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February 29, 2004

The incredible physicality of being

This is one of the reasons I paint. To try and capture the feelings we once had, but have now lost, of standing bare footed on planet earth, unaware that we were. But I’m trying to paint it, not write about it, so that’s enough for now.

to know more you’ll have to wait and see the finished paintings.

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February 28, 2004

the it of it

The IT is what happens when you’re thinking about something else. When you have done your preparation, when your mind is free, your purpose is clear and your paints are mixed to just the right consistency of flow and tone and tint and hue. The IT is rare, and evasive: one whiff of doubt and it’s gone.

With so many variables and possibilities when painting it is easy to become unfocused, to become stuck with just the skill. The skill is needed to unlock IT. But to use the skill you must first let go and become unstuck.

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February 27, 2004

the need for mess

Mess and space. A painting needs both to breathe and to exist in its own right. Without a deal of mess the picture is in danger of being purely a reflection of life instead of an interpretation or an insight or an observation. It is not enough, as I have said before in these diaries, just to hold a mirror up to the world, the painter should be a lens, and bend the light a little.

So, space where there is perhaps no space creates emotions and mess where there is no mess conveys the mood. This is why drawings are often more evocative than paintings, and charcoal drawings in particular. That is why I paint in a painterly way, with big brushes and big brush strokes and as little blending as possible.

Mess is passion, space lets the light in. What more do you want?

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February 25, 2004

look hard

I never quite feel I've said enough, or not in a way that will mean what I'm trying to say. So I keep painting. Keep trying. Keep attempting to express feelings which seem to be buried deep down.

The paintings are merely the product of this effort, this search. They are not useful utensils, theyíre not supposed to match the curtains, or make any immediate sense.

The marks come from a long way away, far away in time and they are laid out in order of that distance. Their meaning will become clearer in time. The longer you look the more you will see. And maybe, one day, if Iím lucky, you will understand.

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February 23, 2004

sfumato v chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro Ė [key-ar-e-skuro] n. the distribution of light and shade in a picture, esp. to enhance the delineation of character and for general dramatic effect.

Sfumato Ė [sfoo-ma-toe] n. the subtle and minute gradation of tone and colour used to blur or veil the contours of a form in painting.

I rest my case.

On the one hand we have enhanced delineation making everything clearer and more out in the open and generally honest. On the other hand we have blurring and veiling, and altogether fraudulent behaviour, obscuring everything and being totally dishonest.

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February 20, 2004

the bit that's missing

Thatís what weíre searching for, the bit thatís missing. I can put all the paint on and do all the tricks so I fool you into thinking this is a picture of a person. I can arrange the colours next to each other in such a way that you believe you are seeing a figure, so far so good.

But to get the feeling across, that feeling - the reason Iím painting the piece in the first place, thatís the difficult bit. Thatís the bit you canít put your finger on.

I can put Naples yellow with flake white and any amount of alizarin crimson with Indian yellow, but without the missing bit I still have nothing. Oh, alright, I have a reasonable rendition of figure but thatís not what Iím trying to do. And the bit thatís missing is the bit that takes the time, the bit that requires prolonged input to exist, that needs to absorb the mood, that canít be bought in a tube, that needs to be teased, tempted and finally dragged screaming on to the panel. Thatís the bit that makes the picture.

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February 18, 2004

In the beginning was the drawing

It all starts with drawing. Exploring the form with charcoal. This is not a sketch, with all its connotations of slap-dash behaviour. No, this is glorious looking Ė with passion. This is looking and seeing. This is finding the shapes which will eventually communicate the magnificence of the figure. It is a getting-to-know process. Not a casual oh-look-thereís-one-of-those-people-images. This is finding the feelings and putting down the irrepressible.

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February 17, 2004

Whoa! too much too soon

Yes, load the paint on; yes, slap it about a bit; yes, feel the sumptuous thickly sticky nature of the oily medium. It feels good. No doubts there.

To get the successful rendering of a figure, however, there must needs be a degree of care taken. I want the colours to be bright and singular. By that I mean separate, not a mess of muddied mucky browns. So I use bold strokes of slightly differing tones and tints [as I have mentioned in these diaries before].

If I put too much oil paint on, too thickly [and enjoy myself too much] I can compromise the colours. The brush strokes start to pick up rogue colours. The tones become polluted, not clear, The form becomes indistinct, the tricks fail.

There are those who go for this effect on purpose, but their cause is not mine.

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February 12, 2004

shakespeare was unstuck

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted; and no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

sonnet 129, William Shakespeare

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unstuck window cleaning

The window cleaner had promised to come for three weeks, the windows were struggling with the concept of transparency and continued phone calls to him resulted in me hearing the ladders go up against the windows at the far end of the studio while I was painting the violinist.

She was naked, playing the violin [as you do] for a large panel. I mentioned that I thought the window cleaner was here, did she mind? We could stop if she wanted. She said, no it was okay, carry on. So, as the window cleaner worked his way down the eight windows of the studio, I applied more and more paint and the violinist bowed vigorously releasing Bach's beautiful music.

Eventually the ladder came up at the window next to us. The window cleanerís head appeared. He looked at me, he looked at the naked violinist, looked at me again and with a big grin gave me the thumbs up! That particular window is now very clean and he still hasn't called up to be paid.

All in a day's work for an unstuck model.

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February 11, 2004

blending versus brush strokes

To put a figure down on a panel, or a canvas for the matter of that, convincingly you first have to find the shape - the outline if you like; then you dig into the form, getting in amongst the shadows and highlights.

An arm will go from very dark shadow in the fold of the pit, to an extreme highlight on the face of the biceps. The one surface goes from dark to light without the aid of an edge [such is the nature of roundy things] and there are two ways of achieving this transition.

One way is blending, which in all its states is crap: blended whiskey, coffee blenders and blended woollens. Blending is a process which knocks out the joy of both materials giving you the pleasure of neither of them.

The other way is the trick, the magic of paint, laying up colours next to each other in subtle shades and tints to produce the effect of light and shade. This way gives the eye a job to do, both in the excitement of the colours and in the nature of the juxtaposition which demands that the eye finds the form in amongst the colours. Once found all is delight.

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February 10, 2004

vincent and the workmen

In the 1956 film, of Irving Stoneís novel, Lust for life, Kirk Douglas, playing Vincent van Gogh, in an attempt to get to grips with the passion of expression, cut his hair, then went into the market and rummaged through stalls until he found an old pair of boots, a pair of blue [or bleu seeing as it was supposed to be France] cotton workmanís trousers and a blue workmanís jacket. Donning this outfit, with his short hair, he felt he could now paint.

I very much doubt if your man actually did this, it was a fanciful artistic flight by Irving Stone to try and convey the complex thinking behind the creative expression of passion.

But feeling right is a key. You canít paint nine-to-five, Monday to Friday. And itís not about feeling Ďartyí in my view Ė quite the opposite. Vincent, we are led to believe by Irving, wanted to feel part of something, something other than what he was doing, one of the workers. He needed to feel that what he was doing was not that special perhaps. To take the preciousness away and replace it with commonplace.

Painting is different, it is not always helpful to feel different.

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February 09, 2004

enough so you know

Itís not enough to paint every now and then. Painting is not like riding a bike.
It isnít a learnt skill that once mastered will never go away. There are, indeed, skills to be learnt, about the use of colour and space and line, and the varying transparent qualities of the paint. But the essence of painting, the art, if you like, is a process involving time and feeling. The passion is not a learnt skill, it is an innate feeling, and to express it is a difficult business, so enough must be done to saturate the mind in the process and free the spirit.

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February 04, 2004


The diary entries for a particular day should be read from the bottom up, for them to make sense. In case youíre wondering.

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more an orchestra

The days of difficult painting have to be endured as all the marks are important, they all add to the depth and history of the picture. It isnít a formula, this painting lark, it isnít just about putting this colour here and there we are.

It is more like conducting the orchestra [I imagine]. All the colours do their job, they all have their notes and parts to play. But the painting is the whole containing all the colours and this is what has to be conducted, to bring out the light.

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it's not a letter

You donít start at the top: Dear So and So, and write on down to the love and kisses. A painting has a strange trajectory. A drawing can be analogous with a photograph developing in the tray: coming up gradually all over. But a painting, in oils, comes and goes.

Heavy work produces bold images which subside under subsequent painting. Text is applied and virtually destroyed. The painting takes on a life of its own and begins to dictate the level of painting.

And not all these stages are happy ones, the painting will go through hell [and back]. There will be days when everything seems lost; the marks are too weak or too strong, there is an ugliness about it. The brush strokes, that will eventually sing, lurk and murmur, muttering miserable comments and standing out like a thumb on a pianistís hand hit by a hammer.

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back among the primers

Six new big panels near completion: 1800mm x 1220mm [or 6 x 4 of the old numbers]. And, physical paradox notwithstanding: they make less space in the studio. Where am I going to put them all?

As the five coats of primer lay up on the panels they get whiter and whiter, more and more daunting. The touch me if you dare, pristine white stare. But, by the cunning introduction of not rubbing down between coats, some texture is building up on the surface.

What it is to have six big panels waiting. To have this potential stacked up around the studio. Itís not like the white paper before a classic novel; I have built these panels, I have already invested time and me into them. The paintings are already on the way. Unstoppable, unstuckable.

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