Monday, October 23, 2017

My British trip: conclusions


Detail: Near Berwick-ipon-Tweed, fields

My British trip was short and frustrating. I didn't give enough time to each place: I broke my own rule about spending at least three nights in any one place. You need to give space and time for painting to develop. 

Also, I  became tired and a bit sick from not allowing myself enough time to get over the flights from Brazil and by socialising as soon as I arrived. I'm used to being alone much of the time besides which I'm fairly misanthropic, so spending time with others can be rather taxing.

The weather was not bad-  was predictably unpredictable, spitting down first thing in the moring to make you pessimistic, then showers or, in Berwick, wind in the afternoons.

 On the plus side, I think I've discovered a place where I can bed down for a solid week next time: Galashiels! It isn't as pricey as Melrose but it has some of its prettiness and the location is also delightful. 

It's difficult to travel in the UK because the costs are so high. A single room anywhere is a minimum of 50 pounds- and we are here talking about no frills hospitality in remote or unfashionable places. So my instinct is to prefer to make British trips shorter and use that money in Latin America where it goes so much further and the weather is kinder. But that's an instinct that beats against a need I have to sustain links with the UK and with the artistic traditions there.


Friday, October 20, 2017



Four pochades from Northumberland, showing carrier label

I painted the bridge twice. First I felt I didn't go far enough, I didn't "push through" to arrive at a stylistic conclusion somehow signaled by the bridge itself.

 Railway Bridge, Berwick, oil on card, 17.8 x 16 cm

Railway bridge, Berwick-upon-Tweed, oil on card, 15.5 x 17.5 cm

So there are two paintings. Now I prefer the first. It's shaky, but I like that.

I walked along the river and painted the tress and bushes in the land beside. Mysterious places- I felt that I could have spent many more days there.

Near Berwick-upon-Tweed, fields, oil on card, 16 x 15.8 cm

There's a nice chunkiness about the handling in this one (above).

Fields, Northumberland, oil on card, 17.5 x 14 cm


Pochades from London


Three London Pochades in their carriers

My British trip began and ended in London.

Island Gardens, oil on card, 17.2 x 15.5 cm

Two my paintings this time were painting in Greenwich or, just over the river, on the Isle of Dogs.

Greenwich, a view north in the park, oil on card, 17 x 16 cm

This painting of Greenwich (above) was executed from the rise in the park looking North, The light flickered on and off through the clouds with a certain drama. You get the feeling on such days that winter is coming soon.

I've never really enjoyed painting in London: it's too flat, and its edges are ill-defined: it bleeds out into suburbs. The prevailing architectural styles are often bitty, even twee. There are few striking geographical elements other than the river, which now features little activity. The light is often dull, so the city lacks drama, and there is, of course, the rain. Recent painters of London have almost emphasized these insipid characteristics in a sort of deliberately anti-dramatic painting- in the Euston road School, or the Camden Town Group, or the paintings of Auerbach. Their work is often full of sadness I think.

When we look at the lively London painting of Monet, Turner or of Canaletto, then visit the places their pictures describe it seems as if they are creating fictions just tangentially related to reality.

I also worked a little in Marylebone. The light is silvery and everything lacks form. I started to work on St Mary's Church on Wyndham Place but the view was unsatisfactory and the parks cars ruin the perspectives. 

Marylebone, Homer Row, oil on card, 17.5 x 16 cm

I feel that New York is considerably more satisfactory as a painting place than London. It is much more visually arresting with its bold deco buildings and heroic bridges.


Berwick-upon-Tweed and an exhibition of the Scottish Colourists



The town is solid stone, cheerfully sincere and beautifully situated on the convergence of the Tweed and the sea. It would have been a perfect painting place if the wind had been less strong. The choice of restaurants is not large. There are shops which seem to have been transplanted from the early sixties- traditional butchers or fish and chip shops.

Accents change sharply in from place to place in the UK. There seemed to be no gradation between  the Geordie and the Border Scots.

This lovely town was visited and painted by Lowry- the authorities have marked the places where he painted with information boards. I saw a fine small exhibition at Berwick Visual Arts called Scottish Colourists from the Fleming Collection, which included these lively, unpretentious pictures:

 George Leslie Hunter, Lower Largo, Fife, oil on Millboard, 1919

 George Leslie Hunter, Peonies in a Chinese Vase, oil on board, 1925

Often there are traces of art deco stylisation in the paintings of the twenties.

 J.D. Fergusson, The Drift Posts, oil on canvas, 1922

Samuel John Peploe, Luxembourg Gardens, oil on panel, 1910


Tuesday, October 17, 2017



Three Melrose pochades

Melrose is a pleasant, if twee, town in the Scottish Borders,close to the river Tweed and featuring a ruined abbey, elegant gardens and innumerable tea shops.

 It nestles in some hills and is a fine place to go painting, though I think next time I would go up the road to Galashiels where there are more affordable options in terms of hospitality and catering and is a bit less up its own arse. But, had I had more money, I could have stayed in Melrose a month and worked on paintings, easily.

Melrose, a bridge over the Tweed, oil on card, 15.5 x 17.5 cm

The fields above the town provided me with material, as did the river. I try to respond frankly to the subject, in an unfussy style. I don`t think it's a sentimental affectation to seek truthfulness in art and to judge its effectiveness by that. 

White houses, Melrose, oil on card, 19 x 17 cm

I love those white-washed houses that so characterise Scotland. This one is good, it has some of that sadness that so prevails in October in Britain. Should I have gone for more detail?

Hills behind Melrose, oil on card, 17.5 x 18 cm


Monday, September 25, 2017



Priming cards

The cards are cut from mat boards. I prime them with a mixture of  95% linseed oil , 3% turps and 2% oil paint for the first layer, then leave it to dry for a week. I recoat the cards with the same mixture a fortnight later.

 I wait another month then coat it in a layer which is about 90% titanium white and 10% turpentine.

I let it dry for at month before painting on it.

I rarely have problems with either sinkage or cracking, and have been using this formula for about five years.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

A photo from Bucharest, becoming an artist


Bucharest, 2002

Here I am over twenty years ago twenty in Bucharest in 1992. I had graduated from Edinburgh University two years before and was teaching English in Bayswater, London.

I'd taken the decision not to continue making art but to focus on teaching to make a living and get on the career ladder That decision showed a failure of self-awareness on my part, albeit an understandable one: I can teach, and that offered a much more secure financial future, but it isn't a first instinct in the way making art is.

In addition, I thought that the pleasure I got from travel was merely a phase, and that I could happily develop a life in London as permanent fixed resident, with all the usual accouterments and relationships.

In both these decisions I was mistaken. And I compounded the effect of these misjudgments because instead of accepting my nature- that of a nomadic and creative individual- I waged a campaign against my instincts and tried to force myself into a condition I did not suit, throwing moralist arguments about the "better good of society" or, "duty" or "career" at myself. I had had some ideas that "happiness came not from pursuit of suit of self interest but in the fulfillment " of duty (which is not a direct quote from Saint-Exupery, but could well be).

In short, had thought that my enjoyment of making art could be relegated to the status of a hobby and I tried to suppress my desire to do so.

Eventually I came to my senses.