Don't let the title give you the horrors, thankfully this is nothing to do with Jeremy Beadle. I've just finished framing twenty three paintings & drawings for my exhibition, that breaks the back of it and just as well, framing's an expensive business. Now I've GOT to sell some of these paintings to pay for all the wood & glass I've just forked out for.
A big heap of paintings:
This is the venue, the Jetty Centre in Stanley, nice isn't it?
Lying abed this morning I got to thinking about what the definition of ‘artist’, it being a Saturday morning you could assume I was pondering about piss-artists but actually I was (of course) thinking about visual art. Not so much the literal definition of ‘artist’ but how Artists define themselves.
There’s this bloke I’ve known for a while, a highly acclaimed professional portrait artist. He paints not just portraits but a wide range of subjects mainly in oils in a down to earth, accurate fashion, not ostentatious photo-realism but straight and very skilful portrayal none the less. What’s interesting is that he does not call himself an ‘artist’, he called himself a painter. I’ve never discussed this with him at any length but the impression I get is that he has a deal of scorn for the ephemeral, high-brow art scene (you know the kind of thing I mean).
This outlook is understandable, there’s me (hypothetically I might add), applying all my talent, my years of experience and practice to produce with much toil a beautiful painting....and there’s some snot nosed kid out of art school piling up some bean tins or splattering some emulsion paint on the floor and having the art world falling over themselves to heap acclaim on him/her for this rubbish. The pompous guff that’s spoken about such ‘art’, its great meaning, importance and so on.
I find it interesting that the even the term ‘artist’ can become tainted in the minds of some artists, painters, whatever one wants to call oneself. I find myself in two minds about this, On the one hand I, like many artists, despair over the insanity of the art world where ‘artists’ with no apparent skill, vision or talent can present banal, meaningless daubs and installations and with the right arty bullshit thrown in these works are somehow meaningful or even acclaimed as masterpieces. Who wants to associate themselves with these charlatans ‘artists’ in any way?
On the other hand I curl my lip at slavish reproductions of photographs in paint, no matter how skilful or how exquisitely executed, at any work that is portrayal of an artist’s skill rather than of the subject (look what I can do sort of thing), these pretty pictures without soul, without passion or meaning...pah! Art is more than this.
So what are we as artists? How do we see ourselves in this world? Visionary, conservative, revolutionary, traditional....? Clearly I can only speak for myself on this issue. For me the subject of a painting has to get something more across to me than its appearance, something that I can then attempt to portray in the painting. I can paint a subject without this element but it is much harder and the results (in my opinion) are lesser because of it. This is what makes painting work for me, in that I suspect I’m an artist.
Got the dates for my up and coming Jety Centre Exhibition. It'll be open between 15th and 22nd October....there! committed myself, no getting out of it now. I'm flying off to Stanley today with the first (and largest I might add) batch of paintings to drop off for framing at the Pink Shop (Jane won't know what's hit her!)
Collection so far (there's a few in here that I'm still not sure about mind):
I've got into the habit in the last few months of writing down ideas for paintings, ideas on technique, things to do, notes about materials, thoughts about art etc etc in a big notebook that I keep with me whenever possible. On several occasions I've recalled that I've had a great idea for a painting....and that's it...just that I had an idea but cannot recall the idea itself, very frustrating. Writing these sparks of inspiration down as soon as they occur at least means that you've got a record of them, no matter how bizarre or untenable they are.
Been reading back through the pages of ramblings that I've filled so far and thought I'd share a few of my, in my opinion, more worthy pearls of wisdom regarding the intangible lunacy that is art.
"Lines only exist in your mind, there is really just light and shadow. Once you see that you've crossed a line."
"In art the perfect mindset is in balance, doubt and confidence are equal so they cancel out, it's just you and your art, nothing else."
"A photograph can freeze a moment in time in a way that nothing else can, an artist can thaw that moment and bring it back to life."
"Inspiration has no respect for your convenience, always keep a notebook to hand."
"One doesn't have to be an insane absinthe drinking recluse living in poverty in some poxy garrat to be an artist. ...I prefer malt whisky"
"The night is never truly dark, there is always light and shadows, True darkness only exists in the mind....and on the bottom of my kettle."
"Seeing clearly isn't a just matter of opening your eyes, you need to open your mind and heart as well."
"I love really crazy dreams, they make the world appear to be sane"
"Close your eyes to convention, embrace the possibility of what exists inside you rather than what you believe the world expects you to be. Step into the void, your art will catch you. If it does not then no matter what you tell yourself you didn't yet take that step over the precipice."
"Talent is a flame, solitude pours petrol on it."
"Eyes're imprortant in portraits, with dog portraits...essential, if you don't get the expression in a dogs eyes you just have a load of fur."
"If you believe that to produce great art you need to suffer then stick a pencil in your leg."
"Art, it's a three letter word. When it's a necessity to tack another word in front of it we know that we're no longer talking about art."
"Conceptual art has it's uses, it provides art critics with some purpose in their lives. Rather like rotten meat does for flies."
"To think you can choose what your art is to be is to think you have control over what you are, if you believe that you're kidding youself."
"Colour tone is nothing, you can get away with anything with tone. Colour value is everything, get it wrong and you've got nothing."
"Inspiration is a spark in your mind, the mind of an artist is a powderkeg. The art that results is as inevitable as an explosion."
"Should I be worried? I still have both my ears at the moment."
There you have it, the 'Ben's words of wisdom to date' compilation. :-)
A crossroads...what a nice, simple concept. You’re on a journey along a road and get to a place where you need to choose whether you this way or that way, black or white, yes or no. It’s such a convenient analogy and at times to be sure it’s appropriate. Art is a journey and sometimes you do reach a crossroads that is a clear choice, so often though we are not travelling as on a road but are adrift on the open sea, we have a course but are influenced by forces beyond our control and can end up drifting off in an unexpected and unwelcome direction.
It’s so easy to drift into bad habits, I’ve recently caught myself taking my art for granted, I’ve been pushing myself hard to produce work for my coming exhibition and have found I’ve developed a ‘that’ll do, next!’ attitude to my paintings. Where the hell did that come from?...and how will ‘that do’ exactly? Will it do because it’s saleable? because it’s up to a certain standard that I’ve come to expect my art to adhere to? Sounds a lot like a feeling of complacency to me, something an artist has no business experiencing.
Just this morning I read a post on t’internet from a gallery owner about being spammed by aspiring artists who tell him that their art will be just the thing for his gallery, he went on to say, quite rightly of course, that a gallery cannot simply display anything that any artist thinks is worthy , the business doesn’t work like that and on the whole aspiring artists need a bit of business acumen. There is of course a large element of truth in that, if you want a gallery to display your work then you’ll need to conform to the gallery’s standards, they know their market after all. If you want your art to sell then you need to produce work that appeals enough to buyers that they buy it. I can’t help though to feel a bit uncomfortable about this though, of course we have to compromise ourselves to some extent. If we accept a commission we are probably working with a subject that is not one we would have chosen, sometimes it’s necessary to ‘brute force’ such work to get it done.
This is one of those areas where there is no definite choice but a subtle shift in direction. We don’t decide to never paint what we want and how we want to but to cynically turn out work that conforms to a sensible model that is appropriate, saleable, complements the galleries wall decor etc, where we decide that inspiration, wonder, experimentation all get thrown out in favour of grinding out pretty pictures. What happens is that it’s easy to get lazy, to slowly slide into a way of painting that ‘ticks the boxes’ without even realising it’s happening until one day you look at the work you’re doing and say ‘what the hell’s all this stuff?’.
What’s to be done though to prevent this slide into conformity, even into mediocrity? You have to pay your way. How far are we prepared to let ourselves slip, to slowly compromise our work to gain a modicum of critical & financial success as an artist? Once we’ve developed enough skill to consistently turn out crowd pleasing work then it’s very tempting to do so at the expense of what you could become if you stuck to your guns, didn’t give an inch and painted what and how you were inspired to paint.
At some level we all know that that’s how you become great, not by knowing which arses to kiss and pickling cows and such but by being absolutely honest and 100% dedicated to our vision, our ideas in art.
Been busy working on stuff to out in my exhibition in October, just recently focusing on wildlife. These two are my contributions for the annual Falklands Conservation Ball which is in late September so probably won't be in the exhibition. Both are soft pastels on pale grey pastelmat, the former 24 X 30cm, the latter 30 X 40cm.
Dark-faced Ground Tyrant:
Elephant seal pup:
As at last years ball these along with other donated paintings will be auctioned off to raise money for the organisation. Hope they sell for plenty.
As an artist your voice is your style of painting, many aspiring artists are still experimenting to find their own particular voice, for some it takes years of practice, for it comes almost immediately. I recently read an article about finding one’s artistic voice. How to Find Your Own Artistic Voice. The gist of it was that if you want to achieve greatness and fame as an artist then you need to strive to find your own, original voice that'll make your work so distinctive that you'll blow away the derivative competition.
On the surface this made sense, of course you shouldn't slavishly emulate a particular artist's style, how could it be your voice if your work was indistinguishable from the artist you're inspired by? As it went on though I began to have my doubts, ideas such as policing ones work for any hint of being influenced to other artists for instance. Again this seemed to make sense but as I thought more about it I realised what a frustrating course that could be. As far as I can see the question is whether we have control over defining what our voice is, can we force ourselves to adopt or reject particular styles or elements of our art? Also is achieving a completely original style at any cost the only way to raise ourselves from the derivative morass that is the majority of contemporary art?
I believe that to the former the answer is no, you are what you are as an artist, if you forces yourself to work in a way that is deliberately unlike anything that anyone else does or has done then you're not finding your voice, you're denying it. Your voice is inherent to you and practice will hone that voice into the best it can be.
...and to the latter? Well...that could well be true but then is it worth it? This is about finding YOUR voice remember, an awful lot of art has come before you so how likely is it that you can find this original style without ending up doing things like pickling cows, piling up soup tins or dragging your bed into the gallery. You may achieve the success and fame you desire but is that your voice? I doubt it.
To deliberately and mechanically copy a style is clearly dishonest and it'll show, but also to turn your back on your instinctive inclination, to be original at any price is also dishonest. Keep practicing, allow your creativity free rein, be true to yourself and your art become what it has to be. We cannot all be great and famous artists but we can be honest with our art.
Ugh, pretty birds...still, customer's always right. Actually I enjoyed doing these two black browed albatross paintings. As ever soft pastels on 30 X 40 pastelmat.
Mollymawk 1. Looking beautiful on the nest, I liked the shapes that came out of this.
Mollymawk 2. This was a tougher proposition, an albatross doing something other than sitting on its nest looking noble. In flight wasn't really an option, I can't stand the appearance of albatross in gliding flight, they're just a bloody great black and white cross floating around in the painting, In my opinion they look a lot more interesting in the transition between flying and landing/taking off. So I assembled this montage of several references and a good dollop of imagination: