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March 30, 2005


For years Iíve wanted to paint a walking figure. I started by wanting to paint a standing figure, and Iím getting there with that; but a walking figure is harder. To get the sense of movement and power is difficult.

Walking is about being out of balance. Standing is in balance, everything is in equilibrium. To start walking you must move out of that equilibrium and start to fall; then the leg goes out, the fall is stopped and [hey] youíve moved forward a bit. Walking is falling and stopping, falling and stopping, in balance out of balance.

The figure looks awkward for most of the walking movement. Iím trying to catch just the beginning or end of the out of balance bit.


Eventually Iíll paint a running figure,
but I donít want to run before I can walk.

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March 27, 2005

not all painting

It's not all painting. The frustrations of the visual battle to get down what I feel is often lost and I have to resort to other means to try and express my feelings. I write a lot, and my friend Rachel said I should write three sides of A4 every morning. So I did and this is the result:


A long scribble with a thick pencil.

If you can't read it try this:


Still can't read it? Well, I guess, that's all part of the parcel. But I said it all and felt better and it cleared the way for some more painting.

I recommend Rachel's Remedy: write out three sides of A4 every morning - say all you feel.

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March 25, 2005

life in the studio

A busy week painting and drawing; working on exisiting pieces and starting new ones. I work on several pictures at once, so that none get 'flat'. Work too long on a piece and it will lose its energy.

I'm working on about eight pictures at the moment, plus some illustrations for a book on Dick Turpin [which is another story for another time]. More about the pictures I'm working here.


It can be frustrating as the models come and go and I want to paint more and more of each of them. But it's better to have too much work and too many ideas than not enough of either, I guess.

The more I paint the more I want to paint. When I am with oil-struck brushes in hand, looking at the play of light on a figure, I see more and more and feel like I am flying and could paint for ever. The truth is I get exhausted, and when the model's gone I usually collapse in the big chair and sleep for 25 minutes.


No more - just twenty five minutes.

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March 22, 2005

cutting the mustard

As I get close to the edge I am letting go. My rational brain tells me to keep well away from the edge. Itís not safe! You may fall! My emotionally inquisitive brain tells me to go further, to get as close as I can to the edge, regardless of the dangers. Itís a balance between skill and passion.

Like when you lean back on a bar stool, balancing on the back legs, and sway slightly back and forth then suddenly missing a beat and dropping and catching yourself before you fall. I donít want a drawing to look Ďperfectí or Ďfinishedí, I want it to look like it might not work, I want it to look messy, I want it to be slightly flawed, I want it to have life.


Apollinaire said
ďCome to the edgeĒ
ďIt is too highĒ
ďCome to the edgeĒ
ďWe might fallĒ
ďCome to the edgeĒ
And they came
And he pushed them
And they flew


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March 20, 2005

cutting the edge

Not enough to look and see, and draw [though thatís a whole good thing in itself] I want more. I want to cut the edge. I want to get as close as I can to the feelings I have and then, surrounded and saturated by them, make marks. And only then, I think, will the marks be sound.


Itís not easy, and often confusing for the model, but itís about getting close to the edge of physicality. I want to get close to the real thing, a real physicality, a presence. Not just an impression, not just dressing up.

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March 18, 2005

Collections of significant stuff

A lot of art these days consists of collections of stuff that the artist considers is somehow significant.

Time was, artists would create pictures of things they thought were significant. Or, long times ago, that the church thought were significant. Things would be collected together and assembled into a composition on a canvas.

Then artists started collecting things together and putting them into boxes. Now they just collect things together and leave them on the gallery floor. Presumably cleaned up after the show.

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The racks

Seldom seen often talked about.


This is where the paintings go to vout for a while. Where they go to rest when I've painted them. Where I leave them, abandoned, for weeks on end, then pull one out and look at it, and see what needs to be done.

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March 15, 2005

angry marks


Now sometimes I make angry marks, oh yes, which, at the time, serve to obliterate something I think is utterly bad; but which subsequently serve to give the picture a certain energy and passion. Again I am happy to say: ďthis is a painting,Ē in a de-constructuralist way. I donít want to hide the tricks under a whole heap of subtle subterfuge.

Let the brush strokes act as signifiers, I say!

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nervous marks

ďYou can always tell a great painting because when you get close there are all these nervous marks.Ē Damien Hirst quoted in The Times yesterday.


I certainly feel a sense of trepidation when setting off on the long journey of a painting. But when Iím actually making the marks I canít say I feel nervous. I am searching for a means to convey what Iím seeing. I am trying to do something, not just pushing paint. When you try you donít always succeed and the record of my success and failure is in the painting.

A great painting has nervous marks because a great painting is one that is expressing an emotion, and itís not an easy feat.

Incidentally Damien Hirst went to school with Daphne Franks' brother.

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March 12, 2005

Not painting a portrait

Painting a portrait is difficult. Itís an achievement arranging a series of colours and tones on a panel and have it look like a face. To make it look like someone in particular [the sitter, ideally] is even more tricky.


But if you can arrange a series of colours and tones on a panel such that it doesnít look like the sitter, thatís good going. Itís a positive thing in itself: to definitely not look like someone in particular, the mere fact that the viewer can say it doesnít look like Holly is a start.

All I need to do then is move the colours and tones around a bit until it does look like Holly. The downside of this argument is that there are considerably more faces that donít look like Holly. So statistically Iím bound to spend a long time with a painting that doesnít look like the sitter.

ďAnd I havenít sent the two Messengers, either. Theyíre both gone into town. Just look along the road, and tell me if you can see either of them.Ē
ďI see nobody on the road,Ē said Alice.
ďI only wish I had such eyes,Ē the King remarked in a fretful tone. ďTo be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too!Ē

Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there.
by Lewis Carroll

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March 10, 2005

A physical thing

It is a physical thing. Itís about the way I stand, what I wear and, perhaps understandably, how I feel. There is, when the time is right Ė when everything is pointing in the right direction [when Godís telescope is finally in focus] an incredibly powerful energy about this painting lark.

Itís about being there, itís about skin and bone, itís about flesh and blood. Itís the actuality of life, not about make-up or newspapers or photographs of moments when you arenít really who you are but someone between two points of existence.

Itís not about looking at films about climbing but about tearing the skin on your knuckles. Itís not drawing cats. Itís about brushing an elephantís toe nails and respecting the enormous weight of physical presence that could snuff you out in a blink or suck the fingers off your hand as you feed her a carrot. Itís about red pants not about baseball bats.

And here, in the studio, itís a physical thing. The painting is physical, the slapping on of oil paint, the mixing of paint, the standing figure, standing there, for me to paint. How amazingly glorious.

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March 08, 2005

passion or skill?

Which is the more important, passion or skill? Undoubtedly skill with no passion is just pushing paint. But passion without the skill to communicate it can be just as pointless. As with everything on-board Spaceship Earth, itís a balance.

I need skill because my passion for the body needs skill to communicate what I feel. I donít feel messy and scratchy and woolly about the body. I feel sublimely seduced by its gentle form and powerful presence; and to get that down on a panel in paint or on paper with charcoal demands a degree of skill.

I admit that too much skill can stifle the passion, and I have to let go often. Drawing in particular I can be led down the path of objectivity all too easily. So instead of an HB pencil all pointy-sharp and accurate I go for the charcoal which serves to confound the parts of the brain that would wish to label everything as fixed and generally nail the lid shut.

Choose your medium wisely, let your skill express your passion.

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March 04, 2005

nearly getting there

But like the ever receding summit of a hard mountain, the nearer I get to feeling Iím getting somewhere the further there seems to go to get there. Though I donít seem to lose the hope that I will get there in the end. Where there is I donít know, itís just a feeling I have in my bones.

To continue the mountaineering metaphor for a moment, you canít climb a mountain by standing still, nor is the direct route always the easiest - I know Iíve tried. You just have to keep going, along whatever way presents itself. So Iíll just keep on doing what Iím doing and, like the man whoís just bitten his tongue, you canít say fairer than that then.

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March 03, 2005

Sol LeWitt's drawing

Buried somewhere in the juicy heart of Alan Fletcher's fantastic book "The Art Of Looking Sideways" is a story about Sol LeWitt selling, for tens of thousands of dollars, at an auction in New York, the right for the purchaser to draw 11,000 pencil lines on a wall. It would be a Sol LeWitt work, but Sol LeWitt didn't do it, he just had the idea and sold that. Nice work if you can get it. Mind you Bridget Riley didn't paint a lot of her paintings, and as for Titian - well! He had a studio full of assistants doing drapery and grass and clouds and such. Your man often only did hands and faces.

I can talk, as I write, Rosie, my studio assistant is busy painting for me:


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What Jim Dine does with his own drawings

If Jim Dine does a good drawing he'll rub it out, on the pretext that if he's done it well the first time he'll do it better the second. Jim Dine is clearly a brave man and extremely talented - this helps.

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what rauschenberg did to a de kooning drawing

Rubbed it out.

In 1953 Robert Rauschenberg bought a Williem De Kooning drawing, rubbed it out and sold it as his own work entitled "Erased De Kooning Drawing" - eat your heart out Tracey and Co.

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What blake said about constableís drawing

On seeing a drawing of an avenue of trees by Constable, Blake said:
ďWhy, this is not drawing, but inspiration!Ē
Constable replied:
ďI never knew it before; I meant it for drawing.Ē

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March 02, 2005


"Drawing is the true test of art - it is the ultimate mystery. To render an object in pencil is still a wonder to behold"
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

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There is no substitute, when it comes to training the eye to see, for drawing. Looking, and putting down marks that not only correspond to the collection of features in front of me, but also marks that have a lightness of touch and singularity of purpose.


The marks shouldnít overpower the image, the marks shouldnít dominate. The image is the thing. Thatís not to say I want to lose the marks altogether, because I donít. I want the marks of the charcoal to be there just as I want the brush strokes to be there. I donít want to pretend it isnít a drawing. Itís the way the marks are made that give the drawing life.


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