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September 30, 2005

That eyebrow thing

As I have mentioned on these pages, the Mona Lisa has no eyebrows. Which could have been fashion or just a personal thing, for either La Giaconda or indeed Leonardo hisself. But now I look closely at Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and find she too has no eyebrows.


The Mona Lisa was painted between 1503 and 1507, and the Girl with a Pearl Earring was painted over a hundred years later, between 1665 and 1667. So I guess we can rule out the fashion theory.

Now eyelashes I can understand, omitting eyelashes is a sensible move, tricky things eyelashes. Put them in so you can see them and the whole thing looks like a garish image that might be used to promote Barbie, so I tend to just darken the line of the eye and thicken it slightly,


as indeed it would appear Vermeer has done.

But eyebrows, hummm, I shall have to try that one…

Posted by john at 06:25 PM | Comments (0)

Still busy

I'm still busy doing other things. That is things other than painting. For instance building a room-set for a photographer.

Once all the bang and crash has stopped I'll be getting back to painting - I miss it. But a break is a good thing, it makes me hungry and stops me becoming complacent.

UPDATE: the pear [see below] went off and I shall have to contiinue, when I start to continue, from a photograph, hey ho.

Posted by john at 02:02 PM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2005

Long splash

Jim's workshop isn't so big, at least it isn't so big that he can store the pieces he’s making for his show in Perth:


And he sadly hasn't even got space for a forklift truck. So he's keeping his work here until they get shipped north in November.

While they’re here we take photographs of them for his catalogue, so I stack up the splash panels and pull down the white backdrop. Imagine my surprise this morning when I roll up the backdrop and find this delightful arrangement:


I feel a series of splashes coming on, a whole exhibition; a white gallery, a bucket of red paint… This thing could run and run.

Posted by john at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2005

Ta Raa!

All connected and working, just awaiting a lick of paint perhaps...


Now maybe I shall once more squeeze the tubes of the oil paint and set to on the pear.

I do enjoy the building thing, though. It's very positive. You saw some wood, you hammer in some nails and if all's well it doesn't fall down. So you know where you are. If it does fall down, you still know where you are, you just go back to the start and don’t collect £200.

You can spend all week painting a picture and at the end of the week still wonder exactly which way is up and does it work and is it significant etc…

But with the building thing everything moves forward. Sure, you need skills and knowledge.

The Knowledge according to Mr Dixon:

1 measure twice, cut once
2 never try and hit a moving object
3 keep your tools sharp

Posted by john at 04:57 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2005

New Kitchen

The timber gets nailed together - there's something pure about a nail - and the structure grows.


No water or power during this stage of the project, so I must needs get a move on...

Posted by john at 01:57 PM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2005

New hat

I've swapped the paint brushes and pencils for a hammer and saw, amongst other things, while I fiddle with the kitchen area of the studio.


So I'm wearing my builder's hat for a few days.

Posted by john at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

September 16, 2005

The rough and rocky road to art school

“But I can’t even draw a glass of water,” I said.

Mrs Robinson, my art teacher, had suggested I go to art college. “Art College – Me?” She smiled the knowing smile of an Art Teacher and pointed out that a glass of water was in fact a tricky thing to draw.


Grinder, pencil, 1973

I eventually ended up at Liverpool College of Art where I chose film and animation as my subject, primarily because it was taught by Ray Fields. Ray Fields was a truly inspirational tutor, who taught me that, as a visual person, I should be able to attempt anything from typography and illustration to portraiture. He didn’t limit his tutorials to film and animation – though he was passionate about these, and about colour, which he always pronounced “cal-er”. He said: bring me your paintings, bring me your sculpture, bring me your poems, bring me the Head of Alfredo Ga… [enough, Ed]. Bring your work to me in wheelbarrows.

His big thing, apart from colour, was DOING IT. “Less talk more DO”, he would say, marching into the studio on a morning; and proceed to talk for an hour. But he was so passionate about art that we listened like a parcel on Christmas Eve: rapt.

Posted by john at 05:28 PM | Comments (0)

September 14, 2005

A day in the studio

Here's the first stage of the Pear: the drawing. [scroll down for a photograph of the pear itself, it's not often you get to see a picture of the model in these diaries.] Everything starts with drawing, okay so maybe not everything, but an awful lot does. Drawing gives you the composition and the shape, it can give you form if you take it further but the paint will do that here:


And the cross moves into another state:


For previous states see: When the going gets weird... below

Posted by john at 06:57 PM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2005

Oh...and fruit

Did I mention the fruit?


I paint fruit too.


Now you can’t just paint any fruit – well you can obviously, but I can’t. Most fruit is off the board. Apples, well I might stretch to a ripe Cox’s Orange Pippin,


but the plain green Granny Smith


is tedious in the extreme, Oranges are, well, just orange. Bananas are merely props for comedy routines. Grapes have far too many roundy bits. Strawberries: too clichéd. Ditto raspberries. In fact most berries are either too complicated, too fussy or too messy. When painting a fruit it has to remain in a reasonable way for a week at least. Which leaves lemons and pears. And even then you’ve got to find the RIGHT lemon. Most lemons, sadly, don’t look like lemons [see splashes].

So I was in Sainsbury’s going through the lemon boxes, holding up each lemon and narrowing my eyes appraising its lemonness, when my somewhat odd behaviour was brought to the attention of a supervisor.

“May I help you?”
“Oh, yes – I want a lemon.”
“I see”
“Er, yes, but not just any lemon.”
“So it would seem”
“Ah, well, you see, I’m an artist – a painter, and I want to paint a lemon, but it’s got to look like a lemon and…”

I noticed that the supervisor was dialling numbers on her number dialling thing, and before you could say “Jaffa” the brown-shirted security guards were dragging me away. As the heels of my shoes described swirling black rubber arcs on the floor of the supermarket I screamed “I AM AN ARTIST!”


I was a bit more careful when choosing the pear I am about to embark on.


It’s a peach don’t you think? Now peaches, you see, are too furry by far and should be left to the blendy attentions of the pastel artists.

Posted by john at 07:52 PM | Comments (0)

Deliberate mistake?

And did you spot it?
Did you spot what's missing in the illustration below?
Yes, [shock horror] the Mona Lisa, La Gioconda, has no eyebrows.

Scholars have speculated over this for years, was it merely fashion? Or was it a cunning artistic ploy by your man Leonardo? Or perhaps he just had a thing about eyebrows. We shall never know. But it hasn't detracted from her perceived beauty over the years.

Furthermore, Leonardo kept this painting with him all his life, taking it with him where ever he went; and it's in Paris now because he took it with him when Francis I of France invited him to Amboise, where he stayed, in the manor house at Cloux, until his death in 1519.

Posted by john at 01:12 AM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2005

A beginning, a middle, an end

Looking at a painting is an active thing. A painting needs looking at, but not like television needs looking at. Television doesn’t need looking at, television is a passive thing. You look at it but don’t SEE it, you just recognise a series of moving images and are mesmerised by them. A painting on the other hand has to be worked at.

A painting demands that the audience looks at it, and worse it doesn’t DO anything. It is static, it doesn’t have a beginning, a middle, or an end. It just IS, and it continues to be whether you look at it or not.

Music is popular because it has a beginning, a middle and an end, and you know when it’s over and if you didn’t like it you can feel relief and if you did like it you can play it again. If you don’t like a picture it doesn’t go away, this makes a viewer nervous. Hanging a picture on your wall is a much bigger statement than putting some music on at a dinner party.

Books too, though you have to do a bit more work than music, have a fixed time element, a beginning, a middle and an end. Films, television, radio, music, theatre are all thought of as Entertainment not just Art. No painting has ever been classified as Entertainment..

“Ladeeeeees and Gen’lemen … for your pleasure here tonight…”


“We bring you, all the way from Paris, France … The Mona Lisa!”



Posted by john at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

Art and the mob

“The mob not only grabs hold of art without being entitled to do so, but it also enters the artist. It takes up residence inside the artist and smashes a few holes in the wall, windows to the outer world: the mob wants to see and be seen.

With sweaty fingers, that cloddish mob is tapping out something that rightfully belongs to her alone. Unmasked, unbidden, they sing along with the cantilenas. Moistening their forefingers, they pursue a theme, looking for the secondary theme, but failing to find it. And so, nodding their heads, they are content to rediscover and repeat the main theme. Recognizing it, they wag their tails. For most of them, the principle charm of art is to recognize something that they think they recognize.”

The Piano Teacher, Elfriede Jelinek, translated by Joachim Neugroschel

Posted by john at 11:28 AM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2005

When the going gets weird the weird turn pro.

So said the great gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson. Well I’m waiting and in the meantime I’ve been painting a cross.

First I did this:

Then in a moment of enlightenment, as if I was half way to Damascus, I changed it to this:


Sometimes I just don’t know how I contain myself.

normal service will be resumed as soon as possible

Posted by john at 06:33 PM | Comments (0)

September 06, 2005

Anything goes

In olden days a glimpse of stocking,
Was thought of as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.

Cole Porter

I have often talked about the difficulties of abstract painting now that, as above, anything goes.

We’ve had the blank white canvas exhibited


Robert Ryman

We’ve had the back of the canvas exhibited


Hell we’ve had whole exhibitions where there is no work in the gallery, just a white painted gallery. So the scope for abstract, conceptual, de-constructed post-modern art is infinite.

And figurative painting is supposed to be easier. Well let me tell you the choice, though not infinite, goes from one extreme to the other, from


Bouguereau’s Baigneuse
following the grand tradition of Classical Realism, to


Dubuffet’s Corps de Dame


de Kooning’s Woman I
at the other extreme, with Abstract Expressionism. Here, I should point out, Willem de Kooning is expressing the expressionist element of abstract expressionism more than the abstract elements. though he clearly isn't ignoring these.

So when I say I'm a figurative painter don't jump to hasty conclusions.

I don’t do any of these
And may I say – not in a shy way,
No, oh no not me,
I do it my way.

apologies to Revaux and Claude François, trans. Paul Anka


On the chair, sideways oil on panel 1200mm x 1200mm

any resemblance to Whistler's: Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, is purely coincidental, honest.


Posted by john at 09:01 PM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2005

the Art of selling

“People don’t buy pictures because they admire them, but because other people covet them.”

John Constable 1776 - 1837

Posted by john at 09:02 PM | Comments (0)


Spent the day fiddling with the thin ends of the splashes.


Now it needs another coat of looking at.

Posted by john at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

In the cafe

People have asked me what it said in the notebook on the cafe table.


Well it was a bit of a stream of consciousness. Normally I would fiddle with the stuff I scratch into notebooks, but, hell, these diaries are a sort of naked event so here it is in its raw state:

And by all accounts we
are but a couple of strands
of DNA different from grass.

And we are covered no longer
with hair, but with weeds we
hide behind trying to be part
of a smaller troop.


I’m 120 espressos from
the other side. This fragile
path we tread, as indestructible
as Dreadnoughts and Iron Clads,
where only a small fracture,
in the right place, can do for us,
or the Iron Clads.

So, on a deserted hillside in
the city centre, we must all
confront our fears and engage
our demons biting their
tongues in our teeth and not let go.

and on the next page:

So, now naked, we can only confront
the horror of the world –
naked in front of the iron clad tanks.


Coffee is a good toner

Posted by john at 12:01 AM | Comments (0)

September 04, 2005

The Big Splash

For those of you following these things, work progresses on the Scottish Commission.


I'm working up the four canvases separately now, having drawn the splash outline across them all together. The background is down and the first coat of red has been applied. More coats are required to make the red solid. Then work will be needed on the blots to make the whole thing seem to have been created by a bucket of red paint being thrown, from some distance, at the canvases.

Posted by john at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2005

Pleasing people

Joe likes the abstracts but doesn’t like the naked torsos.
Susan likes the naked torsos, but doesn’t think much of the text.
Helen doesn’t like the naked figures, but likes the portraits.
Colin really likes the text and cloth stuff.
Beth thinks the wild abstracts are great, but not the portraits.

You can please all the people some of the time,
and some of the people all of the time,
but you can’t please all the people all the time.

[with apologies to Mr Lincoln]

Posted by john at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

The trouble with not blowing eggs

see previous post

Society, with its sprawling messy interdependent complications, likes to pop us in boxes. Likes to label us. It is the job of an artist to stand outside society and reflect on its idiosyncrasies, inconsistencies and hypocrisies. We can’t do this if we’re in a box.

The pressures of society are immense. The pressure to conform is very strong. It’s hard to do something different, to stick your head above the lid of the box and maintain confidence and sang-froid, while all and sundry are hurling every manner of missile at you.

It is important to keep moving, keep avoiding the boxes and not spend all your life blowing eggs.

Posted by john at 10:08 PM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2005

On the studio door

As inscribed above the very Gates of Hell, as Dante reached the end of his descent, so too on the door of my studio:


Posted by john at 04:56 PM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2005

Splash update

Haven't forgotten the Splash picture, or The Scottish Commission as it will become known among the superstitious. I’ve worked out the scale, drawn up the outline on the four large canvases and am just chilling out for a while before the Big Red Paint Day.

In the meantime I’ve been preparing some grounds and surprising myself by painting a cross.


apologies to Malevich
I would like to point out at this juncture that, though I knew Malevich had painted a black cross on a white background, until I looked it up for this article, I didn't realise quite how close mine was to his.

Posted by john at 01:38 AM | Comments (0)