Sunday, 27 February 2011

Mining the back catalogue

Ok, so here's me thinking I've finally devised a new style for myself - of the moment, fresh off the block.
And then I find these two little watercolour sketches in an old portfolio of mine, dating back to the early 90's, and I realise that the seeds of the current stuff were sown a long time ago.

Why has it taken this long to realise that I already had it?
Why did I not get my act together twenty years ago?
Why don't sheep shrink in the wet (what?!)
The answer is moleskins.
I started keeping track of my ideas, thoughts, rambling incoherent futterings and scraps of dreams in little black moleskin sketchbooks, a well judged present from Mandy, who knows better than anybody when I need a constructive boot up the upholstery.  
(They're not made out of real moles skins, that would be unacceptable. I think they're actually dolphin).
Anyway, they have become a treasure house of all my creative thinking; a familiar friend to revisit when I need a direction or an idea.
Over the years they've filled up with thoughts and responses to virtually every situation I find myself in as an artist.
Can't/won't get my finger out and start?  - turn to page 4, book 2 and there's a whole page with 'JUST DO IT" written all over it.
Stuck for a figure to fill the middle distance? - page 17, book 4 and there's a sketch of a gent who's no stranger to pies sitting under a tree.
If I'd had those books back in the 90's, I might have kept these little watercolours to hand, and be twenty years ahead of myself by now.
So what am I faffing about with now, I wonder, that I won't get organised until 2031?
Enough of this fuckwittery, by then I'll probably have trouble remembering where I live...

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Under the Ivy

I remember my teens as a time of almost painful awareness. Sad theme tunes to crap tv shows, poetry, birdsong, even statues could provoke an intensity of feeling that is both wonderful and destructive.
You just can't feel like that on a long term basis.
Just to make things worse, I had very little in the way of skills to translate all that passion into anything worthy.
King of the world, bottom of the ladder.
But I did have a little flair, and a lot of desire.
I also had some very undesirable flares...
Fast forward several ice ages and I've learnt my craft.
Working late in the studio I heard a song that summed up all that adolescent purity of feeling in a way that made me realise how much I wished I could go back there.
(Kate Bush, Under the Ivy - listen to it on your own, with no grown ups around)
To have that sincerity, and the skills to represent it would be amazing.
So, with the finished painting already in my head, it was off to the Goth clubs again.
To their endless credit, not one person has reacted with suspicion or concern on these occasions, even when a total stranger invades their space and asks them to 'model for a painting' - it's like restraining orders had never been invented.
So, once again, thank you to Becky for being a perfect subject and making it possible for me to open a door to a past version of myself.
For those who like Victorian symbolism, there's no point in pretending to be mysterious:
The rose is for purity, the snake is sin, the Large Blue butterfly is about impermanence and ivy has always had associations with constancy.
The rusted lamp is an old favourite, and can be found in Holman Hunt's 'Light of the World'.
In fact, I hadn't realised how much I had been influenced by it until I'd finished this painting.

Incidentally, I built the image around the principles of the Golden Ratio, which is supposed to be the ideal proportion for the human eye to accept (much used by ancient Greeks and the like, so who am I to argue).
Somehow, it just seemed right:
The whole painting took exactly 40 hours, over the fortnight after Christmas, and it really did feel like it painted itself - I just waved a hairy stick at it and watched it emerge.
This does not happen very often...
Oh, and Becky...?  - loved painting the boot!.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Adoration of the iphone

Until quite recently the Vatican paid women not to reveal that the father of their child was a priest.
Sometimes the children were placed in carehomes as well.
As recently as the '70's pregnant girls could be sent to secure institutions to hide their shame from a stern, unforgiving disapproval.
As a punishment for their waywardness they were made to do menial work, under brutal conditions.
The concept of women as architects of deceit and temptation, beguiling creatures capable of derailing even the most virtuous of men, goes back to the dawn of history.
It struck me as odd, then that a symbol of religous veneration could be an unmarried mother.
Also, if Jesus came back, would he Tweet?
Just a thought.
Maybe I need to get out more.

The Princess and the Golden Excuse

I had to get this one out of my system.
It's not particularly deep or meaningful, but it made me smile.
It's a subject I've visited many times over the years, and I had to give it a shake to see how it would come out this time.
I've always found the story a bit dodgy - the idea of a Princess who loses a golden ball that is returned to her by a helpful frog who then demands all kinds of inappropriate rewards.
When he turns into the obligatory handsome prince in her bed chamber, no one bats an eyelid.
Yeah, right...
Maybe, in the real world she'd get the shiny thing back, dump the amphibious nuisance down the drain and turn the castle into a centre for women's studies.

The models for this were Manda, who has more than a touch of Alice about her, and Maxine who always adds a touch of class.
And a wasp whose name I didn't catch.

The background is full of visual touches I've collected over the years.
The castle is from a Mucha sketch, the grasses from a Heath Robinson illustration and the lilies from this painting,which I did when I first started out  as a landscape painter, in 1982.
Strange how things come full circle...

Post-Pre Raphaelites and Gothic Gentlefolk

Back to my roots.
After years of trying to find the right combination of style, reason and subject I find that it was right there under my nose all along.
Since I can remember I've loved and admired the great heroes of high Victorian romanticism; men like Waterhouse and Holman Hunt.
For almost as long I've 'collected' people of style, flair and courage who ignore convention and have the guts to strut their stuff regardless.
Putting the two things together, the answer became obvious.
It had to be Goths.
So I went to a club, blagged my way in and asked everyone I met if they'd model for me.
The results of that first meeting will appear on this blog as they happen.
In the meantime, this seems like a good opportunity to say thank you to the exotic, charming, generous and inspiring people who now populate my paintings.
It's all about you.