COG1 Copy
City of Glass 1     150x120cms


'City of Glass 1' was joint-prizewinner in the 2012 Canvas & Cream Art Prize, London, selected for the 2013 National Open Art Competition and shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.



On an earth-red base-colour, the painting began with a series of long drips, using gravity to establish the avenues, or the city blocks between the avenues. I love watching liquid paint drip downwards, the consistency of the oil-paint crucial. The drip is a mix of control and chance: the placing of its beginning is deliberate but the drips do not always flow straight, sometimes veering off to make beautiful angles. In this painting, Manhattan was deliberately de-cluttered and isolated, revealing its island-shape and its curves, beginning the dialogue with the straightness of the avenues and cross-streets. Manhattan hangs, meat-like, from the crisp structural line at the top of the painting. I've never painted blues like these before. Taking inspiration from the novel, I originally intended to introduce one of the letters that spell THETOWEROFBABEL into the painting but decided there was no need: the Upper West Side, one of the key locations in the novel*, was already emphasized, with precisely scored lines, like a blueprint. Nor was there a need to introduce a building, the new Babel: architecture was implied in the grid pattern of the streets. After all the new Babel does not exist: it is' there but not there', in the mind of the character of Stillman. The key locations in the novel are indicated by tiny green dots: it is for the viewer to become 'detective' and find the clues and links to the text.


COG1 1 Copy




COG1 5 Copy



COG1 3 Copy



COG1 4 Copy


*'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster

COG2 Copy
City of Glass 2 - (Hotel Harmony)   150x120cms


'CIty of Glass 2  - (Hotel Harmony)' was shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and exhibited in the 2012 Ludlow Open.



Big, big battle with this painting - finished at 3.30 a.m. Elation and relief. My head is buzzing with ideas for the next paintings. I am thrilled with this way of working, finding possibilities and direction for paintings in text (Paul Auster's novel, 'The New York Trilogy'). In the studio, I am surrounded by drawings and maps and maps of drawings but the book is driving the paintings and constantly referred to and images are flying off the page. I am reading it in a different way as well: instead of a fluid whole, I am taking fragments and collecting information, 'fictional-facts', to use in the paintings. The book itself has changed physically during the process, now battered and covered in paint. 


COG2 5



In City of Glass 1 and 2, I have been concerned with depicting the facts of Manhattan being an island and its extreme verticality. To achieve the first, I de-cluttered the map to reveal the pure shape. The verticality is emphasised both by orientating Manhattan itself on the (just-off) vertical, then by using long drips of paint to form the avenues. It was amazing to see the buildings and architecture of New York implied within the grid-pattern of the streets.

With this new painting, I think the idea of a diptych with 'City of Glass 1' confused the issue - maybe I was trying too hard to do the same painting but with Manhattan on the left. Unlike 'City of Glass 1', I could not fix Manhattan into the flat, empty space: the drawing was not strong enough or graphic enough and I had a big problem with the Bronx/East River curve.


COG2 2 Copydetail 1 -the curve of Broadway


COG2 4 Copy


The red stripe in this painting was introduced to smash the space, with the deliberate proportions of the Twin Towers referred to in in the novel (it was written in 1987. The stripe also suggested a window, a la Rothko, and implied a building of such great height that the whole of the island-shape of Manhattan can be seen below. This ties in with the biblical reference of the Tower of Babel embedded in the novel, a building so high that a man would have to walk three days to escape its shadow. ( this image will drive the next painting in the series). Initially, the stripe was too crude and my biggest critic, Denise, didn't like it at all.. The stripe was softened, refined, and expanded into the right-side of the painting. I hit upon the idea of introducing a second curve, the curve of Broadway from W103St to W108St , to mirror the East River curve. So in effect, the right-side is a blown-up version of an area on the left-side, the Upper West Side, significant to the novel - the location of the Hotel Harmony and the home of author/detective Quinn. This is the breakthrough in this painting, this repetition, this link, this duality and subversion of scale. The building on the right creates balance but is also ambiguous, the horizontal grid of the facade simultaneously being the cross-streets. This is the territory I've been exploring throughout my career.  I love the duality: the visual and the context working in harmony. In formal painting terms, the small blue rectangle is exquisitely proportioned, pulsating against the surrounding orange. It is also the Hotel Harmony.


COG2 6 Copy
detail - Hotel Harmony


Denise likes the Painting.



COG2 1 Copy


Only one way to find out if Manhattan works better on the left!
I think the background will be a silvery- blue tomorrow. This might be a diptych, with this one as the left side.

 Only one way to find out if Manhattan works better on the left! I think the background will be a silvery-blue tomorrow. This might be a diptych, with this one as the left-side.

COG3 CopyCity of Glass 3 - (Window)    150x120cms


15 MAY 2012

The Tower is revealed, dwarfing Manhattan. After City of Glass 1 and 2 , with Manhattan placed on the extreme right and extreme left of the canvases respectively, in this painting Manhattan is deliberately centered, balancing on the bottom edge. The left side of the Tower was slashed deliberately to break the symmetry. In the studio shot below, taken after the first session, you can see how the drips misbehaved on their way down. I like the way Manhattan appears caged in and almost human-like, Baconesque. This could be an idea for another painting - in my work, the paintings feed each other, ideas often disappearing are-emerging in another piece. The ziggurat-shape in this piece comes from the mythology of the Tower of Babel and the Paramount building in New York. Central Park becomes a 'window' and the building appears ablaze...


COG3 1 Copybeginnings...



COG3 2 CopyThe Paramount Building, New York

COG4 Copy
City of Glass 4 - (Hope Falls, hope falls...)     100x70cms


TUES 15 MAY 2012

The latest painting in the series is now complete, a very different take on Paul Auster's strange tale 'City of Glass' from 'The New York Trilogy'. The idea for the painting came from a biblical quote in the text about the enormous scale of the Tower of Babel, where 'a man would have to walk for three days to escape its shadow'.  With the new Babel in New York, taking the southern tip of Manhattan as a starting point and walking for three days northwards, where would you finally escape the shadow of the Tower?

I calculated a distance of two hundred miles if you walked continuously for three days so I was looking for places two hundred miles north of New York with names that somehow connected to the novel. I was thrilled to find two stand-out candidates, Truthville and Hope Falls. Truthville, because of the novel's manipulations of truth and Hope Falls, because of the play on words: it's both a place name and a description of the despair and disintegration of Quinn as his assignment fails....I plumped for Hope Falls (blue spot in the painting) but Truthville will be my next piece. 

I liked the idea of positioning Manhattan centrally on the bottom edge and making something very small, very powerful. The idea was to have the shadow of the Tower over the landscape ending at Hope Falls and this dark shadow was painted several times but never looked right. A consequence of repainting this shadow and scrubbing/removing it, was a rich residue of intense red that suggested a bleeding wound. I showed the painting to a group of artists from one of our courses and the consensus was because of the beauty and mystery of the deep red stain, there was no need to impose the tower. They were right of course but I'll make sure the Tower is visible in the next painting 'Truthville' When they are side by side the Tower will be implied in this painting.


COG4 1 Copydetail - Lake Champlain

COG5 CopyCity of Glass 5 - (Truthville, N.Y.)    100x70cms


MON 21 MAY 2012

Maybe...movement around the periphery and a still center. The top of the painting/sky was too strong so now it's lost its prominence and the top of the Tower and the dot of Truthville are now the point of focus. The drawing has been strengthened there and the Hudson River, the state-borders and Lake Champlain all lead the eye. Even though the Tower is cut into the paint, it appears further forward than the state-shapes, so their strong colours now work and are held by the drawing. Then the Tower disappears behind the yellow-orange so the painting now has space and depth. There is an oddness about this painting that I really like - it's done.


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Too tired to work last night but might as well have - solutions to the painting whizzing around my head. Getting there: I think the Tower is too graphic, i'll disguise it a bit. The ocean has real power and overwhelming the southern tip of Manhattan. There is an apocalyptic feel to the painting. The spot of Truthville balances now on top of the tower- the point where you escape its shadow after three days walking. Love how scale is undermined: a Tower that big, a wave that big...Need to sort out the top of the painting next: it stops you seeing the top of the Tower. Do i lose it or integrate it with colour into the rest of the painting or do I make it a threatening sky? It's too horizontal - I have to sort it out with a small block of angled colour which should create a big diagonal.
Linked by the pinks, the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut on the right-side have formed another mysterious tower-shape. Back to the studio to mix another grey for the sky using another blue. Lets see  what a difference Sennelier paints make to my colour - time to open the box as we get towards the end of the painting. If grey doesn't work, I'll try a quieter pink. That yellow-orange corner still niggles ...might work better if I change the top.
COG5 3 Copy

 An OK day. I shrunk everything to move Truthville (orange dot) down a couple of inches, with the benefit of more space around the edges. The dot is now parallel with the blue dot in Hope Falls but not yet as powerful. I have discovered zinc-white which makes colours slightly more transparent. The right-side has been simplified and the horizontals more subtle, now the angles are more prominent. Unsure about it though: the paint seems a bit samey, the colours too obvious, too known, too luscious. Time for some serious looking and testing. The best thing is the curve at the bottom, following the curve of Long Island, doing a job for the painting and holding up Manhattan. The painting is starting to de-flatten and the space more interesting. The Tower is going in tonight to disturb the space even more and I'm going to take out the yellow-orange corner. Its one colour too many.


COG5 4 Copy



COG5 2 Copy


'Truthville' on right alongside 'Hope Falls/hope falls....', in the studio after the first session. I'm going to try and make them work as a pair/diptych. Had a pink/grey palette in my head so mixed up a few colours before starting. First thoughts: simplify! The right-side needs ripping-up- too many colours, too many horizontals , too distracting. Truthville (the orange dot near the Vermont border) is firther north than Hope Falls (blue dot on left painting) so I'm going to shrink everthing in the new painting by 10% so that the dots are on the same eye-level. The two different scales will add and interesting element of discord to the piece. Could be a late night in the studio.