Monthly Archives: March 2008

Of a deviant nature

Sunday 23 March 2008

I’ve just joined the artist network site, deviantART.com. I have put some photographs on DA that I have not shown here, with brief outline summaries on most of the images. I don’t really want to stray too far and lose focus on this site (the amount of networking and image updating needed is it making me tired and there’s not enough time to do it all well), but DeviantART seems to be a good virtual hub for meeting other artists, and it has some good quality stuff, especially the stock photography; you just have to be clever with your search terms to avoid the manga warriors, puppy portraits and fantasy unicorns, or just follow the favourite links of those artists you already know or respect. So, this is how I’ve spent the remainder of my holiday weekend. Well, it was snowing outside earlier, so time for a double hot chocolate…

Crag #II, 2008

Easy on the eyes

Saturday 22 March 2008

I have spent the last few weeks undertaking a redecoration of my studio. Even though I am a little obsessed with surface texture, the daily sight of a very clumsily applied woodchip wallpaper was jangling with my senses. A delicate peeling of a loose corner one day revealed a wallpaper of the weakest character, barely clinging to the original wall. After much peeling, scraping, sealing and repainting of walls, my eyes are finally comforted by their renewed smoothness. The colours in my work in seem brighter for the subtle change in light, and I have some new ideas to combine collage, print and paint. The walls are the blank canvas, and the small works are the little flourishes of colour within the white space. I am reminded by the artist Howard Hodgkin in his desire to have a defined space around his paintings, so next on the list is a long-awaited de-clutter. In the meantime, here are three small works on panel I completed recently for a gallery show, a little more abstracted, patterned, decorative, a little easy on the eyes…



Erthe I, II & III, mixed media on wood

Seeing sense

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Are artists born, do they inherit a genetic artistry, or do they develop into artists through a process of being formally instructed on how to make art? Can art ever be taught? Is the acquisition of traditional skills a form of mimicry? I ask these questions today as I have been contemplating of late on the teaching of art.

I find it easier to refer to an analogy of the chef, who first picks his ingredients through the enjoyment of aroma, taste and texture, planning the recipe, creating the dish and savouring the end result. Similarly, trainee artists need to value the intrinsic qualities of things and not rely on a step-by-step recipe to guide their creative senses. They need to abandon their assumptions about everyday things, such as the sky is always blue, and develop more intuitive, honest responses to the sensations of real matter (colour, texture, shape, form), before embarking on the mechanics of picture-making (control of tone, application of colour, compositional structure). A chef will enthuse excitedly about the quality of ingredients, what they each possess and bring to the dish, the interaction of flavours and textures, the pleasure of making and sharing food.

Many students seem to prefer a fixed set of instructions for a finished model of work, rather than an open exploration or live research. Paradoxically, many professional artists (especially painters) focus less on a pre-defined outcome, abandoning some formality along the way, and are more engaged by the journey of its creation; what will happen if, let’s try that, perhaps include this, exclude that, combine, deconstruct, reinvent…

JMW Turner, Norham Castle, Sunrise, circa 1845

JMW Turner painted many hues in the apparent simplicity of smoke, smog and sea spray, capturing the transient beauty and ambiguity of its form; it seemed more than a process of conscious exaggeration, extracting a faint lilac hint from a mass of grey, a wisp of orange in an energetic swathe of smokey blue. He understood that colour had an intense, emotional value, transporting us beyond the literal and the obvious (it’s a sunset or storm) to something deeper within the psyche, a sense of danger or mystery, a vision of wonderment or the divine. So, painting (and drawing) goes beyond mere recording or depiction of an idea or event, it seizes the wonder that is the act of seeing (exploring the world around us, making sense of things), the whole experience from initial discovery to cognitive understanding and creative resolution.

Many artists will often talk about having a conversation or dialogue in the creation of their work – receptive to influences, embracing serendipity, questioning alternatives, emotionally engaged in its making. One way for students of art to learn this process is to record their work in development, recording initial ideas, the use of other sources, the stages of construction – to develop new skills in artistic judgement and critical reflection. But, there is still a belief that some artistic skills are better achieved through a disciplined, repetitive or copying process to reach a prototype of perfection. Ultimately, the teaching of fine art goes beyond a mastery of a set of practical skills, it is more about finding a voice or expression, the ability to define or articulate a personal view of the world, from the conceptual to the concrete, to engage or persuade others, beginning a new discourse between the artwork, the creator and the viewer. The act of looking and responding is learnt first, the practical skills of rendering it in a new reality give the work its sense of direction and purpose…