Thursday, 31 October 2013

Sculpture Class

Here's what I did in tonight's sculpture class.

Bernini eat your heart out.

I Know What I Like - Steve Hackett in Sheffield

I was in Sheffield last night to see Steve Hackett and his band on the last UK leg of their 'Genesis Revisited' Tour.  I saw them earlier in the year at London, Glasgow and Liverpool, and I certainly wasn't going to miss the chance to see the show again.

He's worn a whole lot better than Peter Gabriel, whom I saw last week at the Hydro, in a thoroughly soulless performance in a venue with less leg-room than a Ryanair flight.  

So thank goodness for the rebooted, life-affirming energy of Mr Hackett and his band, which contains the lovely Lee Pomeroy (ex-Archive) on bass.

The bluff, gruff audience last night at the Sheffield City Hall seemed a little nonplussed by singer Nad Sylvan (all flowing blonde hair and frilly shirts), but approved of his Gabriel-like delivery and enunciation (despite being Swedish).  


They also appreciated his props and theatricals, which captured the essence of an early Genesis performance without being all Musical Box.  

(For the uninitiated, The Musical Box are a group who exactly recreate early Genesis shows; sets, costumes, songs, the bits between songs, right down to the last detail.  If Peter Gabriel blinked on stage back in 1972, then that's what goes into The Musical Box performance.  My son is still a bit freaked out by Denis Gagné's Cosmic Lawnmower impersonation

Up The Downstair

- or it could just have been the sight of a slightly podgy French Canadian chap squeezed into Peter Gabriel's unforgiving 1970s black catsuit.  But I digress.)

Those of us who go to multiple Hackett shows were rewarded last night with a slightly different set, including a quick toot on the flute from Steve's brother, John Hackett, and a storming guitar solo at the end of Supper's Ready.

Here's a video of Fly on a Windshield/Broadway Melody of 1974,  which was recorded by the guy sitting just along from me.  And here's Watcher of the Skies recorded from the centre of the stalls.

Although the songs are forty years old, they're not performed as tributes or pastiches, but as incredibly emotional and visceral pieces.  They rock.

When I saw the tour at the Hammersmith Odeon in May, despite sitting right at the back, there was a crackling energy to the whole performance, which was extremely intense and emotional. 

I can't put my finger on just why it was so intense and emotional - perhaps it was because there was a real sense that it was something special (with lots of surprise guests - see Nik Kershaw singing The Lamia ), or because the music is very lyrical and bound up with a sense of the past - but even the silences were full of the sense of the audience collectively holding their breath in anticipation.  

It has to be one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

David Tennant in Richard II

Also on my travels, I dropped in at Stratford upon Avon to see the latest RSC production of Richard II starring David Tennant.  

Here's sunny Stratford as the sun sets, just before going along to the theatre.

Now, I'd not been to the new theatre in Stratford (only the Courtyard), so that was a treat in itself, plus I'd got tickets sitting right by the stage (being a card-carrying RSC member).

I've seen David Tennant before, in Hamlet, Love's Labours Lost, and Much Ado About Nothing (twice, with Catherine Tate), and he's a very charismatic performer. So I was really looking forward to this Gregory Doran production, even though Richard II isn't a text I've looked at in 30 years, never mind seen a production of.

The theatre itself is big, and yet manages to be intimate and immersive. The set is simple, stark, and yet dazzlingly majestic from the moment Jane Lapotaire as the Duchess of Gloucester slowly enters to drape herself like a black flag over the coffin of her husband, to the accompaniment of a heavenly choir and celestial trumpeters who are somewhere above our heads.

It's a breathtaking set, sometimes forest, sometimes cathedral, with mechanics that that are quite astonishing, from descending walkways to the massive maw of a trap door which opens at the end like the aircraft-carrier gate of hell itself, revealing the incarcerated king.  

It's like medieval steam-punk.

And there's a lot of flying spittle which catches the lights as it rains down - whenever the characters speak, they force out the verse (and it's a play written almost entirely in verse) with such energy that the stage floor must be awash with spit.

David Tennant has a rather unusual androgenous appearance.  You know he's a man, but he looks very feminine, right down to his gold nail varnish.  This very obvious duality (because he looks so very different to anyone else on stage) makes plain the duality at the heart of his character, that of the body natural and the body politic of the medieval king.  

Milton Keynes Citizen

He has long flowing hair, which had been brushed out just prior to going on stage in the first act, and shed tufts across the stage.  It's not a wig, as it has to support the heavy crown, and he runs his hands through it quite a bit, so I reckoned it must be extensions.  

Anyway, the effect is one of unsettling ambiguity - sexual ambiguity, someone who mesmerises and inspires loyalty in both men and women, and who absolutely embodies the concept of the Divine Right of Kings by looking like Christ himself with his flowing white robes.  However, this king is very obviously mortal, being greedy, self-interested and vain, a king who is ultimately worthy of deposing.  The set may initially be black and white, but life isn't black and white.  It's a whole load of grey. 

I can't tell you about the plot.  Any aspect of plot in a film or play tends to pass me by pretty much entirely. Stuff happens.  I can, however, tell you all about the language and the emotion of the performance.

There are some perfectly competent performances - Oliver Ford Davies as the Duke of York isn't my favourite actor, and Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt is workmanlike enough.  However, they still manage to take the verse and make it sound meaningful (and, according to the ladies in the queue in the toilets at the interval, the whole cast speak their lines beautifully clearly.).  

The characters talk of living in a world where life is unpredictable and brutal, and yet also lyrically beautiful, rooted in the very earth upon which they live.  You get the sense that Shakespeare's world was one where you were inextricably linked to the gaia-like earth and at the mercy of all its moods and seasons.  Nature was this huge, unordered force around you, and you were doing your best to create order and control over your own very small world, like a little island at the centre of a tumultuous sea.

This, then is play about the intersection between the man-made Court, with the King chosen by God, who at points in the play descends from above on his throne; and the disordered mystical forces of the nature world where Richard eventually descends, literally and metaphorically, to his death.  Order and disorder meet and mingle like opposing tides. 

(There are certain resonances with the imagery of A Midsummer Night's Dream (written around the same time, 1595), and the idea of the ordered courtly world, and the anarchic natural world which surrounds it. )

David Tennant, to a certain extent, always has the character of David Tennant bubbling out of whatever character he's playing, but I guess that's the same with all great actors.  That's what the audience is going to see, after all.  He's even wearing the amber ring of Ian Richardson (the other great Scottish Richard II) on his right hand throughout the production, so there's an awareness of his own place in the RSC pantheon.


Here, DT is all whippet energy and cunning, vanity and sensuality, divinity and mortality, strength and fragility, all-powerful and vulnerable, male and female, gold finger nails and bare feet.  He can pour out the 400-year-old words in a passionate tumult as if he's just thought of them himself, or fill the theatre with a great roar of silence, and Mr Tennant certainly knows how to hold the audience with a silent pause. He can fill a theatre with a silence that everyone is straining to hear.

 Milton Keynes Citizen

In fact, such was the palpable tension in the theatre on the night I was there, that when Richard was stabbed, people actually gasped in shock.  Which isn't bad for a 400 year old play.

This, then is an astonishing theatrical spectacle, resonant and revealing.  It shows that you don't have to do something uber-trendy with a Shakespeare play, like set it in space or underwater, in order to make it relevant.  Shakespeare will always be relevant because he writes about human beings, and what it means to be human, even when that human being is a King.

Beautiful Sunset over the Severn Estuary

A couple of weeks ago I was back in Weston Super Mare, to take photos for a show about the sea that I've got next year in Bristol.

There was the most stunningly breathtaking sunset.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Stormy Weather at Eastbourne

I was down in Eastbourne at the weekend, and of course, was down on the beach taking a whole load of photographs of the pier, one of my favourite subjects for painting.

It just so happened that my visit coincided with the dramatically monikered "Storm St Jude", a light draft which was causing trains in south-east England to be cancelled and the Gatwick Express to throw in the towel before any leaves had even thought about falling on the line.  

There's nothing like anthropomorphizing a bit of breezy weather in order to not only add Drama (with a capital 'D'), but have a culprit to blame ("you and your unnaturally excessive wind, St Jude!!").  

Living in Scotland, I can't say I was too impressed by what the BBC was calling 'storm force winds battering the UK'.  For a start, it wasn't the UK, it was just the south of England, and it was perfectly normal for the season.  The transition between autumn and winter brings strong winds, which naturally bring down dead wood and old trees.  It's cleansing. 

Anyway, here's a few photos of those cataclysmic conditions.

Looking from the pier down to the Wish Tower and Beachy Head

Looking from the pier on the other side, along the beach towards Bexhill on Sea.  Yes, those are blue skies.  Lovely October day, if a little breezy.

A gentle swell.

These will be in paintings and drawings near you next year!

Monday, 21 October 2013

On Show at the Lemond Gallery

My two person show with Peter Foyle opened on Saturday at the Lemond Gallery just outside Glasgow.  It's a big relief that all seems to be going well so far, so a big thank you to everyone who's been along to see it so far!

Here's a couple of photos of my paintings in the exhibition.

As you can see, it's a very relaxed space, with lots of lovely natural light to see the work at its best.  

Paintings look quite different in different light, whether natural or artificial, and at different times of the day.  The colours of the paint will look slightly different, and so will the relationships between the colours.

As a landscape painter, I always prefer to paint in only natural light, never artificial.

Here's another view of the gallery, showing my painting of White Rocks beach near Portrush in Northern Ireland on the left, and bluebells by the beach at Camusdarach near Morar on the right.

The show is on for another week, until Sunday 27th October.  

You'll find more details about the exhibition and can view all the paintings HERE, and also download the online catalogue.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Cotton versus Linen Canvas

Just to answer a query that I've been asked, all my paintings are done on linen, which is better than cotton in terms of conservation for holding impasto paint.  If you've ever seen my paintings, then you'll know that I love the texture of thick oil paint!

When I first started painting, I used cotton canvasses, which are cheaper.  It's perfectly nice to use as a substrate, and is stretches nicely onto its wooden stretcher.  

Here's the back of a canvas showing the wooden stretcher pieces, along with the wooden wedges in the corners.  These triangles of wood are hit with a hammer into the corners, pushing the stretcher bars apart, making the rectangle bigger and so tightening the canvas.

However, this stretchiness means that when you get to the larger sizes, it's less stable.  If you try to get the tension on a large canvas by overstretching it, then it can contract and warp, pulling the wooden stretcher pieces out of true, so that you get a warped painting that doesn't sit flat in the frame.

Just think of how the cotton fabric of an old-fashioned tent sags, flaps, warps and shrinks when it get wets and dries again. 

Cotton comes in different weights, but generally isn't as strong as linen.  That's why cotton is sometimes laid down on to a board to make a more firm, strong substrate to paint on.  

However cotton is still a great choice for getting the feel of a traditional canvas for a more purse-friendly budget.

However, if you're a professional painter, and especially if you're using thick impasto paint, you have to have an eye on investing in the future of your paintings.  I want my nice thick paint to stay put on the canvas and be enjoyed for many many years to come.  That's why I paint on linen.

Linen is made from the long fibres of the flax plant.  As it's more difficult to manufature, it's more expensive than cotton, but it has a better quality.  

The flax fibres have a lovely natural oil within them, which means that the material made from them has a lovely flexibility and strength to it, which keeps its shape when put on a stretcher and doesn't sag when it is loaded with thick paint.

Both cotton and linen should always be primed with size (a rubbery solution traditionally made with rabbit skin glue), which stops oil primers from rotting the fibres.

Linen is also better in terms of conservation because it is more long-lasting and durable, so it is well worth the extra cost involved.  In the end, a professional artist who paints on linen is providing a more future-proofed product for the client.

Now, Van Gogh and Gauguin painted a whole series of paintings during their time at the Yellow House in Arles in 1888, on canvasses cut from a very rough roll of jute which Gauguin brought with him.  So not all artists paint on linen.

Vincent Van Gogh, Sunflowers (1888)
And priming a canvas for longevity wasn't something which an artist like Francis Bacon listened to - he painted on the unprimed backs of his canvasses, which he knew would cause them to rot and decay.  But that process of decay, and of chopping up, slashing and butchering his canvasses, was something that he used as an expressive part of his art which was integral to the meaning.  A Bacon is, however, a conservationist's nightmare...


The main thing is to be informed, and to make your choice to suit your art.


Remember a few days ago I was talking about visiting Ballintoy Harbour, the setting for Game of Thrones?

Well, I've just completed a couple of paintings of the bay, which is down to the left of the harbour.  Here's one of them.

Cottages by the Bay, Ballintoy (Oil on linen, 16 x 16)

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

More Paintings on their Travels...

Not only have my paintings arrived at the Lemond Gallery ready for my two-person show which opens very soon, but my paintings have gone out today to two galleries in Suffolk for their Christmas shows.  Yes, that's right - Christmas shows!!

(That's because it takes a while for the photography for all the catalogues and publicity to be prepared....)

Anyway, here's a quick look at what's in transit.

This is a painting of rhododendrons in Pollok Park, which I thought would look really cheerful in a winter show.  Pollok Park has a particularly fine avenue of rhododendrons and azaleas of all different colours.  

It's going to be at the Lime Tree Gallery in Long Melford, Suffolk, in a show that opens on Saturday November 16th, along with 5 other new paintings.

Pink Rhododendrons, Oil on linen, 20 x 20

This one, meanwhile, is part of a group which is going to be at Thompson's Gallery in Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast, so it's going to be travelling a bit further across the county.  

Again, I thought it would look really bright and happy - it's of poppies which were growing at the side of the road just by the beach at North Berwick.  I think the seeds had probably escaped from the neatly-tended gardens which are just on the other side of the road.  The view is looking out across the sands to the long low island of Craigleith.

Craigleith with Poppies, Oil on linen, 20 x 20

The show at Thompson's Gallery opens in Aldeburgh on Saturday 7th December.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Show at the Lemond Gallery

It's been all go this week getting ready for a two-person show with Peter Foyle in a couple of weeks at the Lemond Gallery on the outskirts of Glasgow.

It's not often I exhibit in Scotland, never mind in Glasgow, so it's all very exciting.  Here's a sample of the paintings that I've been parcelling up today that are going to be on show.

Distant Sea with Poppies, Tantallon Castle (Oil on linen, 32 x 32)

Yellow Flowers on the Cliff, Portrush (Oil, 10 x 10)

Dark Sky over the Campsies (Oil on linen, 20 x 20)

Evening Sky over Irish Sea (Oil on linen, 24 x 26)

Gorse and Clouds, Morar (Oil on linen, 12 x 12)

When I'm doing a show, I keep in mind that there has got to have a good mix of sizes, locations and moods.  You're telling a story in an exhibition, and the paintings have to 'read' as a collection on the walls.  

Each exhibition is a one-off, and so this collection of paintings is never going to be all together again.  You're acting as your own curator, so it's quite a task, because you've got to keep the idea and tone of the whole show in your head whilst you prepare it over several months - even though you're not responsible for the final hang and the way the show ultimately looks on the walls.  But that's part of it - once you hand over the consignment, that's you giving over the show, and the work is literally out of your hands.  Which is all part of detaching yourself from the paintings which you've put yourself in to.  

When you see them again, hanging on the walls in a show, they are quite different.  A certain process of mutability has taken place.  They're not mine any more, which is why I can sell them.

The gallery where these paintings are going to be shown is a really large, light-filled space that has a very homely feel, so these are all very colourful, upbeat paintings full of light and texture.  I've tried to put in a good number of local paintings, so there are several of the Campsies.

The show opens on Saturday 19th October at 11am, and there's going to be a full-colour catalogue available.  If you'd like one, drop me a line.

For more information, click HERE.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

More New Work

This one is from a series of photographs I took a during a visit to North Berwick over the summer.  

It's a big painting, four foot wide, so it means you can make lots of nice big gestural brushstrokes.

Tide Out, North Berwick (Oil on linen, 32 x 48)

Here's one of the original photos.