My on-line diary began in the 1990's from my studio in the North of England. After a lapse of ten years, I resumed posting from my present studio on the Caribbean island of Dominica.
From the far beginning, the intention has been to give an insight into my working methods, and to share the triumphs, trials and tribulations of work-in-progress.
My diary pages are followed by thousands of artists, art students and art lovers in over 50 countries.
Friday, March 16, 2018
Sometimes I feel that I have been born in the wrong century. Whether it be painting, sculpting, or engineering, my interests, materials and techniques are rooted in the past. Even when it comes to computers, I'm reluctant to update. Is anyone else in the world still using Photoshop 2?
This time lag was brought home to me today as I returned to paper making. As I researched the finer points of applying size to the finished sheet I came across this old print. Even though it depicts paper making from centuries ago, I could see myself in the picture. Nothing has changed!
Sunday, March 11, 2018
This week has been one of engineering emergencies and excavating and re-laying 100 yards of my three-phase electricity cable. I've had no time to labour on the forge of art. Here instead is one of my recent newspaper commentaries.
A recent comment on Dominica News on Line posed the question: are we becoming an Academic Elitist Society. I share the writer's concern for in my experience we loose rather than gain from an overload of academic qualifications and specialization.
As we haven't yet quite reached the dubious distinction of a “graduate in every home” and as 15% of West Indians are - like me - dyslexic, my own slant on the academic vs the practical may be relevant. Academic qualifications have a place in the overall scheme of things. We do need highly qualified doctors, lawyers and accountants. But at the same time we need skilled artisans and the current imbalance may be one reason why we are not moving forward as we should.
Whereas it is the norm for academic subjects to be encouraged from a very early age, skills, with the exception of sports, receive virtually no attention at all. The artisan relies on the coordination between hand and eye and for this to develop it must be practiced from an early age.
Five hundred years ago, at the age of twelve, Michelangelo was considered too old to begin learning the trade of a sculptor. Leonardo da Vinci served his apprenticeship as a painter and had no formal schooling in architecture, science and engineering. Thomas Telford, the godfather of civil engineering, was raised in poverty and at the age of thirteen began his apprenticeship as a stone mason. Andrew Marvell, the most lyrical of all 17th century poets, was a politician.
Our means of recognizing and measuring intelligence is flawed. Examinations cannot measure creativity and innovative thinking. Such attributes are not on the set answer sheet. Neither can they measure manual dexterity. The skilled carpenter's eye is his gauge to measure beauty by.
One Dominican that I would rank in the realms of genius did poorly at school and you won't find him behind an office desk or sat on a committee. Yet companies and government departments with a score of graduates on their pay roll depend on his knowledge and skills when their equipment breaks down.
Sixty-five years ago I failed miserably the Eleven Plus – the UK forerunner of our Common Entrance Examination. Yet in the same year I designed and built a model aircraft that could fly the length of a football field. Needless to say, that achievement counted for naught.
The school that I was sent to was labeled, “sink secondary modern”, meaning failing. Many years later, when my engineering studies put me alongside ex-grammar school students, I realized that my “sink” school had better prepared me for my life's work than theirs had. At my school the boys had a fully equipped wood and metal workshop and the girls, a sewing room and kitchen. We had an art room and music room and inspirational, non graduate teachers. All of the subjects were compulsory. Many of my classmates became high achievers in diverse fields. And that was from what were perceived to be failing pupils and a failing school.
Incidentally, I honed my skills as an artist, not at college, but on the pavements of France with a wife and nine month old baby in tow.
Granted, here in Dominica, we have made some attempt to include non-academic subjects in school syllabuses but at all levels we fall far short of a balance between the practical and theoretical. As one headmistress told me when I was offering free Saturday morning classes for students with an interest in art: my girls do not have time for that sort of thing. And most parents have a similar mind set. Thus, Dominica falls short of its human resource potential.
The illustration is taken from my book “Caribbean Sketches”
Friday, March 2, 2018
Saturday, February 24, 2018
Rodin, in his latter years, made thousands of instantaneous drawings of his models. He was proud of his new genre and wondered if he did not prefer it to sculpture. The reason being that it captured movement more quickly. One observer described it as: an extraordinary method with glaring inaccuracies.
I can well relate to Rodin's preference for I have found the same to hold true.
The painting above is one that I made in almost a split second as my model Verlena stretched between one pose and the next. The drawing below is one of Rodin's.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Finally a thick coat of plaster is trowelled over the first flicked coat.
Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Saturday, February 10, 2018
I alternate between many things. On the art side of the coin it is between painting and sculpture. When I'm working on the one my mind is visualising the other.
Ever since Verlena began modelling for my paintings, I have longed to make her the subject of a sculpture. But whereas a painting can be done in one session, sculpture takes time, and Verlena is free for only one morning a week.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was trying to put into words the vision I had of a very simple standing figure - simple poses are always the most difficult - I turn and, low and behold, there she was attentively listening, hands clasped behind her back, in the very pose I had in mind.
There is not the time or material to realise my vision lifesize, but today's picture shows the beginning of a quarter size maquette. The match sticks are reference points and the armature is made out of lead, for ease of flexibility.
Saturday, February 3, 2018
My following commentary recently appeared in Dominica's on-line newspaper:
A century ago the American artist Robert Henri wrote:
“There is nothing in all the world more beautiful than the nude human body. It is not only among artists, but among all people, that a greater appreciation and respect for the human body should develop. When we respect the nude we will no longer have any shame about it.”
In the Caribbean, carnival is culture and culture, at least here in Dominica, is classified as art. I question that last linkage, but let’s leave it be, for it gives me a slender qualification to say what I have to say on the subject of this commentary.
As an artist I have spent a lifetime depicting the beauty of the nude, and in particular, the beauty of the Afro-Caribbean female nude. From that perspective, let me try to differentiate between nude and lewd.
In the early 1980’s, I began the paintings and sculptures in my series, “Daughters of the Caribbean Sun”. My mission was to extol the beauty of the Afro-Caribbean woman, unadorned by foreign influences. To achieve my objective I had to go beyond Marcus Garvey's plea to “take the kinks out of your mind, not out of your hair”.
The nude figure is less sexually provocative than one that is scantily dressed. After the initial shock of the nude, the eye takes in the beauty of the body as a whole rather than being drawn to the parts tantalisingly hidden in the name of decency. I know that this is something that many people have difficulty getting their head around, but it is a fact. If I wanted my models to look sexy, I'd put them in a bikini and have them pose seductively, hand on hip.
This is where sexual lewdness corrupts an otherwise innocent picture. But differentiating one from the other can be a delicate balancing act. And this applies not only to the artist and model; carnival participants are also vulnerable to misjudgment.
Let me make it clear, I am not advocating that we revert to a state of nudity but that we do not succumb to an overload of missionary zeal. After all, we are supposed to be the Nature Island of the Caribbean and what could be more natural than ourselves? A comment in my visitors' book from a Carnival Queen contender reads: You have opened my eyes and mind to true beauty.
Incidentally, age need not destroy beauty. A profound nude by the French sculptor Rodin portrays a woman in her eighties.
My subjects are not professional models. They come from all walks of life, from college graduates with a Ph.D. to market vendors. What they have in common is an understanding of what I am trying to portray. Without exception they have all found the experience liberating and uplifting. It is the model’s task to inspire and they are proud of their contribution to the creative process.
Before I begin a painting, or when instructing a life class, I cite the words of advice given by a past master of the figure:
“Take the shoes from off thy feet, for the ground you are about to step upon is Holy Ground”.
Perhaps it behooves us all to heed those words.
Today's painting is from my morning's session with Verlena. Surely nothing in the world could be more innocent and less lewd!
Sunday, January 28, 2018
My diary refers to sketching on a riverside in Grenada.
“…One day, a young woman, undeterred by the teasing of her mates, planted down her basket of washing on a boulder close to my chosen spot. I rapidly made sketch after sketch until she had scrubbed, beaten, and rinsed her last item. But her day’s wash didn’t end there, for she next deftly took off her dress and added that to the wash. Then, unabashed, she soaped herself down and - using a calabash bowl as a ladle - knelt and poured the cooling river water over her naked body…”
When I recall those halcyon days, I recollect not one bathing figure but a bevy of bathers and I am now sorely tempted to re-create in clay that idyllic scene. Like the figures on Rodin's “Gates of Hell” the maquettes may prove to be a breeding ground for new ideas.
Today's sketch was scribbled on the first scrap of paper that came to hand as the concept was running around in my mind.
Saturday, January 20, 2018
The advice from legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker to aspiring musicians was: learn you instrument, practice, practice, practice - then forget all you have learnt.
The same advice holds true twice over for watercolorists striving to capture the nuances of the nude figure. If my paintings of the nude appear at times repetitive, it is because practice is repetitive. Over the course of a lifetime, I have learnt “my instrument” and in more recent years, in order to give my paintings freedom, I have strived to forget all I have learnt.
My difficulty twice over is because I can only practice from the live model: and inspirational live models are few and far between. I'm not looking for beauty queens but models, of any age, who can feel comfortable and proud in their own skin. If there's a potential new one out there, please get in touch!
Today's picture is the end result – three paintings in all - of my morning's session with my current inspirational model, Verlena.
Over the years I have had poets, musicians, ballet dancers, cashiers, street vendors, teachers and doctors as models, but this is the first time that I've pleasure of working with a talented calligrapher!
I apologize for the abysmally. low picture quality but my main computer and best camera, thanks to hurricane Maria, are out of action.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
My love is of a birth so rare
As ‘tis for object strange and high;
It was begotten by Despair
(Andrew Marvell 1659-1678)
Like true love, the creative endeavors of artist and model are thwart with difficulties and success verges on impossibility. Inspiration is dependent on the united body and soul of both. Trying too hard induces failure more than not trying at all. Our shared Muse “laughs and flies when pressed and bidden”, as she did on my final session with Annabelle – my faithful model for six years - before she left for the States.
As can be seen in today's picture, success evaded me – albeit by a hair's breadth – and Annabelle's poignant last words were…I'm cold!
Saturday, January 6, 2018
Regular followers of my diary know that my work takes me in all directions and all the more so in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. But diversity would have been no stranger to artists of earlier times.
Currently I'm making my own paper, my own raw pigments and extracting the filaments from banana stems for spinning a thread finer than silk. You can also add, toiling with pick and shovel to make our drive motorable and with chainsaw and machete to restore the path to the river.
In between all the above I'm making a pair of shorts (after first converting our sewing machine to hand-crank - remember, no electricity). The only shorts you can buy in the Caribbean come down below the knee, whereas my concept of tropical dress is bare minimum - or better still, nothing at all!
The first picture shows earth pigments found along the river bank and the second banana filament, more precious than gold.
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Since Hurricane Maria devastated Dominica three months ago, we have been without electricity. For one hour a day we run the generator to charge batteries, but after that it's candle light.
Yesterday evening, when glancing in the bathroom mirror, by the afore said candle light, who did I see staring back at me: none other than Harmensz van Rijn Rembrandt (1606-1669).
Rembrandt, and other artists from earlier periods, lived and worked by candle light. I now realise that it is this light that gave their painting dramatic heights and depths.
It is not often that I indulge in a self-portrait - my last dates from 1974 - but here I am, in the bathroom mirror in candle light.
Perhaps for the New Year I should tell my models to forget the morning and afternoon sessions, from now on we will work after dark by candle light.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
For a watercolourist the highlights are the white of the paper and, at best, the depths a thunderous wash that is weakened by the inherent transparency of the medium.
The gem-like jet blackness of my present model forces me to risk all I know in my attempt for a likeness. One wash is thrown down on top of another and the inevitable runs mopped up with a tissue.
Mind you, tissues have been heavily in demand today as both my model and myself are recovering from a severe bout of flue.
Thank you Verlena for seeing the session through to the end. Today's picture shows that it was worth our efforts.
This painting reverts back to my 22" x 16" format. It was painted through out with a number 16 brush and took 20 minutes, or rather 60 years, from beginning to end.
Monday, December 11, 2017
Today's painting, small by my standards, is no larger than a sheet of typing paper. Nevertheless, it says all that I have spent a lifetime trying to say in terms of capturing the beauty of the nude figure through the elusive medium of watercolour.
I did not set out to paint a picture, but rather to give a new model and myself confidence of working together. In ten minutes we had broken the ice.
Thank you Verlena.