Category Archives: Apr ’15

The Primitive Artist

Running alongside my research for my essay I have also been exploring the work and seeking to gain an insight into artists who paint in a primitive style.  They are achieving high public recognition with prizes such as the John Moores, so it is important that I understand why.

What is their motivation, why this particular style when I am sure they can all paint ‘properly’?  What is it that I am just not getting?

Roy Oxlade, an artist painting in just such a style, writing in his collection of essays, Art & Instinct, 1, ‘For the adult student to begin to take part in a primitive language forming programme would require what, for him, would amount to a suspension of common sense, in order that fresh insight might be aroused.’

This is the first time I have come close to understanding.  As someone who has spent their entire life being sensible with an over reliance on common sense, it is no wonder that I am struggling to comprehend the work.

Oxlade continues ‘Art is an extended autobiography featuring man himself in relation to his objects and his space.  For many artists this has taken the form of an expressive search for  poetic or metaphysical equivalents for life as it is experienced . ‘

Quoting Matisse in the same essay, he say ‘Exactitude is not the truth, and students must be helped to understand that ‘getting it right’ in relation to image is entirely different to ‘getting it right’ in relation to model.’

Referring to the philostine society he perceives today, he suggests ‘What has been lost is the capacity to respond intuitively to fresh experience together with the imaginative ability constantly to revitalise that experience with new insights. ‘

In his essay Some Thoughts About Rose Wylie’s Painting and Drawings 3 Oxlade offers this insight, ‘Her paintings are representational insofar as they have clearly defined and recognisable depictions of her subjects.  While her intention is to create a certain likeness it is necessary to understand that likeness here precludes realism, portraiture or exactness in the conventional sense.  She draws a lot.  She draws to achieve a certain likeness to the subject;  she paints to achieve a certain likeness to the drawing.  In the context of Wylie’s work, Gaston Bachelard’s ‘naive consciousness’ 4, is best understood as unaffectedness.’

I feel something needs to unhook within me to allow me to fully comprehend.  Angela, in my tutorial, suggested I step back and explore more, that I suspend my way of working with the sole purpose of exploring the subject rather than focusing on producing an end result.  It is amusing that in trying to work differently I am actually sacrificing the spontaneity and intuition that normally guide me.  Back to basics, but this time with more of an insight into the direction that I may be going.



Roy Oxlade and Rose Wylie

I am curiously drawn to Roy Oxlade.  I first encountered him through the writings of Emily Ball, a local tutor and painter.

As part of the preparation for my essay I am trying to understand the work of a group of artists that are associated with Emily, who are clearly highly accomplished and much acclaimed.  Roy and his wife Rose Wylie are part of that group.

Roy Oxlade Olympia's Trolley

Olympia’s Trolley, a 1989 work by Roy Oxlade

All members of the group, which includes John Skinner, Gary Goodman and Georgia Hayes, paint in what could be described as a naive style.  The sort of paintings that attract the comment ‘my two year old could have done that.’.  And yet Rose Wylie won the much acclaimed John Moores Prize, so there has to be more to their work, which set me on a journey to discover what it is that I am not seeing.

Rose Wylie’s painting, called PVC Windows and Floorboards, has won the John Moores prize. Photograph: Walker Art Gallery

Roy Oxlade studied at Goldsmiths in London, and was a student of David Bomberg for two years at the Borough Polytechnic. He received his PhD from the Royal College of Art. His PhD thesis was on David Bomberg and titled, Bomberg and the Borough: An Approach to Drawing.

His writings in Art & Instinct are very readable and reveal a man completely dedicated to his art, art education and the practice of making art.  It also reveals a man frustrated with the art establishment, particularly what he calls ‘the BritArt  phenomenon’ 1, the power wielded by the few over the many.  He is also unashamedly outspoken with regard to artists he considers unworthy of their lauded position, ‘I have been unable ever to find anything of value in the work of Jackson Pollock.’ 2

I much admire his intellect and I am slowly being drawn into his way of viewing the world, with the hope that in doing so I will understand his, and this type of, work more comprehensively.

Writing about Rose Wylie he places her work in the context of Gaston Bachelard’s phenomenology, that ‘is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness’.3  On drawing a robin from life he explains ‘that she seems, without effort, .. to be able to give her total attention freshly, without prejudice, to whatever it is that attracts her eye and be totally absorbed by its unique qualities.  Knowledge – and this includes the background of art history as well as observation of the physical world – has been assimilated but somehow completely overtaken by the impact of the new experience.’  That feels like an almost a childlike departure from the world, as constructed, into an immersed world of now.  This total trance-like immersion may go some way to explaining the response to the immersion.  Interesting.

1 Art & Instinct 2010 p55

2 Art & Instinct 2010 p54


Project Evaluation

Project Evaluation

I am really pleased with the ease of working at this scale and the improvements I have made to my studio, to accommodate the larger working area.  By replacing my support table with a wheel able trolley and storing wet paint in lidded and labelled clear containers, which are large enough for my largest brushes, I have not only maintained the amount of space I have to move around, but I will also not be wasting large quantities paint.

I am still not entirely happy with the weight of paper, or more importantly, the robustness of the 400gsm paper I am using and I will try the Hoxton sheet next time, just to gauge the difference.  I will continue to experiment with the 30 x 30cm sheets of 320gsm Khadi paper to see whether I can live with a cream white, because the large sheets of 400gsm Khadi have four decaled edges, which would really work for me going forward.

What I have achieved has clearly been a risk but it hasn’t felt like that.  My logical brain, normally a hindrance when I am in need of imaginative, exploratory skills, has been an asset when researching possible materials and reflecting on their success, or otherwise.  It has enabled me to be methodical in my approach, and be confident that I have explored all available options, with the result that it just feels like a natural progression for my work.

This task has made me think more deeply about how I work and my subject matter.  I decided to continue my exploration of working with family photos, particularly as it continues from Task 2 and the making day, but also because the work is so different to my previous process.  Taking the lead from Emily Ball and ‘suspending my commonsense’, I have approached images from an exploratory perspective, using charcoal, ink and watercolour, seeking to achieve the essence of the image rather than the ‘draughtsmanship’. Not always successful, the motivation for likeness being hardwired, but I can feel a small shift.

Have I explored enough, have I been playful enough?  No, but I have learnt a lot about myself and with that will come fresh ideas and a loosening of the reins of control.  I have achieved far more than I ever thought I could, and the summer will be all about reflecting and continuing to push against my self-imposed boundaries, seeking to use the learnings from my research to develop a more contemporary approach to my painting.  It won’t happen overnight, but it will be at the forefront of everything I do and will feed through my unconscious.

I now have everything I materially need to move forward, leaving me free to focus on the direction I wish to travel.  Where that is going to be is still unknown, but that is what is so exciting.


Making Day 11 April 2015

On reflection, I don’t think I gave this day enough thought.  I focused on wanting to paint a companion work to Task 2, without thinking through the practicality of where I was working and how I was going to get it home.  Also, as I learnt during the review at the end, it was more about experimenting.


The starting point, a rare picture of us all together.  I plan to do a number of these paintings, which may or may not, ever be exhibited.  I hadn’t realised before I started task 2 that they are very much about my emotional response, the revisiting of the assumed memory, and it is about my response to events on the page that is so important to this particular process.

Emma a fellow student kindly invited me to her ‘studio’, the art department at Sevenoaks School.  As it was only an hour away, I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet Emma, and that was as far as my thought process went.


Not the best picture in the world but I was trying to show my process, which is just visible, of outlining the people with clear water using a pipette.  This gives a measure of control as to where the paint goes, because whilst it is possible to mop when paint is unwanted, on something this ‘precise’ it will still leave a shadow.

The other aspect I hadn’t considered was concentration.  In my usual way of working there are only a few moments when mistakes cannot be rectified.  There is usually too much going on, as in this nearly completed current work, for mistakes to matter.




With the monochrome work this isn’t the case, as is evidenced by my lack of attention to the dark ‘u’ shape in the lower half.




Too much chatting!

The other aspect I didn’t think about is that I like the paint to fully pool in this type of work.  The paint is a mix of Indigo and Alizarin.  The Indigo creates wonderful ‘frilly’ edges if allowed to dry naturally and mopping would detract.


By 2pm I was conscious that the work needed to be completely dry in order to get it in my mini (not the most practical car for a painter who wants to scale up their work!).




The benefit was that I could watch Emma photo litho printing her work, and got to have a go with a black and white (fortuitously, as it happens, I had run out of colour cartridges) photocopy of dead roses, a subject I have also recently painted.  Is there a theme?




001 (3)


For some reason I couldn’t get  the shadow to photocopy, so I might hand paint onto the photo litho, but maybe I will save for a painting.  The image reminds me of bull fighting and Lorca.


A great day.  Thank you Emma!

Jerwood – Chantal Joffe and others

Chantal Joffe

The main room at the Jerwood in Hastings is a light and airy contemporary space.  My first impression was that I was entering a scene from the film Shaun of the Dead.  The most arresting feature of Joffe’s portraits are the eyes.  They stare but don’t stare, as if drugged.  The work is painted with confident, minimal strokes, but for me lacks soul.  Siri Hurstvedt in her book Living, Thinking, Feeling suggests that it isn’t possible to relate to a painting in a few seconds, so I stood and looked and waited for the connection.  It didn’t happen, I just became more aware of the brush strokes.

I know I am missing the point.  She is a highly acclaimed artist winning the £25,000 Charles Wollaston Award in the 2006 Royal Academy summer exhibition, for the “most distinguished work in the exhibition”. 1.  Interestingly the exhibition was curated by Rose Wylie, winner of the equally acclaimed John Moores Prize, 2014, who I am also struggling to understand.  Their naive but educated style is troubling me.  Why?  Perhaps my research for my essay on Being Authentic will help with this dilemma.

My dilemma is not shared.  In 2006, an editor of British magazine Latest Art described Joffe’s large paintings as “simply exquisite representations of femininity”.2.

‘She is known for her arresting portraits of women. Working from photographs, she uses broad, fluid brushstrokes to animate her protagonists. Ranging in scale from a few inches square to monumental canvases, her iconic depictions, which are often intimate and imbued with humour, testify to the concerns and mores of women from diverse walks of life.’

2015 02 03 14.14.501 300x225 INTERVIEW: Beside the seaside with Chantal Joffe RA

Rose Wylie

At the exit from the Joffe exhibition there is a small room which contained a curious mix of work by Joffe and Wylie.  Everything looked like Wylie’s work but a laminated note suggested some was by Joffe. It was difficult to tell whose work was whose.

Silent Light (film notes)

Edward Burra

Upstairs there was a small exhibition of work by Edward Burra.  I have written about Burra before, whose work I much admire.  Two pieces stood out for me.  Both have an abstract quality, are complex, narrative and thought provoking.

Artwork by Edward Burra, Ropes and Lorries

Ropes and Lorries – pencil and watercolour
43½ x 30½ in. (109.9 x 76.8 cm.) painted in 1942-3.

Edward Burra (British, 1905-1976) Hastings Pub 68.6 x 102.8 cm. (27 x 40 1/2 in.)

Hastings Pub – pencil and watercolour 68.6 x 102.8 cm. (27 x 40 1/2 in.) painted in 1971

David Bomberg

Also upstairs were works from the Jerwood collection including two works by David Bomberg, who was the tutor of Roy Oxlade (husband to Rose Wylie, a small world), and about whom Oxlade wrote his Ph D.  The brushwork on this oil portrait of Eunice Levi is captivating and can only be appreciated in the flesh.

David Bomberg, Portrait of Eunice Levy, 1953

Anemones 1937 Oil on canvas 56 x 41 cm

Bomberg proves with this work that the subject is merely  a vehicle for the paint.  I could have looked at it for hours.  The palette knife stokes, the colour, the pain I knew he felt at the time of painting this work.  It is all there.

‘Bomberg produced a number of flower paintings during the later years of his career, principally in two specific periods. The majority of the works were produced in London in 1943, but a significant smaller group were produced in 1937. At first, it is hard to reconcile Bomberg with this particular subject matter, which is so often used for purely decorative means. However, in Bomberg’s hands the floral still life loses its botanic meaning and becomes another exercise in form. He approaches his subject matter as a sculptor would, producing an evocation of structure and mass. As such, these often very beautiful paintings are entirely in keeping with the rest of his oeuvre. This painting was produced after the artist’s return from Spain in November 1935.’

  1. “Prizes and prizewinners 2006 – Summer Exhibition”. Royal Academy of Arts. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
  2. Meacher, Colette (Autumn 2006). “Phenomenal Women”. Latest Art: 24. Retrieved 12 December 2010.

Artists’ Practice – Griffin Gallery

The following artists all work in watercolour and are artists working with the Griffin Gallery in London, who run an annual Open competition.  Nearly all their artists have an MA.  This may be co-incidence, but maybe not.  I need to be on their radar.  I have started by following their twitter account and their curator Rebecca Pelly-Fry’s account.

Emilie Clark

Emilie Clark has inserted herself into the works and lives of Victorian women scientists and naturalists.

Treating her studio like a laboratory, she literally restages much of the research these women undertook. This accumulative process tends to turn the studio into an embodiment of each historical project she takes on. Transformation is one of the underlying connections across the projects—even before Emilie began working this way, her work had involved liminal states, things in the act of becoming, de-familiarizing and non-linear narratives, close observation and the questioning of categories. This investigative activity and her archival research and writing inform a practice that involves painting, drawing, installation and sculpture. The practices of these women and Emilie involve careful testing sustained empirical inquiry, structured interaction with daily life, and ultimately world building.

Exhibited at Griffin Gallery in Water + Colour in February 2014.

BORN 1969, San Francisco


MA Fine Arts – Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, 2010

BA Fine Art – Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 1991

Laura Ball

Laura Ball’s works combine incredible her technical achievements in watercolour and an on-going part-psychoanalytical, part-environmental project she has explored over the last ten years. A recipient of numerous awards and grants, Ball has exhibited in galleries across the United States and internationally, and her work is in important private and public collections.

Exhibited at Griffin Gallery in Water + Colour in February 2014.

BORN 1972


MFA – University of California, Berkeley, 2004

BS – University of California, Davis, 1995

Luke George and Elizabeth Rose

George and Rose are the winners of the Griffin Art Prize 2013.

George and Rose, who are both a couple and united artistic force, have investigated  the particular properties of the madder root and its use as an artists’ pigment. They have experimented with madder pigment development to create a new body of work that captures the physicality and explosive nature of the precipitation process.  Smoothly sanded gesso surfaces collide with violent splashes and drips of pink, red and brown, crystallised into intricate filigree patterns across the surface of the canvas. George and Rose have allowed the process and the material to dictate the direction of the work, yet taking control of the final product – much in the way Winsor & Newton have developed the unmatched Rose Madder pigment for over a hundred and fifty years.

This body of work is as much an exploration of history and tradition in colourmaking as it is a vision of the future – these two young and extraordinarily committed artists carry the canon of art history on their shoulders, but they wear it lightly, delicately picking their way through the stories of others to create a new vision of their own.

‘We see painting as a means to discovery.

The act of painting together allows us to create beyond ourselves, entailing that we relinquish our individual sense of control.  Through our practice we translate our shared experiences into a poetic visual language played out in painterly exchanges across the surface.

We use matter that forms a part of our heritage such as earth, plant and metal pigments, natural glues and gesso. We find the ritual of preparation important in that it allows us the opportunity to understand the properties of the medium prior to application.’

This image from their site really appeals

Solo exhibition at Griffin Gallery ‘Madder’ in September 2014.


BA (Hons) Painting – City and Guilds of London Art School, 2013

Barbara Nicholls


“My work operates across a broad range of artistic categories, employing a wide span of processes and techniques to address a number of engaging critical issues: questions of aesthetic form, surface and depth, chance and order, the handmade and the readymade, the archaeological and the cartographic, and the relations between work and play. My approach, both to the subject matter with which I engage and to its material rendition is allegorical or metaphorical, rather than literal or mimetic.The objects I produce be they primarily two dimensional or three dimensional forms, may thus be regarded as translations or complex developments with their own internal logic, structures which have, to a considerable degree, moved away from their original sources whilst nonetheless connecting to them through inference and analogy.

An individual work can display several, apparently contradictory methods of “inscription”, of technical know-how within its frame: drawing, painting, routing, folding and unfurling, tracing and tracking, sanding down and sharpening up. The result may be a multilayered, overly physical cluster of densely packed substances or, conversely, something minimal, neatly stripped down.

More recently since 2011 I have exclusively used watercolour on paper. These works continue established themes of geology, mapping and topography. The watercolour paint settles onto the thick sheets of paper creating a geological terrain, climate and topography of paint and ground. They are in part investigations into the scientific properties of watercolour whilst also being instinctive reactions to the process of using watercolour. The paintings are poured, cajoled, blown and left alone to become records of colourful events reflecting the relationship between myself and the materials.”

Exhibited at Griffin Gallery in Water + Colour in February 2014.


Doctorate in Fine Art – University of East London, London, 2006

MA Fine Art – University of East London, London, 1998

BA (Hons) Fine Art – Goldsmiths College, 1986

From her web site:

My Approach

I take as my point of departure systems of archaeological and geographical mapping, accumulations and isolated portions of material remains, the convoluted territorial alignments of the city (its physicality and historical layering), and the malleability of the actual materials out of which my work is made. I draw upon a substantial (though not arbitrary) armoury of technical processes and devices, bringing these together so as to produce works of a coherent yet open nature which ask that the viewer respond to them in an active and engaged way.

An individual work can display several, apparently contradictory methods of “inscription”, of technical know-how within its frame: drawing, painting, routing, folding and unfurling, tracing and tracking, sanding down and sharpening up. The result may be a multilayered, overly physical cluster of densely packed substances or, conversely, something minimal, neatly stripped down. My works might sometimes be better described as “accumulations” rather than as conventional paintings; they are certainly situated somewhere between or adjacent to conventionally established categories, this hybrid status being one of their most intriguing and seductive features.

More recently since 2011 I have exclusively used watercolour on paper. These works continue established themes of geology, mapping and topography. The watercolour paint settles onto the thick sheets of paper creating a geological terrain, climate and topography of paint and ground. They are in part investigations into the scientific properties of watercolour whilst also being instinctive reactions to the process of using watercolour. The paintings are poured, cajoled, blown and left alone to become records of colourful events reflecting the relationship between myself and the materials. Through the long process of evaporation, sometimes with the assistance of a breeze from an electric fan, this systematised use of colour mixed with a chance element merges colours to create a soft blending of geographies.

Isabella Nazzarri

Isabella Nazzarri creates ambiguous and abstract paintings obsessively “feeding from images and retaining a memory of them”. She gets her inspiration from a wide range of different types of images, and works around the idea of mutation, in their depiction and in their meaning.

Exhibited at Griffin Gallery in Surfacing in October 2013.


Visual Art & Painting – Brera Fine Art Academy, Milan, 2014

BA Painting, Drawing and Photography – Florence Fine Art Academy, Florence, 2011

Kim McCarty

Like blurry afterimages drifting past closed eyelids, Kim McCarty’s watercolours hover between presence and absence, innocence and wisdom, and past, present, and future. Working rapidly, at times using only a single colour and at others a haunting, bruise-inspired palette of acid yellows, greens, and browns, McCarty’s portraits evoke the sense of uncertainty, ambivalence, anxiety, and loss with which we view today’s generation.

Exhibited at Griffin Gallery in Water + Colour in February 2014.

BORN 1956, Los Angeles, US


MFA – University of California, Los Angeles, 1988

BFA – Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA, 1980

I found Marzena Lavrilleux on twitter

French.  This painting has an edginess that reminds me of Raymond Hains’ work.

a cup of coffee

a cup of coffee, acrylic and collage on canvas, 97 cm x 130 cm

All these artists have a contemporary connection with their materials.  I need to let this seep into my unconscious.

Tutorial with Stewart Geddes


I really enjoyed my tutorial.  I felt that Stewart understood where I was coming from with my practice and was able to articulate it for me.  He has validated what I am doing and where I am going, which has given me the permission and confidence to start believing in myself.  Thank you so much for that Stewart.

Initial Impression of my work from my web site

Transparency, fluidity, colour as expressive, autonomous properties.  Ambiguity of size and space, macro/micro, referencing nature or maybe not.

History of Colour

The Greeks and Romans had a perception of colour.

Newton identified light wave lengths and reflection.

Johannes Goethe identified that the viewers subjectivity and life experience were an essential part of communicating directly with the viewer.

In the 19th century Michel Chevreul, a colour scientist to the textile industry, developed ‘The Theory of Simultaneous Contrast’, which was fundamental to the Impressionists and post Impressionists.  A downloadable version of Georges Roque’s work on Chevreul

In the 20th century Johannes Itten teaching at the Bauhaus wrote The Elements of Colour.  His teaching was to influence Josef Albers, who wrote The Interaction of Colour.

Albers taught at the Black Mountain College in the US from 1933 to 1949, teaching Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg.

More recently Scottish artist David Batchelor has written Chromophobia.

Artists to Consider

Sam Francis, abstract expressionist

Sam Francis

Helen Frankenthaler

Albert Irvin

John Hoyland – watch ‘6 Days in September’

Paul Tonkin – watch ‘The Rules of Abstraction’ by Matthew Collings  Paul Tonkin

Mali Morris

Richard Diebenkorn – current RA exhibition, which I have seen and really related to.

Claude Monet Waterlilies at the Marmottan in Paris, which I have also seen.  Embedded image permalink

Stewart compared Monet to a jazz musician where they invent around a theme.


Stewart determined that the handling, the ‘invitation into the space’  and the physical process are what is important to me.  The surface, the decol edge.  My work needs to be bigger, maybe A0.  This may be too expensive in watercolour and perhaps I need to consider Lascaux acrylics mixed with acrylic medium and water to give the translucency I need.

He mention Emil Nolde and his forbidden works produced during the Nazi occupation which reference flowers, and also the late Turner paintings.  He recommended Imagination and Reality by Gowing

He also suggested I look at the work of Dennis Creffield and the essays of Roy Oxlade, Art and Instinct.

We discussed why I was looking at the work of Oxlade and my starting point of Emily Ball and her book, Painting and drawing People, a Fresh Approach. the cover of Emily’s book.

We talked about Albert Irvin, who I have been researching and I am aware that Stewart has interviewed.  Sadly Bert died last week at the age of 92.

Angel by Albert Irvin (2003). The artist used a floor squeegee as a kind of huge palette knife, pushing solid bars of colour across his canvases.

Angel by Albert Irvin (2003). The artist used a floor squeegee as a kind of huge palette knife, pushing solid bars of colour across his canvases. Photograph: Advanced Graphics

Stewart also described how Irvin painted flat, elevating the canvas on industrial paint cans.

We talked about the sensuality of Marlene Dumas’ work, her inventive use of paint and the ambiguity she introduces through references to porn and sensitivity.

I need to look at the work and practice of Cecily Brown, not for the subject matter, but for her approach, her brush marks and her energy. 

Skulldiver IV, 2006-07. Oil on linen, 216 x 226 cm. All images, courtesy Gagosian, New York/Los Angeles/London/Moscow/Rome. © Cecily Brown.

Stewart suggested I continue with my practice of using a photo as a starting point and then working with the materials, but I need to make it more so and more informed, locating my own visual identity and maximising my potential.  I can’t force the subject to happen I can only tease it out.


1  Scale up

2  Focus on materiality rather than painting to produce a work

3  Consider acrylics possibly from a cost perspective as much as scalability

4  Research unorthodox processes, Hoyland and Tonkin and others

5  Immersive surface.  Consider is it wonderment at nature or my emotional response to the subject.  Consider my past as an emotional response.