Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Private Commission - Hugo's Christening

The parents of baby Hugo had given up hope of having a child after no luck for 16 years. When he did arrive they wanted to create a special entrance to the world with a wonderful Christening and party set in their magnificent garden in Staffordshire. They had seen my 'Une petite Exposition' show earlier in the year in the Art Studio, Newcastle-under-Lyme and decided they would like for me to document the event.

We discussed what would be the main elements of the party, and chose a composition that would best describe the day. I had interesting 2 full preparation days painting in the garden setting, adding the marquee as it was erected, and the other furniture and details brought in for the party as they arrived in the garden, one particularly interesting addition was when Hugo's father mowed stripes on the lawn suddenly giving a real added depth to the piece with obvious lines describing distance to the previously flat green area of the lawn.

The painting after Day1

The painting after Day2 - notice the difference of stripes in the lawn and furniture 

This was one of the first few pieces I documented the process of, with the time lapse function on my iPad, and I am glad I did as the piece goes through many phases with new additions as the hosts prepared the setting over 3 days with bunting and flowers culminating in a brief section from the day of the party. Getting the iPad to film from a suitable position is proving difficult, and some of the angles in the time lapse video are confusing.

The party itself was a great success with glorious sunshine arriving just in time after the wettest June and July on record. In the time lapse video of the day you can see the guests arrive for the party and being represented on the canvas. It felt like designing and preparing a theatre set and then adding the actors on the day. This is an added positive to painting on location rather than translating a photograph as the piece has an organic history and many levels to explore. Another piece I produced that was similar to this in experience was 'The British Guild of Travel Writers dinner at Weston' oil painting. Again I started with the setting, this time the extraordinary dining room at Weston Park, then added, on the second visit, the preparation for the event i.e. the set table, and silverware, the lit candles, until finally the main subject arrives and I have 2 hours to depict the writers having their meal. The limited time, I feel, adding to the dynamism of the piece.

Back to Hugo's Christening, I am pleased with how the atmosphere of all forty guests at the garden party has translated to the brushwork. It was quite a spectacle for them, seeing an artist painting first and foremost, but also to see themselves appear in the form of a few loose brushstrokes gave a great talking point and form of entertainment. The final layer to the painting was the addition of the family sat in the foreground. This was started on the day but was finished with some studio work, as unfortunately Hugo did not seem at all content at his party, it is a shame but hopefully when he is shown the painting and photographs of the day he can feel proud of the effort his parents made to celebrate his arrival.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Oil Painting 38 - Gas Street Basin

'The Heart of the Canal Network' , the last painting from our stay in Birmingham.
A found a good pulpit to view the mixed landscape from, stood up at the top of the old ramp leading to the cast iron footbridge. The vista was complicated and of interest right the way round, so I have attempted to condense a 270 degree view into a rectangular canvas, enjoyed skewing and manipulating the space. The scene contained a lot of themes I have been enjoying exploring with water reflection, dramatic near and far, obvious passages and routes for the eye on several levels above and below our vantage point. Also of interest Was the contrast of architecture, and some colourful elements with the glimpse of cafe culture and the bright boats in the marina, all coming off a central pontoon like a fern leaf.

I was greeted after only 15 minutes of setting up with a cup of tea from a resident boater in the basin, a Mr David who is a columnist for a few canal publications including Canals Rivers and Boats. There cannot be many city centre locations where you can stand and a stranger will bring you a cup of tea. Mr David wasn't the only resident to come and chat, there seems to be a photographer in every other boat in the Basin and a genuinely creative vibe amongst the boaters.

Meeting the canal community in Gas St was a enjoyable and fitting end to our time in Birmingham. Stopping for water on the way out I came the closest I have to falling in the canal, overlooked by hundreds of windows of the new cube building alongside the Mailbox. I leapt to the boat gunwale from the side and slipped, luckily I had managed the grip with both hands on the rail on the top of the boat and pulled myself out, but for a while I was dangling off the side with the water coming up to both knees. Apparently you are not a proper boater until you have fallen in. I see this as a sign that I have now done more than dip my toes in the world of boating!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Oil Painting 37 - Winner Stays On

It was becoming clear that whilst moored in central Birmingham during the Olympics, Victoria Square was the place to be. Part of the relaxed games atmosphere that was created in this area was thanks to the many table tennis tables that had been placed around with bats and balls left free for anybody to use and a statement of trust from the organisers to the public which is really refreshing. I have noticed strangers of all generations playing ping pong with one another with the BBC Big Screen blaring out Team GB's remarkable successes in the background.

One evening I noticed a interesting dynamic on one of the tables with one big black guy introducing a winner stays on and challenging all the local youth who had been enjoying gathering round the tables to try and knock him off.

I was quick to get the paints and easel over to them to try and quickly capture this drama. Only in the process of pulling out the easel and canvas did I realise just what I had committed to, in looking very peculiar, covered in paint and staring at a urban gang of hoodie wearing individuals. It is strange where this process of trying to be a good artist takes you, and here I now am trying to quickly paint a representation of a confused youth eyeballing me right back. Fortunately the painting took shape quickly, probably anxiety driven, and the lads were really receptive. The big black guy stayed on for 2 hours before being knocked off.

The red foundation really helped and adds to the competitive atmosphere. It reminds me of Degas' 'combing the hair'


I saw a great documentary on BBC 4 entitled 'The Madness of Peter Howson' and noticed he usually works into a red foundation which gives a warmth across the whole piece even when completely covered in further layers of paint. This is something I wish to further explore and develop in the future.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Oil Painting 36 - Brindley Place

I was pleased with how Oil Painting 35 'Birmingham watching the Olympics' was going but felt one thing it didn't do was reflect Birmingham's love affair with the canals; "more canals than Venice" being the infamous boast. The redevelopment of the central canal passage has been startling, not that I was familiar with the area previously but it is obvious that the transformations around Brindley Place, leading on to Gas Street and the Mailbox have enabled the city to enjoy its canal association, to the point of now being one of the top tourist attractions in the city centre with boat trips, boat buses, boat hotels, boat restaurants, boat scout excursions, boat cafes and boat stag and hen doos!

My favourite cities worldwide seem to have a central structure to connected to water, e.g. London's Thames, Budapest's Danube, even the coastal separation of Hong Kong and Kowloon, and be celebrating that association. The rivers, canals or coast give recognisable geography and identity to our cities as well as offering a place of relaxation in the hustle and bustle. Birmingham has reinvented its own water structure which has in turn made the city centre easier to navigate and much more enjoyable as a whole.

It is quite obvious why I picked this view, human activity between 3 different levels linked by staircases with a central passage of water can hold the viewers eye with routes in and around the painting. The bright scarlet red of the cafe boat providing a bold diagonal device. This boat was manned by lovely chatty brummie ladies serving up sandwiches from the side hatch.

The experience of painting this piece is marred slightly by my eventual removal by security staff at Brindley Place meaning the painting was left in quite a loose state. Even though I wasn't selling, just painting I found out I needed to show evidence of my setup and work, and personal liability insurance, plus a method statement and risk assessment form that would take 3 days to be reviewed by the operations manager and presented before a team. I didn't do this (or knew i needed to) I just wandered up with easel, and tried my luck, which on this occasion ran out on the second day and there wasn't the time to jump through all the hoops before we left Birmingham.

I want to state that every person I had dealings with at Brindley Place seemed genuine, friendly and interested in what I was doing, I had been happily chatting with the security on the first day and throughout the first part of the second before the guard asked me if I had permission. When I had then found out from the office the protocol the security staff were deeply apologetic and assumed it wouldn't have been a problem, and we're sad to see the painting go.

I know it gets complained about a lot, but this red tape culture and the fear of law suits stops so many productive things from happening. I ask a lot of questions of public space ownerships by setting up with a canvas in all sorts of locations, and am glad that it is a by-product to my work, but it is often hard, and will detract many artists from the process of claiming their streets and in turn their own experiences. It is a shame that one of the most commonly asked questions of me whilst painting is 'did you get permission to do that?'