PAINTINGS OR PICTURES?

Review of recent exhibition of some nature painting with Eilean Eland’s sculpture with some thoughts on the differences between paintings and ‘pictures’.

       

  Eland Blue woman               Meyer Sweetpeas in a blue jug

Having just taken down my exhibition with ceramicist Eilean Eland at RHS Rosemoor, I fell to reflecting on its success (or lack of it) and the responses of some sturdy folk who visited having braved the often pretty awful weather, and have once again come to the conclusion that most people look at pictures, not at paintings.  Let me explain, and I’m not speaking here of watercolours, they are a quite different kettle of fish!

In galleries, paintings are usually scanned cursorily, and not examined or studied.  But let’s distinguish between pictures and paintings: a picture is always a picture, but often not a painting. In other words, the ‘artist’ is primarily concerned with a pictorial effect: something perhaps intended to please the casual eye, or maybe summon up a memory or some other pleasant feeling.

‘Real’ painters may be concerned with this too but something much deeper is going on.  Those who enjoy real painting (verb) and real paintings (noun) will peer deeply into its heart to see the construction, the harmonies, the composition and the sheer physicality of the actual paint itself (the texture and ‘brushwork’.  Herein, I submit, lies real joy and satisfaction.

I stood beside people and showed them the way the work was created: some see it immediately, some get it, many do not or they are simply not interested.  Their interest starts and ends with pictures – the superficial surface effect – there is nothing wrong with this even though I regret it, if only because it means my paintings do not sell very well!

You might be drawn to a picture by its superficial character, a bit like one might find a pop song catchy at first even if it soon becomes irritating.  An awful lot of pictures are like that: you stop seeing them – they become wallpaper.  That won’t happen with a real painting because its depths are infinite and each viewer brings to it their own unique perspective.

In the arts, let’s briefly compare painting, which has prehistoric origins, with more modern media.  To read a book requires investment of time, as does listening to a piece of music, so why is a painting just glanced at?  It  always strikes me as odd because a painting, unlike the other two examples, is independent of time – you can stand mesmerised by it for ages, no pressure.  So why is it that most visitors look at a painting for about 5 seconds?  One study showed that in major galleries, viewers glance at a painting for less than two seconds, read wall text for 10 seconds, glance back at the painting to verify something, then move on to the next.

I’ll leave you with a couple of examples from paintings at Rosemoor to show the detail and texture which cursory viewing misses and leave you decide your own response. Thanks so much for reading this.


Detail of ‘Daffodils in a blue glass’, Oil on cardboard 76 x 53.5cm

Detail of  ‘Barn in a landscape with dancing figures’, Oil on board 35.5 x 49.5 cm

RHS Exhibition and Christmas Greetings

Just a chance to wish everyone a happy time this Christmas season.

Apologies if you’ve already seen this but it’s been such a difficult year, what with losing £15,000 to a building company than went bust after agreeing to convert my studio into a small dwelling and build a new one, I’m not too sure what I have done and haven’t! But we carry on: little money but lots of rain and mud, and good spirits (most of the time).

Thankfully there is always Art and Poetry.

EXHIBITIONx2 RHS Rosemoor.jpg

Please contact me direct for more information and/or visit my website https://richardmeyer.co.uk/index.php/news.

New RHS Exhibition

Barn in a landscape with dancing figures, Oil on board 35.5 x 49.5 cm (1)Barn in a landscape with dancing figures, Oil on board 35.5 x 49.5 cm

Hallo,
Just to let you know that Eilean Eland and myself have an exhibition at RHS Rosemoor in the Exhibition Room opening this weekend, running through till January.

As you can see from the picture at the top, they are not all flower pieces this time, so if you are in or near North Devon please do come along. It would be great to see you, I’ll be there off and on, and if you’d like to meet up send me a note and I’ll make sure I’m there.

Additionally, the Winter Sculpture exhibition is also on and in the evenings there is the beautiful Glow event (see https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/rosemoor/whats-on/rosemoor-glow for more details).

Hope you can make it
All good wishes for the Christmas season.

Richard

Gratitude, a two way thing.

With my visual art’scape barren, I’ve been writing a lot, having finished a trilogy of adventure stories for ‘grown-up children’ (that’s my category, so not, definitely not, ‘children’s fiction’) and writing mainly environmental poetry (some here) in which I find great solace away from the ravages being wrought on our poor little lonely planet by warmongers, wildlife abusers, religious zealots and industrial powerhouses… oh, let’s call that ‘civilisation’ shall we?

So, with my studio being dismantled (‘wrecked’ would be another word) and with little thought of painting especially since my portrait of the ‘February Girl’ was rejected for the summer exhibition by the Westward Ho! & Bideford Art Society, I was hit for six by finding I’d sold six paintings in one week; or rather, to be strictly truthful, sold 3 and bartered 3 (for a new studio roof, oh, I love bartering!). The three sold went to a collector in California – who already has one or two of my works.

Feb head, Oil on hardboard 41x30cm (2)            Feb head, Oil on hardboard 41x30cm (3)
Rejected Portrait of the February Girl, Oil on hardboard 41 x 30 cm (detail right).

I find it interesting that the three sold were from my last days in Cornwall, with the three bartered ones being more recent.

One of the sold ones was very dear to me, and I’m grateful it’s gone to a good home somewhere far away across the Atlantic – over which that studio looked – almost! It is ironic that literally right now, 20 years later, I’m having to destroy another studio, this one next door to Cornwall in Devon! Oh, life’s little ironies.

After receiving them, my Californian collector wrote the following words – which I quote with his permission. I’d like to share them because, a) it’s so rare for buyers to be quite so complimentary, and b) if his words help encourage other struggling non-standard artists to carry on so much the better. By ‘non-standard’ I mean in the sense of objective technique (knives, no brushes, wet into wet quickly) and not subject matter – which I accept (very happily) is as old as art itself.

These pieces are better and deeper than words can convey, though I will indeed attempt that task.
Thank you!
I wept at seeing them and then again at seeing them on my walls.
I had removed a few of my own pieces and put yours up.
God, they are just perfect!
I love them.
I adore them!
I can’t stop looking at them!
How much for the shipping?
Forgive me if you’ve already told me, but I don’t recall and want to get the total right.
They inspire me to collect more.
Thank you for letting me acquire these. They are magnificent. Their detail enthralls me.
DKN
These words are genuine. No fraudster or self-aggrandising artist would dare say such things about their own work, would they? When I thanked him and mentioned problems of work being assessed too hastily, he replied:
BTW, galleries are lame!
They don’t know poop!
ANY real curator will immediately see the importance of this work.
The fact that you’re getting rejected is good news! Eyes of the day CAN’T see important work. It takes heralding from pioneers. Remember that critics of the day crucified Jesus and assassinated Gandhi.
I will be writing more on your work over some great wine.
The three paintings he bought are here in small format; visible here in more detail.

If anyone is interested I’ll show and talk about the three bartered paintings another time. Do let me know, also anything else on ‘Leave a reply’ facility so that others can get a different perspective. I’m always really pleased to hear – it’s a lonely old business this.

Thanks for reading. I’m as grateful for DKN’s comments as he seems to be for the actual paintings, hence the title of this piece.

 

Mono Standing Nude, Oil on board 71 x 58 cm

Standing nude in mono, Oil on canvas on board 70.5 x 57.5cm

This painting is at  the White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple from Thursday (4th) in a North Devon Arts group show.

A surprising example (for me at least) of an early stage in a painting which I decided to leave midstream under the theory that ‘less is more’ (advice I usually find hard to follow).  It is therefore mainly monochrome and ‘raw’.  Loving black & white photography, I felt it worked all right and liked the totemic monumental thrust.  Consequently it was submitted to The Royal Academy (for their ‘Raw’ summer show show a few years ago); needless to say rejected in preference to work much of which seemed to me to be trite, arch and not in the least raw.  Others twisted ‘raw’ to ‘roar’ and ‘war’ for example – literary games that left me cold.

I liked the work so much that it has a splendid expensive frame and is consequently quite heavy.

Long awaited painting

Sunflowers in a glass vase (lr)

Sunflowers in a glass vase, Oil on board

My resistance finally broke down and I tackled a study done after a break of 18 months. This the second attempt; it’s rough round the edges and it’s been a struggle feeling a way back into managing thick paint.

The actual sunflowers had long since expired, so I needed recourse to memory, pre-knowledge and imagination. This is a detail of the painting.

Sunflowers in a glass vase (det2)The only other oil painting done in that year and a half was this commission for a friend.

Rosh on a couch A3 size 2 (2)

New Chris Thomas Exhibition

Chris Thomas catalogue

We took the bike down to the Camelford Gallery for a preview of Chris Thomas’s impressive exhibition Documenting the New Build. The exhibition is exactly that: paintings recording a housing development adjacent to his studio in North Cornwall. From very understandable initial resentment, he soon saw an opportunity to use the experience artistically, in the process becoming part of it, to the extent of being accepted on site by the builders as a kind of hard-hatted, hi-viz ‘artist-in-residence’. From my perspective, this took some guts.

During the course of building 21 ‘affordable homes’ Chris produced a tumultuous body of work: starring large oil paintings (some of them 2-3 metres wide) mainly on board. It is not hard to imagine how, to a casual passer-by, Chris lugging these round the site would have looked exactly like one of the builders. There are also intense smaller studies exhibited and a portfolio of large charcoal drawings. My favourite of all is Study from the studio executed in February this year. – I wish I could afford it. 

There is also a comprehensive illustrated catalogue with illuminating text produced to a very high standard. This was something I could afford and mine – the first to be sold at the Preview – Chris kindly signed for me: it is something I will treasure.

 

Chris Thomas frontispiece

Gratitude also due to artist John Blight for putting on the show at his gallery which, for me, exemplifies precisely what a gallery should be: something not unlike Rembrandt would have recognised: a real working artist-gallery with little concession to commercialism; in other words, not a ‘picture shop’ which so many so-called galleries actually are.

I’ll stop there lest another rant begins!

Chaim Soutine exhibition

A visit to see Soutine at The Courtauld Gallery in London turned out to be a mismatch of the expected. Having studied this phenomenal artist ever since I began to paint seriously myself in the 1970s, his work has been massively influential, validating looseness and freeing up honesty. I’ve responded most to his landscapes – more so than the portraits but Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys are the subject of this exhibition. There aren’t many Soutines in British collections, so to suddenly be confronted by 21 portraits, most of which I knew so well from reproductions was something of a shock to the senses. Not so much the visual as the tactile.

soutine-3The Chambermaid (1913)

In truth, they were both disappointing and exhilarating. Maybe that sentence needs some explanation. Disappointing because they were less spontaneous than I expected. The execution was carefully considered even though he never made drawings, either on the canvas or in sketchbooks. In fact, there are none in existence. There I was, expecting de Kooning-like explosions of passion. Frenetic paint and ideas mixed up together and dumped spontaneously on the canvas, instead I found repetitive series. Nothing wrong with that, it was just not what I was expecting. More fool me.

My visit happily coincided with a curatorial talk. His painting practice was not mentioned once; at the end I had to ask the question ‘Did he use knives or just brushes?’. Neither on the information panels was there any reference to technique, well, just one reference to brushmarks. All reviews have been concerned solely with the subjects of the paintings – who or rather what they were, their jobs, their social status, their poses etc. It was more a psychological study than a painting one. That was disappointing for me as a painter, but it must be what most visitors are interested in. As a masterful manipulator of paint and restricted colour, how could this be?

With van Gogh, we hear about the way he painted, as with de Kooning, Pollock and Dubuffet, but if anyone needs his technique discussed and analysed it’s Soutine. One often encounters the same anthropocentricity with Rembrandt, whom Soutine admired above all, as must, I submit, any real painter. Just look at Rembrandt’s handling of  paint.

Details, Soutine (l) Rembrandt (r)

So those were some disappointments, what about the exhilaration? It’s what I get when in front of a REAL painting, a work in which the integrity and sincerity of the worker smacks you in the face, right between the eyes. This doesn’t happen often, even with ‘big names’ and the grand masters, there is so much commercialism to sift through. This has always been the case.

If I don’t paint for money, why should anyone else! Soutine didn’t, at least not until, he was ‘discovered’ by the immensely rich American collector, Albert C. Barnes. He became an overnight celebrity in Paris, and possibly more repetitive.

Soutine’s enormous impact stems from his ruthless approach and his early forthright attack on stuff of painting; his independent vision, fierce individualism. His close friend Modigliani had absolutely no influence on his technique whatsoever although he did on choice of subject. The other big quality was his downright angry unconventionalism. Oh, yes, his landscapes are angry, and from that anger he derived energy. But I’m not convinced his portraits are angry at all.

A human-being sat in front of you, staring straight at you – as his models did – can be unnerving, especially if that person is bored or anxious, and doubts whether he’ll ever get paid. I found it difficult to concentrate on the actual panting and distance myself from the living being in front of me, for his paintings certainly are ‘alive’. When I did, my passion bounded back.

In 1913, at the age of 20, he arrived in Paris from Lithuania. It took 10 years of extreme poverty before being discovered by Barnes. As a Jew he felt constantly persecuted and from 1940 hides from the Nazis. He dies tragically from an untreated ulcer in 1943.

Residency at the National Trust’s Bucks Mills Artists Cabin #2

Residency at the National Trust’s Bucks Mills Artists Cabin #2

BM05, Oil pastel on silk paper 13.5 x 8.2cm (2)

BM05, ‘The Cabin from the beach’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 13.5 x 8.2cm

After my last entry which was somewhat concerned with the Bucks Mills venue and its interior decay, I showed a few examples of the Pebbles. This series amounted to some 30 sketches and subsequently has developed work in the studio where I am able to work up the drawings both in technique and scale. Below are two examples:

Pebble series 30, Oil pastel on silk paper 32 x 45cm

Pebble series #30, Oil pastel on silk art paper 32 x 45cm

pebble-series-31-oil-pastel-on-silk-paper-32-x-45cm.jpg

Pebble series #31, Oil pastel on silk paper 32 x 45cm

But the coastline was compelling both on the small and large scale. So here is some of the other work done there. As mentioned before, I felt the urge to disappear into the woodland: 66 steps both east and west, up and down a steep climb. There were some overgrown steps on the western side; coming down first time I did an ungainly skidding swallow dive coming down painfully on my left wrist. Fortunately no lasting harm done and not my main drawing hand. It wasn’t this that deterred me from going back there time and again, it was realising that I can study woodland to my heart’s content at home and that it was the coastline which was the whole point of me being here.

BM06 Oil pastel on silk paper 23x32cm

BM06, ‘Woodland’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 23 x 32cm

BM02, Oil pastel on silk paper 13.5 x 8.2cm

BM02, ‘Tree trunks’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 13.5 x 8.2cm

At first I was inspired by ‘Bideford Black’ (a pigment historically mined just up the coast http://bidefordblack.blogspot.co.uk/p/history.html) to work in monochrome and while this was satisfying I felt unable to get the quality of the limpid light. Though I did try and these are some B&W sketches.

BM15, Oil pastel on silk paper 8.2 x 13.5cm

BM15, Oil pastel on silk art paper 8.2 x 13.5cm

BM01, Oil pastel on silk paper 23x32cm

BM01, ‘Coast westward towards Clovelly’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 23 x 32cm

BM18, Oil pastel on silk paper 8.2 x 13.5cm

BM18, ‘Coast eastward to Hartland’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 8.2 x 13.5cm

After to some extent abandoning this rather artificial monochrome constraint, I did do more work in and around the woodlands in the company of my parasitic arachnid friends…

BM10, Oil pastel on silk paper 23x32cm

BM10, ‘Edge of woodland’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 23x32cm

… but concentrated thereafter on the cliffs and shoreline.

BM11, Oil pastel on silk paper 8.2 x 13.5cm (2)

BM11, ‘Cliffscape’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 8.2 x 13.5cm

BM04, Oil pastel on silk paper 23x32cm (2)

BM04, ‘Coast east to Hartland’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 23 x 32cm

BM13, Oil pastel on silk paper 23x32cm

BM13, ‘The red cliff’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 23 x 32cm

BM08, Oil pastel on silk paper 23x32cm

BM12, ‘Vegetated cliffs’, Oil pastel on silk art paper 8.2 x 13.5cm

I have subsequently been developing the Pebble series because of its enormous possibilities. I’ll post some of this work later and hope also to show some paintings from these same sources before too long.

 

 

 

 

Residency at Bucks Mills Cabin

Residency at Bucks Mills Cabin

Two weeks of intensive focus on Art at this majestic venue has now finished leaving me tired but with a body of work which ultimately feels worthwhile. “Majestic”? This is the location, not the actual cabin, which is anything but majestic: dilapidated inside with very little of the spirit of those two lady artists, Mary Stella Edwards and Judith Ackland remaining despite their artefacts being everywhere. Nevertheless, I feel very privileged to have been given this chance of residency at what the National Trust calls an “Artists Retreat”. I should have liked it to have been both: a residency and a retreat. It was neither really: one couldn’t reside there (sleeping was not allowed) and the continual footfall of visitors past the door made “retreat” impossible, at least for me.

Let me hastily qualify the above criticism by acknowledging the difficult position NT must find itself in with regard to this unique place. Deciding how to preserve or conserve perishable textiles is very difficult but there is little inside the Cabin which could not be resolved by a good clean and refreshing of some of the furnishings: the carpet and curtains in particular. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a pernickety person (ask my wife) and well used to roughing it, but I was upset about the disonance between the spirit of Edwards and Ackland and the state of the cabin interior now. They were sophisticated, educated and well-to-do ladies who would not, I’m sure, have tolerated such decay.

There is a vast difference between that and a simple frugal lifestyle. I was told that the dirt was “original” and that the cabin was as it was left by the lady artists but a lot of the grot has been left by subsequent users – and not, I’m sure, by previous artists, who would have all treated the cabin with great respect. [I hear the cabin was used for parties etc between 1971 and ownership by the Trust in 2008.]

Fabrics decay. Should they be allowed to, in honour of their provenance – ultimately to disappear completely – or be replaced by facsimiles the better to convey the original style? Is it necessary, by virtue of dust, dirt and decay, to convey the impression of a ‘time capsule’? I think the Trust should address this question as a matter of urgency. The beauty of Bucks Mills is its inspiring location and the spirit of Ackland and Edwards. It is wonderful to have their belongings as left by them and there is enough documentary evidence to keep it very much the same. But it really does need some sensitive TLC. It was the spirit I tried to tap into.

Although a good part of my working life has been on western UK cliffs and coastlands, my natural inclination is always towards woodland, and there are superb tracts of ancient woodland east and west from Bucks Mills. It was here I first gravitated, spending time in the company of what appeared to be an epidemic of ticks before coming to my senses and realising that the main point about being at the Cabin was the coastline. And so thereafter it was here I mainly concentrated, becoming intrigued by the endless jumble of rocks and pebbles played upon by the light, weather and tides which made each day very different from the preceding one.

IMGP2542

The coastline looking west.

I hope to be posting some other examples of work here and the entire body on my website in the near future. Below are a few examples from the Pebble series. My main medium was oil pastels on high gloss silk art paper in self-made ‘sketchbooks’. I also use chinagraph pencils. These media allow a lot of flexibility. The more I worked, the more I became aware of the magnificence of Jackson Pollock’s intuition – instinctive painting and mark-making.

Some of the studies will lend themselves to larger oil paintings, and I’m looking forward to that. I will post more results soon. Please leave comments, I will greatly value them.

Pebble series 15, Oil pastel on silk paper 23x32cm

Pebble series #15, Oil pastel on silk paper 23 x 32cm

Pebble series 20, Oil pastel on silk paper 32X45cm (6)

Pebble series #20, Oil pastel on silk paper 32 x 45cm

Pebble series 13, Watercolour 23x33cm

Pebble series #13, Watercolour 23 x 33cm

Pebble series 06, Oil pastel on silk paper 23x32cm

Pebble series #6, Oil pastel on silk paper 23 x 32cm

Pebble series 01, Oil pastel on silk paper 11.5x16cm

Pebble series #1, Oil pastel on silk paper 11.5 x 16cm (the first small study).

Pebble series 04, Oil pastel on silk paper 23x32.3cm

Pebble series #4, Oil pastel on silk paper 23 x 32.3cm