Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hall table mirror 71x71cm oil on canvas

Here is a video Rebecca from made for me earlier on this year, about the idea and concept behind this painting.  This painting is available at the Doorway Gallery

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pauline Bewick at the Taylor Gallery

I went to see Pauline Bewick’s major solo exhibition at the Taylor Gallery in Dublin yesterday.  We all know Bewicks instantly recognizable figurative narratives, executed in her very individual fluid graphic style. But I think this time I began to realize how unique she really is, she has such a wonderfully uninhibited and wacky way of visually expressing herself.  Her style is utterly eccentric yet beautifully lyrical.  Bewick is a brave artist who is doing her own thing and tells her story from her heart.   She is to me, a lone voice of authenticity and such a breath of fresh air.  And then she goes and takes that breath away with her Fox and Nesting Goose.  It reads as mixed media in the catalogue, but Bewick has taken the story telling to its literal conclusion and stuck on goose feathers and grasses onto the paper alongside its painted image!!  I went away from her exhibition, feeling light headed and extremely giddy.  This is a woman that has pushed her boundaries to the limit and she has inspired me greatly to carry on with what I am doing, and has encouraged me as a painter to be as brave as I dare.

This wonderful exhibition goes on until the 29th September at The Taylor Gallery,  16 Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ballymaloe and Camille Souter

Ballymaloe's Dining Room

I don’t want to sound all smug and conceited here, but recently I was whisked off to the utterly delectable  Ballymaloe Country House Hotel run by the Allen family, for what I feel was a much deserved and long-awaited break.  Yes and Ballymaloe is just ‘right’ in every way, it certainly ticks all my boxes and the food is just ‘simply delicious’. Long live the Allen dynasty.
What I didn’t prepare for though was the sheer delight of seeing so much modern Irish art on the walls, from the exquisite Louis LeBrocquy tapestries hanging in the entrance hall; the hard- edge abstracts of Cecil King and Patrick Scott, to the Michael Farrell’s self-searching prints decking the corridors.  Iconic names such as Nano Reid, Norah McGuiness, Jack Yeats, Mary Swanzy, adorn every alcove, nook and cranny.  This is a personal collection of great insight and empathy with that period of Irish Art history that starts with Nathanial Hone’s  pastoral scenes and ends with Elizabeth Cope’s eye popping red field with sheep.   This is such a strong and obviously much loved and cherished family collection and as a result a very cohesive and concise slice of important Irish art.
If I was to choose a favourite painting from this collection, it would be the understated Camille Souter that is hanging in the sitting room.   This painting is hung between the two large sash windows, a little ‘tongue in cheek’ I feel, as the painting itself depicts a large sash window filling the whole canvas, framing a view of a garden.   Like all Souter’s work it is tonally complex and subtly sophisticated.  I like to feel that she painted this while staying as a guest at Ballymaloe, all molly-coddled and sated, lying in white linen sheets with her hall-mark of a beret firmly placed on the side of her head, and the breakfast  tray with the remnants of a lightly poached egg , jugged kipper, and half- drunk third cup of tea, at her bare feet.   I imagine  her easel is set up conveniently  next to her bedside table and the sprigged floral sanderson curtains are drawn well back to reveal a soft grey-green sort of day, a heavy drizzle has set in, stopping Camille from flinging open the French doors.  She is putting the finishing touches to her Ballymaloe painting, that will be presented to the art loving member of the Allen family later on that day, and yes it is a  view from her bed –and why not, a sash window creates the perfect  framework in which  to suspend her tender brush strokes of abstracted form and delicate colour nuances, in a masterpiece of painterly perfection. 

Camille Souter  Washing by the Canal.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

'Walled Garden' summer paintings 2012

cream tea 122x122cm oil on canvas

Walled garden summer collection now available and showing at The Doorway Gallery, Dublin  2 and The Russell Gallery , Putney, London.

It was during the Christmas break that I first conceived of the idea for this painting.  My two daughters back for the holiday and bonding over the kitchen table probably with laptops and coffee between them, where at either side of my long refectory-type table, and I was at the kitchen sink (no comment) looking across directly mid line.  I felt a painting coming on, and jotted down a few quick reminders to work through the idea more fully later.  I have used cream tea as subject matter before, back in 2005, where there were two cream tea still lifes in my solo show at Adam’s in St.Stephan’s Green, Dublin 2.  My aim, in this recent collection of summer paintings, was to make my interior scenes have an outdoor country feel, maybe some deep physiological need for summer during the short dark days of winter……. Crazy really ‘cos we still hav’nt had any decent summer weather yet and its July in a few days!  So I am thinking that in my case my paintings are definately a form of self-medication!
I suppose, in this painting more than in the rest of the ‘Walled Garden” collection, I have used a lot of different fabrics, and it is in these textiles that I have introduced most of the outdoor references.  These have been sourced mainly from 18th century textiles and decorative patterns.  If we think nowadays that we are innovative and edgy with our decorative arts, then think again as 300 years ago, it was as punky and wacky as it gets.  I think all our colour do’s and don’t’s must have happened relatively recently. I have never liked being told what not to do, so I have pheasants, butterflies, flowers and strawberry plants all vying for attention.  Even though I use colour defiantly and boldly go where no man has gone before,  I see them as all balanced and harmonious and to me impart a sense of calmness and well-being. 

18th century fabric book

Friday, April 13, 2012

Paolo opening my show

Paolo Tuilio, Irelands much loved food critic and restauranteur, opening my exhibition Rococo at The Doorway Gallery situated in the heart of the main art gallery and museum area of Dublin's city centre. We managed to capture the moment.
Thanks Paolo xxx

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Birds Quarrelling

'Falling through the air quarrellling' from a mid-sixteenth century book by Kao Sung

Recently I was talking to Sarah from the Russell Gallery in London, as I am in the process of sending over some paintings for the Chelsea Art Fair in April.  We were talking about one of my bird paintings “Birds Quarrelling” and why that title.  The inspiration for this painting came from what I thought was a very popular  Chinese woodcut of the same title but when I tried to source the image from the internet I found nothing.  After searching through my book shelves I came across the book Heaven and Earth (woodcuts from a Ming Encyclopedia) selected by John Goodall, Lund Humphries 1979, and there it was a little woodcut of two birds “Falling through the air quarrelling”.  So that was where the idea had originated from, though I couldn’t quite remember until now, and the full title is so good on reflection that I wish I had given my version the same one.  Maybe next time I feel inspired to paint quarrelling birds I will.

"Birds Quarrelling' 54x46cm oil on board

I painted the above painting this time last year, for the Rococo exhibition that has just been and gone.  Over the last few months my garden has been full of blackbirds, quarrelling and jostling for position on the lawn, in the hedgerows and for prime position in the stone trough that serves for a great bird bath.  So it seemed right to pit them against a cerulean blue sky, with  blossom from a lovely flowering virburnum fragans which I have growing close by the house and which smells divinely of jasmine; the stage is set the players cast. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Terre Verte

Madonna and Child  Segna di bonaventura

I feel inspired to write a piece on Terre Verte, which means Green Earth, and it is one of the pigments from the earth colour family of Iron oxides, along with yellow ochre, raw sienna, burnt umber among  many others . I have a special relationship with this thin translucent olive- blue- green paint colour , and I use it a lot in my work to paint faces, arms, legs and I see it as a very natural way to represent flesh.  Maybe it would be good at this point, to bring you in to my world and explain myself. To me, it feels totally natural and traditional  to use this colour when painting flesh and I consider it as the base of all flesh tones.  It was used predominately from the medieval times onwards for painting people; its role was as underpainting  to the more warmer flesh tones, that would have been painted over the top of the terre verte. What had a profound impact on me visually when I was a student, was noting that some of these ancient paintings had all the top flesh tones worn off, leaving completely green faces. This fascinated me, and somehow symbolized a face a lot more coherently than all those polished alabaster like masks.   To me those ancient green portraits  are like living modern images, as real or as inspirational to me, as is a Matisse or a Bonnard painting. 
I know I have taken the role terre verte has in the history of painting flesh and run away with it.  I want to celebrate it, push its barriers and possibilities, in an unapologetic and painterly way. I have used terre verte for many years now, so much so that it is now very much part of my personal painting language.  I suppose this is what is so important to me as a modernist painter; to continually rehash and relive centuries of painting history, so that there is no time divide.  I feel I am exploring a rich world of painting language that’s all around me and now more than ever, so easily accessible. I like to  extract the bits that mean something to me personally and feel ‘right’.  I feel it’s the only way to paint, its like a continuum in the history of the visual arts, that just goes around and around in rich endless different versions of itself. Its what I call living art. 

Secret Garden  122x152cm oil on canvas

Girl with flowers in her hair  61x54cm oil on board

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spotlight on Summer Hat

Summer Hat 71x71cm oil on canvas
I have painted quite a few women in hats now and the Summer Hat which is currently showing at the Battersea Affordable Art Fair is one such painting.

Stella in Flowered Hat   Kees van Dongen NGI

I first conceived the idea for  this composition, when I was in the National Gallery of Ireland looking at the painting Stella by Kees van Dongen which is exhibited alongside  a Bonnard and my favorite favourite painting, Girl with ribbon by Gabriele Munter.   Stella is a sensuous painting with loose expressionistic marks resembling the work of Matisse.  It is highly charged and utterly arresting, with such a dramatic division of the picture plane, top third hat, middle section face, bottom third neck and shoulders.  She reminded me of a vase of flowers, and so inspired, I  painted my first two versions of  girls in hats, one of them was for my Pastoral Collection 2009.

Rococo Rhododendrums 122x92cm oil on canvas

    This time I was inspired by my daughter Becky, who is a manic blogger and had put up a post with herself in this floppy 1970’s inspired straw hat.   The girl’s dress is based on a Chinese vase, to further play on the similarities to one of my flower paintings, the background is a group of silver birch trees that grow near to my house.  I love all the shadows and greens that hats do to faces, it just makes complete sense to me, not that I need any excuse to paint a face green!! But a bit of logic always makes me feel less alone in my eccentricities.

A walk in Avondale 71x71cm oil on canvas and below Walking in Avondale from my Pastoral Collection 2009 71x71cm oil on canvas

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Diary

This painting is part of my solo show Rococo and is large 152x122cm oil painting.
This painting defies any specific story, apart from its title the Diary, and I am not a diary person, so there is no personal story behind this composition.  This painting just evolved as part of the process of working on this collection of paintings, Rococo, now showing as my new solo exhibition at the Doorway Gallery, Dublin (   This painting is made up of the elements that I have previously researched on for other paintings in this collection and past work.  Therefore, the initial inspiration behind this painting would have been a generic theme of a reclining female form.
However, I do have more thoughts on this composition, as ever since my daughter ( who was doing her English literature degree course at the time) challenged me by pointedly enlightening me on the dangers of  ‘scopophilia’ and subject matter, and which I had always known as ‘key-hole’ paintings, which describes the phrase so much better in painting terms.  Basically in the visual sense of the word it is the rather ‘creepy’ past time of a peeping tom, voyeuristically spying on an unaware person at their business (usually a woman).  Degas’ beautiful pastels of women at their toilette is one example in the painting world, that immediately comes to mind. And even though I love these works beyond words, the thought that the source behind them, would have any bearing on what I was setting out to achieve,  horrified and appalled me, no, no, no not at all what I am about. 
But it got me thinking, as to why my paintings where not like this.  And I think it’s because, my female forms are just that; they are not portraits in the descriptive sense of the word, they are more like symbols of women, and they could be you or anyone, with a bit of an imaginative leap.  They are also always engaged in existential activities like reading, thinking, writing and dreaming, and are just one of the component parts in my painted world, equal with that of say a vase of flowers or teapot. The way I use paint and my strong colour, is again not so much descriptive as tactile and sensory and therefore not illustrative or descriptive in a narrative sense.
working drawing for final painting The Diary
Therefore I see my paintings as ‘tactile’ paintings.  As Rothko writes in his ‘Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art”
‘that the goal of art is to express reality through plastic means not through description” He means by the word plastic the physical properties of the paint medium itself.
The Diary is therefore a painting about balance and fulfillment, self-contentment, and harmony, where in that one moment in time everything is right and pure. It describes a state, rather than a place.  The painted cat and bird are engaged in the painted world creating a dialogue within the space, which helps to introduce the elements of companionship, interaction and movement.  The cat also introduces the sense of touch that helps to enhance the tactile nature of my painting language. 
The landscape outside, set centrally, gives the composition a strong shape and form in which to balance the objects within my 2 dimensional space, and also describes the outside world that links and yet contrasts with the interior, thus creating a ‘threshold painting’. This helps me recreate a sense of expansiveness to counteract any sense of claustrophobia that an enclosed room painted or otherwise might suggest.
The shoes and diary symbolize action within the painting, either happening or just happened, which helps create a sense of movement, without having to paint descriptive movement.  I feel that descriptive or illusory painting is a very different type of painting, and one which I have almost entirely dis-engaged myself from.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dod Procter Inspiration

Dod Procter Sleeping Girl National Gallery of Ireland
  Dod Procter (1892-1972) was a Newlyn painter living and working in Cornwall, and her Sleeping Girl, is in the collection at the National Gallery of Ireland.  It has been a love affair with me, ever since I first set eyes on this painting, and every so often I go and pay my respects to this understated masterpiece . To me, it is such a magnificant painting, with it’s strength of composition, dexterity and skill:  juxtaposed with the serenity of the sleeping girl and the quietness of the tonal painting-it is just breath-taking!
girl with kitten 71x71cm oil on canvas
garden shade 71x71cm oil on canvas
This painting has been very inspirational for me, and I have assimilated and incorporated it into a number of my compositions and drawings as can be seen here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February Spotlight-Rococo Show

magenta rhododendrum 92x76cm oil on canvas

It’s interesting to look back and identify the original source to an idea or inspiration.  But reflecting on my choice for the ‘Rococo’ theme in this year’s solo show; I can source this idea back to more than 30 years ago, when I was just starting my degree course in painting back in 1979.  It was in my second year at Sheffield, first year in the painting department.   Along the department’s corridor was hanging past pupils work.  One particular painting intrigued me; it was a large full length canvas of a woman in a long intricate patterned dress, in dry brushwork in pastel colours very like a Klimt on reflection.  It was the beautiful quality of the almost pointillist dry brush marks that reminded me of the same tactile qualities of pastel crayon on paper.  The canvas was left bare which was buff coloured linen.  I was at this time using a lot of pastel crayon myself with my studio work and life drawing, so this painting encouraged me try and paint like I was drawing.  If only I had the knowledge then that I have now, to realise that drawing and painting are completely different processes, and one doesnt necessarily lead to the other. Small steps!! 
                                                                                                                                                             self portrait 30x20cm pastels 1979

So 30 years on, I now find I have this opportunity to explore these pastel colours again with ‘rococo’. 
  I am obviously always drawn to strong, impactful colours, so any subdued or subtle colours will always be countered in my work by its strong opposing counterpart, to be eventually  dominated by my direct compositional devices and upfront perspectives, so maybe the paintings in Rococo is the nearest I’ll get to a delicate palette.  But it’s these little twists and turns that I explore within my personal painting style, that keep the process fresh and continually exciting for me, and give each new exhibition a slightly different feel-factor.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Buddleia Globosa

buddleia globosa 92x76cm oil on canvas
Buddleia Globosa oil on canvas  92x76cm now showing in my new solo exhibition Rococo at The Doorway Gallery, Dublin from 3rd February to the 1st March.

It was many years ago, while I was walking in Avondale gardens (Wicklow), which is Charles Steward Parnell’s old demesne, now owned and managed by Coilte that I came across this rather unusual flowering shrub, Buddleia Globosa.  You could say that this 500 acre estate is a testament to one man’s vision, as around 150 years ago Parnell completely changed this part of Wicklow’s landscape by planting and creating a haven of intricate woodland walks mainly pine trees of every shape and form; from huge multi-trunked Cyprus trees, to towering redwoods.  Even the common leylandii is given a place of its own here, in which it can be seen in all its surprising beauty.
Adjacent and opposite to the house itself there is a park- like swathe of grass,  where shrubs and rhododendrons have been planted at the edges of towering stands of eucalyptus trees.  Nearer the approach of the house, the shrubs become more low- forming and delicate, and it was here that the rather medieval- looking buddleia globosa grew.  Why I say medieval, is that is has that old antique look about it, the colours are all based around yellow ochre like a complex gilded and embroidered Tudor tunic.  The leaves are almost brassica like with lots of lichen olive green undulations, and mysterious soft pale undersides. The flowers are round and form in pairs or in threes, like berries.   Globes of ochre green that slowly change to a warm delicious yellow orange, little residual leaves near the flowering brackets curl back on themselves and look so intricate and decorative against the cerulean blue of a clear sunny June day.
Like all Buddleias they seem to strike well from cuttings and somehow one little broken branch found itself transported back to my home and within a year was planted out and growing fast. Looking out now from my kitchen window I am looking at one of these selfsame shrubs, nothing much to look at now, I must confess, and it has to be dramatically cut back every 2nd year or otherwise it becomes ungainly with unsightly woody bare branches. However, come April- May, I will be thinking to myself, maybe it’s time for another Buddleia Globosa painting.  And I always seem to paint them with a strong Indian Yellow background that threatens to swamp and dominate any subtle painting that I might have achieved in the flower- clusters of the tiny sunny florets that make up the characteristic round head.  But I can’t help myself, I think they are just the embodiment of happiness; to me they represent the sun, and I use them to celebrate the colour yellow, particularly that Indian yellow that has more than a hint of red about it.

Buddleia Globosa  oil on board 2006

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rococo Sisters

Rococo Sisters  oil on canvas 152x152cm, is  the largest painting in my new solo exhibition “Rococo”.  The show is about to open on the 3rd February and runs throughout February into March at The Doorway Gallery, 24 South Frederick Street Dublin 2.
Image source: Traditional Indian Textiles by John Gillow and Nicholas Barnard
The idea for this painting came about many years ago when I first came across this photograph, of 3 women sat together, in my Traditional  Indian Textile book, that I often refer to  for inspiration.  I always  thought of these Bengali women as sisters, they are so enigmatic and beautiful, with all of their finery merging together as a single unit.  For many years I have tried to paint a composition with 3 seated figures connected, yet in context with their surroundings, and Rococo gave me such an opportunity.  When I was collecting research material for Rococo,  I came across this film still of the Marie Antionette cast on set, and immediately my Indian ladies were recalled to mind.

I have included some working drawings from my sketch book, that show how I worked out this composition, the actual specific details and actual colour combinations  would have been worked out on the finished painting, a  scary thought I know!   A bit like diving head first into  cold water, except in this case, its preferable to keep the eyes open!!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dream or Sleep that is the question!

Here are some pages taken from my working sketch book, just to give you an idea of how I go about conceiving the idea of a painting and how that manifests itself into the finished article.
I adore Picasso’s’ The Dream’, his patterning in this painting, is so jazzy and energetic, in opposition to the passivity of the sleeping figure. This suggests to me that all that latent energy behind that sleeping face, has found expression in the decorative elements of the composition. A clever visual device to illustrate something so complex as a dream.
From my sketches  you can see that I was trying to compose my own’ Dream’ composition, with a format  similar to Picasso’s.  But I couldn’t quite work out how I was going to make the background dominate  the figure in the chair, that would suggest  a more Dream-like element. So it kept feeling like a ‘Sleep’ theme which to me is very different and not what I was setting out to achieve.    Then I was talking to a friend who was telling me about her planned day’s vacation after months of exhausting work, that had left her very frayed at the edges.  She was planning to book into a hotel for a day (on her own of course) and  spend the day in bed with all her favorite books around her; tea and meals to be eaten in bed and no one to disturb her; just the pure luxury of’ time out’ for one day. Once this vision got into my head it took over my original idea for formatting my composition, and instead, it evolved into a bird’s eye view of a figure on a bed with her chosen objects around her.   I drew and painted a  full size sketch for the finished painting which I forgot to photograph and has since been over-painted with a new idea for a new painting, but this would have looked very much like the painting itself.
I hope this to goes someway to help understand how I go about energizing and motivating myself into the painting process.   I think it goes to show that this process is sometimes only just that; just a means to an end; rather than an essential part of the finished product.
Now my only problem left, is what to call this finished painting, as I want to call it 'Dream' but somehow it's still suggesting 'Sleep' to me!! 
122x122cm oil on canvas

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

January Spotlight-Persephone Collection

                                                        Day Dreaming 92x76cm oil on canvas
It seems a little perverse to talk about the exhibition I had back in spring 2010, when I am just about to open my new solo show next month, but I think its because of all the obvious contrasts between the two that has made me mindfull of what I was trying to achieve with ‘Persephone’. 
The rather tragic figure of Persephone, who divides her time between the two people who love her most, ie. Hades ruler of the underworld and Demeter goddess of summer, is all ancient history.  But it is a very human and visual way to describe the seasons, and 2009 was a cold year here in Ireland, with lots of snow and ice that transformed the green and browns of my immediate surroundings to inspiring sepias, umbers and the glearing glinting light of snow.  All this, along with the desire, once and for all, to try and nail white as a colour, was my background thinking to this collection of paintings.  I know, I know, white is never described as a colour, we are all taught that white reflects back to us all the colours in the spectrum, but to me, as a colourist painter it is a colour.  Infact white paint is so impactful and dominant when used in a block, that I have never used it as part of my palette, in the same way that I would use say, cadmium red, or cerulean blue, until that is before Persephone.
How I went about this was to use burnt sienna as a ground, which subdues the glaring white canvas down to the effect of an autumnal forest floor.  White seems to love this contrasting bed fellow and coupled with my subject matter of snow sprinkled gardenscapes, bare silver birch trunks, crisp white linen tablecloths and white chrysanthemums I was away, and white is now my new colour.
But it is only now that I feel happy to talk about WHITE.  As anyone knows, living in my part of the world, last year’s winter was even more extreme than 2009, and winter 2010 made most people’s lives here, hard and a little bit miserable.  So I have been slightly thwarted in my new love for white, as until now it has been a tabou subject, white equals snow and ice and we would rather not allude to it thank you very much.  But hey, it’s the new year now and so far we have had nothing what so ever that looks like the S… word, so  we can all breathe a sigh of relief and know that the days are now getting longer, so whatever is thrown at us weather-wise, spring is almost round the corner.
‘Day Dreaming’ really encapsulates all that I wanted to achieve in this collection, as I have here, all the familiar characteristics of what I know makes up a good painting.  It is balanced and timeless, quiet and contemplative. The interactions between the figure and the vase of flowers creates the illusion to space but still pays homage to the frontal picture plane, the outdoor landscape through the window, helps creates the concept of a ‘threshold painting’ ie, a domestic scene that represents expansion and development of the internal space, rather than entrapment and claustrophobia.  The half eaten apple is a nod to the theme of Persephone eating the pomegranate seeds, so sealing her fate to live 4 months of the year with her abductor.  The vintage wallpaper behind her head of birds and pomegranates, represents life and growth, and her internal thoughts of hope and excitement of a change of season.
Still life with yellow chrysanthemums 76x92cm, oil on canvas (now at Wimbledon Fine Arts, London)
Another favourite painting of mine from the Persephone collection is ‘Still life with yellow chrysanthemums’, for me it is very balanced compositionally and it has a strong feeling of ‘right-ness’ when I look at it.  Here white is used as a colour and works as a colour but is so impactful that it also works as an emotion.  It is so reflective that when I look at it, I start to think of strong sunshine, then the strong red earths of the pottery and the warm oranges and yellows transports me to the beautiful still life paintings of the 18th century Spanish painter Melendez. That’s what I love about looking at paintings, is all the visual references that keep art history alive for ever and permanently present; whether it’s an ancient wall painting or a smile on one of Raphael’s Madonnas, visual art is a living and evolving language, and touches all of us.  
File:Luis Melendez, Still Life with Salmon,Lemon and three Vessels,1772 Museo del Prado Madrid.jpg
Luis Melendez  Still life with Salmon, Lemon and Kitchen Utensils 41x62cm