Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What Lies Beneath …

It seems that the art I make is autobiographical – whether I want it to be or not.

I’ve been doing some preliminary studies for a series of pictures entitled “Stripped”.

I’ve mentioned this before – repeatedly, I’m sure – but I take photos of places and then rip them apart to see and express what lies beneath. I’m stripping back what is seen to reveal what is unseen. I have hundreds of such photos (and I keep taking more) and I’m enjoying working my way through them.

At first I was selecting only the better images and weeding out the many bland ones. And I do take some remarkably bland photos. I have repeated shots of grey skies, the surface of water, patches of dirt. Then I realised that however bland these images were, I’d taken them for a reason. At the moment I took them I was seeing something that I wanted to capture. It was the everyday, the here-and-now … what was there in front of me. The beauty in the ordinary.

So far, so good.

It was when I set myself the simple task of writing a few paragraphs about “Stripped” that I began to realise there was something more going on than I was aware of. I was going to send out a mailing – together with a sample – to some of my friends and contacts. This simple task had been on my list for months but I kept putting it off. You know how it is when you find yourself avoiding doing something? Sooner or later you start to ask yourself why.

That’s when I realised that no matter how objective I was trying to be, I was still at the centre of it all. I was the one holding the camera, making the choices, taking the shots. I wasn’t just exploring the world in general, but my world in particular. And the ideas I’m exploring are not just random concepts, but personally-held beliefs that I’m examining and holding up for discussion.

“Stripped” may not be all about me, but it was a bit about me. And a bigger bit than I had realised.

I realised that in the process of stripping back “nature”, I’m stripping back myself. I’m revealing a bit more of myself. The whole process of making art (taking photos, doing drawings, cutting, sticking, reading, researching, journaling, blogging) is not just revealing things to me, but revealing things in me.

I’m having to think very carefully about this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

“Why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.” Andy Warhol

Most of what I believe is not true, and most of what I say is a lie.

(That doesn’t make me a bad person … does it?)

When you spend a lot of time on your own, you assume that everything you think is right and the way you see things is the way things are. Well, I do, anyway.

Then I meet other people and have conversations. And they say things like,

“errr … no”


“you plonker”.

One of the lies I tell myself … and anyone else who will listen … is that being an artist is just a job like any other.

Like all the best lies, however, this one has a degree of truth in it.

But it’s a lie I tell myself to avoid facing the truth and the consequences of that truth.

Art is much more than a job to me. It’s work, but it’s not a job. But keeping it in the box of ‘job’ and approaching it with a 9 – 5 mentality, helps keep the passion at bay. Keeps it nicely contained. Domesticated, even.

But that kind of convention is never going to achieve my ambitions.

I read somewhere, “when you set goals that are too small and too timid, you suffer a perpetual lack of motivation.”

So I’m looking for things to shake loose … not be so tied up … constricted … conventional.

The pictures I’m making lately are breaking out of the frame. (Some of them, I’m not sure can or should be framed.) I’m using everything I can lay my hands on. If something doesn’t work I try again … chopping and cutting pieces out to make new pictures. A relentless process. I’m digging out pieces I started ages ago but never got anywhere with and I’m re-working them, salvaging them. There’s a vigour that’s starting to come. A vitality.

Maybe being an artist is just a job … but it’s not like any other. Not for me.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Painter Envy

I use a lot of paint but I don’t really paint much. I rarely use a paintbrush. I find it a bit awkward when people ask me if I’m a painter. I don’t really think I am.

But I seriously envy those who are and who do it well.

I went to a Private View last night. I know I keep saying I don’t like them and I’m never going to one again. Ever. And I will quit. I really will. I promise. After this one.

This was a good ‘un though and I’m glad I went.

There were two artists featured – both painters. Both brilliant.

David Lloyd Griffith had a large number of new works on show. They were mainly landscapes, done in the open air. They were full of light, texture and soul. His work was confident.

I want to do landscapes. I like the idea. Just painting fields and hills and … well you know what a landscape looks like.

I visited the studio of a painter once who did landscapes and naturalistic scenes. She had a photo displayed on her laptop and she was copying it onto canvas. She was painting yet I remember my feeling of disappointment.

But I don’t mean like that - though it would probably be quite nice to do and it would be a good way of developing my skills. I mean getting out there and painting what I see as well as sketching and taking photos. I haven’t done that kind of thing for years. But I’m nervous it might take me off in a whole different direction.

Then there was Nathan Ford. And this guy can PAINT. His portraits were excellent in the way they captured character. His landscapes were brilliant in the way they captured the mood of a place. And he did it all with PAINT. Big washes of PAINT capturing the sky blurring with the land. Tiny details (a man’s shiny forehead) picked out with the most delicate of marks. In PAINT. The more I looked, the more I saw. The closer I got the more detail became visible. There was no artifice … just good honest PAINTING. You can see the pictures here.

I’m envious, confused, depressed and inspired.

I guess that makes it a good show.

Friday, October 17, 2008

New Work

Over the last three weeks I’ve been working fairly consistently on some new pieces of art.

I’ve done a few more 6 x 4 inch paintings – which I’m still enjoying. But I’ve also done a couple of pictures in a similar style but in a larger format. Previously, when I tried to do this intentionally, I was not happy with the result. But these two have developed organically and I’m more pleased with how they’ve turned out. The green one is 8 x 9 inches and the brown one is 7 x 8 inches.

But the best result has actually come from those larger pictures I did previously. I left them lying around for a while and a few weekends ago – while I was just sitting looking at them – I saw parts of them that were not too bad. I got out my Stanley knife and my saw and cut out the better bits. Then I started working into one of them and adding extra bits to it (it's now 18 x 6 ins). This was a slow and challenging process as I had no fixed idea at the outset how I wanted it to look. I was working with it as I went along … trying things; changing things. Overall, it took 3 weeks … which is along time for me! But, in my opinion, it’s the best thing I’ve done in over a year.

I’m carrying on doing 6 x 4s and I’ll do some more in a larger format. But I’ve also got a bit of the other large picture that I cut up, so I’ll see how that goes.

Friday, October 10, 2008

So that didn't work ...

Went out today to take some photos and do some drawings. It was sunny but sooooo cold.

My photos were rubbish (see above) (my hands were shaking with the cold so lots of camera shake).

My drawings were crap (I couldn't do enough to get into any kind of 'flow'). (Or I'm just crap at drawing).

I'm exploring new areas of Wales. Well, they're new to me ... I expect they've been there for quite a while.

I wanted to collect some nice big pieces of slate. I was headed for Blaenau Ffestiniog. But somewhere along the way I lost the will to go on (going through Mid Wales did me in, as it often does). So I turned around and came back. Empty handed.

I picked up a few sticks and stones. But, to be honest, I could have just gone outside the door to do that.

So it seems I can't just make it happen. I can't just pop out for a few hours, gather some bits of 'land' and come back and make a picture. There has to be a connection, a moment, a ... err ... something or other. I don't even know what it is.

Am I being all arty farty?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Looking back at it, the exhibition at AJ’s was good for me. I sold some drawings and a painting. But, more than that, it gave me somewhere to point to.

The pictures were there for a long time (and I’m very grateful to James and the rest of the staff for their AMAZING support). It coincided with a period when I was making a determined effort to ‘get out more’. I wanted … needed … to meet people. As I did, the conversation always came around very quickly to “So, what do you do?” When I said I was an artist … sort of … I would be asked if I had any work on show. AJ’s was a great place to point them to because they could call in for a cup of coffee, look at my work, and not feel uncomfortable about it. I was able to meet a few new ‘friends’ there and chat to them about my work. We’ve stayed in touch since.

I was also able to arrange to meet there with some of my family and long-standing friends. That was a great way to catch them up with what I’m doing and how I’m getting on.

I’ve known for some time, that when I get myself and my work in front of people, sales usually result. It’s not enough to market my work in some abstract, distant kind of way. It needs to be personal; relational. That way I can tell the story behind the art. Once people begin to ‘get it’ they often want it. I’m thinking this is where the future lies and the shape it needs to take.

I still want to ‘get out more’. I want to be mobile. I want to see places and see people. I want to make new connections and nurture relationships.

For the last four or five days I’ve been working consistently. (I know that sounds like an average working week for most people ... I'm referring more to the nature of the work I'm doing and the environment I'm working in ... working, sleeping, eating in the same couple of rooms, and not seeing or talking to anyone from one day to the next).

I haven’t been out much. I’m tired and a bit stir crazy, but I can take another day or two of it. Then I’ll need to get out of here.

And, in doing so, I’m sure it will open up the possibility of more places to show my work and of more people seeing it.

And it’ll be fun.

Monday, October 06, 2008

"Walking On Water", at AJ's Coffee House, has now closed. I have the paintings and drawings back here leaning against the sofa. I have no storage space.

I have floor space taken up with the 6 x 4s I've been doing, and various other stacks of pictures.

There are also DVDs scattered on the floor, and piles of books.

There is a small path I can tread across the room to the kitchen area (it's only 9 paces so it's manageable. Yes ... I counted.) There are certain places it's safe to sit or to stand, but otherwise I have to be careful.

The surface of my plan chest is a total mess of paint, paper, glue, photos, twigs, dirt, grass (not that kind), gravel and works in progress. My desk is strewn with pieces of paper ... notes, to-do lists, random drawings.

And it's great. I love it.

As ever, the chaos is threatening to overwhelm me. But at the moment I'm riding the wave.

I'm working.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


I'm a bit of a fan of abstract expressionism, especially the work of Jackson Pollock. But what does it express? This is one way of looking at it ...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Going Solo

Do you call it ‘going to the movies’, ‘going to the pictures’ or ‘going to watch a film’?


When the picture (or movie, or film … I guess I’m showing my colours … not to mention my age) finishes and the closing song plays, people start to shuffle out.

I sit there.

I watch the credits roll. Sometimes they take AGES.

All those people involved in producing that one thing. Hundreds of them. People gathering to work around a vision. People involved in making it happen … in getting it out into the world.

I also like to cut out and paste the Mastheads from magazines. This is the one from the latest issue of Another Magazine. (click on the image if you want a better view)

Again … look at ALL the people! All the jobs filled; every angle covered.

You can probably tell that I’m struggling with the idea of being a ‘solo’ artist. I love the freedom but I’m feeling the limitations. I miss being able to bounce ideas around with other like-minded people – or, indeed, very different people; it takes me much longer to find solutions to problems on my own; and there are huge limits on my resources and productivity, which is frustrating.

And I can do some things quite well ... but there are LOADS of things I'm no good at ... and lots of things I just can't be arsed with, so they just don't get done.

But I’ll figure it out. After all, I am a creative person.

Sort of.

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