COG 23 22 1City of Glass 23 - (Stare)    120x100cms                                                                             City of Glass 22 - (The Fall)     120x100cms


WED 18 JUNE 2014

Red/green apple...the Big Apple...the Garden of Eden...'The Cholmondeley Ladies'....

This is a strange piece...I have been looking again at the paintings in isolation and have concluded that while working as a pair, they both work individually...they were made that way. I only put the paintings together when a photographer friend, Dennis Morgan, took the photo below for a competition and then I began to see them as a pair with a 'cleave' within each and also between them which adds an exciting additional dimension. As a pair, the power of the face is diminished, both because of its' smaller proportion within the whole but also because of the power of the divide between the two paintings.


Cleave studio2 Copy


The painting(s) have divided opinion and provoked thought, in particular 'Stare'. I had a fantastic discussion about the piece with students and staff from Canterbury Christchurch University when they visited the studio., exchanging ideas and possibilities for the piece. There have been other comments on whether the face works at all, whether it belongs, whether it is too strong, too graphic, too out of kilter with the rest of the series. Also how disturbing the face and the stare are. This is intentional: this is the face of Stillman who locked up his two year old son in a dark room for nine years in a deranged experiment to discover the language of God.

So, to conclude, I think I can and shall, show the paintings individually or as a pair. This duality is delicious: after all, in the novel, in his thesis*, Stillman discusses the dual meaning of 'cleave, to both break apart and to put together.

* P:43, 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster


City of Glass 23 - (Stare)   120x100cms

COG 23 Copy



In the twenty-third painting in the 'City of Glass' series, the face of Stillman finally emerges. Below is an earlier version which I wasn't happy with - it felt like a cartoon, a drawing rather than a painting and was in front of the divide. I like the new Beckman-esque Stillman, trapped behind the 'cleaved' shape of Manhattan, like the bars of a cage. He stares into the dark room where he has locked up his son for nine years , he is menacing, obsessed...dense reds and greens add to the feeling of claustrophobia. I have enjoyed juggling wth the figurative and the abstract languages and have brought unity and coherence to the piece by  linking the angles and triangles of Manhattan with the angles in the face, shirt collars and coat.  The last act was the introduction of the one circle/button of the overcoat, which in it's perfection, softens the power of the face.


COG 23 11 Copy


COG 23 2 Copy



 City of Glass 22 - (the Fall)   120x100cms

COG 22 Copy



Even though the image of the figure was removed, there is a human presence, the marks left by my own hand, the dragged fingers in the paint on the top left.

The idea of duality, of 'cleave', of good and evil resonates. When I showed the painting to an artist friend, she was initially seduced by the richness and denseness of the colour. But when I explained the context, Stillman's experiment, locking up his son Peter in the dark for nine years, she was repulsed by the painting: she saw the fingermarks as belonging to Peter, clawing at the walls of his prison. 



This piece continues the exploration of the power of the divide and also references Stillman's musings about 'the fall', where quoting Milton: 'It was out of the rind of one apple tasted that good and evil leapt forth into the world, like two twins cleaving together'

'Stillman also dwelled on the paradox of the word 'cleave', which means both to join together and to break apart'*

The idea was to split/cleave Manhattan in two, one side New York today with street-grid and piers and Central Park and the other side how Manhattan would have looked at the time of the Garden of Eden, a natural, empty landscape...

However, to establish the shape on the natural, 'before the fall', green right side, i used a grid and enjoyed those plotting marks...then I found/made an immense red which established the direction of the painting. In the early stages, Stillman's face stared at the viewer between the two sides, but then colour took over.


COG 22 3 Copy


COG24 CopyCity of Glass 24 - (Peter)     50x40cms


MON 30 JUNE 2014

During the process, the face of Stillman became the cartoon face of hard-boiled 'fictional' detective Max Work (below), which in turn became the face of Stillman's broken son Peter...painting now on the wall at modern Artists Gallery, Reading.


COG 241 Copy

COG 2526City of Glass 26 - (avenues)   100x70cms                                                                   City of Glass 25 - (streets)     100x70cms


A simple premise - a deconstruction of Manhattan, one painting showing all the horizontals/streets, another the verticals/avenues. Information fragmented/subverted, allowing the lines to be themselves. I spent a lot of time considering the shape within the shape, the composition, which fixed the scale of the lines and spaces between. i inevitably see the female figure (Virginia Stillman?) in the shape of Manhattan - explicit in this shared composition.


An exciting shift: for the first time the sides of the canvas, where I have marked out and numbered the grid, are integral to the painting, extending the idea of 'sculptural' paintings that have emerged this year in the 'City of Glass' * series.


DSC 0221900 Copy



DSC 0114



* from 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster

COG27 Version 1COG 27 - VERSION 2  160X60cms


VERSION 1 was shortlisted for the 2015 National Open Art Competition and VERSION 2 shortlisted for the 2015 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.



''What is not possible is not to choose'   Jean-Paul Sartre

All the artists on the 'Freedom in Painting' courses will recognise this quote, often nailed, Luther-like, to the studio door. However, with this piece, with the two versions, two solutions, I have decided not to choose, because i believe they both work in their own different way. I find it exciting that with one screw, and the removal or addition of the , 'roof'', I can make the severest of editing, and make a very different painting. We have had the 'roof'' on for a couple of days, now it's time to take it off and enjoy the 'interior' of the apartment.


City of Glass 27 The Stillman Apartment VERSION 2 200X60CMS CopyCOG 27 - VERSION 1  200X60cms


I have however, been decisive with the title: after toying with 'The Space Between', it is now simply called 'The Stillman Apartment'

'The Space Between' is the theme for the forthcoming Canterbury workshop and the words and concept have been constantly in my thoughts in this piece. I was in St.Ives, Porthleven and Falmouth yesterday, enjoying the moment but painting in my head, ideas, colours, words, compositions. Smaller canvases next - I wish to make something as powerful as the blue in 'The Stillman Apartment'...the detail below gives a clue to the direction I'll be taking.


COG 27 Detail 2 Copy


This painting happened because I was in the studio day after day - it is the only way to work, to focus. I had a fascinating talk with curator Charlotte Davis yesterday. She organised and participated in a 24hr drawing workshop. It is a bizarre concept but poses many questions: is it possible to focus for 24hrs? Because of the intensity will new things emerge? I'm thinking of taking part in the next one, working on a painting for 24hrs...catch a train home!


27 NOV 2014

It has taken a while but the latest 'City of Glass' * painting has emerged with satisfying ambiguities. there are even two titles, two ways in , even two possible solutions (I removed the ziggurat top section but its worth another look now the painting has moved on). The blue block is of course Central Park, the 'space between' West Side and East Side, but continuing the themes of the series and my interest in the play between the plan-view of New York, the grid of the streets and frontal view. i have also made Central Park an entrance, a gateway to the space beyond. During the process I had the figure of Stillman walking through the opening but the idea never worked. Colour replaced image, much more intriguing, the last of my Williamsburg paint - Sevre Blue and Courbet Green- boosting the intensity of the block at the southern end of Central Park. I am still coming to terms with this piece - it inhabits the space between abstraction and figuration but the blue is something else, something sensuous, seductive and indefinable.

The dividing line between the canvases is 69th St, highlighting the location of the Stillman apartment but the painting can also be read as an interior, inside the apartment. referencing Matisse's 'French Window at Collioure', the blue block is an opening, a view to outside, but the denseness and emptiness of the negative space dominate. The blue is both inside and outside. 8,7,6,5th avenues below Central Park become a balcony. I love the uncertainty of the definition between vertical and horizontal planes.


COG 27 Detail 4 Copy Copy

In the alternative ending,(VERSION 1), you lose the idea of being inside the apartment but the ziggurat-topped tower is the apartment building on 69th St and links to the Tower of Babel in the story. With the severity of its' shape, the increase in greys and the abrupt ending of blues at 110th St, the tower-shape is oppressive, resonating with the darkness in the novel and with the atmosphere inside the apartment when Quinn meets Peter and where of course the story ends. This version is more about image and claustrophobia, VERSION 2 more about colour and the senses.

I love the idea of the two alternative endings/versions. It happens in literature, in the novels of John Fowles, 'The French Lieutenants Woman' and 'The Magus', (John Fowles) and in film, the two versions of Apocalypse Now! - why not in painting?

City of Glass 28 The Space Between 60x50cms Copy
'City of Glass 28 - (The Space Between)'  60x50cms 


 City of Glass 28 - (The Space Between) was Shortlisted for the 2016 RWA Open


The space between left-side and right-side, between West Side and East Side. The space between the front and back of the painting, between  interior and horizon.The space between figurative and abstract, fact and fiction, between map-truth and painting truth.

I have been working on this painting for the last few days and it is directly connected to the forthcoming  Canterbury workshop 'The Space Between' and the ideas from the last painting in the series, 'The Stillman Apartment'. Once again 'the space between' is Central Park and I have been exploring ways to make it dominant, the subject of the painting.The link to the novel* is obscured: the proportions of city blocks and the park with Columbus Circle anchoring the painting on the bottom edge. But these 'facts' are ambiguous and subservient to the painting. The black-violet space is deep and seductive. I spent an hour staring into that space late last night. Ceramacist Paul Jackson saw the painting today and posed a question about the grey/green shape hanging in the violet from the horizon/69th St. The comment made me look hard again but I decided the shape must stay; it is an escape, a way out and is where the eye comes to rest.

A breakthrough piece.


COG 281 Copy


COG 282 Copyin progress 2


COG283 Copyin progress 1

* 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster