Wednesday, 2 April 2014


We made an appointment to see the shows at David Zwirner first thing this morning.  In truth, the immediate pull was Jordan Wolfson's animatronic sculpture.  I'd managed to catch a short clip of the creepy, 7ish minute cycle somewhere online beforehand and thought it mesmerisingly intricate - a definite onanistic appeal to the guilty, dark sides of voyeurism and also of sex but surprisingly, I thought, without denaturing the experience with bias or deafening comment.

So, being there in the room (just Rob and I) was so much more provocative.  The female robot's eyeballs instantly locked ours and made the whole experience so penetrative.

The Doug Wheeler at Zwirner was just beautiful.  I purposefully avoided reading anything about this particular installation before we turned up.  Once we had our shoe covers on, the effect of the opening to the lit room was bizarre - it didn't feel as though such a huge cavern existed on the other side.  Only that it was an intensional trick of the eye; a mere projected light form on a flat surface.  Stepping 'into the world' felt as crazy as stepping into a reflection.  
The ever so subtle camber on either side of the rooms horizon tranquilly replicated that of the earth.  Honestly, this was just so beautiful.  Beautifully sic-fi and familiarly human at the same time.

Image courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery, NYC

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Best Practices in NYC

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to have been a part of an extremely important workshop given by George O'Hanlon, a man of exceptional expertise and accomplishment, on the chemistry, mechanics and longevity of painting.  

'Painting Best Practices' is a workshop, which has addressed questions I have had about my practice for years and, due to O'Hanlon's clear and genuine love for art and concern with its best possible development and preservation, the information sets were faultlessly structured and extremely well delivered.  I have filled a whole book with copious notes on, but certainly not limited to, the following:

  • Causes of painting failures
  • Supports - What is a sound support? (addressing both rigid and flexible (woods, panels, metals, plastics, composites), their pros and cons, stabilisation; braces/ keys/ cradling, adhesives, backings, stretchers, tensions etc.
  • Grounds and sizes - cleared up A LOT of myths I have been working by due to some dodgy teachings back in the day
  • Paint - what it is - its chemistries, rheology, viscosities, tactilities
  • Pigment properties/ chemistries
  • Paint Optics - reflection,refraction and refractive indexes, light absorption, diffraction, the physics of opacity/translucency
  • Paint film degradation issues 
  • Mediums - another big eye opener! - reasons for using mediums, oils/ resins/ solvents/ diluents/ solubility parameters
  • Materials labelling (seriously important information that all artists should know pertaining to standards, ASTM, hazard labelling, colour indexes, hue labelling and propriety labels
  • Varnishes
  • Brushes
  • Studio care, toxicity issues and safety measures

A demonstration of the differences in rheological properties of prussian blue and ochre pigments in the same binder 

First, It seems really crazy to me that more artists aren't aware of information and understandings about their tools and methods.

Over the past few years, I have sought (or attempted to seek) perceptive and methodological learning from teachings ateliers, mentors and paintings in order to answer questions which plague me enough.  My time in Florence, for example, was specifically in pursuit of a certain understanding of flesh-painting and sight-size observation which I realised I was craving while working on 'The Weavers' in 2011.  Respectively, whilst working on 'The Weavers', it was important to me that I research modern pigments in order to make sure I was using the best quality, most lightfast bright paints with the amount of pop I wanted against the earthy mountainscape.  Where these were matters of adding particular skills to my vocabulary as an artist like important dialectal phrases to a language, I have always used them as such when working on my paintings, merging them with the instinctive methods I hold most dear, which happen without the paralysis of overthinking the 'right and wrong', but those which happen without thinking.  

As a result of these few years of chasing, I have been waiting for the point at which I feel a returned freedom in standing in front of my art and allowing innate decisions to flow again instead of, what I consider to be, a burden of topical knowledge that is gained without understanding why.

Here's an example: I have been using an oleoresinous medium - a synthesis of three parts in a precise ratio.  The medium was not only recommended to me by the artists I painted with in Florence, but introduced and treated as correct and absolutely necessary.  It did things for the behaviour of my paint that seemed to fix issues I'd had on the flesh painting in 'The Weavers' and so I began using the medium as a staple.  Although it has potential for disastrous optical and mechanical effects if overused, I worked out its optimum use, as others were doing, in the treatment of entire canvases from start to finish as a rule of thumb without understanding exactly why I was doing so or, in actual fact, what the medium was doing, chemically, in achieving its effect.

My palette while working on 'The Weavers' which used a combination of both traditional and modern pigments.

After this weekend, I now have a chemical understanding of the medium.  I know that from the standpoint of conservation and longevity, it is a risky thing to be incorporating into my paint film, and am now able to use this information to make an intelligent decision as to whether I use the medium to particular effect or disregard it.  It is not to say that I mustn't do any one thing in my painting, but to have at my disposal the necessary understanding to know whether something is necessary or desirable.
My point is this:  My curiosity will never cease, I'm sure.  I will experiment and evolve; it is the way of things, but instigating and developing a thorough understanding of my practice allows freedom in painting from my very core, aware of such things as the chemical makeup of my pigments and how the transparency of a certain colour relates to its particle size, form and refractive index.  Without understanding why, it is merely a case of just because, and painting this way is simply restrictive.

Seeking this kind of understanding about your practice as a painter is so very important, and  'Painting Best Practices' is absolutely invaluable to all who don't intend for their paintings to be disposable.

A lay out of oils used in the process of painting and paint grinding.

A HUGE thank you to George and his Wife, Tatiana Zaytseva, for their time and expertise, for all the research they do and for so passionately pioneering the sharing of necessary information.  I couldn't be happier to have travelled so far to take this workshop and look forward to maintaining a great relationship with them both.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

In Charitates

I just finished the drawing I've let evolve over the past few weeks.

'In Charitates'
Charcoal and Pitt Pastell on Paper

Monday, 18 June 2012

Doing Things Backwards : The progress shots

If you weren't a student at The Academy, where I was based while working on 'The Weavers', then these progress shots will account for the developmental stages of the painting.  I thought it better to keep them until the painting was unveiled, which it will be tomorrow night at the awards ceremony.
There are quite a few gaps in the progress though...sitters were painted in and out in a matter of hours sometimes.  If it didn't work, it didn't stay.

BP Portrait Awards 2012

So this year, I am exhibiting the largest painting at the BP Portrait Awards from my time in Peru for The BP Travel Award 2011.  I had a sneak round the exhibition today while they were finishing the hang and It looks really bloody strong this year.  I'm thrilled with how 'The Weavers' looks in context;  I'm also exhibiting a body of supporting works on paper and smaller canvases next to this.  Super happy.

The Exhibition opens to the public this coming Thursday 21st at The National Portrait Gallery in London.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

New Studio

I find I am too rarely in a consistent enough mind space to allow for frequent updates.  However, here!...I have recently moved studio and took some shots this morning that I'll share.  The space is still in Edinburgh, but I'm splitting my time pretty evenly each week between Edinburgh and London to work on regular portrait sittings and new paintings. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Inspiration to Write Essays

I'm writing some essays for a couple publications here on the leather bucket couch under some hopeful cranked up dimmer spots.  Somehow I feel like the brighter thery are, the more likely I am to want to write.  Previous BP Travel Award essays are strewn open around me too, like, for good energy, you know?  I know it's not just me who settles down to write in the morning and reaches 17:28 having triumphantly expunged all appropriate essay subject matter by filling my brain with everything else instead.

Anyway, I meant to digitally pen down a week or so ago about a shoot I did last week with a good mate and awesome photographer Angus Behm.  Some really nice photos came from this studio visit and I've kept myself from showing them all.  I sort of want to keep the painting for The BP till it's finished.  Check out Angus's work here

Studio detail © Angus Behm 2012

Mixing a palette with a view of the Peruvian wall © Angus Behm 2012

© Angus Behm 2012

© Angus Behm 2012

Sitting with the Quechua Weavers.  A preview of the painting unfinished © Angus Behm 2012

The Studio © Angus Behm 2012

I'm also digging the work of Ryan Mosley today.  For the folkish, quirk of the carnivalesqe and for the colour and paint quality.  And the equally quirky musical brilliance of the Stockholm based music duo Niki and The Dove.

Ryan Mosley - Emperor Butterfly