Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Here be Pagans

I promised some pictures while I'm sorting myself out and here they are.

I have long known that Runnymede has a sister, another National Trust property on the opposite bank of the Thames. I had heard things about it; an ancient yew tree, a ruined priory. I hadn't bothered walking over there though. After all you can see parts of the ruins from my bank and ancient yews are far from news to me. That was a spectacular misjudgement. I have now been and nothing could have prepared me for how different the place feels. They are both managed by the same people but Ankerwycke, as it is called, feels infinitely wilder, rawer and more mysterious. The path leads one over causeways between marshy areas and ruined water management systems associated with the priory, through a woodland far more chaotic than my own. Suddenly one reaches the Thames but it takes a moment to recognise it - looking at the Pleasure Grounds the manicured quality is in stark contrast to the Ankerwycke bank. The path then dives back through glades of yews and between pockets of dark water to the ruins and then finally the yew.

It is plain that the Ankerwycke Yew is an important pagan site. Yews are tightly woven into English spiritual life and folklore and have been since the earliest written accounts of this country. 2000 years old and broader than it is tall, this one has seen everything. Every branch, nook and cranny within reach of the ground is bedecked with ribbons, pictures of people, pieces of paper with either names or messages on, spring flowers, wreaths, animal symbols, sticks from other trees with buds on and garlands. Some have rotted and dried until they're barely there, others are fresh. Who knows what people think they were making offerings to, but making offerings they were. In spite of being festooned with symbols of life and renewal, this place of hope and remembrance is dark and difficult. I have rarely been so glad to feel the sun as I was when I walked away. This tree is going on my to do list of paintings.

Anyway, the pictures:

Monday, 29 April 2013

I'm still here!

There are a couple of posts I want to write but I have struggled to organise my thoughts on them so I took a couple of days away from here. I think both are quite important, at least to me, and I think one in particular will be useful if any of the readers of this blog are artists so I want to get them right.

The first is the simpler one, it is simply the last two paintings I finished, the barrier paintings I have mentioned. They vex me. They do exactly what they set out to do but I don't like them. This is made worse by the fact that the things I am working on at the moment are a huge leap forwards in every way which makes everything else look weaker. I think the interestingness outweighs the concerns but I want to discuss both the explored theme and my unease with the work.

The second is harder and more ambitious. One of the things I saw in London was a show of topographical panoramic drawings made primarily using a camera obscura. The technical limitations of the images went hand with the use of this technology and (along with seeing some pages of Turner's prep work the same day) it has made me question the impact digital photography is having on my practice. This actually goes hand in hand with the panorama as an art form. As you know I have been experimenting with photo stitching and the way the artists chose their compositions was interesting; the limitations combined with the decision making process reflect the purpose of the drawings very clearly. Pulling together these strands - the mechanisation of image gathering, the effect this has on an artist, the unique challenges of panoramic composition, the importance and effects of purpose - in a way that is relevant to contemporary practice is the difficulty. I am now clear in my mind about their fit and the challenge is to communicate it and in particular the way that I think the existence of each of these problems provides the solutions to the others. This may well turn out to be more like an essay than a blog post.

So, yeah. If I'm a bit quiet this week that is why. These will take some proper work to do well. I'm only flagging them because I know I have regular readers now and I don't want to lose them by letting the blog look abandoned. In the meantime, I've just come back from a walk in the woods (it clears my head) so this evening I'll go through and see if I have any pretty pictures for you - the bluebells are pretty much there now in some parts of the wood.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Almost there

As you can see I've been back to the woods. This time I was sketching a couple of trees which, somewhere down the line, will make an awesome series of drawings/prints/paintings or maybe all three. They are two grand old oaks, each with a distinct feel. One is larger, the other slightly shorter and more gnarled and they appear to be of similar age. Their trunks are not 10 feet apart so all the way up their branches intertwine without ever touching and together they take on the classic silhouette of one oak. They look like an old married couple and the complexity of their relationship and the doubling-back of branches puts me in the bizarre position of being able to choose which branch belongs to which tree. Indeed that is what I was doing yesterday - working which branch belongs to which tree in reality and mapping out what happens to each main branch when it is out of sight. The plan is that by careful choice of branch ownership, use of colour and control of quality of mark (a softening here, a harshening there) the trees could speak of dancing, flirting, fighting whilst retaining the exact same silhouette across three pictures. It is only an idea, some manipulated photos and some diagrams at the moment as I do not want to get distracted from my current task of painting elements of the Runnymede skyline. The first two paintings are developing better than I hoped and today I start the third.

As to the woods, spring is now in full swing. Some species have proper leaves now, the ferns are unfurling fast and in some parts of the wood there are now big patches of bluebells. We are only a few days from the first sections being at their best while others haven't even got started yet. As the weather continues to heat up (it hit 27┬║ in the boat yesterday afternoon) the Thames is starting its annual process of seducing me - although you probably gathered that from my post on Saturday.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

A difference between good and great

Following the recent BBC series on art from the low countries, I wanted to bathe in the glow of a Rembrandt or two on my recent trip to town. That may seem an odd turn of phrase but it is utterly appropriate. Here are two Flemish self portraits from about the same time by artists who had previously shared a studio and so knew each other's techniques well.

On the left is a well known self portrait by Rembrandt from 1640 and on the right is a self portrait by Jan Lievens from about 1638. Technically they are both supremely competent, doubtless having learned things from each other even though at this point Lievens was more under the influence of Van Dyck. They present themselves in very different ways despite the similar poses which, though interesting, is for another time. What I want to draw attention to today is one of the things that makes the last few percent of difference between the very good and the truly great - luminosity.

When walking through galleries of very brown, very Flemish paintings once in a while something sings out from the walls. Often it is a Rembrandt. While Lievens is in full control of the tonal values in his painting, using them to construct chiaroscuro and show the texture of the fabric to form a lively and lifelike painting, Rembrandt goes further. The tonality is in a different league; it subtly allows the paint to seem like it glows. It is hard to explain as some of it is due to a difference in technique (In the more important passages I think Rembrandt's tonality comes less from the underpainting and more from the top layers of colour), but mostly it is far less tangible. To a great extent the difference is down to the skill level and ability of the artist to perceive. The net effect is that certain paintings, like Rembrandt's best portraits, seem to gently glow. To stand before them is to believe that if you turned out all the lights you could still see them. This luminous quality and the ability to control it is a source of great magic, especially in portraiture. It means these few paintings don't bother being realistic. They don't bother being lifelike. Why would a painting be realistic when it can be real? Why would it be lifelike when it can have life? For me, that is one reason why a Rembrandt or a Leonardo da Vinci will always sing out from a room full of their competent contemporaries.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Up close and personal with Canaletto

I've seen Canalettos in books. I've seen Canalettos on screens. I've seen Canalettos from 20 feet away as I've passed through the room full of Canalettos on my way somewhere else. One thing I've never done is put in the time just a few inches away from one. This changed on Sunday.

As so many painters have down the ages, Canaletto found a style and a subject and started churning out exquisite pieces almost like a production line. He is known for waterside views, typically with a placid sky, a lot of detail and plenty of human activity in the foreground and he did it very well and was in high demand as a result. What I find interesting is the bag of tricks he developed; his curious vocabulary.

Firstly, those glowing skies. They are exactly as I suspected - simple, slightly uneven graduations of closely-related colour heavily mixed with white which have all brush marks brushed out combined with delicate glazes - frequently including an interesting polluted brown tone - over which are painted thin, not-quite-flat, translucent areas for clouds. These are painted in simple, confident strokes and take on the underlying colour. Some are whiter, some are darker but the colour is carefully mixed. Finally there are a handful of thicker marks in a warm white which are far more opaque than anything else in the sky and are blended into the translucent areas. In the instance above, we have a clear bright blue with a much warmer blue mottled on top. Then this warm blue is combined with white to form the basis of a cloud and finally a warm white is painted on more thickly. He uses these thicker areas to give structure to the clouds, bring brightness and warmth to the sky and most of all as a contrast. The juxtaposition of their marks (perhaps the most physical part of the whole painting) with the perfectly glazed sky is surely intended to make the sky more delicate. The existence of these clear marks draws attention to the absence of any other marks in the vicinity. There is a delicate balance to be found; if the marks are too obvious then the sky becomes more physical than desired. If the balance is found the sky becomes an absence and the rest of the painting then seems more physical and more real.

The second thing I find fascinating is his approach to detail. By and large a painter has a decision to make - more liveliness or more detail. Too much detail and a painting becomes stultifying and lifeless. Less detail and the painting has the potential to live and breathe but there comes a point at which it becomes very difficult to read. A look through Turner's development will clearly show you a painter spending a lifetime grappling with this issue and starting a painting revolution as a result. As far as I can tell the secret is to give enough hints that the viewer's brain assumes there is more detail than there really is. That certainly appears to be Canaletto's approach. The curious thing is that his hints of detail are calligraphic rather than painterly. He draws wave shapes on the surface of the water. The details on the buildings are a simple grid of lines. People in the foreground are heavily stylised and those further back are nothing but an oval and a dot. Highlights are little beads of white paint standing proud of the surface. Again and again, details are just a line drawn in translucent paint. Again and again, they are just enough to tell your brain what to tell you at a distance. Up close, the calligraphic nature of the details makes the surface come alive in the same way that a more painterly surface comes alive. It is without doubt very clever and very well judged. It must take a very special temperament to do it so consistently without becoming mechanical.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Uccello - St George & the Dragon

I've just realised its St George's Day. I know its in April but I never remember when, so I'm grateful for Google's ever-changing search page. You know what artists I like best so you already knew which painting I was going to put up today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Uccello's St George & the Dragon. Click here for a nice break down and contextualisation of both the myth and the painting. Mr Graham-Dixon, who I seem unable to escape these last few months, also does well with it here.

As it is in the National Gallery I made a point of seeing it on Sunday. It always catches me out; it always far smaller than I remember. It looms large in the memory with its epic composition and dual perspective. Add in the obsessive detail and it feels enormous, but in reality Uccello had the touch of a miniaturist at times and the obsessive qualities necessary to paint tiny details consistently. Some of the details in the Hunt in the Forest particular are hair's-breadth fine.

His work often leaves me uneasy and this one does more than most. Uccello worked at a time when artists were refining a new trend for naturalistic poses and spatial representation. He is famed for his part within this shift, but other artists did a better job of foreshortening, locating a figure on a ground surface and suggesting physicality. I suspect Uccello didn't care about space as such. It is well known he was obsessed with perspective but his work is never realistic. I wonder if maybe his obsession was fuelled more by the creative possibilities of this innovation. In the Hunt he uses perspective to create rhythm, rhyme and structure. In St George he uses it to make disquieting contradictions. In the Battle of San Romano he uses it in some places but not others so there is a constant fluctuation between space and surface - an idea that is of fundamental importance in my own practice.

I like to imagine him as a cantankerous old man, viewing most of the innovations that were going on around him as new-fangled fads. His work stands at a crossroads; looking back to the medieval traditions of heraldry and chivalry and the older Byzantine aesthetic; looking forward to new trends in subject matter. To one side stylistic innovations he embraces, to the other, those he views with disdain. Which way did he go? Into which tradition did he fit? He didn't. He never left. He just mapped each direction in perfect one point perspective. This is what makes his work so interesting and utterly unique.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Back to London

Just a quickie for today. I made it back to London yesterday and, dodging the Marathon, took in parts of three of the cultural heavyweights - the British Museum, the National Gallery and Tate Britain. There are a couple of things I want to talk about properly but I haven't finished digesting them yet. In the mean time here are my first thoughts:

1 The terrapin has come home - all is well with the world.
2 The back door is without doubt the best way into the British Museum and the staircase it leads to leads to all the best bits - the Islamic gallery, the modern African displays, the Korean gallery, the Chinese porcelain, the temporary exhibitions of prints and drawings and the Japanese gallery. It also goes past India and Egypt but they don't do so much for me.
3 Woodcut is a remarkably versatile medium and there is no longer just one Japanese aesthetic.
4 Seeing too many Dutch and Flemish paintings at once makes you lose the will to live.
5 Titians are just plain gaudy.
6 I'm on the right lines with regard to technique and my understanding of illusion; my execution is not as far off as I thought either, its just my priorities are so different to most of what I saw.
7 Tate Britain's rebuild makes the place quite unpleasant. The rooms and doors which are temporarily shut off completely destroy the flow of the galleries and the way it is currently hung does not pay much regard to the restrictions. I'll be interested to see it when its finished but probably won't return until then unless there is a particular thing I want to see.
8 Leonardo, Rembrandt and Degas really were very good at what they did.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

On being grateful

It is important to appreciate things. Right now, there is nowhere and nowhen I would rather be. In Runnymede I find my muse and for all my high-falutin' ideas about art it is becoming increasingly apparent my purpose is simply to share this place with the world, in all its beauty and ugliness, richness and harshness.

What brings this statement bold?

Yesterday the penny dropped that I was missing a trick with my new work and there was another composition screaming to be made. I knew that it should show the dawn and seeing the weather forecast for today I set my alarm and was out at five thirty. It was colder than I expected overnight which brought the bonus of mist coming up off the river. These two pictures were my commute home this morning. Today there cannot be anyone luckier than me.

Friday, 19 April 2013

First bluebell is here!

Only a short walk today as I was working with umbers this morning and very little dries quicker than umber. I'm glad I went though, it's all change from Wednesday. I went up to the oldest, least maintained part of the woods, the part owned by the bluebells. Deep in the glades there are a couple of dozen bluebells in bud now. While I was squatting down looking at one there was a gust of wind and with it a hint of that sweet and subtle scent. I searched upwind and there it was, my first bloom of the year.

I know you're wondering why I'm so excited about a tiny flower but it means more than you can know. It means that glorious scent, it means a colour that you won't see otherwise and that cameras just can't reproduce, it means the weather has finally turned after an exceptionally cold and wet March, it means summer is on its way. The single flower is underwhelming; the glory of it is the clouds of flowers which will be here soon.

Clockwise from top left: Even the buds are pretty! The first puny bloom. Carpet of bluebells waiting to flower
As you can see they literally carpet the woods in great swathes. You won't get the full effect for anything between a few days and a couple of weeks yet but below is a not very sharp picture from the first year I lived at Runnymede which will give you the idea. I will take my experiments with panoramic photography up a gear when they are all in bloom together; today I have picked out spots to try 360┬║ shots.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Spring: another progress report

As you may have gathered from my last post, I've got out and about over the last couple of days.

The paintings I'm working on incorporate a foundation made up of several layers of transparent paint and, working in oils, that means I can only put in a couple of hours a day. Hopefully that will change by Sunday when I'll start going in with opaque paint and a little wet-in-wet, and by then the last of the barrier paintings I mentioned before will have been finished so I can get a third one from my new series going. In fact, I think the last barrier painting is only about thirty seconds of work away from being done, but since it is in an area where the bare primer shows through I want to sleep on the decision and be sure as it will be irreversible. Correcting a mistake there would involve losing the sparseness and therefore fundamentally changing the balance of the painting. Since its a very complex painting - a view from inside a hedge - I really don't want to have to rework it for the sake of one rushed decision. I worked out that probably about 80% of my painting time is spent without even having a brush in my hand. I stand or sit there, nursing an empty cup of coffee, just looking and thinking. That ensures sections stay spontaneous and don't become over worked when I do paint them yet they also have sufficient consideration behind them. I do very much view a painting as the fossil of a thought process. So, waiting for paint to dry and with the next two compositions properly prepared and a third one just about there (I only have space to work on three paintings at a time), I have time on my hands. I don't want to approach another gallery right now as my best pieces have been bagsied so I can't spend time sending emails. I'm teaching myself linocutting as I mentioned earlier in the week but I don't want to spend all day carving. I can't gather material for the set of work after the set I'm working now as the trees aren't yet in leaf. I can't afford a train fare and the weather is too squally for cycling to London to be fun, so I've been walking and walking and walking.

Windsor Castle from the Thames path.

I followed the river up to Eton; I can't say how unchanged Canaletto's viewpoint is due to Private Property signs. The main buildings are the same but the gaps have been filled in. I discovered there has been a reshuffle amongst Eton's galleries which is good to know. Unfortunately the one I thought most likely to be helpful to me has gone, but a new one has opened up - although it could be the same one in a different building and with a different name. It is a gorgeous walk and some new views have been opened up which raise simple possibilities, but I will have to let them stew for a while - doing them as is would be cynical rather than professional.

Start bottom left and work clockwise: All the stages of leaf
development on one plant.
I also spent a few hours wandering the woods above Runnymede, seeing how spring in general and the bluebells in particular are getting on. The plants have finally got the idea! From a distance the woods have a new hint of green and everywhere everything is bursting. The bluebells' leaves are looking just about there now - no sign of the flowers but they won't be long. If you've never been to an English bluebell wood when they are in bloom you should put it on your bucket list - do it sooner rather than later though as we have been invaded by Spanish bluebells and the two species interbreed. In doing so, they lose their scent and the scent of a glade of bluebells is the stuff of legend.

Finally I headed up to the Air Force Memorial. Those of you who came here in the first few weeks of the blog will have read about it before. Quite apart from its purpose, it is an astounding space to move through. It is the first time I've been there in strong sun. I didn't realise the reason why the architect had made it point in that precise direction instead of a degree or two either way. Coming off from the main cloister are two curved arms that have a similar shape to wings. All the names on the walls of these wings are carved into window recesses. The sunlight rakes through tall thin windows and across the names, picking out the carving. The curve ensures that as the sun moves round another set of names is lit up.

It is just beautiful.

Happy Birthday, Dobby!

Anyone who walks the Thames upstream of Runnymede knows about Dobby. The rest of you won't have a clue, so allow me to introduce you.

Reader, Dobby. Dobby, Reader.

Dobby is a European Eagle Owl with ginormous eyes and ears. Forgive the quality of the photo, but following some problems with adolescents who had nothing better to do than torment European Eagle Owls there are two layers of fine chicken wire between him and the footpath to protect him. He lives in a big enclosure in a garden full of cage birds and free-range chickens.

Ten years ago today, he hatched. Congratulations.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


I've been working on a couple of paintings lately that have really brought home to me the need for simplification. Additionally it struck me that colour adds nothing to them. As a result I've been looking into making prints. For simplicity's sake it would have to be block printing, and for budget's sake it would have to be lino not wood. Lino is also appropriate because for a while the nearest big town, Staines, was world capital of linoleum production and I do like my local links.

Not having touched lino cutters since college I thought I would, to borrow a management training phrase, "see what good looks like" and I have stumbled upon the chap or chapess named at the top of this post - Mouse2cat. Oh my word. Follow the link and have a click through Mouse's work.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Canaletto: Eton College

I increasingly find my practice is pushing me to revisit artists I ignored when I was younger and was filled with youth's desire for novelty and revolution. Anything between the earliest days of the Renaissance and the latter part of the nineteenth century was too conservative for me. I'm pleased to say I've grown up a little in recent years and today I commence a painting which has made me look again at Canaletto.

This is his painting of Eton College, which hangs in the National Gallery in London. It is far from being his best work - I chose it as it is only a few miles from here and the view is essentially unchanged. Here to Eton and back is a pleasant day long walk along the riverbank or cruise in a pleasure boat. In fact, its very tempting, maybe later in the week...

I need a clean and luminous yet totally understated and placid sky and no-one did that better. I'm examining close ups and reading to learn what I can, but when the wind stops gusting really I need to cycle into London and get up close and personal with it.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Dover Publications, Inc., New York

Whilst tidying my computer I have found a lot of gems. One was a folder of scans I made of a book. 14 years ago I manipulated them in singular ways but I can't remember why; I will cover this another day because the contents of the book are worth a post or two in their own right. That won't be for a while though, I'll have to read it again and maybe do some more digging.

So come on Alan, enough already! What's the book??

"The Illustrations from the Works of Andreas Vesalius of Brussels" is typical of the output of Dover Publications. It is an affordable but still high quality reprint of a lavishly illustrated textbook which in itself was an analysis of some of the greatest treatises on anatomy ever produced. Vesalius wasn't so much the artist as the author and producer, spending huge amounts of time and money overseeing the production of the volumes in the 1530s and 1540s, using the best artists he could find - including the draughtsmen from Titian's studio. The end result is a collection of cadavers exquisitely drawn, peeled back layer by layer and made with a fascinating combination of the artistic rigour of the draughtsman and the scientific rigour of Vesalius and spiced up with the exquisite pride of craftsmen who have no false modesty - everywhere are un-necessary yet not distracting flourishes - the bodies are in identical poses so they can be stacked up and the layers can literally be peeled away and some of them feature backgrounds of a recognisable place.

This is what Dover has always done. They take scarce books which have a heavy visual element and make them accessible. They particularly like copyright free images and were a prime source of high quality "clip art" pre-internet. Indeed, another strand of their publishing was explicitly cut out and re-use royalty free images and source books. They also re-publish scientific works. Wiki has a nice summary but I'm sad to see them suggest the books are no longer as well put together as they used to be.

The main reason I am aware of them is a shop hidden behind some market stalls near Covent Garden which only sells Dover Books. I don't know if it is still there, if it has broadened its repertoire, if it is independent or owned by the publisher, but as a child it was always one of the highlights of a trip to London, a proper little wonderland. I would even argue they were one of my formative influences from a visual point of view.

I am delighted to see the publishers are still going, albeit with an increased emphasis on the educational market. I had wondered how the internet with projects like Project Gutenberg and Google Books and technologies like image searching would affect them.

Have a browse, be open minded and pick up something random. Its a great way to discover new things.

Reproductions update

I've now finished uploading high resolution files to Saatchi's, so everything is available as a fine art print on both paper and canvas and can be shipped worldwide. All future work will be added as I release it. There will always be a link from the top of the blog and from the contact page on my website.

Check it out at Saatchi Online.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Woo hoo revisited!

That was a productive morning!

I have just come back from a meeting with the No Naked Walls gallery in Chertsey and I am in a very good mood. I have had some useful feedback, an insight into what sells locally, a starting point for my pricing that is realistic locally, a confidence boost and an agreement. There is plenty of time for things to go belly up (I don't think they will, I just don't want to jinx it) but it looks like I will be part of one of their shows over the summer - a couple of particular pieces and then we'll review what else I have available nearer the time.

I'll post dates and more information when everything is firmed up but for now, woo hoo indeed! I think that calls for a cider or two.

Now, where's next?

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

From the archives: Celebrity Furniture

I've got a bit hacked off lately with trying to find particular versions of particular images on my computer; I use photography and Photoshop extensively as a supplement to my sketchbook but its all got a bit chaotic, so here I am, lounging on my bed in the dark with my headphones on, listening to music and having a tidy up. I have stumbled upon a cache of stuff I'd forgotten about, art work from before when I experimented with 3d modelling and CGI (this was back in the 90's but some of it stands up surprisingly well), an old web site I ran and best of all the stuff I did when I taught myself Photoshop.

Some of it is just simple colour correction, sharpening and retouching, but some of it isn't. I used to have a whale of a time making composite images, which was great because I learned a lot. I couldn't see the links between images on a screen, but give me a pile of catalogues, books and magazines and I could easily spot the rhythms, related perspectives, quality of light and analogous shapes necessary to pull this work off. I would find a couple of sources, scan them, then get masking, layering, airbrushing and generally making them fit together. I particularly enjoyed doing a series I called Celebrity Furniture where I would make a hybrid between, you guessed it, a piece of furniture or electrical appliance and a celebrity of the day. They made me laugh so I considered sticking them online but the internet wasn't then what it is now.

Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you the great and the good circa 1999 as you have never seen them before:

Patrick Stewart models a wall clock from the 1999 Argos catalogue
The beautiful Gail Porter wears a screen from a book of Art Nouveau furniture

Keanu Reeves and the unknown fireplace
New for 1999 from Hoover: The Stephen Baldwin
I lost interest and Mr Baldwin is only half done as a result, although they all betray my then beginner-level skills. Other subjects were the Kylie Minogue armchair, The Queen Elizabeth II table lamp and the Buzz Lightyear dresser:

Monday, 8 April 2013

Price: The impossible problem

Perhaps the greatest difficulty facing a new artist other than getting his work is seen is arriving at a sensible price.

In the light of the post I put up on Saturday but took down again on Sunday (enthusiasm is a wonderful thing, but I don't like tempting fate like that!) it is something that has been playing on my mind a lot. In fact it has been ever since I picked up a brush again last year.

There are several difficulties.

  • There is no intrinsic value in a painting
  • Direct market comparisons with your competition are meaningless as there is just so much you don't know - how many established collectors do they have, how well known are they, how long did that take etc
  • There are huge local variations - travelling the 20 miles to London would have a massive impact
  • Amateurs showing work are often so desperate and/or grateful for a sale that they effectively give their work away
  • Art publishers like Washington Green take fairly ordinary work, make digital reproductions in large editions and then, in a frankly genius piece of marketing, mix it up with art work done by celebrities. This they use to effectively give many independent dealers the feel of being part of a national chain of galleries - the important thing being they have created a market I find strange and alien in which reproductions of very ordinary paintings can sell for four figures
  • The upper echelons of the art market include members of the super rich - oil sheikhs, Russian oligarchs, footballers, musicians and senior people from the City. For these people, prices have a different logic altogether and money I could never dream of spending is but loose change. As a result for the right face in the right place at the right time, there is no limit on pricing - the YBAs are testament to that
This was really brought home to me on Saturday. I am toying with the idea of joining one of the local art groups. One of them had an exhibition so I went along. One lady had a stall with a table and on the table were an assortment of OK watercolours and pastels, all nicely window mounted and on nice paper. Sizes ranged from maybe 3 inches square to 10 by 7. Prices ranged up to £10.

Lets break this down. £1 for paper and £2 for the mount leaves her with £7, assuming there is no commission. She spends 30 minutes travelling each way, 30 minutes setting up and 30 minutes clearing up. The exhibition was open for 6 hours so the exhibiting alone - not including making the work - has taken 8 hours. Minimum wage is currently £6.19, so to pay herself that she would need to sell (8x6.19/7) 7 of her highest priced pieces, or about half her stock. Only that doesn't include any contribution she made towards the cost of the hall, any expenses incurred or anything at all towards the time that went into the pieces. Obviously, money isn't her priority, but she kind of mucks it up for the rest of us. Just as Washington Green raise people's expectations of price while reducing their expectations of originality and integrity, so she reduces people's expectations of price. Anyone charging a reasonable price in that exhibition will have seemed outrageously expensive in comparison.

Like it or not, any professional artist - especially in a popular genre like landscape - is in indirect competition with people who give their work away. But he also exists in a market where what are effectively posters can sell for thousands of pounds.

Somewhere in the middle is a fair price, but I I'm dashed if I can work it out.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Van Eyck: Altarpiece @ Ghent

I find myself indebted to the BBC and Andrew Graham Dixon again. I may not care for the man, but he knows his onions and he's the BBC's current poster boy for art history, so if you watch a tv show about art in the UK at the moment the chances are you'll be spending time in his company.

I've long been aware that my knowledge of art history is quite parochial. I know most of what has gone on in England, and I know some of what happened in the major centres of art - but I only really know these from what is on display in London. So I understand quattrocento Florence, 20th century USA, 19th century France and so on to a fair extent. The problem with my knowledge of Florence, for example, is that most of the work was built-in and not portable. I have seen panels in the National Gallery and the Ashmolean but I understand how meagre what I have seen is: I have a deep love for Cimabue, Giotto and Uccello and the transition from Byzantine art to Renaissance art so I have dug down and found more. I did not realise until last night that my knowledge of art from the "low countries" (as the programme called them) suffered from exactly the same vignetting.

Living near London one cannot help but be aware of Rubens, Rembrandt and assorted Vans. With the exception of Rembrandt's portraits they always left me cold and uninterested. They were the sort of painting you were plonked in front of during school trips. And the Arnolfini portrait by Van Eyck was  the one we would be plonked in front of the most.

It is an intriguing painting, and even as a youngster I could appreciate that it was display of phenomenal skill. I could see its exoticness to modern eyes. But, perhaps as a result of the nature of those first encounters, I never felt the need to follow up. So when Van Eyck's altarpiece at Ghent appeared during "High Art of the Low Countries" last night, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I'm not going to comment on it; it will take a few hours of looking and then a few days of absorbing for me to come up with anything worth reading but for pity's sake, do yourself a favour and follow the link - your life will be the richer for it.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Its getting Springier and Springier

I love spring!

Buds are turning into leaves, anything that is green is a beautiful fresh, clean green and the animals have all gone a bit daft.

God's own colour chart: each step is slightly
paler than the step below as the ground has drained.
The ground is drying out enough to walk almost anywhere now, the bluebells are showing that they will be outrageous this year, and days are getting noticeably longer every day.

The plum trees are in bloom now, the first of the dandelions are out and there is other blossom too. I reckon we're probably less than a fortnight from starting the first batch of hedgerow wine.

Mmmm..... dandelion wine.

The thing that has really provoked this post though is the fact that yesterday I saw the daftest cormorant in the world. Highly skilled, but very daft. I was walking down the river bank towards Staines earlier and there it was, floating in the middle in the strongest part of the current, grappling with a fish it had caught. Only it wasn't an ordinary fish. It was an eel. The bird had clearly come to grips with the concept of width and diameter, it understood one end of the eel would fit in its beak well enough. It had no concept however of length. At no point did I see the entire eel. I did see at least two feet of it though. In other words, it was longer than the cormorant. The bird would swallow a few inches of it, choke it up again, drop it in the river, dive down, re-catch it and swallow again and again. Full marks for ambition and persistence, zero marks for common sense. It gave up in the end though, only to do that thing I've seen so many supposedly elegant river birds do when they've done something silly - herons, cormorants, swans, everything except ducks and geese - and that is to look round, puff out their chest, flick their heads a little and preen a little, as if to say "I meant to do that!"

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Reproductions for sale

While I work out what I'm doing with regards to galleries, I have decided to sell reproductions of my work.

I will make use of the Saatchi Online website for this. Saatchi Online is a massive resource - maybe even too big - owned by Charles Saatchi and letting artists and collectors come together. It is un-juried so the quality of art on display is very variable and ranges from the dreadful to the exquisite. All prints are made on archival quality paper or canvas and can be shipped worldwide.

I am uploading one picture every now and then and it should be up to date by the middle of the month. I can't go any faster as I have to make sure the photographs are perfectly sharp from corner to corner for the high resolution printing, so some need re-shooting. It should be worth it though - you should be able to see every mark and every stroke although, as you and I both know, there is no substitute for the real thing. Speaking of which, if you would prefer the real thing, get in touch!

My work can be found at www.saatchionline.com/alanperriman although at the moment there are only some of the Origins sketches up there - I'll add all the work from my website in chronological order and I'll let you know when its up to date.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Guess what I found down the back of the sofa

Its tangent time! Welcome to my brain.

I think its fair to say my mind is tidal. Right now, there is no point in my trying to paint; its just a waste of time and of very expensive materials. I'll be back on track in a day or a week or a month, but for now its better that I go exploring, find new things, gather material, work on compositions and so on - anything involving rapid iterations, discovery or sudden changes of direction is good, anything involving slow and and careful thought isn't going to happen.

So I'm out and about, sketching, photographing, maybe I'll hit an exhibition or two but most of all I'm just voraciously consuming random information, following trails (I don't just mean figuratively, I followed a deer path earlier...) and seeing where I end up (in the case of the deer path, I ended up overlooking a bluebell glade talking to an inhabitant of a protest camp (which is trying to re-invigorate the old Digger movement) discussing the finer points of English law while being given a guided tour of the London landmarks visible on the horizon, twenty miles away. I warned you about the tangents). Intellectually, I have ants in my pants. Sorry, Ich kann den nicht zum Deutschen ├╝bersetzen; verwenden Sie einfach Ihre Fantasie (and blame Google translate if that doesn't make sense)

I found myself on the internet last night, looking up the finer details of the construction of high quality optics. As you do. From there I sauntered down a trail where people were accusing other people of being sloppy in the way they used the term "nodal point" and ended up looking at photo stitching software. I've been aware of this but not paid it to much attention; I didn't think it would live up to the claims. I stumbled onto a piece of open source and therefore free to use software called Hugin and reading about it and trying it has led to two things.

First of all, I thought I had a battered old 10 megapixel camera that can be picked up on Ebay for £150 and a stunning short-telephoto lens. It turns out, that given a little time and effort, I have a cutting edge 140 megapixel panoramic camera with stunning ultra-wide-angle lens instead. That's saved me about £7500! I made that software sweat today, starting simple then pushing harder and harder and just seeing what it could do. So far I have just left it on its auto settings, but with the camera mounted on a tripod and an hour of post-production I had a panorama that could have been printed out at photo quality that was two metres long! Here is the small version. Even the detail on the right is substantially smaller than the original. Its hardly beautiful but is good from a learning point of view. Question is, what to do with it? Such a strange shape will need specific compositions and a normal landscape approach will not work. The obvious thing to use it for is ultra-high resolution records of my paintings. I have some other ideas but I'm not going to steal my own thunder.

The second thing is far more interesting. One thing that comes in the software is a tool for stacking up digital photos and using the bits from each one that is in the sharpest focus. It is intended for macro (close-up) photography to allow far more depth of field than would otherwise be possible - follow this link for the instructions - I would encourage you for now to ignore the instructions unless you're into this kind of thing and just scroll down until you find the insects. I'm thinking though this is a waste. I could use this to get better focussed photographs but, speaking as someone obsessed with the games that go with spatial representation, there are some far more creative possibilities shouting at me. Again, I'll keep schtum for now. I've always owned a camera since my 6th birthday when I was given a Kodak Instamatic. This "Enfuse" gizmo has just lit an almighty fuse under me and may just revolutionise the way I use a camera. Watch this space.