Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Blackpaint 12

December 11, 2009

Trying out the “Van Gogh” method of drawing I mentioned yesterday (using no shading but that of closely drawn lines), I found that I didn’t know how to do it; for example, should all the shading lines point the same way?  It will be easy enough to find out and not worth mentioning perhaps, except that it illustrates a problem faced by the self-taught in all fields; that of patches of deep ignorance in technique.

I remember Rolf Harris explaining to an amateur painter on TV about reflections in water, how a tree’s reflection, for example, goes straight “down” rather than “across” the surface.  This painter was working outdoors, with the scene in front of him and yet he’d not noticed this.  I suppose it goes some way to explaining that apparent inability of many Renaissance artists to do a good infant, that I was writing about the other day.  There must be something in the way the brain processes the information that’s in front of the eyes, that refuses to register the “truth”.

Some interesting stuff in Daniel Farson’s book on Bacon, “The Gilded Gutter Life of FB”; Bacon “believed (that Picasso’s Guernica) reeked of propaganda”.  Also, the opening scenes of “Last Tango in Paris” were based on Bacon’s work (haven’t seen it, so can’t comment) and also Hannibal Lecter’s cage in “Silence of the Lambs”.

Last night’s painting has now acquired a lot of white “strapping” around the black areas and some Prussian blue and black additions that look like an anvil poking up towards the top left hand corner- or maybe an electric hand drill.  The trouble is, if you leave it around it grows familiar and, far from breeding contempt, it seems to gain credibility, or integrity – to me, anyway. 

Watched the Ballets Russes programme on TV; that incredible end to “L’apres midi d’un Faune”, where the faun appears to masturbate on the scarf of the departed nymph – or to “achieve climax”, as one old dancer put it.  Now I understand why audiences found it shocking.

Listening to: “Tonight at Noon” by Charles Mingus – now there’s a great title; I think I’ll nick it for a picture.



Blackpaint 10

December 9, 2009

British Library

Exhibition of 19th century photography at the above, called “Points of View”, I think.  The usual stuff; workmen lined up on earthen galleries in tunnels, bridges and dams under construction in Egypt, India and elsewhere in the Empire, Muybridge sequences of apes, horses, bison and humans in motion – the horse definitely does have all four hooves in the air at one point – Gettysburg dead in a trench,  Conan Doyle with an ectoplasmic entity hovering behind him.  Victoria, Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, criminal types, misty evenings in Trafalgar Square.

Three photographs really stood out for me, for completely different reasons.  The first was an Andaman Islander with a clamp attached to her neck to hold her in place for the photograph.  The second was an X ray of a frog, with an eerily human skeleton- and the third, a portrait of the actress, Mrs. Patrick Kavanagh, as she was titled.

King’s Place

Then, down to King’s Place  in York Way, to see paintings by Updahl, the Norwegian painter.  Mountains and huge sweeping curves of bays, with distant towns sketched in with paint along the shoreline, all under dark mauve skies, sometimes with aurora depicted.  Some of them reminded me of Paul Nash’s bay scene.  Downstairs, some watercolours of similar scenes with sharp contrast of light and darkness on mountain faces.  Our view impeded by a huge throng of suited businessmen (some women, overwhelmingly men) having their buffet lunch break from a conference.

British Museum

Finally, down to BM and to Mexican revolutionary prints from 30s to 50s, I think.  Social Realist type subjects- beggars, workers, soldiers, disabled, street scenes – but in that heroic, stylised manner of the muralists; Rivera,  Siqueiros and Orozco (who have a wall to themselves, titled “The Big Three”).

Had a quick walk through the North American/Canadian Indian section – First Nation peoples is the correct term, I understand from Ray Mears and George Monbiot – and saw the anoraks made from gut (of seal, sea lion etc.) to the Main Court and through to the Assyrian reliefs from Nimrud, Nineveh and Tigrath – Pileser (is that right?), to check on the lions in the lion hunt series and see if what I said about them being much better than Renaissance lions was right – it was.

As well as the lions, sprouting arrows, there were lines of soldiers carrying little lopped -off prisoners’ heads, two prisoners being skinned alive, divers apparently using inflated skins as swimming aids, rivers full of fish, crabs and eels, cities being besieged, walls scaled and battering ram “tanks” crashing into walls.  And the huge eagle-headed guardian spirits with pine cone and bucket (very like a handbag), lashes, fly whisks, and one pair attacking each other with knives.

Home, and Tim Marlow on Vermeer on TV.  Enough to make me despair, as I contemplate the trite, anaemic, tricksy abomination that is my own current “painting”.

Listening to: “Sorry”, by Bix Beiderbecke and  “It Never Entered my Mind” by Ella Fitzgerald.  The latter has the phrase “uneasy in my easy chair” – I came across “uneasy chair” in Ferlinghetti the other day – and “Naked Lunch” a few times too; did he get it from Burroughs or was it the other way round?



Blackpaint 9

December 8, 2009

Snot, Khaki and Bananas

My latest creation is looking at me, half finished (or more likely, half started); a vile green square atop another of snot and khaki, with an insipid orange telephone-shaped thing just over half the canvas in length, attached to the right side of the squares – the right side a washy grey with a black “gestural” curving line poking up into it.  Any offers?  Starting at £150, shall we say?

Possibly as a result of looking at this thing, or possibly the baked bananas and yoghurt I had for dinner, I am suffering from stomach pains, so tonight’s entry will be brief again, I’m afraid.

Turner Prize

When I visited the Turner Prize exhibition weeks ago,  I thought the  entries were (in order, best first): Lucy Skaer’s shy whale, Enrico David’s angry little spheres on legs, Roger Hiorn’s ground-down aircraft dust and Richard Wright’s gold mural.  I hardly remembered Wright’s entry, thinking of it as embossed wallpaper.  then I read some of the art bollocks on the wall and David’s pompous, self-important stuff made me relegate his entry to last.

Entirely predictably, Wright has won and I find on reading Adrian Searle’s piece in today’s Guardian, that it is “a joyous and tantalising experience… a monstrous and lovely apocalypse”..  Looking at the accompanying photograph, I have to agree (although I still see a wallpaper quality to it).  Perhaps you have to stand looking at it for longer than the 5 minutes, at the most, I gave it.  Charlotte Higgins describes the painfully laborious process of producing it, by pouncing, and I suppose that adds to it’s value (see Labour Theory of Value, earlier entry).

Wright’s work will be painted over after the exhibition, and that seems somehow to enhance the work – it seems heroic in a sense to me, to produce work you know will be destroyed, since the act of creating any piece of art is a denial of death and oblivion on some level.  You don’t mind someone having your work to put in their house but you don’t want it destroyed.  You have this mad idea that it will somehow be permanent – and Wright, and Michael Landy seem to have overcome that, at least on occasion.

 That’s what I mean by heroic – I’m not trying to compare artists with armed forces, or policemen, or lifeboatmen, or anyone who risks life and limb for the public good.

So, a moment ago, I was criticising Enrico David for being pompous and self-important; I don’t see why he should be the only one allowed, just because he is a Turner Prize finalist.  My day will come.

Listening to:  Decoration Day, by Sonny Boy Williamson (and loads of others)

“People, you have a good time now, just like the flowers that blooms in May (*2)

But Sonny Boy thinks about his baby- I get the blues every Decoration Day”



Blackpoint 7

December 6, 2009


No time to write much today; I’ve got some new paint, so I’m working.  I find everything gets really highly colourful when I get new paint, so I end up having to grey or black it all down again, to give it that authentic, gritty, British, fifties/sixties, St.Ives-y feel that is my “comfort zone”. 

I’m looking at red, orange, pink and ochre patches, set in a desert of khaki and grey, linked by a thick, black, tree-like canal on a sky-blue coastline – metaphorical tree, canal and coastline, of course.  and yes, it does look as horrible as it sounds.  Where’s the black paint and messy charcoal?

It strikes me that we (minor artists, trying to get bigger) are like those tree frogs and toads that you see on Attenborough programmes, the ones that blow themselves up like huge bladders at mating time to get attention; the more minor we are, the more stuff we seem to have on the web, trying to attract attention – like a blog, I suppose.

I checked out Bacon hands and feet – I think Richardson has a point.  The only pair of hands clearly on view were those of the wicket keeper in the cricket painting (did he only do one?); straight, fat fingers-gloves, I suppose.  As for the pope gripping the chair, hands are sort of blurred.  Who cares, though?

Listening to:

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, by Eric Bogle (Pogues’ version, of course!); and LA Woman, the Doors.

“Then we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,

And it started all over again”.

“Cruisin’ down your freeway,

Midnight alleys moan:

Cops in cars, the topless bars,

Never seen a woman,

 So alone…”


Blackpaint 6

December 5, 2009

Where do you get titles?

So, following from yesterday, if the paintings only have a visual meaning, that’s to say, the shapes and colours don’t signify anything but themselves, how does one give them titles?  People need titles, if only for convenience.  If you have a load of pictures called “Untitled, no. 5” or whatever, it’s not easy to distinguish between them in your mind.

Actually, in yesterday’s piece, I wrote that people ask you, the “abstract” painter, what a painting means, but before or instead of that, they often ask you what it’s called.  When you tell them, they will often just nod, or say “Oh, right !”, as if that has made it all clear (which is pretty unlikely).  What they are doing is trying to work out why it’s called that; they are looking for pictures in the picture.

 Of course they are, it’s an unavoidable human reaction I think; I do it myself.  You finish a picture or and you realise it  looks like something: a room, a giant insect, a bull’s head, a human body, a head… If you come to this realisation during the painting, you may change course to avoid it – or you may choose to enhance the resemblance- but then, how abstract is it?

So, I often give my pictures titles based on some superficial resemblance.  I’ve got one which looks like a cross between a cow’s head and a heart so I called it “Beefheart”, to grab a musical connotation for middle-aged or older punters.  This process  isn’t unknown, even with world class painters; De Kooning once called an abstract  painting “Pirate” or “the Pirate” because it bore a slight resemblance to a pirate ship.

And then, with abstract pictures, you can always just call them anything which sounds good.  I tend to steal titles or lines from old blues songs for just that reason; it’s another example of cultural imperialism, of course – but a huge reservoir of great titles.  I suppose I’m hoping that, somehow, the beauty and integrity of the music will seep into the picture.  Now that I’ve written that, I feel guilty, so I’m going to change my ways in future. 

Well, there we are – I’m a person who thinks Beefheart and blues titles are “cool” – clearly, not recently out of art school!

What is art for?

last night, on Newsnight Review, Johan Hari said something about the purpose , or one of the purposes of art being to enable us better to engage with the world, or to understand the world in which we live; he was talking about an exhibition of art relating to the environment – but it made me wonder how my stuff could be said to do that.  I suppose my stuff is “Art for art’s sake” – I wonder how (or if) the two can be brought together?

Listening to: “Jerusalem” by Steve Earle and “Lover of the Bayou” bythe Byrds.

“Drank the blood from a rusty can;

Turned me into the Hunger Man,

I’m the Lover of the Bayou”

Blackpaint, 05.12.09

Blackpaint 4

December 3, 2009

Tried the new method – planning a picture before painting – last night; didn’t work.  I stuck to plan for about 2 mins, and then got fed up and sloshed the paint about as usual.  Result:  I have two messy pink and brownish messes, with a bunch of charcoal lines added this morning to try and impart some structure and integrity – unsuccessful.  I’ll stick to plan though, a couple more times at least, before I give up and go back to my old fashioned, anarchist ways.

The Marxist theory of value says  that a commodity is crystallised labour; it’s worth more or less according to the amount of graft that it contains i.e. that has gone into making it.  Accordingly, the value of a work of art is determined by the amount of time and effort that have gone into it.  Clearly, that can’t work with art – you can spend weeks on something which turns out to be crap.  Similarly, you can do something good in minutes.  You pay for quality of concept and execution and at the top end, and above all, for name; the amount of work involved is way down the list.

Nevertheless, the labour theory of value is very attractive, in that there is something obviously fair and just about it; you hear people say “Look at the detail!  Imagine the amount of work that took!” – or, conversely, “That couldn’t have taken more than 5 minutes to knock out – and look what he’s asking for it!”  So, if something really did take only a couple of hours to do, it never pays to admit to it – people want you to have struggled (reasonable, really).  there was something of that idea in Adrian Searle’s review of Damien Hirst’s new exhibition; he (Searle) was saying that Hirst hadn’t striven and struggled and excavated his images in the same way as Bacon had.  

So I have two elements in mind when I decide what to charge – the state of the market and the size of the picture.  But I’m so desperate to sell – not for the money, but to get the work out – that I grab any reasonable offer.

I wonder how the labour theory of value would work with, say, Martin Creed and his crumpled piece of paper?  The act of screwing it into a ball is labour, so it would be worth more like that than if he’d really been minimalist and exhibited it as a blank, but unscrewed-up bit of paper.  Flippant comment really – they would send different messages.  Screwed-up is discarded, failed, rejected; unscrewed-up is fresh, full of potential, ready to serve…

Writing this has brought to mind the higher art bollocks that you often see accompanying book illustrations and gallery walls.  the best example I know is Luigi Ficacci on Bacon in the Taschen series; stunning pictures, impenetrable prose – for example:  “The pictorial exaltation of this condition of decadence imposes such a capacity of visual purification on the scheme as to vest it with a power and density of expression analogous to what is intrinsic in the figure.”

 I assure the reader that this is not an unusual excerpt – read the book and see if you can understand it.  It’s a pity, because Bacon spoke with great clarity and frankness, if not always consistently and honestly, about his own work.

Anyway – it seems a pity but I do not think I can write any more, today at least.

Listening to Boll Weevil Blues, by Blind Willie McTell and Elevator Blues, by Sonny Boy Williamson (the first).

“Elevate me, Mama, Mama five – six floors on down (*2)

“Y’know everybody tells me, you musta be the elevatin’est woman in town”


blackpaint 3

December 2, 2009

I never see anyone else with canvases or paintings on the tube; am I the only painter in London who takes canvases home or delivers paintings on the Underground?   I swathe them in bubblewrap, keep the painted side towards me and keep to the end of the carriage, so as not to obstruct the seats.  I had to cart two 26 stops to the other end of the Northern line last week – worth the journey, however.

I finished the red and grey one last night, and it came out just like another from a couple of months ago – only different colours.  So, that pretty much bears out what I was writing yesterday about how I paint, and it has made me determined to change my method.  I buy canvas in twin packs, so from now on, I’m going to do one according to a predetermined plan and a sketch and stick to it, however crap I think it’s turning out – and the other one using my old “method” .  So, first plan is to have large expanse of canvas one colour with no significant markings and the rest crowded with some sort of motif(s).

The Saatchi thing on TV was interesting – the deserted “zoo” with the pathetic canvas rock was judged best, even though it got the lowest public vote (60 something per cent though – probably a lot more than most pieces of public sculpture would get, if not tied to a TV programme).  I liked the self – doubt on display; the lad building the rock looked at it dolefully at one point and said “Sometimes I don’t think I’m an artist – more like some sort of eccentric builder” – or words to that effect.  It makes a change from people on these programmes insisting how passionate they are about this and that.  The British are  not supposed to be passionate, in public anyway.

I thought the public were surprisingly positive towards the various efforts; in my experience, most people want a painting or sculpture to be figurative.  Anything else is dismissed with a crisp “load of rubbish!” or a more polite “I don’t like modern art, it doesn’t look like anything”.  This lot were getting approval ratings of 80, 90 per cent.  maybe it was a nice day, or they’d all had a few beers, or they saw the cameras – or maybe they’ve just got a lot more receptive to conceptual art suddenly.

Listening to Elder ID Beck, “Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow” and Bessie Smith, “House rent Blues”

“Sometimes I’m tossed and I’m driven

And I know not where to roam;

But I’ve heard of a city called  Heaven,

And I’ve started to make Heaven my home.”


Blackpaint 2

December 1, 2009

My last painting is hanging on the front room wall, where I stick them to see if they are finished or not.  It looks like a caricature of Elvis, with long, drooping, backswept side-whiskers and a black and grey whale emerging (escaping?) from his left ear.  It’s in blue, black and orange and there’s a Turner red spot in it.  I think I’ll call it “Sitting on top of the world”.

I’m making little progress with my other one; bright but somehow dead red, black, dirty grey with white sweeps.  As yet, it has no discernable characteristics; maybe a dog’s head?

This illustrates the haphazard nature of my “method”, which boils down to  slap the paint on and hope that it will resolve itself into a striking image and/or an effective combination of colours.

I suppose there must be loads of painters who work in this sort of way; the results can be surprising and there are advantages and drawbacks.  the main advantage is the sense of freedom you have in marking a fresh canvas.  You’re going to change it anyway, paint over, mess it about so you have few inhibitions.  Also, you soon develop a sort of “look” or style.  There must be something in your head that makes you make marks and put together colours in a similar way, if you have no “preconceived object”.

This gives you reassurance and supplies your work with a sort of spurious integrity.  in other words, repetition and familiarity validate your stuff, if only to yourself.  It works the same with music; Mahler’s 9th has that bit that sounds like “Abide With Me” and there is another Mahler symphony that definitely has “I’ll be seeing you”.  My cassette of Caruso singing the Improvviso from Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier” has a snatch of “Over the Rainbow”; it helps you remember it and listen out for it and, I think, to like it.   

Soon however, you hit the drawbacks.  Setting out without a plan is radical in one aspect, but can lead to  conservatism in another.  If you are old and set in your ways, your ideas of “beauty” are  fossilised and you can end up with paintings that look like those of your heroes (not as good, of course).  Making a plan, doing a draft could force you out of habits and take you in different directions.

Having said that, I read the other day or maybe it was on TV,  that Paul Auster thinks a book to an extent “writes itself”.  Francis Bacon always claimed not to make sketches – a lot of his stuff was taken from photographs of course – and he said that accident played a major part in his painting.

On Bacon, John Richardson is bringing out a book which claims he couldn’t do hands or feet (must check that).  He didn’t go to art school and it reminds me of Robert Hughes’ diatribes against Schnabel and Basquiat – and, at a remove, of those crackpots who say Shakespeare couldn’t have written the plays because he hadn’t been to university.  it also reminds me of that great bit in The Monty Python Bok, where there is the Durer drawing of the hands with several duff versions crossed out, and “Damn, damn, damn” scrawled on it.

Richardson also says that Bacon did his best paintings when he was in sado-masochistic relationships with Peter Lacey and George Dyer and that he went off when he “settled down” later; the old tortured (literally)artist theory.

Criticism has gone downhill lately; in an Observer review the other week, Rachel Cusk (or Cooke, can’t remember) referred to the artist Conrad Shawcross as “adorable”.

What I’ve learned  this week about art is from Hughes’ “Nothing if not Critical”; one way in which Lautrec and others differed from Impressionists  was in having a line around figures.  this was borrowed from a form of ceramic work called cloisonne, which had sections divided by a strip of metal.  I suppose it’s obvious that Impressionists (effects of light and all that) wouldn’t put a thick line round things – but it was new to me, primitive as I am.

Listening to: Hot Fingers, Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang, and Black Snake Moan, Blind Lemon Jefferson.

“Some black snake been sucking my rider’s tongue”.

Blackpaint, 01.12.09

I am Blackpaint

November 30, 2009

Why Blackpaint?  Because I’m using a lot at the moment, sweeping it around my canvases as if I were Kline or Motherwell, but without the vision.  Unlike them, I use it for cheap dramatic effect.  I like blue too, especially Prussian, as well as blues music – but somebody beat me to Bluepaint, and Charcoal too, so Blackpaint it is.

I paint sort of abstract stuff; I say “sort of” because they usually come out looking like something – just nothing on Earth (except abstract paintings).  I usually paint in the early hours, mostly sober.  Canvas on the floor, I slap, or actually tip acrylic paint on and mix colours on the canvas.  I cut shapes into the paint with charcoal which splinters and sifts about, dirtying the painting up.  I find this gives it a bit of “bottom”, stops the colours being too pretty or vivid; gives it a sort of Englishness that goes with our light.  I think Adrian Searle remarked on that in relation to early Hockney (again, no comparison intended!)

Sometimes, I scribble and mash into the canvas with oil pastel when all else fails to produce something viable; but I’ve found you have to be careful not to paint over oil pastel with acrylic later, because it cracks like leather (looks quite good, actually) and scrapes off really easily if, for instance, you stack canvases against each other.

I try to paint every day, but I don’t sell much; maybe £1000 a year.  I sell cheap – the most I’ve made on a single canvas is £250.  Luckily, I’ve got just enough to live on and pay the bills even if I don’t sell; I couldn’t buy paints and canvases though.

I don’t care much about getting good prices, but I like to sell because it means someone has been prepared to part with money to hang my stuff on their wall – I need that validation, being self-taught.  The only training I’ve had since leaving school some considerable time ago is a life drawing and painting class once a week.

Being a Londoner,  I’m up to the Tates and the Nat and the Hayward all the time.  I’ve seen the Ruscha and the Baldessari and the Balka but not the Kienholz prostitutes yet – maybe tomorrow afternoon?

The first time I went into the Balka box was a Saturday afternoon and it was full of screaming and posturing schoolkids and foreign students, every second one with an illuminated mobile phone  held high; apparently the artist didn’t want to dictate how people were to behave in his installation.  The second time was first thing on a Wednesday morning, not many people about and this time, a notice  asking no mobiles etc.  Groped forwards in a darkness that swallowed you up, cliche I know, but I watched a couple disappearing as they went in, as if into a cloud of soot; very eerie.  Then inevitably, my eyes adjusted and the blackness became just dimness, and the effect receded.

Also inevitably, since the artist is from Cracow, there are associations with Auschwitz and the box looks a bit like an enormous cattle truck…    

The other thing I wanted to say is also crashingly obvious (but that has never stopped me before); how a picture that you love one day can leave you stone-cold on another.  I’m thinking of the Joan Mitchell in the Tate Modern – one day, very complex, nuanced, absorbing, subtle; another day, a depressing mass of greys and creams.  Or the Asger Jorn with the little globular figures smiling out at you ; some days, the colours are fresh and bright and sing to you; others, they are dull, dirty, livid and depressing.  Sometimes too, you have to see them from a distance, say, across the gallery; that Motherwell in the surrealism bit is brilliant from a distance but nothing much close to. 

But the Picassos always blast out from the walls – the Cubisty one in same room looks to be climbing out!

In the paper (Observer) yesterday, story about Kieron Williamson, seven year old who started painting landscapes and churches and harbours a year ago and sold out an exhibition in 15 minutes, making £17,000; some bidders were reduced to tears by the paintings.  Compared to the boy Picasso by the gallery owner.  his father is a freelance dealer.  Reminds me of that little girl in the States who was painting abstracts a few years back, and selling for thousands – but this time it’s “proper” pictures that look like something.

Anyway – I have to stop now.  Back tomorrow. 

Listening to Cannonball Blues by Furry Lewis;  Viola Lee Blues by Cannon’s Jug Stompers; Trinity River Blues by TBone Walker.

“I wrote a  letter, I mailed it in the, mailed it in the air indeed Lord,

I wrote a letter, I mailed it in the air,

So you know by that I have a friend somewhere”.

Blackpaint 29.11.09