June 7th, 2013
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition opens on Monday 10th June. My portrait of Yan Spencer is located in the Large Weston room of the Main RA galleries. I attended the Varnishing Day for artists on Monday, you could only describe it as a very celebratory event, with much pomp and circumstance!!
I took a few snaps:
Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition.
10 June — 18 August 2013
In the Main Galleries
Royal Academy of Arts
London W1J OBD
Buy tickets here:
Royal Academy of Arts
May 28th, 2013
My portrait of Yan Spencer has been selected for this year’s Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition.
10 June — 18 August 2013
In the Main Galleries
Royal Academy of Arts
London W1J OBD
Buy tickets here:
Royal Academy of Arts
May 5th, 2013
We drove to Herefordshire last weekend and spent a lovely night with Cara and Micky, it has been too long since we have seen them. Cara sat for me on Sunday morning. She was very patient and the whole process was extremely absorbing. It was interesting to have a dialogue with Cara about why you would want to have your portrait drawn in the first place. A mixture of vanity, yes, maybe, but also a brave move too, whereby you have no idea or control of the finished product. You can always get a pleasing photograph of yourself, but a portrait captures something else entirely. I always try and draw exactly what I see; a series of lines and shapes and textures in relation to each other, but you might also capture something that lies beneath the surface. There is a truth to drawing an honest portrait from life, which captures one moment in time shared by two. It can be a very thoughtful and intense process.
Indeed, when Micky saw the portrait, he liked it, but also expressed that it was Cara, but not a side of her you see all the time. I think this is good feedback, it was certainly how I saw Cara last Sunday morning.
The portrait took 4 hours, I used pencil and graphite stick on Fabriano Artistico ROUGH 140lb (300gsm) watercolour paper, which I have stretched onto board.
We met Cara and Micky a couple of years ago and very quickly discovered we share a mutual love of Silver Birches. I felt compelled to send them one of my earlier Birch paintings which now graces a space on their living room wall.
We have since become great friends and I am honored that Cara and Micky have become patrons of my work.
Here are the pieces of work from their collection:
Silver Birches 1
Life Study (Man)
Life Study (Woman)
April 17th, 2013
Graham Pike is the most phenomenal musician. A jazz virtuoso in trumpet, chromatic harmonica and piano. He can also sing a fine tune too. They don’t get much better than Mr Pike!
Graham came to sit for me on Saturday. The drawing took approx 3 hours with not many breaks as such and I used pencil, graphite stick and watercolour. The hand holding the harmonica (yes, it is supposed to be a jazz harmonica), was a bit of a challenge.
I had the good fortune of playing with Graham a few years ago, when I put the ‘Stocker’ band together. His signature harmonica sound was a draw and enhanced all of the songs to a different level.
We recorded at Kevin Poree’s Berry Street Studios and also at Graham’s studio. Always eager to help musically with my projects, it really was such a pleasure and experience working with such a talented artist.
Nowadays Graham is in much demand and is busy playing gigs across the land. Find out more here:
April 9th, 2013
I drew the delightful Mr Kevin Poree on Saturday. He came all the way from Canterbury to sit for me. I haven’t seen Kevin since 2007 and he hasn’t changed a bit!
Kevin was very pleased to have his portrait drawn and made the perfect model. It took 2.5 hours, with hardly any breaks. I used pencil, graphite stick and watercolour.
Kevin never takes off his glasses and they were an essential part of the portrait, providing me with a good challenge!
Kevin is Producer/Owner of Berry Street Recording Studios. I had a lovely time recording with Kevin back in 2007, he is an awesome producer / sound engineer and wonderful to work with. Find out more here:
Berry Street Studios
April 9th, 2013
This is my latest self-portrait (with Athene, my stuffed Tawny owl). It took me approx. 20 hours over February and March.
As with my previous ‘Self-portrait with Athene’, I am standing with Athene, my protective talisman. I am also holding one of her feathers. The inspiration for this portrait started with the black and white photograph of Patti Smith holding the single white feather (I mention this photograph in a previous post: (see the photo here). I suppose this is quite a defiant self-portrait, a kind of ‘warts and all’ or ‘tattoos and all’; this is me, bare. I have been through allot in the past year, what with the cycling accident last May and subsequent surgeries. I came out the other end, still on the mend, but I am here and I feel protected.
I always start with the eyes. The left first and then I measure every part of the face and body from that point. I always work in this way, even with portraits of others.
The drawing has many processes (I love processes). Starting with an outline to ensure the measurements are correct, before any shading begins (measure twice, cut once, so to speak, but in my case, measure twice, draw once!).
Once I had the main outline, I then started to tackle the tattoos which wrap around the contours of the body. What strikes me is how much detail there is. Yan Spencer, my tattooist and dear friend, is the true artist. He created these wonderful pieces in his head and then made them into beautiful art. He is the one with the imagination, I am simply copying what I see before me.
After the drawings of the tattoos, I fix the picture, before adding the watercolour. I then fix again, before adding the final shading details (hair etc.), so as to not interfere with the outlines.
I took some photos of work in progress, to show the progression of the drawing as explained above:
Find out about Holy Cow Tattoos here:
Holy Cow Tattoos
March 3rd, 2013
My good friend and Tattooist, Yan Spencer, sat for me today. I have spent many hours under the needle with Yan, so it was interesting to have the tables turned today. He made an excellent model, for which I am very grateful.
I used pencil plus graphite stick and watercolour and the portrait took approx 3 hours (with a couple of small breaks).
Yan is an incredible artist, to who I am most grateful, for creating wonderful art on my arms. Find out about Holy Cow Tattoos here:
Holy Cow Tattoos
February 6th, 2013
I made some tweaks to the right cheek and mouth (it was bothering me).
January 26th, 2013
This is the self-portrait drawing I finished before my op. It is with Athene, my stuffed tawny owl. Athene is actually a he, but becomes a she in my work (his real name is Arthur). I love owls. The owl crops up as a symbol in many cultures, and can be interpreted in many different ways. My preferred association is with the goddess Athene. In Athenian Greece, the owl was appreciated as a sign of wisdom and was named after its protecting goddess Athene or Athena. The owl was sacred to her and therefore the bird was totemic to the Athenian Greeks and represented the bringing of good fortune.
I had a cycling accident in May last year and a period of incapacity followed. I couldn’t draw or paint for about five months and was very depressed. In November we took a break to a favourite haunt, Whitstable (well, Seasalter to be exact). I took with me my copy of ‘The Craft of Comedy’ by Athene Seyler (my great grandmother on my mother’s side). My mum and my siblings were very close to ‘Dan Dan’ (this is what we called her, because my mum couldn’t say ‘gran’, so Dan Dan was the closest match). She was a very caring and protective person with an extremely sharp wit. Every visit to Dan Dan’s was filled with laughter and a good roast beef dinner. She was very supportive to my mum when she was bringing up three young children on her own, a kindness that my mother returned in Dan Dan’s later years.
The book is aimed primarily at acting students wishing to learn about comedy acting. However, it is also a great read in general and I very much felt my spirits lifting by the end of the book. One integral ingredient of comedy acting is generosity, this can be seen in the way one actor sets up a laugh for another. Generosity of spirit is certainly something Dan Dan had in abundance.
The book is a series of letters between Athene and a young actor called Stephen Haggard, who was searching for advice on the craft of comedy acting. Athene happily stepped up as his guide and the result is a heart-warming and humorous read.
Apart from seeing her in films, I was not familiar with Athene the actress, but reading this lovely book again gives me a much better idea of how her character manifested itself in her work. In fact I hear her voice with clarity as I read her writing.
By the end of our the week in Seasalter I had finished two drawings – a self-portrait and a sketch of Sian (see the drawings here) – and all along it felt like Dan Dan was looking over my shoulder, being my guide. That week I also hatched the idea for my new portrait project.
I finished my self-portrait with Athene just before my recent operation. I like to think that the owl Athene is Dan Dan perching next to me as my protective talisman.
January 20th, 2013
RE: ‘Just Kids’. Fascinating to read about Robert Mapplethorpe’s early collage process. Using photographs from magazines, found objects and anything he could put his hands on in the early days. He couldn’t afford a camera and film was expensive, but there is something exciting about the urban ‘hunter gatherer’ aspect of using found objects, seeing the potential in otherwise throwaway things, whether due to artistic necessity or the financial constraints of the times (or both).
I was also interested to read recently about the German artist, Kurt Schwitters (there is going to be a new major exhibition at the Tate Britain). Not an artist I know much about. A great dadaist, he paved the way for Pop art and the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe. Kurt used found objects and materials for 2D and 3D collage and installation. He died relatively young (age 51), ending his years in post-war Cumbria “working feverishly in a draughty old barn, poor, hungry and ignored”.
We seem to live an age of of mass consumerism and materialism, and much of our culture disposable, ruled as it is by social media with it’s need for quickly consumed messages. The amount of relationships and interfaces we uphold, virtual or otherwise, can at times be overwhelming.
It makes me reflect on all of these questions: Do we need lots of space? Can we simplify our lives? Can we reduce this superfluity and the by-products, the debris of our lives? Can we re-use rubbish to create (not rubbish) art?
At one point, Kurt used the bushy eyebrow hairs of one of his friends and the oil from sardine cans. In contrast, Robert Mapplethorpe went from using photographic reference in magazines to taking his own photographs, but only when the finance wasn’t an issue. John McKendry (then curator of photography at MOMA), bought him his first camera and secured a grant from Polaroid providing him with all the film he needed. When Robert found he had more control over the imagery in his work, he did not have the same need for found imagery. Sam Wagstaff provided him with his first Hasselblad camera and the rest is history. Patti recalls how “The new camera taught him nothing, just allowed him to get exactly what he was looking for.”
The found object / collage process is a far cry from my own working practice, but one I would still like to learn from. I have used found wood to paint oil portraits on. It certainly won’t hurt me to be reminded to check what I consume, what I throw away and what could be re-used in my art. Recycling has always been an important part of daily life in my family, but without a thought of where does it go and how is it recycled? Is it actually recycled or does it end up in an island of plastic rubbish in the Pacific Ocean, roughly the size of the USA “an enormous expanse of floating rubbish held in a vortex by the swirling currents off the coast of California, stretching almost to the islands of Japan [...] so vast that it is roughly the size of the United States.” A sobering thought.
In contrast, there is a wonderful program in San Francisco called The Recology Artist in Residence Program which is “a unique art and education program that provides Bay Area artists with access to discarded materials” as well studio space. “Recology hopes to encourage people to conserve natural resources and promote new ways of thinking about art and the environment.”
Now off to rummage through my recycling…
Mapplethorpe (photographic collage circa 1971)
Schwitters, ‘Quality Street’, 1943, made of collaged sweet wrappers
Stocker, portrait of Karl Foster, 1989, oil on found wood
PS The Kurt Schwitters exhibition is on at the Tate Britain from 30/01/13 to 12/05/13. Definitely worth a visit.
For a list of my journal entries and to subscribe to my journal, click on the journal tab above.
January 17th, 2013
I found the photo. Looking forward to re-creating the same pose at some point.
January 16th, 2013
A thought from Patti in 1968, at the tender age of 22. “In my low periods, I wondered what was the point of creating art. For whom? Are we animating God? Are we talking to ourselves? And what was the ultimate goal? To have one’s work caged in art’s great zoos – the Modern, the Met, the Louvre? I craved honesty, yet found dishonesty in myself. Why commit to art? For self-realization, or for itself? It seemed indulgent to add to the glut unless one offered illumination.”
Obviously, she is referring to her 22 year old self as an idealistic young artist, but while the pinnacle of success might well haven been to get your art into “the Modern, the Met etc”, I am honored to have any of my work displayed in the smallest nook of a downstairs loo, so that it may provide a window onto something or even contemplated, however briefly. However, I am pondering the last statement about illumination… As artists we can indeed offer ‘illumination’, a different point of view, or to make people look differently at something. Ultimately, however, you can’t make this the work’s intention, you have to be true to yourself, and create what you see first.
Some of the best advice I ever had is from my wife who said “Just make the work”, in other words don’t think about who for or why or preempt the target audience, just do the work you need to do.
I have never had the luxury of time to make a living solely from my art, I’ve always had a full time job. I suppose I’m lucky that I can make the art I want, that isn’t dependent on having to sell it, although it’s a bonus when I do.
Are we animating God? I don’t know, maybe if you interpret this as inspiration, in whatever form – the ‘muse’ – then yes maybe we are. Are we talking to ourselves? Well, if we are trying to make sense of our own world, then yes we are. And what was the ultimate goal? Well what is the point of art? This is the question people have been asking since the birth of art. So maybe we just need to get on with it!
Sometimes it’s when you make mistakes, or have happy accidents, that you discover something. This is when the real magic happens and is the best feeling I know.
Something else from my current read made me smile, which was about a portrait of a portrait; “Taking my camera to MoMA, I searched for inspiration. I took a series of black-and-white portraits of de Kooning’s Woman I, and had them developed. Taping them to a wall, I began her portrait. It amused me to do a portrait of a portrait.”
This chimes with one of my ideas for the portrait project – a portrait of a portrait, or a portrait after a portrait’…
There is a black-and-white photograph of Patti when she visited Paris with her sister. I will try to describe: It’s a portrait shot taken from the waist up, she’s standing in a street out of focus in the background; head on, her familiar intense pout, wearing black turtle neck sweater, long gangly hands, the right hand forefinger and thumb holding a small upright white feather, left hand with four fingers splayed almost pointing to the feather. It’s an image which, to me, has perfect balance and perfect contrast.
If I can go some way to recreate the same intensity of feeling and poise in my portrait work, I’d be very happy, so perhaps one for my own self-portrait: ‘A portrait after the portrait of Patti Smith with small white feather 1968′.
January 15th, 2013
Portrait project is on hold temporarily as I am recovering from an operation on my legs – now day 7, inhaling books at the rate of knots until I can get back into the studio (I have to keep legs elevated for the time being). I adored Sandi Toksvig’s ‘Valentine Grey’, shortly followed by Clare Balding’s ‘My Animals and other family’, also a triumph. In contrast, I am now on Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’, which is revealing itself to be something of a masterpiece.
I’ve been making some notes from the latest read, interested to do some research into William Blake’s use of shades of Rose, Cadmium and Moss (colours that seemed to generate light, according to Patti and Robert (Mapplethorpe). They were both huge fans. Then there is the poet, Arthur Rimbaud, who Patti references again and again.
I have a feeling this wonderful auto-biography may become something of a bible / reference book, never very far from hand.
Right, now back to the book….
November 12th, 2012
I am embarking on a new project for 2013 – portraits of the people I know. The aim is to exhibit these somewhere later in 2013. I kicked the project off last week when we were in Seasalter – a self-portrait and also a sketch of Sian Jones. Although it doesn’t look like it from the drawings, we actually had a lovely time.
I have had an overwhelming response to the project already, with a portrait a week for 6 months in 2013, hence starting the project this year.
One of the questions I have put to people is whether they have a favourite portrait painting or photograph. If so, one of my ideas is to draw or paint them in the same pose, it could be fun, let’s see.
June 23rd, 2012
My recent cycling accident didn’t stop me getting to the Clifford Chance Private View on Thursday . Michael Petry’s curation of the exhibition is excellent, the two companion Martine pieces were hung opposite the window which looks out on to the Olympic Park and Stadium, so Martine is literally looking at it! A lovely touch. Martine and Nick joined us and it was a fantastic night and wonderful conclusion to the work and journey, one that has solidified our friendship. All that remains for me to say right now is Martine – Go for Gold!!! You are an amazing person and incredible athlete and it has been an absolute honour to make this work in celebration of you. You have an superb team of very talented athletes, best of luck to all in the Team GB Women’s Sitting Volleyball (the matches start end of August).
The dates of the London exhibition are:
11 June – 20 July 2012
The exhibition is open by appointment on Fridays between 12:00 – 18:00, contact Nigel Frank on 020 7006 5384 or email@example.com
May 15th, 2012
I have now finished the companion piece for the Martine Diptych. It has been quite a challenge, but I think I am there.
The landscape painting I had originally planned did not work at all, I ended up painting a whole scene of the entire team, net and all and it was very strange, it didn’t work with the Portrait, it was too detailed, too figurative and a bit static.
I had a re-think about what would complement the portrait and had already got an alternative canvas ready (un-primed), slightly narrower version as the portrait but the same height.
I have ended up making quite an abstract rendering of Martine’s powerful serve, using the same colours as the portrait but using thick swooping movements in oil as a celebration. I have linked both pieces using the ball as a motif and I have applied 23.5ct gold leaf to the ball, substituting the yellow. I think the sparsity of the bare canvas as a complimentary colour to the blue painting works and it is almost as if the paint I have scraped off the portrait has been applied to this, this was by accident, but it looks intentional.
The gold leaf is a celebratory element and a way for me to say to Martine go for gold!! I have also applied a very small slither to her hair in the portrait which catches the light.
I deliver the work to Clifford Chance on 9th June, I am hoping the thick oil paint will dry to touch in time for the framers on 26th May (both pieces are having a white tray frame and will hang together side by side).
CC Private View is on June 21st. There will be remarks by The deputy Speaker of the House MP Nigel Evans. CC also have 4 other MPs attending (from all the major parties). I am really looking forward to Martine and Nick seeing the work displayed on 21st and hope it has the celebratory element I wanted to achieve to represent this amazing woman, who in my book, is just about as inspirational as they come!
I will post photos from the PV after 21st, so don’t forget to subscribe to my blog (see left-hand side of main blog listings page) to get the update.
April 29th, 2012
Fantastic day in the company of Martine’s Team GB Women’s Sitting Volleyball today, who were training. I met the whole team and they are all quite simply amazing.
These ladies are incredible athletes and are all very talented and skillful players. The spirit of the team is an uplifting experience; they all support each other, have a laugh and egg each other on to get the best from one another.
I did some sketching to work out the composition for the action painting, which will be a celebration of Martine’s team and their sport.
Apart from getting a volleyball smack in the face (inevitable!), it was a superb experience and highly entertaining. I am going to try and get some tickets for the games as soon as they are released next month.
April 24th, 2012
At last, I finished the painting on Sunday. It has been a bit of a journey to get here – I have painted Martine’s portrait four times over before getting something I am happy with, as I wanted it to speak. All the previous versions are evident in some format under the final painting, where I have scraped away and rubbed out the previous attempts over and over again! An x-ray of the painting would be interesting to see.
It has been a challenge working from one drawing, however, I have persevered and hopefully have put my own stamp on it.
The mediums I have used are Acrylic and Oil on canvas and the piece is 800mm x 1070mm. It will be framed along with the second canvas and will hang to its right. The action painting is the same height x 1370mm width and I have prepared the canvas for painting.
I will be attending one of Martine’s training sessions this coming Sunday, so I can get started on this.
I emailed the painting to Martine yesterday and just heard back from her today to say she loves it – what a relief, I am so glad. Also emailed the final version to Michael Petry too and he loves it too, so all good, now I am spurred on to enjoy the rest of the work.
April 20th, 2012
I stretched, sized, primed and prepared the ground for both canvasses over Easter and have been getting to work on the Portrait of Martine. Having only the drawing to work from and a few reference snaps that are not much good (no colour definition), has been problematic. I have spent a few days painting, first in oils, studying Rembrandt in some detail (I haven’t worked in oils in a while), only to erase what I have done three times over, Rembrandt was not helping and I need to do my own thing in my own way.
I have now gone back to more familiar acrylics, which I have been interrogating over the last few years, so I feel more at home. I have tried various sizes of portrait composition and have finally settled for a big impact with Martine’s face filling the canvas – a direct copy from the drawing which seems to be taking a life of its own.
I am still not totally happy with the current results and need a breakthrough. However, I am going to try not to erase what I have done yet again (Sian, my partner loves it), so instead, I will be stretching up an alternative canvas this weekend so I have two portraits to choose from. I am not ready to share work in progress just yet, so will post some images hopefully next week. I have a deadline for the portrait part, as I need to have something ready for the catalogue by the end of the month, so there is a bit of pressure, maybe this is the problem??
I also heard back from Martine that unfortunately Lis is too busy for the work, so plan B it is – a portrait of Martine (in portrait format) and an action painting to celebrate her sport (in landscape format), which I think will work really well.
Here is the canvas making process (I use traditional techniques and rabbit size glue, primer and Gesso ground):
March 14th, 2012
I got the train to Tring from Euston and a taxi to Martine’s house, as Tring train station is handily out of town. Gorgeous countryside, so really enjoyed the journey.
Arrived at Martine’s place, a little nervous and excited too and was greeted by her at the door. Wow, what a whirlwind she is, full of energy and so friendly and dynamic. We spent the first hour chatting about stuff and Martine was quite candid about how far she has come since 2005, she talked how she has had the metal to cope with re-building her life and how lucky she is as a survivor to carve a new career/direction for herself. It is really quite remarkable and not without the help of her supportive husband Nick and family.
Martine’s mobile phone kept buzzing (as apparently her team were going to hear today whether they had been chosen to represent GB in the Paralympics), so she was bristling with excitement (and I was wondering how I was going to get the portrait done!). After an hour we got down to business and I asked Martine to sit next to the large living room window, as the light was good there (Husband Nick was in his photography studio at the bottom of the garden). Beautiful garden and lovely sunny day, I managed just one portrait drawing in an hour (see attached) before an ITV film crew arrived to film Martine receiving the call. I hung around, met Nick (Wiltshire), Martine’s husband, who is also lovely (and a very talented landscape photographer) and I was lucky to be present when the call came to say Martine’s team, had, in fact, been chosen! What a seminal moment it was, and very emotional at one point. Well what a day! I am pretty pleased with the portrait all in all and if I cannot get any more time with Martine, I will work from that.