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July 31, 2005

White on White, part the second

Been getting in amongst the white paint of late. Preparing some big panels with gesso and cloth over painted text.

Itís all about figures still, except now the figures are wrapped in strips of cloth and projected text painted on them.


Then the figure is unwrapped and the cloths pasted to a panel with gesso.


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July 29, 2005

Good tools

ďPainting is quite hard enough without adding to your difficulties by keeping your tools in bad condition. You want good thick brushes that will hold the paint and that will resist in a sense the stroke on the canvas."

John Singer Sargent 1856 - 1925

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Paint Bully

"You do not want dabs of colour [on your palette] you want plenty of paint to paint with.Ē

John Singer Sargent 1856 - 1925

And so indeed I do. Itís no good fiddling about with thin smears of the stuff. I need to get a lot of paint on the panel, then start pushing it around.

This fine when the panel is relatively small [1000mm x 1000mm] but when they get bigger Ė for the standing figures, for instance, itís hard to get enough paint on and to be able to get around the panel with the brushes.

The dynamics of the colours change as the quantities get bigger. What works with small amounts of paint doesnít always work with large amounts.

Itís a steep learning curve.

standing man.jpg

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July 27, 2005

Different states

The feeling
The idea
The preparation
The exploration
The layout
The tryout
The starting
The waiting
The fear
The doubt
The worry
The letting go
The big push
The fiddling
The looking
The balance

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July 25, 2005

Something wrong with the mouth

Apparently there are more muscles concentrated around the mouth than anywhere else. This gives us both the wonderful flexibility of expression and the great difficulty of painting it.

Some of the muscles of the mouth:

Levator Labii Superioris
Depressor Labii Inferioris
Zygomaticus Minor
Zygomaticus Major
Orbicularis Oris
Depressor Anguli Oris
Levator Anguli Oris
Depressor Septi

and here they all are, arranged in order:


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When our Tracey walked back into her bedroom from a long-needed piss, after spending nearly two weeks in bed with fags and vodka, she saw her bed, crumpled sheets and accompanying rubbish as a significant collection of objects, documenting an experience, that warranted exposure and exhibition. The rest, as they say is history.

She had a clear intention [the jury is still out on what that was exactly, but she must have felt fairly clear about it whatever it was] and she felt that her intention would be expressed by merely removing her things into a gallery. As I said below this was done in 1913, by Marcel Duchamp.

I believe that documenting an experience alone is not art, itís documentary. Art has, for the most part, always been spectacular, awe-inspiring and dynamic, drawing the viewer in to see a deeper purpose perhaps, or just to enjoy the splendour of the artefact.

Painting must attract as well as shock, be humorous as well as serious, be light and dark. Like in other media, merely documenting the mundane gets us nowhere.

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July 24, 2005

A mystery

The trick and the reality. Painting is a trick: depicting something in paint, making a copy of something, deceiving the eye. But it is also reality: a painting exists in its own right, it is a real object. It is a real thing containing an unreal thing. Although the paint, the brush strokes and the surface are real, the notion that they carry is implied. The subtle arrangement of colours on the surface leads people to imagine it is something other than paint on panel.

Some people, like Chuck Close, take this to extremes in photo-realism. But then they are recreating a photograph in paint not the real thing [although a photograph is clearly a real object in itself - we could get stuck here]. Sculptors can perhaps get closest to reality with three dimensional models and Ron Mueck gets even closer using resin, silicon and real hair. And as early as 1913 Marcel Duchamp exhibited reality as art when he placed a real bicycle wheel on a real stool. [And many have copied him ever since.]

But painting is still a mystery, why does a good painting hold a fascination over and above the mere representation of something? I feel itís all to do with the intention of the artist.

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July 21, 2005

The tin oí paint


There can be few better things than opening a new tin of paint, picking up a large spatula and scooping out a thick dollop of gorgeousness. The smell of the linseed oil, the sound of the schticking schlurping sucking paint as I mix it across the palette, the pure intensity of colour. And the consistency: like butter-cream.

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July 20, 2005

Or maybeÖ

Öitís because weíre all hurtling, at incomprehensible speeds, towards the catastrophic edge of the universe, and weíre not quite sure, yet, whether weíll reach a point where weíll start collapsing again, and generally slowing down [catastrophically], or carry on accelerating; expanding into a nothingness known only to poets and astro-physicists.


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Maybe itís just meÖ

But the number of days necessary to get to the point where painting is possible is directly proportional to the amount of crap in my head. I have to spend days cleaning out all this stuff; days spent making coffee and moving things around the studio. Maybe the time is used up until there is nothing more left to do except paint. I donít know.

I donít know why some days I paint. Well, I do know why some days I paint. What I donít know is why I paint in the first place. Itís got something to do with something Ė but Iíve forgotten.

I get around to painting by the proven method of Sneaking Up On It. For those of you for whom this phrase means nought I suggest you attend my talk: Sneaking up on Drawing, queues now forming at a disused cinema near youÖ

I sneak up on myself by sneakily priming a panel, preferably an old panel. Then sneakily putting the outline of an image on it. All this is non-committal, non-pretentious, sneaky, matter-of-fact stuff which in no way at any time purports to me being an artist or artistic. Then I sort of think: hey, Iíll just put a bit of this here and a bit of that there and oh fuck Iím painting againÖ

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July 19, 2005

Perhaps I should explain

Wet on wet: not, as it may at first appear, some required sexual technique, but a matter of painting a whole picture in one go, applying fresh wet paint onto and beside existing wet paint. You need big brushes and a bold attitude. Also called wet in wet, or sometimes wet into wet.

ďThe technique tends to inhibit precise outlines and to limit the painterís capacity for detail, so paintings carried out entirely in this manner tend to be broad in their handling.Ē

Jonathan Stephenson, The Materials and Techniques of Painting, Thames and Hudson. 1989.

However it is the most deliciously direct way of using good oil paint. It is not a laboured, considered, let's wait for it to dry and apply a series of carefully calculated glazes over a series of subtle tones, sort of painting. Itís an all right, okay, here we go, non-stop, event, that once started cannot be stopped until all is done.

As I explained, the hard work is in the preparation, becoming totally familiar with the subject before one glorious day amongst the sticky stuff. Make sure you have enough paint out and there is some sun-thickened linseed oil around to make things generally more slippery and soft, which sounds good in many ways - yours and mine.

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July 18, 2005

wet on wet

In the beginning is the idea. Then you wait for the feelings to catch up and make sense of the idea. Then you work it. Drawings, photographs, and more drawings.

Then you forget it. You sit around reading, you paint other pictures, you refurbish flats in Leeds. But the idea is still there; you determine to do it. You will do it. But you donít. You do other work, you take photographs of other things, you draw other heads, you paint other pictures. You take more photographs of your idea.

It is terrifying, it canít be done. There is nothing there. The idea was stupid. You leave it again. But then one day, as you work over an old panel, you think of the idea and the drawings and the photographs and you think, well whatthehell.

So you dollop a lot of paint out, you break down some big brushes. Itís okay, because it canít be done. Youíre not going to do it, youíre just going to put a bit of paint on in a few places, roughly corresponding to light and dark bits.

Then something happens. It starts to work, the wet paint creates a life of its own and you canít stop, big brushes small brushes, Transparent Red Oxide, Light Red new colours arrive mysteriously on the palette [not that mysteriously obviously, you squeeze them out of a tube] and add to the mix. And before you know it, fuck me, thereís a painting on the easel.


large head, oil on panel, 1060mm x 1060mm

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en plein air

When the sun shines like it is this morning, I wish I was back in my old studio in Halifax. It was in the country and had a large area outside where, today, I would strip off my shirt and feel the sun on my back while I cut wood, or moved big stones around.

Here all I have is the Wakefield Road, which doesnít hold the same romantic associations, and is dangerously full of big trucks taking hardcore to the landfill site at Mount Zion.

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July 16, 2005

white on white

To lose the objectivity, stay in the white, white on white, and play in the shadows.


But keep the impression, keep the traces of the subject, the whiff, the blurr, the stain. Keep the essence.

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July 15, 2005

Floating in the white bit

In the beginning there was nothing. Although if you believe the ex-director of the CERN particle physics laboratory in Switzerland there were 27 fields of uncertainty.

Creativity starts with nothing. The blank canvas. A white space. An absence of content, upon which or in which anything can occur: a group of colours, a collection of musical notes, a series of words. All of which will add up to some form of something that wasnít there before. Even if itís a copy of something that was there before, the copy has never existed before.

So this creativity thing, floating about in the white bit, is a heady business. When you start with nothing and can do anything, itís hard to identify what it is exactly you want to do. Everything has to come from a decision. The brain makes these decisions, and, as I mentioned below, the brain is not always brilliant at making decisions which go against convention. The danger therefore is that an original idea or strong feeling will become diluted as itís brought into being.

As an artist I have to be strong and have the courage to do what I feel. Not easy in the present socio-economic climate, it has to be said.

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Waves of why

The ideas float about, trying to attach themselves to a rational part of the brain which can then bring them into being through a series of actions. And there lies part of the problem: they should be trying to attach themselves to irrational parts of the brain. Ideas really donít know whatís best for them. Mind you most of the brain doesnít like them either, they upset the status quo, they produce unnecessary upset. Ideas are nothing but trouble.

So the first thing the brain does, when an idea gets caught up on some rational synapse, is ask WHY? Well of course there is no rational explanation available, so the idea, all too often, gets cast off to drift ever deeper into a dark cranial abyss.

Tricky things to contain, ideas.

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July 14, 2005

Different things

There is a prerequisite these days for a fellow to specialise and just do the one thing. You become known for this one thing and if youíre lucky, work hard and wear the right socks success can follow.

Thatís how it goes, thatís how you were taught, work hard, learn how to do something well, and the world is your oyster. But the creative mind does not easily succumb to these platitudes. You want to explore, try new things.

But change is not always welcome. Things can get ugly if you start doing different things.

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July 12, 2005

Two days later...

The drawings furnish the detail for the form and the paint supplies the means to describe it.


By cleverly arranging the colours next to each other on the surface, the portrait of Mr and Mrs Jones nears completion - after nearly two years. During which time it has laid abandoned in the studio, subject at one point to a terrible accident with the dregs of the turps tin, which managed to obliterate most of the picture. Skilful use of the scraping tool salvaged the image and painting continued at the rate of an ice-age.

Not that itís taken a long timeÖ but Mr and Mrs Jones could have evolved into super-intelligent etherial beings during the painting of their portrait [they didnít]. Now Iím on the home strait, the end is in sight. A good coat of looking at, something rude on Mr Jonesí tee-shirt and BINGO! Finished.

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This heat makes remaining unsticky tricky.

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July 11, 2005

ANOTHER DAY ANOTHER DOLLAR [or not as the case may be]

Itís on with the kettle,
out with the coffee,
put up the studies of the portrait


kick off my shoes,
select some music I might find inspiring,
choose some brushes,
squeeze out the paint,
wheel over the easel,
lift up the panel,
change the [totally uninspiring] music,
grab a handful of cashew nuts,
walk around trying to find the opening,
trying to find the state of possibility,
the tiny crack in the fabric of spacetime,
that allows me to travel to an alternate universe,
wake up,
smell the coffee
and start looking to see the light and dark bits,
that describe the faces,
of the people Iím painting.

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July 10, 2005

The known and the unknown

You learn things as you go along. Which is great for avoiding buses on busy roads, and generally not sticking your hand in the fire. But it also stops growth. It shuts down feelings by limiting experience.

The artist has to find a way to bypass the learning process so they can see things new every time. They have to push experience so they can become aware of realities that we have been blinded to by the learning process.

One and one equals two, they said, and that was that. No need to go there again, no need to question anything. [Until you start doing unimaginable mathematics at Cambridge using arrows and strange cabalistic symbols, Adrian.]

ďI went to Las Vegas, got into a long argument with the man at the roulette wheel over what I considered an odd numberĒ Steve Wright, comedian.

Humour can help spill a bit of light into the darkened corners, but the artist must rip the walls down and expose this damn darkness to their full blazing stare. And thatís not easy, because 3.5 million years of evolution have created one damn clever mammal.

The artist must leave the known and get in amongst the unknown. And, like an unknown tributary of an Amazonian river, it can be dangerous going down there.

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July 08, 2005

Days of bleak wonder

And then nothing happens
for two days.
I sit in the armchair,
bereft of ideas and inspiration.


Life outside the studio can have
A profound effect on my work.
For, as I have mentioned before,
It isnít just a job.

I can paint passion
But I canít paint loss.

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July 06, 2005

'tis me!

and this is what I look like when I'm painting, apparently:


of course I think I look serene and seraphic and generally appealing, but Tim's camera doesn't lie.

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July 05, 2005


For those who pay attention, and generally keep up to speed with my main site, you'll have seen some photographs of me painting. Photographer Tim Johnstone is doing a documentary on my work, and we did another session today.

I set up a panel with a light ground and some lettering, then attempt to paint a figure in one sitting while Tim takes photographs. It worked well with the portrait a couple of weeks ago:


and today was a reclining figure:


Itís interesting having another dynamic in the studio, and it makes me look at my painting in a more direct way. I can see why people used to paint with musicians and jugglers in the studio. The music now comes from the big G4 via the Cornflake Shop, the juggling I'll leave to Jim, mind you he'd better practise some more or he'll have the paint on the floor.

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A recipe

To make a painting take:

2 windows of good north light
1 wheely easel
4 dollops of oily paint
1 inspiring model
1 large bit of wood
half a tin of white primer
assorted large brushes
a box of experience
a pinch of loud music

first cover the wood with the primer, then mix all the paints together well and spread onto the wood with the brushes, leave in a warm studio for around six weeks for the painting to appear.

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two figures


two paintings leaning against the studio wall, 1980mm tall
one with clothes on, one with nothing on at all

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July 04, 2005

Order of income

This will be hotly contested by those concerned,
however, this is how I see it:


1. Musician
2. Writer
3. Sculptor [automata]
4. Sculptor [static]
5. Beggarman
6. Thief
7. Painter

Just a whim, you know, nothing to grouse about
[you bastards]

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This damn do

You walk up the stairs in the morning and put the key in the lock of your cell. You draw the door back and enter. Thereís no-one there to say gímorning, thereís no toasted teacake because I got rid of the toasted teacakers. You switch on the grey machines and punch up the daily dialy-boxes and see if anyoneís fishing. You flick the kettle on and make a mug of the black stuff. You rattle around. You work at working. There is no-one to tell you to work, there is no-one expecting you to work. There is no-one who cares one fucking fig whether you work or not.

Only you. Only you drive yourself, only you pick up the pen or the brush or the hammer, only you make the moves to make the money to buy the food to stay alive. Why?

Salford Van Hire call it Self-drive, but it isn't, you're on you're own, you're the one who has to grab the wheel and guide the fucker round the roads..

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Sometimes inspiration isnít enough. When grey skies overhang a cold Monday morning and soft rain falls onto wet pavements it is necessary for more drastic action to be brought into play, notably a kick up the arse:


by the way - donít try this at home.

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July 02, 2005

Murky Darkness

The problem with going into the Murky Darkness [see below] is that it is, well, murky and dark, and hard to tell which way is up and generally what direction to go in.

So there will inevitably be a lot of banging of the head and scraping of shins.

Wrong directions will be taken, strange creatures will be met. Shocking images may well transpire.

Murky Darkness carries a Government Health Warning, but it is only by going into the black that you can find the truth. [honest]


Dixon descending into the darkness
Foussoubie System, South of France
Photo: JC

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What to paint, oh dear

carrying on from belowÖ

Should I be painting what I want, or what I think I want; or should I, as one friend put it: paint what other people want Ė for the money?

Well, I canít do it just for money - as my bank account will testify. I think itís necessary to want something other than what you do, to want something better or even just different, as this will enable you to grow.

Nothing comes of nothing.

I will go with the truth of it
I will go down the line
Along the edge
Into the murky darkness

Though this means making some radical and, as some would say today, random, departures from my accepted practices.

But whathehell.

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July 01, 2005

wheat and chaff

I have to sort out the good ideas from the bad. Things in the mind can seem so much better than the actuality.

It is hard to identify and appreciate what it is I do. What other people do always seems so much more exciting and interesting than what I do. So I imagine interesting and exciting things in my head, to be more like them.

But this is what I do:


So I guess Iíd better just get used to it.

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