Portrait of a Woman with Bare Breast.

All my paints and canvases have been packed away for a while now, in readiness for my moving house. Until the move happens, which could still be weeks, or even months away, I can not continue work on any of my painting; six of which are nearing completion. It is frustrating, but I am really looking forward to my new accommodation. Apart from having a dedicated studio space, I will also have use of a large, bright room for my sittings. Lots of natural light and plenty of space. So, unable to paint in the meantime, I have instead been planning my next paintings, which I hope they will take full advantage of my new “studio”.


I have often been fascinated by a number of portraits of women with bare breasts, dating from the Renaissance. They have the look of formal portraits (although they probably had a different purpose, as portraits of women were quite rare in those times), and yet they look strangely incongruous, with the sitter baring one or both breasts. This incongruity is largely a result of our modern perspective, no doubt influenced by a modern media filled with imagery sexualising the female form. Looking at female portraits, and the representation of women through history, does teach us that how we perceive the female form has changed dramatically over the years. Paintings of the Virgin Mary baring a breast for the baby Jesus were not uncommon, and clearly not intended for titillation; yet they might be viewed as improper by today’s standards.

Gauguin’s paintings of bare breasted Tahitian women are seen completely differently. The sitter is not “exposing” her breasts, as such, but is instead comfortable with no top. There is no sexual element that I can see. That is not necessarily how the later  bare breasted portraits by Jan Sluijters might be interpreted. I find Freud’s painting of his wife in “Girl with a White Dog” even more difficult to analyse, given what I know about his relationship with his  wife. I am fascinated with how the reaction to the representation of the human form has changed over time, and is constantly changing.


Bare breasts have been in the news lately. First there was Nigel Farage’s suggestion that breast feeding mothers should sit in the corner at restaurants. Then there was the “No More Page 3”, campaign, and their success in getting the Sun newspaper to remove photos of topless models from their paper… A success which lasted barely a week. I’m not offering an opinion on either of these stories, as I can’t allow them the time and space they deserve. I suppose they are examples of how we have differing, or rather, confused views on nudity and the human body.

Back to where I started: me and my work. And my plan to paint a series of portraits of women with bare breast(s).  It is just this “confusion” which is of interest to me. There was an incident, when I first showed one of my “Relationships” paintings with two female figures. A member of the public, on seeing it in the gallery, reacted quite angrily, saying it was sick and evil, and the gallery owner was a purveyor of filth. I might have laughed at his interpretation of my work, but the truth is, I can not dictate how people view or interpret my paintings. And more importantly, no matter how ignorant or misguided someone’s view might be, it is still valid. I am not suggesting that I would give it the same weight as the considered opinion of an expert, but it is still their opinion, their interpretation, and as such, it is still valid. I don’t worry now about how people might read my work. I see it instead as just another important part of the jigsaw, the relationship between the artist, the subject and the viewer. As such, I won’t explain what my intentions are in planning this series of bare breasted portraits. I shall leave that for the viewer.

portrait of a woman revealing her breasts
portrait of a woman revealing her breasts

Works in progress, a crucifixion and looking for a male model

crucifixionWith the New Year looming, I’m already planning the composition of some paintings for next year. One of the compositions will have a crucified male figure in background, with a female figure in foreground. I’ve already worked on preliminary poses for the female figure with my regular model, so I’m just in need of a male model for the crucified figure. I will be looking for someone of slim/athletic build under thirty, who is prepared to work for very low artist rates. I may have to avoid mentioning the crucified bit in any advert.

This past couple of weeks I have been working on some old, unfinished or abandoned paintings. One of them dating from 2010. Although I try to be methodical in my approach to work, it’s always a mystery how a painting will evolve. I might labour without success on what I thought was a straightforward composition, while more ambitious works might just emerge on the canvas, seemingly under their own volition.
Sometimes I just lose my nerve. I might have worked on a painting over a period of a couple of months, which will be the culmination of work started months earlier with a model posing in my studio; so I often feel quite nervous when applying the final glazes to a piece. I am aware that if I get it seriously wrong, I could ruin the painting. That is why I found it so relaxing working on these “abandoned” pieces. I had already given up on them, and had expected to paint over most of them. Although I haven’t finished them, I’m generally pleased with the results.

works in progress
works in progress

WOA December Exhibition

I have just finished hanging my work at WOA (WestcliffOnArt) gallery for their December show. I did enjoy the fact that it’s only five minutes walk from my house, so I didn’t have to struggle on trains and underground to get my work to it’s destination. I’m pleased with how the arrangement has worked out. I don’t often get a chance to exhibit my portraits, and I thought it quite apt that the portraits I have on show are of the three models who have worked with me on most of my recent paintings.

Jon adding labels to my work at WOA gallery
Jon adding labels to my work at WOA gallery

I’m looking forward to the “Opening” for the show, which will be on Saturday the 6th December. Their Facebook event page says:
Cordially requesting your esteemed attendance for a night of artistic appreciation – more than seven new artists to the gallery showing work – violin, guitar of varying qualities, and some wine.”
Not sure if I should be more alarmed by the “guitar of varying qualities” or the mention of “some wine”. The gallery owners/curators, Jon and Carra, seem nice people to do business with. Their business model seems very fair and reasonable to the artist; quite unlike so many of the “opportunities for artists” out there, which are no more than schemes to exploit and fleece artists.

Gallery information:

28 Hamlet Court Rd
Essex, UK

Opening Hours:
Mon: By Appointment
Tue: 10am – 7.30pm
Wed: 10am – 7.30pm
Thu: 10am – 7.30pm
Fri: 10am – 7.30pm
Sat: 10am – 7.30pm
Sun: 10am – 7.30pm

Westcliff on Art, December Exhibition

I have just arranged to have one of the walls in my local gallery, WestcliffOnArt, for their December show. The gallery hasn’t been open for long. It looks like a nice, inviting space, and I’m happy with the wall I have been allocated. They also use the gallery for workshops, which I always think is a nice idea. Art galleries have a terrible  reputation for being elitist, uninviting places, so It’s nice when you come across galleries that are opening their doors to the public.

WestcliffOnArt, Hamlet Court Road
WestcliffOnArt, Hamlet Court Road

The gallery website can be found here, and their Facebook page is here.

Works in Progress – Three Graces

I’m working on a couple of paintings at the moment that are a slight departure from my recent work. My Relationships Series of paintings generally had a narrative content, either implied, or conferred on them by the viewer. With these new works, I have removed the narrative content, by using the same model for each of the poses. In so doing, the viewer is free to study the relationships of the separate figures on the canvas.
The larger size of one of the canvases has presented a few challenges. Although I worked  through each pose with drawings in previous sittings, I also sketched directly on the canvas whilst working with the model. The canvas is 1.2m tall, and I had quite an elevated viewpoint – standing on a chair. It entailed lots of stretching up and bending down; I can’t recall a painting session that was so physically demanding.

work in progress maxine
work in progress – maxine

The second painting is more modest in size – 80cmx80cm – and is based on The Three Graces.

work in progress three graces
work in progress – three graces

Sold a painting on New Blood Art

I recently sold this piece on New Blood Art. It was painted in 2007, but I have only shown it once briefly, in a recent group show (Stomach#2, at Hoxton Arches). It’s a favourite of mine, and it’s nice to know that it will finally be on display somewhere.

Relationships Series No. 1
Relationships Series No. 1

Newbloodart.com was founded in in 2004, and is an online contemporary art gallery that sells original work by selected emerging artists. I have only had my work on there for a short while, and any difficulties I have had with this site are, funnily enough, a direct result of it’s main strength. Although new artists are advised to “take ownership” of their portfolio page, and keep their bios and statements up to date; actually trying to do this can turn into a frustrating process. Every aspect of the site is curated by the owner, Sarah Ryan. She has to approve every addition or amendment to your portfolio details, and selects which of the work submitted is shown.
A quick look at the website will demonstrate why this is a good thing. The artwork on offer is generally of a good standard, and artist’s details are presented clearly, and in a consistent manner, making it easier to browse through the portfolios. I might have found it difficult adapting to no longer having full control over how my work is presented, but that will be the case with any artist/gallery relationship, and the same applies to my relationship with The South Galleries, a bricks-and-mortar gallery. New Blood Art has a proven track record, and clearly has more experience and expertise than myself at finding buyers for Art……. Still, it is hard not being in control.


Works in progress, working methods and the creative process.

I often wonder about the the creative process. and how best to optimise my working methods. I have tried to identify the most favourable environmental conditions – the best breakfast , the most suitable background music-  and the most effective working practices; but the abandoned and incomplete canvases scattered around my studio are testament to the fact that my methods are neither efficient nor productive.

painting1 work in progress
painting1 work in progress

At any one time, I will usually be working on two or three paintings, and will have at least a dozen half-finished paintings leaning against the walls. What happens is that I have no problems working through the preliminary stages – finalising the composition and setting the tonal values – and then I hit a brick wall. I will set the painting up on the easel as usual, but for some reason my mind will go blank. No amount of staring, or not staring, drinking tea or walking the dog will remedy the situation. I will have no ideas about where to start working on the painting, and it will look to me like the work of another artist. No matter what I do,  I can’t avoid this artist’s block. Instead, I just have to regard it as another stage in the creative process – a time for pause, for reflection.
The three paintings that I am working on now are a perfect illustration of how this problem affects my execution of a painting. Painting 1 is my most recent canvas. It’s based on drawings and photos from a sitting some nine months ago. I was pleased with how the painting was developing. I’m reasonably happy with the composition, and I think the poses are interesting to paint. However, when I sat it on my easel yesterday, I felt nothing. I felt no connection with this painting, and was at a loss about where to go with it. It’s facing the wall now. I will take a look at it in a month, and hope I will see it differently.

painting2 work in progress
painting2 work in progress

My time working on painting 2 has been a long hard slog. From a promising start, when I felt very enthusiastic about the poses and composition, I managed to spoil the painting with the finishing glazes. I ended up removing the offending glazes and sanding down the paint surface in order to start afresh. I’m now in the process of applying those final glazes again, but I’m happier with the effect this time around.

painting3 work in progress
painting3 work in progress

Painting 3 is a puzzle. It had become quite tedious working on the figures, and I was very unhappy with the composition. I abandoned this painting months ago, seeing no redeeming features in it. When I stumbled upon it yesterday, whilst looking for another painting, I saw it with fresh eyes, and a genuine enthusiasm. I like the poses, and can’t wait to start working on it again.

Producing a painting, recreating one’s vision upon the canvas, can be a difficult process, involving a real battle with the medium. Although often frustrating, these same challenges are the main attraction of painting. If it were easy and predictable, I don’t think I would want to do it every day.

Mood Boards, New Muse and New Inspiration

sketches from yesterday's life drawing sitting
sketches from yesterday’s life drawing sitting

I had my first sitting with a new model yesterday. The whole process, from finding a suitable model amongst the multitude of faces on various model networking sites; to making first contact, and explaining my work and current projects; to when the model finally arrives in the studio.., well, it can be difficult.
I am quite particular about selecting models to work with. Apart from looking for an interesting face and features, I also expect a professional approach to work, and preferably some experience in life modelling. Probably the most important requirement is a pleasant personality. My life drawing sessions will last between three and four hours, and may be repeated any number of times, as I try to develop poses for my compositions.  They will be physically demanding of the model, and will require great concentration on both our parts. Working in a small studio with someone under such conditions would be quite tedious if the model wasn’t good natured and easy to talk to.
Yesterday went very well. The model arrived on time, was extremely professional and excellent at their job, maintaining poses well. This particular model has a fascinating, expressive face, which is what compelled me to contact her in the first place.

moodboard. sketches from life drawing session
moodboard. sketches from life drawing session

I’ve been in the doldrums with my work recently. I’m finishing off paintings that are based on sittings from months ago, but I’ve been bereft of ideas for new compositions. For quite some time I’ve been searching for a new model, with a distinctive, compelling look, that would add something to my compositions. I didn’t know what “look” I was after, and just thought that I’d know when I saw it. This new model had just such a look, and I was absolutely delighted when she agreed to work with me.
The first sitting with a new model is a process of learning how they look under different lighting and in different poses. Each body is different. I prepare beforehand by making small sketches of the poses I want to work through, but until the model is actually lying or standing there in the studio, I don’t know how they will look in each different pose.
During yesterday’s sitting I worked through eight short poses, which are now forming a mood board on my studio wall. They are just the beginning of the process. The next stage will be to develop some of the poses further, doing more detailed drawings. Making changes where the poses aren’t quite working: creating more interesting, dynamic shapes; avoiding boring straight lines. All the time I will leave the “moodboard” there, to offer inspiration for my next compositions. It’s working already, and I’m looking forward to my next sitting. Artistically, I’m in a very different place today than I was yesterday, before I met my new muse.

Working with models

Since April 2013 I’ve been hiring models on a regular basis. Prior to this I’d been using friends, relatives and reluctant partners as models. Having been seriously let down by a friend, after months of planning for a painting, I decided that I would start working with professional models from now on.
Of course I’ve worked with professional life models in various life drawing groups over the years, but had never hired a model for a one to one sitting. Joining life drawing groups was fine as an exercise, as drawing practice, but was useless for developing poses for my compositions; I would never enjoy much control over the lighting and the model’s pose.
My first attempts to find a model were via Gumtree. Although my first advert for a life model was successful, and I found an excellent model with whom I worked regularly for several months, subsequent attempts to find portrait models via Gumtree were a waste of time. Communications with prospective models were painfully drawn out, and the models who I found (with one exception) were so uncomfortable and self-conscious posing, that it made the sitting a nightmare.

artist's model in life room
Photo courtesy of Beth Chambers Photography

I then discovered that I could have an Artist portfolio account on the popular model networking sites ModelMayhem.com and PurplePort.com which has made it so much easier to find models to work with. The forums on these sites are filled with photographers moaning about being let down by models, but in my experience, every model I have worked with has been completely reliable and professional. When there are so many uncertainties and anxieties involved in creating a painting, it has been such a relief to find that arranging a sitting with a model can be completed in just a couple of emails, and sometimes within a few minutes.
The life models I have worked with via these sites have proved to be completely comfortable with and experienced at posing nude, which makes my life so much easier. One thing that always surprised me about the numerous models I have encountered in various life classes and groups over the years, including my college life drawing lessons years ago, was just how few seemed completely comfortable with what they were doing. Many of them acted like they were doing it for a dare!
I am very selective about who I work with. For any particular painting I may be looking for a specific body type, but I will always look for a face that intrigues me. I consider my nude paintings to be portraits. I am fascinated in the whole process, starting with the model posing – what is their motivation? It’s seldom just about the money. What is the artist’s fascination with depicting the nude figure? It’s not about titillation. And what does the viewer see in the product of this relationship.

Sick and Evil

relationships series - beth and nina. oil on linen, 80cmx80cm, study of two female nudes
Just completed in time for Cultivate Evolved

Well, that’s how one of my paintings has been described. Sean Worrall, gallerist and artist at Cultivate Evolved, had to endure an early morning tirade by an angry visitor as he opened up shop on Thursday. This is what Sean posted on his Facebook page:

Well it would appear that Peter’s fine painting up there is “sick” and “evil” painting I (for it was me, Sean, who had to listen to the rather forceful abuse when I opened the gallery this morning) am an “evil sick satanic bringer of bad things” and I should be ashamed to bringing such unchristian lesbian sickness to the eyes of good people etc etc…. Do like a reaction, but he’s not really been paying attention if that one offends him so much….

As an artist who specialises in painting the human figure, I have occasionally encountered some conservatism towards the subject of the nude, and it has limited my opportunities to show my work at some venues. I have also encountered the odd wry smile or grin when I’ve observed people viewing my work, but I have never encountered an angry reaction to my work. In an age when the mass media is filled with sexualised imagery, I find it genuinely surprising that this painting could provoke such a response. Just glad I wasn’t there.