Then again, why have two paintings on the go when you can have three? Actually, that’s not strictly true as I’ve decided to shelve this one for now, and focus on the two that are most current and seem most important to me right now. Throughout last year painting had started to feel like ‘hard work’, and my output slowed to almost nothing as a result. It was after listening to an interview with Ray Bradbury that the reason became clear. He explained that the creative act should not feel like hard work, or even work at all, and if it does then the simple answer is that you are not doing what you ought to be doing and your subconscious is trying to alert you to this fact by making it seem all too arduous and difficult. And he’s right. For too long I had been pursuing an aesthetic that was not wholly my own, doing what I thought I should be doing instead of producing work that directly addresses my deepest concerns and most deeply-ingrained obsessions. As soon as I stopped and rethought my whole approach, the work suddenly got easy and I felt once again that burning desire to crack on, which is the driving force behind all the best work. By the end of June I hope to have these two paintings finished and my stall for the rest of the year and into 2016 will have been set out.
Further to previous posts on this subject over the past couple of days (here and here), this is the latest state of this painting, as of 9pm last night. I’ve not painted a portrait for the best part of four years, so every technique I knew now to use back then I’m having to relearn. Working on it during the afternoon, with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On playing in the background, I was reminded once again why I always wanted to be an artist.
Further to yesterday’s post, here’s the progress I made up to 9pm last night. Once upon a time I would have considered this to be in a finished state and be ready to move on to the next piece of work, and part of me would love to be able to do that. I’d certainly get a lot more work done, but I would never be satisfied with any of it. There’s still many hours of work required to get this to a point where I can comfortably abandon it.
Why have one painting on the go when you can have two? I put the pencils on this canvas just today, which caused my wife to ask – especially after seeing this recent drawing – if I was going all ‘romantic’. This gave me cause to wonder just where I am going with what feels like a new direction, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a long-overdue reaction to years of embittered cynicism that have dragged me down and stifled my self-expression. After all, cynic is just a wounded romantic, and a painting like this really feels like a first step towards repairing that wound.
I drew this in 2002. Took about 10 minutes to pencil and ink and another 10 minutes to scan and colour. Proof, at the time, that you don’t need to strain yourself to get good results. Sometimes, as was the case here, you are merely the conduit for some other force that is guiding your hand.
Further to my previous post, yesterday’s Evening Standard featured an interview with George Shaw and a preview of some of the works in his new exhibition. Opening 28 May ‘The Last Days Of Belief’ brings to an end an almost 20-year long artistic endeavour, where one man used the few square miles of his childhood home – the Tile Hill estate in Coventry – to map the human soul as it wanders from the familiar disappointments of the past into haunted wasteland of the 21st century. George claims that this exhibition represents the end of the Tile Hill paintings, and he’s done so by reverting back to his original intention in the mid-90’s of producing 14 paintings to depict The Stations Of The Cross. ‘Jesus falls for the first time’ would be a painting of the local pub The Black Prince, for example. Somehow that expanded into the ‘Scenes From The Passion’ series that lasted until around 2003-4, when George was at his most intensely nostalgic, applying the paint with an attention to detail and a reverence for the subject that was awe-inspiring, especially when the subject was something like a mucky old brick doorway. Dozens of paintings were created, each depicting a place that in most cases does not deserve to be painted. A lump of tarmac next to an old fence. A graffiti-strewn subway wall. A patch of burnt ground under a tree where kids have been swigging cider and shredding porn mags. Moments from a life that cast a loaded shadow over everything that’s followed, calling back to a time when life still offered the potential for something more than what the ageing process confirms. After several more years, during which the painting technique has changed, becoming looser and less obsessed with the fine detail, he’s now reached the point where it has to end, and he’s done so by using the year 1980 as the delineator between what could have been and what never was, using lines from songs of that year as titles for the new paintings. This Silbury Hill-like mound of dirt below is ‘The Boys All Shout For Tomorrow':
George’s curtailment of the Tile Hill project is sad in a way. It’s a bit like The Jam splitting up, when lads at our school wore black armbands in commemoration of the solemn occasion, but it’s also an acknowledgement that all artists have to grow and evolve. There’s only so much gold you can mine from the same seam, only so many good albums you can make, after which you become your own tribute act. In taking inspiration from George’s work, I feel at times like I’ve got too close to the source (see the evidence here), so with this exhibition comes something of a sense of relief. I feel oddly unshackled by the notion that I no longer having to follow his example, and I’m now free to do whatever I want. I’ve been wanting to do something different from some time now, but it had come to feel that to do so would have been almost an act of betrayal, which I think says more about how my mind works than anything else, but it was George’s work that saved my artistic soul in 2008 and I will always feel indebted to him for that. As a result, I will complete a final painting in tribute to George’s influence over the past 7 years (I’ve even called it ‘The Passion’), and then, like George, move on down new avenues.
‘The Last Days Of Belief’ is at Wilkinson Gallery, London, May 28 – July 12 2015