Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fast painting

I used to believe that the more slowly and deliberately a thing was done- specifically a work of art- the better. I thought that because I saw slowness as proof of deliberation, thoughtfulness, and care.

These concerns were fundamentally moral. They don't necessarily need to be present in the aesthetic sphere- a work of art can equally well be spontaneous, thoughtless and careless. It just depends on your terms.

There's no proving that one set of values is better than the other because in the end the artwork is just a thing: it has no moral life and - though part of me rages against this- it doesn't really matter very much in the scheme of things anyway.

Personally, I've always been a much better fast artist than a slow one. If the pace is too slow I get bored- I don't concentrate more. On the contrary, if I have too much time to make corrections then I over-edit. I fuss, changing things that don't need changing, blunting my original message with compromise.

This is partly why monotype is such an appealing medium for me, it's "time-limited", you have to get the image right in an hour or two or the ink dries. But I have attempted to discover the same midset in painting, here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Art critics have often declared the "death of painting", much as literary critics have declared "the death of the novel".

As a vehicle for innovative thought painting is clearly a reduced force. It simply isn't easy to respond spontaneously to a medium which has such a long, distinguished pedigree. Even artistic trends which were once perceived as wayward, and radical are now weighed down with academic discourse. Abstract expressionism, for instance is now a considered tradition, with "masters" and "schools", as is Surrealism. And images and information about individual works is much more readily available. This means that when you're working on a piece it's hard to avoid making comparisons with the work of other artists- comparisons which "cramp your style".

And personally, I feel when I am working in other media, such as wire, or playing with paper a lightness and creative energy that can be hard to find when mixing paints.

However, in the right frame of mind, there really is nothing comparable to the expressive wit of painting. I mean, the delightful process of applying pressing a paint laden brush to a canvas, of mixing colours- the physicality of this is delicious. Although the painting I worked on yesterday (above) falls into the Kupka -Klee - Nicolas de Staël - Franz Kline school of geometric abstraction the physical pleasure of handling paint is enough to make it worthwhile, and its possible failure to explore new creative territory pales in significance.

For such sensory reasons alone- the pleasure of handling paint- I think that even if painting declines in importance, and ceases to be taught in art schools, it'll never totally disappear.

The painting above is a tribute to Paul Celan, and is titled, "Where did the road lead when it led nowhere?"

There was earth inside them, and they dug.

They dug and they dug, so their day
went by for them, their night. And they did not praise God,
who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, knew all this.

They dug and heard nothing more;
they did not grow wise, invented no song,
thought up for themselves no language.
They dug.

There came a stillness, and there came a storm,
and all the oceans came.
I dig, you dig, and the worm digs too,
and that singing out there says: They dig.

O one, o none, o no one, o you:
Where did the way lead then it led nowhere?
O you dig and I dig , and I dig towards you,
and on our finger the ring awakes.

by Paul Celan, from the 1963 collection, "Die Niemandsrose"
Translated by Martin Hamburger.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Some recent photos of tree barks. The series will include fungi, mosses and lichens too. The variety is amazing.

I haven't researched which species they are- if readers know, please write using the comments box.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


The scenery here reminded me of First World War battelfield paintings by Paul Nash.

Of course, timber is a crop like any other, but the sight of trees felled, and the destruction of the terrain that that entails has an especially emotive effect.

Perhaps this is connected with the depth of identification that it is possible for humans to feel with trees.

Wire world

Working with wire to make simple sculptures, like drawing in air.

Initially I'd intended these wire structures as armatures for mobiles, but having started playing with the wire it seemed more satisfying to keep them clean and simple- the wire itself is so lively and expressive.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Unavoidability of Cliche

These sort of images of weathered surfaces- walls, doors, faces even- are perhaps a photographic cliche. Nonetheless, they are extremely enjoyable. This is partly because they reveal something that cameras are especially good at, which is the surface detail. This detail is particularly evident when the photos are black and white.

At what point should a subject in art be avoided because it has been done before? When does it become exhausted? What is the difference between a cliche and a tradition?

With so many images available so easily online it is now very evident how unoriginal most of them are- and I include my own work in this generalisation.

Maybe the only way to continue making art is to accept the limits of originality with humour?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Slow week

It has been a doleful week. My lack of energy worsened by the coldness of this apartment which seems to have the effect of immobilising me close to our one, tiny bar heater: flats in Southern Brazil don't often have heating, even though it's always quite coold in the winter.

Anyway, with a view to shifting my conception of what art production is onto the digital age, I cleared out old photo files from the computer. I installed the counters (below)- though for some reason I do not really trust them. And I continued work on the mobiles, cutting out more shapes and considering better how to use them- including a wider varierty of shapes and experimenting with flash, and different coloured filters.

The thing is not to lose the naive, folk art feel of the cutouts in the course of photographing them. If the photograph is too highly manipulated this gets lost and the result is like an overproduced live recording of a performance.

You can see the work so far, here-

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Kingdom of Moth

I am making progress here, using the cutouts to revist a theme I began last year, but somehow couldn't really make progress on- a series of monotypes to be called "Moth, a Dream".

I'd intended to make a series of monotpes which Nick Parker would perhaps write a piece to accompany. But there's a time for everything and perhaps the time wasn't right. Or maybe I "over thought" the idea.

Anyway, here we go again, this time a giant mobile with "The Kingdom of Moth" as a working title.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

What's the point of making stuff?

To clarify my mind- some questions I have been asking myself abut my work (not listed in any order).

1. Who is it for?

- Anyone who likes them. There's no target public, but it's usually people who have a taste for the macabre.

2. What will you do with them after you have photographed them?

- I'll put somewhere or chuck them out them, depending on space. The latter is more likely, though. I'm going to extend this disposablility to ther stuff I make, including paintings- so I'll re-use canvases once I've photographed them.

3. Are they for sale?

- Yes, the price is low. Write me, ( I’ll get back to you.

4. What do they mean?

- Meaning is hard to define in visual art. It isn’t proscriptive. These pieces have a function which is to make life more amusing. I guess I’m trying to draw attention to the strangeness and ambiguity that is everywhere, and to add to it.

5. Why do you like making things?

- I like being surprised by what happens when you play with materials. I think the essence of creativity is play. It's an instinctive delight in materials and their communicative possibiliies.
The technique here is very clean- scissors and card. It's not too difficult and because there is only a limited art tradition connected with paper cutouts, they feel fresh and fun to make. I don't know where they will lead to, which I quite like too.

6. What is the point of making things when there are already so many?

- To satisfy your own creative desires, and entertain others.

I say entertain, because before an artwork is anything else it has to entertain, or the public won't be drawn in. It's not a fashionable world, because it suggest you aren't "deep", but then perhaps being "deep" isn't all its cracked out to be.

Sometimes the things I make are unique, or at least, in conception relatively rare, so having them around is offers anther take on things. If I were just reproducing wholesale from a pattern, though, I still think it would be worth doing, just because it's a satisfying exercise.

I think the "what is the point?" question is very important, because if you can't think of a good answer and if you aren't enjoying making art then you should just give up. There are enough reasons to me miserable without adding to them un-necessarily.

7. Do you think any one gives a hoot about what you make?

- Judging by the number of regular visitors to my sites, and adding to that other people I have on mailing lists and who come to exhibitions I would say between 30 and 150 people give a hoot. Sometimes they leave nice comments, which help me believe that my work matters.

I like being part of a creative network- many artists are very isolated, and very frustrated by what they perceive is the indifference of the general public. The internet is helping enormously to break down this isolation.

8. If you work in one style, then another, aren't you contradicting yourself?

- Probably. But it's only art, you're allowed to be inconsistent.


If readers have any additional questions please submit them, and I will attempt to answer them.

Where do we go from here?

I enjoy making the cutouts, and I believe they can be a striking expressive tool but the question is, what to do with them? They seem too insubstantial to function as art.

I shall play with 1. "Tableau"- essentially mini installations of cutouts and 2. Mobiles.

In addition, I am trying to deal with the difficulties of producing more work which will, most likely, simply go into storage, and is unlikely to sell. I haven't space to store more work.

The solution is to work digitally. To treat the artwork as simply the means towards producing photographic digital images, then discard it once its finished with.And by putting the work on the Internet, it is accessible to the public.

I gain a great deal from the support of people, usually strangers, on Flickr, Facebook and Deviantart. They only know my work through its dematerialised pixellated presence on a screen. Does that matter?

Friday, July 17, 2009


I spent today working on these cutouts, and then photographing them.

My original idea was to work on a mobile, and I may still do this. However, I might also try to make miniature stage sets with them. For that to make sense, I'd need some sort of narrative structure, though I could possible just make them as "Tableau" illustrating, say "The Four Seasons", or "States of Mind".

Perhaps they are sufficient in themselves- something tells me, however, that they are not.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

11.30am, The Prince of Wales, Billy (the third of the Billy stories)

-Hello, Schweppes Corporation

-Hello, May I speak to John Fisher?

-John Fisher is in a meeting. Can I ask him to call you back?

It was 10.45, then 11.00, then 11.15. No call.


Enough: I put on my coat and started for the Prince of Wales.

But immediately I go outside it started to rain. Silly weather, so suddenly switching on like that, and so heavily wet. I ran to hide in my car. I sat in the Rover, smoking.

The Rover was like an old friend. The seats were old leather and creaked reassuringly in the same way every time I sat there; the instruments solid and heavy, designed to reassure. It was inherited from an uncle who died when he was struck by lightening on the South Downs when he stopped and went under a tree to relieve himself and got struck by lightening along the stream of his urine.

I drove the hundred yards to the Prince of Wales, pressing my face close to the windscreen to see, the rain so heavy, it was like sitting inside a drum. Thankfully there was a space right outside the pub.

The pub is cavernous, Victorian, and designed for the needs of hundreds of thirsty dockers. But the mechanisation of the port, and use of containers means that it rarely serves more than 20 people at any one.

That’s fine by me.

It has a giant, circular bar, so grand it dwarves the barman, a silent, northern fellow. I guess he moved down here and just got lost, swallowed up by the giant sad bar.

I entered: as always there below enormous the plate windows seated on the maroon vinyl banquette, an elderly solitary drinker. I look across to him and nod: he raises his glass in his thin white arm. “Here’s to your lordship’s health!”

There is a billiard table there. I like to play in the silence of the pub with the guys who hang about there. I am an excellent player and that secures me a place in The Prince of Wales socially. In any case, the players don’t talk. They just stand about sipping pints of beer and all you hear the silent clink of the balls and the murmur of people at the bar, and occasionally the scrape of chalk on a board if they decide to keep a score, which isn’t often. It’s very satisfying and makes a gorgeous contrast to the brittle world of telephones and emails at the desk in my office.


Anyway, I think that’s where I met Billy.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Garden fork

One of an open-ended series celebrating tools and cutlery. The ones which are most appealing are made of the sort of materials which age, or wear nicely, developing a patina or shaping to the habits of the user.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Canada (II of VIII)

“You’ll be here for the eggs?” It was an old woman, grey hair, pink face.

“Yes”, I said. “Eggs”.

“You’ll be from the new houses”, she said.

“Yes”, I said, “that’s right.”

There was a pause. She examined my face. I had to suppress a giggle: it seemed a peculiar process to go through to purchase eggs. I’d seen hand written sign down at the bottom of their drive, then followed a track up tot the farmhouse. The yard was strangely silent and I’d felt this sense of awkwardness as I knocked on the wooden door.

“Well”, she said, suddenly exasperated, “What are you doing standing there. Come in.”

I followed her into a kitchen, a dog looked up for it s basket, came over to greet me- limping on here legs only, then returned to its wicker bed.

“Wait there”, said the woman, I noticed that she too was limping. She looked back for an instant, “how many do you want?”

“How many what?” I thought, puzzled- she sensed that and, surely believing me a idiot, said loudly, “eggs, how many eggs?” She spoke the word “eggs” with a plaintive drawl.

“Oh, just a dozen,” I answered.

“You’re not from here?”

“No,” I said.

“No-one is,” she replied, passing me the eggs in a carrier bag. “Still,” she continued with a laugh, “the more they come, the more eggs I sell.”


Coming back down the hill the orderliness of the houses in the surrounding countryside became starkly obvious and it took me a moment to pick out my own rented place from the other identical houses.

Reaching the smooth tarmac of my street, I saw my nieghbour from across the road who was just entering his, identical dwelling opposite mine. I gave him a wave.

“Got any beer there?” He shouted.

“Eggs,” I replied, though I don’t think he heard: he disappeared inside.

I went inside too. I put the eggs in the fridge then sat down. Very quiet.

I tried to watch TV and could for a while, then I worked on an article. A couple of hours passed. Then I got bored and took to staring out the window.

There was a van parked in the street. Usually that was prohibited. Or was it just rare? It was so hard to figure out what was prohibited and what was just uncommon. Canadians were guarded, they had many rules, but they did not mention them. They did not mention them, I thought, because they did not want to appear intolerant.

Anyway, I saw the van there, and though it was late afternoon. I went out to look more closely. It was that sort of place; there were so few irregularities that even a parked van raised suspicions.

I approached the van. The window of the van would down slowly, then a face poked out, a face with a cigarette protruding from it.

It was the guy from across the road. I hadn’t recognized the van.

“Hey, you got a light?”

It was the man from across the road.

“I don’t have a light,” I said, “I’m sorry.”

Wife kicked me out,” he said in a matter of fact way.

“Really, that’s terrible.”

“She doesn’t like it when I drink,” he said, matter-of-factly

“Oh,” I said.

“You not from here?”

“No,” I said.

“No one’s from here,” he said. “You got some beer in this afternoon?”

“They were eggs,” I said.

“Man, I’d die for an omelette. “

I laughed.

“I still got some beer,” he said. “I keep a store here so the wife can’t find it, and he pointed under the seat.”

“You’re very wise,” I said.

“Sure,” he said, “ ‘t’s called learning from experience.”

He gave a big sigh. “So I got the beer, you got the eggs, your place for dinner??”

I’d made my first Canadian friend. His name was Joe.

Friday, July 10, 2009

In Canada I (No. I of VIII)

Sarah asked me where I was living and I mentioned that I was renting a house out in V, a suburb some 20 miles from Toronto, She would drive out to get me, to take me to the lake, she said.

She came, exactly on time.

Sarah was the friend of a friend from Brazil, Joeli. Sarah wore sunglasses so I could not see her eyes. She wore a polo-neck, then a v-neck sweater over it. She wore jeans and boots, her manner was brisk, she spoke quickly. She was the manager in an office, but she did not describe what she did. I think she had located her work in one mental compartment, which was distinct and unconnected to others in her mind. I knew that I had nothing to say to her. I knew that instinctively, and it made me feel ashamed, as if her kindness was being rejected unfairly, and that emotionally I was unable to fulfill my part of a contract, the role of the grateful guest...

Sarah was just one person, but she made up a huge proportion of the sample of people I had met there, so making me momentarily unsure that I would have much in common with the people of Canada at all.

She drove efficiently. Her sunglasses made her haughty, they were expensive glasses and one of the lenses had a logo in the corner. There flashed the image in my mind’s eye of my Brazillian friend, and the woman here, and the images did not correspond. Sarah had asked about Joeli politely but it was the civility of a government employee, I could not mistake it for friendliness, and I wondered what duty she might be fulfilling to Joelli. We got to the lake, and parked, and she puit the glasses on the dashboard, but she did not look at me directly and I saw her eyes seemed tired.

We walked along the lake. It dawned on me that I was being taken to participate in a sort of new arrivals ceremony, that Sarah was fulfilling a sort of civic duty, and I wondered if she was returning a duty that Joelli had performed for her: part of a giant international exchange programme, where people took foreign visitors to see certain sites as a sort of initiation ceremony, and in return were taken to sites themselves when they went abroad. Walking there, I could truly say I was in Canada, much as when, staring at a concrete Christ on Corcovada one might truly say one had arrived in Brazil.

Canada was very big- the lake was very big, and Canada was surely full of unspoilt nature, much like the landscape surrounding the lake. And, as we walked I reflected that it would be like this, everything would have this mood, Canada. Such days often carry the air of premonition.


When we got to the car the windscreen had been broken. There seemed something excessive about that, as if mere theft was not sufficient- there had to be damage too. But Sarah said that that was probably a drug addict who did not know how to steal simply. They just broke the windscreen and took whatever they could - Sarah's sunglasses were gone from the dashboard.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Until a few years ago I believed that an artist should have one style. This was proof of something called authenticity, which I believed was the basis of good art. I believed in authenticity because I was quite serious, and because I had a puritanical streak, and because it was the cultural norm at the time.

This meant that art had also to be difficult, both technically and in terms of comprehensibility.

In the last few years my attitude has changed, however. It's not that m previous beliefs are invalid, it's more that I see the easy possibility of them existing alongside other beliefs- an artist can be playful, slight and entertaining or populist one day, serious and elevated the next.

This is by way of an explanation of the variety of styles and approaches I am using. They each allow me to express different things, and the one does not cancel out the other.

These statements may seem depressingly obvious, but it should be born in mind that until Post-modernism really set in - and in Scotland, where I trained, this was not until the late 90s- artists were expected to restrict themselves to one medium, one subject, so that if an abstract expressionist painter in acrylics decided to produce a figurative lithograph this was viewed with some suspicion. I suspect that some of the suspicion was led by marketing concerns- it's much harder to market an artist whose work varies enormously.

But given how little art most artists sell, and I include myself- worrying about providing a consistent product seems extremely vain, to say the least.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Homage to Tarkovsky

Here's a photo that brings to mind some of Tarkovsky's films. I used to love Tarkovsky, mainly for the beauty of the imagery and the way music and images are combined.

I saw his films first when I was 16 through to 22, and they appealed to me enormously. I liked their immense seriousness, and their extraordinary craftsmanship. They seemed both tremendously original, and yet ancient. Then, about 20 years later I saw several of them again.

I could still enjoy the films' aesthetic qualities, but found the reactionary messages in Nostagia irritating and silly. Of the films, the more abstract Mirror then seemed the most satisfing because it avoids the preaching, anti-humanistic tendencies of other Tarkovsky films.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Paintings in progress - stage 6

The detail (middle image) is dedicated to that idiot, Rowan Williams, Archibishop of Canterbury, for allowing his major orifce to dribble continuously, without let or hindrence, filling the air with pungent spume.

I still need to title these two paintings. The top painting (A) is something to do with heroism and I want to pay tribute to Russian writers, such as Bulgakov who have dealt with this theme. The picture owes something to constructivism and art of the 20s.

The second is about fertility. I have considered titles such as "The Garden of Earthly Delights".

If you have any suggestions for titles let me know.