So, on the same night as the opening of “Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch, The Loneliness of the Soul” in Oslo, Tracey Emin was also exhibiting a painting at the Turner Contemporary Open, in Margate, alongside my painting “American Dreamer”.
I must admit to being very pleased with where they placed my painting. I can see why they did it; the splash of red in my work sits nicely next to Ms Emin’s piece. The whole exhibition has been cleverly arranged with similar decisions throughout. It was an aesthetically pleasing experience going from room to room, and I’d strongly recommend a visit.
An even nicer surprise was when Ms Emin left a nice comment on my Instagram post. It can be a hard slog being an artist. Lonely and largely unrewarding, with prolonged periods of rejection and dejection just briefly interspersed with the briefest glimmers of hope. So it’s nice when someone from the Artistic Aristocracy says something nice to you. Thank you Tracey.
For the past few weeks I’ve been busy painting scenes around me here in Ramsgate Marina. I brought my boat here earlier this year, but have only recently been able to stay onboard for a spell. Having just finished a couple of commissions, and with other projects being delayed, I started looking around me for something to paint.
I must admit that it has been more of a challenge than I expected. When you specialise in one subject for such a long time (portraits and figures in my case) every step in your work flow will have been optimised for that subject. So when you tackle a novel subject, it is rather like starting over again.
These wonderful red brick arches that loom over the marina, have begun to haunt me, as I struggle with finding a way to describe them. It has led to some soul-searching: why am I painting them; what exactly am I trying to say; what is the point?
This self-doubt isn’t that unusual for me. I believe it is healthy to constantly question yourself, and to have a clear objective in mind when you embark on a project.
So what am I doing with these paintings? I suppose I’m looking for a story; something to describe my time and personal experience here in Ramsgate. My experience staying on a boat will be different to the typical day tripper. You quickly become aware that it is very much a working port, home to Border Force vessels, an RNLI station and assorted fleet of work boats. Having sailed here, I am ever mindful of the wrecks marked on charts of the harbour approaches. And the latin motto PERFUGIUM MISERIS, carved into the lighthouse at the end of the pier (translates as “refuge for those in need”) seems really quite poignant now.
So, I’m still exploring the area, looking for stories to tell. If you are from this area, and know of any interesting places, characters or stories that need telling, please do get in touch.
If you are interested in buying any of the paintings in my galleries, don’t hesitate to send me an email (address on Contact Page)
I’m very pleased to have my portrait American Dreamer accepted for the Turner Contemporary Open exhibition, due to open in Margate this Autumn. I’ve been based in Kent for a couple of years now (if you count a year in lockdown), and I haven’t had the opportunity to show my work locally. And it’s very exciting to be involved in a “real world” show again, hopefully with real people milling about looking at the art.
The drawings and photos from this sitting date back to the long hot summer of 2013 ☀️ I remember the day well. It was so oppressively hot, my model felt quite unwell. There was a power cut just as I set up the studio lights, so I had to quickly relocate the sitting to near the window in my lounge. Maybe because of the unplanned nature of the sitting (they weren’t the poses I’d been planning on), I didn’t really bother looking at the material for a very long time.
I suppose it was the chaotic end to the Trump presidency that made me think again of that sitting years before, with a young model sporting a stars and stripes top. 2013 had been a period of relative calm and optimism: No cold war, divided nations, Capitol Hill riots, Brexit, Pandemic or Lockdown. Yes, 2013 seems like a different world. I am hoping, after what feels like a much darker and more challenging time, we may be heading towards a calmer, more hopeful future.
A few months ago I prepared a proposal for a really interesting art competition/bursary – The Concord Art Prize. Artists were invited to propose an artwork inspired by one of a list of ten pieces of music (I chose The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky). Shortlisted artists would be paid to produce their work. Definitely one to look out for next year.
Anyway, my proposal wasn’t accepted for the next round, which brought to a rather abrupt end a frenetic period where I was immersing myself in the music, exploring ideas, making numerous sketches and trying to produce something suitably compelling. Now I have to decide whether to continue working on the project, without funding or a prospective home for the finished painting.
In my proposal, I broke the composition into three sections:
In the first section I tried to capture something of the first tentative signs of spring, signalled by that wonderful bassoon in the original music, suggesting a new beginning. The end of winter; a time of joy and restored hope This was also at a time we were finally looking forward to a return to normality after the pandemic. I chose to depict three “maidens”, dressed in contemporary summer dresses; with a bouncing stride emerging from over the horizon on the left of the painting. More “The Sound of Music” than pagan Russia
The next section is about the pounding, primal rhythm; the overt sexuality that pervades most of the work. Dancing and cavorting; all passion, desire and curiosity. In my preliminary sketch I featured a statue of Pan, with one woman touching the statue, while another couple, totally self absorbed, are cavorting at the foot. Other figures would be added in the area around the statue. I wanted it to look busy, chaotic, full of energy.
I wanted to end with a growing sense of menace. This time the pounding rhythm shouts danger. This final section has a woman in obvious distress, trying to avoid the clutches of sweaty, pot-bellied older men. I envisaged the men in grubby t-shirts and Y-fronts. There is nothing playful or innocent about this scene. I want there to be a stark contrast, a jarring change of tone, with the frivolities of the middle section. There would be a small crowd gathering behind.
It’s been two months since I learned that my proposal wasn’t accepted. My initial reaction was to shelve everything. A large painting like this would take a considerable investment in time and money. Aside from the considerable cost of materials, there is the difficult task of finding models and arranging sittings; and that’s before you even put brush to canvas.
I embarked on a similar project some years ago – The Feast of Venus. I’d been invited to contribute to an exhibition with that theme. Having already spent a fortune on hiring models and renting studio space, I soon realised that I would miss the deadline for the exhibition. So instead of doing the sensible thing and abandoning the project, I went on regardless, and it turned into a quagmire, eating up all my time, money and energy. I did eventually finish the painting, but at considerable expense. I promised myself “never again!”
Well, I don’t always follow my own advice, and have since completed a few more larger compositions (Men in Suits for example, above). The difference this time is that these recent paintings have all been very focused on a common theme of sexuality, physical menace and the male gaze. That focus has made the execution of my ideas go quite smoothly. And I see this new project as a continuation of my work on the subject.
Which brings me to my dilemma. Having invested a couple of weeks work to get to this early stage, do I forget about it, and save myself a load of money, or do I proceed, and risk it turning into an act of sheer folly.
Hmm, decisions, decisions.
I must admit to having been, only on rare occasions, one of those men; sitting in a group, talking loudly and ogling women walking past. I do feel a little embarrassed, and also a sense of complicity. Perhaps that’s why the male gaze has become a recurring theme in my recent work; maybe I’m seeking redemption. In my defence, I grew up when Miss World and Benny Hill were primetime family viewing.
I was particularly interested in painting something based on The Judgement of Paris, because it really is such an anachronism in the present day, and seems to me an epitome of the male gaze. For the character of Paris, I painted a figure with more than a passing resemblance to Prince Andrew; looking somewhat disempowered in his nakedness. By his side, to replace Mercury in the original Rubens paintings, I painted someone resembling Jeffrey Epstein. Amongst other things, Mercury is the god of financial gain, eloquence, trickery, and thieves; he also serves as the guide of souls to the underworld.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.