Friday, 28 September 2012

Lovely new things and a long list

A few days ago I launched a new range of prints (and more) on the fantastic Society6 site. I'm really excited to finally be able to share this work, which are all digital illustrations from a few years ago. Most of them involve themes of travel and transportation. I really urge you to take a look, because not only are the site and the products quite lovely, Society6 is offering free worldwide shipping until Sunday! What more incentive do you need? I'm know that before tonight is through, I'll have indulged in a treat for myself. The iPhone cases alone are quite lovely and I don't even own such a device!

I also appeared on Hyperallergic this week, as part of their ongoing series that looks at the artist's studios across the world. With two new places to find me online arriving in one week, this got me to thinking about where else I can be found on the interwebs. I made a list. It's quite a bit longer that I expected!

For those of you who want more chances to buy something lovely that I've made (go on, treat yourself too!), there are plenty of opportunites:
  • Union Gallery sell my paintings.
  • On Etsy you'll find paper paintings, older abstract paintings, cards and prints.
  • I have two books on Blurb, one book of art and one of photography. (A book of Iteration/Span photography is imminent.)
  • There are t-shirts and prints at Oddhero. Many of their products were designed by me – see if you can spot which are mine!
  • Lastly, II have photos licensed on Getty and Alamy.

For those on a tighter budget, you can still see and hear plenty for free:

Is that enough? I didn't think so. You want me to really scrape the bottom of the barrel:

And finally, for those of you who find trying to keep up with all of the above a bother, I plan soon to launch a monthly email newsletter. You can sign up for it here, or using the box on the right of this page. Get my news direct to your inbox – nothing could be simpler!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

In contemplation of monochromatic work

There is a simplicity in viewing things in black and white that is appealing. It certainly seems a way of looking at the world that is becoming increasingly popular, as divisions widen and positions harden between the haves and have-nots. From inside have-not camp, that division seems all the more obvious, however the opposite perspective is hard to see from here.

It would therefore be an easy assumption to make that the recent turn in my work, towards a monochrome palette, is a reflection of this viewpoint. To a certain extent this is true. The difficult political and financial situation that most of us find ourselves in, is something that is never far from my mind. It impacts on my daily life.

However the monochrome palette (which, of course, features endless shades of grey) is more of a reflection of my state of mind and how I feel most comfortable expressing it or, rather, what seems the most effective way of expressing it. The outer world is an influence on that, to be sure, but there is so much more than that, a tangle of cause and effect.

I am left with a desire to almost entirely eschew colour and even though I have on occasion introduced some, especially the orange hues that have been so integral to my work over the last few years, it hardly lasts beyond the initial sketching stages, obliterated soon after by a storm of graphite and various other dark and black pigments. Each new painting becomes a hard environment, where those small moments of colour are hammered and scraped and gouged into submission, or else simply buried under a layer of darkness.

I wrote last week about the ideas behind a few of my new pieces. In the middle of this week, I sat down with six of them, to contemplate the ideas behind them and to think about where this work is going, about what I am trying to achieve with it. I wanted to find out if the ideas and thoughts behind each piece would cohere into something greater. 

It was an overwhelming experience, almost painful. Clearly, I am too close to these paintings right now and found them too raw to contemplate as a whole. Individually, I can look at these pieces and think about them. I can even look at them collectively, as long as I don't look below the surface, read between the lines. When I do that, it is just too much and I see no overall plan.

Instead it appears that I am expelling these paintings from my somewhere within psyche. As if rather than working to a plan of sorts, I am just letting this work go where it needs to. It appears as if it is simply something that needs to happen. When one is writing automatically, the results at times can be quite challenging.

Friday, 14 September 2012

A little bit of background

It has been an unusual week of painting. Right at the start of it, there was a revelation of sorts that led me to feeling somewhat more relaxed, perhaps even more philosophical, about my life as an artist. Acting on this feeling, I began three new paintings this week, which marks a definite increase in my recent productivity. I even took the time after the initial painting session for each piece, to sit down and write something about where the piece came from, my intentions for it and my initial feelings about it.

On the first day, I once again addressed the darkness that has been my shadow for the past month. Rather unexpectedly, colour made an appearance. After the initial session, I wrote this:

(work in progress)
Mixed media on panel, 12x12"
"The darkness has often times served as a pretty direct visual representation of the dark emotions within: doubt, fear, depression and so on. Today the darkness seems perhaps transmuted. Still, of course, it is the darkness within, yet somehow now it is also a gestalt, the body in which everything else rests. What does this say about my self image? It suggests that I view myself as an essentially dark person, with a warm, friendly (orange represented) public countenance, that is nonetheless covering dark things. Am I truly thus? In today's representation deep red mixes with, and breaks through, the darkness. It does not feel a red of anger, rather one of love and passion. It is hidden, well below the surface, yet it is clearly there, widespread and of undoubted importance."

Later, while reworking this painting, the red became somewhat submerged, too lessen its impact. I had realised that it was too jarring and while my intent for each painting it to describe a particular instant in my life, at the same time I have not become so obsessed with the idea that I am prepared to sacrifice aesthetics. There are elements of this painting that I am very happy with, as well as some that may require more work. It is resting currently. I will look again at it in a few days.

On the second day, an entirely different set of circumstances presented themselves for posterity. The painting that resulted was a surprise, being something of a departure from what could loosely be called my style. It is more organic in shape, less geometric, and overall feels looser. I wrote this:

(work in progress)
Mixed media on panel, 12x12"
"Overwhelmed. It is a common feeling these days. Too much information, too fast, too many choices. Today, however, it is the overwhelming size and complexity of visa/immigration issues. In particular, I feel small and insignificant, unable to cope with the vast cliff that needs to be negotiated. Today I gave that immense weight to a crushing wave, an avalanche grinding and drowning. Over run by it, I am forced to the ground, torn and battered. The mass of the problem is complex, aswirl, impenetrable. The remorseless, cold press of the world. It is an enormous stew that fills almost everything, there is no way to escape it, nowhere to turn, it is everywhere. It is the immensity of any overwhelming problem, where an objective viewpoint is hard to come by. Seen from below, there is no way out."

Unlike the previous day's painting, which I felt sure of and able to rework into something more suitable to my sensibilities, this piece has remained relatively static. Perhaps this is a reflection of the subject matter. Who, after all, is very good at coping with something overwhelming? I've made numerous tiny tweaks to this, yet there is something unsettling in it. Only time will tell whether or not I can live with this.

On the third day, things did not work out quite as well. 'Isolation' was the idea that was on my mind that day, both it its physical and mental manifestations. I had an idea that seemed an ideal way to represent the theme, however it was too concrete,  conceivably as a reaction to the overly-organic painting of the day before. It drew too heavily upon my graphic designer's eye and as a painting, it simply would not work. I spent a couple of days working at it, trying to resolve its blocky solidity, however as yet I have been unable to find resolution. Presently, there is almost nothing left of the painting and it has been demoted to non-painting status for the time being.

Each of these three paintings were conceived as ways of interpreting three seemingly quite separate feelings and moments, yet they are also quite clearly linked. The forms and colours (at least of these two) are only the most obvious link. Deeper inside both them, and inside myself, I can construct a conversation between the pieces, a web of common thoughts and ideas.

These three new paintings, more than ever seem almost journalistic. I do not know if I can always work like this – the self awareness and concentration needed is great – and even if I find the energy and the ability, spending so much time looking inwards may not be a very healthy way to spend my time.

It has been an unusual week, I wonder what the next one will hold.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The ballad of an artist

Today is a day that each year, traditionally, I do not lift a hand to do any work. This year marks a difference – I have spent time in the studio and I have painted. For all that it is my job, painting is also something greater. It means more to me than pretty much anything else, because it is all I have ever wanted to do.

Not that painting is some unachievable goal, some fantastically difficult to attain dream, unlike my boyhood ambition of going into outer space (blame Star Wars) which seems quite laughable now, not least in the face of my dislike of being in motion. No, painting is something that can and should be a part of my life, considering how long I have, well, longed for it to be so. Yet for a considerable time it was not a desire that I was willing to admit, for to admit such was to make a necessity of trying to make it real. Fear was then and, of course, still is a dominant force. (Is there anyone who can say otherwise?)

I had no intention when I walked into my studio this morning of spending time reminiscing, or reviewing my place in the world and yet here I am. As an abstract artist whose work relies upon self expression, events such as this are not uncommon. I'd go as far as to state that they are pretty much part of the job.

I have been calling myself an artist for some years now and I have tried to live up to that title. In many respects I believe I have succeeded, in others I know that I can and should do better. I try not to pressure myself, however I am my own boss and so there is often little choice. After all, I have quite a comfy and tempting sofa and someone needs to keep me from fully exploiting its potential. I recall a genuinely brilliant maths teacher I had at school, who was of the opinion that the best mathematicians were the laziest, for they always work to make the simplest and therefore best explanations. I am not certain that the same can be said of artists.

Today, standing in my studio, I looked at the paintings I have worked on in the past month. There are four that are mostly finished and one that I have just begun (my fingers are ingrained with pigments as I type). I realised that I am not painting 'for a reason', as was more often than not the self-imposed necessity of the past. For most of my life as an artist, I was always working for an exhibition, a gallery or a commission. Presently, I have none of those things to work towards or for. I am painting, simply, for me. This is who I am and this is what I do. Painting is not just part of my life, it is what I do. I am a painter. I do best when I remember this.

It might seem like a rather ordinary revelation, yet it is one nonetheless, at least to me. Painting is not just something I do when I need to, it is what I do and it seems there is really almost no reason that I can't do it every day.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Playing to type

Perhaps it is the deepening economic gloom permeating the island upon which I live, where forecasts for that elusive economic fiction of 'growth' tell of the end of an era, perhaps it is the escalation of a system based on fear filling the airwaves and news feeds, or perhaps it is something closer to home, more personal, an emptiness caused by immutable distance, yet whatever the cause, while it proves difficult uncertain, it is undoubtedly affecting something of a dark influence on my paintings presently.

(work in progress)
Mixed media on panel, 12x12"
Every time I lift a hand to work, colours seem somehow wrong, ill-fitting, and so instead I resort to graphite, charcoal, black oil pastel and, occasionally, even black paint. When a colour makes it past this subconscious barrier, it more often than not ends up subsumed within the darkness, chained, barred and covered in black.

While this degree of darkness pulls me increasingly towards the monochromatic, another dark influence makes itself felt, a powerless anger, stoked quietly, internally, that rages against the darknesses both ex- and internal. It flashes out when I work, carving into the working surfaces of each piece, at times frantic slashes that tear up the surface, ripping and shredding, at other times more measured cuts, gouging hard and deep and with a dark certainty.

Earlier this year, words such as "emotional", "intense" and "difficult" were used to describe my work. I was not particularly thrilled by this, feeling that this tied my work to a particular cultural expectation – that of the depressed and unstable artist. I would far rather that my paintings had been allowed to speak for themselves, because to my mind there is in them a transcendent beauty that speaks nothing about emotional intensity or darkness. To bind them in this manner did them a disservice and set a barrier between them and the viewer, allowing them to be neatly fitted into a particular artistic stereotype, without any need to genuinely engage with the work. Not only this, it also seemed potentially off-putting to patrons, few of whom one might expect would want difficult emotions expressed upon their walls.

It is therefore really quite ironic that the work I am presently engaged with is almost a textbook example of "emotional", "intense" and "difficult". I can only imagine how those that previously described my work in those terms might coil back in fear at my current paintings!

Working in this manner was not a conscious plan on my part. As I have touched on more than once, in my pieces I attempt to pin down moments in time, sets of feelings and ideas, using a technique similar to the Surrealist's automatic writing, their "dictation of thought without control of reason". It is therefore unsurprising that in these challenging times, I am making challenging work.

While I know better than to try to force a change upon myself, I dearly hope these challenging times are short, for I would very much like to rediscover colour.