The Imposter of Wolfenbüttel

imposter-blog

The Imposter of Wolfenbüttel (15cms x 10cms collage and watercolour 2007)

I admire artists who can handle collage with ease and assurance, especially those who combine it with drawing or painting.

I stumbled on a wonderful Ralph Steadman retrospective at the Society of Illustrators in New York City last weekend, whose illustrations for Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary take the technique to an extraordinary level of invention. The acclaimed German illustrator, Christoph Niemann, has also developed his own way of combining drawing and collage in a series of photo-drawings.

My own attempts have been infrequent and on a more modest scale. The example above is about ten years old and based on a simple grid pattern. The material was ‘borrowed’ largely from the annual report of the Herzog August library in Wolfenbüttel along with some other medieval and one or two more modern pieces. I was so pleased with it because within the grid there is a rough ellipse created either by the outside or the underside of each piece.

Why is it called The Imposter? Because one piece is different from the rest, yet it tries to pass itself off as if it belongs.

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Man on a Train

man-on-train

Man on a Train (A4 ink and watercolour 2016)

Although the above isn’t a self-portrait – it was drawn from a photograph I took secretly of a man on a local train – on Thursday I will be a man on a train. Having flown over to Rochester NY yesterday, I’ll be travelling down by Amtrak to meet a client in Hudson in the morning, and then on to New York City for more meetings.

The themes of change and endings have been on my mind a great deal lately. I’ve always embraced change with enthusiasm: moving from country to country and job to job with a sense of adventure. There have been some profound sadnesses along the way, but I always believed that we are generally a creative and resourceful species and that in the end things work out. Lately the changes have been somewhat out of my control and, as I heard last week during a course on Well-being in the Workplace, control over one’s situation is essential to peace of mind.

My stay in Rochester has been somewhat piognant, as it’ll probably be my last in the bed and breakfast inn at 428 Mount Vernon. The elegant, quiet Mount Vernon has been my home from home in Rochester for most of my visits there over the past 15 years, but the owners, Phil and Claire, have decided to retire.

It has always felt like far more than a hotel: I usually stay in the same peaceful room with a view out over the garden, watching the northern cardinals on the bird feeders and the chipmunks scurrying through the undergrowth; the breakfasts are, as I’ve described before, the perfect start to the day; and a visit in election year always includes a robust political discussion with Phil even though “Claire told me not to talk politics with the guests but you asked, right?”

Change happens and we are well-equipped to deal with most of it. Sometimes though, change takes with it a little piece of your heart and casts a shadow over one small part of your life.

 

 

Draw 16

dimity-1

A few weeks ago I received an email which began “We had an unprecedented number of entries…and the competition for space was fierce”. What usually follows, in my rather limited experience of entering curated exhibitions, is disappointment. I was therefore delighted to see that the next sentence started with, “However…”

It’s a real thrill that two drawings I entered for the Society of Graphic Fine Arts exhibition in London next month have been accepted. Founded in the early years of the last century, the SGFA is the only society in the UK dedicated to drawing and encourages new media and contemporary practice as well as traditional drawing skills.

The two pictures are my paint sample chart drawings, Dimity and Other Stories, above, and a pastel drawing of swedes (rutabagas) – below – which marked the end of a rather frustrating period when every new project seemed to run into the rough.

Swedes blog

The Draw 16 exhibition runs from October 3-15 (closed Sunday 9 October) at the Menier Gallery, 51 Southwark Street, London SE1 1RU.

See you there!

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Inspiration part 2

Gages 1609 blog

Gages (A4 acrylic and mixed media 2016)

Recently, in response to my post, Inspiration, I was asked

Whatever happened to the motto practice makes perfect? Don’t you believe someone can self learn when it comes to art and painting? After all art is a form of expression there [is] only so much of it to be taught.

I would never argue against practice. For years, as a child and then a teenager, I drew every day in order books that my Father brought home from work (one page was lined, the next blank – that alternating blank page was such a luxury). All through my twenties I continued to draw, less often than before but still a couple of evenings a week – overly influenced by illustrators such as Edward Gorey and Aubrey Beardsley – and tried to get to grips with watercolour.

I didn’t bother with lessons during this time (even at school my art teacher would set us a task and then disappear into his stock room to smoke) and eventually I grew frustrated with my lack of progress, turning instead to photography when I moved to the Netherlands and later Germany.

Returning to the UK I began drawing and painting again with renewed passion. I took classes with professional artists such as Sarah Baddon Price, Helen Gilbart, Annie Rice and Ed Cooper.

With each I made some sort of leap forward. Thanks to Sarah, I tried acrylics; after several years in Helen’s classes, I observe my subjects better, use bigger paper and experiment with charcoal and pastels; Annie taught me to draw and paint more freely; without Ed’s tuition I would never have tried oils or experienced life drawing.

So while I agree that practice is essential, to advance on a technical level I maintain that one needs help unless you’re Vincent van Gogh. A good teacher will stretch you and coax you out of your comfort zone, something that is difficult without help.

Art as a form of expression is something else: I think you can always tell if someone really has something to say. That’s where the magic lies. Without it you may as well be painting by numbers.

The image above was produced by painting the gages as a mass of colour and then adding the background ‘over’ them, so to speak, to produce a sort of negative space composition. The individual gages emerged from a multi-coloured blob, allowing a more accidental colour mix.

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Academic Conferences

Academic Conference blog

Conference delegates (A4 ink and coloured pencil 2016)

During my career in academic publishing I’ve attended numerous conferences. As a marketing person I’ve rarely had the pleasure of attending a session or hearing a paper, instead my view has always been from behind a table loaded with books. I’ve met some of the world’s leading doctors, scientists, musicologists and historians at these events, but always with about a meter of books between us.

There have been some memorable moments: the leading American surgeon who asked me three times where his book was, when a pile of them stood right in front of him (should he really be operating with eyesight like that?); the Romanian paediatrician who told me that our policy of reducing the price of our books in Eastern Europe had saved children’s lives (we both got a bit tearful at that point); and the chemistry book exhibition I set up in Bratislava the day that the borders to Austria were thrown open – after an hour of my own company I closed it up and went off to celebrate the end of the totalitarian state with the organiser.

Two of the things I most admire and enjoy in life are curiosity and enthusiasm, and these you encounter in spades at an academic conference. Never ask delegates what they’re working on if you were about to visit the bathroom and unless you really do want to know. Earlier this year at a medieval conference someone told me that once a month he liked to get together with some friends, get in a few beers and settle down to an evening of translating early Nordic texts. Then, after a pause which a stand-up comedian would envy, added, “Sometimes for a change we switch to modern Icelandic.”

Well you would, wouldn’t you?

For another view of the conference crowd, see my colleague Rosemary Shojaie’s blog post here.

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Schrödinger’s Pomegranate

Pomegranate 1608 blog

Pomegranate (15 cms square oil on board 2016)

When I started painting this pomegranate it was a fresh young thing, its skin an appealing mixture of vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. I blocked out the fruit in oils on a small (15 cms square) piece of hardboard, prepared with gesso and a bright yellow undercoat.

And then I stopped.

I played around with background colours, plain, stippled, the colour partially lifted with newspaper, rubbed with my finger, and all the while the pomegranate sat on its white plate, growing older.

In the meantime I painted the acrylic Weathered Wall from last week, drew some pictures of dogs, and the little square oil dried in the sunlit conservatory, aka my ‘summer studio’. The model itself continued to age and shrink.

Last weekend I finally got around to finishing the background and the purple shadows under the fruit. The pomegranate itself had become a different beast to the one painted: it was now angular, leathery with a spreading yellow area from the stem. Was it still edible? Was it rotten inside? Having finally finished with it I cut it open…

Let’s just say that the tiger worms in the compost bin will enjoy it.

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Inspiration

Weathered Wall blog

Weathered Wall (30 cms x 23 cms mixed media 2016)

If you’re serious about your drawing or painting but haven’t been fortunate enough to go to art school you have to learn where and how you can. You might enrol in evening classes or study life drawing, follow online courses, blog tutorials or exercises in magazines.

Nothing, I think, can replace the feedback you receive from a good teacher: some years ago I discovered some excellent drawing classes by Helen Gilbart, who emphasised ‘looking’ above everything else, and life drawing with Ed Cooper and his proactive model, Blue King. In addition, I learn a great deal from looking at work by other artists – whether on blogs or in galleries.

Over the past year I’ve been trying, in oil and acrylic, to develop a style that avoids outright realism, yet remains recognisable for what it is, has a looseness about it but contains some graphic elements from the noble art of illustration.

This week I’d wanted to paint the ripening fruits that were growing in our own garden: at the moment, mulberries and transparent gages. Mulberries lend themselves to a very graphic style:

Mulberries blog

Mulberries (A6 acrylic with colleaged borders 2016)

but I was somewhat at a loss how to paint the gages.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned a striking painting by Karolina Gacke that I saw in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. I like the idea of drawing and painting objects or groups of objects far apart from each other, and found this painting on Karolina Gacke’s website (you should also look at her compelling self-portraits). Borrowing from Karolina’s composition, the picture that heads this post slowly came together.

Collaged newspaper cuttings formed the basis of the weathered wall. Odd bits of collaged words or phrases suggesting food or flavours scattered here and there on the tabletop hopefully give the picture some unity. The jug is one I bought some years ago in a local gallery, rendered here in a mixture of acrylic and pastel. The gages I tried to paint loosely, smoothing their rough edges as I painted the tablecloth around them.

Without seeing Karolina Gacke’s painting I couldn’t have put this together as it is, yet I hope – in the end – I’ve created something different, something that is ultimately mine.