I always wanted to be on 'Stars in Their Eyes'! It sounds like a confession, I know, but I did! To say those magic words, "Tonight, Matthew, I'm going to be ...Tom Jones", or whoever.
Well, over the last few months I achieved something similar in my 'Art of the Landscape' course at The Settlement. I didn't sing (!) but I did become a different artist every week. I wanted to introduce an element of art history into the course to show the progression of landscape painting, and so each week I chose a particular artwork and the students produced their version of it, using different mediums. They did Gainsborough and Monet paintings in acrylics; Turner and Van Gogh paintings in pastels.
The results were fantastic! It took us all out of our comfort zones and challenged our use of the materials, especially given the 2 hour time frame. We all get stuck in a rut from time to time, but painting in a completely different style can help to shake it up and inspire you to look at your work from a fresh perspective.
My current Landscape Course ends this Friday, but starts a new 10 week term on the 12th January. The theme of that term will be 'Round the World' - painting a variety exotic locations in different mediums (from photographs, not plein air, unfortunately!).
The course is booking up fast, so if you would like to join me then please contact The Letchworth Settlement. The classes will be every Friday morning, 9.30am till 12 noon, and the cost is £112.00.
The time has come to take down the bunting and return my studio to something resembling a place of work (where I can splash away without fear of spraying finished works with fresh paint!).
This was my second year of Herts Open Studios and the first to be run from my home studio. Last year was at Baldock Arts Centre, which was a large space with a coffee shop and plenty of room for me and my paintings. As it is in the town centre there was a steady footfall of locals - though even then I only managed around 30 people a day. Art isn't everyone's cup of tea, especially if there is the added 'danger' that they may have to speak to the actual artist! I might even persuade them to buy something...
This year, due to lack of locations and the fact I had recently converted my garage into a studio, I decided to play it from home. There was an expected danger that nobody would come. I live in a quiet estate on the outskirts of Hitchin - there is little passing trade. My hopes entirely rested on the promotional materials and advertising produced by Herts Visual Arts and myself.
The first two weeks were dire and my studio was steadily filling with tumbleweed. The weather was wet and windy and I was hardly able to keep my door open as it was freezing. The last weekend picked up, however, and numbers of visitors dramatically reached the teens! A mixture of people came along, good friends, some neighbours popping in on the off-chance, some following the Open Studios art trail and others from my course at The Settlement. All were very welcome and it was lovely to chat and show off my work. The studio was looking nice in the sunshine and I even had both doors flung open to the wide world.
I managed to sell some prints and greetings cards, so overall, I broke even on my initial HVA entry fee. I also got down to some painting, which is a GOOD thing! As to doing it again? I think I need a period of quiet reflection - perhaps there is a more appropriate platform out there for my artwork!
Meanwhile my course Art Of The Landscape has started at The Letchworth Settlement! I have 11 lovely students with me every Friday morning learning how to compose and create landscape paintings. This coming lesson will involve some plein-air painting so I'm crossing my fingers for dry weather!
There are still places available for my other course at the end of October should anyone want to learn about Acrylic Painting. All paints are supplied in the cost - so please contact The Settlement as soon as you can!
'The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever' announces the new Grayson Perry exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery - and it wasn't far wrong on the day. There was a sizable queue for the free show, with people being let in 10 at a time, and I wondered if the title alone drew people in?
I thought I knew what to expect - I had after all watched several of Perry's tv shows and read some of his books. I tried to explain to some of my friends, who had never heard of him, what he was about - transvestite potter from Essex producing work with social comments, much like a modern day Hogarth. Seemed a reasonable description. I thought that my 11 year old son would be ok with that - he likes current affairs and a good graphic novel. And then we entered the building...
Oops! I'd forgotten about the blatant sexuality of Perry's work - and the very first piece on view, the size of a bedspread, is a reclined Perry as a naked Claire (though reimagined as a hermaphrodite), gazing directly at the viewer like Kate Winslet in Titanic ("Draw me like your French girls" and all that). A wonderful woodcut giving us an insight into Perry's paraphernalia and life, but not perhaps the best thing for a self- conscious preteen to see unexpectedly!
Unsurprisingly, most of my party didn't hang around for long, leaving me to lag behind at leisure!
Each room had a loose theme based on Perry's TV series on masculinity, on Brexit and on his more personal alter ego of Claire, his father figure, Alan Measles and their adventures together. It ends with a dip into Perry's marriage which is given a pseudo folk/ cult makeover.
Two things stand out. Firstly, that Perry gives a lot of thought to his work and that most of that thought process, sketches, research, ideas etc. end up on the piece. Lots of information, intellectually interesting, but sometimes overwhelming and confusing. His works are at their best when there is an overarching theme or subject, and then within it you find further details and insights. 'Head of a Fallen Giant' is a great fantastical skull in its own right, but look closer at the surface textures and you can see the Houses of Parliament, a Union Jack, Tower Bridge, a crown and so on.
Head of a Fallen Giant, 2008
Secondly, is Perry's ability to use many forms of media to get his ideas across. The exhibition is full of tapestries, pots, woodcuts, metalwork, vehicles and even a genius skateboard (or 'Kateboard'). Mostly they are are manufactured by others, but unlike Damian Hirst, for example, they are unmistakably in the style and hand of Perry. A selection of sketchbooks at the end of the exhibition illustrate this nicely, with a small doodle of a pushbike for Claire, next to the room in which the fully formed version stands.
Lastly, I was impressed by Perry's use of historical forms - African figurines, medieval woodcuts, Victorian union banners, etc, reworked in his own inimitable style to illustrate an unrelated topic. Hence we get an African tribal figurine in a baseball cap representing youth gang culture and a medieval woodcut of a huge boar dominating a capitalist landscape of the City. He isn't afraid to change his style and draw on the past as long as it serves his purpose.
As you can probably tell, I loved it. Yes it's a bit weird, a bit crude and bit self- absorbed, but in this world of airbrushed clones and reality TV stars, Grayson Perry comes across as a breath of multicoloured fresh air, with a pink tutu. He exists as a living extension of his art and it is hard to separate one from the other. He seems to be enjoying himself anyway, regardless of what people think of his work and what he has to say. Fair play to him.
As our Flaming June has nearly gone and our default setting of uniform grey skies leads us into July I'm starting to think about Christmas...! Nah, I jest. Though Sainsburys has just announced a new chocolate mince pie for the coming season, so actually I've been thinking about cake.
More importantly, I've been fitting out my studio and thinking about what I need to make it fit for purpose. Here's a few hacks I came up with to make life a little easier and cheaper.
The space is enough for my creative needs, but it did require an area for storing large canvases. There were many suggestions on the net for storage and a few expensive shop- bought solutions. In the end I repainted some old shelves from the garage, and cut wooden doweling to length to divide and support the canvasses at the top. The result is sturdy enough and looks neat in the corner.
My second 'hack' was a picture rail. Again lots of purpose made items to be found, but all a tad expensive and I didn't fancy a permanent wooden picture rail around the top of the studio. The solution was staring me in the face in our upstairs bathroom - an extendable shower curtain rail. Three hooks on the wall and there it sits, allowing me to hang multiple paintings using picture rail hangers from Wilkos. If I don't want a display up, I can just remove and store the rail and use the hooks for something else, such as hanging a cloth as a splashback.
Now where's that application for Dragon's Den....?!
Another personal milestone has been reached in the past week with the completion of my new art studio! It's very exciting to have a space where I can create freely without the knowledge and hassle of having to tidy it all away afterwards so that we can eat/ watch TV/ go to bed, etc (as many 'work from home' people will be familiar with!).
Fortunately, I have been able to transform our dark and draughty garage into a light and weather- tight space that is perfect for creating art, storing art and holding the odd art workshop. Come September, I'll also be using it to hold my Herts Open Studio event - www.hvaf.org.uk/Open-Studios
The walls are a bit bare at the moment whilst I find a decent wall hanging system, and I need to find a way to relocate all of our wheely bins so that I can fling open the doors on a sunny day, but all in all it's good to go - so I'd better get on with using it!
It has been lovely to be part of the Herts Visual Arts Spring Exhibition amongst so many talented fellow artists at the New Maynard Gallery in Welwyn Garden City. Over 50 artists have taken part and all will be showing work as part of Open Studios this year. The show ends 3rd June.
I'll be returning to the Ayot Art Show this year with two of my paintings. It takes place in a beautiful Greek revival church in Ayot St Lawrence on 10th - 12th June and all profits go to the upkeep of the church.
Lastly, I'm very excited that my painting 'The Working Hour' has been selected for The Artist magazine's exhibition at Patchings Art Centre, near Nottingham 13th July - 20th August. So if you're in the area...
'The Working Hour' acrylic on canvas
The shocking thing about the Saatchi Gallery is that there isn't much of a shock!
Set within a beautiful Neo- Classical building off Sloane Square, the gallery itself is photogenic and a joy to walk around - lovely light spilling onto curvaceous staircases and large well- lit rooms.
The only trouble is that the curators seem to have been overwhelmed by the size of these spaces and decided that the only way to fill them is to up-size. The majority of the pieces on display, especially in the latest exhibition 'Painter's Painters', are huge. Big is beautiful - or mostly, not that beautiful.
Seeing each room adorned with large, colourful paintings is impressive, from an interior design perspective - and in the main I was moved by this monumental scale as one might be in the presence of large sculptures, large animals, large anything really. When you looked closer, however, a lot of these works began to fall apart.
The catalogue gave a brief insight into the practice and minds of the various (mostly male) artists, but on the whole, their paintings were not explained, which was refreshing. The viewer had to work harder to understand meaning and that's how paintings are meant to be - set free into the world without explanation, interpreted in whichever way the owner/ viewer imagines or feels. Artists sometimes try and get around this problem by giving the painting a long poetic title, but really, I feel that a work should stand on its own.
Three artists stood out as exceptions. Each had created works that were visually exciting as a whole but drew you in to look for further meaning within.
Dexter Dalwood re-jigs press cuttings and photos and then enlarges them in paint to create imagined versions of past events, such as celebrity suicides and natural disasters. His 'The Deluge' reminded me of the Victorian painter John Martin's huge Biblical works - striking for it's pop imagery and darker undertones.
Dexter Dalwood 'The Deluge'
Phoebe Unwin had an eclectic selection of work on display, illustrating her search for a material to express herself with. The imagery was mysterious and conjured many possible ideas as to their meaning, with nods to artists such as Klimt and the photographer, Man Ray.
Phoebe Unwin 'Soft Person'
One of the last spaces features the artist, David Brian Smith, who used old family photos to create large paintings of rural life, mainly using a shepherd with his flock as a subject. His colours are unusual and his application transforms skies and sheep into old rag rugs or patchwork quilts. They have an almost religious quality to them, reminiscent of scenes from the Holy Land.
David Brian 'Great Expectations- A Windy Day'
At the beginning of the blog I mentioned that the curators seemed overwhelmed with the space and went for large paintings in response. There was one noteable exception however, and it seemed to swing to the opposite extreme. Perhaps the artist had run out of paintings or the curators were having a laugh - either way the hanging of Richard Aldrich's small 'Future Portrait #49' is, what you might politely call, a waste of space.
It would be easy to moan about all of the artworks that I didn't like at Saatchi (quite a few) and discuss the lack of apparent artistic skill to be found. It wasn't all bad and it is my personal opinion at the end of the day. However, I do think that the gallery has to rethink their spaces and hanging policy to show off a wider variety of painting sizes and artists. I was left longing for at least a few of the Saatchi Brit Art brigade of the '90s.
The first big art event of 2017 has graced the Capital - the 29th London Art Fair. I popped over to see what was occurring and found the Business Design Centre buzzing with arty stuff. 129 galleries from 17 countries were packed inside and there was a size-able crowd perusing the stands.
Overall, there was a large variety of good works on display, along with the usual sprinkling of pieces that shouldn't have been there and the odd comedy piece thrown in for light relief. Generally though, I enjoyed my 4 hour ramble around the galleries, looking for trends, spotting some vintage gems and muttering under my breath at a few choice items.
Personally, I wanted to find my place within this smörgåsbord of talent - would my work hold its own in this market and who could I approach to represent me and my paintings? I made notes, chatted to reps and took business cards. In due course I'll follow these up and see where it takes me.
There were many highlights in the show but as usual the sculptural elements stood out for originality and often, humour. The most topical of these had to be 'The Wall' by David Cotterrell, showing President Trump's favourite project as an oversized ping pong net.
Image- wise there were few favourites to choose from, but for an artwork that you could spend hours looking at, Emily Allchurch's 'Sic Transit Gloria Mundi' was hard to beat. It was a backlit digital image fusing classical statuary with a London skyline and I felt as though I could just climb in and explore its fantasy world.
Christmas is almost upon us! Yesterday was the first day of winter, and as the year draws to a close it's time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future.
2016, despite global shenannigans, turned out to be a good one personally. I displayed work at several shows including a month as 'artist in residence' at the Baldock Arts Centre for Open Studios. I had a crack at Sky Arts 'Landscape Artist of the Year' and ended up with a brief moment on TV with Joan Bakewell. Also I began to teach, both in workshops and as a tutor at The Settlement in Letchworth.
Last week I visited Tate Britain to see the Paul Nash exhibition (opposite is the upside down Christmas tree in their foyer). There was some wonderful stuff on display - he began as a figurative landscape painter, moved into abstraction, through painting the chaos of WW1, then onto Surrealism and finally onto a mixture of all three with full on colour - almost in the manner of Van Gogh.
It reminded me that an artist is never static. Influences and interests buffet your work, changing and pushing it in different directions. So there is one of my resolutions for 2017! Absorb other artists and their work, use new materials, loosen up and try something different!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Hand me the BAFTA now, please!
I survived the edit and made my second appearance* on TV last night on Sky Arts' 'Landscape Artist Of The Year 2016'. Blink and you'd miss me, but I got a soundbite and a close-up, which is great!
Unfortunately I didn't make the next stage, but I had a great time, learned a lot and got to chat to Dame Joan Bakewell (before the Heaven's opened and everyone got drenched). If you haven't seen the series before it's well worth checking out.
I'll be back.....
* My first appearance was as an extra alongside Suggs from Madness in 'The Final Frame' for Film On 4, way back in 1989!
On my half- term travels this month I found myself looking for inspiration and taking unexpected trips down memory lane.
There is a new sculpture prize exhibition at the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield, and I decided to pop over to see what was occurring. Four artists are competing for a £30,000 prize and the public are being asked to nominate their favourite work.
For me, there was only one true sculptor there, in the grand tradition of Hepworth - Phyllida Barlow, who made a monumental scree slope from multi-coloured slabs of plaster.
I did enjoy though, adding my own wordage to David Medalla's participation piece, 'A Stitch In Time'. Have I contributed to the winning sculpture? Am I entitled to a percentage?!
A few quick updates -
My first tutorial at The Letchworth Settlement went very well and my 12 students produced some fantastic Autumnal Hertfordshire scenes. Next week I'll be guiding them through a misty mountain painting! I will take photos, I promise!
Though this course is fully booked, there will be a further acrylic course on offer in January on a Tuesday morning. Details to follow!
For those of you waiting for my appearance on Sky Arts 'Landscape Artist of the Year 2016' I have sussed out the running order and my episode (Stowe) should be on Tuesday 15th November! I'm the one in the straw hat.