Monthly Archives: July 2010

on thinking, clouds in a sketchbook

Saturday 24 July 2010

dear reader, i have had my head in the clouds again, a mild attack of the vapours… the heavy rains came (more of a rain deluge, really) and then swiftly went away again, giving us brilliant blue skies for a day or so, but then those rain clouds gathered ominously once again…

sketchbook drawings - studies of skies and clouds
[sketchbook pages, july 2010]

these are some small sketches from the last few days, all completed during the course of travelling to places – and by humble bus, no less. it’s a surprisingly bumpy ride by bus in the countryside – the pencils which i thought were securely retained in a pencil case threatened to jump overboard and skittle across the floor of the bus, as one did, but luckily the bus was close to empty…

n.b. all of these sketches are all 14cm x 20cm.

drawing study of rain clouds, in a sketchbook
some rain clouds… i guess they are cumulus… with a peek of sky blue…

this is my favourite sketch of one day’s travelling, a brief glimpse of rainfall in the distance (or perhaps it was just the sun’s rays as seen through water vapour after a rainstorm), sketched on the return journey…

study of rain clouds - sketchbook drawing

here is another one completed around lunchtime… it was a bright and breezy day with some sunshine, the clouds gathered up (so to speak) and it was ‘looking like rain again’

sketchbook - sketches of clouds and sky

here is another sketch from earlier in the week (a single, small grey cloud, amongst the white fluff, that caught my eye). i had, to save some money, decided to draw on both sides of the paper in my sketchbooks – but i have noticed how the fugitive nature of graphite has transferred smudgy tones between the sketchbook pages, thus unintentionally clouding this drawing even further…

sketchbook drawing - sketch of a cloud

single grey cloud

sketchbook drawing - sketch of a grey cloud

another dark grey cloud – perhaps these incidental smudgings of graphite add a little life to the process..

there is no desire to use these small sketches as part of a preliminary process for painting – i think they will feed into my painting in other, less obvious ways…

artists sometimes use photography to record the details of things, as visual references for their work, but plein air drawing (or as seen through a window in many of these examples) as a process has its own sensibility – one that is exploratory and purely responsive, of the moment – of making brisk, spontaneous marks in real time, marks that have no definitive end…

i have, i think, a bit of a sketchaholicism when it comes to travelling (when not driving). there is the time and space to just gaze, to drift into momentary vistas, spied for perhaps only a few seconds. this inspires a loose, gestural style of drawing that i continue to work into for a few minutes, with the landscape or sky still there to refer to outside the window, slowing shifting in its perspective… this creates an immediacy and vitality of drawing, which if one were ‘still’ might produce a more technically-laboured outcome as one wrestles with capturing the singular ‘view’. here, in these sketches, the most time i spent on a sketch would be three or four minutes… i look, i draw, i memorise – perhaps it is a form of (re)training,  for the eyes and the visual memory, to hone one’s perception, to be more receptive and impulsive in drawing what one sees… and i like the self-imposed restrictions of drawing on the move

for some contextual reference it would be churlish not to mention suffolk-born artist  john constable, and also jmw turner, for their studies and sketches of skies and clouds. constable and turner were contemporaries, born only a year apart, with perhaps some professional rivalry if not open hostility towards one another at the time. three of the sky studies below are from the period 1822-23… perhaps the industrial, revolutionary smogs of those times made the turbulent skies into art…?

this also begs the big question: who’s the master of the painted skies, constable or turner? constable appears to offer a deeply respectful and naturalistic view of the landscape (rising metaphorically from the dark shadows of the industrial revolution), whereas turner immerses himself (and us, in turn) in the subjective, spiritual nature of landscape as a means to convey elements of the sublime…

john constable - cloud study - tate collection
John Constable, cloud study, circa 1822. oil on paper, 476 x 575 mm

constable - study of clouds - victoria and albert museum, london
John Constable, study of clouds, 5 september, 1822. oil on paper, 298 x 483 mm

what is most interesting in constable’s cloud studies is how they give an insight into his process. his often detailed annotations referring to time and place offer some evidence of the influence of advances in science during the age of enlightenment, although i am sure that romantic painters such as constable would have been a little sceptical.

constable produced many preparatory studies and the final paintings were then completed in the studio. arguably the most famous constable painting, the haywain, was actually completed far away from the suffolk valley it depicted – in hampstead, london. he was truthful to the spirit of nature as he perceived it, a deeply nostalgic and poetic vision of britain’s rural landscape, at a time when the real countryside increasingly exhibited the advancement of a more mechanised, industrial agriculture. i wonder if back then his paintings were seen as aspirational manifestations of a rural idyll existing only in the mind – he once said of his clouds that they were the chief organ of sentiment in his paintings…

turner - storm at sea - watercolour in sketchbook - tate collection - london
JMW Turner, storm at sea circa 1822-3. watercolour on paper, 178 x 257 mm

turner - study of clouds, tate collection, london
JMW Turner, study of clouds, with a shower passing over water circa 1826-32. watercolour on paper, 307 x 487 mm

you can view turner’s sktchbooks online at the tate

constable is undoubtedly the better painter of real skies but turner captures the essential, intangible beauty of the ethereal elements. turner seems to delight in the deft touch, the merest suggestion of colour in atmospheric movement, of a fresh breeze or a sea mist rising. this is meteorology without the boring science bit. these are not absolute recordings but sensory responses and turner’s later paintings always remind me that less is often more.

i find the implied sensitivity in these small studies most fascinating when what we know of turner’s personal life is that he was often brash and, how shall we say, a tad unrefined in demeanour, but let’s not spoil the painterly magic. turner’s magnificence as a painter and his influence on modern art is undeniable – as rothko once apparently said, this man Turner, he learnt a lot from me‘. sometimes, i can’t help imagining that if turner had just cleaned his brush on a scrap of paper it would be later viewed as yet another sketch of a storm at sea… constable, i think, would not have been so carefree…

lastly… i have just penned a quick haiku style poem, in honour of some fluffy white clouds…

reigning clouds
sometimes flirt a little
when spurning summer’s heated advances…

rebirth: an exhibition

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Rebirth: An ancient culture and philosophy revisited; rediscovered; revitalised; readdressed and remade.

Rebirth, curated by Lorraine Cooke, is an exhibition of Contemporary Japanese Art inspired by Ancient Jomon culture and Japanese aesthetic, in collaboration with the Unearthed exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.

The Rebirth exhibition features artworks by Sahoko Aki, Megumi Baba, Shaun Caton, Veronica Grassi, Jazz Green, Tsunaki Kuwashima, Barbara Leaney and Keika Sako. Rebirth, the exhibition, at gallery Art 1821, runs from 29th July to 8 September 2010.

The gallery Art 1821 has a strong curatorial ethos and shows contemporary art by established and emerging artists. Together with exhibitions of new work, the gallery has works for sale by established artists from previous generations. Works by Piranesi, Fernand Leger, Prunella Clough, William Scott and Jamini Roy sit alongside works by established living artists such as Maurice Cockerill, Eric Fischl, Laxma Goud and Colin Self.

i like the linking curatorial concepts behind unearthed and rebirth – as something re-discovered, re-visited, re-contextualised, re-vitalised… i have three large paintings in this exhibition.

i have also been pondering on (the year) 1821 – it was the year Baudelaire was born, and also the year that Keats died…

UPDATE: see some gallery pictures of the rebirth exhibition here…

last chance to see… the NCA 2010 (Norfolk Contemporary Art) exhibition closes at 6pm 21 July 2010

on achieving a perfect lichen-ness [part three]

Tuesday 20 July 2010

the current state of play, the ongoing engagement with the surface, shown here in the sixth (current) state…

the lichens have landed (but are likely to populate still further)…

there have been many, many states in this particular painting but i only have six full-on shots (some of the work is done in the horizontal)…

strangely, have not really referred to any particular photograph – perhaps this is wise; i do not want to end up with a botanical illustration…

given that the above images do not adequately portray the finer workings of the surface – my primary concern – that of the layering process, of embedding a pictorial history of its making… i have taken these detailed images today, a made-to-measure, ground survey…

[the yellow tape measure is in cms]

[myriad colours from grey green, bisque to violet, prussian blue, a ruddish brown]

[splatterings of ochre yellow, mustard, showing the textural quality of the surface]

no-one looks at paintings this closely, so not sure why i do – i suppose i  like the painting within a painting…like something unearthed, buried deep within the layers, the rebirth of a painting within a painting – which leads nicely onto my next exhibition news (which, to make things a tad more organised around here, i will put into a new post)…