Two for Joy

Two for Joy – oil on canvas – 51 x 75 cm

This picture was painted in tandem with ‘One for Sorrow’ which was featured in my previous blog. In this painting the old plane tree is the main subject and I decided to paint it as twilight is setting in. It is painted onto a brown ground as opposed to the blue/grey ground used in ‘One for Sorrow’. In both pictures I had wondered whether or this subject was interesting enough to make a picture. However as I wanted to do some observational painting I decided to go ahead. Both pictures use the space outside of the picture plane, in this painting both of the magpies are floating out of the foreground. These birds are quite common where I live and they are more interesting to look at than birds such as pigeons which I had tried to use in earlier versions.

In some cultures magpie’s are birds of ill omen. There is an old nursery rhyme – One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a funeral, and four for birth, five for heaven, six for hell, seven for the devil, his own self.

A more recent version goes – One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy, five for silver, six for gold, seven for a secret, never to be told, eight for a wish, nine for a kiss, ten for a bird, you must not miss.

Detailed paintings such as this picture and its companion piece ‘One for Sorrow’ look good reproduced larger than life. I can’t help thinking that a blown up image of this painting would look good in the offices of Hackney Council.



One for Sorrow

Rathbone Point on Nightingale Estate seen from my flat in Fulke House – oil on canvas – 51 x 80 cm

My idea of painting from life usually involves a very in depth observation of the subject. I like to see how the light changes throughout the day before I decide on what will be the final effect.

I have often considered painting the view from the back windows of my flat. For a long time I thought this view was too mundane to make a picture from asides from that the architectural details are very complicated. Despite these reservations early last year I began work on this picture and another painting called ‘Two for Joy’ which I’ll be discussing in my next blog.

The view consists of a plane tree with some street buildings and the distant tower of Rathbone Point on the Nightingale Estate. The plane tree is quite amazing, it must be at least a hundred years old and it’s gone feral set as it is in an out of the way place its branches have never been trimmed, asides from that it is much taller than the four-storey block of flats where I live. As I worked on the painting I couldn’t help but become aware of the activities of the local wild life. Squirrels run up and down the twisty boughs of the old plane tree and use them as a springboard to gain access to the roof. The occasional cat patrols the wall below and sometimes a fox will be seen slinking towards the rubbish bins. But mostly it’s the birds, there are pigeons, seagulls, magpies, crows, sparrows, blackbirds and yellow tits which are my favourites, last year they had a nest in the branches of a tall tree near my window on the fourth floor.

As this is a looking down painting the eye level is very high and as usual I’ve included more space than I can see without moving my head up and down. This makes for an interesting composition with the trunk of the plane tree outside of the picture and a long drop from the top of the distant tower to the overgrown gardens below. The rather drab buildings are framed by a pattern of branches and shadows that seem to want to burst out of the picture. And just to exaggerate the space further I’ve painted in a magpie hovering just outside the picture plane.

By the way there are four squirrels in this picture can you spot them?




Outsider Art

Orpheus playing to the animals – oil on panel – 76 x 100 cm

In this blog I want to talk about my relationship with ‘outsider art’ and to be honest it’s a relationship that I’ve only become aware of in recent years. Outsider art is a term first coined back in 1972 as a synonym for the French expression ‘rough art’ a name used by Jean Dubuffet to describe art that is created outside of any official culture or established art scene, such as paintings and drawings made by patients in psychiatric institutions and the art of children. The English understanding of ‘outsider art’ has been expanded to include the work of some self-taught and naïve artists who have never been institutionalized. Leading English outsider artists would include L S Lowry and Richard Dadd. Dadd lived in the Victorian era and he was already very technically gifted when a series of sad events led to his confinement in Bedlam. His masterpiece the ‘Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke’ is beautifully painted and so intricate that it surpasses every painting in this genre that I have seen. The marvelous detail makes the strange scene very real as the spectator surveys the curious drama unfolding in a meadow between several blades of grass.

As I have grown older I have found myself identifying with outsider artists more and more for the following reasons. Outsider artists often produce very detailed work – I’ve been doing this for years. An outsider artist often develops a particular technique or method of working – I am largely self-taught although my oil painting technique is not dissimilar to ways of painting known for centuries. Outsider artists live outside of the contemporary art scene – I am known to a small circle of collectors and have received little recognition from the art world as it exists in London today…but who cares, most of the time I’m painting for myself and that is exactly what outsider artists like to do. Outsider artists are often outsiders living on their own and obsessively creating art – that’s what I do. Outsider artists often have mental health issues – I’m prone to feelings of melancholia or depression. These feelings began early in life and I’ve found that drawing and painting helps to contain them so my art has a therapeutic aspect to it.

The picture featured today was painted more than twenty years ago and at that time I would never have thought of it as being outsider art. The subject is taken from Greek mythology. According to legend the music of Orpheus was so beautiful that animals would stop there usual pursuits and gather round to listen. In some ways this corresponds to the idea that man’s base nature can be brought to a higher level of consciousness through contact with music and art. In my painting the creatures are scarcely aware of each other it’s as if they’ve been magically transported to an other worldly realm by the power of music. This is one reason for not having them in scale with each other. I made this picture because I love animals and I wanted the excuse to paint a lot of them. If you look closely you will see that some of them are in family groups and there are mothers carrying their young. I wanted to paint a picture that would appeal to children and I thought that a picture such as this would make a good jigsaw and be educational. I did have a jigsaw puzzle company interested a long time ago but then the deal fell through. Part of the problem might have been to do with size as the complex detail in this picture is best seen life size and most jigsaw puzzles are not that large.



Afterglow 2

Afterglow 2 – oil on canvas – 76 x 50 cm

This is my second misty painting of the River Colne. As with the others it’s painted onto a blue/grey ground using various glazes. Everything is indistinct and blurry in contrast to many of my pictures.

It is really a study in blue and orange and I’m very pleased with it. However i need to get some better quality photographs.



Afterglow – oil on canvas – 76 x 50 cm

In January I painted three pictures based on some photos I took whilst walking along by the River Colne near Wivenhoe in Essex. With these pictures I wanted to try doing something different lighter and less detailed than most of the paintings I did last year. I went for a cool blue/grey ground colour and used a thinner medium so at times it was a bit like using watercolour.

I rarely paint a picture purely from my imagination I usually need a subject that has some connection to reality so that I can begin to draw it. The images for this painting are some slightly blurry shots taken with my mobile camera. I thought these would be enough to get me going coupled with my memories as I was intending to make the picture much looser and I knew that the key would be in the colouring. In order to get these subtle colours I have to build up several glazes and these may take a day or two to dry so this is another reason why it couldn’t be done from life. In earlier days artists would have used watercolour sketches, other drawings and memory to make their studio oils of such subjects.

So this picture has a different approach when compared to my painting of the West Wall of All saints. For one thing a church wall is static so I can spend many hours observing a subject that looks much the same throughout the day. In this picture I’m trying to paint a mood. It is that fragile moment in the evening when all the world feels at peace.

There is something to be said for simplicity in all three of the views I’ve made on this theme I’ve removed the reed beds which would have been in the foreground allowing for the wide refection of the sky. A good artist can always improve a photograph, once you know what you’re looking at it’s easy to reposition the elements of the picture.

This picture is influenced by Whistler’s Nocturns. My favourite landscape painter is Friedrich and I’m also fond of Turner, Palmer, Constable and Grimshaw and many others.


The West Wall

The West Wall of All Saints – oil on canvas – 75 x 100 cm

This painting carries on my fascination with the curious stones and flints on the west wall of this amazing church. This picture is much larger than the previous version it measures 30” x 40”. The increase in size allows me to paint the stones in more detail. This painting is unusual because there is no foreground and no background and as the stones are quite detailed this creates the impression that there is some space in front of them. Whereas in my earlier picture the stones are painted entirely from life in this painting I’m using photographic references. I did consider booking into the room in the Blue Boar Hotel that overlooks this part of the wall, however the space in the room was not really suitable to set up a painting.

There is something uncanny about this wall, it seems that each individual stone whilst being part of the whole has nonetheless retained its own identity. In this picture subject matter and the painting technique go hand in hand. As the picture progressed the details and the colours started to create a mesmerizing psychedelic effect. This picture has something in common with the works of Outsider artists and I’ll be discussing my relationship with such art in future blogs.

I think this picture would look good as a blow up wall effect or perhaps as wallpaper hung above the dado rail in a certain kind of room.

There is of course a mystery about the construction of this wall. It forms one side of an equilateral triangular tower that was built in the early part of the 13th century. No other church in England has a three-sided tower. Some think it represents the fundamental belief of the builders in the Holy Trinity, or perhaps the landscape dictated this design. But for me the real mystery is the nature of the materials. On no other church have I seen flints and blocks of masonry as large as these. What was in the minds of the workers when they set these stones? The narrow window is surrounded by stones and flints seemingly selected at random yet this wall was constructed during the 13th century at a time when the architectural style was English Gothic with soaring arches and pointed windows, compared to such buildings this wall looks like folk art. It is known that some of the materials were part of a previous monument and perhaps they had some special significance for the denizens of mediaeval Maldon.

The name Maldon derives from two Saxon words which translate as ‘cross on the hill’ and ‘meeting’. The word Maldon was first recorded as ‘Maeldun’ in an ancient Anglo Saxon chronicle dated 913. It’s highly likely that a Christian community existed in this area as far back as the 7th or 8th century and they built a cross that was later dismantled.

This is one of my favourite paintings perhaps because it is so unique. If you are interested in seeing it as a work in progress then there are various images in the blog section on my website.




A Bird’s eye view of Maldon High St

A Bird’s eye view of Maldon High St – oil on canvas – 59 x 99 cm

This picture was begun at the same time as my painting of All Saints Church when I was staying at The Blue Boar Hotel in Maldon. I had booked an apartment for the months of April and May hoping to paint some trees in blossom, however because it was cold and wet the spring was delayed by a month. In the meantime I’d started work on this composition sketching in the basic structure of the tree and the buildings behind. I was hoping to create a space so that when the tree did begin to produce blossoms I could paint them in. But nothing ever turns out the way you expect, for some reason painting in the blossoms in this way didn’t work and I considered abandoning the picture.

At the end of May I had four paintings in various stages of completion. Fortunately I was able to book the same space for November. Once I was back in London I decided to cut off some of the dead space on the left of this picture. In reality all one could see was a confusion of branches. I took the canvas off the stretcher cut it down and stuck it to a piece of MDF.

I returned to Maldon later in the year with the intention of turning this painting into an autumn picture. I thought a few leaves left hanging on the branches with the remainder lying on the damp pavement would make a good scene. But this didn’t work either, for some reason the excessive amount of yellow in the picture seemed to jar. As more and more leaves fell away the architecture of the buildings behind began to appear through the gaps in the branches. But the perspective of the buildings in reality didn’t look right so I made the incline of the road less steep. In the central part of the painting the tangled mass of twigs and branches needed to be simplified.

At the end of November the picture was still unfinished and I resolved to complete it using the photographs I had taken the previous spring. The picture had come full circle. It was now going to be a painting of a tree just coming into bud with the first rays of the rising sun illuminating the buildings behind. The high eye level helps to create a feeling of vertigo as one looks down at the cat looking up. Now I needed some more living creatures. I wasn’t keen on painting in too many people so I settled for a dog walker in the middle distance. After that I added various kinds of birds and we have starlings, pigeons, sparrows, yellow tits, finches, a blackbird, a thrush and a seagull. I like painting these kinds of details. I’m hoping to make it look as if the starling and the pigeons are flying into the space on the edge of the picture. The observer of this scene could easily be a bird hence the painting’s title.

Although this painting may look real and it’s certainly my intention to create the illusion of space – this painting isn’t real at all. The reality upon which it is based has been doctored, idealized, a great amount of tidying up has been done and scale has not been strictly adhered to. Also the colours have been exaggerated as I often like to use saturated glowing colour.

In the blog section on my website there are some images of this picture when it was still being developed.