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October 31, 2005

Waiting For Godot

Est-ce que jíai dormi, pendant que les autres souffraient?
Est-ce que je dors en ce moment?
Demain, quand je croirai me rťveiller, que dirai-je de cette journťe?
Quíavec Estragon mon ami, ŗ cet endroit, jusquíŗ la tombťe de la nuit, jíai attendu Godot?
Que Pozzo est passť, avec son porteur, et quíil nous a parlť?
Sans doute.
Mais dans tout cela quíy aura-t-il de vrai?


Was I sleeping, while the others suffered?
Am I sleeping now?
Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today?
That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot?
That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us?
But in all that what truth will there be?

Samuel Beckett

Posted by john at 02:18 PM | Comments (0)

October 30, 2005

Not cycling

After tottering round the yard for a few weeks, with the training-wheels stopping rapid collision with the hard stones, I learnt to ride a bike.


I would ride my bike up and down the lane behind our house every day in the summer. As I grew I progressed to a racing bike and I would ride further afield, through the village and over the hill, to see my friend Michael Chatterton.

At college I didnít ride a bike for four years, then in Leeds, as a photographer, I didnít ride a bike for a further two years. On my subsequent arrival in France I rented a bike, sat astride it and rode off, on the wrong side of the road, without a worry.

Painting is not like riding a bike. If you donít do it for a while you forget.

This isnít always a bad thing. A break enables you to reassess your values, consider what it is you are doing, and even perhaps why you are doing it. But it can be frustrating, as I have found today, when you canít remember how you did it.

Posted by john at 10:11 PM | Comments (0)


A long look at the old pictures.

Then clean up the palette a bit, get more brushes wet, and the old tones creep back into the picture.

The one thing you forget, when you havenít painted for a while, is that not much happens first time round. The first layer of paint always looks bland and flat, it takes more layers, more paint, more looking, to get the richness and depth.


The key: donít stop, donít give up. If it is isnít working, keep going, make it work. On and on and on and on, again and again and again.

Posted by john at 08:17 PM | Comments (0)

The struggle

Back in the saddle and itís sore, I feel Iíve forgotten all I knew. I squeeze familiar tubes and put the same colours on the palette that I have in the past. [Flake White, Naples Yellow, Indian Yellow, Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Ivory Black] but they donít seem to mix up the tones they used to. The richness has gone somewhere.

So I look back at old pictures, I pull a few panels from the racks and stand them round the studio. This helps to convince me that I can do it and to remind myself of the colours I want.

Posted by john at 06:09 PM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2005

Now you see it - now you don't

Or rather vice versa.

You may, or may not, see a Technorati logo on the right, under the ARCHIVES, above the LINKS. If you can see it you may be browsing with Internet Explorer or any of a number of proprietary browsers, cyber spectacles or virtual sextants. If you can't see it you may be sifting these pages through Safari, and you may have to delete your cache file - I know, I did.

Not before I'd re-loaded the whole Main Index Template thing a few times; re-started, re-booted, re-shod and generally smarted up the cuffs; changed my coffee to tea, my brushes to rollers and re-set my teeth, my table and my alarm clock.

Computers - doncha luv 'em?

see ironic and coincidental companion article: The Morris 1000, the G5 and the spent match

Posted by john at 02:01 AM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2005

LOOK! No hands

Amongst the many things I do to keep any one of several predatory animals of North America and Eurasia [that are related to the dog and hunt in packs] from the movable barrier used to open and close the entrance to a building, room or vehicle, there is: the illustration.


This, the most recent, a No-Hands Colon Treatment, is part of a series I have done for Gerry at No-Hands Massage.

Posted by john at 10:24 PM | Comments (1)

Wrapped splash

Quite a good moment Ė when the pictures are deemed finished and the bubble-wrap comes out.


The Scottish Commission is complete and is ready to be shipped up North oí the Border. Iíll be in Glasgow at the beginning of November, hammer in hand with spirit level and nails in attendance, installing the piece.

Posted by john at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2005

What is it about the body that I crave?

What is it that drives me to paint?
What is it I havenít found yet?

thinking time between transferring a drawing to the panel and starting on the underpainting

Some would say I wonít know till I find it, but thatís a bit like saying turn right at the last set of traffic lights. Itís alright when you know the turning Ė you know that theyíre the last lights, but on the first journey, well, thereís no knowing. There was a message on a blackboard on Maidstone station in 1986 ďTHE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON WONíT BE LEAVINGĒ which throws us into a semantic head spin and swerves dangerously close to temporal physics [but a long way away from why I paint which is where, if you remember, we came in.]

Suzie Mackenzie talks to Jenny Saville in the Guardian: ďWhat interests her is wherever the body breaks open - the genitalia - and, most particularly of course, the head, the face and all its openings.Ē Jenny Saville is a painter of the body and without a doubt a very good one. She talks with confidence about what she is doing, or at least the direction sheís heading in.

Jenny Saville, Reverse, 2134mm x 2438mm 2002-2003

I have images in my head, of paintings I want to paint. But they are nothing like the images that appear on the panels after Iíve set about them with the big brushes and oileo. Odd that.

I love the body, the whole figure in all its wonder. And itís easy to get pretentious when waxing lyrical. I can best express it in paint. Itís about the glory of laying up a few colours together which give me the feeling of form. Itís about the shape and form of the body and about the colour and texture of the oil paint.

underpainting of the figure, also know as bodycolour

Posted by john at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2005

The way it was


Occassional extracts from: Every Young Man's Companion, by W Gordon, Teacher of Mathematics, 1759

Posted by john at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

The late night studio

Artists have painted by candlelight for many years, indeed among the first images man made, the scratched and rubbed animals on the walls of caves, were inscribed by flickering firelight.


Candlelight imbues the image with a wonderful warmth and richness of colour. But where primordial man had the drop on us was that their images would always be viewed by the same flickering torches. Sadly, come the cruel light of day, the richness can disappear.

Itís a good feeling painting in the quiet of the dark night, the Steve Miller Band rolling along, no phone calls from people whose first language isnít English trying to sell me a new deal on a mobile phone contract I donít have, no traffic, and a bowl of cereal. Who could ask for more?

Posted by john at 12:21 AM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2005

the paint's open and the brushes are in it

I got up at nine fifteen with a long day stretching ahead of me. Nothing to do until Carry comes round at four. I will/must/can paint today, I thought. [see previous post: ďwhat can go wrong?Ē]

So I got the paint out. I looked at the clock, it was two fifteen: a mere five hours later. Not bad.

I had, among other things, painted two pillars, drunk three cups of coffee, written two letters, looked at more drawings than you can shake a stick at, written a piece for these diaries, written a piece for the notebook on the main site, shifted some panels about, done a bit of hoovering, eaten a pork and pickle pie, spoken to my sister on the phone, fallen asleep [inevitably], woken up [necessarily], done some washing, moved the easels about, and finally opened the paint.

Using drawings and photographs done in April and May, this is the result of the dayís frenzied activities:


See: If at first you donít succeed.

Posted by john at 10:52 PM | Comments (0)

What can go wrong?

Once more the brushes and paints on the table call out to me: come on... The big blank panel challenges me, dares me, to make a mark. But what mark do I make?


I love the paint and the big brushes, I love the process, I even like the big blank panel Ė perhaps too much. What I struggle with is the choice. I have free choice. There is no-one telling me what to paint. That is difficult.

There is no-one coming round at ten oíclock, and taking their clothes off, either. That would make it easier. But no itís just me. Just me in the studio, surrounded by everything I need to start. And a head full of images and a body full of passion and energy. What can possibly go wrong?

Posted by john at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2005

The Great Pornography Debate

In 1986, I think it was, Picassoís sketchbooks were on display in a big exhibition at the Tate [there was only the one then]. Two late-middle-aged ladies, sporting tweed skirts, with cashmere cardigans draped over their shoulders, clutched their catalogues and were peering over the gilded rims of their reading glasses at a large display of 9 pages from Picassoís 165th sketchbook and cooing appreciatively at Pabloís expressive use of line and general joie de vivre.


Now, I might be wrong, but I felt at the time that had I shown them a selection of 9 pages from any of a number of magazines, usually displayed out of reach of those with an impressionable yet enquiring mind, the ladies would have been less than enthusiastic about their content. And rightly so.

Picasso was undoubtedly an artist with a very free priapic spirit, but he wasnít a pornographer. I donít believe he was even an erotic artist, the latter being the preserve of the less-talented and bed-fellows with kitsch artists and painters of pet portraits.

For me the difference between art and pornography is the intent. Picasso was expressing something, his intent was to communicate something he felt. Pornographers make images to sell. Pornographers are not expressing themselves, they are working to a brief and making a product with a specific end use. Their intent is to make money, and they are some of the richest people on the planet, but thatís another story for another day.

Donít get me wrong, I donít have a problem with pornography, or pet portraiture for the matter of that, but it isnít art, and art isnít pornography. Art should move you in some way, it should uplift the spirit; pornography only seeks to uplift one thing, and it ainít the spirit.

Posted by john at 04:23 PM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2005

soon, soon

The building work is finally finished,
and the walls are painted white [mostly].
So soon I shall exchange the hammer for a brush
and the emulsion for oil paint.

Posted by john at 11:11 PM | Comments (0)

October 09, 2005

Getting into trouble

Art is about passion, and so it follows great art is about great passion.

Passion isnít something you can create or destroy; itís just there, like it or not. It isnít a part time thing. It isnít a: get up have breakfast go to work switch on the kettle switch on the music switch on the passion make a cup of coffee make a picture paint till six turn off the passion go home have tea read the paper go to bed thing. You canít take it or leave it Ė you live it.

So Victorian painter, Simeon Solomon ends up getting arrested for fucking his passion in a public toilet. He had to hide his most passionate pictures. For others their passion doesnít get them arrested, and they can indulge it to the full, like the foot-fetishist who works in a shoe shop. For some it has a darker side.

It is difficult to be honest about what drives you, but Solomon couldnít do it any other way.

ďA century after his death, Solomon now seems more than ever a visionary, an artist who set an agenda. He drew things others hardly dared envisage; he made the act of making an image personal, and dangerous, and honest.Ē

Neil Bartlett writing in the Guardian Ė the full articleís here.

It is only a shame he lived at a time when his passion was thought immoral. Today we are luckier; though it is often hard to focus, because anything is possible in todayís critical climate, at least we have more freedom to explore our passions.


torso and hands, oil on panel 1200mm x 800mm

Posted by john at 06:05 PM | Comments (1)

October 05, 2005

Trouble with realism - a romantic ideal

Looking through my drawers of drawings today, Amy commented that the subjects all look like real people, and that they all look ďthereĒ.


Which is good because this is one of my aims. That and the fact that I only seem able to draw or paint what is in front of me.

I wouldíve been no good in times of yore. For then it was not a likeness you were striving for so much as a statement of position. A portrait or a painting would serve to express the wealth of the sitter. You had to be good at painting lace, and velvet and satin and silverware. Mr & Mrs Andrews were just as interested in the land they owned, stretching out behind them, as they were in themselves and their fine clothes. So thatís what Gainsborough painted.


In fact, in an age of warts and boils, perhaps a true likeness is one of the last things required. As Baldrick remarked in Blackadder III:

Baldrick: Well, Your Majesty, I just thought Ė
this Wellington bloke's been in Europe for years.
You don't know what he looks like.
He don't know what you looks like.
So why don't you get someone else to fight
the duel instead of you?

Prince George: But I'm the Prince Regent!
My portrait hangs on every wall!

Edmund: Answer that, Baldrick.

Baldrick: Well my cousin Bert Baldrick,
Mr. Gainsborough's butler's dogsbody,
he says that he's heard that all portraits look
the same these days, 'cause they're painted
to a romantic ideal rather than as a true
depiction of the idiosyncratic facial qualities
of the person in question.

Edmund: (impressed) Your cousin Bert
obviously has a larger vocabulary than
you do, Baldrick.

[thanks to Mr. Curtis and Mr. Elton]

Lucian Freud said: a portrait doesnít have to look like the sitter because you never stand the sitter next to the portrait. Which, I have to say, in this age of image saturation, we are so familiar with the concept of two dimensional images actually looking like the person, that this is rather a flawed argument.


Anyway, as I said, I have no choice, I paint the way I do because thatís the way the paint comes off the end of the brush, that and a bit of passion I guess.

Posted by john at 12:53 PM | Comments (1)