Thursday, 9 October 2014

Is it any good? Looking with a critical eye.

Working out if a painting is what you want is a relatively simple task for a non artist. Does it please you to look at it? Does it take you somewhere or make you feel a certain emotion? Is it of something or somewhere that you are connected to? Will the colours go with my sofa or curtains? ( believe me, this reason for buying a painting has cropped up again & again ) Or does it just look nice?
Working out from an artists point of view if a painting will be desirable to others is a whole different kettle of fish. I'm not good with kettles of fish so I don't think about whether a painting is saleable or not, rather just trying to paint something as well as I can, with heart & soul. Fortunately, so far people have generally liked what I paint so i'll keep my eye off the market & continue to paint what I want.
Many years ago I painted a dead guillemot in a rock pool, its body caught up in the rings of plastic that go around the top of a four pack of beer cans. Not a saleable painting you may think but I found a home for it. Out there somewhere is a customer for every painting, its just a question of getting the two of them together.
Looking at my own work & believe me I do this a lot, often beating myself up in the process, agonising over if i've done ok or not. Often I don't like my own paintings, preferring to enjoy the paintings of others while being very critical of my own. The problem is, & I think many artists will concur with this, i'm too close to my paintings to see them as others do. Instead I see the bad bits, the areas on the canvas where I feel I have failed or could do better or where I know I haven't painted as well as I can. This may sound like i'm being down on myself but i'm not. I'm happy to be this way as it means I will always look with a critical eye & seek to improve. I know of a few artists who have been in awe of their own talent & between you & me they are not usually very good, I think because they lack the critical eye.
How I paint & why I paint are discussions for another day. Today I'm going to share a couple of paintings that I feel I have done ok on & the reasons why. Is that someone snoring at the back there?

'Swallow & window'. Oil on canvas 90cm x 90cm ( I think )
This painting above of a Swallow in an old derelict barn is one of the few paintings that I still like. Maybe its because I achieved ( or think i've achieved ) several of the elements that I strive for when painting.
Firstly the composition, with the Swallow not immediately obvious but almost blending in with the stonework & about to fly out of the picture. Many artists will tell you that a bird needs to be flying into space. Sometimes I will agree with this but more often than not I find that a bird flying out of the painting will be far more interesting & dynamic & for me it lets my imagination wander a bit more, outside of the frame & into the interior of this big old barn. I like my paintings to live beyond the frame if possible, to give the feeling that you'd like to climb in & have an explore. 
Secondly, the muted palette. No rich, bright or saturated colours here other than that smudge of red on the Swallow. All those muted tones work well with each other, no arguments here.
Thirdly, the light ( probably what I try to capture more convincingly than anything else ). Soft but still bright, it helps to pick out the texture of things, the cobwebs, stonework, the debris on the windowsill & it helps to describe the space in the painting. Also there is the reflected light from the room beyond casting a warm glow onto the dark walls.
Fourthly, the subject matter. One of my favourites, old windows in crumbledown houses & barns. I'll never tire of this sort of subject to paint. Windows do seem to be popular with people & for me they are special to paint. I enjoy the different light sources, the separation of the world outside from that within. The outside, inside & reflected light all captivate me. How nature takes over again, her fingers scratching away, taking hold once more. There are so many places like this in Wales, abandoned farm houses, barns & old sheds. Some I visit now & then to see how nature is getting on with their slow demolition. Some have been saved & are being turned into dream country homes, rescuing them from natures grip just in time. Its odd to see these once empty & decaying buildings at night with a cosy glow shining through the windows. With others, all that is left is a pile of rotting timbers & a scattering of stones. The Swallow is here to give narrative, some life also, a contrast to the other elements in the painting. The painting is not about the Swallow, it just happens to be there.
The last reason I think i've done ok with this one is the way it has been painted. It was painted quickly & economically, taking two days to complete & although it appears fairly detailed, it is not. I don't like to spend ages on a painting because I will end up losing any freshness in the paint. I have in the past ( & no doubt in the future ) worked on some paintings far longer than I should & always end up killing them. Over the years I have learnt to paint a kind of shorthand detail if you like, just putting enough paint on in the right places so the brain will fill in the rest & make up for any shortcomings on my part. Impressionist realist I call it. People will tell me that they can see every hair to blade of grass but thats just their brain telling them that, I certainly haven't painted every hair but I have suggested them. Less is more as they say. 

The next painting is of a doorway leading out from a derelict farmhouse. Its another one of my favourite places to paint & have painted quite a few over the years in & around this group of farm buildings.

' Doorway, derelict farmhouse ' oil on canvas
Much of what I said about the other painting applies to this one so I won't keep you much longer. I think one of the aspects as to why this painting was popular has little to do with how i've painted it but in the promise that it gives. There is space & light & texture which are all nice & tickety boo but its whats beyond where I think it works. The realisation of a world beyond the interior of the farmhouse. That slim vertical gap revealing the barn outside teases us & beckons us to let our imagination wander. When I was a little boy there was a board game which I think was called Haunted House. I never saw the game for real, only pictures of it, but when I looked at those pictures it showed a cardboard frontage of a haunted house with some steps that led up to a door. This is the point where my imagination kicked in & I wondered what it would be like going through that door & exploring that house. I would get hugely excited imagining all the corridors & rooms to explore & to this day I have never seen nor want to see that game because then the magic will be lost. Similarly there is a beautiful looking valley that I see when I drive through the Brecon Beacons. I have never visited this valley & probably never will because the interior of that valley is a place that my imagination has described for me & by visiting it my dreams may be shattered.  I think the point i'm trying to make ( & making a bit of a pigs ear of it, well we can't all fire on all cylinders everyday can we ) is that imagination can play a very important role when viewing art work & with this painting, because of that narrow view of the world beyond the doorway our imagination can go to places outside of the painting.                                                                                                               Purposely I have decided to omit any wild creature that in other paintings I will often find a place for.
The palette is warm & comforting & on a subconscious level I think this too plays its part.

If these two paintings are any good or not is not for me to know or tell but they have both found homes & i'm happy with that. I could of course give you a much deeper critique of these paintings but I feel like being kind to myself today so i'll leave it at that. If any of you having read this far want to know about any other aspects of my painting life in future blogs, then let me know & I can then see if I have anything interesting to tell you.


Gena Courtney said...

lovely paintings

Mike Woodcock said...

I think if you're painting subjects that intrigue you, or that excite your sense of the aesthetic in some way, then there will always be someone out there who shares those sensibilities. It just so happens that there are many who share your appreciation for the subjects that you paint and the talent and skill with which you portray them. So you keep on doing what you're doing and some will say 'that's no good' but others will say,'that's so good I'm willing to give good money for the joy of looking at it every day'.