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'Matisse & Notre-Dame' was the theme of the recent 'Freedom in Painting' online painting workshop. I have long cherished the two paintings above, which bookend the series, and I enjoyed the discovery of several more works painted from Matisse's apartment on the Quai Saint-Michel. While, perhaps, the series cannot be compared to the greatness of Monet's paintings of Rouen Cathedral, Matisse's series provides one of the most iconic and influential paintings of the 20th century ('View of Notre-Dame' 1914, above right) and shows us his influences and development as an artist. 


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The workshop began with a Powerpoint presentation of the Notre-Dame series, highlighting the influence of Cezanne and the move away from Impressionism. We also looked at the work of Marquet, who painted similar views of Notre-Dame, Matisse's methodology of producing two strikingly different versions of a painting and the influence of Matisse on the work of Richard Diebenkorn. 


JANCROP CopyThe 3 stages of Jan Bunyan's painting


The artists were asked to produce several quick drawings from their favourite Notre-Dame paintings to find templates for their own interpretations. Throughout the workshop there were demonstrations - we had a second camera facing my painting - and individual tutorials each day where we discussed ideas and the progress of the paintings. Towards the end of the second day, the artists emailed me images of the latest versions of their paintings, which I put together in a Powerpoint for our Group Critique. 

 As you can see in the Gallery below, there was an exceptional response to Matisse's series with some amazing paintings produced over the two days - hats off to the artists!




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 'Ashley’s workshop is so complete in subject and content, the itinerary is brilliant.' Diana Kleyn

'It was the best yet! It’s hard to say what the best bits were - it was all great. Ashley, your way of doing online workshops is just brilliant! You make it personal and encouraging with the tutorials and your teaching style is relaxed and inspiring.' Beryl Hawker

'Totally brilliant two art practice feels like it's gone up a notch...huge thank you Ashley!' Jane Crane

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A painting inspired by Matisse's 'Notre-Dame' series, the subject of a recent online 'Freedom in Painting' workshop. My process is to sketch out ideas or draw from the subject, in this case from Matisse's paintings, and then draw from the drawings, looking for specificness and structure as a catalyst for a painting. With my Notre-Dame painting, drawing 5 below was my template. I chose a new oil-colour to work with, Michael Harding's 'Indian Yellow (Red Shade)', which I paired with purples, a palette sourced, perhaps, in Matisse's magnificent 'Notre-Dame with Violet Walls'.

In the finished piece, clarity and precision of drawing and colour emerges from the more chaotic earlier version below. The right-hand purple vertical is also necessarily straightened, referencing, of course, the window in Matisse's apartment on the Quai Saint-Michel. I hope my painting reflects the dynamism and emotive colour of Matisse's series.


DSC 00061web900 Copyin progress


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In a departure from the 'Beach Huts' series - though there are links - the discipline and enjoyment of a 'Pure Abstract' painting. But what is 'Pure Abstract'? A self-contained painting with no image or reference to the outside world? Is that possible? In this case, the triangle, circle and square become the 'subject', their placement & relationship, scale, colour, application, difference, the essence of the painting. 

I've loved making this painting, a pared down version - 'abstraction' - of what I normally do, just three elements to work with and the emptiness of the ground. The orientation was quickly resolved, the red circle moving upwards from the bottom-edge. The breakthrough was freeing up the shapes and allowing them to float within the colour-field, with the more subtle internal frame helping the movement, dragging the shapes towards each other. Does this follow the principles of Clement Greenberg? - this painting is tactile not flat, the hand of the artist evident, not disguised. A painting of doubt and refinement and search for 'painting-truth'.

Is this 'Painterly Abstraction'. Does it matter?



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RED DOOR MASTER 1200W Copy'Beach Huts (Red Door)'  30x40cms   oil on canvas  2022


The seventh painting in the 'Beach Huts' series. Colourscapes. Different, fresh-looking, open. Enjoying the seamless switching between the abstract and the figurative, the simplified triangle under the steps critical to this transition. Which stripe is the red door? This is my territory, injecting personal experience into the formalities of painting. This is a painting, this is Whitstable, where I lived as a student at Canterbury College of Art, where I found my freedom in painting through colour.

This is colour, this is drawing, this is composition, this is a love of oil-paint, all the things it can do: wet-on wet, wet on dry, opaque and transparent, thick and thin, weight and lightness, glowing colour - new yellow, new reds - knife, brush, pour, fingers. The decision-making comes from intuition and from the painting: what to leave, what to embellish, creating space and colour relationships and ambiguities. Transformation of the jigsaw below into a painting. 

Looking again, I'm enjoying the unintended subversion of reality. The beach huts face the sea, the viewer is on the beach, but the colours of the sea creep in from the right side, behind the beach huts, until a form appears.


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STUDIO 11 CopyOur studio: the Old Lifeboat House, Porthleven


Once again we welcomed artists from all over the UK to our two Autumn 'Freedom in Painting' courses in Porthleven, Cornwall, held in the fabulous Old Lifeboat House (above). Both courses ended with a final-day exhibition, showcasing the exciting and varied work produced during the week.

This year's courses began with a visit to the Kurt Jackson Foundation in St.Just to see his latest exhibition 'Kenidjack', followed by a quick drawing session at nearby Priests Cove, the subject of several paintings in the exhibition. Back at the studio, the drawings inspired our first colour-based painting exercise, with the challenge of the palette for each artists' painting drawn by lottery...


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Drawing played an important role during the week both as a response to the landscape and a source for the paintings. Artists were also encouraged to draw during the painting process, to work through ideas and possibilities for their paintings. On both courses, typical to Cornwall, we had an ever changing range of weather and light to inspire our artists: wild seas, high tides, rainbows, and beautiful, calm sunny days.


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Looking out from the studio


The September course co-incided with the inaugural Porthleven Arts Festival and we took a time out to hear a wonderful talk and slideshow about the making of Peter Lanyon's great painting 'Porthleven' (1950), given by Chris Stephens from The Holbourne Museum, Bath.


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The course was punctuated by further group exercises, demonstrations, group critiques and plenty of one-to-one tuition. As the week progressed each artist found their own focus, all encouraged to take risks and push their paintings further. It is a joyous thing when you have in front of you something new and unexpected and fought for. 


JAN X2EDIT CopyThe development of Jan Bunyan's 'Clocktower'


It's always a wonderful moment when the the studio is cleared and transformed into a gallery and the paintings are finally revealed. The final-day exhibitions make our courses unique and allow the artists to talk to the public about their paintings. And the rota system also gives the artists an opportunity for a bit of well-earned R & R after their labours during the week!


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 On each course, as part of my teaching, I work on a new Porthleven painting for the final day exhibitions. Here are my two from the Autumn courses:



 You can find details on our Painting Courses in Cornwall for 2022, from here