Wednesday, 19 February 2014

This is the end

I think its time to call it a day and stop doing the blog. It's a question of time. I don't have enough time to do the posts I want to do properly, and what I can do in the time available to me is a little compromised or full of short cuts and that's not what I want to do.

I'm thinking of using Twitter as a news feed and Pinterest as a way of sharing pictures but as social media are changing all the time I'll have a good rummage over the next couple of weeks and come back here for one final post to give my decision and details of how to find me.


Monday, 10 February 2014

Splish splash!

Its getting spectacular now! In fact, its getting old too. The Thames has come right back up over the weekend. Its far higher than it was a month ago and I'm thinking about evacuation. This time the entire mead is covered. This is a 180º panorama, it should get bigger if you click on it. Meantime, I'm not getting much work done.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Colour: Purism vs Purity

A couple of weeks back, while I was thinking about Pip Seymour's range of paints for my review, another artist mentioned in passing that she uses four paints and four paints only. She didn't say which four, but I would hazard a guess that she either meant the primaries (red, yellow and blue) and white or the process colours we are all familiar with from inkjet printers (cyan, magenta, yellow and black). Her logic is that that's enough, you can mix every colour from them. In theory she's right, that's why primary colours are called primary colours. It's a minimal, pure approach to mixing colour that requires a good level of discipline and skill. I have enormous respect for the simple purity of the approach, for the rigour and skill and for the sheer obstinacy of those who paint this way. On the other hand, I decry their blindness.

Colour, or hue,  is but one characteristic of a paint. It's the most important one admittedly, but colourmen don't waste their time crafting ranges of one or two hundred different paints for fun. They do it because the differences are real, tangible and precious. The characteristic that fascinates me most is transparency. Some paints are like placing a thin layer of coloured glass above your work, or pointing a coloured lamp at it. Others completely obliterate everything they touch. Then there are semi-transparent and semi-opaque colours in-between. There are even different feels of transparency - some stain, some glow, some are even waxy. Its not just transparency either. Stiffness, the way a paints holds a mark, texture, behaviour during mixing and drying characteristics all vary from pigment to pigment. They all make making and using good paint more complex but have the potential to add infinite richness to a painting.

Let's stop talking abstractly and think about actually mixing colours and look at the consequences of the two approaches. If we want a red, there may be no real difference between the two. Both the 4 colour artist and over-stocked artist will take their red and adjust it slightly with a yellow or a blue. Both have used two pigments and both will have done the same amount of mixing so both will have a colour of similar purity.

What happens if we want a red that is the same colour but moved a little towards dark grey? Tinting with white is a good approach to de-saturating colour, but no good if we want to be dark. We can tone with black if its in our paintbox but general purpose blacks tend to deaden colour. So ideally, we add the complementary colour to red, in this case green. So the over-stocked painter picks out a dull green and mixes a tiny bit with his unmixed red and if he chooses correctly, he has a greyed version of his red. The 4 colour painter can't simply add green because he doesn't have any. Instead he has to juggle red, yellow and blue and try very hard to prevent his end colour being muddy. So in this instance, the over-stocked painter has still only used two pigments so his finished colour is still quite pure and clean and has the potential for further tweaking, whereas the 4 colour painter has used three and possibly four colours and is having to be very alert to prevent his grey becoming a muddy brown. The same is true - only more so - for browns and proper greys. The less dogmatic of the two will simply pick out a paint made from a single pigment which is nigh on perfect to start with and then tweak it slightly, giving clean luminous browns, or he will pick out two complementary colours for clear, glowing greys. The 4 colour artist again and again has to use all of four of his colours resulting in an ever increasing danger of ill-defined, inaccurate and contaminated colour. This is a huge problem when you consider that apart perhaps from tropical seascapes at noon pretty much all of nature - including human skin tones - features greys and browns by the bucket-load.

By now you know where I'm coming from. I do not believe that in the real world the four colour theory holds water. Although every hue is possible, the price in terms of clarity, cleanliness, saturation and variety is too high for me. I have too many colours but, at this stage in my career, I think I should be trying as many different paints as possible to find what works for me. Maybe it counts as an addiction, but my increasing love and appreciation of colour gives me great joy and leads to paintings which live and breathe and (midnight paintings aside) have a certain luminous quality of which I am proud.

Words are not the way to progress this argument. I would suggest that anyone interested might spend some time on the Vasari website looking both at the swatches as a whole and reading the detailed descriptions of individual colours. I'll give you a starting point - many painters consider Pthalo Blue and Prussian Blue to be more or less the same.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

New work: After Jakuren

A few months back I spent an evening at an Arts Café, where different art forms came together to say "Hello" to each other. I saw poetry and dance and music as well as my more usual diet of visual arts. This, by lucky happenstance, coincided with a growing desire to stretch myself in terms of the content and ambition of my work. It became inescapable over the course of the evening that there was much to be gained from a little multi-disciplinary cross-pollination.

Barely two weeks later, a brief landed in my inbox - submit a picture inspired by an out-of-copyright poem. This was the nudge I needed and I started reading randomly. Rather, I started trying to read. I found found poem after poem to be interminable, impenetrable. Narratives, epics, tales of the heart, comic rhymes and hymns to morality vied with complaints of the arduousness of human existence with nary one that excited me. I stopped reading and started thinking. As an artist, I'm interested in a moment, a mood, a glimpse of a place and, even in the midst of my ignorance, I knew of one culture of poetry that embodies these same interests - Japan. All I knew was the haiku, but I found so much more.

Short forms of Japanese poetry are verbal stock cubes, they are words and moments and feelings made as small and intense as possible and they use a visual language. There could be no better fit with my own aims.

I'm working on a body of artworks in which I am taking the imagery from historic Japanese poems and transplant them into my own place and time - 21st century Southern England. To this end the translations are beyond loose - they are starting points. Mountains have become hills, plants have changed species and architecture has a different vernacular but the sense, the mood and (wherever possible) the wordplay have been retained. Except they haven't. I believe that one of the key differences between pictures and art is that the process of making art is more speculative and open ended; specifically its akin to a conversation between artist, subject, medium and artwork. In this case, as the poem affects the painting so the painting affects the poem. This fascinates me; normally the subject of a painting isn't changed by the process but here, well why not change the poem?

Anyway, here is the first in what may be a long series. It starts with a poem by the monk Jakuren, who died about 800 years ago. It roughly translates as

Ah, solitude.
It is not the kind of thing
that has a colour.
Mountains lined with black pine
on an evening in autumn.

A lot of thinking later, both about the multi-facetted nature of solitude and the link in the English language between colour and emotion, and we have a painting of a forest and a poem transplanted into England and further transformed from Jakuren's understanding of solitude to my own more varied and vibrant concept of it by the substitution of a single word.

Ah, solitude.
It is not the kind of thing
that has one colour.
A hillside cloaked in dark pines
on an autumn evening.

As to the painting, to spell out my thoughts would be to remove the possibility of interpretation and interpretation is part of the charm of the short and minimal poems from Japan. I will say that I've moved it from evening to dusk for purely practical reasons so that I could major on colour - which I considered important.