Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Back Log - Venice 2017

On my return from a wonderful trip to Venice in October I posted on Facebook a selection of the paintings I brought back.  This post provides a more complete record of the trip.

David Bachmann, Jonathan Pocock and I had a mid-morning flight from Gatwick on Saturday 7 October but despite the prospect of getting in one or two quick sketches on our arrival in Venice we had long waits at various stages including at the new Alilaguna terminus so did not get to Ken and Dora Howard's apartment until the evening.  Messrs Karl Terry and Tony Dakin were out painting already, near SS Giovanni e Paolo. 

I had a bad first night but managed to creep out at 6am and made my way down to the Ca D'Oro vaporetto stop only to discover that the lovely red awnings of yore had been replaced by some 'dirty maroon' ones.  We all went to that spot later but it only has room for one of us so I took a '1' to St Angelo and walked through to the Accademia and kicked off with this 9x12 of the classic scene.

Then to San Tomá for a 6x13 view up the Grand Canal

I then took a '1' to San Zaccaria and a '2' to San Giorgio Maggiore.  I knew that there was a café with a loo on the marina side of the island and having availed myself of that I did a quick 6x8 of the marina, following that with three 6x13 studies of the Salute from the San Giorgio platform, two of which are here:


I was so late back that the others had already gone out for a meal. Willis Heaton joined us (all the way from Santa Barbara) and that completed the party for this year.

The next morning we were in better shape and made straight for the San Marco piazza.  I did a 6x13 of the Dogana and Salute from just below the Straw Bridge.

I was very slow and the others had left for the 'Orange Wall' long before I finished.  I looked at the wall but was too late for the classic scene so went back to Campo S Maria del Giglio and painted a shop front down the square (12x9).

I took a '1' to San Tomá and had a quick lunch in Bar Niki before returning to the Campo to start another 12x9 but abandoned that, went to the Orange Wall fondamente and did a barely OK 9x12 that I scrubbed later.

On Tuesday morning I finally started to feel I was tuning in to Venice and after the horrific incident when David had his tripod stolen and we had searched frantically but with no success for the thief, I set off on my own for San Giorgio Maggiore.  From a tiny platform at the vaporetto stop I did a 6x13 of the view along the Giudecca to the Zitelle and Redentore.

 I then took a '2' to Redentore and painted back the other way (9x12)

Back on a '4.1' to San Zaccaria for a contre jour 9x11 of the San Giorgio Maggiore and a similar view of the Salute from a spot nearer the Arsenale.

Wednesday dawned foggy and stayed that way until noon.  Karl, David and I were on our way to San Marco when Karl The Fogmaster spotted this scene (12x9:

We drifted into Campo Santa Maria Formosa where I did a small study of the church and campanile

After a brunch back at Ken's we returned to CSM Formosa for another go:

Rushed to CSM del Giglio and finished the second painting I had started there on Monday. 

I finished with another classic view from Campo San Leo

On Thursday morning I woke with my back in spasm!  I have no idea why.  Normally I have a very definite 'episode' but this time the old Army back just seemed to creep up on me.  That made the rest of the rip excruciatingly painful but I was determined not to let it slow me down too much.

I started badly, taking a 4.1 before realising it was heading for Murano.  I stopped at the Isola San Michele and did an 8x6 study of the church from the vaporetto stop.  Then back on a 4.1 all the way round to Redentore where I did a 9x12 of Zitelle/San Giorgio in the mist

I went to the Chinese café with the red tablecloths and then after a coffee and bun painted it into this scene

I walked to Zitelle and took a '4.1' to Biennale (Giardini Publici).  I think the 6x13 I did from her in evening light was my best of the day,

On Friday 13th I was still having a lot of trouble with my back but struggled out to Campo SM Formosa for a 'Homage To Bernard Dunstan' view that he had painted many years ago and I found in a book about him.  He had a very long innings but it was still sad to hear of his death.

I was not happy with it and have since modified it considerably.  It was still very grey so I went back to the apartment and David and I spent the rest of the morning working on sketches.  I struck out on my own again after lunch and took a '2' to San Tomá from Rialto to do a misty view up the canal again (6x13)

The gondola is actually a traghetto one but only the gondoliers stand up in it these days.

I popped into Bar Niki for a coffee and said goodbye to Elisa and her mum before heading to San Zaccaria on a '2' and then Salute on a '1'.  I walked out to Punta Dogana and settled for a 6x13 of the Redentore with 'sparkle'

Then after trying to help Commie from Dundas Ontario (!) I took a '1' to the Arsenale and did another San Giorgio with sparkle (9x12)

I dashed to the loo at the Giardini and then stayed there for a final 9x12 of the San Giorgio and Salute after sunset. 

That was my last oil sketch but my flight back on Saturday was quite late (and was to be delayed by several hours) so although we had to leave Ken's flat by noon I had the opportunity for several, local  pen-and-wash sketches and two small watercolours, one from the Ospedale stop and one from the Cimitero stop on Isola di San Michele.

Despite the bad back and a nightmarish journey home I had enjoyed a great week.  What always makes these trips is th company of good friends from whom one can learn so much.

Probably the nicest thing that happened to me was when Karl - who knew that I had kept a small half-finished sketch of his from another Venice trip when he threatened to destroy it in a fit of frustration - gave me a lovely 'fog' painting on his last morning, on the condition that I would finally destroy the other one.  It is now framed and proudly displayed in our home.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Glasgow Show

November saw the Armed Forces Art Society hold its first show ever outside London, in the Lighthouse, Glasgow.  The show was entitled 'Articles of War' - the name I suggested to Eve Montgomerie who has now taken over from me as the Chairman of the Society.  Eve curated the exhibition but as the outgoing Chairman I was still responsible for the decision to go to Glasgow and so worked harder than ever to help making it a success, driving the work up from the South with Francesca Bex,  setting up the show, manning the gallery every day, taking down the show and driving unsold work back south.  It was an exhausting time but we did it and the experiment was a great success.

I submitted 2 works: the sandbag soldier 'Do Not Go Gentle' and an installation made from 60 double-sided tiles that I called '60 Trench Testimonies'.  These had images and texts on one side and on the other side more images with extracts from the letters of soldiers on both sides of the Western Front.  The catalogue for the show was enormously expensive and very beautiful but unfortunately the author left out all reference to 60 Trench Testimonies!  It was also the only work out of 70 or so to be omitted.  The news that this had happened was met with disbelief by my artist friends and still rankles but it is too late now to correct the mistake.  I have dined out several times on the story!

Here are some shots of the finished 'Do Not Go Gentle' (the sandbag soldier).

And a selection of the tiles of 60 Trench Testimonies

I am hoping to find a good way of displaying the tiles in future as I intend to resubmit the work for next year's show at the Menier Gallery in June.  One thought is to enclose them in perspex as a vertical 'sheet', in much the same way as Raphael's drawings on both sides of a sheet of paper were displayed at the recent Ashmolean exhibition.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Sandbag Soldier Takes Shape

Making some sort of progress but the whole thing is going to need a long time to dry and cure.  I am thinking of drilling some holes to help the drying process but it is a balance between that and structural integrity.

I don't really want too much anatomical correctness as I think it often detracts from the power of a piece by destroying its enigmatic qualities but once one has reached this stage some things look really odd otherwise.  If I could have halted earlier it might have been more successful but I am having to retrain myself to imagine in 3D and resist the pressure to keep refining.

I will still have to anchor it more firmly to the base and increase the depth of the chest area before adding his tunic.  I am not sure about the helmet - I might make that separately so I can see where it is best placed: on his head or in his left hand.

I must also get some drawings of a SMLE rifle - the forerunner of our No 4 rifle that we used until the SLR (based on the Belgian FN FAN rifle) came in when I was at Sandhurst.  The No 4 was an excellent weapon and so was the SLR.  My myopia did not stop me becoming a marksman but I had to use my own weapon all the time because it was carefully zeroed to match my astigmatism and my glasses.  (I cheated on the entry medical but lots of us did that)

I will give him a rest now and a chance to dry out while I get on with other things.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Do Not Go Gentle

After 15 years of not making sculpture I am returning to it with a piece whose working title is 'Do Not Go Gentle'.

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light

Dylan Thomas

The piece is for 'Articles Of War', a show that the Armed Forces Art Society is putting on in the Glasgow Lighthouse in November.  It will be my last one as the Chairman (we don't have presidents) before Eve Montgomerie takes over from me fully.

I thought of the humble sandbag, millions of which were used and are still being used in wars around the globe.  That really is an 'article of war'.  (Of course articles of war are usually thought of as rules or concepts rather than things) Could I use sandbags for an art piece? The poem of course is about death - the'good night' - but also on the Western Front in WW1 a 'good night' was one without barrages, star shells or rain, when the night sky was visible in all its glory and a man could look up in wonder and perhaps forget for a moment the horror of his circumstances.

So I decided on a 'sandbag soldier' looking up into the night sky.  I have cast in plaster polymer before, using top quality materials from Tiranti, but never modelled in it.  This piece is more home-made, using sandbag material and plaster of paris that I am mixing with diluted acrylic gel as the polymerising agent.  It seems to work.  I am also using finer bandage material from First Field Dressings and triangular bandages that come in army medical kits - all 'articles of war'.

The starting point was an armature fixed to a plywood base.  Even the base comes from an old army box!

Armature with baseboard attached
I then started applying the material soaked in the polymer plaster mix.

Starting to add sandbag material and bandages
That is where I am today.  Over the next few days I hope to build on this to provide a WW1 infantryman's body holding a Short Model Lee Enfield rifle.  Then I hope to clothe it, add accoutrements and then add a final layer of pigmented plaster.  These are early days but I am hopeful and will keep posting my progress.  Even if it is a failure I will learn something and perhaps try again.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Portugal April 2017

It is a week since we returned from a wonderful time as the guests of David Bachmann in Portugal, at the Cama da Vaca villa on the Algarve, near Lagos.  It was very productive, hugely enjoyable socially and finally got me back to painting en plein air after months of being stuck indoors for one reason or another.  There were 12 of us altogether.  Coordinating that many plein air painters was quite a challenge for David B but he managed it brilliantly.

I did 26 small paintings over 6 days.  I started the evening we landed because I knew that if I went out and just made a hash of everything on a small panel I would be in much better shape the following day, both in terms of organisation and in how much I had 'tuned in'.  Sure enough, half the kit was jettisoned and from then on I felt more confident and travelled light.

The Starter, Cama da Vaca 6x9

 Our first sortie the next day was to Plaia da Cordoama, where we painted the beach and cliffs from either side of the beach.
Praia da Cordoama 1 10x14
Praia da Cordoama 2  9x12

We then moved South again, to the Sagres area and David Pilgrim, Haidee-Jo Summers and I painted the old fort from a point between Praia do Beliche and the headland on which the fort stands.

Fortaleza de Sagres 6x13
The next day (24 April) we went to Praia Donna Ana and painted the stacks, then journeyed on to Praia do Camillo.  At Ponte do Piedade, later, it was interesting to see 14 sentry boxes each with a Station of the Cross lining the route to the seaside chapel there at which services are held for sailors drowned at sea.

Sea Stacks, Praia Donna Ana 12x9

Arch Below the Cliffs, Praia do Camillo 9x6
Sea Stacks and Ochre Water at Ponte do Piedade 12x9
When we got back to the villa several of us painted the courtyard with the archway.

Courtyard, Cama da Vaca 12x9
ValériePirlot flew in on the 25th and we met her off the Faro-Lagos bus and all painted together in Lagos, Haidee and I choosing the yellow umbrellas.  We then moved to Luz and after a splendid seafood lunch retired to the villa again where I painted from the undeveloped part of the huge garden, looking up at the villa.

Main Street, Old Lagos 6x13
Luz 9x13
The Villa 6x13
The last two full days were very busy.  On the 26th I woke early and went down to the cliffs at the bottom of the villa garden to paint the sunrise.  I was 15 minutes too late!

Sunrise Cama da Vaca 6x9
I went back after breakfast and did another small sketch of the clifftops.

Clifftops, Cama da Vaca 9x6
We then set off on a long but very scenic drive north to Praia da Arrifana.  After a good look round I settles on a view down at the beach, standing just above beach level on the slipway and watched a father and daughter trying to launch her kite..

Flying the Kite, Arrifana 9x12
I staggered back up the hill to find some of the others painting the harbour from above.  I had run out of small panels so Mo Teeuw very kindly gave me one of her 6x8s.  Mike Richardson was painting at the end of the breakwater but appeared so small that you could hardly see him and he is tiny in this painting.

Harbour, Arrifana 6x8
We then headed off to Monte Clerigo where Valérie, David Pilgrim and I painted the beach and hills beyond from a relatively high viewpoint.
Monte Clerigo 14x10
It rained on the 27th, just after I had started a tiny panel on the clifftops, with a lovely agave in the foreground.  I struggled to keep rain off my board and the palette swam in emulsified paint but I managed to finish.
Agave and Clifftops 5x9
The weather cleared for a post-breakfast trip to Lagos, where I tried a 10x14 inch panel of the old fort.  I did not manage to finish it and switched to two very small panels, exh a different version of the port side harbour lead (the starboard one is of course opposite it and painted green and white).

Unfinished Fort and harbour, Lagos 10x14
Port Side Lead 1, Lagos Harbour 9x5

Port Side Lead 2, Lagos Harbour 9x5
After another restaurant lunch, I did a small charcoal sketch that I then worked up from memory the next day as a way of using up paint in the very last hour before leaving for the airport.

Figures in a Lagos Cove 9x5
 Back at the clifftops at Cama da Vaca I was again hit by rain - this time even more seriously and the experience made me think about devising a new way of protecting my boards when using my lightweight kit (which is too flimsy for a clamp-on umbrella).
Clearing Rain, Cama da Vaca 10x13
I then had a final go at the courtyard - protected from the rain by David pilgrim's huge umbrella set up on his tripod before a shower and another fabulous supper cooked by the lovely Elouisa ('Li').

The Courtyard After Rain 9x12
On the 28th we all departed but in stages so that by 6pm only David Pilgrim, Valérie and I were left to do the final locking up and put out the last bits of rubbish.  That day we had longer to paint than anyone and I managed 3 sketches:
Early Light, Cama da Vaca
Sunlit Cliffs, Cama da Vaca
For my last painting I went up to the top cottage and pinted from behind the roof, looking over the main villa.

Cama da Vaca 14x10
By 7pm the three of us were in Francisco's taxi heading for Faro airport and home.