Posts Tagged ‘blues’

Blackpaint 27

January 2, 2010

Barthes and Foucault

These French postmodern philosophers wrote about” the Death of the Author” (title of a book by Barthes)-the idea was no artwork is new or original; all art is basically a cut and paste job.  Artists are merely copying and reassembling previous ideas.  And the reader/viewer creates the meaning.  This sounds about right for my stuff again; when anyone asks me what’s going on in one of my paintings, I can refer them to these two (and Lyotard).

Sir John Soane’s House

Visited this strange, crowded museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields today; full of casts – I think – of bits of tomb, column, friezes, sarcophagi, vases, books, paintings in a gloomy house designed by Soane himself.  Bridges and skylights, arches and coloured glass.  Full of attendants, and on the chairs, what at first looked like toy mice.  They turned out to be teasel heads, I assumed for brushing up the plush seats – but no.  An attendant told one of the visitors that they were to stop people sitting on the chairs; once you received a bottomful of the painful spines, you would think twice about doing it again.

This no-nonsense approach was also displayed by the volunteer marshalling the (tiny) queue outside; in a jovial tone, he told the man in front that there was no drawing allowed on Saturdays – and continued, “If you are caught drawing, you will be asked to leave immediately.”  Maybe foreigners, particularly Americans, respond to this treatment well – evidence of British eccentricity.  I was surprised to get in, shabbily dressed in jeans, my son wearing trainers.


It’s famous for the Hogarth paintings, notably the Elections (just about visible in the gloom).  The one affable attendant – woman from Sheffield, I think – told us that the paintings were really secondary to the engravings, as far as H was concerned; they were a sort of advert or demonstration sampler for the latter.  also some good Fuselis, and scenes from Shakespeare – Lear, the Dream, Merry Wives – in which the main character always has those staring eyes and tragic expression that I associate with Blake.


Jimmy, not Reece.  Listening to: “Times are Getting Tougher than Tough” with T Bone on guitar.

“Prices gettin’ steeper, Money’s gettin’ cheaper,

Had myself a woman, but I just couldn’t keep her-

Times gettin’ tougher than tough,

Things gettin’ rougher than rough,

Well, I made a lot of money, but I just keep spendin’ the stuff”.



Blackpaint 22

December 23, 2009

Joan Mitchell

No time to write much today, so I’ve decided to upload paintings by two of my favourite artists.  the first is joan Mitchell, who like all women artists, in the last century anyway, seems to have been passed over as far as critical acclaim goes.  Maybe because she went to live in France; maybe she wasn’t pushy enough – although by all accounts she had a temper; mostly, no doubt, old-fashioned anti-woman bias in the art world.

This is called “Salut Sally” and was painted in 1970.  she did a bunch of these paintings around this time that shared the characteristics of these; the mixture of dark patches and panels with that exploding, brilliant white light melting to gold, orange and violet patches and “controlled” dribbles down the canvas.  A sort of mix of Hoffman and Monet – but with Mitchell too.  I think she is stunning – only one picture I’ve seen in the flesh, the one in Tate Modern (much earlier, 1954, I think), but that is much more restrained with a grey background.

Willem de Kooning

I wanted “Palisade” for this, the one on the cover of the Taschen, but couldn’t find a picture, so I’ve picked these two, because one is abstract and the other, one of his familiar beautiful/terrifying women.

The first of these is “Door to the River” ,1960, which is pretty much what it looks like, so maybe its not so abstract after all; the woman is “Woman” , 1950 – 52.  What is there to say about them?  The colours, that yellow,  the brushwork – its all been said, better than I can, so there it is.

Listening to “Tin Pan Alley” by Jimmy Wilson (and Ray Agee, etc., etc).

“They tell me Tin Pan Alley’s the roughest place in town,

They start cutting and shooting, soon as the sun goes down;

Tell me, what kind of place can the alley be?

Every woman I get,

Lord, the alley takes away from me”.

Watched “Brighton Rock”, the original with Richard Attenborough as Pinky;   astounding how quickly the girl is talked into the suicide pact (although of course she doesn’t go through with it) – and how quickly Pinky disappears when he hits the water.  Something, maybe the music and the accents, kept reminding me of Olivier’s “Henry V”.

Blackpaint 22.12.09

Blackpaint 11

December 10, 2009

My latest effort now is heavily scored and slashed with wide strokes of black acrylic and charcoal and dirtied up in an attempt to make it less insipid and give it more gravitas.  It now looks a bit like a woman’s buttock and upper thigh done in a yellowy peach colour with a big red and white hole in it, surrounded by festoons of black (which as I look, transforms itself into a boy riding a bike – or half a bike – at speed across the canvas, from the olive drab on the right to the pale grey on the left).

If this keeps up, I’m going to pack in painting and go back to the drawing board -literally- until I sell another canvas, or get some inspiration back.  I’ve been reading Robert Hughes on Van Goch’s drawings done in Arles; he points out that they are not tonal, but are made up of separate marks and strokes which “let the light in”.  I’ve had a look at a couple and I think I see what he means – it will be a difficult one for me, as I tend to draw heavily and messily in a sort of impressionistic way, with a load or shading and scribbling.  I’ll have a go tomorrow at life drawing and see if I can get out of my habit.

I’ve got to mention the comment in yesterday’s Guardian about Anish Kapoor’s exhibition at the Roal Academy – I’ve thrown it away now, but it says something like this: that it’s either magical and stunning or pretentious and boring; perhaps both! 

I’ve been looking at Miquel Barcelo, “crane de profil” a fabulous skull done in “mixed media” on canvas – looks like a drawing.

Listening to: Bartok on piano, playing “Mikrokosmos” in 1937 and 1940, and thinking as always of my mate Bob Glass who gave me the CD;

And “Smokestack Lightning” by Howling Wolf ,of course, but who I think got it from Tommy Johnson – I wonder where, or who,  he got it from.

Watching – Wallander, the original.  Combination of cosy Swedish seaside and horrific, graphic murders that no-one seems upset by.  This, and the Updahl paintings yesterday morning gave the day a Scandinavian theme.  I think I’ll try for themed days in future – will that make this blog magical and stunning, or pretentious and boring? Perhaps, if I’m lucky, both. 



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”



Blackpaint 8

December 7, 2009

Madonna and Child

On the subject of abstract painting and giving titles based on vague resemblances to things in the “real” world:  I did a painting a while back, which, although abstract, bore a strong likeness (I thought) to a hare with a hole blasted in its guts, hanging up to age, awaiting the pot.

A prospective buyer, looking it over, said “I like that one; it’s a Madonna and Child, isn’t it?”  She had interpreted the large orange round shape in the middle, my buckshot wound, as the child’s head.  I was honest; no sale ensued.  Maybe if I’d agreed..

I noticed recently at the National Gallery that there are some decidedly dodgy bits to some of the most renowned paintings.  I’m thinking particularly of the Vendramin Family by Titian; the children depicted seem to me to be really badly painted, compared with the wonderful depiction of the adults – presumably the man himself did the adults and some apprentice did the children.  Same painter, Rest on the Flight into Egypt; correct me if I’m wrong but Joseph’s head is too big, surely? 

Generally, there are some extremely odd- looking babies on show in Renaissance and pre-Renaissance paintings; most of them look like little old men, and one, by Catena I think, has a head like a cannonball.  Lions are strange too; St.Jerome is usually depicted with a lion wandering around or sleeping in his (Jerome’s) study and none of them look right.  Especially the eyes- they look like human eyes, especially one by Durer.  Compare them with the fabulous Assyrian reliefs in the British Museum

I suppose the dodgy lions are explained by lack of familiarity; but what about the babies?  Probably showing my lack of education here – I expect several art historians have written papers on just this point.

I’ve just finished reading Ferlinghetti’s great poem “Autobiography”; echoes of Whitman, Eliot’s Prufrock, Bob Dylan, de Chirico and Joni Mitchell!  I was struck by how much the Beat poets, Corso, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg remind me of the English poets in the Penguin “Poetry of the Thirties”, particularly O’Connor, Caudwell et al.

Listening to: “The Sun is Shining” by Elmore James and “Lowlands” trad., sung by Anne Briggs.

“The sun is shining, although it’s raining in my heart, (*2)

You know I love you baby,

But the best of friends must part.”


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 5

December 4, 2009

What does it mean?

People ask “abstract” painters “What does it mean?”  Difficult one to answer; this is one of many areas where the figurative artists have the advantage.  They can just say, “well, it’s a horse in a storm,” or  “It’s Perranporth beach at sunset”; the questioner is satisfied- they have the informaition they need to decide whether the painter has made a good job of it.

People ask what it means when looking at abstract art, rather than asking what it is, because they know an abstract is not a visual representation of a material thing or scene; they still, however, want it to have “meaning” in some sense.  Perhaps it represents your inner turmoil or calmness, doubt or certainty.  Maybe it is a comment on global warming or spiritual desolation…  It’s a fair enough demand – everything carries meaning, even if it’s not the meaning the artist intended.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but my paintings are a collection of colours and shapes on a canvas.  They are successful if they are pleasing, striking, intriguing, arresting.  If they are hung on a white wall, they should suck the attention in; if they are not noticed, they are failures.  If they actually repel the viewer, I regard them as failures (although there are plenty of artists who would regard such an effect as a success).  They should be judged, I think, on whether or not they possess a  pleasing (in the widest sense) mixture of the following:

A Picture Should Have:

Structure – I tend to have a strong, clearly defined “thing” in my pictures; something you can trace round with your finger above the surface.  It might be tangled up, fuzzy, dirty but it’s there.

Colour – usually a lot of defining black of course, white slashes, maybe six colours in all,  with gradations.

Proportion – the shapes should fit with each other in an effective way.  No, not “effective” – the effect might be irritation (good, some would say).  I prefer “pleasing”.  Balanced is another way of putting it.

Texture – the surface should be variegated to be interesting.  Take the rough with the smooth.

Movement – the shapes and strokes of the brush or charcoal should carry the eye around, across, up and down the picture-unless of course, you’re going for stillness, or equilibrium.

Contrast – of colour, shape, brush or charcoal strokes usually considered desirable.

That’s it, I think.  You could always produce a picture which has all the above, and is still rubbish.  Some people, who require figurative pictures, will often say this – “It’s just a jumble.  It’s a load of rubbish”.  These people seem to be irritated by pictures which are non-figurative, sometimes physically, it seems.  “It makes my eyes go funny”, they will say.  Abstract patterns are allright, providing they are regular; but they are not art, they are decoration – wallpaper, or carpet design.

But if you consider the points I make above, they are exactly the same things which would make a figurative picture good or bad, aren’t they?  It’s just that it takes a lot of looking – or it did for me – before you can appreciate non-figurative art.  I’m speaking as a white, C of E English person with a working class background; In my experience, many cultures seem far less resistant to abstract art than my particular sort of English (working, middle or upper class).

 Now, when I see pictures at a distance in a gallery, I might be  drawn to them before I can make out the subject matter; I  see them as abstracts.  As I approach them, I see them as portraits or landscapes or whatever – but I find  this is a disappointment in a way.  Maybe its something to do with worsening eyesight.

Listening to: “Ain’t Seen No Whiskey”, Joe Williams and Sleepy John Estes; and “Seventh Son”, Mose Allison.

“Now, I went upstairs, packed my leavin’ trunk,

Said I ain’t seen no whiskey, blues done made me drunk.”

“I can heal the sick, and raise the dead,

Make little girls talk out their head, I’m the one,

Yes, I’m the one; I’m the one, I’m the one,

The one they call the seventh son”.


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.”