Thursday, 31 October 2013

Jan Van Der Velde: The Sorceress

Since it's Halloween, here is a glorious engraving from 1626.

I found it on this page; you won't find a much better overview of art's depiction of witchcraft at a time when there was widespread belief in it. Thank you Dr Booth!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Van Gogh: Wheat Field in Rain

By now you've worked out I'm a big fan of weather so, since its raining a lot right now, I've been rummaging round rain paintings. Its seems like there are a few standard approaches which almost everyone takes these days. Some paint the world in really bright colours despite the fact that falling rain mutes everything. Some paint raindrops on the canvas and in front of the scene as if they are looking through a window. Some paint everything in dull colours and pick a person or object out in a primary colour. Some have everything fading to grey. Etc etc etc... Do an image search on google for "rain painting" and see what I mean. Artists' lack of invention, thought and sensitivity when painting this most unpredictable of weathers is soul destroying. Where is the delicacy of drizzle? Where is the violence of the squall? Where is the poetry of a half-obscured landscape?

So it was quite a relief to find this painting by Van Gogh. It is well observed, clever and well painted. This is one of the most colourful painters of his time and, as it was painted in 1889, it was painted about the same time as some of the sunflowers and bright cornfields and yet our Vincent has toned his palette right down and judged his colours with a delicacy befitting the subject.

The manner of the painting itself is intriguing. He has found a way to make the distant mountains all but disappear in the rain without simply blending them away. The trick he uses for this is just so simple and elegant - he uses the same colours as the sky but changes the texture slightly and then draws the outline of the skyline on top in a related colour. The intermediate hills use the same idea but the colour is halfway between the foreground and the sky. The foreground itself is noteworthy too. Van Gogh's distinctive brushwork is used for the field as it would normally be, but it is juxtaposed with a very small number of raindrops which are indicated as simply as they can be with light and dark slashes. By carefully judging the angles of the two sets of marks - the perspectival and textural wheat and the dynamic rain drops - Van Gogh has multiplied the impact of both to add light, space and energy.

The painting is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Not this Sunday after all

The street gallery in Windsor has been called off due to a forecast of very strong wind. I'll be looking for an alternative or else joining in with the next one. As and when something is arranged, I'll post it on the blog.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

This Sunday: Windsor Street Gallery

Come and meet me and other local artists this Sunday in Windsor. I'm doing my first art fair which should be fun. We're there all day at the top of Peascod Street, almost within the shadow of the castle itself.

I'll be taking linocuts, oil sketches and one of the skylines and I'll also take a couple of nocturnes to see what sort of a reaction they get. Prices will be reasonable.

Hope to see some of you there!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Right click and choose open in new window. It'll all be orange soon...

Thursday, 17 October 2013

New Work: Nocturnes

Its time to call a temporary halt to my beautiful nightmare: considering the term nocturne's musical heritage perhaps I shall call it an interval.

I have loved making these, I think I could work on more for many months yet to come. They are strange - easy on the hands but incredibly difficult on the judgement. The hand and brush skills required are minimal but the everything else is demanding. When you are working within such a tiny tonal range then the way every mark catches the light, the sharpness or softness of every edge, the tiny differences in colour, the opacity and transparency of every glaze or impasto, the relative glossiness of each passage, the way the texture of the canvas is emphasised or disguised and a thousand other subtleties take on a disproportionate importance because they are the only way the space, the light and the looming quality of the landscape can be indicated. They are the hardest things I have done, and I am a better painter for having made them.

So far there are six. Two show the full moon in relation to the bushes that grow along the riverbank here, the square one barely shows the Thames itself reflecting back the inky sky. All of these three are dominated by the street lamps of either the M25 or Englefield Green which, although they are out of sight, are close enough to stain the sky near the horizon as if with a permanent, artificial sunset. The other three explore the impact of car headlights. In one they are blinding, in another they slash the world in half but at the same time help give form to it and in the third they are less dominant and give glimpses of the surrounding trees.

There are two larger ones yet to be started related to these, and three more which are just a gleam in my eye at this stage which will look at the way mist rises across the meadow. I'll freshen up with something else a little more autumnal before I make those though.

I know you must be sick of me bemoaning the difference between a painting and a photograph of that painting, especially given my tendency to build paintings from multiple layers of transparent paint, but never has it been truer than here. The plan is to show them in Guildford in January; coming and seeing them is the only way to understand the subtlety. I may put close-ups up here at some point to give you a chance, but I've gone on enough for one day!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Heads up: Paul Klee

Here we have a little bundle of joy from Paul Klee, to celebrate the opening of a major exhibition at Tate Modern today. At £16.50 I won't be attending, but I'll bet its fun. Klee famously said that drawing was taking a line for a walk and that sum up his work well. This painting may or may not be there, but it gives you a good idea of his work if its unfamiliar to you.

It runs through to March 2014.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Well, summer has well and truly kicked back into life on the mead recently. By October standards, we are in a positive heatwave and shorts are the order of the day. It looks like today will be the last of it, but hey, its been nice. Pleasant temperatures + early autumn colours + loads of apples and nuts = happy Alan.

The night time pictures are almost done (well, apart from a batch of bigger ones I haven't even started...) so in a few days time I'll be able to dive heart first into the foliage. I've got a more cerebral/playful autumn project well into planning but I won't be able to do any actual painting for that for a while, so I think its time for simple, joyous colour sketches for the art fairs I'm getting involved in.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Coming soon: Affordable Framing Service

I'm doing an art fair for the first time towards the end of this month and the cost of framing has finally pushed me over the edge so I have decided to start making my own. Now that I'm gaining the kit, skills and stocks, it seems to me it would be the acme of foolishness not to offer it to other artists as a service.

If you want ultra-creative framing, exotic hardwoods, hand crafted gesso or a full retail/sales experience with a nice showroom where your hand is held through every stage of ordering, I'm not going to be any use to you. If, however, you want really good value frames in custom sizes that can be re-used and you more-or-less know what you want I'll be very cheap as for me the service comes without overheads. As an artist I understand what really matters from the end user's point of view as well so rest assured that backing boards and barrier boards and the like won't be skimped on.

I'll put more details up once I've finished making the frames for the art fair and something I've got coming up in January as that will clarify how long each frame will take (can't work out prices until I know this!) and give you some examples to look at.

For now the key information is: Low cost, wide choice of frames, a few limitations, made from the point of view of an exhibiting artist, not a full retail service, based near Staines and Windsor.

Drop me a line to register interest:

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Ayse Erkmen: Intervals

The Curve Gallery in the Barbican is currently playing host to an installation by Turkish sculptor Ayse Erkmen. Titled "Intervals", it is a site specific piece based around theatre backdrops. The long, narrow space of the gallery is divided up by a selection of backdrops which rise and fall, at intervals, to allow and restrict the viewers' movements through the space. The Barbican have put clip up on Youtube which will give you a better idea of it than words.

It's a fascinating work, and out of everything I saw on my day in London it was the thing I found the most engaging.

There seem to be two main thrusts to the piece. The first, and most successful, is to celebrate the work of the theatrical scene painter. Seeing high-quality scenery close up is an eye-opening experience, and shows the painting to be confident, competent and charismatic. It was very evident that different people or groups had made different backdrops as the styles were as varied as the subjects and the best painted ones put some "proper" painters to shame. There were a few - especially the half tiled wall with the rotting plaster - I could have studied intently for a while. The economy of colour and mark, the boldness of the gesture and the eye for texture was fabulous. The use of stencils appears integral to the craft and it was sufficiently well done here to make me want to explore it myself. Most of the scenes, although designed to be seen at distance, held up well to close scrutiny.

The other thrust was the use of the theatrical device of scenery being lifted and lowered to manipulate space and control the viewer's pace through the gallery. I found this an interesting idea which really doesn't translate into words. It makes the scenery far more engaging than perhaps it would otherwise be, and encourages you to view each canvas from both close up and relatively far away. Relays clicked, motors whirred and everything went up and down, controlling one's pace just as surely as the script does in the theatres that normally host such things. It had the strange effect of changing the gallery from simply being a place to view the backdrops to also being a moment in time to view them.

It was while one backdrop was dropping down behind me that I realised that perhaps the ideas encapsulated in the installation could and should have been pushed much further. A simple relationship between the backdrops is caused by the constant veiling and un-veiling and this is emphasised in some cases as the lighting in the gallery casts shadows as things rise and fall. These altering relationships could have been developed far more with the adoption of a couple of other theatrical tricks. It is years since I have been to the theatre, but the bit of magic which always entranced me most was the way some scenery was painted or fixed onto fabric that was so thin it would appear or disappear depending on whether the lights were on it, in front of it or behind it. If this trick had been used here, with theatrical lighting instead of gallery lighting, or perhaps with further items of scenery that only partially obstructed progress and vistas then the whole piece could have been magical, an infinite kaleidoscope of ever changing spatial and visual relationships with the artist not just controlling the way the viewer moved through the space but almost co-opting them as actors in their own private play. It wouldn't have simply celebrated the anonymous scenery painter but it could have blurred the lines between theatre and art as surely as any performance artist.

In short, the installation is an interesting idea that is well executed, thought provoking and is more involving than it sounds yet it left me feeling slightly whelmed. It could have been so much more, and I hope Ayse pushes the idea further in future.

The show is free and runs through to 5 January 2014.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Time to think.

I had a day in London yesterday. I've been a bit lax with getting up there this year. There was some interesting stuff, some of which will pop up here over the next few posts.

I went to Tate Modern among other places. I don't very often as a lot of the time they seem to take a ridiculous amount of space to do very little and the crowds mean you can't easily see what they have done. In fairness to them, their approach to hanging seems to have evolved a little and more of the collection was on display than I have seen in a long time.

It is the first time that I have seen the giants of 20th century art since my practice began to settle down and find its own language and rhythm and I found that interesting. Late Monets, Rothkos, Guernica-period Picassos, Beuys and many others try and get your attention.  The 21st century is also beginning to be represented now - we're far enough into it to be able to take a bit of perspective on this too and get a sense of how things are beginning to develop now.

It struck me that almost all these works have one thing in common; the market they were made for was not the normal art market; it was the museum market. The pieces have scale, challenges and even unpleasantness and yet they are all capable of being summed up in a sentence or two. In many cases this summing up renders the artwork redundant. This realisation has absolutely clarified where and what I am in the here and now. Technically and aesthetically, I aim to have my work reach museum standard. I regularly produce passages of paint where it is but am not yet sustaining it over a whole painting. Otherwise, for the moment at least, I do not want to take the route of making museum pieces. My work is domestic in nature and scale and I should be proud of this, I should be shouting it. My pieces are things you could live with every day, that you can spend time with every day, that do not become stale and do not overwhelm a room. My content is meaningful but not challenging. My paintings simply proclaim "this is where I am, this is my relationship with it, now do with it what you will (and by the way, I really like paint!)" There is more to them of course; painting is a good tool for exploring and understanding but I don't want that purpose to get in the way of the painting and I don't care if anyone else decodes that. Its more important for me that someone with no knowledge of my intentions can engage with the work easily and find their own meaning within it.

So yes, its time to think, then it will be time for me to re-write my Artist's Statement, then it will be time to stride forwards with new confidence and a better understanding of my place in the art world. In the meantime, I'll make more of an effort to get round the more challenging part of the arts scene more often... :-)