27 July, 2018

A sudden intake of breath

Nothing in my life is off limits when it comes to me mining it for inspiration. It has to be that way because if I segregate my life into what's public and whats private and don't let them feed into each other, I lose half the good inspiration and definitely half the motivation. Sally Mann, the photographer, copped a great deal of flak because she took photos using her children as models. There were some contentious photos but they were all 100% authentic to her vision.( and some critics are prudes and such is life). Local painter Carmel Van Den Hoeven is painting her domestic life: the piles of washing, ice-cream in a bowl on the kitchen table, more washing..and it rings true because THATS WHAT HER TRUTH IS , right now. I venture that 10 years from mow, you won't see those from her AT ALL!!
I dont paint my kids or my interiors, but I do paint my experiences and emotional interior.

My new works are a bit dark( ok, they are very dark) , all traffic cones and flashing lights, dark landscape , ominous horizons. This is because I am teaching my oldest son  to drive. He is 16 (legal age to learn in NZ) , he is a cautiously good driver BUT , as with all learning, there are a few hairy moments every now and again. I defy anyone to tell me they were otherwise when they were learning. I know I ran over a kerb or three and definitely took corners wide, freaked out on highways and made mistakes.
It's all good to teach a kid in daylight, saturday afternoon when all is quiet, but that does not help him learn what it's like to drive at night, when EVERYTHING looks different and lights reflect and refract all around. So, I teach hime to drive at night too. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Jesus, it's a bit scary sometimes but I try remain calm. So does he. Chevrons, traffic cones, reflective strips, cyclists, rain, fog , streetlamp, oncoming cars......it's like a circus through the windscreen. And it all feeds into my brain and my work.

I was looking at the works of Caspar David Friedrich recently. Bear with me. He is rather famous for what we would now see as a rather sentimental or kitsch image (depending on how hard your heart is). This one is probably the best known,  titled "Wanderer above the sea of fog" Painted in 1818,

And he painted
 this too,Seashore by Moonlight.

Critics suggested that he was trying to paint what was best described by poetry. He was part of the Romantic movement that included poets, writers and musicians and  emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing  emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe—especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature. 

You can see where I am going with this......
So, a landscape painter in a car, being driven at night by an earnest yet novice driver , encountering all sorts of challenges is BOUND to conjure up some images that good old Caspar could identify with.

This painting is titled
A Sudden intake of breath

04 July, 2018

A Busman's holiday

The lines between work and play, my life and my life as an artist, are very blurred. This is pointed out quite regularly to me by my long suffering family . They understand that my job is not like a normal job and everyday stuff feeds into it ...which is why, half-way through making dinner, I dash off to the studio to jot something down or make an adjustment on something I have been working on. This also explains why I am a master at getting burnt stuff off the bottom of pots.

a busman's holiday
phrase of busman
  1. 1. 
    a holiday or form of recreation that involves doing the same thing that one does at work.
    "a fire crew's Christmas outing turned into a busman's holiday when their coach caught fire"

Going on this trip to Ireland and the UK was definitely about work, developing some skills, affirming some knowledge and keeping myself abreast of trends and influences but it was by no means onerous. I LOVE this kind of professional development and if going to a gallery or a museum to see a carefully curated show is work, BRING IT ON!!!

I am not going to go into detail about what was learned in Ireland because I am still working that out myself. Suffice to say, it involved a lot of drawing. I thought I did not draw because I rarely sketch things out with pencil and paper before I paint,  but it turns out I do. .... albeit with paint! My technique for painting is remarkable similar to what the instruction revolved around and that affirmation was a good boost for my faith in intuition regarding my development.
I regularly drew a good drawing and pushed  and pushed it...until it was past redemption but I generally knew when it was done and did not mind destroying it because thats the function of this kind of exercise. I brought almost nothing home, preferring to go back to my notes that I scribbled each night ( before the Guinness!!) as us three housemates digested the days learning. Michelle, Anne and I shared our take-away learning and were  grateful to Anne who wrote down a whole lot of notes in her trusty notebook and allowed us to riff off those notes. I also took a gazillion ( true and accurate  number) process shots and they are invaluable.

Here are some photos,

The Irish sea is the oddest colour. Alex Kanefsky describes it as a mixture of Prussian blue and Van Dyk Brown. He may be right.


a significant road 

an unpronounceable fishing village

day-glo seaweed stuff on the slip

gritty but accurate

money can't buy that colour roof

Dunfeeny stone. its over 5000 years old.

Dunfeeny stone in a cemetery. The grass was waist high and I kept stepping in holes

Peat drying in stacks, awaiting bagging


chaos and confusion

chaos, confusion and Andrew(who was the cause of most of it)

I run a tidy ship

ruler and scalpel were my best friends

towards Downpatrick head. This view never got stale.

03 July, 2018

My first pint of Guinness and other stories

A few years ago I identified a painter whose work I admired and who was painting in a way I found compelling. I wanted to find out a little more about him and discovered he was a professor at a university in Minnesota BUT he did teach workshop in Ireland over the summer break.  The Ballinglen Arts foundation in Ballycastle, Co.Mayo, Ireland, was founded some 26 years ago by two american gallerists who established the foundation to bring artists of recognised ability from both Ireland and abroad to live and work in Ballycastle. Their residencies are famous and the list of Fellows is a bit of a who's who of contemporary painters . Andrew Wykes is a fellow and has had several residencies there and now teaches some workshops. The workshops are a fairly new arrangement and suit the likes of myself who can only pop over for a few weeks, not a few months.

Because I am not one to go on adventures alone( it's boring! Who will I talk to?!) and every Han Solo needs a Wookie, I asked Michelle Ives to join me and what an excellent decision that was. We all know Chewbacca is the reliable one.  Michelle lives in Glasgow, and so the plan was for me to to fly to Glasgow and recover from jet lag( more on that later) for a few days , then fly to Dublin together and drive cross country to Ballycastle and return 9 days later, better artists.

So we did just that.

We arrived late on the first evening, the last of the group of 10 and were welcomed to a late meal around a table that would become a regular fixture of good food and fun figures. Understandably, there were a good few american artists ( Ireland being only a hop skip and a jump for many) and two from Italy and one Brit. Michelle grew up in South Africa, like me, lived for 14 years in Wales and has lived in Scotland for 6 years. Who knows how we classify her!!!
Introductions were made, wine was drunk, we hit the sack and slept like babies, ready for day one.

Day One

We hit the ground running and headed to Downpatrick head to draw . Draw rocks.  It was hot! Who forgot to tell Ireland I had packed for DISMAL weather!I had woolen trousers, waterproof shoes, fleeces, beanies and raincoats.  I almost went swimming.I would have drowned in the wool, though.

   Back in the workshop space we popped our drawings (there were several) onto the walls and discovered that drawing pins were useless when trying to get those puppies up on the wooden walls. We had to wear shoes because the floor was littered with bent drawing pins and the ashes of the expletives that followed a session of pinning.
NOTE TO SELF: line a workspace with stuff you can pin work into easily and save yourself some drama.

The library at Ballinglen arts foundation is a treasure of art books. I camped out here a lot. 

The workshop was 7 full days of tuition, 9 till 5, with an hour for lunch. We rarely took the full hour and only once did I slink off and doze under a tree in the garden .....but that was early days and I blame it on the jet lag and excitement.

We drew every day, over and over again, outside if the weather was good, inside from references drawn outside if weather was bad. We drew small, we drew big, we made mess, we raged and roared a little and at the end of each day, after dinner, we retired to the pub and drank a few pints( or half pints) of Guinness and got to know each other a little better. The publican was a man called Patrick but it was pronounces Porrig, had an accent so thick I thought I was having a stroke each time he spoke to me . I knew what he was saying but didn't, all at the same time. (Or maybe that was the Guinness. ) I know I said" May I please have 3 half pints of Guinness" and he said" brrr good dggggroooode aaaaagh euro"  I knew he was asking for money because Euro sounds like Euro in any accent. And thats how ALL my interactions with him went. Eventually, I felt we might descend into charades. I was prepared to go there. No one should have to work that hard for a drink.

Anyway, so the days flew by. The longer we spent time in Mayo, the more dire the weather became.  I went out painting with my little pochade box every morning at 6 am because the light was gorgeous and I was awake.(thank you jet lag) I dragged Michelle with me and housemate Anne, who had never panted plein air and got into the swing of things. Michelle was invaluable as a insects attractor whilst I  avoided being bitten by the legendary irish Midgies. She was devoured and sprouted red bumps like a measeled child, poor girl. The sun rose just after 5 and only set after 10. It was crazy beautiful.

I fell in love with the lady next doors washing line. 

And that was day one and a story about the pub. More will follow.

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