Tuesday, 31 March 2009
So I'll just talk briefly about what I have been reading of late - 'This is Modern Art' by Matthew Collings, - or rather, the thoughts it's sparked.
I came across this book whilst preparing my application for the Saatchi Best of British thing - Collings is one of the judges - along with Tracey Emins, Kate bush (curator at the Barbican), Frank Cohen, (art collector). I read a few of his articles on line, and as a Brit Art 'insider', he seemed to have something worth saying. I've been thinking a lot about 'Shock Art', and contemporary high art which stems from it lately, and it's been - well, to be honest - making me angry.
It seems to be a joke that's lasted twenty years, when the punchline only deserved a mild groan. I've always to keep an open mind about modern art, but recently while at an exhibition by Hayley Tompkins at the botanics, with my family (art lovers, modern art haters) when I began to wonder why I should. I mean really - a painted tea spoon stuck to the wall - why do we tolerate this as a worthwhile use of someones time, much less fund them to do it? it seems what was once avante garde is now the height of childishness and self indulgence. Or maybe I am just getting older.
But then, if we reject modern art, what are we left with? repetition of what has gone before? Once irony has crept in to anything, is it possible to again make an honest endeavour of it without it seeming - well, a bit silly and naive? emotional?
The Stuckist, or remodernist, movement seem to offer an alternative - a return to beauty in painting - but their manifesto, written by Billy Childish, seems full of unfounded petty spite, and the accompanying beliefs of expressing spirituality through art just make me groan (although in a different way to the joke of contemporary high art...)
So what's left? there are plenty of painters working out there between those stools. It's not impossible to find an in-between that is philosophically legitimate, surely. I just have to find it..
I'll keep reading Matt Collings, and let you know if he can shed any light on the situation for me. In the mean time, I'm off to find real inspiration in the form of Turner.
Monday, 30 March 2009
Firstly, we came across the stalls on the high street, selling some surprisingly nice prints and some very reasonably priced original art. Beautifully mounted and wrapped, from £30 - £45 for an original painting ...well, dirt and cheap come to mind, especially when it's not the artist himself who is selling it, so there's other people taking a cut along that chain. ( click on the image to see the price tag..)
So we carry on our daunder, stopping in it at the 'Red Door Gallery', a nice wee boutique gallery that sells a lot of lovely prints. Leaving there, we pass another gallery that shall not be named, selling this :
As my friend put it, that must be one hell of a frame. Gold plated?
I think I'd be rather annoyed if I was a towrist and I'd just spent £230 quid on a piece of original art...then found the same thing 200 metres up the road for £30. I think the moral of the lesson is to be consistent in your pricing. Or maybe it is buyer beware. Or maybe it's that galleries, on occasion, take the utter piss...
Anyway. Finished off commission paintings over the weekend which made me happy, and did this wee triptych. Apologies for no post on Sunday.. but I figure very few people are actually reading this on the weekend anyway, so it's OK to miss the odd Sunday.
Saturday, 28 March 2009
And the other..a very quick experimental sketch that came out rather well.
Have a great weekend, all :)
Friday, 27 March 2009
This will be a tricky one to write.
A couple of things happened yesterday to set me on the road of questioning where I am going with art, and whether what I want to do is art at all, or pretty wallpaper. Don't get me wrong here - I'm not sure if most art, even the big important stuff, is any more than wallpaper except in the minds of a very few. Art is such a big old house encompassing the most high conceptual stuff, to the commercial abstracts of boardroom walls, to the village exhibitions with Sunday painters' work.
I'm not entirely sure either room in that house is privileged over the other, though I can see the point of view of people who scorn the work of the shock artists, and the point of view of those who scorn the amateur daubers no matter how pretty the painting can be.
On the one hand, I'm at a place where I want to break beyond 'professional amateur' category - on the other, I'm not sure why, or what that means. This is the sticking point I hit 6 years ago, the last time I renounced architecture and buggered off to France to paint. I don't wish to go too heavily in to details of what happened then - my attempts to delve further and produce art that had meaning didn't end well and I quickly retreated back to doing sketches for tourists. Suffice to say, pondering big questions was not good for someone with my fragile state of mind at that time.
But that was then and this is now.
Yesterday brought this question of what am I trying to do in to sharp focus for me. Firstly, it was the first official day of my unemployment. Secondly, I went to see Kate Downie in her studio. Thirdly, I had to start outlining the five hundred words of 'why do I want to be part of Saatchi's art school'. Disclaimer : I don't seriously think I'll get on to that show, but I think the attempt will be useful in defining what I am trying to do.
Talking to Kate, an honest to goodness proper artist, highly respected, highly successful and represented in some very important private collections, made me realise what a sharp contrast there was between the real world of a working artist, and my daubings at a coffee table in my living room.
I AM untaught. I truly hate the label 'self taught', yet that is what I am, and it's no use pretending otherwise. Kate said 'You wouldn't expect an architect to build a building without having ever been taught - why is art any different?'. And there's definitely something in that, and I'm highly aware that there is a limit to where I can go without tuition.
There's a few reasons why I have never sought out proper tuition. I spent seven years in art school, studying architecture, but surrounded by the smell of paint and the brash enthusiasm of teenage artists. While I had envy for the art students, I was also unsure that I was ready to go in and be taught art.
My mind was too mobile, too easily influenced, and whilst yes, I wanted to learn technique, I didn't want to go in and turn out the kind of artwork I saw my friends creating - this may sound arrogant, but I had very little respect for what they were producing. 99% of what I saw at degree shows was shite.
The way I saw it then, to produce 'serious' art, one had to have something to say. And I wasn't at all convinced that your average 21 year old, much less myself, had much of interest to say to the world. Painting could wait, till I was older and till I did have something in my head a bit more important than emo meanderings.
But now I AM older, and I'm still not sure I have anything to say through art. Or if art is the correct medium to say things through. Or, to be brutally honest, if my mind can take the intellectual rigour and the introspection required without collapsing again. I've spent a long time learning not to think. It's frightening to consider opening certain doors again. I'm at a place now where I can paint -simple, pretty things perhaps, but simple pretty things I am getting better at doing - without imminent mental collapse. I'm a little bit scared of going any further.
Then, I don't really want to take this year the economy has gifted me with and not try and use it seriously. I'm 36 now and I don't have a lifetime left in which to develop. I don't want to cut my intellect off from my painting. I don't want to be stuck.
What's this all about? well. It's a bit about the chance to be taught by an incredibly good artist, and me being a bit scared to do that, scared that I will lose my confidence, and whatever small ability I have along the way. Scared that whenever I consider art too seriously, I come up with the answer that the whole exercise is utterly pointless.
Such simple things can make you feel like you are standing on a precipice sometimes.
Thursday, 26 March 2009
Because I need to have the time to prepare for BBC 2's version of the X- factor for artists - I just found out about this yesterday, and I think I shall give it a go. (it's not really x-factor, it's a slightly more serious endeavour, but I like describing it like that). I don't have a chance in hell, but hey, you have to try, right? And it will be a good exercise picking out 5 works and describing how and why they are important, and whether I achieved what I set out to do.
I've asked my friends on Lj to take a look at my gallery and pick out 5 images they like best - if anyone reading this wants to give that a shot too I'd be very grateful (apologies for cross posting to Lj readers of this). The criteria is that I have to have the artworks to hand, and they have to be painted in the last two years - which rules out anything in the Watercolours, Pen & Ink sketches, or miscellaneous sections of my galleries, as most of these are already sold, or were done a long time ago.
Chances of my getting the part time job in the local art shop are about as good as getting a job in architecture at the moment - i.e. rather slim. I spoke to the manageress yesterday and they had 120 applicants the last time they advertised! Ah well. I could do with the 20% off art supplies...for that I'd work for nothing.
Wednesday, 25 March 2009
First up, Redbubble are having a sale, so if you were considering buying a canvas print of my work or anyone else's on there, now's the time to do it. Sale ends Sunday!
Anyway, I usually have a half-decent idea of where I want to end up when I start a painting. But not always..
yesterday I decided to try and make use of all the gorgeous pics I took at the Botanics on Sunday, and paint some orchids. I started with this (photoshopped up for colours) image :
And did this little painting :
The gate (night) Acrylic on canvas 8" x 8"
Much as I love this, it's not really the true thing - I never take photos with flash (really wouldn't work on artwork anyway) so the colour values and the light are all different. the final image is actually more like this.
The fun thing about the digital age though, is that nothing is ever lost. So now I don't hate the orchid pic as much as I did when I was painting it, I still have it. The transitional painting, which has it's own merits even though I like the final version better, survives. And I don't need to sit and look at my little abstract and wonder if it would be better as an orchid. I can enjoy it for what it is. And if anyone reading has fallen in love with any of the images above, they can buy a canvas print at the redbubble sale.
I also managed to finally finish off the damned plums pic, yesterday. And do another lemons one. And today, I'm applying for a part time job in an art shop round the corner - wish me luck!
Tuesday, 24 March 2009
The last of the day
acrylic on canvas 8 " x 8"
Original for sale £115
Sometimes, it's the accidental painting that turns out best. After struggling all day with these bloody plums ( which still aren't right), and doing a kinda nice painting of lemons we saw at the botanics on Sunday, I started a little abstract just to finish off the paints on my palette - waste not want not.
But a wee house appeared within it, and then a window frame, and it became a night painting of an imaginary cottage somewhere very remote, with only one neighbour to share the dark of the night with. I was pleased with this.
Later on this week, I'll be doing a couple of blog entries focusing on one of may favourite 'finds' at RedBubble, Deb Milligan. And discoursing on if and how artists see things differently.
Monday, 23 March 2009
This morning, I thought perhaps I'd better do a little more work before I uploaded. I worked up the bowl around it a little more, after a couple of suggestions from my partner , Kit -
But it looked a bit too bowl-like now..and the plums needed work. So..
And then I thought the plum at the back was a little too red. Final adjustment and voila..
Of course, every painting needs a companion piece. And I thought it would be nice to show one from start to finish..
And this as as far as I have got just now. Will keep uploading as it progresses.. and let me know which versions you like best.
Mid afternoon - (after which it all goes a bit horribly wrong...)
And just for fun.. this cool website puts your pics in the gallery!
Sunday, 22 March 2009
21 March to 09 May 2009
The opening was fun, although I was a bit late to the proceedings and missed most of the free wine ( probably a good thing). Works I particularly like include the following:
( taken from Edinburgh Printmakers website, all copyright resides with the artists)
Footbridge 2, Andrew Mackenzie
I like the architectural feel to this, and the subtlety of line and colour. Although I'm working very hard to get away from that kind of precision myself at the moment, it's interesting to see it done so well here. Andrew's works talk a lot about networks - whether organic within trees, or physical within bridges and pathways.
Driving Nowhere, Ray Richardson.
I have to admit to not reading the artist's blurb for this, so I have no idea what his intent was. For me though, this is the kind of image that arises endless curiosity as to the thoughts of the passengers. I like how the people are spaced far apart and looking away from each other, so one's eye constantly travels from one to the other, and wonders whether they are thinking about each other, if they have a had a fight, or are bored of each other, or rather are in completely separate worlds , lost in their own thoughts. It's a painting that makes me speculate, and I rather like that.
Ferry down the forth, Kate Downie.
The bridge has played a part in Kate's work for as long as I have known her - when we met 15 years ago she was working on digital remastering of some of her Bridge paintings. This is the first time she's gone back to this subject in a long time, and I'm glad she's revisiting it, as some of her best work has come from her fascination with this megalithic structure. This particular print was made from a sketch of the bridge done on a ferry travelling down the Forth, and I like the fact that the painting is from a shifting space - a space that can't be revisited exactly. There's an energy, and movement to this print that can only come from a sketch done on the hoof.
All three prints have that in common that they are about moments in space and time that can't be revisited - that they are about networks of travel and transition. I'm only realising this now as I write about them that these threads connect them. Much food for thought for me in a direction to pick up in in painting.
As much fun as the opening was, sloping off to the pub with Kate and Indian artist N. Ramachandran afterward to watch the rugby was the highlight of the day. A rather bizarre juxtaposition of art talk and cheering and sobbing as Scotland got hammered by England. It's a long time since I've talked art with anyone, and it was inspiring, entertaining, thought provoking. I only wish I hadn't had quite so many glasses of wine so I could remember a bit more about all we talked about.
Saturday, 21 March 2009
Red Bubble is something of a hybrid - it's part photo-dump a la flickr etc, part arts market place for selling work, and part community where you can meet with other artists and talk about your work. It's trying to do a lot of things at once, and it does none of them perfectly, but a lot of them quite well.
There is no quality control on the site itself, which means anyone can set up a free account, upload the pic they took on their phone that day, and sell it as a t-shirt, postcard, or even canvas print. It's fun, it's easy. it's accessible, and it's great for those starting out to do something with their art, or just make t-shirts for their friends.
But with about a million users - there's very little chance of selling to the outside world without some extreme marketing on your part. There are people who turn up there and wonder why nothing has sold after a few months - needle and haystack are the words that come to mind, especially of you are a painter outnumbered ninety nine to one by photographers.
So, a great place to direct people to buy stuff, and the nice clean layouts give you a good showcase. But not a great place to generate customers, and a difficult place to casually browse to find stuff you like to buy. (Although the popular art pages at the front end of the site generally show some fabulous work - mostly photography, but of a real high standard with some genuinely innovative and original work)
The really useful community bit of the site then, is the villages within the city - the groups. Again, anyone can set up a group as long as they find a willing co-host ( I'm still searching for a fellow host for the Scottish painters group I want to set up) and there are a LOT of them. over 1200, at last count.
A lot of these are juried, and the hosts will only accept work they feel is of a certain standard, or that fits their subject. A few of my favourites are Painters in Modern Times ( the biggest painters group on there, with around a thousand members) Out of the Blue (blue art, whether it be paintings or photography) British Painters ( what it says on the tin) and The Scots are Coming (anything Scottish - a good place to meet fellow Scots makers)
The fun thing about that is submitting your work to the group, then sitting back and hoping it gets accepted - or even better, featured on the group homepage. The groups become the best way to find work you like, fellow artists who you can 'watch', and to generate feedback on your own work. ( RedBubble has a 'play nice' policy which means the feedback is always good - which is nice, but sometimes you'd like a more balanced view of your work.)
The other great function for the artists is the 'favourites' option - you can build up a portfolio of work you love done by other people. One of my favourite ways of bouncing around the site is to pick an artist I like, then click on their favourite pieces, find another artist I like, check out their favourites.. and so on. You can bounce around the quality stuff that way, without drowning in the dross. If only I wasn't a dirt poor starving artist myself, I would have bought a tonne of stuff by now.
There are also forums, which you'd think would be a wonderful hive of creativity and high flying art's talk - and which unfortunately seem to be more based on internecine squabbles and 'chit chat'. A shame, as it would be a great resource for wannabe art makers, and those interested in arts.It's perhaps one of these cyclical things, that will pick up again soon. I hope so. I Did however, get quite a few useful tips on painting on hardboard yesterday, for example - and I've had some urgently needed help on an artwork that I had to finish in four hours time when I put it into the forums for critiques. So, there is good stuff in there too.
I joined Red bubble a couple of months ago, and since then I've found a host of people I like talking to about art, and that I hope to get to know better. One of the biggest problems about working creatively can be the isolation - finding a place you can talk to people whose opinion you respect about your work. Red Bubble has fulfilled that function beautifully for me - almost too well, as the temptation is always to spend more time on there than you do on your artwork.
The only real problem I have with the place is the pricing - I want people to be able to buy a birthday card without taking out a second mortgage! And, of course, to get a reasonable share of that money myself :p.
However, if you are at all interested in art, go take a look. bounce about a little and look at all the wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful!) art works there. You never know, you might find something you really love.
I've run out of time to illustrate this piece - And I need to check for permissions before I put images up here. But it shall be festooned with pretty pics at a later date, apologies for the boring layout atm!
Friday, 20 March 2009
I've decided blogging is rather a nice thing to do over morning coffee, to organise my thoughts for the day - so expect a regular entry about this time. Today I'm going to talk about about photography, and how I use it in art - and problems thereof with copyright and integrity.
The last couple of days, I decided to do some paintings for my former co-workers down in Yeovil, as a thank you for all the help they gave me in working towards my professional architecture qualifications. At first, I thought I'd just give them something from stock, but then I decided - naah, let's do something a bit more specific to them. I wanted to do something with soft colours and rolling hills, that would sum up somerset.
Cue problem. I had no photos to work from. I'm not someone who's good at working purely from memory, or directly from the imagination. I like to have a base picture to start from, even if I never look at it through the whole process of painting, and the final picture comes out nothing like. Probably a hang up from my architectural education, where I was taught to record what I saw rather faithfully.
So I turned to flickr, which turned out to have nothing much of use, then to RedBubble - where I found the wonderful work of Steve Spraggan. I would urge anyone reading this to go and have a look at his photography - it's incredibly beautiful. I found these two rather perfect images here :
*From his redbubble site - I wanted to link these pics directly to it but haven't worked out how yet!
Now here comes an ethical dilemma. Firstly, is it legally right to base art on someone else's photographs? There are copyright laws involved here, and so many issues as to fill up a thousand days worth of blogs talking about it. But basically - no. It breaks UK copyright laws.
Copyright applies to any medium. This means that you must not reproduce copyright protected work in another medium without permission. This includes, publishing photographs on the Internet, making a sound recording of a book, a painting of a photograph and so on
Source -UK Intellectual property office
There's a lot of debate about this these days - a whole Creative Commons debate, a realisation that so many artistic works these days come from 'remixing' - graphically or musically. The Obama Hope poster is a very famous example where copyright was broken (although laws are different in the US, and the case appears to be murkier). And it's not very realistic - how many people apply for permission to cross-post pictures on the Internet? the Internet would surely become a text based medium if everyone did that, and be a much poorer environment.
But really, this is just a couple of presents for friends! is it a big deal?
Well, yes. Because I do also plan to put the finished paintings on the Internet, to promote my art, and possibly sell prints or cards of the paintings.
In other words, I plan to profit from my theft. So I did the sensible thing and asked the artist for permission, which he kindly gave. And in return, I'm publicly thanking him, and linking to his work every where these images are displayed. A win-win, hopefully.
With the legal side out the way, that brings me to the artistic side - is it really art if I'm just copying someone else's vision?
As said above, I nearly always work from photos (or en plein air). But I generally make it a rule only to work from my own photos.
The reasons for this are threefold - copyright, as mentioned above. Secondly, when I take photos, I'm taking them with a painting in mind - I'm looking for something quite different to a good photograph. The composition isn't always the same, the lighting will be different, and what makes a great photo can make a very dull painting, and vice versa.
The final reason is a little more difficult to explain - I need to kind of feel myself in the photo. Working from a photo of a place I have never been will often result in a flat dead painting - I can't capture the emotion I felt when there. It sounds a bit hippyish, I know, but that's how it works. I often can't even use my own old photographs - the emotion has leached out over time, and whatever I felt when there is forgotten.
The photo is the beginning of a process, of a seed of an idea, that will wither and die quite quickly if I don't turn it into paint soon. Sometimes I have to work from other people's photos'; for commissions for example, but I don't generally like it.
With that in mind, how did I manage to work from Steve's photos?
When I lived in Somerset, I would take an hour long train journey at 6am every day through the somerset countryside. The beauty of the morning mists rolling over the somerset countryside was something that would take my breath away day after day, and left me with a memory of these train rides being a rather wonderful part of my life, rather than a dull commute.
Steve's photographs brought me back to that time, to the magic of these early mornings on an empty train, very forcefully. If I could have stopped the train, these are the photos I would have taken. (If I had also been as good a photographer as Steve!)
So, in this particular case he captured something that was important to me, that I'd seen again and again, and that I could feel myself in the picture. So it worked, and I felt when I painted that I added my own interpretation, my own emotion, to my version of Steve's vision.
But I do look back on times when I was younger, and I did highly representational paintings from photos in books, with a sense of shame, and a sense that I cheated.. I guess this is an issue that all artists make their own rules on, and as best as I can sum up, these are mine.
Thursday, 19 March 2009
A very good friend of mine, once told me the hardest thing for an artist to do is stop painting. To resist the temptation to tinker, and accept 'it is what it is'. That's a lesson that was brought home strongly to me yesterday.
The conversation ( in Lj and by email) went a bit like this :
Friend : I want this one.
Me : you can't have it. It's a work in progress.
Friend : let me know when it's done, then.
Me ( to self) shit. I don't know how to finish that one! Not sure how to fix it without losing the bits I like. Never mind.
Friend : well, can I have these other ones instead?
Me : Umm, They're in a gallery. I'm not sure I want to drag them out, as I 've spent ages trying to get in to that gallery (thinks furiously) Actually, let me send you another pic of the work in progress one, and if you really like it you can have it as is. It's part of a set of three that are in progress, and maybe that one's done after all.
Friend : I've done this before! I always make artists stop because I like it as it is! I'll take it, please.
Me : Ok! done deal.
The upside of this ( apart from selling a painting, which is always wonderful) is that it made me go back and work on the other two in that set. Here's where I am now with them, and I'm still not sure if they are finished or not. I think they maybe need lightened up a bit to match the first one, but now they are not a true tryptich any more as the first one's left the nest, so does it matter? hmm.
The thing is, the artist just isn't always the best judge of their own painting. The ones you really love, are the ones that sit mouldering in the cupboard for years. (Though that's partly because they are the ones you don't really want to sell). Working on the arts market in France, I was constantly amazed that people would splash out on the original of the worst painting I had, and leave the 'good' ones hanging.
The great thing about the digital age, however, is that you can record paintings throughout the progress - and if, as it turns out, they were better half way through...well, you can always sell the print of the earlier version. Sort of like selling shadows. But the best thing of all, I guess, would just be to learn when to stop. And that's something that'll probably take me my whole life to learn.
Wednesday, 18 March 2009
Last month I became redundant in the same week as I finally qualified as an architect. With the world the way it is, it's unlikely that I'll get work in architecture for at least another 6 months or probably a year.
With that in mind, I turned to my 'alternate' career of being an artist - something that's seen me through student days, when I did 'House portraits' like the one shown here; times when I was too ill to work in architecture, and times when I would just rather be painting.
In the past, I've sold in Edinburgh cafes and little galleries, outdoor markets and galleries in New Zealand; set up selling postcards and prints of my paintings in rural France. I've probably sold somewhere between 500 to 1000 paintings over the years; yet I've never had a proper show, or approached many serious galleries.
This blog will be following me as I attempt to take my art a bit more seriously - to break into new galleries, to begin marketing and selling properly online, and above all, to take my painting somewhere I can be proud of, rather than 'scribbles for tourists'.
Paintings in progress like the one to the left will be shown, from beginning to end, and hopefully by talking through my work here, I'll understand better myself the what, why and how of what I do - and become a better painter.
I'll also be looking at other artists I admire, critiquing paintings I love, and reviewing Scottish galleries that I visit.
The recession has given me a chance to go back and do something I love, and learn to do it well. This is my diary about how I do it. Wish me luck!
And finally - all works shown here can be purchased as cards or prints at Red Bubble, and many are available as originals at Art Gallery . Some Originals are also for sale at Greens and Blues, a Scottish gallery in North Berwick.