The Party


Quinces (21 cms x 29.7 cms acrylic and collage 2018)

“A painter should be able to see space as a flat plane. The viewer should be able to see a flat plane as space.”

The Czech painter Vladimir Kokolia is also a teacher, one who is generous with his ideas about drawing and painting. His own paintings, now on view at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, are beautiful, shimmering evocations of nature. They’re the sort of pictures that critics and art historians struggle to describe, their clumsy words bumping up against his luminous paintings like moths against a light. They exist in that beautiful space between the figurative and the abstract: a place that is difficult and perhaps even dangerous to reach but once you’re there it’s as radiant as a spring morning.

Laura Cumming, who I think is one of the most evocative writers on art, says of his painting, Looking at Ash Tree, that “while the tree may be present, in the tangle of marks, the emphasis is entirely on the sensation of seeing; specifically, the way that leaves percolate sunshine and breezes shift leaves.”


My life drawing teacher, growing impatient with my attempts to draw the woman that was in my head instead of the one sitting in front of me, once said, “I pay for the f***ing model – you might want to look at her now and again!” Why don’t we look? Why can’t we see? Why do we struggle to describe what is actually there given that the language that we use is one we have devised ourselves?

That’s why I love to paint fruit. I strive to describe the ‘quinceness’ of the quince, the ‘pomegranteness’ of the pomegranate, as I see them. Not that my way is any better than yours but it’s surely different, and to me it feels somehow important. Kokolia’s way of looking at the ash tree, all shimmering greens against a grey and white background, is (probably) more interesting than a photograph. He invites us into his world: he has transformed this ash tree in rural Moravia into a flat plane of twisting colour and form; we on our side must interpret this plane as a three-dimensional tree in that world between what we see and what we feel, between the figurative and the abstract.

The quote from Kokolia that opens this post stopped me in my tracks as I leafed through the disappointing, over designed catalogue that accompanies the exhibition (which I haven’t seen, by the way). I love the idea of a bargain between artist and viewer, the artist saying “Trust me, this is what I know” and the viewer responding with “Yes, and this is what I understand.”

Many years ago I went to a party in the house of a famous rock guitarist in London. I didn’t know anyone and they didn’t know me. For a while I wandered around with a glass of wine in my hand and even, for a while, hid in one of the bathrooms wondering how I could make a dignified escape. Then, in a distant room in a dimly-lit corner, I came across my two best friends (who had invited me). “Where have you been?” they asked, “We’ve been looking for you everywhere.” Sometimes creativity feels like a you’re a guest at a party where everyone knows each other and you know no-one, then you turn a corner and find that, yes, you do belong here after all.

26 thoughts on “The Party

  1. Kokolia is so tactile–of course a lot of his work reminds me of stitching. You, I think, work more with light. Your fruit always glows.
    I disagree with your life drawing teacher. We all brings parts of ourselves to what we do; or we should. If you want a photo, take one. But even then… (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Michael, thanks for the very interesting post. I wasn’t aware of Vladimir Kokolia until now, and with both your post and Laura Cummings review, I want to go see the work. Alas I think I live too far away to be able to see the exhibition. Very thought provoking. I really like your painting as well, especially the colour of the quinces and use of line. Perhaps with your evident ability and such good posts, you don’t need a teacher, instead you should do the teaching. Thank you. Andy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much – that’s very kind of you, Andy! Unfortunately I’m like an animal in a field: I keep bumping up against the confines of my talent. I’d not heard of Kokolia either until I read that inspiring review, but I love that semi-abstract approach. All the very best and thanks again, M


  3. This post is very inspiring to me, Michael. First of all I have been trying to really SEE what I am drawing or painting lately. I’m working with a coffee mug and drawing it over and over every few days. Looking back I am amazed at what I hadn’t SEEN in early drawings. Also, I loved the story you told about creativity and the party. I think I have been hiding in a “creativity bathroom” with a glass of wine lately. 🙂 You have inspired me to come out of hiding. Thank you. And of course I love your painting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, LuAnne, I’m glad you found something in there that was useful. I think looking is the most difficult thing to learn and your coffee cup experiment is great. What is even more fun, I think, is observing something exactly then knowingly changing it. My friend, John Button, for example ( can draw a vase or cup as accurately as the next person, but chooses to subvert those shapes for the sake of an interesting composition. With me they still look like I’m not drawing properly, but I’m practising!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for this link, Michael. I love his work. I can see how he can draw realistically but puts an interesting artistic spin on the work. I might try something like that with my coffee mug. Thanks again. I will bookmark his site.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed reading this (and the painting of course!). It’s hard to explain that we each see what we see, we are accountable for what we see but have no influence over others; what they see or how they interpret.
    That’s what makes art so varied and so fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely, Claire, and often the creator isn’t the best judge of how things will come across. I once re-drew a picture of a friend’s dog because I thought the eyes looked creepy. Posting the original version on Instagram I’ve had a number of people saying how good the eyes are…

      Liked by 2 people

  5. And isn’t it odd when you look at a piece you created, think it’s terrible and then leave it pinned to a board for a few days – looking at it every time you pass – and you find it growing on you? I’ve gone back to look at prints I did several years ago when I first started and been pleasantly surprised by the quality. They may not be fantastic but if I think about the experience I had then (very little) compared to today (um… slightly more) they are a good reflection of where I was at the time and what my ‘art’ eye could ‘see’.

    Liked by 1 person

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