Saturday, 30 June 2012

Oil Painting 28 - The Salon and Marble Hall at Weston

Last year, 2011, I started a wonderful working relationship with the Weston Park Foundation. It began with entering their Halls Fine Art Open Competition in the superb Granary Gallery space at Weston, having 2 out of 3 submitted selected, and then receiving the wonderful news that one of the pieces, 'Etruria Roundabout' had won the regional artist prize of £500 for Staffordshire and Cheshire. Etruria Roundabout is one of my personal favourites and has always proved popular, also winning the Visitor's Choice Prize at The Staffordshire Open at The Shire Hall Gallery, Stafford, but for one reason or another it has not found a buyer yet. I guess not everyone wishes to have a busy concrete traffic spot on their walls!

Winning the prize at the Halls Open at Weston introduced my agent and I to the art curator and education team there and we were offered a group show in the December months responding to the theme of Weston Park itself and celebrating the 25 years the foundation has been established. Participating in this exhibition was one of my career highlights as it lead to months of directly responding to the House and grounds as well as gaining entry to paint the main stage at the V Festival. Click here to see more details on the exhibition and the body of work.

So, when I knew we would be close by on the boat, moored at the beautiful village of Wheaton Aston and then Stretton Aqueduct, I thought I would revisit the fascinating interiors of the House at Weston with Oil Painting 28 - The Salon and Marble Hall. The other interiors I have painted at the house are The Library and The Dining Room and The British Guild of Travel Writers' Dinner at Weston.

It was ideal indoor subject matter with the dismal weather continuing, but more than that I really enjoyed an unusual depiction of space interpreting a chequered floor. Along with looking down railway lines and telegraph poles a chequered floor is a much-used device for illustrating space and perspective.

MC Escher often played his visual illusion games using chequered flooring, the study of Escher's perspective treatment formed part of my wide angle dissertation study during my Fine Art BA Hons. I think the stark contrast of black and white patterned squares allow immediate interpretation of the plane in space you are trying to depict, and as we have become so familiar with them, they can facilate and bring a normality to quite complex spacial representations. Another more recent artistic treatment of distorting chequered flooring can be seen in some of Tim Burton's films 'Nightmare before Christmas' and 'Alice in Wonderand'.

I have waved the horizon in the piece to draw attention to looking down at the tiles on the right hand side and looking up at skylight in the salon on the left. 

I have always had an unusual education of the subject whenever painting in the house at Weston, the tour guides escorting groups round and informing about every piece of art in the room I am looking at is a great way to learn about what you are painting. Now I know this room was originally a courtyard, I am positioned next to a painting of a 127 year old woman who once walked from Staffordshire to London, the painting of the ships in the background caused distress to a group of yacht owners because the wind is wrong. There is another popular painting in the room of a little girl who has been whipped in her classes, the chairs are all of the studio of Chippendale, the chequered flooring is welsh slate and Italian marble and original to the house. When Birmingham housed the G8 Summit the world leaders had a day of relaxation here at Weston and watched the cup final in this room whilst Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were being interviewed on the lawn at the front by David Frost.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Oil Painting 27 - The Willows of Gnosall

The plan was to get down to Thomas Telford's Stretton Aqueduct but when you underestimate the distance and then stop at such a peaceful spot as Gnosall surrounded by a passage of flowing Willow trees, the plan, and life, has to wait for 2 days whilst I produce this piece.

I have wanted to paint a willow for a long time, especially seeing so many on this project, growing by the water. If you remember with the French trip to the Vendee coast this year I produced one of my first tree 'portraits' with 'Tree by the Atlantic' study. It has been just a matter of time since then until I paint a willow, I know the flow of draping leaves in the movement of the wind will suit my approach with paint. I am not sure that this piece is 'it' however, it has some of that love of willow trees but is also a comment on the Shropshire Union canal and the long passages without locks where you are cruising through a tunnel of trees. I am enjoying the small front of the boat dwarfed by these leafy giants. Incidentally the owner of the boat in front got it cheap because it was underwater when he bought it!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Oil Painting 26 - Shrewsbury

The final results after the second , very rainy day of painting
Our stay in Market Drayton coincided with Millard and Lancaster's Summer Show in Shrewsbury and a commute into town was relatively easy from here. I have had great success working with this fabulous gallery earlier in the year and was glad to be able to set up on the streets of Shrewsbury and raise awareness of this group show. You can see the solo show I had at Millard and Lancaster in February 2012 here

I had set up in the town centre in the run up to the solo show and generated a great deal of interest with potential customers and local press working on location. The general public are not used to seeing this manner of work and respond really positively. I painted the Old Market Hall and the iconic Railway Station

I chose this composition for Oil Painting 26 because I was interested in the swing of the street wrapping around the 2 churches. One passer by described the road in my painting as a helter skelter. I felt I hadn't yet conveyed the intriguing geography of Shrewsbury and its formation across quite steep slopes and wanted to illustrate varying heights of interesting architecture within this piece.

A snap of the foundation started one a sunny first day, compare with final result

After a good first day, a went back to add a few touches and the the scene had been transformed by rain. This year's weather has been difficult so far with the wettest June on record. I wasn't going to be deterred and set up hoping the rain would let off, it didn't, and the result was a wet scene with unusual reflections off the cobbles and roads. I have painted a few rainy scenes in the past, the flotilla one of the most memorable, and they often release some unusual colours and different treatment of the landscape.

This piece was purchased by a law firm in Shrewsbury who are based round the corner and saw the painting coming together.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Oil Painting 25 - Market Drayton

This piece was squeezed into the 48 hours available at a visitor mooring in Market Drayton. It is not a bad challenge actually, to have these marked time periods at stopping points along the circuit, sometimes frustrating but it has kept us working and moving. Before this boat project, The most I have managed was a solid 48 hour painting stint for charity, when I painted 32 canvas portraits depicting 37 different sitters. The sitters were allocated 90 minute time slots throughout the 2 days and nights. I was exhausted and the last few were a little ropey but all in all it was an interesting experiment and raised £3000 for meningitis research. I wonder if I could do a similar format in a British Waterways 48 hour mooring spot.

Anyway, back to this piece, despite enjoying Market Drayton's town centre and having a good cycle round to gauge possible painting locations I ended up sticking with the visitor mooring spot and enjoying the idea of producing a piece from the boats perspective looking along the roof. This is an iconic view for any boater when steering your 60ft piece of metal along the waterways. I am pleased with the result which happily combines the reflection study of an attractive boat with some dramatic spacial representation.

The view or weather conditions are nothing extraordinary but it is a good image to sum up what I am trying to do with this project in giving an alternative take on the actual experience of travelling on a boat around the British canals. I say 'the actual experience', of course I am heavily manipulating this recorded experience, for example, I really didn't need a fire on the evening of finishing the painting yet fancied painting the wispy blue smoke across the composition from the chimney at the front of the boat. I was sweating cobs inside the boat for the rest of the evening!

Monday, 25 June 2012

Oil Painting 24 - The Shroppie Fly, Audlem

We had been looking forward to spending some time in Audlem, and the popular Cheshire village didn't disappoint. The Shroppie Fly is the name of the cream canalside pub in this painting alongside Audlem Mill and canal shop. When you walk into the Shroppie you are faced with the awesome bar, a former working 'fly' boat, with the bar staff pulling the pints from inside the boat. I was also taken with some great framed sketches on the wall of some of the live music acts they have had there. I myself, really enjoy and would recommend the challenge of trying to capture a moving live performer on stage. Some of the other pictures on the walls of the shroppie admittedly made my heart sink, there was at least three paintings or prints from the same viewpoint as I had just started from with this Oil Painting 24. Views become iconic because they have an impact or gut appeal - Should the artist refuse these viewpoints because they have been explored many times before? Or embrace the universal appeal? A noticeable difference with my painting is the wide angle that allows the inclusion of the wonderful lock keepers cottage. The garden to this cottage was something special with the owners selling bits and bobs to passing boaters from amongst the flowers. We bought a second hand windlass from them. I am really enjoying the amount of tiny independent trade on the towpaths and wish to paint more of them. After being self employed for 5 years now, entrepreneurship is a subject that really appeals. I am embracing this culture myself displaying past Year of the Boat works on easels alongside my current painting to entertain the passers by. One of the passers by on this occasion was the boat 'The Cat's Whiskers', a boat that has already passed me working once in Wrenbury on the Llangollen canal. You can read their experience of the Shroppie on their blog

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Oil Painting 23 - Nantwich Town Centre

After the spectacular aqueducts at the end of the Llangollen canal, and the excitement of painting the Jubilee pageant, it was time to return to the boat, and make our way back along the Llangollen canal back into Shropshire and Cheshire, getting a good soaking from the weather on route. It is amazing the difference a bit of sunshine can have on how you remember a canal! Once Hurlestone Junction was reached we took the turn right onto The Shroppie, with the destination 'Birmingham'!

First stop was the town of Nantwich. After walking from the canal around town it was the central high street seating area, with the flowers and jubilee bunting, that had the most appeal subject matter wise. It was a good spot to chat with shoppers and I was pleased to be getting a painting of a canal community rather than purely water based subject matter. I also wanted to get the town in relation to it's church, which dominates the skyline with the unusual octagonal tower.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Oil Painting 22 - The Diamond Jubilee River Pageant

DETAIL - Oil Painting 22 - Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant 2012

When I heard 6 months ago that a flotilla of 1000 craft was due to sail down the Thames to mark The Queen's Diamond Jubilee, I knew one way or another I would have to get there and paint this historic occaision as a centre piece for the 'Year of the Boat' project.

This en plein air oil painting of The Queen's Diamond Jubilee River Thames Pageant was probably the most difficult of my career; the logistics of researching a good spot, accommodation in London, physically walking all the set up around the capital, 2 days of preparing the background, securing the spot at 5am on the day, intense painting in the middle of a crowd, downpours of rain and a 7 hour journey home at the end, including squeezing through funneling crowd controls, on tubes and trains trying not to smudge the end result left me exhausted and suffering with ill health, but it was more than worth it!

A drizzly morning shot on the morning of the pageant 
I was fortunate to find a location where I could complete the piece elevated on a brick platform in front of a crowd in a similar position to the vantage point of Canaletto's painting The River Thames with St Paul's Cathedral on Lord Mayors Day.

Canaletto recorded with this staggering piece, the last time 1000 boats were on a pageant on the Thames in 1756. The National Maritime Museum are using this piece as the lead image for their exhibition celebrating the diamond jubilee 'Royal River' 

The crowds grew and grew
I was based at the Founders Arms by Blackfriars bridge near Tate Modern and Bankside gallery
God Save Our Queen!
The Royal Barge passing St Paul's

A great vantage point for a memorable show

The below photograph taken by @rachel_duk was picked up by ITV and used on their newspage on the day of the pageant -

Oil Painting 21 - Pontcysyllte aqueduct

The big one! One of the wonders of the waterways, the longest and highest aqueduct in Britain and a UNESCO world heritage site. This Aqueduct is a terrific experience for any boater, as you pass over there is no barrier protecting the boater's side, and the thin cast iron trough the canal flows through, is pressed against the side of the boat giving the illusion of floating in mid air and a completely unhindered view of the 126ft drop. A bizarre phenomenon for a boater used to weaving underneath cities to now be floating above tree tops and the River Dee with birds flying underneath you.

Now, how to represent it? My gut instinct was to try and capture this drama from a boater's perspective, to sum up the drop from high up, but the feasibility of actually doing this was proving difficult. The popularity of this spot means there are usually boats waiting to cross so parking the boat in middle and trying a quick painting was impossible; then there was the towpath side, possibly a view peering over the barrier similar to Oil Painting 20 - Chirk Aqueduct, except to get the drama of the drop you have to wander to the middle of the Aqueduct and the towpath is so narrow that it is diificult for two pedestrians to pass anyway, let alone with an artist, a large oil paint soaked canvas and all the trimmings that come with producing the works entirely en plein air. 

I might have to swallow the exclusivity to 'on-location' with a painting from the top of the aqueduct and produce a further memory studio painting utilising the pencil sketches and dare I say it - 'photographs'. In the meantime, you get the 100% on location, 100% enjoyable to produce Oil Painting 21, looking up at the Aqueduct from the viewpoint of stood in the River Dee. The water study this year was coming in to play again, this time with more dynamism having a rushing river flowing around my sandaled feet! A big square painting produced during this Mays heatwave. Very lucky to be based in such a spectacular location with such weather.

Oil Painting 21 in situ

View from the Aqueduct of the painting being produced