Since the beginning of September I’ve been playing with a green man open-mouth profile in two new paintings. Size in centimetres: “Voiced”, 105 x 79; “Parley”, 103 x 73. As with most of my paintings, they are framed, oil on canvas. And they are £3,000 each.
The recent upgrade has made the pictures in the galleries of my site much easier to look at, in, for instance, the for sale section. But here in the blog section it has made the viewer go through extra work. I don’t know why we can’t, as we used to, just click to change from size to thumbnail, back and forth. If you click as before, the picture is merely enlarged with each click. And to leave the picture you have to go the return arrow, upper left. Each time. And it takes you to the top of the section. I’ll try and get this sorted, but in the meantime – apologies.
According to accounts from the late 18th century there were hardly any trees to be seen as you walked the streets and lanes of the City of London. None around St Pauls. Ah, but there was one nearby, at the corner of Wood Street and Cheapside. It grew in the churchyard of St Peter Cheap, a church, one among many, destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and not rebuilt. I’m sorry to note that my 2013 photograph of this tree is out of focus, as though I can’t quite get it to stand in our time and place.
William Wordsworth wrote of this churchyard and tree: At the corner of Wood Street when daylight appears / hangs a thrush that sings loud, and it has sung for three years: / Poor Susan has passed by the spot, and has heard / In the silence of the morning, the song of the bird.
“Reverie of Poor Susan” 1797
Throughout the Victorian era that tree was special, quietly growing on the site of St Peter Cheap. It has survived into our time, but strange tree companions in this little churchyard are now – palm trees.
If we stroll from this site a few steps into Cheapside, we see St Mary le Bow foregrounded by newly planted trees
Then in the other direction towards St Pauls, the trees become a veritable screen.
A little farther on, at Christchurch Greyfriars, we have greenery of a different sort.
A very large church had been built here as part of the monastic holdings of the Grey Friars in the 12th century. It was entirely lost in the fire of 1666. Christopher Wren built a small church on the site of the choir. Unlike St Pauls and St Mary le Bow, Wren’s structure here did not survive the bombing of WW2. Only the tower remains and, for the last few decades, the space has been given over to garden. Where the internal pillars had once been, we see wooden platforms for vines and roses. Initially there was an almost formal rose garden effect but with a change of intention on the part of the designers, we now have a casual profusion of low bush and wild flower planting.
We finish with an image of trees in the old church yard. They stand by the central aisle of the former nave. For a couple of decades now, Merrill Lynch, the financial management company, marks closure at the end of the tree avenue and this is where there had been big wooden doors to enter the earliest church on this site.
Here’s an article published in the Geneva newspaper, Le Temp, on the 2nd of February 2013. It’s written by Joëlle Kuntz. The subject is the various types of marriage prevalent today: le mariage dans tous ses états. And she uses one of my paintings to illustrate. The painting is a riff on the famous Arnolfini double portrait sometime called the Marriage of Arnolfini. I painted this in 1988 and it is called “Radiance of the Genes”.
Radiance of the Genes
I’m still fascinated by this upright composition and the things that can be done within the given dimensions (two plates, each 15.4 by 9.7 cm). The titles are – I’m game; Moult; Grist; Okay. The first is based on a photo of Yolande Pickett taken in our garden, summer 2012. The last, a photo of Amanda Palmer in our kitchen, summer 2013.
Here we have four more etchings. This time, almost without my intention, casual portraits are worked into the compositions. These are from photos I’ve taken of friends. I’ve a stash wherein I rummage every so often. Feels good to have this strand of personal vitality in the midst of my stern theme – Darkening Garden. Here are the names: Nick Harkaway; Sarah Lasley; Morgan Doyle; Erin Kissane.
I was there
As usual I asked John for help thinking up a title. For the first in this group he brought out Edwin Muir’s – One Foot in Eden. In the title poem of the book he found just the right words: Compactly Grown.
Here are the lines in the middle of the first stanza.
…Time’s Handiworks by time are haunted,
And nothing can separate
The corn and tares compactly grown.
Here’s the latest etching in the Darkening Garden series. The top part is derived from my painting: Bone Scan. The lower one can look look like a skull, or whatever the viewer wants. It started from a photograph of me drinking from a wine glass, but maybe we don’t need to know that. I really do like things unexplained. (I’m pushing time for this pic because the frame is only half finished.)
This time I’m only putting in three new works, and one, is an amendment. It is a mark-two version of WarHorse.
In the last set of etchings entered here on the 17th of February, I see that I’m not well served by the small square thumbnail format. This time they are photographed in their mounts and their dimensions are accordingly, in inches, 19 by 9 and a half. And in millimetres, 487 x 244. Please click on the images to get the full view.
Meet my daughter
Falls From the Air
The working title for this set continues to be – The Darkening Garden.
Tristan Grant and SarahMay Harel are staying with us in Camden Town. They are enjoying shopping. Here is SarahMay with one of her many new pairs of shoes.
But on the day of our exploration the weather was awful and so warm clothes and comfortable boots were the order of the day. We exited from Leicester Square tube station in the direction of London’s tiny China Town, centred in Gerrard Street. It started here in the early 1970′s, having first been based in the East End by the Docks of Limehouse.
Then we went into Leicester Square. Named after Robert Sidney, 2nd Earl of Leicester. In the 1630′s he built himself a large house at the northern end. But we were hastening and not really studying anything about the present Square. A couple of photos from the south side, though.
Then we went though the underpass of the Sainsbury’s Wing of the National Gallery. This is a nice way to get to Trafalgar Square, especially since the square has been pedestrianized. That was in 2003.
There are no pigeons anymore. In 2007 a falconer with a trained Harris Hawk, sorted the problem. (Ah, but wait. You can see a few in one of the following pics.)
Landseer’s huge lions at the base of Nelson’s Column are always good to look at close up. They’ve been there since 1868. (Edwin Landseer was a famous animal painter 1802-1873.) Sitting on granite:
Then we mentioned the equestrian statue of Charles 1, noting that it is the official centre of London. All distances to London on roadsigns are measured from here.
Then we went into Craven Street and gazed briefly at no. 36. It is the only surviving house in which Benjamin Franklin lived. He lived in several places in London, but this statement relates to the world. None of the others in the United States, or in France have survived. We didn’t go to the museum this time. We were embarked on the briefest of walks.
Instead, we turned right and went to the Sherlock Holmes pub. Upstairs is the room that was a temporary exhibit in the 1951 Exhibition.
Then we went into Great Scotland Yard. It is the first of three Scotland Yards. Great Scotland Yard became famous in 1829 as the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police. It was newly formed then, but later, in 1892, it moved to the famous Scotland Yard on the Thames. The continuing connection with the police is that we can see a large Victorian block building for stabling police horses. They walk up a ramp and their stables are marked by small windows upstairs. It’s fun to think police horses are still stabled here in 2013.
We went to a pub in Whitehall. The Old Shades.
Then back through Trafalgar Square aiming for the National Gallery. En route, a pic of Nelson’s Column. It’s almost 170 ft tall to the top of Nelson’s hat. It’s been there since 1840′s. In front of it, almost seeable in my photo, is the previously mentioned statue of Charles 1.
We didn’t take any pictures of the National Gallery, except to say it’s in the background of the Nelson’s Column snap. The building is from the 1830′s so it was here before Nelson’s Column by a decade. The architect, William Wilkins also did the main building of the University of London.
And then back home on the Northern Line.
Today’s the publication date for our book. We drink champagne. Against the Art of War: poems by Ernest Hilbert and Henry Wessells; etchings by Judith Clute. Temporary Culture, Upper Montclair, USA limited edition, 26 copies lettered A to Z. Edited by Henry Wessells. (Price to subscribers: $375.00). And here’s the cover:
Here are the four editioned etchings set within:
Jason Van Hollander is utterly brilliant. Look what just came through the letterbox today: HELL STAMP:Slough of Despond.
We are amongst the lucky few. It’s a limited edition of 60. Ours is 45/60.
And there is a beautiful note to go with it, quoting John Bunyan.
Presently at the Prague College are 18 works on display, ten of which are etchings. Recent works: on canvas and on paper.
And at the same time in Prague, the Prestigious Galerie Rudolfinum is hosting the excellent exhibition: Beyond Reality: British Painting Today.
Liz Hand is visiting and we talked about Brits and rain. If you live in London you quite simply don’t let rain change your plans – you just go out there and keep your umbrella angled into the wind. And so yesterday, on a very wet Sunday afternoon, Liz and I were exploring the lanes and passage ways around Playhouse Yard Blackfriars and discovered, by chance, the beautiful Apothecaries Hall was hosting an open house. Here is Liz in the courtyard.
Inside, while my camera misted, I caught an atmospheric pic of liz listening to an explanation of how the foul and smelly Fleet River had a special walkover. It was designed for Henry V111 so he could pass from the Whitefriars side to the impressive, dominant Blackfriars without offending his delicate nose. It was sided with stain-glass. This was the route by which Henry V111 brought Katherine of Aragon to the Domincians for trial. And so the world changed.
The Rhinoceros horn stood for the unatainable Unicorn’s horn in the middle ages when first this company was engaged in herbs and spices and drugs. The rhinoceros makes up the crest in the coat of arms. Here it is on the Master’s Chair.
And a member of the Guild showed me that the rhinoceros was not only depicted on his tie, but also on his cuff link.
Here is a carouche from one of the Company’s River Barges. The Thames was London’s central highway in the old days and the City Livery Companies vied with each other for the beauty of their crafts. Especially important were the processions by barge on the river for the annual Lord Mayor’s Show. The Apothecaries were 58 in precedence. Still are.
The Apothecaries Hall is a special survivor. It was quickly rebuilt after the devastation of the Fire of 1666. 1672 is given as the date of completion and we see panelling and carving from this time.
And a general range of interiors starting with a circular mirror above a small painting of Katherine of Aragon’s Trial at Blackfriars.
As we left this beautiful Apothecaries Hall we thought about the stroke of luck and great daring implicit in its survival. So much of this part of London was flattened by bombs during the Blitz. There was the terrible night on the 29th of December, 1940, when almost everything around St Pauls was damaged. Then there was another devasting onslaught of raids in May 1941, when many of the ancient halls of the Guilds of the City were gutted and that is when an unexploded bomb lodged in the main chimney of the Apothecaries. It was carefully taken out by a bomb disposal team and taken to Hackney Marsh where, in a controlled explosion, it left a huge crator. It would have completely destroyed the hall had it exploded in situ.
Here are a few etchings done this summer. They follow from the Nest Wars theme that I set in here on the 12th of January.
The following framed etchings are variously sized. Scorched earth is 16 by 17 inches. (I always measure the height first, then the width.) And Self Portrait is 19 by 13 inches. The others are all 18 by 13 inches. Each framed etching whatever the size sells from the artist at GBP 125.
In this very small painting I’ve made use of two great Spanish painters, Velasquez and Juan Gris. Velasquez is a god and it takes cheek to borrow from him without acknowledging his magnificent way of placing characters in deep space. I can gaze at his paintings and time stops. But I’m up here in the 21st century and I need Juan Gris to confirm me in my chosen task of making this composition sparkle across the surface of the canvas. (It’s only 24 by 20 inches.)
Over a century ago when Juan Gris’s name was still – José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González Pérez – he developed a distaste for “good” painting. While still in Madrid, in a gesture of independence, he gave himself the pseudonym – John Gray – Juan Gris. All this was before he went to Paris and met Picasso and lived in Le Bateau Lavoir. He was ripe for the new esthetique that was in the air and his paintings from 1912 to 1922 remain some of my favourites of all time.
One of the things I love about Juan Gris is that, despite his distaste for “good” painting, he believed in real painting, paintings that moved him. Paintings done by masters. He would go to the Louvre and study, for instance, the French 18th century painter, Chardin. There he saw the object treated with enormous reverence and emotion. In his own cubist paintings he somehow did the equivalent. They are not motivated by mere design. It would be a huge mistake to say that his works are a product of his training in engineering. Gertrude Stein understood his emotional depths. She was able to unsettle Picasso by suggesting that Juan Gris’s paintings were more perfect than his. (Picasso is, of course, another god.)
I feel a barbarian outsider, sitting up here in 2012, borrowing from these old masters, mixing my stuff with theirs. I’m post, post, I don’t know what.
With this painting I feel compelled to wonder, as I look over my shoulder, how I managed to take about half a year for one medium sized painting. It’s only 40 by 30 inches. And really it is just a whisper. There is nothing to shout at you. You might easily walk by it.
But that is precisely why I’m so proud of this work. There is a flicker across the surface and a sort of trembling quality. I spent a lot of time just thinking and undoing things to arrive at this state.
The first intimations for the painting began with Gassed by John Singer Sargent. I had an uncomfortable feeling as I stood in front of that massive anti-war painting in the Imperial war museum, south London. It depicts blind-folded soldiers from WW1 standing for ever in a line, each with a hand on the man in front. At their feet lie other soldiers in various positions of blind exhaustion. I still feel this moment in time is going on forever. Paintings do this to us.
I thought to make my own small painting along these lines. I’d lift a portion of Sargent’s composition for background and I’d foreground it with a young woman wearing a CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) logo. I wanted her to somehow haunt the work. This was how I started. My canvas became filled with charcoal marks as I thought about the Sargent painting, copying some parts in faithful appreciation.
But of course my own temperament* soon took over. My inside world bustled in and everything changed. It kept changing for months. One of the main elements which lasted through all the changes was a shaman image, his moon head being a point of entry for three of the soldiers. Their heads and shoulders were just about all that remained from the first sketch.
Incidentally the shaman was a borrowing from one of my own paintings. Manger.
And so here we have the painting and I can’t say why it took so long, except that it is part of the mystery of the way things get made. Things happen and you can’t rush the job. On some level the painting says – or at least I intend it to say – that human lives are pulled into nothingness. Whatever, I think we have to keep re-telling the story of the sadness of war because no man is an island; we all feel it. The title is – Aftermath Rag.
*temperament is not quite saying what I mean. Indeed temperament is something we are born with, yet the artist’s temperament gets honed through the years. In my case I have been painting for over 50 years. I think hard about what I do. I get excited and tend to put too much onto the canvas. For instance, in this painting there was a flute player laid in at an angle. I very much enjoyed painting his fedora. It shaded his eyes and that was in accord with the feel of the rest of the painting. But in a stern judgement, did he fit at all? It had become an “all right” painting and had passages of interest, but it didn’t sing. That’s what I have to keep working for, in a painting that is well underway. I have to find ways to make passages that are already there and waiting – I have to make connections so that those elements work in harmony and suddenly at the end, if I do it rightly, the whole thing has taken on a humming note. Nothing in this world is truly “well tempered”, but a painting can express its temperament and mine. That’s when I stop.
On the 31st of January Ellen Datlow and I went to see an exhibition called the Gesamtkuntswerk: New Art From Germany at the Saatchi Gallery. It’s in King’s Road and so we started our stroll from Sloane Square. Here’s a pic of Ellen at Sloane Square station. Two more pics en route. A bronze depicting a pupil from the Royal Military Asylum which used to be adjacent to the Duke of York’s Headquarters. Also there’s a statue of Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). Ellen’s not the only one to display a lovely head of curls. (Sloane introduced drinking chocolate milk to Europe and purchased the manor of Chelsea in 1712. And on his death his library and Cabinet of Curiosities became part of the new British Museum.)
Since 2008 the new Saatchi Gallery has been here, elegantly maintaining it’s outward connection with the original architect, John Sanders. It’s Georgian, verging on Regency, dating from 1801. For much of it’s time, the building had been the Duke of York’s Headquarters. Now the architects AHMM have effected a delightful transformation inside.
Ellen tended to focus on the sculptures. Her new camera is serious. It’s a digital Nikon SLR.
Ellen and Alexandra Bircken
Ellen and Andro Wekua
Ellen and Isa Genshen
Ellen and Kiesewetter
Ellen and Thomas Zipp
I went for the mystery of two dimensions within a frame. A winner for me was by Ida Ekblad: Dusty Dry On The Tongue Swallowed Some. A point worth noting: this Saatchi Gallery gives each work a breathing space. The wall behind this work is painted in exactly the same tone as the frame.
The Tobias brothers mounted coloured woodcuts on large lengths of canvas. The room glows. There is general feeling that we’re looking at Transylvanian versions of our Punch and Judy.
Jutta Koether fascinated me. I very much liked her Leibthahtige Malerei 2007.
But I couldn’t like, or even be fascinated by Mède, the other painting on show by the same artist. I didn’t even feel like photographing it. The dominant colour is viridian green in nervous lines. It’s a sort of a self portrait apparently. Punk undertones. Jutta Keother reminds me of Patti Smith and that’s good. But let’s get down to what bothers me about this work. The nervous twitches seem sometimes unexamined. Lots of stuff is thrown in. And then some more. In the green Mède painting it felt like the artist was like doing various riffs, as in a music. That can be a most effective way to get stuff down on canvas, and can be great. Or not. But in the graphic arts we can edit and change areas that have, for instance, gone dead. She doesn’t seem to do this.
Or is something else going on? Perhaps in this work she is going down a stubborn road of self loathing. That would explain a lot. Whatever, I prefer her Berliner Schlüssel paintings. And, in this exhibition, I delight in all the delicate details of above mentioned Leibthahtige Malerei. (Real Life Painting.)