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Art Critics

January 10th, 2019

Art Critics



I soon realised that all artists are brave and presumptuous, brave because we put our work out for all to see and presumptuous because we assume anyone would want to see it anyway. However once the work is on view, either in a gallery or these days online, it becomes a suitable subject for criticism. Let me tell you now who are the best critics and who are the worst critics. The very best critics are the men and women who part with their hard earned money to buy your work. These discerning (got to be if they chose our work!) people have decided they like a piece so much that they buy it. In their ‘critical’ opinion the piece is good. So who are the worst critics? The answer is obvious – we are. Yes the artist is the one who is hardest on his work. We can see the bits we did wrong, that didn’t turn out right or the bits we should have taken more care with. Happily nobody else can see these unless we blurt it out which we never do… do we?
There is no doubt that negative criticism has affected us all at some time or another and it is hard to get over it at first. Eventually we do of course and there does come a time when we look back wondering what all the fuss was about and even have a laugh over it.
Here are a couple of favourite ones of mine.
Back in 2003 Merice and I exhibited in the courtyard gallery at Burton Agnes Hall. Back then there was just a small rent for the fortnight with no commission charged unless we used their card facilities. This meant we could keep the cost of our work low. I was selling framed paintings for about £120 with offers of any two for £200. We were doing very well indeed so confidence was high. I decided to do a painting outside to attract attention to our exhibition. The subject I chose was a very ornate gateway that sported two rather impressive birds or something or other on the gateposts. I think they represented the phoenix bird arising but I focussed on just the one. Now to be fair it was not a subject I would normally choose and it was nothing to do with the fact that I would have to pay to go into the grounds to find more inspirational scenes. No, not that of course I told myself. This was much more practical to paint as I would be able to see if anyone went in to the gallery to have a look. Anyway I set up my easel and started to paint. An elderly lady came to have a look and she continued to do so for the next couple of hours until the painting was finished. When she came over I asked her if she liked the finished piece. “Well”, she said wrinkling up her nose a bit, “it’s not bad but you see that impressive bird over there. See how its mighty wings are poised to take off in flight?” I waited with bated breath before she continued “Yours” she said “Yours looks like a……duck!” Sadly it was in our pre-digital days so I haven’t a photograph to show you but she was right.
So fast forward twelve months or so and I am now Artist in residence at Burton Agnes Hall. This is a real step up as we now have a free flat for a month with unlimited access to the grounds and Hall except for the family’s personal rooms. My paintings are hanging in the summerhouse and have reached £200 by now with no special offers. Again I was doing very well. One afternoon a lady came in and began to rave about one of my paintings. She loved it and was determined to have it. She went to fetch husband George to finalise the sale. In he came – a typical Yorkshireman wearing the obligatory flat cap. She pointed out the painting still enthusing about it. George studied it for some moments with his hands firmly in his pockets before coming out with the immortal words “Ee lass – it’s amazin’ what a good piece of framin’ can do for a painting”. With that he exited the summerhouse leaving behind an apologetic wife and a disappointed artist. Ah well we have to learn to take it in our stride and it certainly kept my feet on the ground.
The painting shown here was done that same year and is a fountain in the grounds. I was always struck by the sad and wistful expression on the face of the young woman and painted it on site. I called it ‘Why does it always rain on me’ and I think we have all known the feeling. So fellow artists remember whatever negative criticism we receive it is only one opinion. Remain true to your vision and keep up the good work.

Evenin' Constable

October 23rd, 2018

Evenin


There are certain painting that have become iconic. You do not need me to list them as they will be in your mind by now. This is certainly one of them. Well not actually this I hasten to add...not my painting of course but the original - "The Haywain" by John Constable RA. However even the most loyal follower among you will have to concede that my painting has something missing..... well yes the haywain...it's not there. Has it not yet arrived you may wonder, or has it already passed? Neither. I painted this as part of my 'Inspiration' series. You all know that the original was painted in oils and I use watercolours- so it was a bit of a challenge to try and recreate the scene. I decided that trying to paint in the haywain might be a bridge or really a cart too far, so left it out and concentrated on the landscape. I was pleased with the result even though I say it myself. I called it "Haywain Unplugged" and because the original is so iconic everybody knew what I was on about (well that and MTV!). That would have been the end of the matter had I not heard a very intriguing tale. Apparently Constable added the haywain after he had done his original painting. Now whether he had it in mind all along or whether he decided the painting needed 'something' to finish off I don't know. What is known is that Constable, who was busy in his London studio, had to get to his cousin to supply him with drawings of the cart so he could transpose it onto his canvas. Maybe, just maybe Constable's most famous painting was as incomplete as mine at some stage!

Two and Two makes.......?

December 13th, 2015

Two and Two makes.......?


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'.

Three Journeys

July 24th, 2015

Three Journeys

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.

Poppies in Peril

February 20th, 2015

Poppies in Peril

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.

...beside The Seaside, Besides The Sea..

February 19th, 2015

...beside The Seaside, Besides The Sea..

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!

Reflections and Shadows

February 10th, 2015

Reflections and Shadows


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 artists 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 wasnt my last!

A Taste of Summer...

January 23rd, 2015

A Taste of Summer...


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 heres 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 summers afternoon. I didnt 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 its always summer in our house.

Tree Bridge

January 13th, 2015

Tree Bridge


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 cant 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 - theres 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.

The Enigmatic Eleanor Rigby

December 29th, 2014

The Enigmatic Eleanor Rigby

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 ones 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!

 

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