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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Worthing Art Trail

Sun horse1 v2Paul and Viv’s studio /gallery (2 Stanford Square, BN11 3EZ, just off Warwick Street) is open in the Worthing Art Trail from this Thursday. It will be open from 11am to 5pm Thursdays to Sundays during the trail from 11th to the 28th June.

Come and see our latest work – here are two of the horse paintings I have been working on. I have always loved drawing horses. They are in my blood as my grandfather was a blacksmith. I recently began a series of drawings of horses within squares and linked them with the story of Apollo and his sun chariot. The paintings developed from this idea and a juxtaposition of four horses forms the basis of my ongoing ‘horses of the sun’ painting which is posing many artistic problems for me!

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Well, in spite of the double glazing firm coming mob handed to replace most of our house windows in the last few days – eek! we are ready for our Private View tonight and the new show is hung and ready for the trail – Phew! My home studio now has large windows and a door to the garden so looking forward to unwrapping my easels and materials, and painting again.

 

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Ice Age Environmental Art

The prehistoric rock shelter of Cap Blanc is truly magical with its 10 metre wide frieze of up to life sized horses carved into the rock-face over 15000 years ago. I was inspired to make a piece of work from my experience of seeing such wonderful art.

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Reflections on Reality (oil Painting)

The rock shelter or ‘abri’ of Cap Blanc is little known outside of the Vezere Valley in the Dordogne and I only found out about it from asking if there were any other things to see whilst booking a visit to the painted cave of Font-de Gaume. A short drive out of Lez Eyzes, you turn off the main road, along a water meadow, across a stream full of yellow irises and up through an oak forest and tip off the road to park at a jaunty angle. A narrow path leads down the hill through dank, moss covered small oaks and it is silent apart from nature and the sheer fecundity of life all around.

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Part of the horse frieze

The art is protected by a large stone building and the light level is very low and at first it is hard to see the carvings. Then as your eyes adjust and the guide moves the light source, the scale and complexity of the huge composition is revealed. The relief carvings, made with flint tools, are up to 50 centimetres deep and the scale of the work would be a huge undertaking even with modern tools. Like many of the artworks of this period it gives the lie to perspective being a renaissance invention. Bass relief is fully explored to give a sense of three dimensions with overlapping and scale used to create depth of field.

Many people think that the serious art of the period was found only in caves yet this was monumental environmental art for all to see, not hidden away in a cave. All people moving through the little valley would have seen the frieze shining out against the greys of the weathered rock, as would the herds of horses grazing there.

This idea inspired me to make my black and white painting (at the top of this post) ‘Reflections on Reality’  (180cms wide and 120cms high) where I have juxtaposed the carved horses on the rock face with a rollicking line of ponies from the walls of Lascaux a few miles away. I just love that the local herds of horses would have seen this great mural which celebrates their existence.

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I spent the morning of my 61st birthday sat on the ground a few meters from the pre-historic rock shelter of Cap Blanc learning to carve limestone with flint tools – so no pressure then! With a hammer (round flint), a pick (round one side with a sharp point), a burin (sharp sliver held with a piece of leather) and a smoother, I carved this Rouffignac style head in 3 hours – Magic! I later made a solar plate print from a rubbing of my horses head. I have such respect for the artists who made the great frieze.

To see this painting and our other Ice Age inspired art visit our Art Gallery at

2 Stanford Square (just off Warwick Street),

Worthing, BN11 3EZ.

Open 11am – 3pm Thursday to Saturday

Jan15th to February14th.

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Responding to Ice Age Art

 In October 2011 Viv and I visited the pre-historic caves near Les Eyzies in the Dordogne and were totally amazed at the humanity and sophistication of work up to 37,000 years old. This set off a new series of work for me about my experience of seeing and interacting with these ancient images and my empathy as an artist with those who saw then as I do now! We have been back many times since researching this phenomenal art. The Pre-historic art hit me with a force which took me utterly by surprise.  It is not only amazing visually but often has great sophistication, integrity and skill.

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The best known of the caves Lascaux and the Lascaux 2 experience (a reproduction of much of the now closed original cave) is surprisingly good and gives a real sense of being in a cave. My first painting from here is the ‘Falling Horse’ from an image right at the end of the tour. I have linked the horse with the strange, abstract shield shapes found nearby.

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‘The Cow Jumped over the Moon’ emerged from one of my favourite images in Lascaux and it reminds me of the nursery rhyme. These paintings are not copies but about the feeling I get being surrounded by such intense imagery from 18.000 years ago.

I am writing in much more detail about my prehistoric adventures so keep an eye on our website.

To see these paintings and our other Ice Age inspired art visit our Art Gallery at

2 Stanford Square (just off Warwick Street),

Worthing, BN11 3EZ.

Open 11am – 3pm Thursday to Saturday

Jan15th to February14th.

 

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Our New Studio / Art Gallery

I cannot believe that our new Studio / Art Gallery in Stanford Square (just off Warwick Street in Worthing) has been open now for 4 weeks! It seems like only yesterday that we had the six hour long, alcohol fuelled opening party. Wonderful, with artists, colleagues, friends and neighbours old and new and people who have visited our open studios, some of whom since we started in Brighton in the 80’s.

mysticpool1detail We are now gradually becoming known and I am also beginning to get used to going to work again after several years adrift from Brighton University and the Creativity Centre. It was a bit of a shock at first though.

We are gradually managing to set up an area of the downstairs space as a working studio where I have done some drawing and intend to get the large easel in action for painting and Viv has been working on a new woodcut.

We are open until Saturday 13th December this week but will probably open for a couple of days towards the end of next week too.

We will re-open in the new-year with a new exhibition of our work arising from experiences visiting the pre-historic sites and caves such as Rouffignac, Font-de-Gaume and Lascaux in the Dordogne in France.

In the meantime

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

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On Opening Our Own Studio / Art Gallery

 Paul again with new fascia

Years of dreaming, months of planning, finding the right place and then all of a sudden four weeks ago Viv and I signed a lease for our very own studio / art gallery at 2 Stanford Square, just off Warwick Street in the centre of Worthing. Since then it has been a flurry of builders, decorators and electricians let alone organising all the insurance, security, services etc.

But we are now in there and hanging our work YES!

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For 30 years we have shown in our studios, being founding members of the Fiveway’s Group in Brighton and continuing that tradition for the last ten years in Worthing. Having retired from Higher Education and moved house this year, this is the first time that we have had the chance to open our own Studio / Art Gallery.

Note the Studio part. This is not just a shop. When the gallery is open we will be working there on our current projects and drawing, painting, printmaking…..

Do come and see us. We will be open from 19th November 10-5 Wednesdays to Saturdays up until Christmas. If you would like to come to the private view, please sign up on our website for an invite at www.martinstudios.co.uk

Tired but happy – Paul

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Being an Artist in Florence (part 2)

The Marini experience

Being a 21st century artist in Firenze is a strange experience. Though fascinated by the work of such trail blazing and great artists as Michelangelo, Donatello, Ghirlandaio, Ghiberti, Cimabue, Giotto et al., which was cutting edge in its day, and not a little intimidated by that great art, I felt strangely at a distance from it. I am aware of its part in the making of me as an artist and was intellectually engaged with it, but emotionally it was for the first time remote. I was suddenly faced with how much I have changed since I last went there 20 years ago both as a person and an artist.

I was conflicted. How could I not be amazed at the vitality of the newly cleaned Masaccio’s in the Brancacci chapel? I loved them, yes, but they were images of their time and I am struggling to produce images which say something about being alive, here and now. The realism of the renaissance was my training yet for artists now the iconoclasm of Modernist art and philosophy let alone Post-Modernism create a tension from ultra-realistic to abstraction and beyond that artists have to negotiate. That at least has been part of my art struggle over the past few years and Firenze brought this tension into sharp focus.

After a few days I was beginning to struggle with myself and the print process. Although I was producing good images / prints I was feeling very dissatisfied with them. They felt like old art. Some of my Beethoven images were old but the print process was somehow not jolting me into working or seeing differently as I had hoped. I felt stuck and frustrated.

Inspiration and a way forward came in the form of the 20th century Italian artist Marino Marini. Tucked away on a small road off the huge piazza Santa Maria Novella is a small bar and opposite a large converted chapel which is the Marini Museum in Florence. Though the building is old it has been totally redesigned inside in a clean modernist style with a variety of huge open spaces for the larger work, mezzanine floors and small galleries, all intersecting at different levels and joined by flying staircases which give interesting views on the work. It is a lovely space to be in and then there is the work! Oh Wow!

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(drawing of Archangel)

The last work to really stun me when I saw it was the pre-historic cave painting in the Dordogne in the caves of Rouffignac and Font-de-Gaume (more of that another time). The sight of the Marini’s had a similar effect, a totally emotional connection, lump in throat, slightly breathless, lightheaded and a direct oneness with the art and overwhelming sense of joy and belonging. I did five drawings on my first visit over several hours. The process of drawing helps me see. It is a process of inquiry, a dialogue between the thing observed and my understanding of it which develops through time and drawing. The Marini’s had both strong form and powerful emotional depths. I love the horses and riders which began for him as a subject during the 2nd World War in Italy when people would ride out into the fields to listen for the Allied bombers, hence horse and riders looking into the sky and often in the same direction.

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After my first set of drawings I was inspired to make art from them and the first print came about as a juxtaposition of two drawings of Marino’s sculptures. I photocopied the drawings from my sketchbook and played with a composition which when chosen I drew in ink marker on the back of the transparent plate. I then inked the plate with bold colours and spray glued the backs of the photocopied drawings. I put Arches paper in the press, placed the inked plate on the press bed, carefully positioned my cut out drawings glue upwards/face down on the plate and ran the whole thing through the press. Hey presto a print. Because of the thickness of the paper cut out drawings, the ink did not fill in the edges evenly so I used a mixture of cotton buds, toothpicks and coloured crayons to make good.

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(Ist Marini print)

As Ron says, with this method of printing you get a gift, and mine was an interesting ghost of ink remaining on the plate. Where the ink had not pushed onto the grove made by the edges of the chine colle I was left with an ink drawn outline of my drawings. I used this as the basis of my next print which with a little work on the plate turned out more interesting than the original.

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(2nd Marini print)

Although I was pleased in some ways at the results of these two prints I felt that they had a tightness and stiffness to them, a lack of interesting marks and exploration that was in the original drawings. I felt that the print process was somehow not working for me and the way I naturally work best – I was at war with myself. The drawings were fluid and searching but I was trying too hard to make the prints work and be a finished thing in spite of Ron’s best efforts to the contrary. I got very frustrated and a bit angry with myself so went off to the Marini museum again, fortified with coffee and cake, and communed for several hours with his sculptures and prints. Three hours drawing is good for the soul and great for getting grounded.

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The next day was our last full course day and I did not want to spend it going around my mental printmaking loop. Ron realised my frustrations with how I was approaching the print process and said why don’t you just draw on the paper directly then work up your plate and print over it. I felt liberated, did three drawings with the same composition in quick succession, inked up a plate and printed. It felt much more like painting and at that moment felt right for me.

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The colours were a bit crude but there was an interesting ghost left on the plate so I worked on that and printed it with much more interesting results.

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The second ghost beckoned. I worked on the plate with black ink using rollers and a very spiky brush and printed that over my last drawing.

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I was really happy with this freer way of working which has opened up interesting possibilities both in thinking about work but also in ways of working. We finished the course with a gentle crit where I told a more garbled version of my 2 week journey – too close to it!

Paul in Florence

So my challenge is to be more experimental and painterly in my next prints and stop trying to do finished work. More serious play!

 

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