Thursday, July 11, 2024

Your hands fashioned and made me...


For my next video I will be returning to the biblical clay. The subject is my model Verlena as she is shown in the opening sketch. The sculpture is really unfinished business, for it is one that we were ready to start work on before she relocated overseas. All I have now is the sketch and some thumbnail photos taken when we were experimenting with this position or that. On the other hand, I have made three sculptures of Verlena, so I know her body by heart.

Incidentally, the clay I am using is the same clay I have used for all my sculptures over the last forty years. In true biblical belief, it has gone from dust to dust time without number. And now, it is once again about to be brought back to life. 

The sculpture will be in relief, rather than in the round. The following blog posts serve as an introduction.



Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Capturing the figure at a fleeting glance

Click on the image to view the video.

A painting of my wife Denise that I made over thirty years ago, opens my video Capturing the Figure at a Fleeting Glance

Of all painting media, watercolour offers the freedom I need to capture the model in all of her moods and changes. When given the freedom it deserves, a watercolour wash has a creative mind of its own. It can run amok or subtly blend. Why then, do most painters deprive watercolour of its most valuable asset.

But beyond the cognoscenti, I doubt that the message "to paint from life" will sink home to the aspirant artists who practice the equivalent of "painting by numbers".


Sunday, June 30, 2024

A Work of Art

My well-worn copy purchased circa 1970. Price six shillings.

Although controversial in their day, all of James Joyce's writings are now recognised as classics of 20th century literature. This documentary about the author's life and work was made sixty years ago by Ireland's National Television. By film making standards, it was made on a shoestring, but it is nevertheless a work of art and deserves an Oscar. 

As an 81st Birthday present to myself, I have ordered copies of The Dubliners, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. I hope they are not ceased and burnt by customs on arrival. 

Monday, June 24, 2024

Variations on a Theme

 Variations on a Theme
(Click on the image to view video) 

This video further explores the abstract that lies within my representational figurative paintings. The theme attempts subjects that I dare not contemplate in my youth. As such it represents a new challenge for my octogenarian years. 

The video's sound track features Larry McKenna playing Johnny Mercer's Skylark, the lyrics of which nicely set the mood.

And in your lonely flight
Haven’t you heard the music of the night
Wonderful music
Faint as a will o’ the wisp
Crazy as a loon
Sad as a gypsy serenading the moon…



Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Revealing the abstract

 A Different Way of Seeing
(Click on the image to view video) 

Fifty-five years ago, as an aspiring artist, I exhibited my paintings on the pavements of France, straight from the pages of my sketchbook. There was no aloof gallery attendant between artist and buyer.  My sketches were framed by falling leaves and lit by sunlight and shadow. When exhibited as pictures on walls, they are detached from their poetic origins.

Many years ago, I began experimenting with viewing paintings beyond the limitations of size and venue. I projected them as colour slides to the size of a house wall. More recently, video editing programs have enabled me to zoom into details and pan over the image. I have found paintings within a painting and details that border on the abstract.

The looser the painting, the greater is its potential for transformation. For this to happen, the freedom of my watercolours and pastels is an enabling factor. I found a rich source of material in the hundreds of paintings that over the years I have cast aside as perceived failures. When viewing these paintings larger than life, I found inspirational passages that begged to be retrieved.

Fishing boats, crowds at the carnival and the English countryside were a rich source of paintings within a painting. And the more creative and less defined the painting, the greater its abstract content, as proved to be the case in a still life and the riotous colours found in a single spray of flowers.

For my experiments the subject of the painting was incidental and my video invites you to experience a different way of seeing.  

Revealing the abstract 

Friday, June 7, 2024

Bear with me

Detail from the 16" x 20" pastel drawing shown in the insert.

In the first instance, I ask you to bear with me. In other words, be patient while I continue my experiments of focusing on the abstract potential of details. When I finally get the concept together, you can then bare with me. In other words, join me in viewing the beauty that is revealed.

Although the drawing as a whole is stilted, the detail is relaxed.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Revelations

The revelation of seeing a minute detail enlarge to the size of house wall.

The dictionary definition of "revelation" nicely sums up what I am after: A Pleasant and enlightening surprise. The surprise first came about ten years ago when I began searching for a new way of presenting my work, in the belief that there has to be more to exhibiting paintings than static framed pictures on walls.

I began experimenting by projecting onto an eight foot screen a one inch detail of a watercolour. The result was a pleasant and enlightening surprise. With video I can now go a step further and make the image move - just a the lines and washes that I throw down on paper move when the work is in progress. 

As I have indicated in numerous past posts: the devil is in the detail!

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Portraits with a difference


The last in my series of Painting from Life videos is on the subject of portraits, but portraits with a difference. The difference being working freely from the live model as against minutely copying from a photograph. The video ends with a four minute demonstration of me painting my self-portrait - warts and all. 

As my portraits do not look "just like a photograph", I doubt that the content will go down well with the majority of aspiring artists. But that's me!

I am now working on a series of experimental videos, not so much to tutor, but to inspire. 

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Innovation and Creativity

Bevin Etienne is a professor at the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia. He is from my island of dominica, and is an expert in the areas of sustainability, entrepreneurship, energy and social innovation.  

Dr. Etienne is currently visiting Dominica with fifteen of his students who are focusing on Social Entrepreneurship in Small Island Developing States. The theme of their visit to my workshops and studio was innovation and creativity - and that I have in abundance!

Saturday, May 11, 2024

All that Jass

 

The crowd at last year's Jazz 'n Creole

As a jazz devotee I have for years been concerned about the content of Dominica's annual Jazz 'n Creole. In the past I suggest that it be re-named, “Dominica Popular Music Festival + All Else”. 

But Dominica's Prime Minister went one better. In commenting on this year’s Jazz ‘n Creole, by accident or intent, he put the event in context when he said, I think that it has been a good Jazz. Had the word “jazz” been spelt “jass”, we could assume that he was not referring to the music but to the revellers having a jump up. 

The word jazz, in reference to the music as an art form, did not come into use until 1917. Before that it was jass.In those early days, jass was good time music in dance halls. The word being possibly derived from "jasmine", a strong perfume popular with prostitutes in the red-light district of New Orleans.

Promoting the event for what it really is would draw even bigger crowds. With a separate event devoted to jazz and its creole influence we could then begin to foster an appreciation for one of the world’s most profound art forms, and moreover, an understanding in young Dominicans that this art form was created by those of African and Creole descent. Such an event may not initially draw the crowds but it would in time appeal to the cognoscenti, as the success of real jazz festivals throughout the world have shown.

Video footage of the event left me wishing I could have been there - not to listen to the music but to sketch the crowds. 

How I wish!

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Landscapes with Figures

An image from my video Landscapes with Figures
 

My most recent video delves into the challenge of adding figures to landscapes. If done spontaneously, they fall into place as natural as breath; if they are laboured over they become obtrusive.

Although my sketches are the work of seconds, I have laboured for weeks to get the message across in a video. My demonstration ends with a statement from an onlooker: He's made a mess of that!

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Inheritance

 

Zeke

My daughter Trina lives in the UK and her two year old son Zeke, has recently started attending pre-school. A couple of weeks ago the school expressed concern about his speech, or rather his inability to speak. I told my daughter not to worry. 

I didn't start talking until I was five. (My brother says I've made up for it since!) I couldn't even pronounce my own name. The closest I could get to Roger was "Ory", and until their dying day my parents always referred to me as "our Ory". Perhaps, like me, he's dyslexic. If so, we have another creative person in the family.

Trina took my advice, and instead of worrying bought him a box of paints and sat him down in front of my latest video. The paints and video held him spellbound. But that isn't all. Yesterday, when she collected him from school, the teachers told her of a strange happening. At playtime, when the other children in his group played on bikes, slides and swings, he saw some of the older children painting. He promptly went over to them, picked up a pad and paint box, and very contentedly sat down in the playground and started to paint. My daughter was overjoyed. Just like his grandfather, he had found his individual place in life. 

But that isn't all. A similar story recently repeated itself in the British Virgin Islands. My son Karl is an accomplished potter. After watching my video "Releasing Your Creative Potential" his ten year old son Kem, came up with the drawing below.


If the current work of Zeke and Kem is anything to go buy, I can rest assured that my creative genes have been inherited by my grandchildren.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

The secret contents of my sketch bag

Click on the image to view the secret contents of my sketch bag.

I am forever being asked about the materials I use as a watercolourist. To put the matter to rest, my latest video reveals the secret contents of my sketch bag. In amongst what you'd expect to find, there are two essential items that you would never have guessed. 

The revelation came about by way of demonstrating my way of painting landscapes; not from a sterile photograph, but from life. 

If you click on the opening image, all will be revealed - from a five dollar bill to a bottle of 1001 Carpet Cleaner.
 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Exposing the Upper Extremities

Denise

The opening painting is of my wife Denise. The photo below is of eleven year old Zendaya Robinson, who to her credit - and that of her parents - is a young author featured in a book titled, Stories by Children.

Zendaya Robinson

The title of this post comes from a comment to the news feature that highlighted Zendaya's accomplishment. It reads: 

That  how parents are dressing their little girls? Just as grownups. No good examples whatsoever. What a shame to dress a little child with bare upper extremities. 

In polite sexual terms, "Bare Upper Extremities" ranks with "Private Parts".

The painting of my wife and the photo of Zendaya speak of innocence. Both relate to dress code and the Christian horror of nakedness. Cultural dress in the Caribbean labours under the same misconceptions, as illustrated below.

The result of a competition for the design of a 
Cultural Dress for the British Virgin Islands. 
(front view left, back view right) 

This again brought its share of readers comments to the associated news item. I added to the debate as to the appropriateness of the design:

Curiously, I have found that nowhere in the Caribbean, does the traditional/cultural dress reflect the African roots of the people. For the most part it reflects the dress of their past colonial masters. Culture isn't something that can be made up. It's not a promotional product. If it's not entrenched in the belly of the people, it counts for naught.

Readers responded as follows:

What you say is partly true, but Africa has thousands of different cultures, which are hugely varied, so unless all BVI Islanders can trace their roots back to one village, then it’s laughable to focus on one culture from that continent and copy it over to the BVI.

We should leave Africa out of this, we are Caribbean people, mix every which way and that. The current national wear reflects the Caribbean, which is suited to all who live here.

When my granny used to walk with basket on her head she didn't dress like that.


Perhaps it's time for me to reopen the portfolio of my Bare Minimum fashion designs.


Monday, April 8, 2024

A Radical Rethink


 Roseau, the capital of Dominica, as seen from outer space.

The comments in response to a recent news item, “City Facelift to Begin Later This Year” were in agreement that something needs to be done, but they questioned, what should be done and how it should be done. The only thing we know for certain is that the answer to the problem will not be found in a computer-generated preview of Great George Street shown below.  



More to real life is the sketch I made of the same street, and from the same vantage point, thirty-five years ago.
 


Townscapes are my passion, both planning them and sketching them, and my commentary to the news item reads as follows.
 
Noisy, dirty, smelly, sweltering, congested, nowhere to safely walk and nowhere to park!

These are the impressions that Roseau imparts in the minds of residents and visitors. The grandiose title of city – which under British rule may have been earned by virtue of its diocesan cathedral – is misleading. In reality, Roseau is a market town, the layout of which has not significantly changed since the 19th century. Its streets and narrow lanes were laid out for horse and handcarts, not motorcars. If fever had not ravaged Portsmouth in earlier times, Roseau would not have become the capital of Dominica. Valid reasons can now be made for the capital to revert back to Portsmouth, but until that day arrives, we need to radically rethink Roseau.

Over the last fifty years, Roseau has degenerated into being a blot on the landscape and without a visionary all-embracing master plan, no amount of piecemeal enhancement will halt the decline.  

May I suggest, that before the US$41 Million loan from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia burns a hole in our pockets, we should bear in mind that the key operative clause in the brief for the UK’s most ambitious regeneration projects reads: VISION LED, NOT FUNDING FED!

The vision for Roseau cannot be conceived on an architect’s drawing board in Barbados or at an office desk in Dubai. Vernacular comes from within, not from without. A town plan that may be fitting for elsewhere in the world, is not necessarily fitting for Dominica.

To restructure a town, and yet preserve what remains of its identity, is an art form in itself. Coincidentally, the man who wrote the definitive book on the subject began his working life as a town planner in the Caribbean. The book, The Concise Townscape by Gordon Cullen, should be required reading by all involved in this initiative.

Out of all the historic town regeneration projects that I have been involved with, Roseau presents the greatest challenge. The elements of Roseau’s townscape are confused and conflicting. I cannot accept Discover Dominica’s vision of “a quaint town that has a picturesque array of 18th-century French architecture”. That image might have been true when I first knew the town fifty years ago, but not now. A glance at the satellite image of Roseau illustrates what we are up against.

Widening the streets will not solve Roseau’s traffic problem, but making the town pedestrian friendly could. The town has the advantage of being located on flat land; there are no steep hills to climb and it only takes five minutes to walk from one end of town to the other. In terms of shade, the narrower the streets the better. Without the hazard of broken pavements and open drains, walking would be a pleasure. Shops and restaurants would benefit by being able to open up their frontage, as is done in many countries with a favourable climate.

With a radical rearrangement of what goes where, ample provision for parking can be created around the perimeter of the town centre. Large cities overcome their parking problems by “park and ride” initiatives, whereas our small scale offers the better alternative of “park and walk”. Through traffic should not pass through the town centre, nor should it pass along the Bay Front or by way of the Botanic Gardens. There is an alternative route staring us in the face, but no one has tumbled to it.

We urgently need an up-to-date comprehensive development plan. Such a plan would protect buildings of historical worth, encourage regeneration and guard against the piecemeal development that is blighting the townscape. In 2005 Baptiste & Associates Ltd., a local company, produced a 383-page development plan. But a lot has happened since the plan was first drafted.

In remaking the old town, we need to solicit the understanding of the public at large and engage them in the planning process.  We need to facilitate dialogue and to open up the creative processes, so as to bring together contributors from a diverse spectrum of backgrounds. This cannot be done solely by way of architect’s drawings and artist’s impressions. For the aforementioned UK regeneration project I initiated town walkabouts, held countless community meetings, made interactive models, took thousands of photographs and hours of video footage. 
 
Specialization hampers creative solutions. Innovation requires diverse experience and knowledge. It is achieved by questioning everything that has gone before and at the same time, utilizing what has gone before. It can sometimes be achieved by putting two diverse thoughts together. On the UK regeneration initiative, the solution to a major traffic problem came, not from the town planner with a Master’s Degree, but from a housewife standing next to me in the queue at the Post Office.

One of the benefits of creating a new town out of the old, could be the revival of skills. Technicalities alone will not produce a townscape that is pleasing to the eye and fit for its purpose. And a college degree will not necessarily solve the problem. Up to a hundred years ago, it was the master craftsman that determined good design and from his workbench beauty and function unselfconsciously equated. An adherence to those skills, together with a respect for the vernacular, will guard against the town becoming a Disney Theme Park. 
 
Unless a far reaching and innovative development plan is formulated and implemented, Roseau will sink further into urban decay. And remember, the identity of places reflects the identity of ourselves. Roseau is a small town on a small island. It is not a second Dubai.