The Art Collector

The Art Collector – oil on canvas – 122 x 153 cm

I began this picture late in November 2012. It was developed after a conversation with an art collector who owns a number of my paintings. He would prefer to remain anonymous, however he is a man who loves paintings of beautiful women so we decided to make feminine beauty the theme for this picture. The space in the picture is imaginary some of the paintings and sculptures are from the collectors own collection whilst others have been adapted by me. We thought it would be fun to have some of the paintings coming to life.

Roy C detail

The composition was made up on the hoof as it were. As this subject is potentially complex I decided to start with a simple idea – the relationship between the collector and the largest picture in the background. Later it was decided to make it look as if Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’ was coming alive. This picture is created entirely from photographic sources, thanks to digital cameras and computer technology it is much easier and quicker to get the visual information required in order to paint a picture such as this. I have painted other pictures using similar methods, for example ‘After the Floods’.

I have sifted through hundreds of images to find the material for this picture. Some of these images have been downloaded from google, others have been scanned in from various art books. And some of them are taken from sculptures I have photographed myself. My research has taken me to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and the Wallace Collection.

Roy C detail 3

My way of working is quite time consuming. I paint in oils, starting with a ground colour, rubbing out or painting over various ideas as the composition is developed. This is a picture which requires a fair amount of detail in order to be convincing. I decided that each work of art should be painted in a way that allows it be viewed in isolation as well as being part of the overall effect. So that there is a symbiotic relationship between the various art objects as if they are in some way conspiring with each other.

In the history of art there have been many pictures featuring individual connoisseurs or a group of art collectors surrounded by pictures and artefacts. Johann Zoffany, (a German artist active in England during the first half of the 19th century) painted a number of such pictures. The people in these pictures are nearly always male and they are shown in discourse about art and culture. The objects they are discussing often include manuscipts and scientific instruments and there are usually references to music and philosophy. The intention is to show these men as being well educated and very much aware of the pre-Christian classical world, they are antiquarians with humanistic ideals. In pictures of this kind the main subject is the group of figures perusing the works of art. In most of these picturers the choice of objects and their arrangement is secondary to the activity of the gentleman collectors. Sir John Soane was such a person and most of his collection is still intact. His house in London at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields is now a museum and it can be visited free of charge.

In my picture the paintings and sculptures and their positioning is at least as important as the figure of the collector seated at his desk. He is sitting at his desk working on his computer and he’s been distracted by an unknown noise or incident in a part of the room outside of the picture space or possibly by the cry of the seagull flying out of the foreground picture. He is not yet aware of the pictures that are coming to life around him as they are outside of his line of vision. A surreal moment is beginning to unfold.

Roy's Den 10 detail 2

This painting is quite large by my standards. The fine detail contained within makes it like a gigantic miniature. In this picture I am hoping to achieve a feeling of the sublime. One experiences the sublime when one’s senses are overpowered. Examples could include a spectacular scenic view or the combination of sound and vision at the opera or a rock concert, or the soaring architecture inside a gothic cathedral. In my picture the detail within the individual works of art and the environment that contains them should have the effect of making it go slightly out of focus so when the viewer is first confronted by the painting it is difficult to work out exactly what is going on and for a time there is a suspension of belief.

In my next blog I will be talking about some of the artists whose works are featured in my painting.

Roy detail-late version


Roy - detail 1


Enigmatic Still Life

Enigmatic still life – oil on panel – 37 x 58 cm

There has always been a dichotomy in my painting, on the one hand I like to paint from life quite realistically and on the other I enjoy fantasy and surreal subject matter. This picture in some way moulds together the two aspects of my interest in art. It began as a studio still life with the bananas, the statue the cloth and piece of dried seaweed all accurately portrayed. But I was never quite sure about the background and then I thought of putting in a seascape which makes the picture look quite surreal. The peacefulness of the sea offsets the tension between the hardness of the bronze and the softness of the bananas. As to what it may mean I really have no idea. I know that the Italian surrealist De Chirico often used bunches of bananas in his pictures and De Chiroco’s use of the fruit probably had sexual overtones. In my picture it’s hard to say as the statue seems to be coming alive and the bananas have a sentient quality. So I leave any deeper explanation up to the viewer.

Every picture tells a story…

The Old Skip – oil on panel – 61 x 74 cm

I have always been fascinated by ruins I love the air of abandonment and decay. I love to see the return of nature whether it be to a temple in Cambodia or this once proud stately home in my picture.

I have never seen a skip as dilapidated as this, it looks as if it’s been in the same place for years. Although there is some evidence of human activity as the path on the right isn’t overgrown. But the building itself seems to be derelict Buddleia bushes are growing up the scaffold and grass is sprouting where there was once a roof.

I painted this picture from life a while ago. It was very pleasant to be in such a place listening to the birdsong and dimly aware of the rustlings made by various creatures as they went about there business. When you are painting on the spot especially if you’re sitting you make so little sound that the birds and the animals forget that you are there.

Every picture tells a story but what is the back storey to this picture and where is this place? I’ll give you two clues, it’s less than a mile from one of the largest plague pits in London and it was once the setting for an early Sherlock Holmes story.

Two heads are better than one

Two Self Portraits – oil on canvas – 40 x 51 cm each

It’s a long time since I last painted any self portraits during the course of my life I’ve painted a few. I do it partly because it’s a good way of getting some practice at observational painting. And I can do it in my time so it’s different from working with a model. Having to keep still whilst working adds some tension to these kinds of portraits.

Recently I’ve been painting using much cooler ground colours. When I paint I dilute the oils with a medium which I make myself using liquin, refined linseed oil and genuine turpentine. I have this made up in different ways depending on how translucent I want the glaze to be. With glazes it’s possible to create very subtle effects of shade and colour. I rarely use impasto or try to build up swirls of expressive paint. And I never paint onto white because the ground colour effects the overall tone of a picture it also means that the colours I’m using will always be in a different key. When I paint I mostly use a palette of seven colours plus white. I have two reds, two blues; the same tint of yellow in two shades and two earth colours. This palette is based on the primary colours, the use of a limited palette helps to prevent colour from becoming muddy or turgid. Numerous tints are available but most of them can be mixed from a small palette, the only two that can’t are viridian and magenta, however I rarely need these extreme colours. I mix my own black using ultramarine and burnt sienna and sometimes some red depending on the ground colour. The advantage of mixing black in this way is this, with a tiny bit of white it can be either cool or warm. When I tried using blacks such as ivory black or lamp black I found that they deadened the colour. Having a ground colour means that I use less white, and obviously white can be effective in a way that it never could if you was painting onto a white canvas. If you paint onto a white canvas then a lot of white will have to be added to all of the mixes to make the colours light enough. As white is essentially opaque this will reduce the luminosity of the colour however some people like this effect.

With these two self portraits I can see quite a difference between the warm ground and the blue ground. I think I prefer the warm ground when looking at these two pictures but I will be using blue/grey grounds much more in the future.

The use of ground colours goes back to the 15th century when oil painting was first developed in western art. We know that many artists used grounds because of numerous unfinished works that exist such as ‘Adoration of the Magi’ by Leonardo da Vinci. In this picture Leonardo favours a warm brownish colour. Warm browns, tawny hues or grey grounds have been popular with many artists. To give just a few examples Rubens favoured brown or grey, Rembrandt usually brown, most of Goya’s portraits are painted onto orange grounds, Constable favoured a mixture of earth colours and the list goes on. In the 19th century certain Pre Raphaelite and Impressionist artists experimented with brilliant white grounds hoping that this would enable them to get more light into their pictures and in some cases it may have worked. However to my eye green always looks insipid when painted onto white.The Russian painter Shishkin painted onto white and although I admire many of his pictures after awhile the colours begin to look very much the same.

The Eternity of Life

The Eternity of Life – oil on panel – 45 x 60 cm

With spring in the air I thought I would feature this painting because it is full of flowers. At first glance it looks very psychedelic but what does it all mean?

The subject of this painting is the passage in the 12th chapter of the Lotus Sutra that describes how the Dragon King’s daughter was able to gain the fruit of enlightenment or Buddhahood. From the perspective of the written down Buddhist teachings this passage is immensely significant because in all of the earlier sutras women are denied Buddhahood or at any rate they would need to be reborn as a man in order to attain it. The sutras that preceded the Lotus Sutra also deny enlightenment to persons from the worlds of learning and realization and to evil people. However in the Lotus Sutra all of these teachings are overturned and when the dragon girl attains Buddhahood the assembly (that had gathered to hear this teaching) goes wild with joy because this event means that Buddhahood is open to all.

Buddhist teachings can be confusing so I’m not going to go into too much detail here, suffice to say that the Lotus is considered to be Shakymuni’s ultimate teaching. In this sutra the Buddha describes his own enlightenment and that’s why the events narrated in the Lotus Sutra are on a cosmic scale. This is the teaching that elucidates the essentially eternal nature of all phenomena as it passes through the phases of life and death. It tells us how the Buddha-Nature exists in everything (not just in humans) and its emergence is a potential at any moment in time.

In my painting living things considered to be transient, such as the flowers, insects and the songs of birds are seen as being eternal. The diamond in the lower half of the picture is the jewel that the dragon girl offered the Buddha when she attained enlightenment this symbolizes the indestructible nature of Buddhahood. In between the thumb and forefinger of each hand she holds a golden seed, these are the seeds of Buddhahood. The silver and golden apples close by indicate the wisdom needed to comprehend profound teachings. The circles of standing stones show that all teachings are contained within Buddhism and the central position of the hands emerging from the earth is a reference to the role of the ‘Bodhisattvas of the Earth’ in propagating the principles of the Lotus Sutra in the future. This part of the painting is about devotion and as such it corresponds with the character of ‘Nam’ from the mantra nam-myoho-renge-kyo. The portrait of the dragon girl represents the next character ‘Myoho’ which means mystic law or wonderful dharma. Next up we have the lotus flower which is called ‘Renge’. In eastern philosophy the lotus flower is revered because if flowers and seeds simultaneously and this indicates the principle of cause and effect by which karma is created. The next character ‘Kyo’ which means teaching or sutra is illustrated by the key and the crown because the Lotus is the king of sutras and the key to understanding. At the top of the picture the sun, moon and stars show that all the forces of nature follow the principles of the Lotus Sutra. By reciting nam-myoho-renge-kyo one is saying – I devote myself to the mystic law of cause and effect that permeates all phenomena throughout the universe.

The Perfect Pint

The Perfect Pint – oil on panel – 51 x 61 cm

This picture was largely painted from life when I was staying in Kilcommon high up in the Silver Mountains in Co. Tipperary. A local publican called TJ stands behind the bar with his arms folded. On the counter is a fresh pulled pint of Guinness. TJ and I became friendly during my stay and amazingly he agreed to pose for a portrait.

I like this picture especially the painting of TJ’s clothes and the still life details. As far as the actual portrait is concerned I’m not so sure as TJ looks a bit withdrawn and disconsolate and I’m not sure about the likeness. That’s the trouble with portraits I never know quite what the end result will be.

However I had a lovely time in Ireland and I hope to go there again. During my stay I visited all kind of interesting places such as the extensive ruins of Athassel Abbey near to a small town called Golden. I used sketches of the ruins in various paintings when I returned to London especially ‘After the Floods’ which was featured in a recent blog.

Sunset over the River Colne

Sunset over the River Colne – oil on canvas – 50 x 76 cm

This picture was mainly painted in January at the same time as I was working on the two ‘Afterglow’ pictures featured in earlier blogs. These three paintings were intended to be a break from the detailed images I had been working on throughout last year. All three have much looser brushwork and empty foregrounds, also they were all painted onto blue/grey grounds as opposed to warm ground colours such as burnt sienna. The source material for all three paintings came from a walk I took along the towpath when I was last in Wivenhoe visiting my old friend the artist Paul Rumsey.

There’s a lot to be said for keeping something simple and I hope that these pictures invoke a sense of peace.