Sunday, February 28, 2010

Papier-mâché birds - Final stages, finishing touches

All the birds need some last touches: from left to right: Woodpecker - detail beak and face; Blue- paint legs; White - detail the eyes; Blue (open beak)- make adjustments to legs/claws; Brown- repaint beak; Boy- paint; Small white bird - improve tail and eyes; Heron- repaint beak

This sort of work can go on and on: I suspect that folk art, which often uses labour intensive methods, came into being partly to use up time.

Perhaps because Papier-mâché is a new medium for me, I don't know quite when to declare the piece over. In truth, I don't really have the patience for very slow craft processes, aso anything I work on has to be finishable in about 4 stages or I go very much off the boil. Also, I think the charm of these things must lie in their hand-made roughness, and the level of abstraction that comes with it.

Papier-mâché has existed for centuries but there isn't - so far as I can see from the various sites- a real canon of Papier-mâché artists. This means one can make it up as one goes along.

This is something of a relief coming from the world of Fine Art, where one is constantly aware of a pressure to compare onself and compete, even with various "Masters".

When I've finished these birds I shall probably make some aeroplanes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The sea near Praia Mole, Florianopolis

The sea near Praia Mole, Florianopolis, Oil on card, 12.8 x 8.2 cm, 54 US$

Today's picture was painted by the sea.

The best way to paint the sea, I find, is to paint a general background colour for the water and for the sky, and then to watch patiently for a while to get a sense of the rhythm of the waves, before sketching them in along with any clouds. It is never easy when the tide is coming in rapidly, however.

It's best, also, to use a very limited palette or I find I get into a mess. You have to accept that you'll never capture all the aspects of the sea in each picture: you can look forwards to showing other aspects in your next painting.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Some photos from Balneário Camboriú; white shoe; billboards

These white shoes shine with undue brightness, causing a sort of visual imbalance, drawing far too much attention to the feet and away from the face.

Having a perfectly white shoe and sock is important to Brazillians. Cleanliness is also considered highly important (at least, in private spaces: in public places you can really do whatever you please). White is the most popular colour for trainers for women. Men wear a wider range of colours, and often their shoes are decorated with exciting stripes. The socks are always made of a certain spongy cotton.

Is the trainer (when worn as a normal shoe as opposed to being worn for the playing of sports) the most hateful American cultural export ? It surely ranks high on any list, but is it nastier than chewing gum, Chicken McNuggets, mass obesity, Tele-evangelism, car culture or political correctness? Perhaps readers have their own suggestions?


These huge billboards, which dominate the town of Balneário Camboriú, are plainly aimed at negociating female vanity. Female vanity is big business in Brasil, and I'd suggest that at least 90% of retail space is given over to it (but I am estimating here). The clothes they advertise are not cheap, plainly out of reach of the overwhelming majority of women: it is an industry geared to satisfy the vanity of their elite.

The quantity of these billboards is amazing: they are both impressive and oppressive, suggesting a sort of cult; a cult in which beautiful females are accorded unusually high status.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Elevated Highway; Inter-urban painting

Elevated highway, oil on card, 12.5 x 10.2 cm; 54 US$ or equivalent

One of a series of paintings which will feature the roads and suburban architecture that is a response to, and product of Florianopolis's intensive car culture (car ownership for the city runs at 50% per capita, an incredible number given the cost of cars relative to income in Brasil, and when you consider that this includes children and people incapable of driving).

The phenomenon of this interurban architecture is excellently considered in "Italy - Cross Sections of a Country," Scalo Zurich, 1998) by Stefano Boeri, which charts his work with the photographer Gabriele Basilico, describing the urban sprawl along various Italian highways, and with it the destruction of 19th century city spaces and lifestyles.

This terrain has also been visited by painters before, most obviously Edward Hopper, and there are various other American artists who've dealt with this sort of landscape, including photo-realists.

Painting such scenes is not pleasant as it requires spending time in settings which are inhumane, good only for cars, often noisy and polluted. And a major reason for many painters for being painters is romantic rebellion: a pastoral retreat into the countryside, an escape from this suburbanity. I have those romantic tendencies myself. This world of parking lots and highways and shopping malls and storage lots, all interconnected by tarmac is disturbing, apparently centreless: the world of J. G. Ballard.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Conflicts inside


I was not feeling so great and I sat in the mall utterly depressed and pointless.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The birds on parade following their first coat of paint.

Here they are. I dont have certain colours, so my choices are limited. But in a way that is good, because it lends a sense of unity to the collection.

I feel that the simpler the bird are, the more likable. There is another weeks work in tightening up the details.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A tree with golden flowers; "the artist is always the worst critic of his own work"

A tree with golden flowers, oil on card, 10.2 x 7.2 cm, 100 Brazilian Reals

I first began working on little plein air paintings almost exactly two years ago:

Looking over the set, I do feel that I have become more able. There are some experimental pieces there using scratching of paint which are not convincing. I do believe that when I am working on a piece I become blind to it: I can only really see what it is like after some time has elapsed.

It is odd that one should be so blind while working closely on something when later it's flaws appear so obvious. I suppose that is why some people say, "the artist is always the worst critic of his own work".

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The end of a road, Corrego Grande

The end of a road, Corrego Grande, oil on card, 18 x 11.3 cm $54 or 35 GB pounds

I painted this squashed inside our tiny Fiat, listening to British Sea Power, as the ran fell down mercilessly outside. I could have been in the UK though I guess it would have to be colder and I'd need a Thermos Flask full of tea in the back of the car.

I'm not really happy with this: I think it heavily painted. I think the larger size- larger than a standard postcard is not entirely helpful, because one loses the sense of concentration that is so appealing in the very small "postage stamp" pictures. The sky colour I like, however.


The risk of working on these little paintings everyday- indeed on working on anything daily- is that although one might be able to see the lessons to be gained from each picture, one has not the time to digest and internalise these lessons: one ploughs on with the same routine, increasingly unsure of ones course, yet unable to change direction.

This is one reason why it is not really good, generally, to work continually on the same style of artwork for too long a period. I shall therefore take a little break from this after the weekend, I think.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Papier-mâché birds - stage 3; some lessons

Two birds after he first stages of painting.

I have learnt the following things about modelling in papier-mâché and plaster.

1. An armature saves a lot of grief.
2. While plaster can be used to smooth surfaces it cannot be used to model them, as it is brittle and breaks off the paper mache surfaces. Plaster cannot, therefore be used for modelling details either.
3. A certain plastic glue ("Puttex") is good for smoothing surfaces. But it cannot be easily sanded, so you have to smooth it carefully before leaving it to dry.
4. The surface of papier mache is perhaps never going to be eggshell smooth.
5. Papier mache made with white pva glue and water creates a stronger form than that made with wallpaper glue. It is also smoother.
6. Papier-mâché is not good for detailed modelling. The forms made have to be quite simple.
7. The process is quite slow. Allowing drying time betweeen papier-mâché sessions, I suppose one should allow up to two weeks to make a little bird such as the one above.
8. Painting hides some blemishes, but not many.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Promontory

A Promontory, Lagoa, oil on card, 13 x 9.8 cm - 54 US$

There are idyllic views everywhere here leading to very "chocolate box" paintings, if you want to be unkind.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stories using models?

A boy and his birds.

It would be fun to tell little stories using photos of these models: I love the Brothers Grimm and the gothic imagery in his stories. I used to have a toy theatre: with a simple narrative these models might be an excellent way of telling a story using pictures.

A new little picture.

The road from Joaquina, oil on card, 14 x 9 cm

In the small scale -the pictures are just a little bigger than a cigarette box- the effect of brush strokes and textures are exaggerated.

I paint these plein air- it's so hot now that working for more than an hour becomes quite tiring.

I love the little back roads of Brazil- the way they are swallowed up by the incredible profusion of nature, the amazing abundance here, and of the country as unexplored. I prefer the back roads of the interior to the beaches which are a public space, too open for my tastes: I prefer the sense of privacy one gets sheltered by the trees.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Au Piano; a painting based on shame


Au Piano, Oil on Canvas, 2004

I used to play the 'cello. No, that's a lie: I didn't really play: I had 'cello lessons, for which I did the sparest preparation imaginable and to say I played is to glorify beyond all sense the bestial noises my bow produced.

Miss Jones taught me. Her hair was red and curly and pinkish. She hitched her skirt up to play; you could see her large bare pink thighs: fatty. I think she was highly sexed; Jaqueline du Pre in Aberdeen: she had that physical energy.

She had tremendous enthusiasm, always overjoyed to see me for reasons that I now realise were only partly commercial, and mainly a product of genuine affection. But I found the enthusiasm oppressive, given that my lessons were always marked by my feelings of guilt: when I entered he room she would ask me how much practice I'd done: half an hour a day was what I was supposed to do: I stood there in my corduroy trousers, fibbing, an embarrassed 10 year old. I'd never done more than five minutes.

I went to the lessons when other pupils had Religion. I was naturally drawn to religion, I`d a strong ability to interpret the scriptures. This dericed from a good analytical curiousity, but also issued from two other mental tendencies- priggishness and compassion: two sides of the same coin. I harboured a romantic, secret ambition to be a priest and ‘cello lessons were an interference. But every Friday I dutifully crossed the black tarmac of the playground up the steps of the pre-fabricated music block of the school to receive my lesson and fulfill my commitment.

My mother paid for the lessons writing cheques for tiny sums (the lessons were then subsidized by the Aberdeen council, and the use of the cello was too*). My mother always had this earnestness. She was unforgiving, you were held to contracts, you'd agree to study 'cello. What made you think you should be allowed to shirk practice? I wanted to stop ‘cello but fear of my mother’s reproaches and guilt at having embarked on the lessons in the first place made it on learning ‘cello conspired to make me timid.

So I continued the lessons somehow imagining that if I quit I'd be disappointing those around me.

It can’t have been in the least pleasant for my mother to hear my desultory practice every afternoon as she prepared dinner in the kitchen with the door open. I once recorded my playing and it was execrable. I listened to the recording only once, in disgusted disbelief.

Another boy joined cello classes. His name was Fergus McTavish. He advanced rapidly at 'cello, learning the necessary techniques with a speed and ease that made me quite disgusted. Miss Jones held a joint lesson for us at Christmas: he played with élan. She asked him how long he practiced each day- he replied sometimes an hour, sometimes two. He even practiced at lunch time. I slunk low, my hot hands burning with shame, buried deep in my corduroy pockets: the boy was brazenly, horrifyingly keen and had overtaken my playing ability in weeks.

I also played, that Christmas lesson, scraping my bow hideously across the strings. My disgrace was plain. To console me Miss Jones said, “But, of course, Fergus is a year older than you”, a mollification that did not reduce my mortification.**

I matured. I moved to the upper school. I overcame my pusillanimity: I told Miss Jones that I wanted to stop. I remember the moment, I was in the prefabricated block where music was taught and I told her. The lesson before she had enthusing about Wimbledon and was joyful (like many British middle class women she was a keen follower of tennis). She wept: the first woman I’d ever seen or made weep.

Good kind Miss Jones. My shame is threefold: shame that I never did the practice nor had he manliness to end the lessons; deeper shame that I lacked the depth to see and appreciate her affection.

This picture features a dissolute young man and an evangelical music teacher, and takes its inspiration from those experiences. It elides the man I am now with my childhood experience as a music student.

I apologize for the photo. It barely befits me to say that it doesn’t do the painting justice, given that I both took the photo and painted the picture. But it is true: my camera cannot manage strong contrasts of tone or colour in a subject.

*The sort of low cost expenditure which does much to encourage cultural development and pleasure by allowing access to musical training among the poor, but which is much less glamorous than expensive showcase building projects, and therefore tends to get sidelined in local authority budgets.

**I observed at this point a wicked element in my character revealed itself: instead of feeling praise and admiration for Angus, my immediate response to his success was to say to myself, "he is cheating, because he practiced more". I had the notion of that truly admirable successes were effortless, a product of genius, and to accomplish something having worked at it didn’t really count- that was merely a matter of doing the time. In this light, Angus became an imposter. My philosophy contributed to an increasing foppishness as my years advanced, much resembling Delacroix’s Baron Schwiter, developing an obsession with Aubrey Beardsley.

My attitude was a reaction to the rigor and patient energy applied by my immigrant parents to reach respectable positions in public life. I guess it was the sort of rebellion all children must make against their parents so to allow themselves to form an identity. For this too much worthiness is at least as unhelpful to youth as too little (indeed, possibly more unhelpful as it is can justify its own oppressiveness: see James Dean in “Giant”). I still dislike hard work and anything that smells of it: this explains my complete lack of success in the world.