Category Archives: Nov ’15

Thought for the Day



Georgia O'Keeffe 'Jimson Weed' Boxed Note Cards

Georgia O'Keeffe 'Jimson Weed' Boxed Note Cards

A prerequisite of studying for an MA is reflection.  So much of my time is spent reflecting, that if I were to record it all, absolutely nothing would get done, but this particular thought confounds me and I want to process my reflection through my blog.

While I was researching for my presentation on the reviewers  of the recent Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at the Tate Modern, I came across the second  image above.  I had always assumed that the painting was just the flower in the bottom right corner, a bold but lack lustre image.  I now understand why most references to the painting, including the Tate, don’t bother to include the rest of what is really a very dull image.

The two images are to scale, the top one 100 x 100 cms, the second 101 x 122 cms.  Allowance obviously needs to be made for the reproduction qualities, but that said the top image was taken on a phone.  I haven’t seen the second image in the flesh, but reviews refer to the artist being able to ‘neuter its potency so effectively’ (Ben Luke in the Standard), and Mark Hudson in the Telegraph calls her work ‘painfully’ minor.

The first work was not influenced by O’Keeffe, whose  work does not inspire me, but happens to be part of the process I am working through and forms a useful comparison.  I could have used the work of many other excellent painters.

The first work is currently for sale at £600 and someone tried to negotiate the price down by 20%.  The second recently sold for $44.4m.

My MA journey is about understanding the art world.  I am nearing the end of my course and still, for me, it makes no sense.  The artists that inspire me, the art I am passionate about producing and experiencing, is not the art that is part of, let’s call it the O’Keeffe world (OW).  Perhaps it is time for the two worlds to be officially separated with a new title for the OW, that reflects the hyped commodity trading that it is, rather than continuing to call it art.  Hudson refers to the work ‘ an encapsulation of a moment in America’s understanding of itself..’, and perhaps that is how this commodity should be viewed in general.  



Where Now?

This evening we are critiquing half the cohort’s work, an interesting challenge, particularly as we are all different disciplines.

The exercise in selecting work to be critiqued has forced me to reflect on where I am with my work.  My confidence as a painter is a casualty.  I still feel I am in no-mans land, with no clear direction.  I find myself meandering through the research, but having the attention span of a butterfly, (the history and application within art I researched, thinking this may be my unconscious mind pointing me to a subject matter, fascinating, may explore further).  All of which is a great and justifiable reason for not actually focusing on my painting, but I suspect is a delaying tactic for what is proving to be like grappling with a phantom.

The fact that this is proving so challenging, could, if this is resistance, be meaning that I am rowing ‘upstream’ and need to raise the oars, and let go, allowing due process to run it’s course.

At the moment I have 20+ works on the go and 20+ different directions, flitting back and forth in a state of near panic.  The nature of working with watercolour doesn’t help, requiring either multiple pieces due to drying time, artificial drying together with the implications for the work, or lengthy pauses between activity.


Former style, detailed, expressionist, floral, 38 x 38cms on paper


A current theme of doors, windows and spaces, 18 x 18 cms on paper


Behind Closed Doors, 38 x 38cms, on paper


Torn watercolour paper on canvas, 50 x 50cms


Torn watercolour paper on canvas, 50 x 50cms


30 x 30 cms on Khadi paper

Experimental watercolour on charcoal and chalk, all 56 x 56cms on paper. Yellow is the colour of identity.  I have been researching colour history and the work of Korean artist, Hyunmee Lee. Her bold use of colour blocks and fine lines reflects the thoughts of Roy Oxlade, whose approach to subject I am keen to explore, but don’t yet fully understand.

If the legs on the child in the first image had been less defined, I would have been happiest with the immediacy of this version.  The subsequent two images feel laboured and contrived.

Hyunmee Lee – Sensation 6, acrylic on canvas 72 x 96 inches


Watercolour and chalk on paper, 56 x 56 cms

I have also been researching the collages of Lee Krasner.  Her bold graphical abstract distillation of, what could be, foliage, provides me with a possible direction for large loose floral interpretations.  I feel a need to explore through drawing, the simplification of subject.

The Seasons, 1957, Witney Museum, New York 1600 x 736 cms

Next week I will be talking to a former MA student who I believe had similar issues with her work.  It will be interesting to see how she worked through or overcame them.

Reflecting through the process of writing is helping me to clarify what I enjoy doing, the scale, the colours, the marks, the preparation or not, and as Annabel Dover said during my tutorial, it is ok to explore a range of subject matter, materials and approaches as long as it feels right.

Still no work produced, but I feel I may have made some progress.

Go with the Flow

The Astonishing Power of Emotions by Ester and Jerry Hicks is part of the Teachings of Abraham series.  It carries a very simple message, if you are feeling any resistance, you are going the wrong way.

They use the metaphor of a rower trying to row upstream.  Feel the resistance.  Now lift the oars and allow the boat to be transported downstream, by the current.

They list numerous common experiences, from a life-threatening diagnosis, losing weight, family members at war, Alzheimer’s, unhappy at work, can’t find a partner, and focus on the language of the situation and the resistance (‘upstream’), gently moving to ‘downstream’ language and thought patterns.

By emotionally engaging with life experience and feeling the upstream sensation, this simple technique opens the door to who you really are and ‘vibrational alignment’, and with that, everything you want to do, be or have, because there is no longer any resistance. So simple.

Since reading this unchallenging read, I have become much more aware of my body’s response, the ‘something doesn’t feel right’ emotion, that has made its presence felt in a broad raft of circumstances, alerting me to an ‘upstream’ belief or thought.  This too is starting to feed into my unconscious critiquing of my ongoing work.  I am at the early stages, ‘that area doesn’t look right’.  I still have a long way to go to work out why, but it is a start.

Chroma – Derek Jarman

I am not sure why I was drawn to this book.  I think it may have popped up when I was looking for David Batchelor’s Colour.  Jarman is famous locally for his beach garden in an uncompromising part of the coast, at Dungeness, a few miles east of Hastings.

Prospect Cottage

Jarman, who died from Aids in 1994, writes sparingly on the subject, reserving most of his energies for a highly personal exploration of colour in all its guises.

Widely informed, he writes like the silver dandelion clock whispered into the breeze, blink and you miss a gem.  ‘On Seeing Red’ he glides effortlessly from Albers to Wittgenstein to Goethe to Kandinsky to Chevreul to Agrippa, without pausing for breathe.  He explores the history, the alchemy, the pigment, the use, the painters, the meaning, the phrasing, from rose madder, Rubia Tinctorum to ‘painting the town red’.

He weaves his and others’ poetry into a work without formal structure, plucking thoughts, wise, and not so wise, anecdotes and musings, to create a hugely nourishing read.

Of yellow in ‘The Perils of Yellow’ he writes ‘Orpiment poisonous arsenic sulphide.  Brilliant lemon yellow used in manuscripts and mentioned by Pliny.  It came from Smyrna and was used in Egyptian, Persian and later Byzantine manuscripts.  Cennini says it is really poisonous.’; of Venetian courtesans, the madness of Vincent, Whistler’s yellow gallery, the executioner of Spain, sailing the plague flag into the bladder-wracked waters of Sargasso, to road markings, Oscar Wilde and back to Prospect Cottage.

In ‘Green Fingers’ we learn that ‘paradise’ is the Persian for ‘garden’.  In ‘How Now Brown Cow’ we learn that Dr Collis-Brown (my mother swore by it) was the last non prescription medication to contain opium, declining in popularity once the opium was removed in the sixties.

With works like Chroma and the writings of Hustvedt, Oxlade and Hickey, I find it necessary to follow with my ipad, diving off to check a writer, poet, mythological character, art work, in fact, anything and everything. During Chroma I disappeared for several days on the trail of Meister Eckhart, who was to influence Tolle, so much so, that he changed his name.

An extraordinary read, with enough pointers to provide a lifetime of research.




Following on from my tutorial with Caroline and my need to throw caution to the wind, and in so doing, work faster and more intuitively, Annabel Dover has considered where my work is today and offered further observations and recommendations.

She feels that I am on the right track for me by working through emotional connection to every day objects, working impulsively and intuitively, believing that  the work can be contextualised once completed and observed.  She made some interesting suggestions regarding presentation, a document or booklet to accompany the work, defining the historical context, the original photo, perhaps a map to locate, or a projection on a wall.  This could be expanded to include engagement from the viewer as to the emotion elicited, which could in turn lead  to further work.

She mentioned some materials that I might consider, Kremer’s Watercolour Medium from Fitzpatricks to increase the flow and extend the working time, a medium that can also be used with dry pigment also from Fitzpatrick or Cornellison, to produce jewel -like colours;   Dr P H Martin’s Watercolour dyes, which have very strong pigment, so might be good for larger works, although care must be taken due to the fading in sunlight of some pigments.

Artists to research:

Roxy Walsh   Gentle yet intense use of watercolour, creating not quite abstract, not quite figurative images.  Following on from Rob Smith’s lecture, it is interesting to note that Walsh has worked collaboratively with Sally Underwood for the last five years.

Jean Arp  1886-1966 German/French Abstract Creationist, exhibited with Kandinsky, Matisse and Robert Delauney.

Configuration 1927

1916 torn paper collage dropped and arranged according to the laws of chance

Emil Nolde 1867-1956 German Expressionist painter, emotional use of colour.  Also Kandinsky (1866-1944), Klee (1879-1940), Franz Marc (1880-1916) and Gabriele Munter (1877-1962)

Emil Nolde Rote and Gelbe Sonnenblumen  watercolour 36 x 48cms

Rachel Ruysch Dutch 1664-1750

Ruysch  Vase of Flowers

Maria Von Oosterwijck Dutch 1630-1693


Von Oosterwijck Vase of Tulips, Rose and Other Flowers with Insects 1669

Maria Sibylla Merian German 1647-1717 Botanical flower paintings

Anna Atkins English  Botanist1799-1871

Cyanotype 1850

Mary Delany English 1700-1788

1772 Detail showing hand tinted paper clippings from The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock.  She also has work at the British Museum.

Theodore Gericault French 1791-1824 figurative romanticism

Eugene Delacroix French 1798- 1863 figurative romanticism

Caspar David Friedrich German 1774-1840 romantic pastoral landscapes

Philipp Otto Runge German 1777-1810 romantic portraits

J M W Turner English 1775-1851 romantic landscapes

Henry Fuseli Swiss 1741-1825 romantic figurative

William Blake English 1757-1827 romantic fantasy

Peter Lanyon English 1918-1964 emotion and landscape


Soaring Flight, 1960 by Peter Lanyon.

Soaring Flight 1960 Photograph: Courtesy of Arts Council Collection

Frank Auerbach German 1931 emotional portraits and landscapes

Leon Kossoff  English 1926 emotional buildings and portraits

Marlene Dumas South African 1953 emotional ink and watercolour portraits

Edgar Degas French 1834-1917 pastel dancers, working from photos

Dancers in Pink

Walter Sickert German 1860-1942  narrative and portraits

Annie Kevans French/English 1972 watercolour portraits

Eleanor Moreton English 1956 narrative

Laura Lancaster English 1979 narrative figurative

Chantal Joffe American 1969 portraits

Luc Tuymans Belgian 1958  portraits

Gerhard Richter German 1932 abstract, portrait

Elizabeth Peyton American 1965 portraits and flowers

Flowers and Actaeon 2009

Marc Quinn English 1964 sculpture and flowers

Mat Collishaw English 1966 contemporary take on Victorian art

Gary Hume English 1962 contemporary portraits and flowers


Andrew Vass

Round Route 02 2013

Ideas for Working:

Quickly in series.

Painting the least possible to be recognisable.

Blotting like Rorschach tests.

Drawing on carbon paper.


Automatic drawing, from the subconscious. see Andre Masson.

Drawing with compressed charcoal, calligraph pencil.

Group photos from a week and paint them together like Freud painting a postcard in his work.

Suggested Reading:

Roland Barthes 1915-1980 – ‘Punctum’ in Camera Lucida

Walter Benjamin 1892-1940 – Unpacking my Library

Professor Carol Mavor – Blue Mythologies and other works

Jerwood Drawing website and previous catalogues

The Drawing Book edited by Tania Kovats

Vitamin D

Drawing the Line edited by Michael Craig Martin

Derek Jarman  – Chroma

Colour Series by Reaktion Books

Colour/Nature – Whitechapel series

Reflection on direction

I need to let go and let my emotional response play a greater part in my work.  By speeding up I may be able to sidestep the conscious mind.  Delicate layering will create a feeling of time and space. Continuing with life drawing,  responding to the paint and to colour, mark making, masking, considering backgrounds, working and reworking will all add  to the richness of the work.  Accepting that creating meaningful art is hard work will release me from the burden of succeeding all the time.

How I present the work and tell the story will unite what at first sight might appear disparate.  I am now armed with examples, techniques, reading matter and inspiration, I just need to do it and see what happens.  No more procrastination!