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.
We had an odd session this week with numerous stops and starts and two different poses. Nikki started with a standing pose and paradoxically as more colour was added to our paper less colour was seen on Nikki, from a healthy glow she turned to a deathly white. It was no good after a few false starts and a bit of re-fuelling it was going to have to be sitting or nothing. One or two recorded this change whilst the portraitists amongst us just carried on regardless with some striking results.
Isi captured the strength of Nikki's features and makes a great play of her abundant hair expressing its wriggly restless quality against the hewn features of the face. Patrick also carves out a striking face, large and brooding it appears to be metamorphosing from a series of smokey blots and stains like a Rorschach test solidifying into fact. Roger H just hints at anxiety like a precursor of what is to come and Roger S appears to place Nikki behind a large tin of red paint or is that me imagining things. Russell captures Nikki's pallor almost perfectly in a further development in his new cut and paste technique - you have to look carefully to see how it's done such is Russell's skill. I'm excited to see how this method will develop, the opportunities seem endless to me with the inclusion of all sorts of other collage elements like text and image as well as other unlikely textures ( there you go Russell a big juicy hint as to what you could do next...!). There is something of Ariadne about Sandra's piece with it's delicate Mediterranean hair, grape red background, fine features and classical composition. Steven brilliantly batted on regardless without skipping a beat he just started again, his method wouldn't allow for adaptation so we get a double drawing which somehow seems stronger. I found some blue pastel so Nikki had a blue rinse and Tony created a delicate drawing of wan regret, however the work of the evening for me was Sue's lovely charcoal drawing which captured the moment beautifully, a drawing full of fragile uncertainty balanced by assertions of assurance.
by Tom Wood
Finally I would like to thank all those who came along on Saturday and bought a drawing or two. I thought it was a great success thanks to the good natured spirit of all involved, I now feel inspired to spend another five years drawing and exploring what the life room has to offer.
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Catherine, Cathy, Hadyn, Isi, Patrick, Roger H, Roger S, Russell, Sandra, Steven, Tom, Tony and featured artist Sue D-Y
"Some people hark to the past as a paradigm of how things were before they went wrong; they talk about going back to drawing. To me, it's about going forward, putting a new brick in the building of experience. Drawing from observation must inevitably be of its time".Graham Nickson
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Cathy, Hadyn, Ivan, Roger H, Roger S, Sandra, Sue, Tom, Tony and featured artist Carole.
I spent most of last Thursday afternoon examining the minutiae of my own eyes whilst engaged in painting a self portrait. I was then treated to a mini tutorial on 'the art of eyes' by Tom. Only hours later I found myself gazing into someone else's eyes - our model for the night, Siobhan.
This intense focus on these very complex parts of our anatomy has made me realise just how important eyes are to the successful resolution of any portrait. The late 19th and early 20th Century American artist and teacher Robert Henri seemed to sum it up when he wrote:
"In all your pictures the eyes are remarkable.....They are remarkable expressions of human sensitiveness. In the usual phraseology it might be said "they arrest", "they haunt". They are inscrutable and yet they seem to invite one in....You can learn much from cool study of the living eye."
Indeed Mr Henri says a great deal on the artist's portrayal of the eye in his book 'The Art Spirit'. Two more extracts reveal:
"The white of an eye deceives almost everyone. It is much less white than you think it...it is nearer the colour of the flesh."
"The dominant eye....one eye commands the greater interest. If you paint them equal, no matter what the position of the head, the observer will get no right conception of them. In life one eye always dominates the observer. In painting this domination must persist."
On further delving into the writings of esteemed teachers of the art of drawing, I discovered that Harold Speed devotes a paragraph in his book "The Practice and Science of Drawing" to the merits or otherwise of starting a portrait by drawing the eyes, or leaving them till last:
"Some artists begin in point drawing with the eyes... while others say, with some truth, that there is a mesmeric effect produced when the eye is drawn that blinds one... that it is as well to postpone until the last, that moment when the shapes and tones that represent form in your drawing shall be lit by the introduction of the eye, to the look of a live person. One is freer to consider the accuracy of one's form before this disturbing influence is introduced. And there is a good deal to be said for this."
Hmmmm, I can see what he means. Spooky or wot?!. I'd say the eyes definitely have it!!
All this fascinating research has lead me to know 1) that I will never again look at a portrait without giving a great deal of attention to the eyes and 2) this could well become a bit of an obsession..... so I shall sally forth to an ocular evaluation of Thursday night's pick of the bunch... Congratulations definitely have to go to Barry this week for his most arresting image. In true Blue Peter fashion he came with one he (half) prepared earlier and Siobhan suddenly found herself staring (perhaps with some consternation?) into a jungle of giant leaves. Hadyn has captured Siobhan with a slightly weary look in her eyes in a nonetheless lovely graphic portrait. The prize must go to Roger H I feel, for capturing that 'startled deer' look that is very characteristic of Siobhan. Russell portrays a much more determined aspect of Siobhan, whilst Tom's rendition gives Siobhan a slightly wary look to the eyes and Tony's has a steadfast and clear sighted Siobhan. Although no eyes are visible in Sue's drawing I have to say I am in total admiration of her depiction of the model's back (always tricky) - a masterpiece - the green and purple are a stroke of genius.
It only remains for me to finish with a quotation from that cheeky chappy Marcus Tullius Cicero:
"The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter."
I'm sure we'd all say "eye" to that!
Paintings and drawings Catherine, Cathy, Fiona, Hadyn, Roger H, Roger S, Russell, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom and Tony.
On Saturday I found myself Lost in Wonderland. It’s a place where Insulated in a euphoric glow of intense creativity nothing else appears to exist. It’s a world where hand, eye, and materials all seem to co-ordinate effortlessly, paintings emerge with the predictability of a metronome. I don’t think I was alone in Wonderland.
The trouble is, and sadly there always seems to have to be 'a trouble', this state of contentment is the warm bath before the cold shower. The dreaded Triple Bind lurks in the shadows. This unholy trinity consists of first, the reality of the model, an accusation of fact that can rarely be avoided. Second, we can’t hide from the burden of history; working from the model is the very torch song of art. Finally we have the inconvenience of personal precedence, your own work lines up to point its quivering traitorous finger, accusing you of back sliding and complacency. This can be the cruellest accusation of all because it’s almost impossible to precisely judge the quality of your efforts whilst still in the throes of battle. Some kind of reasonable distance is required before an accurate assessment can be made. What felt exactly right on the day might appear exactly wrong less than twenty four hours later and I blame Wonderland.
With this Triple Bind in mind you need a shot of Wonderland to liberate the senses and on Saturday we saw lots of liberation as we all took advantage of the extra time. Joanne is an inspiring model, with a limpid presence verging on the Pre-Raphaelite. It’s not an easy look to capture, and the tendency is to overshoot into caricature when restraint is actually required.
Haydn has become the master of restraint; his depiction of features seem almost Japanese in its subtlety and control whilst his background of gorgeous luminescent turquoise glows like the colour of precious lacquer. It is a lovely paradoxical painting combining both understatement and lavish colour. If it’s true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery than I’m happy to acknowledge my brazen theft of Haydn’s precious turquoise.
Gerry had one of his first outings with acrylic and his boldness underpinned by solid drawing paid dividends in a fine painting with unusual and striking colours. The first of many excursions I hope into unknown territory. Jackie also delivered the goods creativity wise in an oil painting that both captured the figure in a kind of painterly shorthand and suggested further development with burgeoning ellipses hovering promisingly nearby. I always think a close encounter of the elliptical kind is an advantage in a painting.
Patrick eschews the soppy ellipse for the slashing line; it’s a Bear Grylls of a drawing full of brave and sometimes reckless decisions but with a satisfying resolution and even a nod to romantic classicism in the subtle evocation of the head. In this drawing the angularity works but with excessive use, it could so easily slide into mannerism, the occasional curve might moderate its insistence.However, nonetheless it is undoubtedly a drawing of real authority, assurance and confidence, a virtuoso display of skill.
Emma always makes intriguing work and Saturday’s drawing/painting was no exception. I like the way Emma dips in and out of the situation, one minute she’s all focus with the model firmly in her sights and then she’s wholly immersed in the work with barely a glance at the model. I like that strategy, it’s the buffet option of art, the pick and mix method and why not especially when it allows you to make work that is both enthralling and robust.
It’s intriguing to see both Bren and David’s work together as both seem to want to record the world through a filter, their images sieved of prosaic facts with an array of alternative truths preserved on the other side. At times I literally use a sieve to squeeze paint through and eventually holes become blocked and the pattern of paint becomes both unpredictable and interesting. I think intellectually both are engaged in the same sieving process and I find it fascinating to see what comes through and how they construct art not from what is just there but conceptually also from what is discarded. David will be having a retrospective exhibition of his work later in the year and it will be captivating to see the work collectively and how it has evolved from the sixties onwards.
Don’t forget the Two Day Life Drawing opportunity on the 15 and 16th February where you can spend two idyllic days Lost in Wonderland, email ([email protected]) to book your place.
Paintings and drawings by Anne, Bren, David, Emma, Fiona, Gerry, Hadyn, Jackie, Kwan, Liz, Patrick, Roger, Russell, Sandra, Si, Tom and Tony