Archive for March, 2010

Blackpaint 100

March 31, 2010

100 glorious years – sorry, blogs

I have reached my centenary (actually, this is 101; first one was not numbered but titled, modestly, “I am Blackpaint”).  By way of celebration, I am going to give you my ten best St. Ives pictures, long awaited since Blackpaint 96.

1.  Fly Away, Peter Lanyon 1961.

2.  Moon Quay, Terry Frost 1950.

3.  Soaring Flight, Peter Lanyon 1960.

4.  Untitled 1968, Roger Hilton (the one that looks like an obese tapir with a long snout on orange, green and white).

5.  Alfred Wallis, Night Fishing, 1935 (a ship sails vertically down a bend in river in profile).

6.  Fourteen discs July 20th 1963, Patrick Heron – 1963, of course.

7.  That lime green/yellow one in the Tate Britain, Patrick Heron.

8.  That one by Sandra Blow with sand mixed into the paint, in the same room of Tate B.

9.  Red Black and White, Terry Frost 1956.

10.  Skara Brae, William Scott 1959. 

Soaring Flight

Moon Quay

Actually, there are loads more – Sandra Blows, Hiltons (wish he’d given them all names), John Wells, McKenzie….  Still, can always revisit.

Royal Academy

Put my two in yesterday; they were tiny, compared with the canvases other painters were lugging in from white vans illegally parked in Burlington Gardens.  still, size isn’t everything…

Here’s an old one of mine:



Blackpaint 99

March 30, 2010

David  Smith

I’ve been reading some of his lectures on sculpture and art in general and I have to quote some of his points, since they are very close to what I think – or rather, I am very close to what he thinks: “To understand a work of art, it must be seen and perceived, not worded.  Words can be used to place art historically, to set it in social context, to describe the movements, to relate it to other works, to state individual preferences, and to set the scene all around it.  But the actual understanding of a work of art only comes through the process by which it was created – and that was by perception”.

Again, writing about his own “Hudson River Landscape”, he describes how he made sketches from the train and how he accidentally threw ink over his hand when opening the bottle – and incorporated that into his sketches by placing his hand on the paper.  That led him mentally to “other landscapes and their objects”, which were incorporated in the final sculpture.  He writes: “You can reject it, like it, pretend to like it, or almost like it, but its understanding will never come with words…”

So – that’s great for the artist; not so good for the critic or commentator.  No need to explain or expound, or defend – you either get it or you don’t.

Interestingly, when he lists the things you can do with words, he leaves out description.  I suppose there’s not much point in description without evaluation, but you could say things like “the painting consists of a series of diagonal black stripes on a sky blue background” (description) or “The use of a dark grey background tends to create an atmosphere of unease” (evaluation, sort of)…

Jonathan Jones on Michelangelo and Leonardo

In today’s Guardian, Jones writes about the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s statue of David.  Referring to the latter’s “gargantuan” right hand, he points out correctly that Michelangelo has lavished great attention to it, the knuckles and veins modelled in minute detail.  Unfortunately, he develops his argument – that this is “a body still growing and changing” – by saying that “The hand is the most radical instance of a quality that all David’s parts possess: they are separate and  slightly at odds with each other, like characters in a play.”

Why “unfortunately”?  Because I was aware of the hand – now when I look, it seems to me that the neck is too thick and long and the legs a little too short and thin…   Only trying for cheap controversy, of course.

The picture below is not a Leonardo, nor a Michelangelo – but I’m sure you will notice certain similarities to them

Listening to Do Re Mi by Woody Guthrie.

“If you aint got the do-re-mi, boys, if you aint got the do-re-mi,

you’d better go back to beautiful Texas;

Oklahoma, Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee.”



Blackpaint 98

March 29, 2010

Roger Hilton

Hilton once drew up a list of rules for painting, some of which were useful, some not.  What to make of: “Paint as if you were painting a wall”, for instance? 

However, one rule was absolutely right, for me anyway, and it was “If you have a full brush and you have made a mark, do not think you have to use the paint on your brush, wash it out.”  I always remember this, just after using the paint on my brush and wishing I hadn’t done it.

In the spirit of Hilton, then, here are some rules I sometimes observe, both for painting and looking:

  • Spoil the canvas, make some marks – you can always paint over.
  • If, like me, you like to shake blotches of paint straight on to the canvas, use a controlled, repeated wrist flick, rather than a violent chopping motion from the shoulder (although the resulting chunky splat!! can be quite satisfying).  Ensure all completed canvases in the area are turned to the wall first.
  • Completed canvases should in any case be turned to the wall, so that when you look at your new effort, the eye isn’t choked by the riot of colours coming from your other work.
  • Look at your picture from the corner of your eye, or an acute angle; can you perceive a definite structure?  Are there good bits?  This doesn’t always work –  if it’s composed of spidery all-over patterns they will merge, of course.
  • Does it look better from far away?  If you think it’s rubbish, it may be that it’s a surface thing.  I’ve found this with Gorky, recently (see Blackpaint…)
  • Does it have a definite orientation, a top and bottom?  Sometimes, just reversing it works.  I suppose this only works with abstract stuff – although Baselitz turned his pictures upside-down.. unless of course he painted them that way… 
  • Leave it on the wall for a week before deciding to paint over it; sometimes they improve with age.
  • If it really is bad and you decide to paint it over, look hard first to see if there are any sections worth saving.

There’s only eight here; I know convention demands ten but I’m an anarchist, so I decided to leave the other two out.

Here’s the latest:

Listening to Robert Johnson, Me and the Devil Blues.

“I want you to bury my body down by the highway side (*2)

(spoken) Babe, I don’t care where you bury me when I’m dead an’ gone,

So my old evil spirit can catch a Greyhound bus an’ ride”.



Blackpaint 97

March 28, 2010


That Borges story I was on about in Blackpaint 38, the one about the cartographer who made maps on the same scale as the ground he was mapping was from “A Universal History of Infamy” and was called “On Exactitude in Science”.  It’s only half a page long.  He got the idea from Lewis Carroll, it seems – or at least, Carroll had it first.

This painting is the most recent one I’ve done; I finished it last night.  I don’t think it’s particularly good, but it illustrates to me something that I wasn’t aware of before.  that is that some of my paintings are about integration and structure and some are about falling to bits.  This one, for instance, has a well defined structure stretching from the left edge to the centre of the canvas comprising black, white, grey and ochre shapes and one red.  There are looser areas of light green, ochre and white above and below, which give a superficial (and unintentional) impression of sky and reflections in water.  Structure and the illusion of foreground and background.  Compare this with the one below:

No background or foreground, no single structure or focal point – an “all over” picture, more or less.  It’s not actually “falling to bits” – but it is in pieces, sort of. 

So – I’ve got a bunch of paintings like the first one and some, but not many, like the second.   Not that interesting, I grant you, but a revelation to me.  Enough of that, however, because I hold to that idea that, if you know too much about what you do, you won’t be able to do it any more – and I want to do a few more yet.



Blackpaint 96

March 27, 2010

Having a major failure of the imagination today – not unusual for me – so I have decided to resort to the adolescent device of listing my ten best…  So, today, my

Ten Best Abstract Expressionist Paintings

1.  De Kooning, Palisade (1957)

2.  Joan Mitchell, Mooring (1971)

3.  Hans Hoffman, Phantasia (1944)

4.  Jackson Pollock, Lavender Mist no.1, 1940 (1940!)

5.  Franz Kline, Scranton (1960)

6.  Helen Frankenthaler, Autumn Farm (1959)

7.  Hans Hoffman, Pompeii (1959)

8.  de Kooning, Untitled (Summer in Springs) (1962) – look at that yellow!

9.  Joan Mitchell, Salut Sally (1970)

10.  Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm Number 30, 1950 (1950)

Sorry – you’ll have to look them all up to see if I chose right.  Next in series will be my ten best St.Ives paintings, but will save that for when I have nothing of interest to say; possibly tomorrow.


In the Telegraph review today, there was a photograph of George Dyer sitting in his underpants and next to it, Bacon’s painting of John Edwards in exactly the same pose.  Bacon simply transposed the head of his later partner onto the body of Dyer, for the painting.  That requires some high level of artistic detachment, I think.

Listening to Elgar’s Cockaigne, Cello Concerto, Violin Concerto and Falstaff – probably a reaction to my unpatriotic remarks about Paul Nash in Blackpaint 94.

Blackpaint 27.03.10

Blackpaint 95

March 26, 2010

Paul Nash and other War Artists (see Blackpaint 94)

It strikes me today that Nash is part of a group of British artists that all use a similar range of colours and tones: Eric Ravilious, Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden and Nash himself.  All of them have that chalky, milky, washed-out look to their colours – and all of them, of course, were war artists.  Nash and Ravilious shared similar settings (the Downs, Dymchurch).

You could perhaps put these war artists in one group as regards colour, and the following into another: Graham Sutherland, Leonard Rosoman, John Piper and Henry Moore – darker settings, more vivid colour (Rosoman’s salmon pink aircraft in the War Museum, for example, or his wall collapsing on two firemen; the depictions of Blitz wreckage by the other three).

Then, I suppose Eric Kennington and Laura Knight go together stylistically, in their more conventional, “realistic” approach.


I just had to mess with it – I couldn’t leave it alone for just one night.  Out came the black paint and on it went, a great, fat sweeping slash that unbalances the whole thing and will require drastic surgery in the morning, when the paint is dry and repairs can be done, I hope.  Still, if you don’t take risks you might as well leave the canvas blank – they’re perfect like that.

Here’s another old one-



Blackpaint 94

March 24, 2010

Paul Nash at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Got to this today; four rooms, I think, of paintings, drawings, some photographs and two collages, one of photographs, the other of wood pieces.

There was “Totes Meer”, the sea of dead German planes, “Landscape of a Dream” ( the one with the hawk),  a trench painting, which I think was”We are Building a New World” –  familiar anyway – and “Solstice of a Sunflower”, the strangely still, yellow juggernaut. The rest of the stuff was new to me, which was a surprise.

I have to say that I found the washed-out, bleached colours and the thinly-applied, dry brush strokes with occasional patches and flecks of bare canvas a bit oppressive today.  The surface of “Sunflower” ,for instance, was arid and elsewhere the paint looked sticky and dragged-on, somehow.  “Farewell” (1944) was a crooked stick against an awful, sickly lemon yellow, but mostly chalk whites, thin sky blues, light greys with here and there, as in “Dream”, a splash of plum/raspberry.  There were several empty room interiors, waiting for something to happen, with an Ernstish feel and the several “Urne Buriall”s had surrealist stock lurking about – owls, dismembered arms, birds with faces.

There was the Dymchurch stuff, purling seas on shorelines, long, slender women in long, slender 20’s dresses (in distance, back turned to viewer).  There were two early (1911 – 13) pictures called “Wittesham Clumps”, one in watercolour, ink and chalk, the other pen and ink, I believe, that were very beautiful; tree circles, very distinct but tiny, flocks of birds above them.

Photographs – tennis ball (which cropped up again in a large painting, “Event on the Downs”), standing stone, cottage, ploughed land, again with painting nearby and “Monster Tree”, a typical Nash photograph of a strange-looking natural phenomenon.  It looked to me as though the fallen tree might have been shifted a little to create the desired effect, but no doubt I’m wrong.

There was some Nicolson-ish stuff from 30 – 31 – “Opening” and “Kinetic Features” and “Nest of the Siren”, which was unremarkable except that the colours were richer and more thickly applied than the others, highlighting the general thinness and dryness elsewhere.  Another nest, this one “Nest of Stones”, worked wonderfully, because the texture of the stones was perfectly reproduced by Nash’s approach.

In the last room, larger paintings, deeper colour at last!  In “Swan Song”, a huge fly agaric mushroom with its white spotted, red cap lies broken in a wood; next to it, “Chestnut Waters” – an avenue of trees reflected in the surface of a lake; and the giant tennis ball on the Downs.

The title of the exhibition is “Elements” – a fair amount of landscape, seashore, trees, flowers, I suppose; but really the exhibition is mostly his surrealist stuff.  I suppose on another day, in another place (atmosphere at Dulwich I find rather starchy), I would have enjoyed it more – today it was washed-out, bleached, chalky, dry and thin, the titles pretentious.  So there we are; a couple of weeks ago, I was criticising Laura Cumming for having a similar beam in her eye with regard to Henry Moore.  Sometimes – but not often – the “Britishness” is too much!

Listened to Muddy Waters, “Long- Distance Call”; great antidote to Dulwich.

“I hear my phone a-ringing, sounds like a long-distance call, (*2)

Pick up my receiver, party say “Another mule kickin’ in your stall”.



Blackpaint 93

March 23, 2010

“Solar” by Ian McEwan

I’ve been taking a couple of days off art (reading, that is – not painting) and reading the above.  I had thought of McEwan as being in a league of his own – beautifully clear, original ideas, perfect metaphors – and this book has all of that;  but this time, I thought you could easily detect other British writers and works that have similarities.

The first that occurred to me was Malcolm Bradbury’s “History Man”.  I think it’s a combination of Beard’s self-absorption and womanising and the slightly unhinged cheeriness of Patrice when she takes her revenge (i.e. Tarpin).  Bradbury’s Howard Kirk and his wife Barbara come to mind.  Not only that, though; Bradbury’s ironic tone is there too, if a little lighter.  And there was his jetting academic, Maurice Zapp in another book, can’t remember the title, who bears a slight resemblance to Beard.

Then, there is Tom Sharpe, “Wilt” for example; Aldous’ unlikely death and the build-up of pressures towards the end seem similar.

A William Boyd novel, “Stars and Bars” had an American character reminiscent of Darlene, I think, and a preoccupation with food; vegetarian v. meat, as I recall.

Finally, and maybe I’m pushing it a bit, but I’ve recently re-read Keith Waterhouse’s brilliant “Jubb” and Tarpin the builder (and his house in Cricklewood) is exactly the sort of character that Waterhouse used to create.

None of this detracts from “Solar”, which I read in two days; several weeks is more my usual speed.

Anyway, back to painting; below, my Black Painting as promised – or threatened.  And actually black, white, orange blue and green, if you look closely and ignore the reflection of the flash…

Blackpaint 22.03.10

Blackpaint 92

March 22, 2010

Arshile Gorky

Went for a second time to this exhibition at the Tate London.  This time, I noticed the nifty little blue aeroplane paintings, full of technical detail – reminded me of some of the stuff in the Van Doesburg.  However, I found the thin, spidery black lines an irritation this time, also the fluffy white backgrounds of some pictures and the rather sickly nature of the colours generally.  Also annoying were the pretentious titles and I left thinking no, not one of the greats – except clearly as a catalyst, for de Kooning, for instance.  Definitely this time, I noticed how some of them look great from the far end of the gallery, and how they disappoint as you draw near.

BUT – second visits are often like this; it’s the mood you’re in. 


I’ve been looking at a Thames and Hudson book of above and have to say how stunning his drawings are; sketches in Conte crayon composed of swimming particles that seem to swarm before your eyes like atoms coalescing (maybe partly the glasses, but still) – just fantastic.  It’s that thing of thinking you know someone, not really looking at their stuff any more – Gauguin, OK, know what he  did; Cezanne, yes, Mont St. thing  again; and then you actually look.

It appears that I can’t download pictures again, so words only today.


Sunday Night

OK – so I could download – but it took all night and all day.

Blackpaint 91

March 19, 2010

Hooray, hooray – computer seems alright today


Must be the influence of Ad – I’ve started covering, or nearly covering canvas in black paint, thick, with short horizontal and vertical interwoven brushstrokes.  Unlike Ad – my purpose and focus is not as clear as his – I then add lighter colours such as ochre and white/grey.  It’s different; but is it good?

Not like this – I did this one ages ago – but like this

Apart from Reinhardt, there has been a bunch of painters who have done black paintings: Malevich of course, Franz Kline (they look like black on plain canvas, but actually black and white), Pierre Soulages, Frank Stella and Rothko – actually dark grey, but look black.  Amongst British painters, William Scott .

Henry Moore

Lovely Culture Show programme last night, with that great colour shot of the freight train travelling across the American (or maybe Canadian) prairie with a huge, knuckly Moore in two pieces, lashed onto a flatbed freightcar.  The Laura Cumming’s reference to his “knitted tie” (see Blackpaint 80) was sort of explained; he was apparently never without a tie.  There was a television DIY man in the 50s called Barry Bucknall, who always wore a collar and tie, sleeveless jumper and shirt with sleeves rolled up high – Moore reminded me of him.  Also, Michael Hordern; the absent-minded expression maybe – and, oddly, a meek Ted Hughes, if that’s not a contradiction.  Probably because they were both Yorkshiremen.

Listening to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult – horrible words encouraging suicide, but a compelling chord sequence and hypnotic harmonies.

Blackpaint, now painting it black,