Posts Tagged ‘Painting’

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 78

February 27, 2010

Fra Angelico

I’m thinking of this picture that he did on the walls of that monk’s cell in Florence.  It’s San Marco, cell 7, and its the “Mocking of Christ”.  The most strange picture for the time – there’s a disembodied head with a Robin Hood hat blowing on Christ, a couple of disembodied hands, presumably slapping him, and another disembodied hand holding a stick, forcing down the Crown of Thorns on his head.  And Jesus has a white mask painted over his eyes!  The background is a beautiful pastel green.  That’s like a wall painting, with two figures sitting in front of it: Virgin Mary on left and St Dominic, enjoying a good book (prob. THE good book) on the right.

It’s just beautiful and very weird, and the colours are mouth-watering.  Also see “St Nicholas addressing an Imperial Emissary and saving a Ship at Sea” – who or what is that in the sky, behind the ship’s sails? Yes, must be St. Nick.   sorry, can’t find a picture on the net – it’s in that Taschen by the Hagens, “Fifteenth Century Paintings”.

Henry Moore

Can’t believe the concerted slagging I’ve just heard on the Review Show (BBC2) for the Henry Moore exhibition at Tate Britain – they all weighed into him as if he was the most boring (laughably so) artist in British history.  The price of success, I suppose.  His work is only a cliche because he had a strong and consistent vision, thoroughly realised time and time again.  Another example of how the ever-growing need for extreme opinions and controversy is warping all comment on TV.  Anyway, going to see it tomorrow – no doubt I’ll change my mind and agree with them as usual.


Yes there’s no doubt, always best to paint when you are drunk.  Results might be crap but great fun, and you get a sense of integrity, which lasts all the way until the hangover next morning.


Friday night,  telly broken.

Blackpaint 34

January 9, 2010

The Sacred and the Real

The show at the National is finishing on the 24th Jan.  It felt a bit like going round the old Chamber of Horrors in Tussauds when I was a kid.  There used to be an exhibit curtained off and labelled “not suitable for children under 13 years”, as I recall.  Behind the curtain, there was a figure hanging a few feet from the ground by a hook through the stomach.  There were also shelf loads of guillotined heads, mouths gaping, blood running down chins.

The lifelike crucifixions, whipped backs, broken and slashed knees, nailed hands and feet, expertly carved in wood but looking like wax, glued -on tears (Loyola) and even a severed head, the Baptist’s, with all the pipes and blood vessels accurate apparently – and the darkness, all recall Tussauds. 

The Magdalene model in her rough, plaited straw mat dress, staring at a crucifix in her hand – that reminded me of Ken Russell’s “The Devils”, the crazed abbess Vanessa Redgrave played, with her crucifix; see it if you haven’t, Redgrave, Oliver Reed and Dudley Sutton and Russell’s restrained and respectful direction – brilliant.

The strangest exhibit to my eyes is the painting of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, kneeling and receiving in his mouth, from a range of about 6 feet, a straight spurt of breast milk from the right(?) breast of a statue of the Virgin Mary; the Miracle of the Lactation, apparently.  It reminded me of the story set in the clinic, the punch line of which is “What? From here?”

There are also the magnificent, brooding, brown paintings of St. Francis in ecstatic trance by Zurbaran and a couple of Velazquezes – is that how you do the plural? – and a lovely painting of St.Luke, the painter’s saint, with his brushes and easel, looking at Christ on the cross.

The Hoerengracht 

Ed Kienholz’ version of Amsterdam’s red light area seems an apt accompaniment; more wax-like models (although less lifelike) more prostitutes, these ones still in business.  They are in characteristic poses in the shop windows, but they have glass boxes like fish tanks on their heads and shiny glue or semen like stuff running down them (I think – maybe they were just badly made).  It seemed to me much tattier than the red light area I remember walking through – with my family – 6 or so years ago.  This seemed tattier, more like a slum street somehow.

After these two shows, we did a quick tour of the early galleries upstairs, and the colours of the Duccio, the Titians, Van Eycks, Holbeins all seemed more vivid and fresh and uplifting after all that dark, exploited and tortured flesh.  Funny really, because these were often beheadings, crucifixions, whippings etc., as well.

Listened to “Tapiola”, Sibelius.

There are no words.



Blackpaint 17

December 16, 2009

V&A Mediaeval Gallery

To the above today; the usual saints (Margaret with her dragon, Catherine (no wheels though), Ursula and her virgins being dismembered and stabbed, the six “Proto Martyrs” being beheaded for preaching in Marrakesh – new atrocity to me – Stephen in glazed terracotta with white stones stuck to his head, crucifixions, depositions, assumptions, a German death of the Virgin Mary with a crowd of bearded men fussing round her, vaguely reminiscent of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 

For my money, the best thing in the galleries is a screen from Hamburg, done by Master Bertram, showing 45 scenes from Revelations.

Cast Hall

On to the fabulous, quiet, gloomy cast hall, the room with the two halves of Trajan’s Column and there found this staggering thing, the Shobdon Tympanum, done about 1100 in a Herefordshire church.  I’ve never seen anything like this woman in her sailor’s T shirt, with her smaller companions entwined around her like something a sculptor from the 40s might have dreamed up.

National Portrait Gallery

Nothing in the Tudor bit to touch the portrait of Thomas Cromwell, done by Holbein or maybe his workshop.  Piggy features, iron determination, that sure line and sharp relief of Holbein.  Nearby, Nicholas Bacon, surely the ugliest face in the gallery.

Upstairs, Ross the Arctic explorer, who turned back when he saw the mountains in his way – they turned out to be optical illusions.  Also Burnaby, the Boy’s Own soldier,  stretched out on a divan, smoking a cigarette, a bit like Stephen Fry as the general in Blackadder.

In the first 20th century bit, I thought the outstanding (or most interesting) was Patrick Heron’s TS Eliot, the Joyce, Wyndham Lewis’ Ezra Pound and a self-portrait by Ithell Colquhoun, who is new to me.

In the last section, the portrait of David Sylvester and the Sid James by Ruskin Spear.

Still struggling with my stripes – too crowded, needs some space in there.

Listened to; Gil Scott-Heron’s Johannesburg.

“I hate it when the blood starts flowing,

But I’m glad to see resistance growing –

Tell me what’s the word? Johannesburg!”



Blackpaint 16

December 15, 2009

Shading (NB – see Blackpaint 76, 78, 81 and 82 for more on Michelangelo)

I’ve been studying the shading used by the old masters in their drawings.  Mantegna appears to be consistent; he shades with diagonal lines from top right towards bottom left, or horizontally if shading a flat surface tilted towards the viewer. 

Titian, as far as I can see, uses shading lines that are variable; diagonal from top right or left, horizontal and vertical on the surface of water and vertical for a cliff face, say.

Leonardo appears to favour diagonal shading lines from top left towards bottom right – but will so the opposite on occasion and sometimes (anatomical drawings) will cross them to form a patch of diamond shapes.  With bones, he appears to favour horizontal shading lines that curve with the surface of the bones.

Michelangelo does a rather shallow diagonal from top left towards bottom right and sometimes vertical.

Durer uses lines in any direction that suits the surface, curving them to follow the contours.

Having said all this, no doubt tomorrow I’ll find more drawings that completely contradict it.Leonardo

See Blackpaint 40, 41, 76, 78, 81 and 82 for more on Michelangelo…but read on here first!

The Trial

Watched Orson Welles’ version of the above, with Anthony Perkins doing a brilliant, nervy, bemused Josef K.  Fantastic shots of muddy wastelands, lowering skies, shabby concrete flats (shot in Zagreb).  Also the huge statuary of the entrance to the Gare D’Orsay and labyrinth of corridors and hallways.  Jeanne Moreau, Elsa Martinelli and Romy Schneider deepening Perkins’ bemusement at various stages.  Scene of a host of naked, elderly men, holding their numbers,  standing cowed beneath a statue cloaked in a white sheet (to the intro of Albinoni’s Adagio).  Surreal incidents, dreamlike quality; fantastic (but no doubt deeply flawed; every film I like turns out to be deeply flawed).

Listening to: Christy Moore, Vive la Quinte Brigada.

“Vive la Quinte Brigada,  The passion and the pledge that made them fight,

Adelante! is the cry around the hillside,

Let us all remember them tonight”.



Blackpaint 14

December 13, 2009

Rothko and Boyd (cont.)

The other thing that Boyd did in his article was divide artists up into “foxes” and “hedgehogs”;  foxes do all sorts of different art, hedgehogs are “one-trick ponies” (lots of animal metaphors in use).  Among the hedgehogs, he includes Lucian Freud and Vermeer, as well as Rothko, of course.  I can see why Rothko is included,  although surely he had three tricks- the stripes and panels, the arches and, earlier, the so-called Multiforms.  Maybe these were sub-divisions of the main trick.

Freud is “one trick” because of the figure studies, presumably; but then, he has done naked, clothed, full body, heads – and backyards and gardens on occasion.  But why Vermeer? Interiors, mysterious women?  I find it hard to think of many artists who could not be called “hedgehogs”, to use Boyd’s term, if one wanted to make the trick big enough-Picasso, Richter, Cezanne, Van Gogh….

But, for all the above cavils, it raised some questions for me such as why paint (or sculpt, or photograph, or…)?  To be answered in coming blogs, no doubt.

Listened to: Church Street Blues, by Norman Blake.

“Get myself a rocking chair, see if I can lose

Them thin dime, hard time,

Hell on Church Street Blues.”

More tomorrow,



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 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