Tag Archives: Painting

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.

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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.

away_ahowe

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

 

The Art of Relating Sites

21 Oct

Earlier in the Summer, on consecutive days, I had the pleasure of seeing Laura Oldfield Ford and George Shaw give talks about their respective exhibitions at Grand Union, in Birmingham, and the National Gallery.

I had researched both artists as part of my contextual study in edgelands, site specific art and psychogeography for my Creative Arts BA, and they feature in my extended written project. The paper investigates some strategies that artists employ in relation to site-based art, focusing particularly on painters. It reviews the extent to which a selection of contemporary artists measure up to the challenge of Miwon Kwon’s relational specificity. Kwon asserts that they should deal with the:

“uneven conditions of adjacencies and distances between one thing, one person, one place, one thought, one fragment next to another, rather than invoking equivalences one thing after another” (Kwon, 2002).

It is suggested that psychogeography offers a productive means of making connections between adjacent places in time and space in order to foster new and unexpected perspectives on a site.

You can download the essay here:  160406-a-howe-the-art-of-relating-sites_final

 

Laura Oldfield Ford’s show Cnothic Reverb was the result of a residency at Grand Union in the Summer of 2015.  It comprised a 30 min sound installation (city sounds, music fro 80s, 90s, 00s) and Ford’s voice describing thoughts, reminiscences and experiences of Birmingham) plus black and white photographs and copies of drawings posted onto wooden and citex billboards constructed into an enclosed rectangular layout within the gallery.  Ford’s characteristic pink was used as coloured fluorescent strip tube lighting.

Walking around Digbeth beforehand, I had very similar experiences to those explored by the artist in her powerfully atmospheric show.  Like Ford, I was returning to this area of Birmingham for the first time in about 20 years. Some areas were threatening (was this just because I was no longer familiar) but other areas felt the same (eg the areas around the Custard Factory).  There were large amounts of graffiti, security devices/fencing/wire and lots of dark “goings-on” behind industrial metal doors and boarded up buildings.  There seemed to be endless car/taxi respray and maintenance workshops interspersed with gentrifying art/music/design studios.

There was a strange eclectic mix of furtive people in alleyways, doing something on phones, snogging in corners, sawing a wooden crate for some unfathomable reason, standing in groups on corners talking or smoking.  There were arty or well dressed affluent folk and more “ordinary” working folk on their way home.  Some photos I took on the day:

There was a buzz, a tension.  As I got used to the atmosphere, I reacclimatised and felt more comfortable, invisible.  But still I didn’t fancy walking down onto the canal towpath, through a graffiti-covered seating area, populated initially by 3 overexcited kids, possibly drunk, on drugs or glue or just being kids off school, and later by two wizened old drunks.

Walking out of the glitz of the Birmingham Bull Ring towards Digbeth I was struck by the rapid change in the people from bright happy shoppers to more downbeat individuals waiting listlessly for buses, ambling along or homeless sitting on any available vantage point.  I was accosted (politely) for help by an Irishman, and given looks of cautious suspicion by people of Asian or eastern European appearance.

Am I remembering something that really happened, something someone else talked to me about or something I just imagined.  For example, returning to town via the large area of land left vacant ready for the incoming HS2 station, I saw the derelict shell of the Fox and Grapes pub on Freeman Street.  That name rings a bell, but I recall going to a different pub on or near that road (The Vine?) but the Fox and Grapes did seem familiar.  I “remembered” a Summer afternoon, mid-week when I went there, played pool, listened to the Happy Mondays (Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches LP) with either my brother(s) or possibly one of my Moseley mates, or was it someone else?  Or am I just imagining the whole thing?  Our perception of the world we see is based on memories and hearsay that we just can’t rely on.

Ford’s commentary alluded to place, her memories of pubs and buildings, and the history of local events such as the Battle of Saltley Gate” during the Miner’s Strike of 1973 – she said “we need to remember when “we were on top”– and “make new positive trajectories” that may modify the writing of political history or instigate actions along these new trajectories.

The conversation with Dr Phil Jones (urban geography lecturer at Birmingham University) was slightly disappointing but it did prompt some good insight into Ford’s thinking and psychogeographical methods – using the derive as a starting point for her work.  Despite her relatively diminutive stature and neat appearance, she has an aura of anger and history of living in squats and political activism.  I asked her about whether her work may increasingly draw on the optimistic aspects (in reference to her positive trajectories which in turn referenced Walter Benjamin’s  writings) to suggest future solutions.  I had previously heard criticism of her, because despite her anger, she fails to make positive alternative proposals – and indeed she avoided doing so when asked directly by Phil Jones.  I can see that there are signs in her paintings of the positive aspects of community cohesion.  She acknowledged my support but did not say much more about whether her approach may change to a more optimistic, constructive view.  In a way, why should she?  Art can be about raising issues and asking questions, expressing anger … without necessarily having all the answers.

On the following day I travelled to London to see “My Back to Nature” by George Shaw at the National Gallery.

In reading the excellent website by Duncan McLaren Scenes from the Passion, following his work in detail, I became more aware how autobiographical Shaw’s paintings of the Tile Hill estate are. They are not just nostalgic reminiscences of places he knew growing up, the paintings reflect Shaw’s moods and his experience after the death of his father.  (Shaw ceased painting for some time after this event).  For example, paintings of tree trunks in earlier work were revisited but now they were literally truncated, chopped down or burnt and vandalised.  Clearly a metaphor for life that I had not fully considered previously. Trees become anthropomorphised, and are certainly corporeal in several paintings, including this new exhibition. Similarly, Shaw’s paintings of fences, walls and other barriers perhaps reflect some of the feelings of frustration and loss he had in coming to terms with life after his father’s death.

The exhibition press release is here.  There is some interesting insight in the touring information sheet, revealing some of the mythological background to the paintings, and also a glimpse of some Shaw’s studies in his studio space at the National.  I was aware that there is a considerable background of cultural references behind Shaw’s paintings, and he evidently gives each work a great deal of thought.  This is reflected in his writings, and interviews.  Certainly a line can be drawn from a Neo-Romantic heritage to Shaw’s work.  He lacks the political anger of Ford, while taking a more realist, pragmatic, honest view of the contemporary landscape.  Perhaps closer to the paintings of Sutherland, Nash and Piper than Ford’s urban viewpoint.

In his residency at the National Gallery as part of the Associate Artist scheme, Shaw has interpreted paintings from the collection whilst keeping within his known territory of the woodland near the Tile Hill estate.  The paintings are inspired particularly by Titian’s Death of Actaeon and Diana and Actaeon.  Poussin and Constable are also references, and it was fascinating to see the exhibition and view these paintings face to face.  The blue plastic sheeting, the fragmented porn mags, and graffiti on tree trunks take on new significance in the paintings, and I see the links with the old.  I am also reminded of the passage about the English affinity for woodland, (and the oak tree in particular) in Schama’s “Landscape and Memory”.

The interview with Shaw in the a-n website also provides some interesting insight,  as does this BBC Radio 4 interview.

There is a review of the exhibition in the Observer here.  And an earlier review in the Guardian here.

The review in the Telegraph was less enamoured with the exhibition and is not impressed by Shaw’s contemporary interpretations of the paintings in the National Gallery.  It does not seem to make the connections with Shaw’s earlier work.  This is what they say:

“Gone are the goddesses and forest nymphs, replaced by discarded beer cans and the scattered pages of porn mags. Elsewhere Shaw depicts a tree trunk with a large phallus graffitied on it.

In short, he opts for slightly coarse, 21st-Century twists on age-old erotic myths, bringing the illicit sex and drunkenness of works like Poussin’s Triumph of Pan into the present day.

In one scene – the ironically titled Call of Nature – Shaw himself can be seen urinating against the foot of a tree, but this is the only figure we see. The other scenes are entirely depopulated; in some cases they’re so bare even the trees are bereft of leaves. Does Shaw want us to pause for thought about how modern man has despoiled his landscape?”

I don’t think Shaw is making a strong ascerbic point about human impact on nature (although he is making a point), but he is drawing attention to the fact that nature can resist and thrive in spite of human disregard. At least, that is my thinking on the subject. Shaw’s perspective is complex.  I suspect he found the woodland of his youth a place of refuge and calm, but also of threat and darkness.  Certainly, he sees the litter and casual disregard for nature as symptomatic of contemporary human attitudes.  Yet he also views the woodland as representing a place of freedom.  The meticulous style of painting is surely evidence of Shaw’s love for the woodland/nature – and this is also seen in his paintings of shabby housing and wasteland.  The painting of Shaw urinating against a tree, is more ambiguous, perhaps recalling a time when he was not so observant or caring of nature.  Or perhaps, it acknowledges something in himself that is always at heart a grimy urbanite, someone who can never have true affinity with nature.

Shaw reveals that initially he saw the residency as an opportunity to change his style or subject matter, and indeed some of the early work comprises 14 charcoal self-portraits in the positions of Christ in the Stations of the Cross (which he knew from his local church in Coventry).  While these offer a different perspective on the artist, and they do relate to other work in the National Gallery, they do not sit easily for me alongside the woodland paintings he returned to, of which Shaw has made a huge number during the 2 years.  I should not be so surprised by the self-portraits since Shaw studied performance art, not painting, in his first fine art degree.

One of the main technical changes Shaw made in this exhibition was to move away from painting on board (mdf or plywood) and to use canvas, which relates with the materials used by the Old Masters in the Gallery.  He still used the Humbrol enamels, which he says, he initially adopted as a means of distancing himself from the established history of oil painting. The enamel paint is quite dark and glossy on board, but it seemed softer and less reflective on canvas.  Either Shaw is refined his technique, or the canvas allows for greater subtlety.

I admire the way in which Shaw has found a voice that rarely strays from a specific location and landscape, and yet he is able to layer on multiple meanings and moods that reflect both his own personal story, but also wider views on society.  Shaw uses a familiar place to make universal statements.  My own range of painting subjects and places is more diverse than Shaw’s, and at the moment, I would find it restrictive to stay focused on one site.  But it is useful to think about how I can use motifs or themes that I revisit frequently to reflect thoughts and views which may have a tangential connection to what appears to be the main subject in the painting.

Trees and woodland, for example, regularly feature in my work (eg “Ours Too” – the rope swing painting or “Ours” –  the den painting), and I made a book some time ago collecting various paintings and photographs together with haiku poems by Colin Blundell, called “We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet”.  I can see many connections with George Shaw in the topographical visual aesthetic, the corporeal tree trunk, the “mistreatment” of woodland by people or rather the use of liminal spaces for experimentation and play, such as kids making dens, trying cigarettes and alcohol.  My painting “Trunk” has some similarities with Shaw’s preoccupation with tree trunks.  It shows my own geometric aesthetic, and I recognise the parallel verticals which feature in others of my paintings.

There is no doubt that woodland was a formative landscape during my childhood and teenage years when I used to go into Ecclesall Woods near my house in Sheffield, in much the same way that it was for George Shaw.  Now Shaw has established such a strong identity for himself with the edgelands, I feel slightly intimidated in trying to forge my own identity with this subject matter.  This is a little like how Shaw must have felt during his 2 year residency, walking in past the Velazquez and Rubens.

In the evening I attended the event: George Shaw in conversation with Paul Farley (edgelands poet and co-author with Michael Symmons Roberts of “Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness”)

There was inevitably some mutual self-indulgence in this conversation but some of the points I took included:

  • the edgelands are not really feral, they are not wilderness, they are only yards from “civilisation” where one can hear car alarms, children shouting etc;
  • the woodlands are places only adolescents (and criminals) feel empowered to experiment in because there are no rules, no CCTV, no parents, no one is watching;
  • for others they are a place of threat of violence and wild behaviour or a place to rediscover the liberation of adolescence;
  • there are only a limited number of narrative themes, whether Shaw really sees these themes, or whether he creates/constructs a scenario based on classical references;
  • edgelands have stopped being the unnoticed landscape, and by the very nature of their being explored are being changed.

Qube Open

17 Sep Exodus detail Andrew Howe

An open art exhibition at the Qube gallery in Oswestry opened on Friday and runs until 7th November 2016.  The theme is Migration.

One of my works was selected.  Its an oil painting triptych that I painted a few years ago, before migration from Syria and various other countries across Africa and the Middle East became such headline news.

Exodus Andrew Howe

“Exodus”, oil on canvas, Andrew Howe

This painting is slightly adrift from my current research themes, although it fits in with my interest in walking,  It has never been shown before, and this seemed like an ideal opportunity to release it from my store cupboard into the world.

When I originally approached the painting I was aiming for a representation of how everyone has their own individual life journey.  Walking is the primary means by which humans establish their spatial understanding of their place on the Earth, and the need to explore is a natural instinct. It is a universal human experience to leave the familiar to venture into the unknown.  This might be a result of hostile, sometimes violent, circumstances, or by volition and curiosity.  The unknown may be a physical, intellectual or psychological territory.

The Qube Gallery is located at:

Oswald Road
Oswestry
SY11 1RB

Telephone: 01691 656882

Qube OPENING TIMES
Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm
Sat 9:30am – 12:30pm