Black Beach 60x60cms 1991
'Black Beach'    60x60cms   oil on wood 1991


It's about time I put a painting up - 'Black Beach' won Second Prize at the Hunting Art Prizes, back in 1991, presented by Sister Wendy. The painting went to Australia shortly afterwards, one of the girls who worked in the Mall Galleries where the exhibition was shown. If you are out there please get in touch. Still looks strong, one of my best pieces, I worked on it for nearly a year. Every mark belongs, a still centre, almost a still-life in a landscape. Beautiful blacks, all made. Innovative - I remember cutting and rolling/removing paint around the edges to make the frame- obviously influenced by Howard Hodgkin. In the Observer, critic Brian Sewell commented that the painting 'looked like the tarred surface of a London street'. Still not sure if that's a compliment!

Sue Cavanagh's painting


We were delighted with the response to Ashley's latest Freedom in Painting workshop at the Sculpture Studio, Canterbury Christchurch University, with another full house. As always there were new ideas to explore and this time, using two different life-models, on alternate days, each drawing and painting had to contain - '2 Figures', with all its possibilities of narrative.The challenge was to create a strong composition in each piece, with a variety of standing, lying and sitting poses.



The first morning was spent drawing our first model Sharon. With a mixture of traditional life poses and inventive exercises the challenge for the artists was to go beyond analytical life studies and look for ideas for painting. After lunch it was time to get down to painting with some longer poses and referencing the drawings from the morning session.



Well worth a photo David Carnegie!


The possibilities for painting were further explored on day two with the introduction of our second model Louise. After an intense group drawing session, each artist had the opportunity to work individually with Louise, repeating a particular pose they needed for their painting. The artists were free to compose their composition of '2 Figures', using identical or different poses with one or both of the models.

The final session was spent refining the paintings without the model, followed by an invaluable, in depth critique of the paintings. The work made over the two days was very exciting and as always there was a striking diversity between each artists interpretation of '2 Figures' . Below is a small selection of some of the work made - before Ashley's IPhone ran out of battery!

Penny Watts Painting

Deborah Pugh's Painting


Jo Eden's Painting


David Carnegie's painting


We really hope that those of you who attended, found the concept interesting and worthwhile. Thank you for signing up and a big thank you also to our two models Sharon Smithers and Louise Hughes, whom Ashley really enjoyed working with.

Look out for our next, Freedom in Painting workshop at Canterbury in December - 'Red'.

Here are a few comments about the workshop:

It was very helpful. Jumped me way out of my comfort zone, lots of inspiring exercises, great models, interesting, pacey, exploratory, got lots of new ideas. Thank-you very much Ashley.
Jo Eden

I wanted a course that encouraged freedom of ideas/colours/paint- technique and was very happy with Ashley's approach. I will definitely continue to use his ideas and feel much braver about taking risks!
Susie Rotberg

It gave me the confidence to make composition with more than one figure and creating narrative. Thank-you for the very constructive feedback; each person was treated as an individual.
Margarita Hanlon

DSC 01501800web2
'City of Glass 33 - (Buried)'     100x100cms

June 11 p.m

The dots/perforations worked, closing the gap between Manhattan and the left side and also referencing the notebooks of Quinn & Stillman. Space & scale more intriguing/ambiguous.

June 11 a.m

Unable to sleep - 'Washington Square' as a title is too innocuous. The painting is what it is, dominated by the heavy yellows. I cannot get past the image of a post-apocalyptic New York choked/drowned/buried by oceans of sand.

June 10

Four days in, very close- the colours and their proportions are working now. Manhattan is trapped/held by the heavy yellows, like an archaeological find. 'Sea of Sand' and 'Buried' were the more dramatic, alternative titles at one point. Like how the image sits on the bottom edge. I was happy with the piece at the studio but as soon as I got home and saw the image on screen more ideas emerged that I'll try out tomorrow. I suspect there is a stronger composition if I put in a vertical row of dots/perforations near the left edge which will pull Manhattan towards the left side and subvert both space and scale. It feels a bit tight, lacking in movement but it could be it's just a different kind of painting. Let's find out.

I also have the idea of putting in a differently angled line from bottom left to top right slashing across Manhattan. The image of the tightrope between the Twin Towers: if Manhattan is that far below, how high is the building the viewer peers down from?

In this painting instead of orientating Manhattan on the vertical, like the other paintings in the series, to break the square I have used the (real) 60 degree angle of Manhattan to create a dynamic diagonal.

In the novel*, Quinn ambles across the square during his meticulously described walk from his home to the southern tip of Manhattan, and then back up the East Side to the Stillman Apartment on E69thSt.

Washington Square was chosen simply because of the shape of my canvas. It is actually not a square but a double square. Now a small yellow blob, the (double) square originally filled the canvas. The strong angled lines, almost hidden, structure the painting.



colours from 'Buried'

* 'The New York Trilogy', by Paul Auster

City of Glass 32 The Aparrtment
'City of Glass 32 - (The Apartment'     70x100cms


Janie asked me why the painting was pink, so unlike the darkness of the novel* Aside from there not being a pink painting in the series, the idea was to help disguise the naked figure of Virginia. Perhaps the colour alone is enough to suggest her presence.

The vertical lines and subtle horizontals cut the space, linking to the grid of New York and the other paintings in the series. The centre divide is Park Avenue and the intersection with the main horizontal- where wall and floor meet- pinpoints the location of the apartment on E69thSt.

Another painting inspired by 'French Window at Collioure' by Matisse.

* The New York Trilogy, a novel by Paul Auster

COG 31 web
'City of Glass 31 - (A Study in Violet)'     180x200cms


'City of Glass 31 - (A Study in Violet)' was shortlisted and exhibited in the 2015 Lacey Contemporary Art Prize, London and longlisted for the 2016 Jacksons Art Prize.


Monday 1 June

I have no doubts now- it is one piece, there is a massive design and subversions of reality, space and scale, rhythms of verticals and angles controlled by the horizontals. This morning, I made a few subtle changes to the figure, strengthening the drawing of the figure making a sharper angle of the flare of the coat on the left-side. Then I started to enjoy the painting. I had a great chat with Janie M McDonald about the painting and it's connections to New York and the novel* The left side is elegant, sophisticated, the language of painting and abstraction, as Janie commented, 'a reflection of New York's glossy capitalist veneer' The right side is gritty, dark, menacing- the street. Just like the New York, the raw and the refined side by side.

This is going to be my entry for the John Moores Painting Prize.

Cleave: to separate, to join together..

A recurring theme throughout the series, the possibilities (and complications) of working with 2 canvases..

I need to redraw the head, arm and especially the hand tomorrow, but some exciting things happening's full of movement. The anti-clockwise movement of centre yellow stripe, flicking upwards though the coat is counteracted by the clockwise movement of the black lines of the figure, linking to the violet-black curves in the top left corner via the black triangle on the bottom edge. Stillman returns - with the figure, the relationship with the title and Sherlock Holmes is more explicit...location and narrative fused together...the angled line along the East River becomes the angle of shadow on Stillman's coat....scale subverted....menacing...'Noir', an almost title..

A difficult choice- both paintings work alone but are they stronger together, a fusion of the figurative and the abstract?





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