Sunday, 15 April 2018

Portugal 2018

Only 3 full days painting but a late flight home gave us the best part of a fourth.  Weather wet, windy, sunny, calm, overcast and generally unpredictable.  David Bachmann (our host), Mo Teeuw, Valerie Pirlot, John Walsom and Tim King.

We started in reasonable weather on the 9th of April at Praia dos Tres Castelos, just West of the Praia da Rocha town beach.  Against the light.

Against The Light, Praia dos Tres Castelos, 9x12

We then moved on into Portimao and across to Ferragudo.  I tried a small sketch of the squall developing behind the town:

Squall, Ferragudo 6x13
After lunch I went round to the seaward side of the town to paint the old fort with its chapel.  The 6x8 trial was followed by a bigger version.

The Fort, Ferragudo 9x12
It rained and howled over night and by breakfast time the next day we decided to stay put and paint indoors.  My room, which was large with skylights, became the still life studio.  We grabbed some material from the garden in between downpours and found some china.  John and I plodded on with studies of roses and jugs while the others went to town to buy a range of fish for sketching first and eating later.

Roses In A Portugese Vase 12x9
Jug and Lemons 8x6
Two Fish and Some Bread 8x11

Portugese Jug and Roses 12x9
The 11th April looked more promising but we decided not to travel too far.  Praia da Dona Ana has endless possibilities and this time we set up to the West, looking East.

Praia da Dona Ana 12x9
 Praia da Camilo is a short walk away and after a quick lunch we split up to try different views.  I attempted a 'vertical long thin' that did not quite come off but with some compositional changes and cropping might be OK:

Praia da Camilo, 15x9

A short walk to Ponte de Piedade provided the chance to paint this arch from a high point.  (The others went down below this point to paint another arch across the Praia da Camilo beach.)

Arch at Ponte de Piedade 12x9
We went home all rather tired but I could not resist a final 6x9 from the cliff top below the villa.  I just love those jutting rock formations.

Evening Sketch From Cama da Vaca 6x9
Our final day was the 12th April and again the weather was bad, so John and I set up our roses and lemons again, adding in a few more flowers and some clementines, to paint this:

Flowers and Fruit 12x9
The weather had brightened a bit so after a quick snack we went into the garden.  At first I tried a view looking West to the distant sea but put it to one side and came back to the villa for a final go at the garden:

In The Garden, Quinta da Cama da Vaca 12x9
By then it was 5pm and time to pack and drive to Faro.  We had a late flight but a whole series of delays made my journey home last until 5.30 am the next morning!  Despite the frustrations with the weather it was a hugely enjoyable trip with a generous host, good friends, a great deal of laughter and fabulous villa and gardens.  I always learn new things from my colleagues and painting with them is a great joy.

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.