The other day, as I often do, I walked along the river from Bolton Abbey to Cavendish Pavilion where I had a coffee. At the table next to me was an infant in a high chair being tended by grandparents. While Gran went to get the food Grandpa engaged the baby - making strange noises and thrusting his face forward into the baby's face. The baby shrinking back in wide-eyed and open-mouthed wonder.
How does this small child with unconditioned perception come to terms with such apparitions? What does he actually see in his world of sensations?
In the making-art process I can occasionally, however briefly, recover something of that innocent perception in a confrontation with a subject - landscape or figure. How it impacts before it can be fully grasped or processed. I don't suggest I would want to make naive infantile images of such encounters - but it would be nice to retain just something of that innocence in response before the art-making takes over- to bring to bear and sustain the un-mediated perception possessed by artists such a Bomberg in his last self-portrait, or Auerbach in his full-faced portrait heads.
The life room gives a special opportunity to perceive just how strange an object is the human face - an entity withdrawn into its own private consciousness - the centre of attention but occupying its own secret world. At the risk of becoming confessional the nearest thing to the child's vision that I have experienced was the one and only time I was 'high' when someone spiked my drink at a weekend conference. For twenty four hours I was besieged by lurid, phantasmagorical faces looming up at me. I was totally disorientated and confused. Tom's portraits of his "Corpus" period in the 90's had this powerful hallucinatory quality - I'm not suggesting for one moment that he….. well just watch out for the strong coffee he has taken to offering around recently. The elephant is definitely centre stage.
Steve is a super model - but a familiar subject - we have all done him more than once. How difficult it is to see him anew let alone represent him anew. That is not to say it is a boring experience but we do have preconceived perceptions that have to be overcome if the process is to have life. So how did we do?
Despite the familiarity of the challenge the small band of attenders made a concerted effort each in there own way to make something different of Steve's offering. Tony and Ivan successfully exercised straightforward and objective approaches whilst the rest of us employed a more subjective and expressive process in quite different styles. Bren in particular gives us a powerful theatrical commentary on Steve rather than a literal portrait which reflects the opening comments. Russell, with typically elaborate technique, opened up a complex conceptual dialogue between the light and dark personas of Steve. Jackie's image - again not a literal portrait - took a long time to materialise but finally found its expressive form as did Sandra's painterly gestural calligraphy. Sue unfortunately had to leave at half-time so was not able to fully develop what would have been a very sensitive study. I can't speak for myself as by the end of this demanding session I couldn't make much sense of anything - rather like the baby in the cafe - but as Tony quotes in his comment to the last blog - "…Try again. Fail again. Fail better… "
by David Mace
Paintings and drawings by David, Ivan, Jackie, Russell, Sandra (1&2), Sue D-Y, Tony and featured artist Bren
The truth is, and I'm not being arrogant, but failure in my past professional, academic and long, long ago sporting life was not something to be contemplated positively. Now, in endeavours artistic, it is a frequent reality that can no longer be ignored. This a fairly recent decision. Late last night actually- in my garage as I was turpentining away my feeble effort to make an image from Fiona's challenging pose.
Edison famously said: "I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that will not work".
Well, when it comes to inappropriately placing the wrong paint in the wrong place in the wrong way with neither wit nor guile, I am fast closing in on our Thomas. Yesterday was a case in point: a litany of errors of bad painting and even worse judgement in danger of eclipsing the minor successes enjoyed the week before. They didn't, as neither success nor failure is an end point in itself, merely events on a continuing journey. It is rather difficult to treat success and failure quite as Kipling suggested because they are opposing influences, but a more considered approach to failures, rather than just moving on might yield dividends.
So, yes, I now regret obliterating last night's poor effort without due study and consideration. It is just human nature to try to forget the bad, but I for one will now attempt a more considered analysis of failure. Crikey, I might even make some notes! I also appreciate the critique from other Redbrickers, but possibly we are too polite? Perhaps a deeper dissection would facilitate insight and speed progress? Something for the tea-time debating society?
Churchill (always a shoe-in for a good quote) said success is "stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm". See, I knew I was successful!
Anyone for a stumble?
by Dick Fowler
Paintings and drawings by Hadyn, Patrick, Russell, Sandra, Steven, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tony and selected artist Dick
If there's an elephant in the room, I would like to be the mahout sat astride it's broad leathery neck. Not a nasty mahout with a sharp stick prodding and threatening but a kind mahout who persuades his friend with whispers and treats. Whilst I was once a skinny, dusky lad, probably my dhoti wearing days are over. Now I suspect I would be mistaken for a fat man in a nappy rather than the lithe Mowgli, but I would still like to wake up next to an elephant. ( I know, I know and neither I nor Mrs Wood thinks that's funny). Why an elephant I hear you ask, most boys were happy with a rabbit, a few lucky ones wangled a puppy but for me it had to be an elephant.
I think nowadays art is my elephant, I ride it a little gingerly but proud, sometimes it takes me places I didn't expect and sometimes it just stands still, stubbornly distracted by a distant scent. It will follow my path if gently coaxed but reacts badly to threats and oaths. With my elephant any journey takes time, it's slow and ponderous but at least I have the advantage of a view. When not obscured I can see where the path is leading. I sleep soundly knowing I have my elephant with me.
It's re-assuring, sensing there is this big thing in your life, this guiding obsession, it gives your days structure and purpose. Many times I often think how bizarre it is to have given up so many hours to organizing colours and shapes on a bit of cloth and yet without this activity, for me life might have been fairly pointless. The making of art is a test, a burden and a challenge. We all know, to do it well is not easy but like the elephant in the room, once you know it's there, it's hard to ignore it. I'm glad I have my own elephant, I feel a responsibility to ensure it thrives, I nurture it and feed it, in return, on a good day it allows me to climb up high where I can sniff the clear air, enjoy some spectacular views and most importantly, just remember how good it feels to be alive with a purpose.
Paintings and drawings by Cathy, Hadyn, Jane, Mati, Patrick, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom, Tony and featured artists Roger H and Roger S.
In the confessional spirit of a recent posting I was once more reminded of that day many, many years ago when I became a man. It seems so long ago now, back in the days when I was ploughing my way up and down the sweltering, mosquito-ridden coast of the faraway Philippines. I was a lowly deckhand aboard a rackety old tramp steamer, called 'The Bastos Batang Babae', a big name for a small boat. The Captain, a grizzled old salt called Henri One Eye, swore blind it meant 'Cheeky Girl', but his monocular oaths were unreliable at best. There certainly wasn't anything cheeky or girlish about this rusty old bucket. We carried contraband from one illegal port to the next, no questions were asked and no prying eyes saw us as we slipped into each filthy harbour at the dead of night only to skulk away before dawn and the scorching sun that would betray our shameful trade.
I decided to jump ship at Tacloban, it was the kind of port where a callow young deckhand might find a little relief, he might also find his thoughts wandering and wondering if the willing arms of Consuela della Maria d' Glorioso Handfullio might be his tonight. This vision, this goddess, this siren of the rocks, haunted my every waking hour. I only glimpsed her once, in the shadows her eyes burned like fiery coals, her angelic face spoiled or was it improved by full lips that looked like they were capable of what a boy dreamt of only at the dead of night. I had decided, I had to have her. I had the money, each precious pesos, hard earned was slipped into the folds of my grubby, sweat stained vest.
She would be hard to find in the filthy alleys and crumbling havela's of downtown Tacloban. It was the kind of port where a boy sailor might just melt away, vanish, only to re-appear the following morning, yawning with dark eyes and a shy smile, nothing needed to be said, his aching limbs, shadowy bruises and empty pockets, were words enough. Rumours suggested that Consuelo was to be found in a room down an ink black alley off the Ria Santa d'Angelo del Popocorko. After much stumbling and cursing, reeking of cheap rum and Dutch courage, I finally found Consuelo's lair. Before me stood an old dark door, stained and scratched just like any other, it gave no clues as to the luxuriant delights that lay within. Gathering myself up, a tremor running through my chest, my eager heart pounding like a hammer on an anvil, I gasped, raised my trembling hand and prepared to enter paradise. First one weak rather hesitant knock, then another this time a little louder, finally a third, bold, desperate and urgent thump. In the darkness wet rats paused from feasting on fat clogged drains and a sour smell permeated my feverish brain. As though in a trance I heard distant footsteps, soft but insistent, surely these must be the footsteps of my angel, my dark-eyed, full lipped angel sent to deliver me to my own private heaven, transcendent at last, the curtain of virginity would finally be ripped aside to reveal the sun soaked uplands of glorious manhood...........
Talking of Joseph, you would be hard pushed to find a finer specimen of manhood, he's a lovely model who brings the best out in all of us. Patrick has gone down the Grayson Perry route and decided on a trans gender narrative, very contemporary and I wouldn't expect anything less from Patrick although it might prompt a few more gym visits for Joseph. Steven meanwhile has re-dressed the balance with a lovely pencil drawing of a man's man, all bulging biceps and taut calves, in our own magic mirrors every man looks like this. Barry, Mati and Haydn have toned down the muscles for a more poetic, lyrical view of Joseph. Jane has gone for introspection, Roger leads the charge with Sandra not far behind in the Head Emerging Stakes, it is just about neck and neck at the tape. Catherine is all colour in a kind of Tahitian / Gauginesque combo with Sue eschewing such excesses and joining the Monochrome Gang alongside Roger, Tony and Ivan, they are the ascetics of the life room frisking one another should an errant pastel slip through. I am embarking on a project so this format will be all I will do for a long time, sorry to be so boring but I'm hoping a tedious means will be justified by a worthwhile end but we shall wait and see, May 2015 is my deadline.
Oh, yes and we had a birthday on Thursday, Sandra was the Birthday girl and we all drank champagne and ate cake. The wonderful exact replica of Sandra's allotment shed was fashioned with loving care by our resident cake sculptor, Sue. Bravo Sue and Joyeux Anniversaire, Sandra! I wonder what she's like at sweaty vests and ruffled beds Sue not Sandra!
by Tom Wood
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Catherine, Haydn, Ivan, Jane, Mati, Patrick, Roger H, Roger S, Sandra, Steven, Sue Tom and Tony.
I was a virgin until last Saturday........ a Portrait Day virgin that is. I have attended many 2-3 hour life drawing sessions but never a whole day! Like many a virgin I was nervous, apprehensive but a bit excited too. I was concerned about the day on 2 counts: 1) that my performance would be adequate and that I wouldn't disgrace myself and 2) that I would be able to 'sustain' the performance and not peak too early. In fact, if truth be told, my main concern around the whole day was 'would I be able to adequately pace myself?' (We are talking here about the woman who normally has difficulty in sustaining an entire life drawing over two and a half hours on a Thursday evening, let alone a head and shoulders over 6 hours!)
Sandra gave me a helpful tip - "take oils" she said "they'll slow you down". So I did, and they did! A wise woman is Sandra. But as it happens I was not the only one struggling to 'pace' themselves on Saturday. Tom had (voluntarily!) arisen from his slumbers that morning at 5am! Consequently he 'peaked' rather too early and by lunchtime was looking distinctly 'peaky'. Hadyn on the other hand had arrived fresh faced and ready for a 2 day workshop and upon being told it was only a one day session had to readjust his mental clock and accelerate his pace somewhat.
As for yours truly, well, by mid-morning coffee break I had to resort to slow deep breathing and a spot of meditation in order to slow my pace. I realised that my usual 'slap it on and watch it drip' approach to painting would not sustain me for 6 hours - a modicum of restraint was obviously going to be required, an element of 'holding back' to enable me, with a flourish of my brush, to climax at the appropriate moment....4.15pm would be good. But how was a Portrait Day virgin to achieve such a feat of self control? Well, basically by using my eyes more and treating the oil paint with more respect. Once I had realised that 'slap and drip' would not cut the mustard for 6 hours and had meditated my way into 'the zone', then time slowed and amazingly my portrait painting performance peaked pretty much at 4.15! Or was it just the artistic version of Murphy's law? Either way I was mighty glad that I had been able to 'stay the course' and had not shown myself up as a 'lightweight' ("never mind the quality, feel the length of time it took me!!")
At least 2 more of the assembled group also struggled with pacing during the day and left before 4.30. As for Tom, well I think he probably drove home on auto-pilot and hit the sack by 5.30pm. Whilst Hadyn was raring to go and all set for a day of DIY on Sunday.
So, despite my initial misgivings, I enjoyed the experience immensely and, like many virgins, I expect/hope to repeat the experience sometime soon - it seemed like a whole lot of fun. Whether my fellow artists felt the same I'm not sure. Throughout the day there were various disgruntlement's and mutterings of "I'm out of practice" or "I'm not very good at this" and "I'm really struggling this morning". But when viewed as a whole the group performance is pretty impressive I'd say and, as usual, fascinatingly diverse - from Sue's big head (not her's you understand but her portrait's!) - go for it Sue! I think you should work on a large scale more often - to the delicate and detailed portraits by Chris, Anne and Tony, the soft brush work of Hadyn's piece and the wonderful textured marriage of portrait and background by Tom.
All in all I haven't enjoyed myself so much on a dull grey, damp and foggy November day since.....well since the last time I lost my virginity! But that's another story - and not one for this blog!!!
by Catherine Morris
Paintings and drawings by Anne, Catherine, Cathy, Chris, David, Haydn, Jean, Mati, Sue, Tom and Tony
Sometimes a change really is as good as a rest. Sue has used drawing as a tonic from her recent immersion in oil. As you know I'm drowning in the stuff, day in, day out it's oil paint, I'm up to my knees in this gloopy coloured mud and yet like the proverbial pig I thought I was happy until Sue came along, tambourine a-banging, a song in her heart, the wide smile of only those who have been saved writ large across her face. Brandishing her sharpened pencil like the Lance of Truth, her eraser held aloft like the the righteous Shield of Correction she strode forward to her easel whereupon lay the white papery field of battle and there she sought to conquer all before her. With an assured edge and delicate shading the image of Kay emerged, an image of rare accuracy these days as we errant knights and ladies find our battles elsewhere, some on the Flat Fields of Colour, others hacking through the Thickets of Realism whilst the despairing souls of oil sink ever so slowly into the Mire of Despair. Like a light in the darkness, Sue held aloft the Beacon of Hope. Maybe that is the way forward, a tactical re-grouping around the point of the pencil. The Pencil has a Point.
Paintings and drawings by Catherine, Dick, Ivan, Jane, Martyn, Roger, Sandra, Tom, Tony and featured artist Sue.
It occurs to me that writing this blog bears many similarities to our prime activity of life drawing and painting, notwithstanding that the former would be unnecessary without the latter. But the two creative functions can exist separately, and the output may be enjoyed individually, or together, here on this website. Attendance at the life session, an obvious prerequisite of writing the blog, also promotes a particular, conspiratorial reading, whilst remote readers are able to combine gallery and blog to create a more complete record of the event; a veritable graphic novel. It is interesting to consider the relationship between the two in this context.
Just as the artist arrives in the Life Room with a general awareness of the artistic requirements and possibilities, if not a clear plan, selection to write the blog, usually signalled by the dread weight of Tom’s oil-encrusted hand on your tea-break shoulder, poses a similar problem. Unless you are desperate to unburden yourself of some enormous artistic truth which may have escaped the notice of your colleagues, or to confess that it was you who ate the last slice of Dundee cake, then you have to react to whatever is occurring. As with painting and drawing, experience widens the options beyond a straightforward commentary on the model, your fellow artists and their respective efforts, although, even here, the minefield of peer criticism is not for the fainthearted. A carefully considered line drawing or a simple narrative will often trump a bravado painting or a complex theoretical essay; ask Barry or Ivan, but don’t request a written answer.
So, the blogger must decide whether to write a simple account of the life session, choose a related topic, invent a proposition to argue, or, like me, to begin and see what happens. That is also my default painting strategy, although I am not certain that the absence of a plan can be called strategic? I realise immediately that this claim is disingenuous, as there is no-one at Redbrick who likes a plan more than me, and, though I might begin a painting with gay abandon, it will be whipped into very organised shape by completion. I am clearly following that path right now; having begun with a meandering observation, here I am developing a bloggers’ instruction manual.
I blame “Rupert” Watson, my sixth form English master, who could not simply enjoy the sound of Shakespeare’s prose and the drama of his narrative, but insisted on interminable dissection and analysis of the words to establish whether the Bard had used more “f”s per page in King Lear or Loves Labours. I suppose that this is the way of all seasoned practitioners, and we painters do seem too easily to pass over the raw, emotional immediacy of work, to begin the process of dissection. The same urge regularly causes me to pursue detail prematurely, when making paintings, and to lose sight of the broad shape of a blog when writing. Now, what was I banging on about?
In written English, the liberal use of our vast lexicon, the correct grammar and appropriate punctuation, is not an outdated affectation, but a means by which the intended information is best and most accurately communicated. The same may be ascribed to the widely accepted vocabulary of lines, tones, textures and painted marks with which an artist attempts to convey his or her thoughts, but it is certainly not true that the quality of either writing or painting is exclusively tied to a command of the technical components of language or art. Every week at Redbrick, we see work produced where the magnetic attraction defies conventional analysis. And so it is with writing; we are all prepared to draw and paint “in public” recognising the value of peer support through constructive criticism, but few are prepared to even comment on the blog, let alone write one. Yet, on the occasions when we do hear a new voice (hello Ian), there is always considerable pleasure to be had, and the chance of a literary gem (hello again Ian). A more varied cast of bloggers, encouraging a livelier comment section, would be an appropriate reflection of the Group’s diversity around a common pursuit.
And the studio was awash with diversity for Saturday’s session with model David. OK, the usual suspects were instantly identified by their respective trademark strategies and techniques, but they are quite distinct and therefore resist comparison. However, the unusual female dominance appeared to be something more than coincidence; possibly the result of a positive selection policy or, more likely, Tony’s advance publicity for model David, who did not disappoint. The pose seemed straightforward, but was obviously quite demanding, resulting in several short “stretch breaks”. Any discontent was more than balanced, however, by David’s classically-proportioned and well-defined physique, topped by a theatrical head and face. For the second time I was unable to resist modifying his left ear, to create “The Young Spock”, as a companion piece to my previous “Puck”.
Stephen, having watched “Mr Turner” the previous evening, spurned his favoured pencils and conjured a precisely-modelled David in a variety of 18th century sepia washes. He did not, though, allow his general deportment and speech to become so coarse as Timothy Spall’s portrayal of the great man. At the opposite side of the studio, Anne H. was making a mirror image painting, placing David in a stylish, dining room, flooded with sunlight through diaphanous drapes. Deserted by his fellow draftsman, Ivan’s head could not be similarly Turnered, and he laboured all day, using only those pencil lines with a story to tell; spare but full of information. Perhaps Ivan writes like he draws?
Prodigal daughters, Emma and Teresa, both hugely-talented artists, returned to shake up the mix with their distinctive approach; Emma showing yet again how to make a thrilling image from an unpromising viewpoint; soft, pastel texture and subtle tones, reflected in Teresa’s beautifully composed and drawn monoprints. These qualities are quite different from our regular output and both must be encouraged to remain with the Group.
There was a number of identifiable sub-groups; Jackie, Sue, Jane and Cathy producing muscular, confident paintings with no hint of supposed female delicacy, whilst Sue D-Y, Anne and Kwan made similarly big, strong drawings. Not a minute was wasted, maintaining fierce concentration and effort beyond the afternoon break, when fatigue and the diminishing light ( no criticism here of electrician Tony’s valiant, but failed, effort to replace the spent halogen lamp which had conferred such powerful side-lighting on our model) had their effect on model and artists alike. Only Sandra was fresh at the end, having stayed in bed all morning, eating chocolate and sipping Turkish coffee, and it paid dividends. Her David is a sprite, half-seen in a fleeting moment, and gone before the image could be overworked.
Old lags Tom and Tony gave us their signature pieces. Tony, all rational sifting of the evidence to present a distilled statement of fact, and Tom, still asking questions at the end; unwilling to accept any answer, and reserving his right to revisit the cold case at some future date.
by Russell Lumb
Paintings and drawings by Anne H, Anne, Cathy, Emma, Ivan, Jackie, Jane, Kwan, Russell, Sandra, Steven, Sue D-Y, Sue, Teresa, Tom and Tony.
On Thursday evenings at Redbrick, we have a nominal two and a half hours for our session of Life Drawing – it always seems to be referred to as Life Drawing, whether we paint or, in rare cases, sculpt. Reality, with a tea/coffee break and an urge (for some) to start clearing ‘in good time’, means that we have about two hours.
We are very fortunate to have the models we do. The modelling role is taken seriously and leads to a high level of professionalism – I don’t know how Tony manages to find them and to keep the bookings filled so well in advance.
Which brings me to something that has dogged me all my life, nowadays discussed as a ‘question of pace.’ In short. I take a long time to do stuff. As a result I always had to put in more time than most other people doing the same job. In fairness to myself, that was usually preparation time and might be seen as the nine tenths of the iceberg below the surface.
In 1899, Cezanne’s dealer Ambroise Vollard, sat for his portrait. It took a very long time and was never finished. According to Vollard, after 115 sittings, Cezanne expressed himself ‘not dissatisfied with the shirtfront’. Matisse is supposed to have been irritated by those who thought drawing and painting came easily to him, when the reality was that he destroyed a great deal of work until he satisfied his own high standards.
Like the rest of the human race, artists vary enormously in character and come in all shapes and sizes, Some are totally fearless, attacking their work without hesitation in the excitement of ‘risking all’ in the experiment. Others consider every mark with enormous care and it is not always possible to discern between the intellectual process and fence sitting anxiety. Having said that, no-one is immune to apprehension, even fear, in front of a blank canvas.
Confidence is a wonderful attribute, treasured the more by those who do not have it, looking on at those who do. But lets not forget that we can, and do, change places from time to time .In Redbrick we are extremely lucky to have a group of individuals who learn, encourage and take pleasure in the success of each other and, as I believe is becoming apparent, the Group itself. Personally, I value the informal atmosphere of Redbrick with its underlying sense of serious creative enquiry, followed and expressed according to the individual’s muse of the moment.
I have been enjoying Redbrick for over two years now, but I am writing my first full blog. It seemed a good opportunity to say thank you to everyone in the Group for your stimulating company, and friendship in that time. I believe we have all helped to create something valuable and, dare I add, important. My biggest thank you is for Mr Catalyst himself – Tom
by Ian Stamp
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Catherine, Hadyn, Martyn, Patrick, Roger, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom, Tony, Will and featured artist Ian.