea. And one day we did! A large pod of at least a dozen animals gently working their way Southwards not too far from shore that we got a good sight of them. Spellbound we were - for a while. But the spell of this wondrous sight was broken by a complete eejit on a powerboat who came skelping round the point and charged straight into the middle of the pod. Dolphins going everywhichway trying to get away from him, but he continued to chase them for miles, past Davaar and Sanda, out into the Atlantic.
Some humans don't deserve the title! Fortunately there are many more, like you dear readers, who do.
Thank you for your time, and goodnight!
ps: a special thanks to Brian for getting me up off my butt and writing again. Cheers mate!