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Saturday, 29 January 2011

Going Nowhere Fast

Inside Out, Upside Down K Howell Chalk Pastel on Paper 
    With its stripped bark and galls, this oak seems made of ritual endurance. It's only mostly dead. Every spring it surprises me by producing something green, a modest display of foliage from an unlikely source. In the winter, it takes on the aspect of the Hanged Man, the archetypal figure of sacrifice and renewal.
    January seems like a month of stagnation and patient stasis in the cold. So much of the world is waiting. Quietly regathering. It's the right time to visit this tree and be amazed at its formation. To get lost in its possibilities. The resilience of trees is remarkable; I like to share their air. Only not for too long, because it's CHILLY.
      Back inside it's more possible to be patient with slow progress... however galling 'Slow' is.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Hard Graft and Games

Pink Eye KHowell Acrylic on Paper 20cm x 28.5cm
Pink and frivolous.
This tree lost its intriguing branch formation after the heavy snow. I dug up a tiny sketch I'd made some time ago and reworked it in acrylic, to see what it would become. Can you have an exercise in frivolity? Looking at Joan Miro and Paul Klee, I think you can.
Andy Warhol says An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have but that he thinks it would be a good idea to give them. 
A fair description, don't you think?

Having had the privilege of listening to Andreas Scholl sing this week, I was reminded of a few things:
  • Countertenors are sublime beyond mortal comprehension. 
  • Some can still pull a baritone voice out of some hidden cupboard for a laugh.
  • People will refer to this level of mastery as talent. As though it dropped out of the Ionosphere, and hasn't been cultivated through 10 000 hours of concentrated Work.
Creative endeavour is a mixture of hard graft and games. Difficult balance, but so reassuring to know it's possible! Sing on, sing on...

Sunday, 16 January 2011


The eye works in mysterious ways. In distraction mode, it picks up on details that excite the imagination. To create a painting then requires focus and single-minded purpose to make something of this moment and throw it into relief, so it is unmissable. The further along the painting is, the more distance is required to analyse what is working and what is superfluous. During the process, a painting can look pretty dire indeed. That's where focus and concentration become allies once more, because ultimately the material can be shaped into Something. It's a strange ritual, really.
     I blame my antipathy to driving on years of drawing and painting. I like to look at things, play around with associations and then remake them, and this is a disastrous habit behind the wheel of a metal object hurtling down the road. I have to reset my brain before driving anywhere. I'd really rather walk. To be physically connected to the world I'm moving through, and experiencing all the irrelevant details.
     The Latin  focuser refers to the domestic hearth. The centre. Sometimes the most difficult place in the world to focus on anything...Not a bad thing, just a fact.
     I've posted this study because the 'eye' is the focus and makes this post eat its own tail, so to speak. 

Sunday, 9 January 2011


It's one of those words that sounds like its meaning. From the Latin struere, to build, structure sounds stable and strong and reliable. But in practice, working with structure is a constant dance between support and limitation, isn't it?
I've been thinking a great deal about structure. Probably because it's winter, and I've been doing lots of studies using skeletal trees to structure and shape space. And because I'm cutting and assembling cradling for wooden panels that will provide grounds for paintings. I like working on panels because they can withstand scraping, sanding and all sorts of distress without the basic structure collapsing. A painting can be built, possibly several times, on its solidity.
I like the idea that a confined and limited panel with firm edges can be used to suggest something infinitely more slippery and elusive. Light. A moment.

Language is similar, really. Margaret Atwood, in The Year of the Flood, has a character propose that by saying "I'll be dead", you're still alive inside the sentence and the idea of the immortality of the soul is a consequence of grammar.
Structure. Is it confining or liberating for you?