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We have been hosting 'Freedom in Painting' courses at the Old Lifeboat House in Porthleven since 2013 and we recently welcomed our latest groups of artists to the Autumn courses, both ending in a final-day exhibition, showing the fantastic work made during the week.  Our inspiration is Porthleven, which never fails to inspire, with the complexity of the harbour, iconic clocktower and ever changing light, tide and weather. You cannot beat making art to the sound of the sea!


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The course always begins with a visit to the galleries, so on Saturday morning we headed to St.Ives, with a relaxed brief of the views through windows, and the idea of framing image and paintings within paintings. We all enjoyed the vibrancy of the Casablanca Art School at Tate St. Ives, the Members exhibition at the Penwith Gallery, Paul Wadsworth at the Crypt Gallery and visits to the studios of Heather McAlpine and Lynette Pierce.

Back to the studio for the first group exercise, responding to opposites/pairs/dualities, transforming words into marks. This became the startpoint for the first painting.


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On Sunday morning we had a drawing session around the harbour, taking in a many viewpoints as possible, getting to know Porthleven through drawing, and looking for ideas for paintings. 


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For the afternoon painting session, I handed out reproductions of Mondrian's 'Composition with Blue, Yellow, Red, Black and Grey' (1922). This was to be start of the second painting! The artists were asked to 'copy' the painting onto their own canvas, which of course presented an opportunity to mix their own blue, yellow, red, black and grey (and white).


 Piet Mondriaan Composition with blue black yellow and red B 597 Neue Nationalgalerie


The idea behind the exercise, was to provide a strong structure to their painting, a new beginning which could lead to a different painting. Plus of course, the possibility of a window, a painted border, a painting within a painting, The artists were asked to look at their drawings, find a connection and find a way to use the grid or simply place a drawing inside the 'window' and take it from there. As you can see from the gallery this led to some very inventive paintings. 


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Jon Hastings & Dawn Plant from the September course


 The next few days were packed with one-to-one tutorials and demonstations, as all the artists, including myself, worked hard towards the exhibition. Certainly a place to be brave, to experiment, to leave the comfort zone, with the ambition to learn and make paintings that showcase all our skills, express our ideas and emotions, responding to our magical subject, Porthleven, in all its moods.


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We worked until mid-afternoon on Wednesday, where we transformed the studio into a gallery, hanging the exhibitions amicably as a group. Always a revelation - another piece of art! The exhibitions were very well received, with the artists enjoying the opportunity to chat to the many visitors about their work and the course.

The October course coincided with the Porthleven Arts Festival, and we were very pleased to be involved. On the courses, we had sunshine and record temperatures, and storms, sometimes on the same day, the beauty and drama outside, captured on canvas by our talented artists, who, I'm sure, will continue to paint Porthleven from their memories and drawings wherever they are. Hats off to the artists!


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'A pleasure working with a lovely bunch of people - inspiring to see all the different responses to the brief and Ashley was, as usual, very helpful. I particularly enjoyed the Mondrian brief'  ERICA SHIPLEY

'Very useful. Helped me move forward and it was instrumental in hepming me improve my abstraction'  ROGER WILKINS

'it has been another great week in Porthleven with the group. Intense and fun'  LESLEY TURNER

'Ashley gave a lot of individual help and evaluation which was very helpful. I came on the course wanting to move from 'semi-abstract' to abstact and the course helped with this. I liked the two exercises about how to start a painting'  BARBARA ROBJANT



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A painting that feels on the edge of danger... and flamboyance, the twin rose lines almost decorative. Colour or sea - which is the stronger? Dense reds and greens, jostle and pulsate, the forceful sea batters - something- threatening to overwhelm. The tall black bar is both a solid and liquid, a different strength, a holding force amongst the surrounding chaos.

A physical piece: paint punched and poured, gouged and cut, aiming to match the physicality out there, the elemental forces of wind and water...


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With the bad weather, the red ball was raised on the pier and the dark baulks lowered into the gap, to protect.  But the waves pounded, almost over at times. Tension - different strengths, pushing.

This was the idea for the painting, re-inforced by two drawings, with the triangle of the side of the slipway in shadow prominent. The turning point in the painting was changing the orientation to something less literal, more powerful. 




A companion piece to 'Porthleven 60 (The Gap)', looking the other way, from the back of the harbour to the open sea.




The soundtrack for this piece was, appropriately, the raucous, scathing, romantic, visionary, uplifting 1985 album by The Waterboys, 'This is the Sea'. .We're going to see them next week in York and catch up with Ollie.


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'Porthleven 70' will be on show at the Old Lifeboat House, Porthleven, where it was made, on Thurs 5, Fri 6 October. 


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The 70th painting in the 'Porthleven' series - a landmark. Epic reds and writhing blues collide: a synergy of boiling emotions and boiling sea, the force of colour, the force of nature. Made in the Old Lifeboat House, with the sound of the sea a constant. When the sea is wild, the red ball goes up on the pier...


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Shape and elegant line - below (2) - were never enough. The introduction of the heavy blue (3), brought tension, infiltration, threat... then the reds were overwhelmed (4) before new reds flooded the top-left corner. Now the central cadmium-red pushes back against the blue. Who's the daddy now?



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I brought anger to this painting - how do you become visible as an artist? - it was always going to be red, informed by a simple-drawing (1). The pink underpainting was the worst preparation, so before the reds came blues and greens. Find contrast in red, find a shape...A fabulous shape emerged - angel wings, but a too-sweet blue (2): after all, this is Porthleven...

R.E.M's  awesome reflective, melancholic 'Automatic for the People' was an appropriate soundteack to this painting,


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‘Repetition in painting can be pattern but also much more…

Repetition can be symmetrical or asymmetrical…

Repetition can bring order and structure, unity, rhythm, and movement to a painting..

It can be the subject of a painting…’


The latest 'Freedom in Painting' workshop was held recently at the Queens Park Art Centre in Aylesbury, exploring the idea of 'REPETITION', a theme put forward by one of the 11 artists taking part.

Of course 'REPETITION' in painting can be dull . My intial thoughts were of tedious spot paintings, Carl Andre and the worst of minimalism but then I remembered the strange and wonderful 'The Cholmondeley Ladies' and the deeper I looked into the subject, the more fascinating and richer and varied it became, also making me aware of the subconcious repetitions in my on work.


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The workshop began, as always, with an extensive talk referencing the different kinds of repetition in art history, taking in Pre-Columbian and Islamic art, Monet's haystacks, Warhol, Duchamp, Mondrian, Klimpt, Joseph and Annie Albers, William Scott and the work of several contemporary painters including Helen G. Blake, Sarah Morris and Jennifer Durrant.




This was followed by four quickfire exercises, looking at repetition in the grid, shape (circles), mark-making and movement, with the aim of each artist finding a particular direction to explore further with the ambition of making 'REPETITION' inventive and interesting!  On a demonstation after lunch, I chose 'repetition as movement', with a repeated motif of Porthleven harbour. Early days - watch out for developments soon.




As you can see from the selection of paintings above, each artist followed their own path over the 2 days, some working from ideas and studies brought to the workshop, others spingboarding from the morning exercises, with some very imaginative processes and results. Brenda Hurley cropped her original study into five seperate compositions (below) to inspire her painting.  


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 Three artists worked in a diptych format, allowing further posssibilities for their painting. I'm still not sure which version of Mitzi Delnevo's painting of the long pier in Porthleven I prefer - no, it's the one of the left, full of movement...


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I very much enjoyed my tutorials and conversations with the artists during the two days and seeing the paintings develop. There was a fantastic creative energy in the studio, with all the artists pushing their work and also learning from each other, taking advantage of precious time devoted exclusivly to painting. Late on Friday, we finished with a group critique, always enjoyable, with insightful comments and contributions from all the artists.




Before the workshop, I never really connected to the work of Josef Albers  - repetitions of squares within squares - but I was enlightened to discover in my research their fascinating source in the temples of Central America. Below are some of his perceptive thoughts on the essence of Art:


Rational functionalism is technique,
Irrational functionalism is art.

Art is creation
It can be based on but is independent of knowledge.

We can study art through nature,
but art is more than nature.

Art is spirit
and has a life of its own.

Art in its nature is anti-historical
because creative work is looking forward.

It can be connected with tradition
but grows, consciously or unconsciously out of an artist’s mentality.

Art is neither imitation nor repetition
art is revelation



'Thank-you - what an inspirational and confidence-builder the course was! Ashley was hugely kind and generous with his feedback and pointers'  HELEN SAVIN

'Very interesting and Ashley is incredibly generous with his time, commitment and help. By far the most enjoyable course I have been on'  KAREN JOY

'Ashley gave very individual feedback which helped me develop my own responses to my work. The course was very positive'  ANNE MARIE HOLLOWAY

'Thank-you. I feel I have moved forwards as an artist'  FIONA WILLIAMS

'I enjoyed the intro. talk and learning about new artists. Warm up exercises valuable'  MARION OWEN



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‘Narrative Art’ is art that tells a story: something happening, happened or about to happen…

Figures invariably create a narrative but so can a painting without the figure: an empty room or chair, an open door, something hidden or disguised…

‘narrative’ can be autobiographical, magical, historical, psychological…

‘narrative’ can be sourced in an alternate narrative: books, music, film…

‘narrative’ can also be the conversation or relationship between different elements in a painting…


The latest 'Freedom in Painting' workshop was held in Paxford Village Hall in the Cotswolds, exploring the idea of 'NARRATIVE' in painting. 

In advance, the artists were asked to think about what narrative means to them and what story they would like to tell in their paintings and to work out a few ideas on paper, bringing their studies to the workshop. 


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The workshop began with an extensive talk on the depiction of 'NARRATIVE' in painting, including works by Breughel, Vermeer, Caspar Friedrich, Munch, Sickert, Hopper and contemporary painters  Peter Doig, Eileen Cooper, Andrew Cranston, Zia Partou and Arthur Neal.


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Then I sprung a surprise: in a group exercise, the artists were asked to make one final study, where either a figure or an extra figure was introduced or a figure taken away, to see the effect on the narrative. The figures could be drawn or collaged - I brought a pile of printed figures of various sizes to use including some images of Peter Lanyon, one of which found its way into a painting. See if you guess which one! This was followed by a demonstration, translating my studies into painting and introducing a figure and a narrative.  


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Over the next 2 days, working from their ideas and studies and with a mixture of one to-one tuition and further demonstations, the artists developed the idea of narrative in their paintings, but critically, also being aware of the painting itself, its strengths and weaknesses and interest. As always, the workshop ended with an invaluable Group Critique, discussing the paintings and possible ways forward.

During the workshop, I thoroughly enjoyed the conversations with the artists and seing the paintings develop. As you can see from the gallery, each artist has a distinctive voice.  The collection is full of intrigue and personal memories, the narrative rich and wide, sourced in journeys and incident, real and imagined landscape and interiors, and the workings of the brain. Hats off to the artists!



'I had not considered the way narrative could be used in painting before and this course was really ete-openin for me and will certainly inform future work. I also enjoyed the run through narrative in art history at the beginning of the firsr day - very illuminating'  RACHEL CRONIN

 'I enjoyed learning about the artists who have used narrative in their work. I particularly enjoy watching Ashley paint and seeing his thoughtful processes'  ROSIE WELLS

'I especially loved the time on the chairs with Ashley, looking in detail at my efforts - most encouraging.'  HAZEL BECH