Dreaming

Darling (A4 mixed media and collage 2017)

I dread people telling me their dreams. I never quite know how to react: of course they’re surreal and strange, they’re dreams – not reality.

So let me tell you about one of mine…

I hardly ever remember my dreams unless I wake up in mid flow laughing or in a state of utter terror. A couple of nights ago I was putting the finishing touches to the picture above when I realised that its subject could in fact be a ghost or a corpse. With that thought I went to bed, read a few pages of Stacy Schiff’s book on the Salem witches and awoke a few hours later, disoriented by the following dream which I’ve tried to convey in the chopped-up way that I remembered it:

Where would the path have led us if we’d followed it to the very end?

You, holding my hand as the sun rises over the tree tops, the start of a new day that I sensed we wouldn’t see through to its conclusion.

Paper, a pencil, just a few lines before the effort became too great.

A book face down on the floor. A telephone ringing somewhere deep inside the house. And the corners of the room are still dark as soot from smoking candles.

What was the point of all those words, I wonder, if so many of them weren’t true? Your hair spread over the pillow, notes of blue and grey amongst the brown.

We’d always assumed I’d be the first to leave.

Birds sing like it’s any other day. A door slams. A car drives down the hill.

I was pleased to wake at that point. Even now I’m not sure what was part of the dream and what rushed in to fill the gaps when I awoke.

Later, in the morning sunlight the picture seemed less sinister: a pale-skinned woman thinking of past loves, travels and her childhood, nothing more unsettling than that.

A last, lighter word on dreams. A 12 year old British comedian called Grace the Child won an award for the following joke at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015: “People say to me, you’re young, live your dream! But I don’t want to be naked in an examination I haven’t revised for…”

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All these broken pieces

You can only take what you can carry (A4 collaged painted paper 2017)

I am fascinated by, and have enormous respect for, the art of collage. It seems to me that you need to develop a different sort of ‘eye’ than that used in drawing or painting, an ability – perhaps – to have a better sense of the end result when you start than is often the case with a drawing.

This one came together fairly fluently once I’d decided on the sort of shapes I wanted to use. Cut from one of the less successful paintings I competed on my recent Seawhite Studios course – a rather traditional still life with some interesting colour combinations and brushwork but otherwise a bit dull – the arrangement seemed to suggest itself from the painted marks within each shape.

I like to listen to music when I draw or paint, usually modern classical music of a certain type – Morton Feldman, Gavin Bryars, Valentin Silvestrov, John Luther Adams – or ambient jazz such as Eberhard Weber or Jon Hassell. Just lately I’ve tried having pop music in the background, which is where this piece’s evocative title comes from.

I have another – “All these broken pieces fit together to make a perfect picture of us” – which I’m looking forward to using when the image suggests. Well, it’s better than Untitled Collage # 4, isn’t it?

I’m very grateful to Jean Messner for nominating me for a Blogger Recognition Award. I’m always very touched by these awards from other bloggers as they suggest that what one is doing resonates with someone enough for them to want to tell others. Jean’s own blog is an inspiring piece of work that not only describes her own artistic journey but also turns a spotlight onto artists she admires. I’ve listed some favourite blogs fairly recently, so let me direct you there and to the list on the right hand side of this post. Thank you, Jean, your nomination is much appreciated.

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Drenched in orange blossom water

zen-fruits-blog

It was this that captured me (24 cms x 32 cms mixed media on Hanhemuehle Britannia paper 2017)

Writer and artist Deborah Brasket generously compared my painting of Andalusian cherries from last summer to Mu Ch’i Fa-Ch’ang’s Zen painting, Six Persimmons. This inspired me to bring some of the lessons I learned at the recent Seawhite Studios still life course to bear on the subject that I find most meditative to paint: fruit.

This arrangement of Mediterranean fruits started life as a series of painted stripes, little of which is now evident. Building up the layers of colour over this underpainting was immensely pleasurable: teasing rounded shapes out of a linear background, adding and removing colour, pushing it around with my fingertips, using charcoal to produce a delicate shading and finally adding collaged phrases.

The phrases are from a London-based Palestinian chef’s received memories of the produce of her homeland. “Large, plump, tangy and bitter”, “so wild and fresh” and “drenched in orange blossom water” are so evocative of eastern Mediterranean food.

I was reminded of some weeks I spent on the island of Crete as a young man – so cut off from the rest of the world that I had no idea the Falklands War had started until I was told by an old man in a bar; a short visit to Lebanon nearly twenty years ago – such a beautiful, troubled, disorienting, sensuous, wonderful country; more recently, an idyllic holiday in Sicily where my former partner and I lived among lemon groves and avocado trees and a creature of some kind scuttled across our roof at about 10 each evening. In all these places the fruit seemed so much plumper, brighter and tastier than that we could find at home.

Separated by eight centuries and several levels of skill from Mu Ch’i, I nevertheless hope that this painting conveys something of the same Zen calm and brings some sweet Mediterranean sunlight into your February day.

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The pilgrim soul

pilgrim-soul-blog

The Pilgrim Soul (32 cms x 24 cms mixed media 2017)

Here’s a picture which started life as an exercise in combining paint and collage. Taking its cue from the line about ‘the pilgrim soul’, the suggestion of landscape and a path through it was used to imply movement, an emotional journey from one place to another. It isn’t by any means a finished picture, but more a work in progress. I might even, as I learned to do in my Seawhite Studios workshop, paint over the whole thing and start again!

Inspired by a number of fellow bloggers’ art journals,  Claudia McGill’s enigmatic postcards and Cy Twombly’s almost white paintings with words scrawled on them in his unique handwriting, I took lines from a number of different poems in an anthology and reassembled them as follows:

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,/ Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,/ Yet knows its boughs more silent than before

One man loved the pilgrim soul in you

 

Rosy lips of such ecstasy

 

Words at once both true and kind

I have not a crumb of comfort, not a grain

Remember, in the eyes gazing at you

Quickened so with grief,

Slow and sweet was the time between us

There could be a whole short story in the inscription, written inside the book (below). Note the date and wonder what happened to these two, and why her gift ended up among the reduced stock of an online book dealer. Let’s at least hope that the time between them was slow – and sweet.

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Poems by Edna St Vincent Millay, W.B. Yeats, C.P. Cavafy, Yehuda Amichai and Robert Graves.

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I must remember…

cobnuts-blog

I Must Remember (24cms x 20cms ink and watercolour 2016)

When I was younger no-one talked of seasonal affective disorder: a cynic would say that giving something a name enables someone to sell you something to alleviate it. Whether it is real or just a way to pharmaceuticalise that feeling that winter may never end, it is the case that many of us endure winter rather than enjoy it.

Where I live, with its typical northern European sea climate, the peaks and troughs of the seasons are somewhat levelled, but when I was growing up in the north of England and later, living in the south of Germany, the seasons were more clear cut.

And winter brings its own rewards. What could be better than a crisp morning with the frost on the grass and a thin mist hanging in the trees; or that peculiar silence when you wake to discover that it has snowed overnight; or even a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon with a log fire and a DVD of The Big Country or that book you’ve been meaning to read?

I saw these cobnuts and thought their papery husks would lend themselves to the looser approach to still life painting that I’m trying to develop. The words, taken from The Thrush by Edward Thomas:

I must remember

What died in April

And consider what will be born

Of a fair November

actually refer to memory, language and perception, but could easily be a call to mindfulness, to living in the moment, to appreciating the seasons as they arrive with their gains and losses. After all, what else is there to do?

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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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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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