Sunday, October 24, 2010


I have a thing about apples, not so much about eating them as painting them. I like eating them too but that's nothing to do with my attraction to them as models. There's something basic, down to earth and yet mysterious about the shape and colour of an apple and, if you want to dwell on the mysterious, of course there's all that mythological apple-lore. The fact that I happen to have an Apple computer is neither here or there. 

Every so often I go back to painting an apple in order to try and capture what else  is going on: what is Appleness? What's happening when my eyes and consciousness meet this apple? What is there that isn't obvious? 

Here's my latest apple, finished yesterday, painted entirely with a palette knife. My model was just one apple placed on a slanting drawing board, supported by a bit of BluTak so it wouldn't roll down. The lower apple is not another apple but the top one repeated. 

Appleness  Oil on canvas. 41 cm X 30 cm  October 2010

And this one, painted a few years ago in the same spirit of exploration.

Yellow apple in space  Acrylic on wood.  46 cm X 28.5 cm

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Here they are, the things I saw in my studio out of which I composed the painting Frames of Reference.

Whether based on life or imagination, artists are always composing, assembling, organising selected fragments into something more than the sum of their parts. Not only artists - isn't everyone engaged in the same task, within the composition-factory that is the mind? Our memories, opinions, beliefs, the story of our lives - isn't all this a carefully constructed composition that we create and re-arrange daily, a work-in-progress? 

How about this for an experiment: 

Identify a number of things which you consider to be most significant in shaping your life, your self. Give them each a visual form - could be symbols, photos, cut-outs, whatever - doesn't have to be literal. Assemble these fragments into a composition of some kind. Publish it to your blog. Discuss! 


Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Unless I see something else that needs changing (and I may) Frames of Reference (formerly known as Prism, formerly known as My DNA ) is done. Here it is along with a close-up of the top left-hand corner where I've painted a version of the whole snapshot of my parents which was the basis for the two central figures.

I believe this painting is about different dimensions of space and time and maybe multiple universes but any and all interpretations are welcome.

Frames of Reference  October 2010  Oil on canvas. 121cm X 91cm


Do you have typical days, when the pattern of the previous day is repeated almost identically, like wallpaper ? Can you remember all details of the pattern? Here's one of mine.

Got up about 10 am when the phone rang. I usually set the alarm clock for an optimistic 7:30 but since I rarely get to bed before 3 or 4 am, when it rings I switch it off, reasoning that I deserve another couple of hours. Mornings are something I would like to be better acquainted with and enjoy the benefits of more often. My mornings are blurry, foggy, indecisive. Decisions like: should I turn on the computer or have breakfast loom unresolved. Breakfast won today so I shuffled to the kitchen wearing pyjamas and red bathrobe - this is a very old mumsy robe which I must get rid of. Something jazzier and more morning-friendly is required, as long as it doesn't have a belt. I hate belted robes so don't get me one if you're thinking of it. 

Breakfast is two wholewheat mini-pitta (from Marks & Spencer) toasted in the toaster then spread with unsalted butter and a couple of slices of Emmental. An apple, a clementine, a cup of maté, no sugar or honey. While consuming this petit déjeuner I read yesterday's newspaper, the Independent. Because my morning brain is foggy, I read everything, even if I'm not interested. I have been known to read the advertisements for cars, which I have no interest in whatsoever. Droning in my blurry consciousness is a robot voice which sounds, I'm afraid, like Stephen Hawking, insisting that I should stop this robotic behaviour and Get On With The Day. 

Eventually I obey and shuffle to the bathroom. No, first I turn on the computer to check email and to find out if there are any comments here on the blog. Well, overnight somebody in another time zone might have commented, innit? Bugger, no new comments. Quick peek at my stats: not much traffic there either. Shit. But wait: the stats say I've had 699 visitors so far this month - 699 and October has just begun! That's more people than I've met in my entire life, probably. Okay maybe it's not 699 visitors but 699 visits. Even if it's only 300 people that's still more real people than I actually know. So what if they don't comment? They have visited this space and I should be gleeful. I am gleeful. I make a couple of administrative phone calls.Then I put some laundry in the washing machine. Then I go in the bathroom. 

Bathroom business takes quite a while. I need to stand in the shower for at least ten minutes even though that's terribly wasteful, ecologically speaking, because only hot water running down the back of my neck dispels the brain fog. I dress in my painting clothes, old striped purple top and blue no-Yoga Yoga trousers and then it's face-the-face time: in magnifying mirror on bedroom window-sill I examine my morning mug and adjust whatever can be adjusted, which is not much. A bit of concealer under the eyes, some plucking of stray hairs, lipstick. Now I'm ready for the day. It's about 2 pm.

I go upstairs to my studio and confront The Painting (DNA/Prism/Frames of Reference). I stand back and examine what still needs to be done. While I'm working I notice how much painting ressembles carpentry or construction in general. All about fitting this into that, balancing, assessing, eliminating, concealing, revealing. It's not glamorous or inspirational, it's just work - if some mystery or chemistry subsequently occurs between viewer and finished canvas, that's a bonus. I work until about 5 pm then go downstairs and make coffee, eat a couple of biscuits and a clementine. Quick look at email then back upstairs. More work on the painting until daylight starts to fade. Very annoyed that the days are getting shorter. Have to stop, the colours are wrong under electric light. The painting still needs more work, I'll do it tomorrow. It's about 7 pm.

I start preparing dinner, my only real meal of the day. I've got some organic beef and a lot of vegetables. I rarely eat beef but when I do, I like to make a hearty dish and tonight a casserole suits the approach of winter. I'm a good cook, if I say so myself, unschooled but creative within a limited range. Occasionally I'll follow a recipe but mostly I improvise, throwing together flavours I like. Turn the oven on to 200C and while it heats up, sauté the beef chunks in a bit of olive oil with a chopped red onion, garlic, chopped ginger, a red pepper. Add spices: cumin, coriander, thyme, black pepper, salt. A dash of red wine and stir on high heat until the meat is well-browned. The oven is ready so transfer the contents of the pan into a deep earthenware pot, add more red wine then pile in the rest of the chopped vegetables: carrots, new potatoes, parsnips, courgette, baby corn. Put the lid on the pot and bung the thing in the oven. It will take an hour and a half/two hours. Meanwhile I nibble a few black olives and drink cold coffee in a tall glass with ice cubes and a dash of port, the real Portuguese Port from Porto, a recent gift. I don't know if my mixture is a proper drink but it tastes good. 

Back to the computer to look at email again, write a few replies, browse some blogs, then begin writing this blog post. Around 9:30 pm the delicious smell says my dinner is ready. I add some quickly boiled fresh peas to the mix and ladle out a very generous helping of my casserole. It is exquisite, of course. Half a glass of red wine remains in the bottle so I drink it. A clementine is my dessert. End of food for today. Washing up can wait until morning. 

I come back to the Mac and move the August and September blog posts to my archive. It is now five past 1 am on October 13 and I think I will go to bed unless I decide to add a picture to this post and then maybe browse some blogs. 

This was my typical day that was. How typical was yours? 


Friday, October 08, 2010


I had booked early for this show, hoping to transform my indifference to Gauguin into enthusiasm. I've seen his paintings in museums here and there and of course in reproductions - his art seems made for high-tech printing, looks great in coffee-table books and on posters, cards, scarves, bags and baubles such as those currently adorning the Tate Modern shop. But I don't think I ever saw a comprehensive collection of his work gathered in one place so this was an opportunity to lose my immunity to his universal appeal.

Keeping eyes wide open, I amble respectfully through the galleries, stopping for long reflective pauses. The background story I'm familiar with so I ignore the big wall-captions and never ever opt for portable audio-guide - no matter how informative, I don't want somebody's voice interrupting my own impressions. I need to have silence in my head to allow the work itself to speak to me, unmediated, if it's going to speak at all.

One thing immediately creates a barrier between the painting and the viewer: those frames! Those ornate, overwrought, overweight, overprotective gold frames - why why why do museum curators still think they must burden modern paintings with these antiquated trimmings? Do they think that art won't seem like great art to the public unless it's got ten inches of baroque chocolate box icing around it? 

Never mind the frames, what about the work? Am I dazzled, excited, inspired? Well...yes and no. Gauguin's prints, woodcuts and wood-carvings are marvellous - the craftsman-artisan in him is at ease in solid media, materials he can cut and gouge and smoothe and polish. In many of his drawings there is the same sense of inhabiting the medium, neither dominated by or dominating it. Noa-Noa is a masterpiece. But put him in front of a canvas and Gauguin becomes self-conscious: he's got a message, he is an illustrator, a decorator, he makes pretty patterns out of a pretty setting. I go back and forth in the rooms, absorbing different periods of his work, but only four or five paintings escape the shocking conclusion forming in my mind that, underneath the bohemian runaway rogue artist with his hat and cape and exotic teen-age vahine, a conventional, bourgeois banker is trying to get out. 

Compare Gauguin to Van Gogh - I'm sorry but I have to make that comparison - and the difference is obvious. Vincent loses himself in the subject he chooses to paint, he is entranced by it, his technique is entirely at the service of it. All that he has learned about colour and form sits before a tree, a field or a person and humbly offers itself, like a lover. I'm yours, he says. Every drawing and painting is for Van Gogh a love affair and the pen or brush caresses the love-object, coaxes it to reveal itself. 

For Gauguin painting is not such a visceral, intuitive experience. He's attracted to the picturesque, the exotic, and uses elements of it to construct a mythical scenario. He has an agenda. 'Maker of Myth' is an apt description of the man as well as the artist. I think that when Paul came to Arles, finally giving in to Vincent's lonely and hero-worshipping entreaties, he must have been stunned by the work Vincent had produced. Gauguin was sensitive enough to realise that this work was something unprecedented and perhaps he knew in his heart that it was far beyond anything he himself could have created. Of course this is just conjecture, but my feeling is that his pride couldn't allow him to admit this and the famous Gauguin/Van Gogh fight and ensuing ear-slicing incident was an explosion of these undercurrents - Paul's envy and competitiveness, Vincent's disappointment that Paul had not expressed the appreciation of his work that he had hoped for.

So, am I glad I saw Gauguin at Tate Modern? Absolutely. Do I recommend this show? Definitely. Did I lose my immunity to Gauguin? No, apart from the prints and wood-carvings.