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April 22, 2004

romantic dreams

"I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream of something that never was, never will be - in a light better than any light that ever shone - in a land no one can define or remember, only desire - and from the forms divinely beautiful."

Sir Edward Burne-Jones

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April 20, 2004

not painting

At no point do you actually paint a picture.

You might sit [right down] and write a letter. Dear Lemuel … you begin, and you continue to the bottom … yours… But a painting is not like that. A painting is more like a photograph developing in a tray of hypo [in the daze when photographs came about by liquid chemical intervention]. A painting, and a drawing, for the matter of that, comes about gradually, all over.

The first marks go down, the passion, the intent, the feeling of the broad stroke – you aren’t painting a picture. Then the body colour goes on, big brushes, bold marks, general colours approaching some form – you aren’t painting a picture. More detailed marks go down, the colours become more specific, they get closer in tone, they end up in more particular places – but you aren’t painting a picture. You look and look and look at the picture – you clearly aren’t painting a picture. You change a few colours, the tones, the tints, the lines; you add this and that, and obscure this bit just here – you aren’t painting a picture.

It reaches a point where you feel you have expressed something, and that the marks are such that they describe some emotion, some story, some history, the painting exists; and at no point have you actually painted a picture.

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April 16, 2004

Oil painting

“The special qualities of oil painting lent themselves to a special system of conventions for representing the visible. The sum total of these conventions is the way of seeing invented by oil painting. It is usually said that the oil painting in its frame is like an imaginary window open on to the world... [but] it is not so much a framed window open on the world as a safe let into the wall, a safe in which the visible has been deposited.”

John Berger, “Ways of Seeing”, BBC/Penguin Books 1972

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April 14, 2004

just do it

Got up early, pulled on my painter's weeds, opened the tubes and got in amongst the oil paint, without leaving time to ask myself any of the dubious questions of why and how.

Just doing it.

To achieve the sense of history [which can subsequently be hidden in a cunning and dark manner] marks must be made and paint applied for a reason; a reason other than just plain picture making.

It’s not about sitting down and trying to make a picture, it’s not about colouring in – "today I’ll do it green". It’s about a struggle to put down passion, it’s about a struggle to stand on the desk and shout out loud, screaming down the building, shaking up the status quo, getting enough stuff on the panel to allow the image to live in an alien world of two dimensions, and challenge the viewer to look and look again [and look away even].

It is difficult to get the passion down, to focus it enough to fit into a system of tricks and colour and sticky paint, so that feelings might be felt. But it is the trying that is the important thing, the trying.

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April 13, 2004

the hard marks

The panel’s rough and worked over, the figure is drawn in, the dark is behind the edges, waiting to be light.

Now the paint must needs be applied to the figure itself. And this is the hard bit, these are the hard marks, these are the marks that give life, they are either flat or dynamic, and as yet I haven’t worked out how either come about – it’s a lottery.

I load the palette with the same colours,
get the white to the right consistency,
look at the drawings,
look at the reference,
look at the figure,
feel the flesh over the muscles,
feel the weight of the figure
the solid stance
the firm footed adherence to the ground
by cunning trickery
try to convey this in the insubstantial medium that is paint
and sometimes the trick works.

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April 11, 2004

hidden history

Painting is just hidden history.

First I make marks to create history.
Then I make marks to hide history.

In this way I create hidden history.

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April 10, 2004

maintaining the thought

I have a thought, it is complete, all that remains is to execute it.

This might take some time.

Preparation must needs be put in place; surfaces worked on, composition assessed, materials chosen [dancers found, camera crew hired]. Throughout this the thought must be maintained, the original impulse, the first passion that created the idea.

To have the thought in the first place I have to be receptive to what is around me. Then I have to switch off a bit, to maintain the thought. That is where the studio comes in, it must a place of work, as well as a place of inspiration – two purposes, one space. If I am getting new thoughts as I’m working on the first thought then nothing gets done, but if I shut down the receptors completely then only blandness ensues.

A dilemma: an artist needs to be sensitive enough to have the thought, then practical enough to produce it. A trilemma, if the truth be known: sensitive enough to have the thought, practical enough to produce it, then thick-skinned enough to sell it.

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April 04, 2004

symbols and motifs

An artist can become fixated by certain symbols and motifs which will reoccur in their work time after time. The symbols are not always easy to interpret, even for the artist. You can just simply get a feeling for something, something that seems significant about a certain object or motif. Then there is a degree of security to be had in using it, it becomes an old friend. When struggling with the early tentative marks of a painting it is comforting to emblazon the panel with a familiar image.

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