The Water Tower; The Highest Point. Oil on wood panel. 61.5 cm x 61.5 cm. 2022.
The Past, The Future. Oil on wood panel. 30 cm x 30 cm. 2022.
For the last year I have been painting for an upcoming show at Cambridge Contemporary Art. Generally speaking, I normally allocate work to galleries not long after they are finished. But because I needed to keep work aside for this show, I ended up with a large collection of paintings sitting side by side, which allowed me to look at the work as a whole, not just as individual paintings. This led me to realise things about the subject matter which I choose to paint, that I hadn't contemplated before. One really strong theme emerged; this being that I am continually drawn to things/places that hover 'on the edge'.
Over the past year or so I have started to paint slightly more urban settings, and buildings, I think this really began during lockdown, during which the only scenery available was urban, due to living in a city. I quite enjoyed moving into this slightly new realm of subject matter, but when I looked back on the recent work I realised that what draws me to certain landscapes, is even more so in the urban scenes that fascinate me. I am drawn to areas that sit just on the outskirts, just on the border between becoming 'town', places that lie in the grey area.
For example, There were numerous reasons that compelled me to want to study the water tower for the painting 'The Water Tower; the Highest Point'. I find there the combination/contrast of the concrete structure amongst the quiet, still, peaceful tree lined site. There is the essential nature of the building, contrasted with the familiarity of it that makes it un-noticed by many. It quietly sits there, essential and used daily by city dwellers, without really being part of the city. It is there, and not there. There is an inherent duality. And duality seems to sit side by side with places that lie just at edges of towns.
Similarly when I paint landscapes/treescapes, it is the outer edges that draw me close. Juxta-positions and contrasts. Things and places that can hold opposing characteristics simultaneously. The beauty of the woodlands and forests co-existing with an idea that it would be east to get lost within. One heightening the other.
Another place that I find fits this theme is Sizewell in Suffolk. I find the huge nuclear power stations that sit right next to the sea outstandingly beautiful. Without a shadow of a doubt the reason I personally find them so, is because of their proximity to the forests and the water. There couldn't be a greater contrast of nature sitting literally side by side with man-built. One enhances the other. But again it is a place that is full of duality. Some people loath the buildings as an eye sore, some people love it. Some people are fully against the idea of a nuclear power station being there, and against the third one that is planned, yet others see it as essential, and the way forward. Despite the disconnect between the power plant and the natural beauty, I feel that there are also similarities between the two...the immense power of the nuclear station seems as sublime to me, as the sea it sits next to. Each containing potential for danger, whilst being essential.
The overall theme which I find continues to emerge when I paint is that of dualism. Places that can not singularly be defined. Places for me personally that can't easily be defined by words, but can be felt strongly with distinct atmospheres, Places that for me produce that particular feeling, that is difficult in itself to define...that of 'the uncanny'.
in Freud's essay "The Uncanny", the German words heimlich and unheimlich are related to our definition of uncanny. Heimlich literally translates as "belonging to the house, not strange, familiar, tame, intimate, friendly". With unheimlich being its opposite. I think I am drawn to places that lie on the narrow border between the two, or span into both categories. I am drawn to places that hold personal memories, that invoke feelings of the heimlich, yet in settings that invoke the uncanny. Memories of childhood picnics, full of remembrances of the familiar, tame, and friendly, yet in places that upon revisiting I find odd...edges of roads in the middle of nowhere, desolate car parks. During road trips with my nephew, I found that same feeling. inside the confines of the car, that feeling of pure 'homeliness', travelling though areas unfamiliar and 'other'. Looking at the scenery and woodlands as it passed and admiring its beauty, from afar, more so because of the beauty of the heimlich within.
Norwich walks series. Riverside, near Bishop Bridge. 25 cm x 25 cm. Oil on wood panel. April 2020.
Despite the unfortunate nature of events that have brought about the changes in life at the moment, and we are all in lock-down due to the Corona virus, there are undeniably positives that emerge.
I have predominantly been drawn to landscapes that are unpopulated, or even if populated, I have always been captured by the place; Seeing places as if they are backdrops or stages, upon which any and all variations of life can happen.
During this period of lock-down, when the streets are empty of people, it is a really good opportunity to see the city; to see and get a feel for the place without the distractions of the current life that is happening within.
As I walked through the grounds of the cathedral, on one of the walks that I take daily, I realised that without the people that are normally milling about, there were no clues to which period of time I was experiencing. I realised that everything I was looking at would have looked exactly the same during the 17th century, With no people, there were no clothes or bikes or holding of mobile phones, that identified 'current life'. I felt an eerie and unsettling moment of being unconnected to the surroundings...as all of the familiar 'grounding' elements were not there. I had a real sense of the uncanny. Which I thoroughly enjoyed! Being drawn to any artist or film maker that can capture 'the uncanny' (David Lynch...you shall always be my hero!)...it was a wonderful moment of feeling it first hand.
Having this chance to spend so much time walking around my city, I have started to see the place afresh, and decided that I would do a series of paintings of scenes that I have noticed on my walks during the lock-down.
One of the things that I have noticed more during this time are the beautiful trees that are abundant throughout the city centre. With cafes and shops shut, I find that the city centre has now become a place to visit in its own right. When there is no cafe to head for, or no shop to rush to, the alternative is to look more, and begin to see the parts that can be easily overlooked in normal times.
Nearly 4 year on from my last post. I look back on that last post and laugh... my god I didn't know what life was about to turn into. Everything that I wrote in that last post was true...and I believed it whole-heartedly. The only trouble is I didn't believe it enough to live by it. Just when you think you are at a point in life when you can take your eye off the ball and relax a little...life reminds you that you have a lot more to learn. I can truly say that the last few years have been the worst of my life...and now that that time is finally at an end, I can look back on it and realise that it has also been the most vital part of my life...in terms of learning from mistakes, and learning about what truly is important, more than anything... learning who I am. Through all of this the one thing that was a constant was my painting... and this post is about the value of painting; Not necessarily of 'paintings' as finished pieces, but more so the value of the process of painting and what it can teach one (well, what it taught me) about life.
One of the beauties of painting is that a painting is never finished until it is finished. Until that point is reached when you decide that there is nothing more that you want to add or change...a work remains unfinished, and remains a work in progress. The beauty lies in the fact that there is no set or defined finishing point...and in the fact that the finished image is as yet unknown, and more to the point, completely up to your own judgement and feeling as to what constitutes a 'finished work'.
I often start with an idea of how I want the finished work to be, but I think as yet I have never painted anything which really resembles that original vision. All of the paintings that have become my favourite pieces are the ones that have veered off into being something utterly other than intended. They have a feeling to me, of being more truly mine, as they have developed spontaneously, as, what is in me...has come out into the painting.
I have often been asked how one sets about developing one's own 'style'. I don't think it is possible to 'try' to manufacture a style... I think one just has to start painting spontaneously, and it's only upon looking back that you can gauge or begin to recognise a style. I think this is comparable to life...you have to live and let yourself BE...and then you can recognise who you are. Trying to be something or someone is like trying to paint a pre-conceived image; it ends up being quite boring, quite false, and is quite often just a copy of something that already exists...without the originality or uniqueness.
One of the beautiful qualities that lies in using oil paint is that I find it allows me to layer the paint. I can use thin layers of oils that allow that which is beneath to come through and affect the uppermost layer. Without the layers beneath there wouldn't be the depth that can be achieved. Often there are small parts of a painting which work, and these can be built around, in fact sometimes the smallest, sometimes even accidental, parts of a painting dictate how the rest will follow. There is much to be valued in recognising the seemingly insignificant, unnoticeable even, parts of a painting that actually alter the work as a whole. It is the conglomeration of these parts that build a coherent whole.
I see my paintings as palimpsests; without the trial and error and mistakes, that go before, the paintings would not be the same. I have one painting which I shall never sell, and it is because of the lesson it taught me. I painted this picture for hours and hours and hours and days... and sometimes it looked 'alright', sometimes it looked awful, so I persevered and kept going...until it was 'pretty much ok'...even to the point where it could have been said to be a finished piece of work. But there was something about it that made me keep going back to it...thinking 'if I just change this bit..., or I just change that bit...'. I kept looking at what I could change. And then I just had a moment where I realised I just didn't like it...simple as that. So I scrubbed the entire thing with turpentine, and basically got rid of it. What was left behind was a basic faded image of what I had first put onto the canvas (this bit was drier that the rest as it was older, so less removable with the turpentine). There were a few bits and pieces remaining that I really loved, and these shaped what I then painted. Within about 2 hours I had a painting that I loved. It's my favourite painting aesthetically, that I've ever painted. Whenever I look at it, it makes me realise that there is value in persevering, but that there are also times when one needs to start again completely; to scrub out what you are doing, if it's not working, and start again.
Sometimes, what feels like going backwards, is actually the first step in going forwards.
This is not 'IT' happening. This is merely the chance to make 'IT' happen. After 8 years of working from home, running a cake business, that I set up in order to be at home and therefore have more opportunities, however infrequent, to paint, I have finally managed to go full-time as a painter. Exciting and exhilarating and nerve-wracking in equal measures.
I still have to constantly remind myself that this is not a time for exulting and rejoicing and prancing about, enjoying the freedom that comes with no longer waking at dawn and baking all day. This is the time for making the most of the freedom that I now have to turn this opportunity into a life-long career as a painter. So far, all is going well, and I have been selling work and getting commissions for paintings. Life can be an arse sometimes, and the ups and downs of life can do their best to get in the way...but "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And meet those two impostors just the same"...then all shall be well.
Don't be fooled by luck and imagine it to be necessarily deserved (but still grab it firmly with both hands), but when hard work pays off DO congratulate yourself. This is what I try to bear in mind. Similarly, I try to view 'disasters' in the same fashion. Christmas and the new year were awful times in my personal life...but even the events of that period have led on to better things for all concerned. It made me realise...sometimes something that is 'not as it should be' has to be removed, or moved on from, in order to make room for the perfect. The same applies for painting, as it does with 'real life'.
Above: Canoe trip along the river, from Horstead. Oil on canvas. 40 cm x 40 cm.
The last few months have been rather strange...out of the ordinary compared to daily life. For the first time ever I had a serious health scare. After a few months and various scans etc... it turned out to be fine, and the problem was solved with a fairly straightforward operation. I have always believed in living every day to the full, and appreciating everything that I have, but for the first time I understood that even though I believe in that sentiment, I hadn't actually been 'living by it'. Having my health questioned gave me enough of a shock to really get it into my head that it is all very well making plans for what you want to do...but if you don't actually start doing them, it isn't enough. Basically, 'if not now, when???'
Originally, when I began working from home as a baker, the plan had been to bake till about 2 in the afternoon, then paint for the rest of the day. I thought that working from home would give me enough time to fit in more painting. However it always seemed that the cake business took up more and more time. Over the past seven years of having the cake business I have managed to fit in only a smallish amount of painting time, definitely not as much as planned or hoped for, and although over the past year it has improved slightly, I had never felt like I could establish a routine where I could seriously feel like I was getting somewhere with my painting. Having a health scare was what I needed to really make me think "all those plans you've made for making painting your main occupation...is it enough to keep saying that one day it will happen...what are you waiting for?". So, anyway, I worked out by how much I could reduce the cake business, to give me just the bare minimum income needed for bills, rent etc,...sort of a base line income...and gave up the rest!!!!! Then I did a few dances of happiness around the house... and got on with painting, and feeling a lot more like me!
Funnily enough I actually enjoy the small amount of baking I do now, whereas a couple of months ago I think I was working so many hours baking that I pretty much loathed each cake I had to make! Having a better balance gives me a chance to see the positive side more. I enjoy the fact that each day I have the social contact that delivering the cakes brings, enough so I can then enjoy the rest of the day in my studio painting.
It may all work out well, or it may all end up with never again having enough money and maybe having to find any job I can just to pay the rent and bills...but I don't care about that; what has made me most happy is that I gave myself the chance, and followed what I believe in.
The above image is called 'The Forest'. Oil on paper.
I've got some new paintings up at the window cafe in Norwich. The lovely thing about the work being in there is that so many people get to see them each day. It is really nice that they are seen by people who are in there for just a few minutes, but also by lots of the regulars who sit in the cafe for a good long while! Also, there is such a range of people; different ages, different backgrounds, different professions, and this appeals to me because quite often depending on where work is hung you do tend to get a particular 'set of people', and this sometimes excludes, although not on purpose, some people who wouldn't normally go somewhere especially to look at paintings, whereas the Window cafe includes everybody. What I like most of all is that the little cafe has a really good atmosphere and friendliness to it, and it feels like the paintings can be 'at home' there, and seen by such a wide range of people.
I'm not one to normally talk about 'good vibes and energy' etc...hopefully you know what I mean, but I really feel that this little cafe has such a positivity emanating from it that I always go away from it feeling full of energy and impatience to get on with the important things in life. This is the other reason I like my paintings being there. They are hung somewhere that encourages me to go home and paint more. I think the busy atmosphere of so many different types of people all going about their daily lives all doing different things reminds me of how I feel when I go to London. It always makes me feel part of something bigger, and makes me inspired and energetic to go and play my part in it.
The image above is called '2 firs, 2 silver birch trees', and is one of the works up at the Window cafe.
I love Mondays now. Because I sold some work at the John Russell exhibition, and some other pieces over the Christmas period, I decided that the income from those would be enough to cover having every Monday 'off'. When I say 'off' I mean having a day off from the 'day job' and having a whole day to just concentrate on painting. It makes such a difference knowing that there will always be at least one full day each week for painting...not just having to squeeze it in around other things. That one day a week seems to bring more benefits than I would have imagined. Not only of having the extra time, it has had the effect of bringing it home to me that this is now 'what I do', and 'who I am'. When people used to ask what I did for a living I never used to say that I was a painter, being sort of 'embarrassed' to bring it up because I didn't want others to think of my painting as a 'hobby', because to me it has always felt like my 'vocation', and I've always believed that one day it will be a full time career. I never liked the idea of anyone not taking me seriously as a painter, so I tended to not mention it. I should have been stronger and not worried about anyone else's opinions. But I did often wonder why I felt not quite 'right' when I didn't mention it when asked 'what I did'; almost as if I was not being honest. I don't think it is that I have sold enough work to now have Mondays as a painting day that has given me confidence, but the fact that I'm spending that time each week doing something that really makes me feel like myself. It is the thing of being true to yourself that brings the confidence.
In his work 'Being and Nothingness', Jean Paul Sartre talks about the difference in acting out a role and 'being' that role. He says that an onlooker may not notice the difference, between 'being' and 'acting'. "An individual can 'act' or perform a role, the 'act' and the 'actor' remaining separated. The antithesis of this is to 'be' the role, the individual and their actions becoming one". This is the best way that I can describe the difference I feel between doing my day job and doing my painting. I can very adequately do my day job as a baker, but the job and my self will always be separate. However when I paint it feels like the thing that I am doing and myself are very firmly connected.
The picture above is the completed version of 'houses, Brazil, 3'.
Everything seems to have been 'on hold' for the past month and a half. My day to day job is as a baker which means Christmas is an especially busy period. However, that's all over and done with for another year and at the moment I am appreciating the chance to get back to normality, and finding some time to paint. I've been continuing with a couple of new pieces, as mentioned in the previous post. The above image is an updated version of the piece in the previous post, although it isn't yet finished. Over the Christmas period I got a chance to drive out to the area on which this piece is based, and took a lot more photos for possible future work. It's an area that appeals to me...it is quite empty and feels very remote in some parts, although you are never that far from the next village and the fairly large city of Norwich. It is that mix that I find appealing I think; the fact that you can very quickly move from the cosy homely feel of a small Norfolk village into the empty aloneness of the open road with no one and no sign of human activity in sight. It can produce a quite uncanny feeling. It has just occurred to me that this may also be why roads appeal to me...they are the conduit between the two states; at some point along the road you cross into the 'other'.
I've got two new works on the go at the moment. The top image is similar to the previous post's image of the Brazilian houses, but I am doing another work based on the same scene, working on a larger scale. I am using the previous painting to work from, rather than working from the actual original photograph of the scene; I find this helps me in focusing on the parts of the painting that I want to capture, rather than working from the scene itself...where it is easy to get caught up in trying to include in the painting every thing present in the scene, which I don't necessarily want to do. I want to try and focus on the parts of the scene that drew me to it originally. I find that the more times I work on one image, the more it gets reduced down to the 'essence' of that scene...and the more I paint it, the more I feel my own 'style' of painting coming out. Perhaps as more works of each image are produced, I become more relaxed at having to get each one 'right', and less 'precious' over each one. It is only then that I feel my own 'true style' coming out.
This is also why I have decided to have a couple of works on the go at one time; Working on more than one piece gives me a chance to 'relax' over each piece. The second image is of a scene just outside of Reepham, on the way to a small village called Heydon, in Norfolk. I thought it would be interesting to take photographs of it as it progresses.
The title of the above painting is 'Brazilian houses, 2'
Perhaps it is because I have just cleared out my studio, or it may be because I have for many months worked towards an exhibition that is now up and running, but I feel that I am at the beginning of a new chapter...to choose a suitable cliché I feel like the next few months at least ahead of me is a 'blank canvas'.
For a while I have been collecting images of more industrial or populated areas, as opposed to the landscapes that typically appeal to me. I think what draws me to these scenes/images is the 'realness' of them. What I mean by this is that the buildings have not been put where they are for any aesthetic reasons...all that is there has a purpose. Everything has a reason for being where it is, and the reasons are all based on necessity and usefulness. To me these scenes exude a calmness and beauty which is enhanced all the more by the fact that is was never consciously put there. I choose the word 'scene' on purpose rather that the word 'place', because it is only my outside presence looking in that may see the beauty; the areas, from which I have taken the images, tend to be poor or run down, and I wouldn't be so patronising as to expect anyone living in these areas on a daily basis to necessarily see the beauty (or maybe they could...as I wrote in my earlier post 'everything depends on how it is perceived or who is perceiving it').
Although the subject of my work has altered, ( for the work I have planned for the coming months ), there still remains a connecting theme; I have always been interested in the notion that something can unintentionally contain beauty. A lot of the places I choose to paint are chosen because of the background or history or memories attached to them. These histories/memories may not always be beautiful, but this is what interests me...the chance of drawing out of something unpleasant, the beautiful.