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Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year!

 Life is such a work in progress. Perspective is everything. Looking ahead, one thing is quite certain. It will rain, and things will grow. So here's a thought, printed in The Guardian in April of this year.
(Garden by Sam Willetts.)

So Happy New Year! Flowers are Inevitable. Voltaire in wellies. These are Happy Thoughts.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Marking Winter

Winter is here. The solstice was so short, I missed it. But we have snow! This is pleasant indeed. So Happy Winter, World! Here's to a festive season full of light!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Life is full of tissue.

This is a fact. Especially when small people have colds. Then there are tissues gathering and accumulating with something like organisation.
One of the reasons for my life-long obsession with trees is the idea of continual cycle. I like to return paper to trees, in a symbolic sort of way. I thought of putting tissues on the Christmas tree, but found it rather unattractive.
So here we have an exploration of tissue. It's a branching tree, but it's also a placenta form, with its filmy covering and vessels.
I like the idea of the placenta as a tree form providing gas exchange, nutrients and waste elimination. It also cloaks the foetus and itself from attack by the maternal immune system through the secretion of a small protein, neorokinin B. The same mechanism used by parasitic nematodes to evade detection by their host. Hmmm.
So this tissue paper has been remade into tissue. A tree of life. A nod to the link between earth and the heavens. Because trees hold the universe together...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Out of Darkness

The curious business of creatures developing in darkness was weighing me down a little when I first met this tree, with its interesting chamber.  I liked the 'creature' developing inside. It suggested the violence of birth, the tooth and claw survival of the form emerging within the tree cavity. At the same time, there's a sense of shelter, branches growing within the enclosure of the trunk. A tree within a tree.

These images are studies, portraits of landscape. My fascination comes down to an addiction to metaphor. 

And painting? Maybe it's the desire to create an illusion, through the alchemy of colour, and the ritual building of a surface. Most of a painting is never seen. Heavier colours support the light; the underside of the visible, a dark substructure. Maybe it's an effort to capture moments of illumination and connection, and learn the experience in the process of building and reshaping with paint. The transformation of a subject through the intent of the human alembic. Maybe it's about taking childish delight in making a mess, being playful. 

Drawing ideas out of darkness. This is amusing. Developing said ideas is where it gets interesting. Getting it right; well, that's something else again. Still working on that.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


Snow is brilliant. 
For so very many reasons.
The world glistens, and looks briefly magical.
Tiny supercooled cloud droplets fall amongst us and life is transformed.
Everything slows down.
Beyond Our Control.
Hills are glass and full of adventure; snow is seriously distracting.
Light is reflected into the cold air and colours are sharpened.
I'd stand and look forever since losing all feeling in your extremities is so exhilarating.
Better to work faster.
 The world is quieter, but more unpredictable, because now it has
treacherous secrets beneath its shimmer.

Crystal aggregates at the mercy of gravity. Bring it on!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A Pygmalion Process

I recently had a short residency with Year 12 students, who were exploring statuary. As you can see from a couple of randomly selected photos, they're doing wonderful work! Thanks to their excellent teachers, provision is made for some time outside timetabled classes to create a final painting. And look at them go! Brilliant stuff. All the paintings are ambitious and dramatic, and students have stretched themselves in their use of colour. Looking forward to seeing these pieces finished and on display at the end of the year exhibition!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Landscape and the Body Done So Very Well #1

A small celebration of Ana Mendieta: 

Her work is immediate and magical, strong and ephemeral. Very Interesting.
Ana was born in Cuba in 1948 and exiled to the USA at thirteen with her elder sister, because her family opposed the dictatorship.
Themes of exile, violence and the creation/destruction cycle are prevalent, and her work always uses the form, silhouette or imprints of the female body. A woman emerges from a tree; branches make a woman.
Until the last two years of her life, her work was performance, photograph and video based. Still focusing on the female form, she began making object based art.

She married Carl Andre, of 'Equivalent' fame.

She Fell from a Height in 1985.
 Ana Mendieta's images of human connection to the landscape are both autobiographical and mythic, and this is the briefest look at her remarkable approach.

Why paint when more immediate work is possible? I'm still trying to work that one out...but there are Reasons.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Branching Out

Landscape and the Body
I'm very interested in the ways we inhabit our bodies and relate to our environment.
I see painting as a way of interpreting the information of the landscape through the human experience of the senses, memory, mythic imagination and physical energy. Very much a living process and highly individual. I'd like my paintings to communicate an experience.
I find I work at three types of painting.  Meditations, Encounters and Discoveries. The Meditation paintings are calm and still, based on colour and form. They are simple, less narrative. Encounter paintings are more confrontational and animistic. The Discovery paintings are often based on anthropomorphic qualities of trees.
So, this post begins at the beginning.

People don't grow on trees. Or step out of trees. That is the stuff of myth. Right? Have a look at this placenta. Well. Tree of Life?

I've played with these ideas before (see below), because the placenta is so full of potential. But it needs developing.
Paintings to come...
Landscape and the Body is a huge topic, and has been explored in many ways already. I'm going to look at a few different approaches I admire later in the week.

So, while I rewrite a novel that stalks me with its faults I remind myself that everything is a process. I've grown a branching tree of words, thrown in LOTS of fertiliser with the decent material and now I have to bonsai the wretched thing into something interesting and to the point, rather than an organic meditation on Stuff.

Sometimes you have to branch out and sometimes trim the branches. My problem is my 'thing' for interesting branches. I have a hard time hacking them off, even if I know they spoil the shape of the tree... Pathetic really. Excuse me while I sharpen my axe.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

About Inspiration

                                                               Ask and Embla
In an empty world, three gods wander along a beach, in search of amusement. The way gods do. Not much happening; they check out the detritus on the shore. And this is where it gets interesting. Washed up on the shore are a couple of logs.
   Sense they had not, soul they had not
being nor bearing, nor blooming hue.
You know the sort of thing, driftwood. Trees that had been growing, and one way or another, are uprooted and thrown on the waves. They are probably shaped by their time in the water. One log is ash; one is elm. Odin looks at them and, together with his brothers Vili and Ve, gets creative. He breathes into them and the first people step forth.
Ask and Embla.
I like the idea of something dead being reinvigorated. It seems to be the way the world works; in seasons of waste and renewal. The tree in this image has been eviscerated by the weather, and its slow erosion is underway. Certainly it's in a forest, not on a shore, and I have no god delusions. But with paint, you can breathe a little life into a log. Inspiration, of a sort.
 Next post follows logically: Landscape and the body...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Most Exhilarating of Powders

Aspirations to alchemy. A ladder to the stars.

Magic powder that can make you happy? Plenty of variants out there. But chalk pastels are the stuff of Dreams. Just look at Redon (see below). Alchemical aspirations are possible with chalks. Here are some Very Good Reasons to play with chalk pastels:

1. They are portable and excellent for using outside
2. Building a painting is very immediate and physical, you press the chalk into whatever ground you're using with your hands. This is childishly satisfying
3. Your hands will look very interesting when you're done and you can avoid food preparation and laundry in good conscience
4. A chalk painting is ephemeral - if you're unhappy with results, you can just wipe away what isn't working, and remake that area.
5. Working with a dry medium, you can travel with your work right away

Yes, you get pigment in your skin, clothes and in your nose, but there's a price for everything. I think my respiratory system can take it.
Working with chalk takes some practice.
"It is precisely from the regret left by the imperfect work that the next one can be born." That's what Redon says.
And clearly, he is in a position of knowledge. He presents a luminous example of What is Possible. Sigh. Maybe next time. I live in hope.

Head of Orpheus  Odilon Redon

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Between Worlds

We are stepping into the darker half of the year.

Over the past week I've had the privilege of  revisiting (virtually) work I love, particularly that of Bill Reid. Claude Levi-Strauss, visiting the northwest coast of Canada, said of the Haida tradition that "no other art has broken through the barrier between the natural and the supernatural worlds with such momentum." Here's a link to Bill Reid's incredible carving of Raven. What I most admire about the Haida tales is the unflinching portrayal of Raven in his magnificence and his depravity. And they are funny. Perhaps this explains some of the strength behind the momentum. Throughout Haida mythology and the artwork it informs are encounters with beings that are neither human nor animal, but contain mixed aspects. This identification with other creatures, this sharing of characteristics breaks boundaries. Often, these ideas were expressed through trees - carved in wood. Statuesque realisations of relationship (I hope I'll be forgiven some simplification here; I aim to be brief). 

I can see I'm working backwards. In the landscape, I see suggestions of what it is to be human in tree forms. Sometimes mythic implications are evident (an Actaeon, or an Odin), sometimes there's an emotional state or a suggestion of physical/biological similarity. I paint them out. Horns to toes, and in between. Damage and beauty. It's all there. I try to paint with the door open.

As Lawren Harris says, "art is the realm between our mundane world and the world of the spirit". There are so many ways to get there, especially on a day when the veil is traditionally thin.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Getting There Or Wandering?

Every venture is a journey. When naming this blog, I was thinking of my aversion to paths. I don't always know where I'm going when I set out. And I had Robert Frost on the brain. The way, in "The Road Not Taken", the traveler looks down one road as far as he can, where it disappears into the undergrowth. With a path, you can be quite sure that you will get Somewhere. Granted, you can't see the destination, and you might miss marvelous things by choosing one path over another. But unless the path is liberally scattered with corpses in varying stages of decay, it's safe to assume that travelers before you have gotten There; maybe back again. So it's off the path that intriguing discoveries are waiting to be made. Perhaps this is justification for wandering. I'd like to take Robert Frost's traveler and shake him a little. What? Two roads? Look around you! Embrace the Undergrowth!

So, getting there. A physical walk, a piece of work, life in general.
I'm doing a lot of path-gazing. From the undergrowth of course. Where I've wandered.

I plan to post about drawing and painting outside, and hopefully link to other artists whose practice is based in the landscape. In preparation for an upcoming project, I'll be gathering my thoughts on my creative process; how experience, perception, memory and energy find a physical vehicle. How by analysing and developing what is realised, I learn from the relentless repetition of the cycle.  It would be great to have some dialogue on interpretations of our relationship with the landscape. Hopefully, we'll get Somewhere.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

What About Yellow?

Nature's first green is gold. We have this on Robert Frost's authority. Nothing gold can stay, he tells us. Gold flashes through our lives, but yellow has this way of lingering. Like a bad smell. Sulphur?
Yellow ochre is hydrated ferrous oxide, straight out of the earth. It couldn't be more stable. It seems more trustworthy and less dramatic than the electric cadmium pigment. Both are Required. I want to like them. 
But I have ambivalent feelings about yellow. Perhaps this stems from growing up through many snow-laden and long winters where yellow snow, when you are being creative and experimental, is a Bad Thing.
Colour is not absolute, that's its beauty. But what does yellow DO for us?
Is it a celebratory colour, or does it tell us to pay attention, and slow down? Sunshine or traffic light? 
In the right place, it's marvelous. But what about the immoderate use of yellow? Rothko can carry it off, but reproductions don't translate. Obviously Van Gogh and Gaugin bonded over yellow. And a Basquait makes yellow Necessary.

I'm getting over yellow, because sometimes it's as close as we can get to that elusive, ephemeral gold.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Making Marks


Seeing Things and Making Marks. That's what I do. I've decided to use this blog as a way of keeping a record of my work and articulating related thoughts. Because I'm in the uglier throes of a writing project as well, I have to be disciplined. I've noticed my painting lacks subtlety and my writing lacks drama, so perhaps I'm trying to coerce my words and images into the functional relationship the two have been avoiding.

Sometimes my paintings are about a moment in the landscape. I try to summon a sense of Experience and Encounter. Take this Post - it is hidden in a copse. You'd never know it was there. But it sees you coming, and tracks your movements. It has a relatively benign nature, but it was placed for a purpose, and it seems quite intense about Gate Keeping. It is very ghostlike; all traces of the rest of the boundary and gate are long gone. I can't pass it without spending time watching it back. I have a ridiculous attachment to this Post.

So that is my First Post, and an indication of where I'm coming from.