A rough and racy wench (revised from Jan 2011)

There lived a fine practitioner of painting in Cornwall. His name was Frank McNichol.  He has now sadly passed on but he left behind a phrase that rings with me still: “Craftsmanship, my boy, craftsmanship.”  There is no doubt that Frank was a fine craftsman, and I believe him, of course I do.  But did he mean the kind of craft learnt at the feet of a master, or that which one teaches oneself by studying them?  Perhaps both.My take on craft is that while it is indispensable and, indeed, the measure of art, even though I doubt many looking at my work would believe me.  But then what do they know!?  Laying paint on canvas, even when done with meticulous care does not necessarily mean over-fussy or prissy.  There must be that magical frisson of transfusion: The Moment in the act of painting which metamorphosises subject into object.  It can take infinite number of forms.What directs it is the ‘artist’.  What executes it is the craftsman.  Finding symbiosis is key.Sickert said, “Painting is a rough and racy wench.  Flourishing in the scullery, kitchen or dunghill but fading at the breath of the Drawing room.”

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Walter Sickert, Seated Nude, (Private collection)

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Landscape, Figure and Natural Beauty (from March 2011)

Vincent van Gogh is best known for the fabulous brutal landscapes but he said in a letter to his faithful brother Theo in 1882, “Much as I love landscape, I love figures even more.”  This interests me because I also began besotted by landscape and nature and thought it was down to a past life embroiled in wildlife conservation that always kept at bay the human figure.  Eventually though they came to merge in my ‘Figurescape’ series.  And by and by this became more central.  Perhaps an example of the evolution necessary to progress.

T-figscape, Oil on hardboard 60.5 x 75.5cms

T-figscape, Oil on hardboard 60.5×75.5cm

I can see more clearly now how Cezanne ended up painting his strange huge Bathers.

Today, in a curious coming together of disparate things (not so curious really because it happens all the time, we just don’t always notice), reading the always excellent Paul Evans’ Country Diary in The Guardian, I came across this throwaway sentence, “Natural beauty lies in the unexpected relationship between things.”  That could be one definition of Ecology, it is certainly a definition of how I regard the creation of Art.  So here in a small nutshell is a good working stab at the meaning of life.

For more see http://www.meyergallery.co.uk

Cezanne and his cardplayers (updated from Jan 2011)

Cezanne's card playersI had just returned from seeing this superb little exhibition at the Courtauld Galleries at Somerset House.  ‘Little’ in size perhaps but most certainly not in scope, depth and value to the serious modern artist.  To be able to get beneath the surface of these important works, see how the concept was developed, the thinking and process made manifest was vital to me as someone whose valued Cezanne above all others for some 40 years.  And moreover to get up tight to the paint surface and see the application and colours (so often corrupted by the printing process) for real was a unique opportunity: these paintings and drawings will never again be reunited in our lifetime.  Only two were missing, one from the Barnes Foundation (who aren’t allowed to loan out  works) and one in private hands who were regrettably unwilling to lend.

Going back to look at some of Cezanne’s writings, I came across some timely thoughts.  One in particular seemed germaine, “Art never addresses itself to more than an extremely small number of individuals“.  I heard someone at the exhibition say, “Are all these by Cezanne?”..!

He also said “It’s sufficient to have a feeling for art – and without doubt it’s the horror of the bourgeois, this feeling.”

Finally, “One doesn’t replace the past, one only adds a new link to it.”

The mark of a good exhibition for me is one that gets me leaping back to my own easel while reassuring me that I’m going in the right direction.

[February 2014]  Well I was then but not now for I’ve been away, battling with science and the corruption of it by politicians.  I’m waiting for a visit from Cezanne (he usually sits on my shoulder, grumbling and encouraging) or someone to gee me up and make me see the beauty all around me once again.

Models & muses (from Dec 2010)

I have had some lovely good models… very good.  They’ve had an interest in Art and have gracefully given of their time for very little return.  I can’t afford to pay much and so promise them commission on any works sold with which they collaborated.  Not that they’re going to get rich on that.  But then a time comes when they discover domestic bliss and suddenly some other man takes their time and can offer much more.  Offer more in the sense of an attractive place to be and an attractive person to be with.  If I was a Lucian Freud with that sort of clout (and money) perhaps I’d be more assertive more attractive, but I’m not.  So I get a good model, keep them for a year o

r two, then lose them to domesticity.  The allure of a working studio with no running water, of getting there, and of dressing up (or down) and talking about projects and poses palls, and the steam and the whisky and the cigarettes (or whatever) no longer attract and they drift away to new experiences.  I can’t blame them. 

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Portrait of Shan, Oil on board 45.5×30.5cm

So with the exception of the mercurial Shan, who remains wonderfully faithful, I’m currently searching for some engaging woman with time, interest and a passion for getting beneath the skin of the human condition and turning this quest into paint and canvas with a life of its own.  Yes, it’s just like being a parent: the whole of the process of conceiving a work of art, giving birth to it with all its pangs and labour and hopefully rearing it through to maturity – all this compressed from 2 decades into 2 weeks. One helluva thing. Is that why we paint landscapes and still lifes too?  Because they’re there and don’t up and disappear just when you’re getting to know them and getting somewhere

See also http://www.meyergallery.co.uk

To nail an idea (from Jan 2011)

It’s one of those cliches that gets under your skin.  Well, under my skin, since it’s not something I’ve heard others complain about: it’s the notion that as painters we ‘Capture’ something.  You hear it all the time: “So and so has captured this or that”.  Said without thinking, as cliches are.

When I was working in Natural History and involved in field trips, what most people seemed largely concerned with was naming whatever it was they encountered.  As soon as it was named, or nailed down, they’d move on to the next thing and do the same again.  I used to try to get folk actually to look and not just capture it with a name, which is after all merely a human construct.  It can obscure the real beauty and wonder of the thing.

I’ve noticed that gallery vistors often spend longer reading the label than looking at the work.  Again they need to ‘nail it’ somehow.

In painting, we should be less interested in capturing some quality or life that exists elsewhere than in creating our own.  A subject, be it a model, an idea or a view, is a starting point.  One stays faithful to the origin while building and extemporising to create something unique and quite different and alternative.  At least that is my view.  When one looks at a tree or a card player, only the artist can know the subject at first hand: tomorrow it will be different… in the next half hour it will be different !

The painting exists more or less for ever, and as such it becomes the timeless reality.  Cezanne ‘created’ his card players, they never actually existed.  It was his genius as an artist that rendered them timeless.  Here is the difference between photography (that does endeavour to capture some moment in time and space) and mere illustration, however competent.  A true artist never makes that mistake but there are hundreds of good illustrators.

Green is a devilish colour

I hope to run some of my blog activity here as well.
This is from 7th March 2011 – we’re not quite there yet but Snowdrops and Daffodils are showing here in North Devon.

Lots of painters agree: green is a devilish colour.  Certainly many UK landscape painters would.  At this time of year grass re-emerges in brilliant emerald splendour…

oops, regressed for a moment there back to Natalie Wood ‘Splendour in the grass’, for as Wordsworth said…

“Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower”

Hmmm, anyway, schoolboy fantasies aside, green is everywhere, yet fiendishly difficult to nail down accurately.  We search for equivalents.  Although I no longer venture out much into the field (other than with sketchbook and trusty small tin of oil pastels and chinagraphs) the colour is still there – taunting and frustrating!
Recently, I’ve noticed many of my models and figure subjects have begun mysteriously to appear dressed…