Tag Archives: Painting

Encounters 2019

19 Nov

I was very happy to take part in the return of Encounters this year.  This is a project, initiated by Ted Eames in 2017/18, in which artists are paired with poets to produce work for an exhibition.  For this second Encounters show, I was paired with Graham Attenborough.

The suggested approach is that each participant responds to work produced by the other.  Graham and I took a slightly different approach with our collaboration. We met at my studio, and whilst we got to know each other’s past work and felt inspired by it, we agreed at an early stage that it would be good for both to produce new work either jointly, or independently, on a similar subject.

Throughout the last 12 months, I have worked on projects with a number of different artists, writers and other practitioners, and I have no preconceptions about how a collaboration should be, although I am always hopeful that the partner will see the value in joining me on a walk.  Whether the project is about a specific place or not, walking creates a space for dialogue and sharing thoughts whilst moving through a stream of chance encounters and stimuli.  The rhythm of walking means it is very difficult to replicate the particular kind of conversation that results in any other way.

So I was delighted that Graham was open to starting off the process with a walk in the Rea Brook Valley in Shrewsbury.  I have already produced a series of small paintings and a short film in response to the Rea Brook Valley and its surrounding areas.  This is a place where considerable new development  is taking place and the rural or wooded landscape along the valley that extends into the heart of the town, is slowly becoming squeezed and degraded.  Graham walks his dog in part of the valley near his house, but had not previously visited the area we walked in.

In a true psychogeographical dérive, we had no defined route, so we meandered in and out of the valley pathways through new housing estates, across a golf course, building sites, retail parks and woodland, often encountering barriers and resistance.

 

We took guidance from our shared belief in that great spiritual leader, Mr Mark E Smith.  Graham recited from some of Smith’s lyrics including one song titled Dice Man, which shares its name with the somewhat controversial book by Luke Reinhart.

Our conversation on the walk also meandered around the connectedness of everything, the role of chance, determinacy, control and privatisation of space and the homogenising spectacle of neoliberalism.  The themes of our conversation weave into the work that we went on to make independently.  The views that presented themselves to us, were lit with such clarity in the bright summers morning, that there did not seem to be much room for abstraction, expressionism or impressionism.

 

 

I had initially considered making a filmpoem which could combine both mine and Graham’s work, but it was uncertain how long it may take for Graham to complete his writing for me to incorporate into the film.  I decided upon painting, rather than simply using the photographs I had taken.  The gravitas, the time and effort, of painting seemed necessary to highlight the depressing, absurdity of the scenery.

 

 

It also seemed that a single painting could not convey the experience of the walk. so I alighted on the idea of using a cube, its six sides allowing me to include six paintings to represent the walk.  I have seen other artists use 3D geometric shapes for paintings, but I wasn’t aware of anyone attempting to record a walk in this way.  The way in which we remember walks is not necessarily a chronological series of fixed images, so enabling the viewer to interact with the work and find their own route through my series of paintings made sense.

Roller (Rea Brook)

Art and poetry are usually successful when they spark the imagination in the viewer.  There is always a relationship between the creator and the viewer or reader, which has the potential to be diminished slightly when two collaborators become absorbed in responding to each other’s work.  There is also a risk of one “merely” describing or illustrating the other’s work, thus reducing the scope for the viewer or reader to use their imagination.  I was aware that photorealist paintings coupled with a descriptive poem could have closed off space for imagination to roam, so I made a conscious attempt to counteract this, and the use of cubes and interactivity was one way.

Graham and I kept in touch whilst making our responses, and only met one last time to see and hear the finished pieces.  It was remarkable how the poem and paintings captured the walk, whilst we had also both included other themes leading the mind off the literal content.

from non-place to another (extract)

“…

whatever once was

sleeps in shadows now

all industry grows back to wild

but even here strange signs and symbols testify

conurbation’s belt still widens

smearing green to brown …”

© Graham Attenborough 2019

I had intended the cube also to be suggestive of dice, which links to the two dice I included in the assemblage.  These have no fixed interpretation.  The dice that is accessible to all is all 1s, whereas the dice which is only accessible to those privileged or bold enough to open the box, is all 6s, but only 6s.

The dice could also be an obtuse allusion to the new Shrewsbury Monopoly board.  Something designed to celebrate the distinctiveness of our town, yet the landscape we see, the development we are forced to accept, is one of almost uniformly bland mediocrity.  But at least in this country, it is relatively easy to find and use public footpaths and green spaces, unlike many other countries I have visited.  We should do all we can to protect them.

The closing lines of Graham’s poem comment that it doesn’t really matter any more … there are worse problems.

 

 

 

 

Rea Brook valley

5 Sep

How quickly the Summer slides into Autumn.  Whilst there is plenty of warmth in the sunshine, you know that as soon as you move into shadow, the air is thin and chilly.  This is a great time of the year, and I shall be planning some walks for the next few months as time allows.

Back during the midst of the heatwave, at the beginning of July, I did an early morning walk along the Rea Brook in Shrewsbury from Meole Brace into the centre.  I had been reading various books and writings of Richard Jefferies, Edward Thomas, Richard Mabey and Robert Macfarlane, and so their detailed noticing of the landscape and nature were fresh in my mind as I made this meditative wander alongside the river.

Shropshire Council owns most of the land and manages the meadow, wetland and woodland habitats as a nature reserve.  This green sliver connects right into the heart of Shrewsbury, but it was hard to ignore the tightening encroachment of housing all the way out to the outskirts of town.  There are some 8,000 new dwellings to be built in the town by 2036, and the pressure is being felt on all the undeveloped green spaces.

There is plenty of edginess to this edgeland landscape with graffiti covered bridges, corrugated tunnels and patches of tangled woodland.

I was early enough so that I saw only a few dog walkers and a couple of runners.  I shared the walk mostly with the birds, and I stopped on the bend in the river by a rope swing and listened to their conversations, the buzzing of insects and the gentle rippling sounds of the water.

I have seen a kingfisher along the brook before, but not today.  Today, I noticed how many houses had been built on the bank from Sutton Farm – lacking distinctiveness, confidence or any sense of their place in Shropshire in the 21st Century.

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Back in the studio, I made a series of about 10 little paintings in just under 2 weeks.  Unlike my more recent large and expressive paintings, these were more finely detailed and representational.  I tried to capture the early morning light that I had enjoyed.  Four of the paintings were in acrylic on wood panels (23cm x 19cm):

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The other paintings were acrylic skins made by painting in reverse layers onto glass, then peeling off the skins once dry for mounting in frames.

Three of these paintings were selected by curator Mel Evans for the Lawn and Meadow exhibition at Participate Contemporary Artspace in Shrewsbury (24th July to 11th August 2018).

 

 

Poetic Encounters #2 Paul Baines

25 Mar

For the second of my Encounters, I was delighted to be paired up with Paul Baines, since I had enjoyed seeing his exhibition of paintings and artist books at Shrewsbury’s Gateway Gallery 3 a year or so ago, and I had been looking for an opportunity to make contact to discuss his work further.

Paul’s early work was inspired by Pop Art and work from the 1950s/60s, but in recent years he has turned to a fully abstract painting style.  He has developed a form of visual communication that is founded on ten Projects that express his own ideology and political beliefs.  His books combine poems with graphic designs, sketches and drawings.

“Empathy with society’s disadvantaged” is a primary driver behind his work.  I was intrigued by how such passionately held beliefs could be expressed using pure abstract forms.  Paul quickly explained how he has developed a visual language that is inspired by whichever of the ten projects he is focusing on, and after some closer looking at the work, I began to be able to read some of the “vocabulary”.

I reflected on how abstract concepts are defined, often with very precise definitions that society takes on as a consensus.  So for example, the dictionary defines “empathy” as:

“the power of imaginatively entering into and understanding another person’s feelings”

Everyone has their own experience, memories and thoughts about what this means to them.  We also have an understanding of what terms are by what they are not.  These references are in constant flux as experiences change and things redefine themselves, which I guess is a post-structuralist way of looking at things.  So I saw Paul’s paintings as a way of taking definitions back to that moment when inchoate thoughts emerge in response to perceptions from the world, and when, thereafter, terms become defined within our mind.

The poem I wrote first was in direct response to Paul’s Project 1 “to promote empathy and compassion” which he was able to translate into a painting.

Detail

Detail

My poem was inspired by a train journey back from a day out in Birmingham just before Christmas last December 2017:

Evening Train

Stuffed together on the evening train

Feverish with festive banter

Bodies lurch at each juddering halt

And others gently check the sway

In silent kindness

 

In the cold clammy air along the station platform

Legs crumple in slow collapse

Anxious faces offer help

As a young daughter looks on bewildered, mute

A calm lady relays questions from

The ambulance approaching

Her assurance brings relief

To all, as we wait

© Andrew Howe, January 2018

The second poem proved more difficult.  Although, both Paul and I had existing work to respond to, all of our work for the exhibition was created afresh in collaboration.  We met just once but maintained a conversation by various messages.  I saw digital images of the paintings not quite realising just how textural they were.  My attempts to write something in response to one of the other Projects that Paul has defined did not flow well, and so instead I drafted something which described observations from an urban walk, and which tried to capture a spirit of being in tune with the Projects.

Its about acceptance; acceptance of the passing of time and experiences.  Nothing matters and everything matters. And before we, as individuals and as societies, attribute values to things influenced by memory and abstractions, there is a beginning.  The beginning is the moment. In that moment, she, he, this or they merit the same attention and respect as her, him, that or them.  It is up to us, then, to defer, delay, suspend or change the process of valuation to allow for alternative meanings and interpretation.

All and Nothing

Step on

Swish of tyres, glistening wet tarmac

Bass thump, door slam

Dachsund shivering

Two women laugh

As one holds the other’s arm

I’m not the fairy, I’m not

Step on

Ahead of the flow

Sweeping through

Erasing, smoothing

Double yellow slinking by the kerbside

Becoming silver ribbons catching low sunlight

Step ahead

Hooded man hunched over phone

No mate, there’s only one pack left

We sent all the others back last night

Plastic fragment quivers on hawthorn branch

Bent signpost, and a scattering of cable ties

Step on

Its all here, these are the facts

Streaming onwards in all directions

Leaves and sweet wrappers spiral in the breeze

Cardboard boxes trampled into mulch

Pigeons clap flapping

Coos echo in dank empty building

Windows blinded by OSB and ply

Webs of shattered glass, and a half peeled sticker

Electric drill screams, and a second starts up

Pulsing, phasing around one note

Step on

Dirt-blue sleeping bag rucked into door way

Upturned beer cans, and two copper coins

Step ahead

The flow washes over

Golden reflections shimmering on cracked paving

Long shadows flicker across railings

Black man in parka coat

Grinning and laughing

At me or with me?

I wave in salute

We’re alright

Step on

© Andrew Howe March 2018

Paul was able to create a painting in response.  These are the finished works in the gallery:

The paintings are powerful and work extremely well in this gallery setting.  It was a delight to meet Paul and I hope to maintain our conversations in the future.

Poetic encounters #1 Kate Innes

20 Mar

In my post about collaborations, I mentioned that I have been working with three other writers/artists to make work for an exhibition called Encounters that opened this week at the VAN Street Gallery in Shoplatch, Shrewsbury.

ENCOUNTERS2

The project was the idea of Ted Eames, and it brings together over 20 pairings of visual artists and writers, one artist making work in response to the other’s work.  There have been similar such collaborations in the past, but rarely in such numbers I suspect.  Having been involved in the installation of the exhibition, I had a chance for a brief preview.  I am fascinated by the diversity of work produced, and can’t wait to go back to spend more time absorbing it.

My own work comprises six paintings and collages with Kate Innes and Ursula Troche, and two poems with Paul Baines.  Perhaps on first viewing it appears quite diverse/eclectic, but there is a common theme which links everything, although this may not be immediately obvious.

In this first of three posts, I will discuss the work made with Kate Innes.

Of the three pairings, the work with Kate involved the most discussion and interaction in the development of each piece of work.  We found many common interests and a similar sensitivity to the landscape and the human history within it.

Kate is a published poet (Flock of Words) and novelist (The Errant Hours).  She writes beautifully about the rural landscape, with a knowledgeable eye for the detail of flora, fauna, and geology.  There is also a historical/mythical content to her work which clearly links with her background in archaeology and in museum education.

My drawings of abandoned dwellings/cabins were an initial starting point of interest, and in particular, the curious dilapidated structure which I had found whilst walking near Shelton on the outskirts of Shrewsbury.

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Kate, too went on foot to visit the place, and like me was drawn to the atmosphere of this small patch of woodland high above the River Severn which can be glimpsed through the trees.  A group of people have been using the area as a gathering place and trees are marked with paint, bits of fabric and plastic, like totems.  It felt tribal or ceremonial, like an ancient sacred site.

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Ceremonial Trees / Bound with fluttering string / Tokens of faint hope (Andrew Howe 2017)

 

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High vantage over / River Severn’s lush meadows / Buzzard soars above (Andrew Howe 2017)

Kate’s poem “The Other Land”  captured some of the thoughts that come to my mind in these edgeland places:

…at the edge of places we don’t belong

even the twist of a rope that won’t tie
Or the path that unwinds in a wood
It gathers its strength on a threshold

…”

(Extract from “The Other Land”)

We discussed our responses to these enigmatic isolated and empty structures set in woodland, and explored some of the issues raised in my earlier post around Bachelard’s “Poetics of Space”, the temptations of the “hermit’s hut”, refuge/retreat, and the negotiations that must take place when two people take up residence.  The titles of my trio of drawings “When Adam delved”, “And Eve Span” and “Who was then the Gentleman” struck a chord with Kate, referring to John Ball’s speeches that helped inspire the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381.  These words relating to equality and social justice resonated.

I went on to develop studies for a painting of the shelter we had been to visit, which responded to “The Other Land” referencing certain features from the poem, like the coppiced trees.  These included ipad drawings, a charcoal study and two oil studies:

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“Shelter”charcoal study, 85cm x 115cm

I made two paintings, quite different in scale and in style.  The first was a small acrylic painting made in reverse on an acetate sheet, the second was a large oil painting on canvas:

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Shelter II, acrylic on acetate, 21cm x 21cm

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Detail from Shelter II

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Shelter, oil on canvas, 90cm x 120cm

I can see flaws that niggle, but in general I’m pleased with the brooding feel to the paintings.  There is just enough rawness, texture and painterliness in the markmaking.  The brief period for the collaboration (around 3 months) encouraged a disciplined approach and a need for some risk taking.

Kate crafted a poem entitled “Adam’s Return” which responds to Shelter, and also to the trio of drawings, referred to above.  To close this short narrative, she drafted a third poem specifically in response to “And Eve Span”.  The sparse, measured style and ambiguous timing or timelessness of the poems’ positioning is, for me, reminiscent of the novelist Jim Crace, or perhaps more distantly Cormac McCarthy.

“He found the gate unguarded – except by thorn –
the angel gone

The forgotten trees had dropped their fruit
and multiplied…” 

(the opening lines from “Adam’s Return”)

“And Eve Span”, pastel on paper

“...

Here they will live out their days
in a small and private place
intertwined as strands of wool
by twists of love and pain

…”

(Extract from “And Eve Span”)

It was a privilege to see how subtle changes in wording in the few iterative drafts enhanced the poems, shifting emphasis, refining rhythm, suggesting alternative perspectives, picking up on certain aspects of the paintings.  The three poems expand meaning and add greater depth to the paintings, and it was a pleasure to be a part of it.

 

Exhibition at the Hive

20 Apr

Here’s another opportunity to see some of the paintings I exhibited in my In Parallel show at Participate Contemporary Artspace last year, plus new paintings and my In Parallel and Entwined book:

The Hive,
5 Belmont, Shrewsbury,
SY1 1TE

24th April to 27th May 2017
Tuesday – Friday from 9AM – 5PM

During the exhibition, I plan to run a Space Explorers workshop from the Hive involving walking and gathering inspiration for creative activity:

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

17:30 – 21:00h

£7 per person.  Places are limited so book early please.

Call the Hive on 01743 234970 or see website for further details.

Andrew Howe Space Explorers

Open to everyone with an interest in using walking to find inspiration and materials for creating art work.  No particular artistic ability is required.  The workshop will encourage different ways of looking and spontaneity in putting ideas together.

Meet in the Hive Gallery at 5.30pm before setting out on foot into the cosmos.

Some paper and art materials will be provided, but you are welcome to bring your own small sketchbooks, camera or drawing materials.

The walk will last 30-40 minutes, brisk paced over urban terrain, possibly including steps but no climbing.  There will be a short break for drinks and light refreshments after the walk and before the art making.  You are welcome to bring your own food.

 

The exhibition will feature some new works including my In Parallel and Entwined book, an oil painting triptych and a polyptych of 9 small mixed media panels.

The fire exit staircase appeared as a motif in the original exhibition.  I was struck by its sculptural form and yet its mundane functionality tends to make it “invisible” or easily overlooked.

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Rising, oil on canvas triptych, 3 x 300mm x 400mm

The other new work “Pieces” resulted from experiments with combining small scale panels mounted in grids.  I used different techniques of painting and collage, continuing the themes of the exhibition, to produce a large number of panels.  So far “Pieces” is the only finished work, but I expect to produce some more over time.  Putting individual paintings together in these arrays opens up more connections and narratives between paintings that would not work if I was to just combine images within one painting.  Next step may be to play around with the scale and formal/informal arrangement of the panels.

Andrew Howe, Pieces

Pieces, 150mm x 150mm x 9 mixed media panels

Pieces (detail)

 

 

Homely

11 Apr

I mentioned in an earlier post that my research following my In Parallel project has broadly followed two lines of enquiry: one using collage, paint and layering to explore relations between organic and human-made forms and ideas around mapping; the other is looking at edgelands in relation to the sense of home, belonging and security in a series of paintings.  The former works are predominantly process-led and abstract, whereas the latter are figurative paintings.

In these times of uncertainty and intolerance, I aim to raise issues with these paintings about isolationism, migration, refuge, outsiders, the other.

On a camping trip last year near Ledbury, I was fascinated by a caravan parked near an old agricultural shed in a woodland which was full of discarded/stored building materials, like found sculptures.  There was an edgeland or “outsider” feel to this scene. The caravan was evidently occupied, a man emerged occasionally, and there were rare glimpses of his partner, but it was ambiguous as to whether it was a permanent living space, or just a temporary visit.  I was drawn to the marginal, outsider aspect.

I took some photos, and made a sketch in situ, which I later made into a quick watercolour study in the studio.

Following further studies, I produced a small canvas with pinkish, “scratchy” ground.

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Away, oil on canvas, 355mm x 250mm

I like the small scale canvas, but for the next in the series I increased the scale.  This time I worked on the wrecked cabin/caravan I found near the Coton Hill allotments site.

I experimented with different coloured grounds and printed wallpaper.  I was unable to source any real retro wallpaper, and didn’t have the chance to get back to the caravan to see if I could scavenge some – its probably too mouldy now anyway.  I went with a slightly more restrained approach, reducing the palette, using a mix of warm and cold grey/blue/green colours.  How does the painted wallpaper affect how the image is read? Are we conscious that it is more mediated, unreal, or do we just see it as part of the painting, when everything else is painted?

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In other studies I reduced the subject into abstract shapes and textures, and played around with different viewpoints and spatial organisation.  I was looking for an impression of the interior without having to reproduce the actual layout/view.

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Get Away Study 5, oil on canvas 400mm x 300mm

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Get Away Study 4, oil on canvas, 400mm x 300mm

 

There is something about the grungy yellow brown colours and overly ornate patterning which marks the wallpaper out as originating in the late 60s/early 70s and conjures up childhood memories.  Viewers have commented to me how they are be “able to remember the homeliness but smell the damp in this scene”.  This is about faded, degraded nostalgia.

These studies show an interesting progression towards the final painting in which I bring all the elements together.

The title plays a role in interpreting this painting.  I toyed originally with naming it “While you were out”, perhaps implying that this was a scene of vandalism and violence, or merely the effects of the ravages of time once the occupants vacated the place.  Then it was “Get out” until a film was released under that name, so now it is “Get Away”.  This also has multiple meanings, on one hand it suggests a place of refuge, escaping the world’s harsh realities, later succumbing to dilapidation and decay, while on the other hand, it could refer to a more violent attack on the occupants.

I really don’t know what the story behind this cabin was – it is located down a private track, about half a mile from the edge of a housing estate, in an overgrown field adjacent to allotments and surrounded by beehives in a poor state of repair.  There was a heavy atmosphere in a quiet place.  So the ambiguity in the painting title is fitting.

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Get Away, oil on canvas, 650mm x 500mm

 

New Paintings and Decollage

10 Jan

Since completing my BA in April last year, I spent the Summer busy experimenting broadly along two research lines.  One line continued my interest in the edgelands, looking at outsider homes or hideaways – the dichotomy of feeling safe from the outside world versus the feeling of threat or menace of the unknown in edgelands.  More on this in a later post.  Another productive line of work, was a series of paintings and mixed media collages/décollages which hybridise maps, organic forms, and human-made forms.  The décollage work is unashamedly influenced or inspired by the the work of Mark Bradford.  Décollage being the sanding down, ripping off or cutting down into layers of collaged paper.

Working with a variety of found papers from magazines, newspapers, plain coloured papers and maps, and a combination of oil paint, acrylic, varnish and turps, I developed some of the motifs I adopted in the In Parallel project.  I delved further into my investigation of the relationships between organic and human-made forms.

These are a couple of early studies:

Two small designs on canvas, comprised “all over” collage, whereas for some larger studies on board I cut into the layers of paper to isolate the main shapes.  In all cases, I also applied thin acrylic colour washes to help reinforce/define the designs, enhance tonal contrasts and also to bring out the textures in the décollaged paper.

 

There are so many permutations of paint materials, layers, glues, varnishes, types of paper which all affect the final surface finish of the work, so I will continue to explore, particularly around how to bring out more contrast and vibrancy of colour in the work.  Although I also recognise that one of the attractions of these pieces is the subtleties in the variations of tone and hue.

Some of the works incorporate string, card or other materials (such as the cow parsley above) to create ripple effects with the overlying paper layers, although I found this has only limited effectiveness.

This mode of working offers huge flexibility.  I can mix in lots of different visual imagery and then the sanding down process followed by paint staining and further modifications, both degrades and homogenizes the contrasting imagery.  The visual effects are subtle, complex and give a sense of time, erosion, degrading memory and nostalgia.  The resulting palimpsest is hard to control, and some of the images/test in the upper surfaces are lost in the sanding process but there is usually enough remaining to discern some hint of meaning, whilst almost always there are new meanings and relationships revealed upon closer inspection.

A selection of these new paintings are on show in January through till the end of March 2017 at In Good Hands Café88/89 Frankwell, Shrewsbury, Shropshire,SY3 8JR.  Its a great venue combining tasty healthy food with music events, workshops and holistic therapies.

Andrew Howe, Biomorph III

Biomorph III, Mixed media on board, 61cm (w) x 67cm(h)

Andrew Howe, Biomorph II

Biomorph II, Mixed media on board, 30.5cm x 61cm

Andrew Howe, Biomorph I

Biomorph I, Mixed media on board, 30cm x 61cm