Greek Odyssey

For the last 2 weeks Viv and I have been staying in a room with a view of the Acropolis in Athens. From our sunny balcony above the city noise we shared the air with swifts, swallows, sparrows, blackbirds, hawks and a small group of green parrots. We went partly to enjoy the Greek ambience but mainly to revisit some of the most interesting sites and art in human history.

Last time I took watercolours to try and catch ideas but ended up doing neat little pictures so I was determined to do different. A limited but versatile range materials is important, and weight is also an issue when you are carrying your stuff around sites and museums for several hours each day in the heat! . So I took and A4 cartridge pad and a small note/sketchbook and watercolours. As watercolour does not do naturally nice looking effects on cartridge paper I chose this awkwardness to help me stop doing pretty pictures. Also I decided to try and use the double page proportion approximately 3 to 1 as a base format.

The first work in graphite and watercolour was our view of the Acropolis with the end of the Parthenon and the Erechtheion against a clear blue sky. Yes it’s a picture but hey what a view!

There followed a range of work trying to catch a sense of place and light both in and around Athens. Below, the works are of a slice down from the fortress to the old Plaka village and the temple of Nike seen from a forest of olive trees.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the lovely temple of Brauron / Vavrona on the coast to the east of Athens the ruined tomb of Iphigeneia huddles against the cliff and is overhung with swathes of yellow flowers. There is calmness in this place. In total contrast, at Eleusis the home of the ancient mysteries, the feeling is uncomfortable and edgy. The painting is of the cave through which, reputedly, Pluto took Demeter’s daughter Persephone into the underworld.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also did lots of drawing in the museums and love the little clay horses which are either free standing or decorate the lids of large pots. There are masses of small clay and bronze figurines of horses, dogs, rams, pigs and deer. Some were votive offerings, stamps or toys for children. I loved the little figure jumping over the bulls horns from the Piraeus museum.

 

The next challenge is to, over the next few months, take all the information and ideas I have from this wonderful trip and start to produce more considered works which explore my experiences in more depth and to hopefully also move my art process on! Although I took quite a lot of photos, they are very tricky. I did a watercolour of bright yellow daisies in the Agora in full sun and cooked myself. The sense colour was intense yet the photos are bland and nothing like my experience – that is why I do art!

 

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The Way from Eleusis 3

As an artist I have felt stuck for some time and in my previous blog I talked about the difficulties and frustrations of that state which assails most artists at stages in their lives. Losing a close family member does not help and as I sensed beginning to come out of the emotional darkness from that event so finally my endeavours to move on in my art practice have begun to have more positive outcomes.

I began ‘The Way from Eleusis’ nearly two years ago and I have been trying to capture the magical feeling of being sat amongst the flowers on the ancient processional way from the mysteries in Eleusis to the acropolis in Athens, surrounded by light, colour, swifts, butterflies, bees and a sense of connection to place.

Since the summer of last year the triptych has been hanging in our living area nagging at me in terms of, ‘well I’m sort of OK but really you can’t leave me like this!’ I felt guilty about it but did not know what to do to sort it. Oh, I have lots of tricks and technical skills acquired over 50 years of painting in oils but, and it is a BIG BUT, I did not know how to bring the work to an emotionally satisfying conclusion and one which expressed what I felt about the sense of place until a couple of weeks ago. All of a sudden I had a new way in to the paintings. It may have been the short holiday in Venice which lifted my spirits or a chat with one of the famous bronze horses in the Basilica, whatever, something worked.

I decided to treat the three paintings as separate entities. I felt that the left hand one of the three was alright so I tackled the right hand one first as it had fewer issues and then finally moved on to the more difficult central panel. Experimentation with textures and overlays along with some decisions about which were the most important elements to focus on finally paid off and I have finished. The painting(s) now work in their own terms and I can let go of their need and my guilt just in time for my next visit to Keramikos to experience the place again with who knows what results……. Phew!

 

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The Way from Eleusis

At last! After a year of struggling with this 2×1 metre triptych I have finally brought it to a satisfactory conclusion. If you want to see the painting and more work, come to Paul and Viv’s studios at 7 Hythe Road, Worthing www.martinstudios.co.uk We are open this weekend 2nd 3rd July from 11am to 5pm as part of the Worthing Artists Open Houses.

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It is so hard trying to paint the feeling of being there – of sitting on the ancient way from Eleusis, where the mysteries took place, looking towards the Parthenon in Athens. There is a constant noise of tourists and the city of Athens all around, yet in Keramikos, I am sitting in a haven of comparative peace surrounded by swallows, bees, butterflies, flowers and with a huge sense of timelessness and history. Phew – I want to be back there….

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Finding my mojo in Florence!

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After feeling like I had been going around an art loop for so long, my perseverance, experimentation, thought and practice finally paid off. The pre-print or blot had in effect opened up a vision of new possibilities in mark and image making. I realised I had the potential of a new way of seeing and working and returned to the workshop with an idea to try. I wanted to work on a large scale to avoid becoming too fussy, so one of the tutors, Jane, found me a 1 by ½ meter transparent plate to work on and Viv said that we could join sheets of the Arches paper for printing. So I set off into a large piece related to my own ideas and imagery ‘falling horse’.

I drew out a full size cartoon, (in the original art meaning of the word) lay it under the transparent plate and began work. It took 3 ½ hours to work up the plate using rollers, pieces of card and brushes, to lay on the ink and draw into it. I printed it with Jane’s help and the result left me in awe. It was such a huge jump forwards for me. I worked on the print for another hour then Celebratory Prosecco on our hotel balcony, communing with the swifts.

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Fired up with my new way of mark making I set off into another meter high print relating to theme I have been struggling with for over a year – the sun chariot. I drew out a cartoon very quickly and set off into another plate for nearly 4 hours. The pre-print lifted a little too much ink so more work on the plate, then through the press to create ‘the bringer of light’. Oh Wow! Yes, the image is not that well sorted but the energy!

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The next day I added two more horses to the image on the cartoon, then using the ghost on the plate as a starting point, set off re-working the image. This took over 4 hours and an aching back and legs as most of the work needs to be done whilst standing.

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It is great when one gets to release a log jammed practice and I would like to thank Ron and Jane for their patience and help and the support and encouragement of Viv and my fellow workshop artists.

If you want to see the work from the Florence trip do come to our Open Studios as part of the Worthing Artist’s Open House Trail, at Martin Studios, 7 Hythe Road Worthing, June 18, 19, 25, 26 and July 2 & 3 from 11am till 5pm. Info on http://www.martinstudios.co.uk

 

 

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Seeking my mojo in Florence

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During the first two weeks of May, Viv and I went once more to refresh our art practice to Firenze on a monotype workshop run by the American master printmaker Ron Pokrasso pokrasso@shaening.com and Jane Pagliarulo.

As before, the workshop took place in Santa Reparata International School of Art right opposite our hotel, near San Marco and thankfully just outside of the over-touristed centre of the city. There were good working spaces, 4 etching presses, good computer access, very friendly and helpful staff and a friendly group of fellow artists mostly from the USA.

My art practice has been frustratingly stuck for over two years and I went not for the technical tuition but for the distance, difference, workshop facilities and good artistic company and challenge in which develop my art practice. Knowing Ron and several of the participants from the last workshop and working in a large side room with other artists helped foster the conditions for potential change.

For my first print I used a drawing of a Marini sculpture to get going. Laying my drawing under the transparent plate I worked on the plate using rollers and card to add the Akua ink and drew with the edge of the card into the ink. The print made on Arches 88 paper was fine but harked back to my previous work and was a little boring. So, I reworked the ghost image left on the plate, made a second print then used a roller and pieces of card to work on the piece directly and help burst the image out of the constraints of the plate edge across the paper.

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The next image of a diving horse and rider also came from a drawing I did of a Marini, heavily overworked on the paper breaking the boundaries of the plate edge to good effect but it still felt constrained.

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The following print I elaborated on the image giving the rider flaming wings and began thinking of developing a Prometheus theme. The image was worked over the plate edge after printing but it still felt a little tame so I tore the paper to reshape it to re-inforce the dynamism of the image.

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I was still disappointed in the result but knew that the important thing was to keep experimenting and challenging myself to change as an artist, so off I went to the Marino Marini museum again for inspiration and this time saw his work very differently. I was particularly interested in the mark making of his prints and paintings and on the surface of his sculpture and returned to the print room with renewed enthusiasm and thoughts.

After a couple of hours work the plate image was so heavily inked and drawn into that I had to blot it before it could go through the press or it would have just squidged under pressure. This method became known in our group as ‘the breath of Ron’ who showed me how to do it. I gently laid a sheet of newsprint over the plate and blew on it to help create a light contact evenly across the surface and thus remove the excess ink. Total magic! To my surprise the pre-print on the newsprint was far more interesting than the actual print! It had more of the drawing and interesting marks and I began to see a way forward to create more interesting and dynamic images.

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See part 2 coming soon for where my journey has taken me!

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The Way to Eleusis 2

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It is a wet and windy day and I am staring at my ongoing painting, “The Way to Eleusis,” in the fading January light. My mood is as bad as the weather yet my original inspiration came from a warm April day sat on the original road, amongst the flowers and wildlife with the Acropolis in the distance. Not all experiences easily transfer to art!

My artist’s struggle may be as difficult as the psychological challenges of the original mysteries at Eleusis. My problem is deceptively simple, how to interpret in paint the feeling of being there? How to capture the magic of the moment, of my sense of oneness with place? I have the usual pencil sketches, colour study and photos done there, but they are not the feeling in my head.

I posted something of my problem at the end of last year and I think it is important to talk about my struggle as an artist which in purist terms is to make new visual meaning. That philosophical challenge involves a constant reinvention of how I see and interpret the world. I can always paint in the style of my last painting, create another recognisable landscape, rely on my skills to do what I know I can achieve, but to what meaningful end?

Many people who are not artists think that good art comes from inherited talent and that success arises from the professional deployment of learned skills. Well some of it does, but the greatest successes by far come from artists challenging themselves to do that which is just beyond their reach or vision. My present battle is not with skills or technique but with the limitations of my own vision and way of working. How to interpret anew and not revert to my comfort zone when faced with a 1×2 metre work which stubbornly refuses all my knowhow to manifest my feelings of being there, on ‘the way’.

I have learnt a lot lately from the work of Joan Mitchell and Peter Lanyon, having seen the recent show of his amazing ‘flight’ paintings at the Courtauld. Although there is a host of mark making, colour combinations and compositional ideas that can be gleaned from their work, what really struck me is their sheer determination and struggle through time to manifest new visual meaning. I am not them and have to find my own way, pun intended!

So work on the Way to Eleusis will continue along with my other stuck work until hopefully I will scale yet another foothill of the never ending mountain, get at least a momentary sense of success before setting off once more for the unattainable summit!

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The Way to Eleusis

In April, on a sunny day, I sat amongst the spring flowers on the ancient processional way from Athens to Eleusis looking towards the great acropolis surrounded by bees, butterflies, swooping swallows and the memorials to long dead Athenians. I stayed for several hours absorbing the atmosphere almost alone as the hordes of tourists swarmed over the more famous sites nearby – a magical peaceful place in a teeming city.

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It has taken me many months to begin to get a way of approaching that wonderful experience. The problem is how to interpret in paint the feeling of being there? I did not want to paint a pretty picture of the scene like my ‘on the spot’ sketches but rather explore how to catch a sense of place in a more abstract way. I recently re-discovered the abstract expressionist work of Joan Mitchell and, inspired by her approach, a couple of months ago I started this 1×2 metre triptych. It is an ongoing struggle, part of my odyssey towards abstraction whilst trying to keep a sense of the original focus of inspiration. At present it has got a bit stiff but it is at least moving forward and that is all an artist can ask for!

If you want to see this painting and some of my other work, my artist wife Viv and I have an ‘Open Studios’ at our home on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th of December from 11am to 4pm  at 7 Hythe Road (just off Grand Avenue), in Worthing BN11 5DA.

 

 

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