It has been slow, but finally this relatively small painting is finished. Started earlier in the summer with a month-long trip that involved considerable staring out to the horizon on the north Atlantic seas around Orkney, and finished on our return.
Although the idea for the work was essentially in place before the journey north a number of combinations of ideas and occurrences are playing their part in this painting and the steps on to the subsequent pieces now being developed. The countless watercolours made of the Orcadian landscape and coast, the ever-present geometry of the horizon so present around the sea and a treeless landscape. Then there was the visit to an exhibition of Laura Drever’s work at the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness. Whilst her work is considerably less geometric than mine, we share landscape interests and a surprisingly similar way of layering imagery up.
For me the work hints and opens the door further on the series of pieces I’ve been developing since the start of the year. More subtle and sensitive that the brasher and brighter paintings from the spring. More to follow……
Sometimes things in the studio progress painfully slowly. Any number of things get in the way and finding the spaces in between all the other stuff just doesn’t happen. That has been very much the case in the last few weeks.
Over Christmas I made a couple of collages using elements of lino-prints that I had made. They were good and I could see the potential to take them further into paintings. A few technical experiments followed (unsuccessfully) before I finally landed on how to approach the idea.
Now, a few weeks later, finally my first successfully completed painting of 2022 is a fact. It is a good one I think and has good possibilities to be taken further, hopefully quicker this time round. All in all, a nice distraction from other activities, not least the educational one, which is tough at the moment. But that is another story!
It was a rather static Christmas break. For the second year in succession no trip over to England. But the result was more studio time.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve regularly posted my experiments with lino-cutting. It’s been generally a fringe activity to the paintings I make, but for now at least the resulting work seems to be the leading factor and taking me towards the next round of paintings. Time will tell, but the prints and collages are offering interesting possibilities to explore.
As ever the themes relate to manipulated landscapes, geometry and the geometry that is found in the landscape itself……..and there is plenty of that in the Dutch landscape.
Its not actually the last completed piece of the year. It will be cut up later and turned into a collage, but it was the product of the afternoon on 31 December 2021. Maybe the collage will follow in the coming days, we’ll see.
Around fifteen years ago I made a series of drawings that were prompted by the increasing awareness of the storm clouds of climate change gathering on the horizon. Alongside this was the feeling that society and our leaders were showing little inclination for action. A human trait you might say, we prefer to sit on the edge of, or swim in, the comfort of our metaphorical swimming pool while the sky turns, grey, purple and black.
We hide from the confrontation, preferring to seek the security of short-term comforts and pleasures.
My drawings weren’t complex, I’ve always thought that this was the strength of these particular pieces. The isolation of the apparently tranquil pools in the turbulent landscapes around them. In other pieces figures stare into the pools that are in fact an Arcadian and idealized visions of the world, lifted from the history of art.
I spent Saturday on the streets of Amsterdam, along with 45000 other marchers, calling for greater action on the more and more pressing problems that climate change is bringing. As I walked, I was thinking of these drawings in particular. I was also reflecting on whether I actually wanted to spend the day in over-crowded trains and walking with thousands on the streets with Covid cases again on the rise? No, absolutely not. I would have preferred to have been at home, amusing myself in my studio perhaps. And there perhaps lies the problem, we all prefer to do those other things. We all prefer not to have to confront difficult or uncomfortable challenges. We can all do small things to contribute, but perhaps more than anything else we need to get our leaders to act and as a society we need to elect those who are prepared to act.
Today is the day to take my drawings out of the drawer and send them back out into the world, they are as relevant as ever.
When I was at art school I made a number of drawings where I masked off with tape a geometric shape on a piece of paper. I then took pure Prussian Blue pigment and rubbed it into the masked off area. I pushed the colour in hard and the result was a razor sharp form (once the tape had been removed) with an inner area of the deepest, darkest quality that absorbed light fantastically and had an almost velvety surface.
Every since I have had a bit of a soft spot for Prussian Blue, I’ve used it from time to time, but as a colour it can have a bit of a tendency to take over. It’s intense qualities being on the one hand really attractive to use, but at the same time you find yourself trying to keep it in check.
Today was such an occasion. When I travel around I often take one of my small drawing books with me. These are mostly filled with rapidly made watercolour sketches of landscapes I encounter. These in turn feed into my studio work, recently in an increasingly direct way.
I don’t pretend to be a great watercolour painter. Generally I only use the medium on a very small scale in my notebooks. Today I found myself on the Dutch north coast on a somber day, with grey clouds racing across a heavy sky. The paints and notebook came out of my bag. It set to work on a series of rapid sea horizon sketches. I love making these sorts of images, fluid colours and flows, held in place by the taught horizon line across the double pages of the drawing book.
Today though was different for one small detail. Yesterday, my much preferred Ultramarine ran out. In my small box of paints, just twelve colours, I was forced to dip into the rarely used Prussian Blue. Cautiously at first I mixed. The first painting reflected this caution. In the second the depths of the blue started to become more apparent. In the third it threatened to get completely out of control and had to be quickly neutralised with some Raw Umber.
The results are a set of paintings that took perhaps twenty minutes to make, but are surprisingly different to those I have recently made. They are also paintings that I think may well end up being useful once back in the studio. Today, necessity was the mother of invention and Prussian blue crept back into what I am doing.
All the work was actually done at the end of the previous school year. In fact, a significant part was put in place during the tail end of the last lockdown that we had in schools here in the Netherlands back in the spring as this previous post documents:
But once back in school, with whole classes back together, what started as a walk in the countryside and photographic assignment, could take on a more ambitious drawing and painting character.
The idea was relatively simple. I wanted, after months of disruption and children following my lessons on their laptops and iPads at home to do a fairly loose group project that would deliver a result that was significantly bigger than the individual parts. It was also obliquely connected to the Surrealist’s Exquisite Corpse drawing game where elements of drawing connect vertically without one part actually being made with the intention that it should seamlessly connect.
Our ‘corpses’ weren’t to me figures, but trees. Linked together by a vertical trunk that ran through the drawing. The pupils had spent time outside looking at trees and photographing them. We had made small digital collages connecting various sections of diverse trees into an arrangement that hinted at where we were going.
But still, the greatest challenge was to get the pupils (14-15 years old) to loosen up a bit and dare to start on the relatively large-scale drawings I was asking them to make. To help reach the point where we got quite high contrast drawings there was really only one material to use and that was charcoal.
After a few nervous minutes at the beginning the class soon got into it. I kept hammering on about daring to draw and being a bit aggressive in their mark-making. Also, I kept again and again repeating to make sure that they got different scales of mark in the drawings, from the thick and lumpy trunks to the lace-like finest twigs and everything in-between. We used the photographs made earlier as a reference point to make sure that nobody slipped into the ways of drawing trees that they may have used when they were at primary school.
Charcoal delivers fast results, and it was very quickly clear that the drawings that were being made have qualities that were going to mean that my hopes to make a larger group display of them was likely to be a possibility.
The speed of the drawing process meant that in subsequent lessons we moved onto similar work, but this time drawn out in paint. The pupils were working with a freedom that I rarely see, not just from the ‘artists’ of the class, but pretty much right across the room.
The resulting work now hangs in the hall at the main entrance to the school, backlit from the light outside and against a backdrop of real trees.
After what feels like months of continually having to reinvent what I am doing in the classroom, and way too much time staring into the webcam, there was today just a hint of spring in the air. Reason enough to head of out on the bike before an afternoon of online meetings and prep work for the school days ahead.
The result two of the first en plein air drawings of 2021. Fingers were still a bit cold, but it is a start……..
It’s not been raining the whole time. I have even done a little February drawing outside. But there has also been time to sit by the fire experimenting a little more with the iPad compositions that manipulate and twist the earlier drawing I made whilst looking out the window on a rainy afternoon. I am seeing more and more possibilities