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'Arizona after Don deLillos Underworld Copy
'Arizona'   168x132cms

 

From the 'A m e r i c a s c a p e s ' series and one of strongest paintings of my career.

 

In 1997, I was awarded a Boise Travel Scholarship from the Slade School of Art and made a series of train journeys around the US before painting for two months in a barn in upstate New York (at the home of sculptor Jon Isherwood, a friend and contemporary at Canterbury College of Art). on my travels, I took a detour to the Grand Canyon where I had an incredible, sublime experience: alone, on the edge of a promontory, in a jaw-dropping landscape, buzzards flying overhead, total silence....

As an artist, how do you deal with that grandeur, that overwhelming visual, physical experience? Like the 'City of Glass' series, where I had the problem of painting the scale and familiarity of New York without cliche, I found my way in through a novel, this time Don de Lillo's epic  'Underworld'.

There is a passage where the main character Nick Shay, visits an artist friend of his from New York who is making an artwork at an air base in the Arizona desert. It's not an active base, it's where the US airforce keep their decommissioned B52 bombers, rows upon rows of them, neatly parked. The artist and her team of assistants are systematically stripping the silver paint from the aircraft and then repainting them in wild, vivid colours. Of course, it's a piece that can only be seen from the air, and as a birthday treat Nick and his wife see the artwork from a hot air balloon, a fantastic passage on p:83, where through Nick's eyes you are seeing a painting, that is beyond imagination. 

I was mesmerised by the scale and ambition and beauty of this (fictitious) artwork - in an interview, the artist talks about the desert being the frame - and it resonated with my experience at the Grand Canyon.

 

''This is a landscape painting in which we use the landscape itself. the desert is central to this piece. It's the surround. It's the framing device. It's the four-part horizon.'' 

(Artist Klara Sax, p:70, 'Underworld')

 

In the painting there is so much space and heat, the white, blank canvas of Mexico the hottest part. In the top-right corner is the image of the B52's, and in the spirit of the novel, although ordered in rows, each is different, individualised, 'decommissioned' from their military identity. There are fifty aircraft, one for each state, and if you tilt your head you can see the deliberate visual link to the American flag. Scratched into the paint, is a very subtle train-line, ending at the powerful dot of Flagstaff, where I caught the bus to the canyon....

 

Arizona detail B52s Copy
detail- B52's

 

 

Arizona and D.C. Diamond City Copy
'Arizona' and 'D.C.- Diamond City' in the 'Americascapes' exhibition at the Michael West Gallery

Surge Final Copy   
'Surge (Yellow and Blue)'   30x40cms

 

FRI 30 JUNE

We're done. An hour of looking and I added the heavy yellow-line on the right-edge (above). Perversely I put it in to make 'A' work because I felt the yellow was visually slipping out of the picture.  What it has done for me,  is to make the landscape less literal and the inner-frame is strengthened. The lumps and bumps in the yellow have shifted in the night!

 

surge studio Copy
a 'big' small painting

 
 
Porthleven 26 Porthleven 27 Surge Copy
'Porthleven 26', 'Porthleven 27' and 'Surge'
 
 
 
Surge B Copy
A
 
 
 
Surge A 1 Copy
B
 
 
Yvonne talking about 'B': 'I love how the sweep of blue between the yellow masses sails down and out. The bottom yellow creates a powerful foreground mass pulling from the flat to the 3D and back again'
I'm still undecided: the painting may need need a mark, a touch, to convince. Although linked to Porthleven, with the oncoming tide pouring through the gap between piers, the painting is more about the idea of harbour rather than a specific place. Of containment. Of fragility. of futility even, in the face of stronger forces. In 'B', the fragility of the inner frame seems more prominent, but there is a shift in scale: is it too obvious a landscape or waterfall? 
 
Another week of Open Studios. Bliss.

Crane Blog Copy
Crane  40x30cms

 

SAT 17 SEPTEMBER

The 'demonstration' painting from the September 'Freedom in Painting' course in Polruan. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they are a beginning...I had to wait a few days for the paint to settle down - to avoid it sliding off - before I could have a proper look on the wall.

It's fresh, it's exciting, it's different, it's done. There is both a flat-space and a hierarchy of receding space. The pink-shape establishes 'foreground' and holds back the yellow. The small purple marks at the top of the canvas, and the layers of paint tucked behind each other, together (accidentally) establish 'distance'.  Beautiful paint. The crane is a lifelong motif but specific to this wonderful place. It says Polruan to me.

Pier 6 Copy
Pier   60x40cms

 

THURS 16 JUNE

A continuation of the idea of 'surge', this painting has a rawness and dynamism rare in my work. That sea is an irresistable force, the orange pier frail and overwhelmed....the canvas-divide provides the only point of stability in the piece...fast-marks/fast thinking...fast paint: a twisting,surging,writhing mass...uncontrollable.

Tension: the dark blue line visually holds the paint but will it physically hold the paint? Already a fat piece of blue slid off while I was watching the football.

 

pier 1 Copy
detail

 

The beginning (1), was too static, the frozen moment akin to a photograph. The second canvas was added (2) to diminish the scale of the structure and enlarge the 'surge'. These are my daughter Faye's colours - using her leftover paint - but the canvas a perfect match. The last act was to open up the painting more by taking out the downward movement of the heavy blue line on the bottom left edge in (3).

'Pier' is a very personal motif, in my life and in my art. The title is a kind of tribute to Mondrian's wonderful 'Pier and Ocean (Composition No.10)' and I was secretly thrilled when Janie said 'where's the pier'? when I told her the title. This is a common reaction when seeing Mondrian's painting for the first time! if you know Porthleven you may recognize the front pier with its distinctive kink - here the crisp angled-line leads the eye back into the painting and forms the tip of the diamond-shape.

 

pier 3 Copy3

 

pier 4 Copy
2

 

pier 5 Copy
1

 

P28 6 Copy
Porthleven 28   70x50cms

 

SUN 16 OCTOBER 2016

A new photo with the Nikon - close to the truth. 

The painting works both ways. In a portrait-format, perhaps Porthleven is more defined, with the distictive flick outwards of the front pier and the harbour curving to the right ...the rose fork, now more prominent, defining the gap between piers.  As a landscape, its more of a cubist space, with viewpoints intermingled, less defined....

 

P28 5 Copy

 

FRI 14 OCT

A feeling the painting was slipping to the bottom-right corner - a few extra lines of movement lift the eye...always looking for a stronger piece, I tried something towards the end of the day. Harlequin...I might be tempted...it will have to wait.

 

P28 2 Copy
p.m.

 

P28 3 Copya.m.

 

I've described the end of a painting as a sequence of green lights, where each painting decision /action seems to be the right one and I think we are there or nearly there with this piece. A late night session after a couple of pints in The Ship turned this painting around. I think the large angled yellow shape in the foreground is a thing of beauty, its purity and crisp edge setting off the complexities of the paint and drawing behind. The shape came from a diamond-shaped patch of light on the studio floor. It's sunny again - unreal.

It's fafantastic to look at the painting from 20ft away, with the soundtrack of the sea. It's an art trying to get a good photo with an iphone!

 

P28 4 Copy

 

 

P28 1 CopyOpen Studios in The Old Lifeboat House, Porthleven