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.
The Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition comes in for a fair bit of stick. It rarely gets reviewed in the weekend broadsheets and if anyone pays it any notice at all, it’s to give it a hard time. Seen until recently as rather conservative and dominated by older, male artists, the RA invites anyone to enter works for the Summer Exhibition: this year 12,000 submissions were received but only 700 works by non-Academicians were accepted.
The 2015 exhibition was stylishly curated by Michael Craig-Martin, whose own work I find rather sterile despite photographer Richard Guest’s shedding welcome light on it earlier this year. This year’s was left to the care of Richard Wilson and, if not as ground-breaking as it was under Craig-Martin, there’s still plenty to admire.
Among the less showy numbers was a small painting by Karolina Gacke, an artist whose name is new to me. Despite the presence of bigger names – including a particularly wobbly print by Tracey Emin of a woman doing something or other on a hotel bed and some vibrant prints by Jim Dine – I kept wandering back to this still life by Ms Gacke, looking at it hard and long for some time.
It’s been an uninspiring couple of weeks, I have to admit, but long after I left the Royal Academy Karolina Gacke’s lovely painting remained with me. Over the weekend I had a go at her spacious, loose style. Although my painting is more contrived, I present it here as a tribute to someone who, for me, stole the show at the Royal Academy this year.
Cherries I (Grazalema) (A5 sketchbook page, ink and watercolour, 2016)
In painting terms, it didn’t go as smoothly as planned on our Andalusian holiday. Although I have Felix Scheinberger’s book on watercolour to hand where he warns specifically against it, I was too focussed on the ‘finished’ picture instead of what he eloquently calls enjoying the 100 small steps on the way.
Then one day the owner of the cottage where we were staying (near Grazalema) left us a plate of fresh cherries. Their various shades of red – from deepest blood to an almost yellowy orange – begged to be painted, not in any mimsy, nineteenth century Sunday afternoon sort of way, but boldly and loosely, enjoying some of the 100 small steps.
So here are two, painted in the shade of an Andalusian summer’s day, noting once again that it just needs some small inspiration – a gift of cherries – and hearing what the masters have to say.
Cherries II (Grazalema) (A5 sketchbook page, ink and watercolour, 2016)
Fried egg on sourdough toast with an espresso (A4, pastel, 2015)
There are two excellent bed and breakfasts near our office in Rochester, NY, and I’m in the Mount Vernon. Hidden behind trees, this tranquil villa feels like something from a quieter, more elegant age.
Open your blinds carefully on a winter morning and there’s every chance you’ll see a bright red northern cardinal on one of the many bird feeders in the garden. Like many American B&Bs, the breakfasts here are a delight: fresh fruit, good coffee, and perfectly-cooked eggs on home-made bread.
I drew this before I left for the US but probably with those Mount Vernon breakfasts in mind. I’d had a go at this a couple of times – in watercolour and acrylic – but only soft pastel (Sennelier Extra Soft and Unison here) seemed to capture the essential egginess of that fried egg. I love drawing food. And eating it.