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.



All Saints Church in Maldon


All Saints Church in Maldon – Oil on Canvas – 52 x 63 cm

A couple of years ago I spent several months living and painting in Maldon in Essex. I rented a self-contained apartment on the second floor of a building attached to the Blue Boar Hotel. I was hoping to do some paintings of the trees around All Saints Church coming into blossom so I booked the apartment for the months of April and May.

The Blue Boar Hotel used to be very old fashioned and quirky at the same time, parts of its interior date back to the Tudor period and everywhere there were antiques and paintings. In the bar huge logs burned in a large hearth and on the walls beside the old oak beams there were swords and muskets and sporting prints, between these the mute stuffed heads of stags and foxes looked down at the customers with unseeing eyes. In short the place had atmosphere so my staying at the hotel was a bit like being on holiday. It’s worth mentioning the eccentric hotelier, some of his exchanges with the guests were reminiscent of Fawlty Towers. Since then I’ve heard that it’s being revamped but hopefully the place will retain is other worldly charm.

Unfortunately during my stay the weather was abysmal. It rained profusely and it was cold. I was fairly snug in my makeshift studio so I started working on some pictures. It was my intention to paint from life as much as possible. However the trees were very slow coming into blossom so I started a couple of pictures thinking that if I brought in the basic structure with some of the branches and the surrounding buildings then I would be ready to paint in the blossom when it finally arrived. Meanwhile I often found myself staring at the unusual flint wall opposite my window. This wall was constructed during the 13th century and although flints are often used on churches I have never seen any as large as these. Asides from that the tower is triangular which is very unusual.

With the poor weather continuing I started to paint a section of the flint wall with the nave behind. The good thing about painting buildings is their consistency, they don’t move, so you soon get used to how the light will be at different times of the day. As it wasn’t possible to do much work on the pictures I had originally intended to paint I spent more and more time working on this picture of the church painting in the stones as faithfully as I could. Sometimes I like to expand the space in a picture so that if you was view this scene in real life you would have to move your head up and down in order to see all of it. So in this painting I’m looking down at the side door of the church then up to the cross on top of the nave. To the right of the gothic windows the scrubby tree was rapidly coming into leaf but sadly there were no blossoms. Because the mess of twiggy branches was not very interesting I’ve painted a pigeon flying out into the space outside of the picture plane. However I’ve never been entirely happy with this addition and I may paint it out. With the spring delayed by a month I thought that perhaps the autumn effect was what I should go for. Luckily I was able to book the same space for November. So I returned to rural Essex to soak up some of the autumnal atmosphere and by the end of the month this painting of All Saints Church was almost complete.

allsaintsLORES copy



After the Floods

After the Floods – oil on canvas – 76 x 102 cm

This is a marvelous example of contemporary painting.Am I being boastful? I don’t think so. Most artists, myself included, are inclined to be shrinking violets reluctant to praise our own works we’re waiting patiently for someone to notice, for the world to wake up and recognize an original talent. But that will probably never happen. So I am going to explain to you dear reader exactly why this painting is a marvelous example of contemporary art.

Many of my paintings are very detailed and this one is no exception. It was painted over a period of three years or more and perhaps the end result is over worked, there is always a risk of that when it comes to composing pictures like this. In order to create this image I have referred to hundreds of photographs seeking suitable images with the right eye level and lighting. I don’t have a problem with using photographic images, in any case I would never have had the time to make all of the drawings that would have been required.

The abbey in the background is part based on the ruins of Athassel Abbey situated just outside the town of Golden in Ireland. Most of the gravestones and statuary come from Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington near to where I live. The trees and wildlife have been sourced from various places including the Lea Valley which is also close to my home. If you interested in seeing the work in progress then there are a number of images in the blog section on my website.

So why did I paint this picture? I have always been drawn to the gothic imagination. I like ruins and overgrown cemeteries, twisted trees and cobwebbed staircases, places with atmosphere. In some ways this picture is a homage to Arnold Bocklin’s ‘The Isle of the Dead’, a painting I have admired since my childhood.

My painting depicts a scene overgrown and abandoned, buffeted by the forces of nature and currently flooded. There is no sign of any human presence instead it is home to various kinds of wildfowl while a swan searches for a mate. The rosy light of early dawn is creeping in from the right and mist is rising from the surface of the water. We could be looking at a scene set in the future when much of the land is flooded, hence its title ‘After the Floods’.

This is a picture which invites contemplation, the subtle colours pulse with light and if one lets the eye meander then there is much to see. I have tried to make this picture as perfect as possible whilst accepting that although perfection is something to aspire towards it will never be attained. But how many artists would go to the lengths that I have gone to in order to create their image and how many would have the technical skill or the patience to produce a work such as this?

The answer, dear reader, I leave up to you and thank you for reading this blog.