Thursday, July 28, 2011


A demonstration 

Imagine that one day, as you're in the middle of painting yet another of the realistic pictures you're known for and are good at, you suddenly stop, put down your brush, and say:
Enough! I've had enough of this! Why must I go on endlessly depicting what I see? Music doesn't have to tell a story or imitate familiar sounds - why shouldn't I too break free from representation? 

So you take some blank canvases and papers and boards and paints and solvents and you start exploring ways of creating a visual art which doesn't describe or interpret known objects but is  its own reality. 
Immediately you become aware that certain options are open to you. Gradually, depending on your tastes, moods, influences and the random effects which the materials themselves provide, you choose to pursue one or more of those options. Having put aside the figurative content which previously dominated your attention, you now focus on process, invention and concept. 

Links below are to relevant works by some of the innumerable abstract painters who created personal styles out of some or all of these eight modes. The processes often fuse or overlap, but I found it useful to single them out.
Free-flowing, transparent or dense, indeterminately-edged, ethereal. Bissier, Frankenthaler, Still

with informal blocks of interlocked shapes, creating perspectiveless depth by colour and texture.
De Stael, Hodgkin, Diebenkorn

with brush, charcoal, fingers, etc. A spontaneous calligraphic means of creating form.
Kline, Blow, Hitchens

Devising and obeying invented rules, proportions, concepts, hard-edged, rigorous. Mondrian, Nicholson, Malevich
Over-all, edgeless, whether patiently drawn or made by controlling random processes. Pollock, Tobey  Davie
fragments of imagination and chance. Shapes invented or loosely based on remembered objects. Mirò, Gorky, Friedlaender
Linear signs, perhaps words or hieroglyphs, on smooth or rough surfaces, coloured or plain. Klee, Twombly, Tàpies
Large empty fields of intense colour, atmospheric, enveloping. Rothko, Olitski, Newman

That's my over-simplified but fairly accurate summing-up of some of the paths taken by any painter who sets out on a journey away from representation. 'Art for art's sake' makes sense when perceived as a desire to escape from the prison of the seen - or rather, the scene - in order to paint something other. How do you get to that otherness and still remain a painter? The eight processes shown above are possible ways to get there which have been explored and elaborated by most of the abstract and semi-abstract painters of our time.
However, they are not exclusive to modern times or to abstract art. If you isolate details from well-known figurative paintings of any period, it's very clear that those modes crop up everywhere and that they play a role in shaping the styles of individual artists, whatever their subject. What was new about some modern abstract art is that it made process become the master, the subject, rather than remaining merely technique, the servant. 

But ABSTRACT versus FIGURATIVE  is a false dichotomy. Great figurative art of any period never re-presents reality as we know it  so it's already abstraction. But it does offer startling new ways to see the familiar and, sometimes, shows us things that are completely unfamiliar.

The fragments I've selected merely show examples of the eight abstract modes in the handling of paint or the composition of these particular figurative paintings. I don't mean to imply that these artists' work can be categorised under such labels.
Links to the full pictures from which the details are taken:

1. Watteau
2. El Greco
3. John Singer Sargent
4. Vermeer
5. Klimt
6. Bruegel
7. Rembrandt
8. De La Tour


Friday, July 22, 2011



Last year I caught his exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and wrote about it on July 26th . I wasn't a big fan but I pay homage to his life-long dedication, his single-minded focus and his prodigious skill. There was something athletic, something of the spirit of the weight-lifter and body-builder in his work: those huge muscles developed through sheer will-power and obsessive exercise. Maybe I'm stretching the metaphor too far but it sums up the impressions of Lucian Freud's painting I gathered over the years. Freud and Francis Bacon were close friends and both of them, in their work, were deeply concerned with flesh. But in my view, Bacon was the greater painter because he dared to look beyond or behind matter and those glimpses, though terrifying, allowed his paintings to break through the density, the weight of matter, in startling ways. This is just my opinion of course and it may be completely skewed. 

Next post, I'm going to write about abstract art. Stay tuned for further skewed opinions. 

The weather in London today. 


Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Took the photo in a nice Camden teashop where the chairs have personalities. Painted this abstractified version while "resting" - ie avoiding finishing the last episode of La Vie en Rosé.

Why is it that when something needs to be done, other things seem so much more inviting?


Monday, July 18, 2011


Still not used to my new camera, tried it out at Borough Market near London Bridge, on my way to the Miro exhibition at Tate Modern. More on that later.

Which do you prefer: the photo of the 'real' scene, or the abstract digital painting I did based on this photo? Does detail matter when conveying one's impression of something seen?


Monday, July 04, 2011


Plus: I now know who I am
Plus: I have a new camera

Beckenham Library in Kent will mark the 4th of July tomorrow with a self-publish and be blessed day and I am one of the people invited by Michael J. Weller to come and talk about my own experiences. I'll give a short PowerPoint presentation and then perhaps have a chance to dialogue with Mike about that alternative universe known as self-publishing. 

The mikonoclastic maker of HomeBaked Books is a friend and fellow self-publisher who has described me as an itinerant rhizomath . Forgive my ignorance but I had to look it up. Here's what botany and philosophy have to say about rhizome and rhizomatic:

...a characteristically horizontal stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes.....If a rhizome is separated into pieces, each piece may be able to give rise to a new plant.

Rhizomatic thought is non-linear, anarchic and nomadic ....Rhizomatic thought is multiplicitous, moving in many directions and connected to many other lines of thinking, acting, and being.

...rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.

Here, at last, is the answer to my lifelong question: WHO AM I?
Thanks to Mike Weller's brilliant insight, I can now carry on in my itinerant rhizomathic way with complete confidence that I am fulfilling my destiny.


My old Fuji Finepix bought in January 2004 has died. Is a digital camera too old at seven? Not by my reckoning but I'm old school and believe things should last and last and last. Unfortunately I've had to accept the unfairness of its demise and start searching for a replacement. This is a process that awakens my inner anorak and there's no snippet of information, however boring, which escapes my detail-hungry eye. After weighing up the evidence concerning those cameras I could afford, I settled on the Canon PowerShot A3300 . All the options will take some getting used to and it feels more fragile than my old camera but it's too soon to say what I think of it. Here are some of the first shots I've taken with it.