December 13th, 2015
I have been watching the "Landscape Artist of the Year" on Sky. It has certainly provoked lots of comments from artists and friends. Whatever your personal view is there is no doubt that discussion can only be a good thing. So here is my contribution to the debate. I originally published this article a couple of years ago but it still represents what I think. Please have a read and let me know what you think.
"I maintain that two and two would continue to make four, in spite of the whine of the amateur for three, or the cry of the critic for five."
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
What is 'good' art or conversely, what is 'bad' art? Whistler certainly found out all about that question.Let's have a look at what happened to him and see if it will help us decide what is good or bad art. Whistler maintained that art should need no explanation - that it should stand entirely on its own merit. Unfortunately this brought him into conflict with the establishment and in particular one John Ruskin. Ruskin was the pre-eminent critic of his day and the final arbiter of what was acceptable or not, in other words, what was 'good' or 'bad' art. He thought art should have a moral or social value. Ruskin wrote a particularly vitriolic condemnation of a painting by Whistler. Our hero was incensed and took out a libel action against Ruskin. Whistler based his case on "art for art's sake", arguing that art was art regardless of what anyone else might think or claim, summed up in his quote above. He expected the support of his fellow artists but he was wrong - his 'friends' were too afraid of offending the establishment so they kept silent on the issue. Nevertheless, amazingly, he won his case. But even the Judge closed ranks against him and awarded damages of just one farthing! One farthing was one quarter of one pence in old money. The resultant court costs and other incurred expenses made Whistler bankrupt and his paintings and possessions including his home were sold off to clear his debts. He travelled around Europe continuing to confront and confound the art establishment. He made many friends and built up a large following becoming very successful on the way. These friends included the Impressionists, who invited him to exhibit with them at their first controversial exhibition - an offer he declined. Strange therefore that this enigmatic artist who was so modern in his ideas and subjects is best remembered for a painting he did of his dear old mum!
So what do you think? Who was right - Whistler or the art establishment?
I think that today the answer would very clearly favour Whistler. We live in an age when anything can be classed as 'art' and according to Whistler - rightly so because art needs no explanation and has no moral or social obligation. So what is 'good' art? There is no objective answer. When I worked in galleries I noticed what I called the 'Gallery Effect' on people. They would talk in whispers so that nobody could overhear their comments and think them stupid for liking or not liking the 'right' thing. There is still a great deal of snobbishness attached to art and critics still have far too much power in deciding what is good or bad. The older a critic gets the more he seems to favour modern or contemporary art...I think this is just to make him appear cool, but the knock on effect can be very detrimental to traditional painters who have taken a long time to learn their craft only to be dismissed as old fashioned and irrelevant(on the soapbox again!). I used to tell the customers that if they like it - it's good, and if they don't - just say it's not so good. My painting above was based on a faded print in my mother's home (perhaps I should do a painting of her.). I had always liked it and brought it back to life as a large watercolour. I later found out that the original artist was called Benjamin Williams Leader. A Victorian painter and a member of the RA, he fell victim to the obsession for modernity and is largely now unrecognised for his fantastic work.
For me though, this is and always will be 'good art'.
July 24th, 2015
This year I am collaborating with two artist friends to make the 'Three Journeys' Exhibition at Bridlington Spa from 1st August - 2nd September. The idea is to record our development over the years and will feature paintings both old and new to record our artistic journey. It has been a wonderful opportunity to look back and I was very pleased indeed to find a cache of paintings from a good few years ago which have never been on display before. It is a thrill to include some of these along with my latest work. The exhibition is open daily from about 10.00 - 4.00 pm and admission is free. If you can make it I would love to meet you but please get in touch first so I can make sure I will be there.
February 20th, 2015
This is a painting done in the summer of 2005 not long after I began painting. Forty Acres Farm is situated on a quiet country road between the market town of Easingwold and Strensall in North Yorkshire. This spectacular display of poppies cried out to be painted but this was a not uncommon sight back then. Ten years later and it is not so. I wanted to do a poppy painting as part of our 'Double Vision 2014' exhibition last year but had real difficulty in finding any poppy fields. Whether it is down to more intensive farming methods or overuse of pesticides I don't know. Once upon a time the poppies would have been harvested with the wheat - now you buy a loaf with added poppy seeds at an increased cost! It would be a sad loss indeed if this iconic symbol of summer and remembrance disappeared from our countryside.
February 19th, 2015
I am very fortunate indeed to live here on the east coast of Yorkshire. The views are endless and always inspiring. This is a view I see most days as I walk on the beach with Merice and Bonnie, our little dog...a great start to any day!
February 10th, 2015
Galtres Forest was a huge Royal forest that used to stretch from the River Humber all the way up to Northumberland. It is mostly gone now but there are scattered remnants here and there. Strensall Common just outside York is one such area. It has two things going for it that have helped it remain relatively unspoiled. First, as the name implies, it is common land. Probably going back to mediaeval times this gives locals the right to graze their sheep so the opportunity for development has never arisen. On the other side of the road from the common land proper is an army firing range and training ground.. This is the second reason why this chunk of Galtres has been undisturbed because when the red flag is flying you enter at your peril! Bearing all this in mind and because it was more or less on my doorstep when I lived near York, Strensall became one of my main places of inspiration during my early painting days. It was and still is a great place to paint outdoors. I did several paintings of the area and named one ‘The Last Remnants of Galtres Forest’. This was on display in my small studio/gallery at Easingwold. One day a lady entered and after having a good look round she approached me. She was very pleasant and courteous but informed me that I was wrong about the location of the last bit of Galtres Forest. She told me that it was actually located in a place I had never heard of and mentioned I should have a look. This was my introduction to Skipwith Common. This too is situated fairly close to York so being so intrigued we went to explore the area just a few days later. I was instantly captivated by the place. Although sharing some features of Strensall Common it is so much larger and is in fact the largest expanse of heathland bog left in the north of England. As the word ‘bog’ implies it is a wondrous location of deep black reedy pools and swampy marsh. There are no non native trees growing here just oak, ash, hazel and the occasional Scots Pine. It is an artist’s dream of a place and I bet your appetite for it is whetted already! This was the first painting resulting from my affiliation with this inspirational area. We walked down this muddy track and I was totally intrigued by the semi abstract patterns created by the shadows and reflections. This may have been my first painting of Skipwith but it certainly wasn’t my last!
January 23rd, 2015
Living in the Northern Hemisphere, January is not a good time for me as an artist. The days are too cold so it is not very pleasant getting out walking let alone painting. And because they are also so short, there is less daylight in my studio and I much prefer natural daylight for working. I have all the usual aids like daylight lamps etc but they are just not the same. Now I know there are plenty of hardy souls getting up at sunrise and heading off for the wide blue yonder who will be wondering what I am moaning about. Good luck to them but it is not for me – I am definitely not a morning person. So here’s a summer painting to cheer us all up a bit. That was more like it. We had discovered this delightful spot by chance while looking for a place to stop and enjoy some fish and chips one evening. I just had to come back and paint it. My last blog was about my best ever painting. For me this is definitely one of them. It just captures the essence of the quintessential English countryside on a lazy summer’s afternoon. I didn’t get wet feet because the stream turns sharply so I was able to relax on the bank and enjoy the day. The strange tree shape is the focus but there were lots more going on that I had to try and capture particularly with the water. It is a fast running stream which had lovely ethereal reflections. It is also crystal clear which meant that under the shadows of the overhanging trees you could see the bottom of it. Interesting because it meant I could introduce the same colour of the river bank into the water to give a nice harmonious tone to the foreground. Add the shadows for some nice contrast and bluer tones in the background to invite you in and all done….except for the ducks. I have to admit that over the years I have had a few ‘issues’ with adding wild life to my paintings so was a bit reluctant this time. However they are such an integral part of the scene that I just had to bite the bullet and go for it. Happily I think they turned out fine but I stuck with just these two rather than tempt fate by adding any more. This painting has never been on public display but hangs on my bedroom wall being the first thing I see when I awake each morning so it’s always summer in our house.
January 13th, 2015
This is an early painting that has stood up quite well. Early in my painting career I spent so much time painting trees that I became known as ‘Treeman’ but I was and still am fascinated by the wonderful shapes and light patterns you find in woods and forests. Add some water for reflections and you have the perfect subject for watercolour. I can’t remember where this is but I did spend a lot of time in Cropton Forest at that time so that is the probable location. No matter - there’s a couple of interesting techniques in the painting – techniques that I still use today. Bit of masking fluid to start with of course - this is vital to keep the water line safe so I can be free with the washes. Now when you remove the mask at the end of the painting you are left with hard white shapes. Can you see how I softened the hard edges in the foreground by using a wet brush? As long as you have a bit of kitchen roll handy to dry immediately it works quite well. The background forest was just a mixture of yellow, red and blue to which I added some salt as it was drying. The salt absorbs the moisture around it creating these interesting shapes which look as natural as foliage. I am often asked when the right time to add the salt is. The answer is when it works! It really is a case of trial, error and experience because if you add it too soon it can absorb too much of the wet paint and if you add it too late….it has nothing to soak up. But keep having a go because when it works – it works. Some of the texture marks on the river bank were made with my fingers. It works on a similar process as the salt – the dry skin absorbs a bit of moisture and the whorls of your fingerprints are left on the paper. I think it just gives a very natural ‘look’ to the painting which I like.
December 29th, 2014
Sometimes things just happen during a painting. This was originally going to be called “Evening Falls” and was based on a painting by Benjamin Williams Leader RA as part of my ‘Inspiration’ series. A typical late Victorian scene it had all the classic ‘Leader’ ingredients – an old church in a rural setting with wet tracks and imposing trees. In my pencil sketch I added some gravestones dotted around the churchyard but when I painted them something strange happened – one of the gravestones mysteriously took on human form. This old lady appeared. She was walking away from the church. Had she been inside or perhaps putting flowers on a loved one’s grave? You will have to decide but for me she perfectly epitomised the lonely lady in the immortal Beatles Classic – Eleanor Rigby. I had to leave her in of course and changed the title of the painting. I bet you are humming the tune already!
December 23rd, 2014
Just down the road from where I used to live near York is a wonderful little Yorkshire nature reserve called Moorlands. Initially part of the grounds of a large house it is a perfectly preserved and well maintained Edwardian garden. Its main attraction is the spectacular collection of rhododendrons and maple trees. It is criss-crossed with delightful little paths each containing spectacular views particularly in May/June when the rhododendrons are in full bloom. But I was just as interested in the tall sycamores that graced the entrance to the garden proper. We would just have a wander on many mornings on our way to work at Gallery 49 in Bridlington. You could easily get round it in twenty minutes or so and you were set up for the rest of the day. This was an autumn day and the view before me as we were leaving the garden was amazing. The sun was just beginning to melt away the mist and it was absolutely certain that a glorious autumn day would ensue. I am certain you will agree with me that this beautiful scene just had to be painted. The challenge then was how to do it justice. There are quite a few techniques involved. First of all I used masking fluid on the brightest fallen leaves shapes. Next I just ‘spattered’ some drops of masking fluid randomly so that whatever happened I would have some light in the painting. The background is classic ‘wet in wet’- just dropping yellows and blues onto very wet paper and letting them come together. There was a bit of white paper showing but I left that alone as it added to the light effect. Then I painted all the trees before starting on the carpet of fallen leaves. Remember I had already masked some leaf shapes so now I used the wet on wet technique on the ground but this time using reds, browns and yellows. When it was dry (and it must be completely dry!) I ‘masked’ in some more leaf shapes and repeated the wet in wet again, then more leaf shapes with masking fluid and a final wash. When you remove the masking fluid you will find all these different coloured fallen leaves to make up a very realistic looking autumn carpet. That just left the light rays. I use transparent paint so I knew I could wash out the rays but I would have to be very careful. The rays all had the same source - the sun – and some went behind trees and some went in front of other trees but it was worth the effort because I think it turned out OK. Whenever I look at this painting it brings back happy memories of a lovely walk on an autumn day.
February 27th, 2013
I am so fortunate to live where I do. Situated on the Coast I am on the very eastern edge of the Yorkshire Wolds...in fact you can't get any further east without falling off the cliffs!
The Wolds are quietly unassuming unlike their more well known cousins- The Yorkshire Dales or the North Yorkshire Moors. You can still wander peacefully through its gentle undulating 'wolds' dotted with picturesque little villages without any of the crowds associated with tourist destinations. I hope you enjoy my little tour until you can get here yourself.