Monday, November 18, 2019

First Love

One thing leads to another. 

While reading Ian McDonald's classic 1969 Caribbean novel, The Humming-bird Tree I was reminded of Sheila Hyndman's poem, Lost Love. Both beautifully touch on the theme of adolescence first love. It was my good fortune to have know Sheila from her Virgin Island High School days and up until her sudden death at the age of thirty-two. I illustrated a collection of Sheila's poems, one of which, Lost Love tells of her first love. Two of the verses read as follows:

Down by the seashore where mangroves thrive,
We visit our dream world, Peter and I.
And once when storm clouds blackened the air,
He held my hand and I didn't care.

Round Christmas time, I stole ham and tart
And we had our little feast.
Peter gave me a bat'n ball and I told no one,
For I knew they would surely tease.

I also encouraged Sheila during the early stages of her first novel, sadly unfinished at the time of her death. The novel followed four generations of Virgin Islanders and the island of Virgin Gorda, from slavery to the present day.

Recollections of the days we spent together collecting material on Virgin Gorda led me to search through past portfolios for the sketches that I made to illustrate Sheila's novel. The opening watercolour and the pen and ink sketch below are from that series - albeit that they show signs of having since weathered three major hurricanes.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Studio Retrospective

I am always searching for information on the working methods of artists from the past. Sometimes my interest is aroused by images taken in the early days of photography, as those taken in Roden's studio over a hundred years ago. More rarely I find a painting or sketch made by a student at one of the 19th century French teaching ateliers.  

The painting that opens today's post was made by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) when he was a student at Gustave Morean's atelier in 1895. Gustave Morean was a painter of biblical and classical subjects in the academic tradition. Henri Matisse turned out to be the opposite. Until the advent of Cubism he was one of the most innovative painters in Paris. Although radically different in technique, the arrangement of his 1899 painting, Study of a Nude has a resemblance to the the painting of his student days. 

In the atelier painting my eye is drawn to the prop that leads to the model's elbow. It is a devise that enables the model to return to the same pose. I use similar props when my model has to repeat a pose, week in week out, for a piece of sculpture.

These days art students go to college to study for BA's and MA's. They no longer hone their skills working from the live model on the studio floor. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Improvising in paradise

Living on a small idyllic island in the Caribbean has its limitations, not least that you can't pop into town and buy the tools and materials you need. Both as an artist and engineer I have to improvise. Making a lino cut to print the cover for a collection of my hand-made papers is a case in point.

The lino I used fifty years ago for similar projects is a thing of the past. So too are vinyl floor tiles that could be used as a substitute. As an alternative I resorted to cutting the leg off a pair of old wellington boots. And that is what I used to make the block you see in the above picture. The turntable upon which the block is mounted for carving is made from a heavy brass search light that I salvaged from the Maude L, a wrecked inter-island trading boat.The cutting tools date from my teenage years and I begged the ink from the island's printer.

Below is the first impression. I now need to fine-tune the lettering. Due to the texture of hand-made paper, I have to keep the entire design bold and simple.

My day began sedately carving the above block and ended, bruised and battered, in an attempt to restore the inlet to our water pump that was damaged when the river was in full flood a few days ago. Welcome to the paradise!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

In search of gold

My search for gold takes me in two different directions: the first in search of inspirational models and the second in search for present day inspirational artists working with the nude figure.

For the first my eyes are constantly on the look out for future contenders in my series Daughters of the Caribbean. This morning as I entered a supermarket (or as super as it's likely to get in a small Caribbean island) I glanced a face and figure that ideally fulfills my needs. In my book Notes on the Nude under the heading "Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady" I refer to approaching likely candidates in the streets. After the initial shook has worn off I am usually well received. I now keep my fingers crossed that my new found gold will accept the challenge of modelling.

My search for inspirational artists involves trolling the internet for hours on end. One thing leads to another and once in a while I strike gold, as with the sketches below. It is the work of a young Russian artist by the name of Igor Krapar. They are sketches to which I can honestly say, I wish I'd have drawn them!

Igor Krapar's paintings display the same intensity and originality, as shown in the one below. The repertoire of the nude is limited. Since the fourth century the same postures have been used time and time again. Igor Kraper deserves credit for seeing the nude from a new angle. It is easy for the split second photographer but more difficult for the painter no matter how adept at capturing the fleeting moment.

Interestingly, many followers of this blog are from Russia where at present there seems to be a revival of interest in the figurative.

Friday, October 25, 2019

What a community!

The picture that opens this post earned the following response from Tumblr when, following the lead of Face Book, they banned "Adult Content". 

This post was flagged because it contains adult content that violates our Community Guidelines. It has been reviewed by one of our trained experts and cannot be appealed.

The relevant Tumblr guideline reads as follows:

Banned content includes photos, videos, and GIFs of human genitalia, female-presenting nipples, and any media involving sex acts, including illustrations. The exceptions include nude classical statues and political protests that feature nudity. The new guidelines exclude text, so erotica remains permitted. Illustrations and art that feature nudity are still okay — so long as sex acts aren’t depicted — and so are breastfeeding and after-birth photos.

Whilst my clay sketch of the reclining figure is not a "classical nude statue" it nevertheless qualifies as "art". Tumblr's ban went into effect in December 2018. Since that date they may have re-trained their experts for when I re-submitted the picture a few weeks ago it sneaked through. Thank goodness that the Blogger Community has a more mature approach to nudity.

Below, without fear of being flagged, is one of three paintings from yesterday's painting session with Collean. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Without shame or wantonness

"A girl stood before him in midstream...her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane's...her thighs, fuller and soft hued as ivory were bared almost to the hips...She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the worship of his eyes, her eyes turned to him in quite sufferance of his gaze, without shame or wantonness.

The above passage from "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" By James Joyce (1882-1941) reminded me of a similar experience of my own from almost fifty years ago.

Safely at anchor after five solitary weeks at sea, I dived overboard. The warm tropical sea caressed every inch of my body and with leisurely stokes I swam towards a beach where four girls in their late teens were laughing and splashing in shallow water. Oblivious to my presence, they playfully wrestled and grabbed at the ties of each other’s bikinis. As they struggled I caught glimpses of dark areolas and the beguiling contours off their pudenda. Three of the girls waded ashore and the girl that remained told her friends that she’d follow after rinsing the sand out of her bikini. They shouted back, “White man will see your pussy.” Unabashed she replied, “See if I care!”

I watched as my solitary Venus bared her breasts and deftly stepped out of her bikini. She flung the flimsy triangles over her shoulder and nonchalantly washed the grains of sand from her body. There was no trace of shyness or shame, only innocent delight in the wonder of her sexuality.

If only more people could accept the beauty of the nude and our sexuality without shame or wantonness.

The sketches below are from hundreds that I made on Caribbean beaches in the 1970's and 1980's.


Sunday, October 13, 2019

After I'm Gone

As with many artists that received limited recognition in their lifetime, I consider the chance - slender though it may be - that it could come along after my death.

For this reason I am reluctant to part with the hundreds of paintings in my series Daughters of the Caribbean Sun. The paintings span a period of over thirty years and they form a single entity. Very few have suffered what the artist James Whistler described as the indignity of being sold.

I can count on my hand the number of artists, past and present, who have allowed watercolour the freedom to suggest the beauty of the female form. I stress freedom as against as against contrived restraint. My method of working direct and rapidly from the model is unpredictable. A painting that I might perceive as a failure nevertheless contains an element of truth. Today’s painting is a case in point.

One reason for my book Notes on the Nude is that after I am gone, I can still have a say as to what my work has been all about. I hope that my models will also have their say, as they have done in the closing pages of my book. They have shared my struggles and celebrated our occasional success. I would much sooner that my models have their say rather than some art academic that wouldn't know a painting if one fell on his - or more likely her - head. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

A Woman Undressing

A Woman Undressing
Egon Schiele (1890-1918)

A woman undressing is like the sun breaking through the clouds. (Auguste Rodin 1840-1917)

Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Egon Schiele all worked around the theme of a woman undressing. My own contribution to undressing as against undressed, is limited to these sketches from ten years ago.

At a pinch, this more recent watercolour from my book Notes on the Nude may also qualify.

Friday, October 4, 2019

I wouldn't give tuppence for it

The first picture is from a recent experiment in paper making. On a left-over batch of cotton rag pulp I threw some petals and slender strands of stamen. The surround is a paper made from banana stems. Nine out of ten visitors to my studio are attracted to it.

The second picture is one of the hundreds of studies that I have painted for my series Daughters of the Caribbean Sun. It does not adhere to the common concept of beauty. Nine out of ten visitors to my studio wouldn't give tuppence for it. 

I am not the first painter to be out of tune with the perceptions of the public at large. Towards the end of his lifetime's work Michelangelo declared that he'd have been better off selling matches. 

Likewise, the landscape painter John Constable wrote: 

There is no finish in nature. My art flatters nobody by imitation; it courts nobody by smoothness and tickles nobody by then can I hope to be popular!

Friday, September 27, 2019

I have not seen as others saw

As a painter it is necessary for me to have a different way of seeing. My task is to see beauty where it has not been seen before. But in doing so, I make life difficult for myself and difficult for others to patronise what I create.

Artists have to create their own following and very often recognition comes long after their time on earth. In the process of seeking for the unknown I am rarely sure of the value of what I have created at the time of creation. As with public recognition, it comes in retrospect. 

Today's painting is a case in point. It was painted four years ago and at the time I doubted that I had put down on paper what I was searching for. I now realise that I had come close to my objective. It's not a painting that will attract "how sweet" comments from the Face Book Community but it might appeal to the cognoscenti in search of
 the endless beauty of the nude. 

I have taken the title of today's post from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. It is a poem that I choose for the Memorial Service of Virgin Island poet Sheila Hyndman Wheatley (1958-1991). It could be equally fitting for mine.

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; nor could I awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.          

Saturday, September 21, 2019

State of the Art (Part Two: Photocopies)

When photography came along in the mid-nineteenth century one would have assumed that it would have freed the artist of the need to exactly copy the subject. The camera can better define individual strands of hair and every leaf on a tree. But one hundred and fifty years on it has ironically worked the other way around. In reviewing the current state of the art I find that most aspiring artists copy from photographs down to the last hair follicle and blade of grass. Furthermore, whereas once it was the artist that worked from the live model, it is now the photographer and the artist is content to minutely copy from the photograph. How boring can life get!

Granted, working from life can be an difficult business: the wind blows, the rain falls and the model wilts. Once, when I had set up my stall for painting a market scene on the Caribbean island of Grenada, a dog came along and drank the water from my containers. At least on that occasion, my onlookers were friendly enough to replenish my supply. But the same support wasn't forthcoming when I was painting the dark satanic mills in my native industrial north of England. On that bleak winter afternoon, a group of young boys took delight in raining stones down on me. In comparison, painting from the nude figure in the warmth of a tropical afternoon sounds idyllic, and it is - until ants and mosquitoes begin eating my model.

Nevertheless, against all those set backs, the only way that I can convincingly capture life is to work from life. Although life-classes have begun to proliferate, the lessons learnt appear to go no further than the classroom door. To find out how different are the life-classes that I teach from my studio from the normal run of things, turn to page 26 in my book Notes on the Nude.

The opening and closing sketches are demonstrations that I did for my life class students. Both were made in less than a minute and the first is on a 16" x 20" sheet of newsprint. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

State of the Art (Part One)

Over the last few weeks, in an effort to understand the current state of the visual arts, I have surfed my way through countless internet sites that attract amateur and professional artists. With a few exceptions it has been a depressing business. 

The sites fall into two main categories: Face Book Groups and On-Line Art Galleries. From these can be found links to the websites of individual artists. To gauge reaction to my own work I have joined and contributed to some of the sites. I thank those sites for having me on board, albeit that my responses may be deemed critical. But bear in mind, criticism - and in particular self criticism - is an essential component in art.

The numerous Face Book groups are generally focused to those working in a specific medium (pencil, pastel, watercolour, etc.) or location. They mostly attract aspiring amateurs and the groups administrator(s) rules the roost. Portraits and landscapes are the most popular subjects. A large percentage of the work submitted is meticulously copied from photographs. The nude figure - the bedrock of art through the ages - is for the most part absent and banned from some groups. 

In essence Face Book groups serve as mutual admiration societies. Typical comments include: Very Nice...Amazing...So Beautiful...How Lovely...Wonderful...So Sweet.

Apart from being "blocked" from two sites my own work fared reasonably well in terms of feedback. Today's opening picture is one that I submitted and - a rarity for responses in these groups - I had some "constructive" criticism.

...personally, I would do two things differently, use a much smaller brush and much less water. It seems like the dampness is giving you problems...A very fine brush will give you much better control of the medium. And yes, it will require patience.

I will try to heed the above advice. Who knows, with less water, a smaller brush and patience, I may improve.

Brian Tai's painting, shown below. is at the upper end of the scale. But he also attracted a similar comment:

Nice painting, but not enough painting (I assume that to mean, smaller brush and more patience needed over detail)!

It's a good job that Face Book Groups were not around in Van Gogh's time as otherwise he might have been persuaded to use a smaller brush, less paint and more patience!

I will have more to say about the state of the art in forthcoming posts. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Erotic implications

In the latest extract from my forthcoming book Notes on the Nude I speak of the delicate balancing act between sexual desire and erotic implications. Working from the nude figure demands passion tempered with integrity and daring tempered with restraint.

Today I came across the very first sketch that I made of my model Annabelle. It was the beginning of an inspirational working relationship that lasted six years. 

Here she is again, just before she left to attend medical school in the States. 


Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Love's labour's lost

The two paintings below are of the same model. The first was thrown down in a matter of seconds direct from the life, whereas the second was laboured over after the event. The first captures the passion of the fleeting moment; a moment that was lost in the labours of the second painting.

Given the choice, I know that most viewers would dismiss the first as being unfathomable and go for the second. But for me, the mood of the moment is captured in the gay and abandoned suggestive washes of the first rather than in the "correctness" of the second.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Too shy to ask

In my early years of painting the figure I missed the chance of many good models through being too shy to ask. I have since learnt that many of those who I would have liked to model for me would have willing done so if only I had asked! 

Now that I am into my final quarter century I take more chances for there is no time to waste. I have dedicated my book Notes on the Nude to my models. They give body and soul to my work and without their contribution to the creative process my paintings and sculptures would not exist.

Today's painting was made in the final fifteen minutes of Collean's last modelling session. As with most of my watercolours, it was painted with a Number 14 Sable Brush on a 18" x 24" sheet of paper. I feel restricted with anything less...and without a model I'm lost.