The Party

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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.”

Seeing.

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.

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Quince, essential

Rotting Quince (A5 ink and coloured pencils) 2017

When an apple is past its best it becomes a weirdly wrinkled thing. A pear ages particularly badly, appearing to be whole but beneath that perfect skin lurks a mushy interior. Grapes shrivel, pomegranates go brown and foul-smelling when cut open, mangoes turn into ochre bruises.

Quinces, however, are altogether different. They rot dramatically, their agony written across their flesh like a medieval martyr. Sometimes they split and the edges turn inwards as they discolour, producing a dark blue chasm that reaches down to the heart of the fruit. There is a faint smell of early morning in Spain around your fruit bowl as the dying quince starts to decompose. That beautiful yellow skin acquires brown spots, the base seems to turn inwards and produce bulbous curves like babies’ fists.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know of my adoration of the quince. This fine example – the only fruit from a tree in my ex-wife’s garden – was irresistable. Wearing its fatal wound nobly it nevertheless tried to last the season, ripening in the south German sunshine. I wanted to commemorate its will to survive.

I’m still out there trying to move my art practice on to a different path: my heart wants to explore but my hand wants to draw and paint like it has for the past few years. This drawing is a good example: I had intended it to be a semi-abstract acrylic, it came out as an ink and coloured pencil illustration.

Then again, any representation of this wonderful fruit is worth your time. At least, that’s my view.

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The prince and the quince

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Three Quinces I (A4 mixed media 2016)

Longer-term followers of this blog will know that I have something of a weakness for the noble quince.

Apparently (Wikipedia informs me) some ancient texts maintain that the fruit Eve plucked from the Tree of Knowledge was a quince rather than an apple. I’d rather not contemplate that such a beautiful fruit could be instrumental in our fall from grace.

To me it feels more like the sort of thing that would appear in fairy tales. Its sensuous shape, wonderful colouring and aromatic scent would be ideal for an enchanted fruit given to a young prince by his evil stepmother. One bite of its bitter flesh would be enough to put our sensitive hero into an endless sleep. Until, that is, some ten years later when a beautiful young princess from a neighbouring kingdom passes by with, unusually, a jar of quince jelly about her person. She rubs a little on the prince’s lips and his eyes flicker open, focussing slowly on the lovely features of his saviour. The wicked stepmother is fed to the bears (there are always bears in these stories), and the prince and princess live happily ever after, not having to bother with any of the things that make our lives so challenging.

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Three Quinces II (A5 ink and watercolour 2016)

So there you have it, the beautiful quince as poison and antidote. It does seem a lot for a harmless fruit to carry.

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#twitterartexhibit (and more quinces)

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English Quinces (15cm x 11cm, mixed media, 2015)

I realise that creative people are always being asked to work for nothing, either for a good cause or to ‘raise your profile’, but here is something which doesn’t take long, is great fun and contributes to a good cause.

The Twitter Art Exhibit is the sixth incarnation of an open international exhibition of postcard art which benefits a different cause each year. The 2016 exhibition will be in New York City, so if you have a few moments to create a 16cm x 12cm piece do follow the link and send something in.

It won’t surprise regular visitors to this blog that I sent them a painting of some quinces (above), my obsession of the moment. I also painted a row of the little chaps to be entered into a local exhibition here in the UK but discovered that I’d missed the submission day:

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Quinces in a row (30 cm x 6 cm, watercolour and ink, 2015)

And, were that not enough, I tried to celebrate in oils (still a work in progress) a single noble example from our own tree:

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Quince (15 cm square, oil on board, 2015)

That, I promise, will be my last quince posting for this season*.

*Probably.

A Quince’s Tale

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Quinces (31 cms x 22 cms mixed media 2015)

We’ve harvested the first quinces from the tree we planted when we moved house a couple of years ago. They’re beautiful, like fairy-tale pears: great golden Maurice Sendak fruits that look like they might make the woodcutter’s daughter fall asleep for half a century after one bite. But too perfect to draw.

So when my beloved told me that she’d seen a boxful outside a cottage for passers-by to help themselves, it was worth the drive of some miles into the countryside to investigate.

They were splendid: misshapen, bruised, speckled, downy, knotty things, like angry little fists. I’m sure they’ll make wonderful quince jelly later this week, but in the meantime they’ve been willing models for a series of drawings.

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Quinces on a hand-made plate (32 cms x 24 cms pastel on Hahnemuehle Velour paper 2015)

The sheet of twelve started off as a sort of morning pages exercise, but I decided to ink over the original pencil sketches and paint them with watercolour and watercolour pencils. The plate of three on Hahnemuehle Velour (above) was more challenging for me, being unused to the intriguingly soft texture of this paper.

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Quinces on a hand-made plate 2 (30 cms x 23 cms pastel on watercolour paper 2015)

So I did a third on watercolour paper. This is probably enough quince drawings for one day, but I would just like to try one more after supper…

PS I was thinking of calling this post ‘An artist formally knows his quince’ but happily for all concerned decided against it.