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Art Fairs – the way forward to buying art?

Cordell Garfield People's Choice Exhibition
Cordell Garfield People’s Choice Exhibition, Alfred East Gallery

If I wanted to buy a painting or sculpture at a reasonable price where would I start? I suppose I could visit a gallery or buy on the internet. There is nothing wrong in doing this, the selection on the internet is vast. You can can see websites devoted to all artwork, with both artists and galleries exhibiting their wares. Likewise, a gallery visit can unearth some great art, particularly with limited edition prints. But is that always the way you should buy art? What about the art fair?

The writer Alan Bennett once said:

“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought unique and particular to you.”

Bennett makes a good point, but not only just for reading. I personally feel paintings and drawings are similar, our emotional response to a painting is why we might buy it. We are often looking for images, colours, designs and subjects that chime with what we like or what we feel. Sometimes a painting can take us back to our childhood, for example a landscape or even sporting or musical icon. Price is a factor, but often we’ll pay a little more for something we like. For me Bennett’s quote holds firm for buying art, it can be emotional.

Internet

So can the internet help here? Of course it can, but it operates as a more functional commercial transaction with art. You may read some information on the artist to give you a feel on the artist’s inspiration. But the interaction is obviously at “arm’s length”, and you don’t see the art “in the flesh”. You cannot have the full picture of what drives and inspires the artist on every painting. My view is that the internet is a great way to introduce artists to the buying public.  Instagram is a good example of broadening the artist’s network and admirers.  On the way the artist may sell some paintings, but there are no guarantees.

Galleries

Galleries will offer a good compromise on the remoteness of the internet. A good gallery who knows the artist well will know what makes the artist tick. They will be able to provide the buyer with some information on background, inspiration and techniques used. This all helps with the decision on buying, with the bonus of being able to see artwork first hand. But there is something missing in all this interaction – yes that’s right, the artist!

But do you need the artist present in the commercial transaction of buying art? Probably not. If you like a painting for whatever reason, you don’t need the artist present to talk you through why you should buy it. However, in this age of click to buy/Amazon next day delivery maybe things are changing. Whether it’s the artisan, ethical marketplace or craft beers there is a move towards authenticity. More people want to know the origins of what they are buying. This is where the growing number of art fairs fit in.

Art Fairs

An art fair is open to the public, a sort of visual emporium with numerous artists displaying their work. Why art fairs are important is that this ‘authenticity’ is on show. In some cases you can see artists working on painting demonstrations, a great way of seeing art in action. Not only can you see the artwork, but you can find out what is the inspiration behind a painting. You can find about the art techniques used and why an artist works in a certain way. Also, so many artists have an interesting story as to how they became an artist as well!

I recommend whether you’re an art buyer or a budding artist looking to exhibit, start with smaller satellite art fairs. There are a huge number running throughout the country. I have visited some of them in preparation for exhibiting my own work. Here are some links to some popular art fairs:

https://www.newartistfair.com/

http://parallaxaf.co/about.html

https://www.bathartfair.co.uk/

https://contemporaryartfairs.co.uk/

http://www.artinpark.co.uk/

Rock and Roll Survivor

Iggy Pop acrylic painting
Iggy Pop

Littered with casualties, early deaths and drug misuse, for many of us that is the story of Rock and Roll. The recent litany of deaths – Bowie, Prince, George Michael and now Aretha Franklin got me thinking. I decided that a death could be sad and unfortunate (Curtis Mayfield), but could also be self inflicted (Brian Jones). But hold on, then there is Iggy Pop!

Iggy follows in the great Keith Richards’ tradition of cocking a snoot at the Grim Reaper. This acrylic painting I produced a while back is based on a series of photographs taken by Mick Rock in 1972. Iggy and his band The Stooges came over to the UK in 1972 to record the classic album Raw Power. Totally iconic and at a time when Iggy was living life to the excess, this image summed up the lot. The album a sort of punk/metal thrash was initially hampered by recording/remixing. CBS drafted in Bowie to remix it adding to its legendary status.

The ‘Godfather of Punk’ always seemed on a path to self-destruction. Consider the facts: excessive drugs and booze, self-mutilation and audience confrontation on stage and an offstage lifestyle of total squalor and degradation. Mental institutions and rehab became a feature of Iggy’s life, particularly in the 70s. Bowie finally got him out and was able to get him performing and recording again. This was just in time for the launch of punk rock, Iggy’s spiritual home.

There are many stories about the Ig, but a couple come to mind. In Detroit at the Stooges last gig in 1974 a gig full of bikers caused mayhem by constantly pelting the band with eggs. Iggy lost it and challenged the audience. The result? A 6 ft plus biker pummelled Iggy (Iggy is 5ft 1in)!

Another bizarre story is after a drug induced night of popping pills Iggy decided to eat a couple of beefburgers. Turning on the gas for the oven and bending down with the burgers he had a seizure with his head stuck in the oven. He couldn’t move and would have gassed himself if it wasn’t for the next-door neighbours smelling the gas. They broke into his house and dragged him out. If he had have died this would have appeared as a really odd Rock and Roll suicide. As Iggy later commented “what would they have made of the beefburgers?”

The game-changer for Iggy was probably Bowie recording China Girl and having a hit with it in 1983. Since this point Iggy’s career has had a more upward trajectory. Whether it’s commercial spin offs from the film Trainspotting, acting, radio work or the Stooges reunion. The Stooges were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. At 71 years old he is now an elder statesman with an almost national treasure status. He’s still worth checking out, his last album Post Pop Depression (2016) stands up pretty well.

It’s a roller-coaster story, but what of the music? Here is a list of some Iggy/Stooges songs with links in no particular order. Have a listen.

Lust for Life – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQvUBf5l7Vw

No Fun – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-4icrlZbaY

Nightclubbing – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3OaMZojJRg

The Passenger – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0nlygb1Qfw

New Values – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSpAJwv9iI8

Raw Power – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mZ0sSStW6Y&list=RD3mZ0sSStW6Y&start_radio=1

My visit to the BP Portrait Award exhibition

BP Portrait award Zack Zdrale
BP Portrait Award – Sister – Zack Zdrale

I made my annual visit to the National Portrait Gallery to see the BP Portrait Award exhibition 2018, sandwiched between watching England’s surprising progress at the World Cup!

One of the most prestigious portrait painting competitions, the BP Portrait Award has been running since 1980. There’s usually a mix of professional and student artists. So I just thought I’d put in a word for an inspiring exhibition and praise the art of the portrait.

The BP Award is where I go for inspiration and to marvel at the technical skills of the artists involved. I always find portraits that interest me every time I visit. Whether it’s photo realistic painting, paintings with some great inner psychology or simply colour, it’s all here.

So this time I saw great examples of photo realistic painting and some brilliant compositions. It’s not simply about a likeness, but also a mood or feel. Also I love the attention to surroundings and the depiction of props and clothing.

Looking round the exhibition I was drawn to this small portrait entitled ‘Sister’ by American artist Zack Zdrale http://zackzdrale.com/. Why was this? On first viewing it looked a little imposing and the model, Zack’s sister, a little stern with her intense gaze at the viewer. In his commentary Zack stressed that it was his sister’s expression of strength that dictated his painting. May be that’s why my first reaction was how imposing the pose seemed?

However, I think my reaction to the portrait chimed with what Zack set out to achieve. The slashes of light that hit the face and lower part of the neck immediately caught my eye. The strong triangular composition and use of chiaroscuro links in with the strength of the sitter’s gaze. Using a limited palette and with huge swathes of dark paint, my eye was directed to the boldly lit face.

This is just one of 48 paintings on show at the exhibition. You can look at the other paintings on the National Portrait Gallery’s website https://www.npg.org.uk/whatson/bp-portrait-award-2018/exhibition/exhibitors/. However, I would seriously recommend a visit when you’re next in London. The exhibition runs until 23rd September.

David Byrne. Stop making sense!

David Byrne
David Byrne

A recent gig to see David Byrne on his ‘American Utopia’ tour at the Birmingham Symphony Hall immediately reminded me of an earlier oil painting I made of the great man. I thought I’d give it an airing and revisit him and his old band, Talking Heads. This image was when he was lead singer with Talking Heads around 1979, and I just had to paint it. It was also about the time they released one of their finest albums ‘Fear of Music’.

On this tour, Byrne himself is in good form, more comfortable in his own skin than ever before. The show, Samuel Beckett minimalism meets London Palladium variety revue, has no drum kits, amps or PA system on view. The band 12 strong, barefooted and in matching suits move around the stage with their instruments strapped to their bodies. Backed by excellent lighting, heavily choreographed and with a quirky upbeat mood throughout, Byrne has deconstructed the modern live performance while at the same time embracing existing modes of stage performance. This is no small feat, and Byrne’s claim that this is his most ambitious tour feels spot on. Here’s a link to a snippet of it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vlNvQkT_c8

This tour follows in the great tradition of David Byrne as art pop rocker, collaborating on films and in theatre. However, there is still the legacy of Talking Heads not only in some of the old songs performed. In the 1970s and 1980s Talking Heads were an intellectual art school dance band. They fused post punk, new wave, krautrock, afro, funk, and an avant-garde sensibility crossing over into pop. Lead singer David Byrne was an anxious, nervous, arty oddball, “borderline Asperger’s” by his own recent admission, but constantly looking to reinvent his music. They produced one of the finest and slightly left field rock concert films in recent history “Stop making sense” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKKgwuAoshA. Give it a look but stick with it.

Whatever your view on the band and their music, it worked and was quirky. Taking the mundane and suburban, Byrne used the classic artifices of juxtaposition and counterpoint in his lyrics to make a point or not. He continued this throughout his career with Talking Heads even when they became commercially successful. Citing life giving air as painful, taking happiness as something mundane or viewing the world from the point of view of a psychopath or urban guerrilla, his take on events was never obvious.

He’s back on tour in the UK in October and November. Enigmatic with a good back catalogue as well as new stuff, I’d recommend trying to catch him.

In praise of Still Life

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Critics often say that still life paintings are a little uninspiring, an acquired taste, decorative yes, but a little dull. When compared to human subject matter and landscapes, still life ranks quite low in the pecking order of art forms.

My view is that still life art is more than just genre paintings, something pleasing to hang on your wall. So what is it about  the portrayal of some natural or man-made items that should make us reassess the impact of still life painting?

As an artist, and this is a technical standpoint, they are an exercise in looking once, and then looking again. For an artist it is the demand on the observation, the attention to composition and the arrangement of space and objects. The artist’s level of technical skill involves depicting colours, light, form and a response from the viewing experience. This experience could be anything. It could be realism, emotion or symbolism, but it depends on your style, your outlook and approach as an artist.

Still life paintings can be symbolic, as shown by many of the Dutch and Flemish 17th century painters. They would use books to represent knowledge, skulls to represent death and wine for pleasure. The still life painting would be bound up as an overall reminder for the viewer that we are all mortal and life is fragile. Known as ‘Momento Mori’ artwork (Latin for ‘Remember you must die’), http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/m/memento-mori and taken further with ‘Vanitas’ paintings http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/v/vanitas , they were a sort of visual cautionary tale that the pleasures and goods we pursued in our life were effectively worthless.

Obviously these paintings were symbolic, steeped in and framed by the strong influence of the church at the time. However, still life painting should act as a catalyst, making us look in more depth at the world around us. How many times do you watch TV, look at your mobile, answer a text while still talking to somebody? There is no focus on any of these things to any real extent, but that is how we seem to function these days. How many times have you walked to get somewhere, yet have no recollection of what you’ve really seen when walking? Do you really look at buildings, natural objects, people etc, other than a cursory glance?

Modern life has a bearing on how little we observe and really take time to look at something. Our attention span can be short on a variety of different issues. However, we know that many medical and technological innovations have come from somebody simply observing something in the first place. From really looking and understanding a problem or disease, a solution or medicine has been created. If we spend time really looking at something for more than a few seconds we can probably understand, appreciate and inform ourselves about what we have seen. May be our first impression was not entirely correct, may be we are not seeing the full picture!

Still life paintings take everyday objects we take for granted and show them in a new light. There might be symbolism, but the act of looking again is something we should probably try to practice in the outside world. In all this I’m not referring to spirituality or religion, but just the simple act of looking and observing. So the next time you see a still life painting, have a look, and may be later on see what’s around you in the real world. You might be surprised or look at things a little differently.

Learning to draw and paint the Atelier way

Charcoal drawing of cast model
Charcoal drawing of a cast at London Fine Art Studios.

Even the most skilled artists are always learning, and continue to develop their art. I thought it might be interesting to share my experiences, particularly for those who already draw and paint or those who maybe want to start drawing.

With improving my drawing and painting in mind, I went looking for ways to do this with some focused tuition. Obviously constant practice is essential, but sometimes you want more advice and guidance. My answer was to go to an Atelier workshop.

What is an Atelier? Sounds highbrow and slightly daunting? Not really, an Atelier is a workshop and process where an artist acts as a tutor teaching by example and demonstration to a number of students. The idea behind this is that groups of artists learn a process together, and learn how to use this process utilising their own individual styles. Everybody is different and has a different way of working, but there is a straightforward process on how to learn to see and draw.

Still confused? Well what I’m learning at the London Fine Art Studios (http://londonfineartstudios.com/) is the importance of working from life, not photographs. Although I already knew this and practised it, I’ve learnt about classical techniques such as encajar and sight-size (http://www.painters-online.co.uk/techniques-and-tips/view,encajar-and-sightsize-learn-classical-drawing-techniques_5232.htm). Tutors emphasise the quality of line to construct images, the importance of values with darks and lights, and the treatment of form, edges and the use of colour. All of these processes are critical in creating a realistic drawing and transferring that drawing into a painting if required.

Now, for some of you, the above techniques might sound and seem totally alien but you probably use some of them already, and if you want to really develop your drawing I would seriously recommend just finding out more. Ateliers are centuries old, used by the Renaissance painters, Rubens, Van Dyke, Singer Sargent etc, and their methods are tried and tested. They also dispel the myth of the solitary artist struggling away and demonstrate a more inclusive way of learning to draw and paint.

Lennon – A commission down memory lane

Portrait painting John Lennon
John Lennon circa White Album

This recent commission, an acrylic painting of John Lennon around 1968, was an interesting one and got me thinking. What is my favourite Beatle track? What is my all time favourite Beatle’s album? I even played a Beatle song or two while painting it!

Like most people born in the 60s, but not everybody I appreciate, the Beatles were either a focal point or backdrop to your musical tastes and development. Over time they have fallen out of favour and come back in again, but their influence was immense musically and culturally.

So I started to go over a few songs and albums and the usual suspects all reared their heads – ‘Love Me Do’, ‘She Loves You’,’Yesterday’, ‘All You Need is Love’ etc etc. Now this wasn’t easy with such a back catalogue, however, there was one song which I still think is one of their best. It wasn’t a single but an album track off ‘Rubber Soul’, the reflective and slightly plaintive ‘In My Life’. Lennon and McCartney at their best.

With the albums again everybody seems to cite ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Clubs Band’ as the seminal album and game changer. For me this was difficult so I cheated and have picked two albums ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Revolver’ from the 1965/1966 period. What I like about these albums is that the songs are taut, simple yet cleverly constructed songs and the beginnings of intelligent and insightful lyrics.

Whatever your opinion is of the Beatles give it a go, unless you absolutely detest them you will find something. What’s amazing to me is how sometimes a simple portrait painting of somebody, who when all said and done is not somebody you know or have met, but can evoke connections and memories taking you back to a place somewhere like your childhood. Long live the power of art!


 

‘Ship of Fools’ – Painting can be a laugh

Sometimes it’s fun just to create a painting that’s a bit of a laugh. I started to paint this one with poking fun in mind, particularly the pompous Tory crowd on this boat just about to go over the edge of a waterfall.

The painting loosely inspired by Bosch’s painting ‘Ship of Fools’ http://www.hieronymusbosch.net/ship-of-fools/ and gives a big nod to the works of James Gilray and John Heartfield. In their time all these artists were capable of sending up the establishment and the rich and powerful.

Whatever your political stance the art of wit, humour, sense of the ludicrous and general lampooning should never be lost, and for me this is what this painting has recreated.

This painting is on show at the Alfred East Art Gallery, Kettering until 26th May 2018 if you want a closer look.

Kingley Vale painting

Landscape painting towards Chichester from Kingley Vale
Towards Chichester from Kingley Vale

Well, this is my first blog post on my new website. So here’s a painting from my travels.

This is a scene across Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve towards Chichester. It’s a wonderful chalk grassland littered with ancient burial mounds, yew trees and woodland dating back 500 years and more.

The view painted here is at the top of the valley with its stunning panoramic view over the woodland with Chichester harbour in the distance.