Ever since art college, I have long admired the paintings of Richard Diebenkorn, (above 'Ocean Park 131), beautiful and painstakingly fought for, seeing them in the flesh for the first time at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1991. At a time when artists were taking a stance about the future of painting, what painting should or should not be, Diebenkorn just followed his instincts, seamlessly switching from from abstraction to figuration and back to abstraction in the Ocean Park series, in my view one of the greatest bodies of work of the 20th Century. 

In the recent 2-day 'Freedom in Painting' workshop at Queens Park Art Centre in Aylesbury, the twelve artists looked at his work and methods and used this as a springboard into their own painting. To achieve this, each artist was asked to bring along a printed image of a favourite Diebenkorn painting and then to draw a simplified translation onto a canvas. Then they were asked to find a visual connection between between the same image in the studio and make a drawing on paper. The new drawing was then superimposed onto the the drawing on the canvas and the painting began - a mixture of art history and reality. The studio was rich with possibilities - lots of windows, exposed roof-beams, paintings, easels, tabletops, which were all inventively used and explored in the paintings below:


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'The course challenged me to explore texture and form. Loved it!' JENNY GREEN

'The workshop helped me to loosen up and look anew'  ALAN KIDD

'Wonderful! All the advise Ashley gave really helped me think about my painting - composition especially, marks and lines' APRIL JONES



GRISELDA 3 1 Copy'Harbour'  Griselda Mussett


The aim on all the Freedom in Paintings courses is for our artists to leave their comfort zone, take some risks and go deeper into painting. In the Spring painting-workshops at Creek Creative, in exploring the idea of 'HARBOUR', the two groups of ten artists certainly delivered.

The preliminary talk was divided into three sections, which led into three different ways into painting. The first section was weather, looking at the work of Joan Eardley and Emil Nolde in particular. In their first painting, the artists were asked to put down a simple harbour structure which they were encouraged to overwhelm with gestural and inventive mark-making, echoing the movement and power of the sea.


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This was followed by looking at the motif of harbour in the work of Kokoshka, Dufy, Marquet and the Post-Impressionists. In an exercise to mirror the methodical Pointillist technique of Signac and Seurat, the artists were asked to paint/print an interpretation of their chosen harbour using only given a small wooden block (canvas tighteners!). Within that remit, the artists were impressively inventive.


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For the third source of inspiration we looked at the abstractions of the St.Ives School - Terry Frost, William Scott, Paul Feiler, Peter Lanyon  - leading to simplifications of the source material and the idea of melding different viewpoints and image.



To see a gallery of larger images please visit the Freedom in Painting Group on Facebook HERE. Below is my own painting from the workshop....


Harbour 25x20cms 2020 Copy'Harbour (Turquoise & Pink)'  30x25cms  oil on canvas



'A very enjoyable two days - excellent teaching from Ashley who shared his knowledge and experience with the group generously'  FRANCES BEAUMONT

'Ashley has pushed me on to experiment with new ideas'  KARIN BOURNE

'Always moves me out of my comfort zone'  JANE CRANE


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And a small dot in the circle...


The last-move: the circle on the yellow (the residue of a key image from the novel). It strengthens the main-horizontal and a gives a bit of competition to the blue triangle, making it part of a larger triangle. Now there are visual criss-crossings of incident across the canvas and somehow the painting seems more complete. Restlessness, trial and error, following the question 'What if?' until there are no more questions - great preparation for the Diebenkorn workshop in Aylesbury next week.  

'I want painting to be difficult to do'  Richard Diebenkorn


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SAT 8 FEB 3pm

Working the right-side: a subtle shadow cruciform, a soft-pink on the right-edge, a calming down of the floating green block. I've also picked out one of the angled roof-lines of the church and worked in a sliver of green inside. The blue triangle is now even stronger - it gives the painting so much heat - forming a gorgeous relationship with the tiny green triangle, which has its own power. Now there is an elegant cascade of marks from the blue triangle to the bottom-right corner, which counteracts the dominant verticality.  The colour-balance and the weight of the presence of the central image feels just right.  We could be there...


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SAT 8 FEB 1pm

The painting moves on. I've broken down the solidity of the church further with the drawing inside, a church within a church, and moving the brighter orange into the surround. The strong image I had in mind from the first few pages of the novel has been subtly introduced. The right side of the church has been left more indistinct, like when edges move in the heat-haze. I've brought in some quiet horizontals to imply landscape. The green shape was a isolated building in the landscape which I considered too literal. 


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 WEB 5 FEB 2020

Definitely feeling the heat - but how to make it hotter? Acid greens and pinks? More shimmering edges? What is the hottest colour red, yellow or orange? Or white? Not sure where to take the contrasting border yet or why it's there but more interesting  in (2) than (1). The solidity and external view of the church in (1) is now broken down with the cruciform-shape creating ambiguities of inside and outside, plan-view and elevation, which I'll expand further in the next session.  Also resolve how the church sits on the bottom edge. I do like the left-side, the right-side is dead. The church is a better shape in (1), slimmer with the angle of the roof more acute - let's go back to that.

 Too many words about too little...


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When painting 'Heat', this masterful painting by Hans Hoffman sprang to mind. Maybe we can look at Hoffman in the autumn workshop in Faversham...


pompeii 'Pompeii'  1959     Hans Hoffman   Tate Modern


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BOOK 9: Re-visited Nov/Dec

I was shocked at how raw this painting was when I re-looked recently. But the crude whites gave me the springboard to produce a beautiful pastel surface which is unique in my portfolio. In the simplified design, there is now a stronger relationship between the 'images' in the white and the black. A re-read also brings a new title...




I worked on bringing the isolated dark right-side into the painting. A day for detail: punctuations of line and colour across the canvas. I'll have a long look tomorrow but I think we are done. As always the title is critical, changing several times already. Favourites for a while were 'Horizontal' or 'Cold' both with duality of meaning. 'Horizontal' references the powerful horizontal in the painting and also the many victims in the novel. 'Cold' acknowledges the palette but also the emotionless boy-killers in the novel. Denice came up with 'Ice', again with a delicious dual-meaning...


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FRI JAN 24 2020

The introduction of the orange tree has stirred things up...


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The triangle of the mountain top in (1) leads to the angled line in (2) which leads to the tip of the diamond shape in (3). Pourings and smearings; interminglings of the expressive and the geometric, the raw and the refined, the intuitive and the analytical. Now we have meat on the bones...freedom and control, freedom and control...What role for the right-hand dark?


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'BOOK 9' is sourced in a cold landscape, an imaginary island in a real place. Yesterday's beginning (below) was without subtlety, an illustration of an idea, proof again that a pre-conceived painting is a fake painting. With each piece, I have to be in a different place with a new set of problems. Back to the studio to 'whiteout' the painting before re-drawing.


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'BOOK 8 - (smile)'   45x70cms   oil on canvas



The blue was a distraction (see below)

From the pure enjoyment of mixing and placing colours to a tougher painting with the introduction of specifics from the novel, the essence of the novel, locked into the language but with a different presence...


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 The only hard-edged shapes in the painting, enclosing an emptiness of yellow with a solitary dot, like a bullring at noon...(an observation, not a clue)


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