Joy Street exhibition

Current exhibition in North Devon

NDA news2

The two paintings sold so far in Barnstaple exhibition (20 Joy Street EX31 1BS).

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‘Ferns with tubes of oil paint’, and ‘Rooke Mill #1’

 

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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!

Henry Israel, Jan 22 1933 – Dec 24 2017

Henry Israel (2)

Henry Israel – A rare and genuine artist

Henry was a truly great artist and teacher. We shared the same birthday but not the same year. He was strong and forceful but enormously kind – and very patient if he thought you were serious. For over 30 years I regarded him as my mentor: he jostled on my shoulder as I worked (and still does) with my brother John Martin and Paul Cezanne – stern but wise mentors all.

He was classically trained at the Slade but not well known beyond a small circle of collectors and students in North Cornwall because he hated attention and fuss. I remember him once saying that he didn’t paint in public because it’s not a performance. This makes him sound a curmudgeon but he wasn’t; he had a dark and mischievous East London sense of humour, which I think comes across in the photo above.

Our painting techniques, from widely different starting points, seemed to converge at the end.  He was always a decidedly abstract painter – stunningly original – but I felt he came to me, but he would say the opposite of course. We had one exhibition together in Camelford in 2005: Henry’s B&W photography and drawings, and my own very un-B&W paintings.  We also had a love of animals in common.

I miss his wise counsel tremendously.  He leaves his wife, Caeria – also a very fine and completely different painter.

Henry landscape

A late landscape: he painted on board and, as you can see here, came to use a painting knife; this gives our work certain similarities. We both evolved the use of under layers of paint as plane boundaries.

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.