Taking Flight

Back in spring 2015, I painted my first seagull. In fact I painted a flock of seagulls. That year, the seagulls of St Ives, long believed to be particularly aggressive, were getting a lot of airtime about their viciousness. Surpassing pasty and ice cream theft, they were now attacking our children and pets. I was reminded of a book I’d read many years previously – Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach – about a bird determined to be more than ordinary. My subsequent paintings of seagulls are all dedicated to Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his antics and beliefs. Jonathan Livingston Seagull lives within us all. We all have the ability to be Jonathan. Most gulls don’t bother to learn more than the simplest facts of flight – how to get from shore to food and back again.  For most gulls it is not flying that matters, but eating. For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight. Jonathan is a seagull frustrated with the meaningless materialism, conformity, and limitation of the seagull life. He is seized with a passion for flight of all kinds, and his soul soars as he experiments with exhilarating challenges of daring aerial…

Shrills ‘n’ Thrills and Bellyaches

I’ve never been a big fan of Hockney. I admire his eye for colour and his prodigious work rate. And I wish I could paint every day. So I went along to the retrospective of his work at Tate Britain on the opening day with limited expectations. I’d read Adrian Searle’s review in the Guardian:  “Thrills contrast with the shrill“.  Searle believes Hockney was only any good really in the 1960s. I can see why he was popular in that period and how he became the poster boy for queer British art – sticking one up to the establishment. The artist equivalent of Joe Orton. But I’ve always been singularly unimpressed. And his transcendence into something of a national treasure fails to impress me too. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this retrospective spanning 60 years. I really enjoyed the riot of colours, textures, tones, and the mixture of abstraction and reality. Some of the canvasses really stood out for me. In room 1, I was most pleasantly surprised by “Rubber Ring Floating in a Swimming Pool” painted in 1971. It’s surprisingly abstract and striking. Room 2 is called “Demonstrations of Versatility” because that’s precisely what it does. I really liked the works…

Abstract Expressionism – The Next Day

I visited Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy of Arts on 9 November 2016 – the day of the US elections and immediately after visiting Bowie/Collector at Sotheby’s around the corner. A connection between the three didn’t strike me until the next day when the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States stirred intense emotions deep in my psyche about Americans. I wondered why so much of Bowie’s chosen art came from his birth nation and not his adopted homeland. I also wondered why England seemed to be on his mind so much during the last months of his life as reflected in his final album Blackstar – “if I’ll never see the English evergreens I’m running to…“. I wondered about his relationship with America. Two songs in particular sprung to mind – I’m Afraid of Americans and This is Not America. Feeling complex emotions about the state of the world and what had just happened in America, and with Bowie’s songs in my head, the visuals flashing before my eyes were of the work of several of the Abstract Expressionists working in America in the 1940s and 50s that I’d seen the day before. Although I’ve…

Turner 2016 – About a Boy

I recently visited the Turner Prize 2016 at Tate Britain. There are 4 artists, 3 of them women (there’s that number 3 again!). It’s refreshing for women to be in the majority. So the odds are for a woman to win this year. I thought my choice would be a woman before I visited. I thought I would like Anthea Hamilton’s work the most. But I’ve changed my mind. My money is now on Michael Dean. Why the about face? Well I do like Anthea Hamilton’s work. It’s fresh and accessible. But ultimately it doesn’t move me. My thoughts aren’t provoked, my senses aren’t pricked. Yes I am amused but that’s not really what I seek from art. And I can’t help thinking that I’d like the brick suit much more if the bricks were painted on the suit rather than it being sewn from material printed with a brick pattern. I have no idea why that matters to me, but it does. The large mural of the London sky at 3pm on a sunny day in June is good but I don’t get the chastity belts hanging on chains. The big gold butt is also impressive but simply stirs…

Georgia O’Keeffe – Seeing Beyond Erotica

As an adolescent and a young adult I admired O’Keeffe’s work. I had a large framed print of Red Poppy on my wall for many years. For some reason I don’t think I explored her work very far beyond her flower paintings and the flowing feminine forms. I probably liked the myth that her paintings were female erotica – depicting sexual parts and full of psycho-sexual messages. So I went to the new exhibition of her work at Tate Modern (http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern) today with an open mind aware that she disputed this interpretation. She said: “When people read erotic symbols into my paintings they’re really talking about their own affairs.” I got much more out of the exhibition than this myth dispelled. Though I have to say I’m not entirely convinced. It may well be a case of she protesteth too much. Her creative and personal partnership with Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer and gallerist later to become her husband, revealed that she was not an unwilling muse and nude model. That said, her mission to make busy people take time to see what flowers really look like, as interpreted by her, is laudable and met with considerable success on both sides…