Saturday, January 24, 2015

Brisbane Racetrack Paintings - Equestrian Art

Followers of my work know how much I love animals and often include them in my work. The kangaroos, the birds, the dogs. I also try and draw and paint horses when I can. Many years ago I would get up early and go to the racetrack to draw the horses at training sessions.

These new paintings are part of my Brisbane series "Paradise Found - Close to Home" . I spent several Saturdays at Eagle Farm Racetrack on Tattersalls Race Days and others to soak up the atmosphere and get material to use.

To my knowledge no one is painting the racetrack in Brisbane. I have always had a love of George Stubbs's horses and of course Edgar Degas has made some great works of horses and jockeys.

In my work I have tried to include everything, the vista of the track itself with the little houses beyond, different moments of the race, and some of the individual characters one finds at the track, from the dressed up girls, to punters and drinkers. I had a great time doing these. No doubt I will be doing more of them.

This is first one in the series. I have taken liberties with scale and point of view, varying things a bit. I particularly enjoyed the group of girls seen from the back in the middle distance. This is a big painting about 153 x 91cm and when you see it in the flesh there are lots of small details that become apparent.

Another large one, maybe not quite finished. This one has more of a pattern feel about it. The composition is simple in an abstract way with the semicircle and triangle but I wanted a richness in the design of the horses and jockeys on the green grass. The people on the right are real individuals and add a bit of a narrative about the "Day at the Races" and all that can entail.

 This one is smaller, about 61 x 51cm. It shows a couple of different moments before the race and the landscape setting has an abundance that to me says Brisbane. The attire of jockeys and horses give me a  great excuse to play with colours and patterns.

These are the first images posted from my Petrie Terrace gallery RQAS solo show coming up in March 2015. There are plenty more to come.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Six Views of Brisbane - The Linocut Series, (an antidote to colour)

The big reveal

I am excited. These are all still artist proofs but I am very happy with them.

I have still not posted the paintings in my new series for my upcoming show
  "Paradise Found - Close to Home", but believe me they are quite colourful and painterly. I am doing things in reverse here by revealing the works that came after the paintings. They are an antidote to what came before which seems to be part of my working process to explore new ground after I have started to get comfortable with current work.

As you see there is a consistency in the subject matter, it is just the medium that has changed.

This one above is called "Chagall over Paddington".

It is a challenge to surmount the limitations imposed by the medium of linocutting. But the image can be transformed into something very powerful. Limitations can enhance enthusiasm and determination.

Naturally I approach printmaking as a painter, loving the unexpected and the accidental, using the process to develop the work and not having everything anally worked out.

My work is known for its colour. I wanted to see if I could still create the joie de vivre of my subject matter without colour. In this sense it is really an antidote to what came before.

In all my work I consciously utilize the negative shapes. In the black and white linocuts it is totally a negative/positive arrangement and the challenge is to subvert the expected and mix it up a bit, even within the one print.

There is no recipe or formula. There would be no point creating if there were. There is perception, sensation, memory,, association, instinct and interpretation. This provides a truth about the subject matter.

This is not the first time I have done a series of linocuts. In my exhibition I Wish I had Wings in the 90's I did an A -Z of birds in black on white with the  lino method.

This one is of the Old Museum on Gregory Terrace in Brisbane. You can see how the subject has been simplified. The "craft" of the lino process takes over so that you have to surrender quite a bit of control. It can make the work more natural and intuitive because your concentration is divided. The limitations of the technique can be very freeing and the image has a life of its own.

This one is Brisbane's "Eiffel Tower" in Park Road Milton. I have used artistic license by putting the Mt Coot-tha TV towers behind it. Another bit of fun. It is a bit tongue in cheek as there is a series called "36 Views of the Eiffel Tower" by someone I can't remember (but will check) which in turn is based on Katsushika Hokusai's series "36 Views of Mount Fuji" in the 1820's.

I will definitely be doing something along those lines myself and this series of six will be added to.

This dog walker was also fun to do. As close observers of the paintings will know there are lots of dogs and walkers included in small details of the big works. In the past I have also made little clay dogs in a "Dog Park". So hopefully my themes appear consistent even though I am pushing the boundaries with different media.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Movie "Mr. Turner" and a defence of Ruskin, from a painter's viewpoint.

This is a great movie. I have now seen it twice on the big screen and I enjoyed it even more the second time.
The first time it took me a while to get into the slow pace of the random snippets from Turner's life which set the scene and introduced the characters and also the gruff, grunting incarnation of the painter by actor Timothy Spall.
The second time, knowing what to expect with regard to these things, I was able to concentrate more on the subject matter set out before me from a painter's point of view.

The opening scene presents a Dutch landscape in soft painterly light and after a few minutes it reveals the characteristic rotund top-hatted silhouette of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775- 1851) against the flat landscape. The device of recreating painterly effects or actual paintings is not overused in the film, in fact we have to wait until towards the end to marvel at a recreation of "The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up" while Turner lounges in a boat as it chugs past.

What interests me most about this film are, naturally enough, all the art references. Apparently director Mike Leigh had an art research assistant working for two years on the background details. Many of the scenes in the film can be traced to anecdotal evidence or at least rumours about Turner in his day.(See my earlier blog about a Turner monograph) - The darkened room before the surprise of the bright viewing chamber, the peep-hole to spy on his visitors' reactions, the lashing of Turner to a mast during a snowstorm. These all make great viewing.

An early scene at a country estate of one of Turner's patrons shows the artist attempting to sing Purcell's Dido's Lament while an accomplished but dowdy young woman plays the harpsichord accompaniment. This scene takes place in front of gorgeous and sumptuous old master paintings by Lely and Van Dyck, magnificent Charles 1 on horseback prominent amongst them. I certainly played spot-the-old-master on my second viewing and and spied some Henry VIII legs but not the whole painting. The intricate wooden carvings around this room would have to be Grinling Gibbons. Turner's paintings are also hanging in this room amongst this illustrious company but the poignant singing scene serves to suggest that he belongs yet doesn't or perhaps the work belongs but the man doesn't or at least not yet... As he croaks the words "Remember me....remember me", I felt this was Turner's raison d'etre throughout his life. It becomes especially moving at the end of the film.

Other favourite scenes included those set at the Royal Academy exhibitions. It must be noted that this was really the only way an artist's work could be seen by the public. The private gallery scene as we know it today did not exist in those days. The personages at the academy included Leslie, Stoddard, Stanfield, Pittersgill and of course John Constable. (See an earlier blog of mine about him) This rich scene of  "varnishing day" was a triumph, something rarely seen in cinema, and again so much fun to spot-the-painting.

I did enjoy the fleshing out in a dramatic manner, of the reality of the artists' concerns at such events, - the rivalries, the worries about placement and reactions of the viewers. Artists today still have such concerns. What I do take issue with is the denigrating nature of the caricatures these figures were reduced to for the sake of the quick laugh. The depictions of Constable, Haydon and later Ruskin were just too mean and thus misleading in my opinion. The scene with Constable is well documented as there were so many witnesses and apparently he did say "He has fired a gun" but why make Constable out to be such an idiot? Turner was made a academician at a young age while Constable had to wait many years for the honour.

My life has been spent reading the life stories of these real life artists and critics so I guess I am not the average Mr Turner-movie-goer. Is this bias?  The image above shows two books from my shelves about Ruskin and Haydon respectively. So naturally enough I have a bit of prior background about these two historical figures. Haydon was an interesting artist. Instead of relying on the academy to show his work he hired large premises to put on his own exhibitions of his very large history pieces. The book "A Genius for Failure" by Paul O'Keefe (seen above), outlines some of the tragedies of his life, but he was undoubtedly devoted to his art, refused to simply paint portraits for money and famously fell out with the Royal Academy as a result of his independence of them. His scenes in the film involve money borrowing but no hint about why he needs it.

It was the portrayal of John Ruskin (1819- 1900) that particularly worried me. In the film we meet a very young Ruskin in the company of his father visiting Turner's gallery to buy a painting. (He would have been 45 years younger than Turner) The Ruskin in the film played by Joshua Maguire is given a typically upper-class "www  for rrr" type lisp that makes of him a figure of fun. Turner makes a big show of getting the maid to remove bluebottle flies from the overhead canopy which further serves to belittle Ruskin who was in the middle of a monologue about Turner's use of opaque white. (It is a good point about the opaque white!) I find it difficult to believe that Turner would have been so dismissive of his greatest champion. In 1843 Ruskin wrote "Modern Painters" which is a defence of Turner's work and "truth to nature" compared to the work of Claude Lorraine which Ruskin describes as insipid.

The drawing room scene in which Ruskin shocks both his parents and the other artists present by elevating Turner above Claude really grated on me. Ruskin may indeed have had a doting mother, and may have ruffled feathers with his outspoken opinions but there is no way Turner himself would have made fun of him to that extent. (With his question about the steak and kidney pie).

John Ruskin was a genius. His books and art writing are legendary. After Turner he championed the Pre- Raphaelite brotherhood which is alluded to visually at the end of the film.

Ruskin was also an accomplished artist in his own right as these line drawings show.  His famously unconsummated marriage to Effie is also alluded to in a dinner-table scene late in the film.

These drawings above hopefully help to strengthen my point about John Ruskin being a very accomplished figure.

Another point about the film which is of interest to artists is the introduction of photography about which Turner mumbles "I fear I too am finished". And about the use of colour being at that time a mystery to photographers "And long may it remain so"! 

Turner never painted en plein air although he spent a lot of time out of doors and his approach inspired the French Impressionists to later do so. Instead he carried a sketchbook that could fit in his pocket and wrote colour notes to himself on his sketches.

My final point is that anything that brings the noble art of painting to a wider audience is to be lauded. So well done Mike Leigh, Timothy Spall and the rest.

We are still painting Mr Turner, photography,  critics and science notwithstanding.