Blog

COG27 Version 1COG 27 - VERSION 2  160X60cms

 

VERSION 1 was shortlisted for the 2015 National Open Art Competition and VERSION 2 shortlisted for the 2015 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS:  30 NOV 2014

''What is not possible is not to choose'   Jean-Paul Sartre

All the artists on the 'Freedom in Painting' courses will recognise this quote, often nailed, Luther-like, to the studio door. However, with this piece, with the two versions, two solutions, I have decided not to choose, because i believe they both work in their own different way. I find it exciting that with one screw, and the removal or addition of the , 'roof'', I can make the severest of editing, and make a very different painting. We have had the 'roof'' on for a couple of days, now it's time to take it off and enjoy the 'interior' of the apartment.

 

City of Glass 27 The Stillman Apartment VERSION 2 200X60CMS CopyCOG 27 - VERSION 1  200X60cms

 

I have however, been decisive with the title: after toying with 'The Space Between', it is now simply called 'The Stillman Apartment'

'The Space Between' is the theme for the forthcoming Canterbury workshop and the words and concept have been constantly in my thoughts in this piece. I was in St.Ives, Porthleven and Falmouth yesterday, enjoying the moment but painting in my head, ideas, colours, words, compositions. Smaller canvases next - I wish to make something as powerful as the blue in 'The Stillman Apartment'...the detail below gives a clue to the direction I'll be taking.

 

COG 27 Detail 2 Copy

 

This painting happened because I was in the studio day after day - it is the only way to work, to focus. I had a fascinating talk with curator Charlotte Davis yesterday. She organised and participated in a 24hr drawing workshop. It is a bizarre concept but poses many questions: is it possible to focus for 24hrs? Because of the intensity will new things emerge? I'm thinking of taking part in the next one, working on a painting for 24hrs...catch a train home!

 

27 NOV 2014

It has taken a while but the latest 'City of Glass' * painting has emerged with satisfying ambiguities. there are even two titles, two ways in , even two possible solutions (I removed the ziggurat top section but its worth another look now the painting has moved on). The blue block is of course Central Park, the 'space between' West Side and East Side, but continuing the themes of the series and my interest in the play between the plan-view of New York, the grid of the streets and frontal view. i have also made Central Park an entrance, a gateway to the space beyond. During the process I had the figure of Stillman walking through the opening but the idea never worked. Colour replaced image, much more intriguing, the last of my Williamsburg paint - Sevre Blue and Courbet Green- boosting the intensity of the block at the southern end of Central Park. I am still coming to terms with this piece - it inhabits the space between abstraction and figuration but the blue is something else, something sensuous, seductive and indefinable.

The dividing line between the canvases is 69th St, highlighting the location of the Stillman apartment but the painting can also be read as an interior, inside the apartment. referencing Matisse's 'French Window at Collioure', the blue block is an opening, a view to outside, but the denseness and emptiness of the negative space dominate. The blue is both inside and outside. 8,7,6,5th avenues below Central Park become a balcony. I love the uncertainty of the definition between vertical and horizontal planes.

 

COG 27 Detail 4 Copy Copy

In the alternative ending,(VERSION 1), you lose the idea of being inside the apartment but the ziggurat-topped tower is the apartment building on 69th St and links to the Tower of Babel in the story. With the severity of its' shape, the increase in greys and the abrupt ending of blues at 110th St, the tower-shape is oppressive, resonating with the darkness in the novel and with the atmosphere inside the apartment when Quinn meets Peter and where of course the story ends. This version is more about image and claustrophobia, VERSION 2 more about colour and the senses.

I love the idea of the two alternative endings/versions. It happens in literature, in the novels of John Fowles, 'The French Lieutenants Woman' and 'The Magus', (John Fowles) and in film, the two versions of Apocalypse Now! - why not in painting?

City of Glass 28 The Space Between 60x50cms Copy
'City of Glass 28 - (The Space Between)'  60x50cms 

 

 City of Glass 28 - (The Space Between) was Shortlisted for the 2016 RWA Open

 

The space between left-side and right-side, between West Side and East Side. The space between the front and back of the painting, between  interior and horizon.The space between figurative and abstract, fact and fiction, between map-truth and painting truth.

I have been working on this painting for the last few days and it is directly connected to the forthcoming  Canterbury workshop 'The Space Between' and the ideas from the last painting in the series, 'The Stillman Apartment'. Once again 'the space between' is Central Park and I have been exploring ways to make it dominant, the subject of the painting.The link to the novel* is obscured: the proportions of city blocks and the park with Columbus Circle anchoring the painting on the bottom edge. But these 'facts' are ambiguous and subservient to the painting. The black-violet space is deep and seductive. I spent an hour staring into that space late last night. Ceramacist Paul Jackson saw the painting today and posed a question about the grey/green shape hanging in the violet from the horizon/69th St. The comment made me look hard again but I decided the shape must stay; it is an escape, a way out and is where the eye comes to rest.

A breakthrough piece.

 

COG 281 Copy
detail

 

COG 282 Copyin progress 2

 

COG283 Copyin progress 1

* 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster

The Power of the Dog 88x107cms 2016
'The Power of the Dog'    88x107cms    oil and acrylic on canvas   2016

 

FRI 2 DEC 2016 p.m

Breaking down some shapes/states below the border, strengthening others - purple Durango, bird-like Nuevo Leon and the new blue brushmark on the right now appear almost sculptural, sitting upright on the bottom edge. Tweaks of colour....two fast brushmarks left to right, deflattening the image and bringing movement...The eye was being pulled downwards in the earlier version, now we are going across the image, following the line of the border.

Denise's idea - a touch of puple near the top, describing the edge of New Mexico.

The drill holes/bullet holes now continue around the 'frame'. I have been considering a utilitarian grey for the 'frame' but then it might become unambiguously a frame and not part of the painting. 'The functional' holes from the screws that held the perspex now become part of the painting. Looking back on my notes, I originally intended to drill holes along the border, showing the twin border towns....The holes around the painting are physical/real/actual. symbolic and decorative, darkness and light...

This is not a political painting. it's art from another work of art, a novel, that reconnects me to a landscape I last visited eighteen years ago. There was going to be much more red, but it is what it is, a seduction by colour and paint, the collected residues of the process on the bottom ledge.

Beauty and the beast...perhaps this is the link to the message of the novel - the pus below the surface of respectability....

 

sunset ltd Copy

I've painted this border before - above is a detail from 'Sunset Ltd', the name of the trainline that hugs the border on its' journey from LA to New Orleans. In comparison, the new piece looks almost flamboyant.

 

potd4 Copy

FRI 2 DEC 2016 a.m.

Late-night session... the jigsaw states are back (above), lots of borders, edges, shapes to play with. Maybe it's become too literal and 'tasteful'? I much prefer the subtleties of the paint and colour and the openness of the borders on the US side.  Or is it good to have the contrast, highlighting the difference between man-made and natural borders?

The excitement in the painting comes on the bottom shelf where ideas and actions are collected. Stronger (accidental) compositions too. Pools of congealed red in the gutter.

 

detail 2 Copy

 

detail 1 Copy

 

detail 3 Copy

 

So is the piece about that surprise, that contrast between image and process that is revealed as you approach the painting?

 

I'm going to extend the drill-holes all around the painting to break up the flatness of the frame (bullets? - again too literal?). The jigsaw shapes sit too smugly - I'm missing the dynamism of the angled brushmarks in the version below. Time to relook the image.

 

POTD 2 Copy

 

The painting opening up...borders broken down...the jigsaw states of Mexico submerged- for now...residues collecting...I.ve put a temporary piece of perspex at the bottom to collect the paint...

 

Power of the Dog 1 Copy

 

The start of a new painting (series), once again working from a novel, 'The Power of the Dog' by Don Winslow, about narco wars in Mexico and the American Southwest. it's also my response to the theme of 'Borders', the title of the inaugural Newlyn Society of Artists exhibition in January at their new home at Tremenheere.

 

I'm working on a customised frame, with the idea that the bottom recess/shelf will capture the residues of my process and be an integral part of the painting.  Early days, mainly acylic underpainting, but I have plans...it's good to be back in the game.

 

There are borders between countries and borders between states but the desert either side is the same. The frame itself is a border...

 

1

The Sea  80x80cms  2016
'The Sea'    80x80cms    2016

 

A writer and friend Ali Day has written a perceptive essay on my latest painting 'The Sea' and through her words i am looking again at my painting in a different way. Her observations pinpoint the principles that define my practice, finding that elusive balance between Freedom and control, succinctly described by Anselm Keifer in the forward to his exhibition 'Il Mistero de Cattedral' at White Cube:  'If there is too much order it is dead; if there is too much chaos, it doesn't cohere. I'm continually negotiating between these extremes'

 

To read the essay 'Porthleven Painting', click here

City of Glass 38 T.H.E.T.O.W.E.R.O.F.B.A.B.E.L. oil on canvas 2016 25x30cmsx15City of Glass 41 - (T.H.E.T.O.W.E.R.O.F.B.A.B.E.L.)    25X30cms (X15)

SEPTEMBER 26

Babel rises....'built' brick by brick. A new Babel in New York. In the spirit of the novel, each brick/canvas contains one of the letters that spell THETOWEWROFBABEL, hidden in the real or imagined grid of New York, 'fact' and 'fiction' once again intermingled. As I have mentioned before, what is exciting about this piece is the flexibility offered by the rearrangement of the bricks. Perhaps, the new Babel will look more like the arrangement below, from this years Open Studios...

 

41cat1 Copy

 

This painted tower was always intended as the centrpiece of the series, the finale. The idea was always lurking in the background. However, after after a break of a few months there are new ideas and memories of half-explored ideas, unresolved. The City of Glass series goes on...

APRIL 2

A very short session in the studio- one thought, one tool, one colour, one action, one line....the Tower is complete.  Looking forward to a day off with the family.

The extension of the line works for me, fading out towards the edge....I have really enjoyed making this piece- not least because it has forced me to work in the landscape format and on smaller canvases (25x30cms), where changes can be made very rapidly. While enjoying looking at the Tower, the downside is that each individual brick/letter/canvas is undervalued and hard to see. I think some of the paintings are as good as anything I have done, especially the later canvases so I am going to give each a City of Glass number to recognize their quality. It might take away a bit of the fun of working out the letters but perhaps they are obvious anyway....

City of Glass 38 Brick 15City of Glass 56 - (T)

APRIL 1

Reflection: I'm seeing the painting in a different light- it's the New York canyon thing,...fiery sun... it's aerial view and image and a letter and the final brick..Now for the final arrangement...  

A long session in the studio, the Tower is one mark away from completion. The horizontal needs to extend further across the painting, almost to the right edge. It was there but the falling paint took it away.  A necessary subtle, subtle line to counteract all those verticals, a cut or the edge of a blade...

56CAT Copynearly there...

 

Studio Brick 15small painting...big mess

 

paintpots

MARCH 31 p.m.

A looser, more flamboyant painting, I usually have Manhattan on the vertical, but this time I've using the natural 60 degree angle. It's undeniable - I must have been thinking about the terrific Mali Morris painting on Paul Behnke's recent post in Structure and Imagery. Thanks to you both!

Having a look again: leaving the gap between the 2 angled lines of the grid is critical, keeping it open, an entrance to the painting. It's done.

City of Glass 38 Brick 14City of Glass 55 - (A)

MARCH 31

When you look into the nothing what do you see?

I am just enjoying this painting as sensation, colour, peace, that beautiful central divide when i went back in with the colour. In terms of context, the painting is based on a 'real' district of New York, but there is the ambiguity to enjoy of what is water, what is land....

City of Glass 38 Brick 13City of Glass 54 - (E)

MARCH 30

I was seeing these colours in my sleep - in the studio at 5 this morning. Magenta+ Emerald Green + a bit of Hookers Green + White has made 'Lush Lilac' and an orangey Indian Yellow/Cadmium yellow mix. The single line de-flattens the space and offers an escape... two bricks/letters to go...

Went to Charlestown today, to escape from my cave. The Tower was still in my thoughts-  I was looking at mortar between the bricks of the harbour walls!. Love the reduction and the colour and the purity and the emptiness in this latest painting.

MARCH 29

City of Glass 38 Brick 12City of Glass 53 - (O)

Q: When is a square not a square?   A: When it is a double-square

The excitement builds getting towards the completion of the Tower, hopefully by the end of the week.

'The building of the Tower became the obsessive , overriding passion of mankind, more important finally than life itself. Bricks became more precious than people. Women labourers did not even stop to give birth to their children; they secured the newborn in their aprons and went right on working' (P: 44, 'The New York Trilogy)     Quite!

MARCH 28

11City of Glass 52 - (O)

 

Denise suggested the colour- scheme for the new 'brick' - pink and pale grey. Might tidy up the bottom and have the circle truly balanced on the line. The circle feels as if it might roll off to the right but maybe that brings a tension to the piece. Imperfect circles are best - Trevor Bell is the master

.MARCH 26

City of Glass 38 Brick 10City of Glass 51 - (W)

 

'Brick 10' has been a battle - I've just spent five hours in the studio trying stuff out, looking for a stronger, purer painting. I was bugged by being able to see the stretcher behind the paint on the left in (2) and needed to know whether the point of the triangle should touch the bottom of the canvas. I think (2) and the final painting work in different ways but I believe I've made a better painting. (2) is more decorative, busier, but the painting above has a strength in the drawing and the more intriguing space. I particularly like how the purple triangle sits on the line and its relationship with the pale-yellow corner.  The softer edges too against the severity of the scored lines. It's an uncompromising piece.

The scored line was technically difficult- drawn by hand in one go with no room for error and because of the thickness of the paint, there is was a build up of excess paint around the sides which had to removed afterwards with a knife.  A pure freeing mark- if it went wrong I would have to remake a flat surface again, losing the unique combination of colours and marks underneath.

Underneath? Where exactly is the line? The not knowing makes the painting interesting.

The composition and the key elements have remained from the first session (1) The angled paint is critical as it mirrors the angled streets of the district. The purple triangle is a specific detail that cuts the horizontal of the street and of course the 'W' is one of the letters in THETOWEROFBABEL. Within these parameters I've made a painting.

I hope my daughter Faye likes it- she was upset when I started to make changes.  I like how the painting is, I think I can leave it. Like the building of the original Tower of Babel, this piece has become all obsessive - five 'bricks' to go. I have the locations for the remaining letters- lets see what happens.

MARCH 25

1022

 

Possibly a new 'brick', maybe make the scratched angled line more precise. Found a new colour, Faye said it was one of those colours you can't name but she has come up with Kinda Cornish as it is a real sea-colour. Triangles (and letters) everywhere in this part of New York.

 

11

MARCH 24

I couldn't wait- I took off the blue paint with a knife allowing the underneath greens to come through. A vertical mark instead of a block of colour. I still need to straighten the edge. I've also taken out the scratched triangle at the bottom to allow the deep,deep violet to flood through the right side. A little bit of crisp drawing at the top of the column brings clarity and a suggestion of architecture....

City of Glass 38 Brick 9City of Glass 50 - (T)

 

A good session- I've been  looking forward to introducing a dark 'brick' into the tower to shake things up. Might put a dark blue glaze over the column on the right to push it back into the painting at the same time simplifying the composition. Got to wait a few days 'til it's dry. I also want to straighten the edge- it was straight but the paint slid off!

 9

MARCH 21-22

I like all three versions but particularly the whimsical feel of the final painting - the spinning wheel of the strange contraption held by the dark line. Just. Denise and Peggy (from Modern Artists Gallery) see a face...Although upright, it is also a 'real' location in New York...

Version 1 is very graphic but I felt the letter was too centered and too obvious. I do like the mysterious dark space though. Version 2 was nearly a contender- very sculptural, very still, pure and austere, but with too much downward movement.

83City of Glass 49 - (R)

 

82Version 2

 

81
Version 1

 

MARCH 17

7WEB
City of Glass 48 - (E)

 

The version below was too static, the letter too blatant. The purple line, above, weighted at the bottom, the tiny-angled purple line, and some vertical brushstrokes have transformed this painting - it's much more complex and intriguing.

 

7

MARCH 16

'Another brick (letter) in the wall....

6
'City of Glass 47 - (E)

'Another brick (letter) in the wall....

5
'City of Glass 46 - (L)

 

In the recent City of Glass paintings, the Tower of Babel, the central image from the novel*, has been neglected....In this piece, each small painting, 25x35cms,  becomes a brick in the Tower. In the spirit of the novel, each 'brick' will contain one of the fifteen letters that spell THETOWEROFBABEL, some obvious, some more obscure.

Further exploring the blurrings of 'fact' and 'fiction' in the novel and in the series, some of the 'bricks' are based on the street-grid of Manhattan, others are pure invention - they could be part of the grid. It is for the viewer to become detective to make these discoveries....

Manhattan is dismantled, fragmented, rearranged. There is a discipline: if one of the paintings/bricks happens to sell, I am obliged to replace it, find another way to paint the missing letter.

In this way the piece is renewed, kept fresh. I am looking forward to arranging the finished 'bricks'. Because of the infinite number of combinations, the piece need never appear the same twice. The 'new' Babel in New York may not be necessarily ziggurat-shaped....

This piece is for Geoff Rigden, who sadly passed away recently. Geoff taught me at Canterbury and set me on the road to becoming a painter, He often came to my Open Studios in London, and was very generous and perceptive in his comments about my work, opening my eyes to the possibilities in painting. Although, you don't normally associate 'image' with Geoff's painting, I hope that each individual panel contains something of the serious playfulness of his work.

The 'bricks' below may change, though I hope by not too much.

 

Brick4
City of Glass 45 - (H)

 

Brick3
City of Glass 44 - (F)

 

Brick1
City of Glass 43 - (B)

 

Brick2
City of Glass 42 - (B)

*'The New York Trilogy', a novel by Paul Auster