'Absence makes the heart grow fonder', I'm only sorry I wasn't there, some lovely work featuring our A-lister standing model, Steve. Usually I'm not a fan of 'vignetting', where the painting fades off before reaching the edge, but Dick's superb controlled delicate painting proves me wrong. Also I like Bren's new approach of two in one, it's effective and thought provoking, an intelligent addition to the already large lexicon of opportunities within life drawing. Not easy to come up with something new in the long and well established canon of life drawing, but Bren has opened another door to further exploration. Wish I'd been there.
Paintings and drawings by Bren, David, Dick, Gerry, Isi, Russell, Sandra and Tony.
So often I meditate on why we make art, what compels us to sit down and push stuff around until it appears as though something of meaning appears. It can’t be for the meagre financial rewards most artists endure; it has to be something deeper more fundamental this urge to create. Over many years as an artist I have got to know numerous artists and with some I have seen how they’ve worked. I have seen organized and systematic practices also chaotic and spontaneous methods of working, I have seen crazy people and apparently sane people all devote great chunks of their precious lives to the seemingly pointless act of shunting bits of colour around. Why, why would a person do that?
I have worked with people who tell me they have waited all their lives to sit at an easel and move paint around, I have lectured in vast halls to hundreds of people in illustrious universities (Cambridge, Yale etc.) to people who have Nobel prizes showing them pictures of surfaces clumsily covered in coloured stuff. These are people changing the world, making history and yet they sit and listen, nod and applaud at rectangles of lumpy colour, why I wonder. Surely it can’t just be politeness, maybe sympathy, maybe they recognize obsession when they see it.
I really honestly sometimes wonder why we make art. I know I’m in the thrall of paint, sticky, messy, gooey, runny, lumpy, smooth, oily paint, for me it’s all about paint. Like a drug addict becomes a connoisseur of the paraphernalia of their addiction, so I obsess about tubes versus pots, knives and scrapers sharp or blunt, to smear or to scrub, wet or dry, these things matter to the addicted artist. They are the scaffolding that holds up the day, on them are built paintings, some rickety destined to collapse; others quietly solid, bunker-like, some illusory towers never to rise from their foundations.
The more I think about it the stranger it seems to have this overwhelming desire to take coloured sticky stuff and place it on a surface whether it is at one extreme impersonating a photograph or at the other splodges of paint apparently spilt at random. But we do it and have done it so energetically and determinedly that there are vast museums built and dedicated to this stuff. I can only think of one real reason why this phenomenon has persisted and that’s because for the individual it’s a most effective way to stave off madness. I would have it that making art is a way of organizing and pacifying those troubling corners of our psyche, it gives us control when control is lost, it gives us problems which might be solved when the world seems to consist of insurmountable problems, it gives us expression to our dreams when no-one else wants to listen and it gives us time and clarity in an increasingly clamorous world. Making art is a balm and without it we would all be a little bit more bonkers. That old cliché that the artist bares their soul may well have some truth especially if we think of the ‘soul’ as a catch all phrase to mean, the inner self and the true you, the person you really are. But what balm it is, in the hands of great people that balm is transformed into a thing of magnificence and wonder, imagine a raindrop becoming the Victoria Falls and there you have it.
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Cathy, Dick, Hadyn, Ian, Jane, Patrick, Roger H, Roger S, Russell, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Tom and Tony.
I do feel sorry for our models insofar as we are one of the very few life drawings venues that exclusively prefers the long pose option. Most models spend an evening doing a variety of poses and so the unusual demands of just standing still are rarely encountered. When asked most models will happily agree to an evening of standing still, their desire to co-operate and optimism leads them down this difficult path and yet whilst many are called only a few are able. The long standing pose can be uniquely arduous and only those with a steely will and inner reserves of both stamina and determination will complete the course. What feels like standing still so often isn't, try it for yourself and see how long you can last before the irresistible urge to shift weight from one leg to the other becomes unbearable. Then the sag begins, the back gives way, the head falls, the shoulders slump and what began as Apollo astride Mount Olympus morphs into Malcolm at the bus stop.
Recently we've had a spate of two pose sessions where, for whatever reason, the original pose has been too arduous and consequently you will see both a sitting and standing version of our young model Carol. My portrait head painting sadly went askew as the pose changed. I was trying to paint with only big brushes and a limited palette of oils which meant each mark made with a fully loaded brush had to be a considered and accurate summary of a particular patch of colour. The idea was eventually these patches would knit together into a mosaic and hey presto the head would emerge, it sort of emerged but it was all a bit wonky and poor but never mind I like the pink under painting and I might try that again.
Chris has been on a run of interesting ink and watercolour works, they are not accurate in the sense of achieving a likeness but they are compelling faces nonetheless. I like the way the lines are reiterated and the image slowly emerges, the way the graphic impulse is constantly at war with the unruly watercolour, how there is a dogged revisiting of edges and always the model looks strong and a little confrontational, I like how all these things come together. Drawings and paintings of models are so often a sum of their parts as our gaze and attention is captured by bits rather than the whole. We graze across the work, chewing a bit here, tasting a bit there, our eyes wander, the model moves, we spot something else and so it goes this constant nibbling and niggling at details and yet sometimes this works. All those little details, decisions and accumulation of small facts into one large truth can be very effective.
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Catherine, Chris, Dick, Hadyn, Ian, Jane, Roger, Sue D-Y, Tom and Tony
Details from the works of Barry and Roger depicting last night's model, Mike.
Mike is a big man, a substantial figure of Falstaffian proportions who sits handsomely and purposefully not unlike Monsieur Ingre's, Monsieur Bertin. They both sit alert in repose exuding a quiet air of authority, not threatening merely there, a large presence of fascinating proportions. Nearly everyone was drawn to the head and used it almost as a metaphor for the absent rest. Here were the curves and folds, the sculpted edges and unruly arabesques of hair and flesh, all to explore, analyze and process.
Not for the first time Russell has found his inner Bishop popping out, only this time Mike has been elevated to Cardinal and his rich red Zucchetto hovers mysteriously above his head. Could this strange hovering be the resultant shock of once more being overlooked for the Papacy. Whilst we know there is white smoke, we didn't know the Papal Conclave made their selection Nordic fashion, Sauna Style. Mike's red cheeks and bare shoulders are a dead giveaway as one more secret of this ancient ritual is revealed. Is it any wonder that the Sistine Chapel appears to need endless restoration if those curious cardinals are using it as a Sauna!
Above are two details going head to head, Smith and Jones fashion. They appear to me, like a marvellous diagram of my mind as I ponder how the evening's work might progress. Mr Right Side says be loose, elusive, expressive, allow forms to slip and slide, don't worry about detail just allow the pastel to scamper across the forms. Meanwhile Herr Left Side says, Rubbish, look for the forms, eliminate all unnecessary detail, focus on the essentials, reduce edges to lines and contain, contain, contain, no wayward straying across clearly defined boundaries. And so the argument rages, if only I could be as loose, free and relaxed as Roger than the drawing would flow, but then again if only I would stop being distracted and just focus on what matters maybe I could get a wonderful taut drawing like Barry. When I look at these two fine drawings both different but in my eyes equally good I realize Mongrels won't do, it's the pure Pedigree that wins every time. As Francis Bacon said, 'Only extremes are interesting', and I don't suppose it matters what those extremes are just so long as they really are extreme.
by Tom Wood
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Dick, Hadyn, Ian, Ivan, Roger, Russell, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Tom and Tony.
As I gaze upon last Thursday’s efforts, it seems to evoke that which I’m sure has been talked about previously on this blog – that of the inherent struggle. There is, across the selection of drawings, a striking feeling of ephemerality, ethereality and a hint of inconclusion.
Could this have been because we were all put out by the model’s determined stamina dictating our break so our normal well rehearsed paces were disturbed by a longer first half and a shorter second? Maybe, but that seems all too easy of an excuse. We all know Suki/Sue V performs an interesting character, through her life, her blog etc. I wonder how much this affects our drawings and paintings? Does it disturb our insular creativity when a model is so outspoken, a contrast to the outdated cliché of the passive artist’s model? When we may be familiar with how she perceives herself and her modelling work, from her own writings etc? Perhaps not, I know there’s been a lot of talk on here as model as motif and not as direct portraiture and the importance or not, of getting a likeness, whether the model matters at all. But I can’t help but wonder if there is still an unconscious yet inevitable attempt to capture the essence and personality of a model.
On Thursday I attempted to let all this background fluff go. I was trying to concentrate on being in the moment of drawing, not having any expected outcome and just enjoying this series of simple moments and activity for what it was, no judgement, no preconceptions, just a simple, enjoyable, flow of energy. I wonder if that’s really possible to strive for, or if we’re all inevitably swayed by our perceived understanding of a model’s personality, the day we’ve had and other random external factors.
by Fiona Halliday
Paintings and drawings by Catherine, Cathy, Dick, Fiona, Ian, Ivan, Jane, Roger H, Roger S, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Tom and Tony.
If you were lucky enough to attend Tom's Studio Sale last weekend, then, irrespective of success or failure in claiming the pieces which had caught your eye, you may have shared my underlying disquiet in the face of so much generosity, on the one hand, and so much gratitude on the other. Here was a fine and respected artist making his "everyday" life drawings available, at minimal cost, to his many admirers. And, whilst it would have been good to see more youngsters taking the benefit of such accessibility, the gathered collectors contributed in no small degree to the warm, festival atmosphere. Even those pipped at the post for a coveted piece were generous in their congratulations to successful rivals. Susan and I were fortunate in securing all four of the works which we had selected in the preview, but I could not shake the trace of sadness. I had been contemplating, for some time, the artist's relationship with his/her work, and repeatedly returned to the analogy of parent and child. In this context, Tom's Sale brought to mind an Eastern European children's home, besieged by well-heeled, but barren Westerners, vying for the prettiest orphan. OK, I accept that this is unfair to all concerned, but it does illustrate my current attitude to my "finished" work. Whether this is merely a symptom of early development, or, more likely my controlling character and professional imperative, only time will tell. Whatever, my life drawings are my ever-expanding family, and I love them all; not in a qualitative sense, as I recognise that their artistic values vary hugely, but simply because they are mine. I wanted each one of them to be the best that they could be, and worked hard for every available minute to breath life into them and push them forward. I have enjoyed some relative success, accepted a majority of moderate achievement, and occasionally, as yesterday, endured a very difficult birth and the recognition of an ill-formed child. But still, I love it and will seek to make it the best it can be, which may be in teaching valuable lessons, or providing material for future work- some of the colour combinations and textures are beautiful and will reappear. I used to marvel at others' ability to recognise and discard failure, but that was my failure to see the contribution made by over painted works. In terms of my family analogy, a lost child's features or mannerisms in a younger sibling are particularly poignant. Unlike children, however, life drawings and paintings are the product of an individual, unless they can be considered to be the progeny of artist and sitter, and you can, of course, see both in a good portrait. But normally, that miraculous melding of two distinct beings into one child cannot be illustrated, and so the life study becomes the artist's calling card; his family. Looking at any random collection of work from Redbrick, one would recognise, simultaneously, artist and sitter, but more accurately the former; parent and child. I have no problem in parting with my children. I like to know that they are going to good homes and that the buyer sees child and parent in the work. In Tom's case, and as an owner of several of his works, I know that this is true. I think of Tom as I enjoy his painting, and so I should not have had any reservations about the sale. Perhaps it was the scale and rapidity of the event, or just that Tom has so very many children that he cannot afford the luxury of sentimentality. I also know that this is not true, because Tom showed me his favourite "son" spared the sale to keep his father company in the Studio.
by Russell Lumb
Paintings and drawings by Anne, Chris F, Chris M, David, Gerry, Hadyn, Isi, Ivan, Jackie, Jane, Roger, Russell, Sue D-Y, Tom and Tony.