Monday, 23 June 2014

Catherine Goodman - Portraits from Life at the National Portrait Gallery London

Right before the buzz of the BP Portrait Award the NPG has opened a new display featuring a series of portraits by Catherine Goodman, together with a a few of her drawings.
Since Goodman won the BP Award in 2002 she has exhibited regularly with galleries such as Marlborough and Colnaghi. She has helped found the Prince of Wales Drawing School, in which she has retained the high profile role of artistic director (the person who keeps the focus on the "art" part of the institution).

   The show at the NPG is intense and emotional. The portraits are almost all close ups, the head bigger than life size, the brushwork layered and energetic, respecting both the form and the surface of the canvas; the palette is rich with realistic skin tones punctuated by marks in saturated colour.

     There is only one large self portrait in the show, and is the only painting in which the viewer is confronted and looked at straight in the eyes. In all the other portraits the sitters' glaze is turned away, they seem to be staring directly at their own life.

  The show includes some very haunting drawings. In the last number of Intelligent Life ( quarterly magazine of the Economist) I read a beautiful article on Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche, a community for the mentally disabled that has now branches around the whole world. The article describes the deeply moving and life-changing experience of spending time as a volunteer in these houses and as I looked at Goodman's drawing made in one of L'Arche houses I found the same sentiment expressed in the pages of her sketchbook. While the large paintings expand and encompass a long span of time, the constrictive size of the paper and the instantaneous nature of the drawings compress emotions into these powerful works full of pain, compassion, love and respect.

  Portraits have always been at the core of British painting, and in recent years Hockney, Auerbach and Freud have taken the genre to both a highest artistic standard and a wide level of popularity.    Goodman follows in their steps with a, yes I'm stereotyping, womanly capacity of empathising with her sitters. As with Goodman, Freud and Auerbach required quite an extraordinary number of sittings for each portrait, some going on on for decades. I can't help feeling, looking at the paintings, that there is a process of subjugation going on there.
Freud's sitter look mostly gloomy and obliging, Auerbach's have their outside appearance obliterated as he explores their humanness. Goodman's sitter on the other hand seem to have a much more active if not democratic role in the work of art, which looks like a cooperation between two human beings rather than a long ordeal one is submitting the other to. The process result in a series of works that speak about painting, life, beauty, memories, engagement.

  I had the chance of meeting Goodman a few years ago. It was at a dinner party, so not the right place to ask lots of questions. Anyway it was soon after the 2010 BP show and she remembered my painting there. She said it looked "sladeish" ( as per the Slade School of art in London) but she didn't recognise my name as one of the students there. She had in fact correctly identified the influence of Uglow in my work, perhaps less strong now. She then asked me about my practice and I said I was painting still life and working from the model. At that point she said something that I have not really appreciated until later on, taken as I was by learning to paint the figure, she warned me against the objectification of women's body.
I hadn't paid much attention but then it became evident to me the danger of picking up, from Uglow's work, the way he painted girls like soul-less bodies, pieces of meat splayed on a table. I don't have many chances to paint the nude, but looking back I can see that my best portraits from models are done from those I have painted several times over the course of years, people I care for, and this now is something I pay attention to in my work and also in other artist's.

     Read the introduction to the show,  an interview with the artist and an essay by William Feaver here . It is clear from the sitters and the contributions to the show's catalogue that Goodman enjoys support from many prominent members of society, but her inspiring work and her dedicated art practice deserve to be more widely known and celebrated.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Facebook and I

Capture IV, oil on linen

Since the dawn of Facebook artists have found in it a mean for breaking the isolation of the studio, connecting with like-minded people worldwide and learning about artists of the past and the present. It is also an invaluable platform to show work and receive feedback and support.

   I spend ( too much) time on FB, where I receive and have received a lot from the online community of artists. If I look back I see that thanks to them my work has evolved and improved, particularly as I have looked at old masters with new eyes,  made virtual studio visits, perused online catalogues of their shows, read about materials and learnt how they go about in dealing with the commercial part of the job.

   My experience with FB is positive also because I try to be proactive and filter the content I receive. The website has its own agenda and of course it pushes viral videos and platitude memes on my newsfeed, so I mercilessly unfollow people who post too many of those ( dog videos are keepers though). I also bestow "likes" on lots of paintings in the hope the algorithm starts getting a clue on what I am interested in.  Although I look at FB on my phone when I'm in the studio I think it is better to check it on the laptop because on the right sidebar there's a lot more activity going on than what FB dispenses on the newsfeed.

   Posting has its rules too: I have learnt that some posts, for example when I share content from this blog, need to be shared more than once, depending on the time of day they were originally published.  
    Facebook by the way provides a lot of visitors to this page, however nowadays part of the traffic stops there.  I sometimes find it easier to publish on FB than write a blog post. If for example I take photos of a show and I don't want to sit and write a review, I'd only post them on FB.
I am sure that FB has generally intercepted a lot of traffic that used to go to blogs and websites, so some visitors to go through online FB albums rather than clicking through individual online portfolios, hence I think for artists it's a good idea to have a clearly labelled and updated album of works on their FB profile.

I only have one profile on FB: I decided not to have an artist page as I find it difficult to distinguish between people who are "real life" friends and people who are interested in my work, too many overlappings there and people would get lots of double posts. I wouldn't be able to stop some of my silliness from appearing in the pro page anyway.
 I must confess I don't hit the contact request button very often. I send friendship requests to or accept contact with people who post work I like and with whom I have mutual friends; although I have occasionally sold and bought work on FB, I am not there to sell nor to be sold paintings ( I unfollow pushy marketers), but I like to befriend people who dialogue openly on art, and I am often humbled by the level of the discussion.

Not everything is great on Facebook of course : censorship police is patrolling too zealously and many artists got warning and even bans simply for posting nudes. Privacy is an issue but I think there are ways, particularly if you don't click on yes to any single app who wants to gain access to your own data.
A recent change has also affected artists: images posted on FB now get processed and their resolution is drastically decreased. I think this is now a general trend on big websites, including  Blogger  here and on my webhost service, Weebly.
Once, when you clicked on images on this page you'd get to see them almost at the same resolution with which I originally uploaded them; not any more now,  there's just a smallish image viewer.
One website that goes against the trend is Tumblr, where image quality is very satisfying ( also there's no censorship at all, for the good or the bad).
I also have a Twitter account for quick updates but I find it is less suitable for painters because you have to click before viewing images. Also I am not very good at short sentences...

I hope I didn't sound too scary, please do befriend or follow me on Facebook if you wish.

To give a better sense of what my paintings look like in real life, this is a three minutes iphone video with close ups of the surfaces of my works.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Mi Blog Es Tu Blog- Daniel Shadbolt

If you read this blog you might know that I have met Daniel back in 2009, admire and collect his work and have sat for him as well as painted him. I am happy to host this blogpost just the day before the opening of a very comprehensive show of his painting at Gallery 286 in London.
I am excited to see his recent work since I have been following its progress and development in the last couple of years. The surface of his paintings is very rich and it is extremely satisfying seeing it in real life, so come see the show if you can !

Interior with green blind,  2014  oil on canvas   162 x 175 cm

   My name is Daniel Shadbolt, I am an English painter aged 33 and am living in London.  I have been painting full time since graduating from Chelsea school of art in 2003.  I received a bursary and a prize for drawing when I was at the Prince's drawing school in 2004, and received the Bulldog bursary for portrait painting in 2008/9 in connection with the Royal Society of Portrait Painters.  I have been employed to teach by the Prince's drawing school and most recently at the Heatherley school of fine art (since 2008).   
   I have had pictures in the BP portrait award (2002), the Lynn Painter Stainers award, the RSPP, the NEAC, and the ROI.  I was selected for the Ruth Borchard self portrait exhibitions in 2011 and 2013, and have also been invited to paint portraits at Art in Action in Oxfordshire this year and last year.  I have had solo exhibitions since 2001.

The painting I have chosen to reproduce here is the largest picture in my exhibition.

At my 'New Paintings' exhibition, opening on 6.30 - 8.30pm Tuesday 10th June 2014 at the 286 Gallery in Earls Court ( until the 30th of June)
I call it the Green Blind as that became a dominant colour surrounding the seated figure.  It has been mostly painted at night, but more recently had the daylight coming in under the blind.  I added self portraits to try to increase the depth of the image.  It has been made in part from drawings but essentially from life.  I started it in 2013 while I was on a residency at the Machin studio in Sydney Close.  It was a standing figure in front of a fireplace.   The composition had a large blank canvas.  This all changed when I tried to remake the nude figure from drawings.  There is a part of the picture that was full of prussian blue pigment (I had used all my ultramarine), which, when I tried to change the picture, would not come off easily - this led to the paint accumulating quite thickly... in an attempt to change the colour and stop the blue from coming through.   


Here is one of three videos of the exhibition. More can be found here and here.

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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Mi Blog Es Tu Blog - Sam Dalby

Lots of shows opening these days, among them an exhibition of works by Sam Dalby, whom I recently met at the opening of the Royal Society or Portrait Painters Show. Sam was elected a member last year and his beautiful portrait was hanging very prominently in the show.
His solo is opening this week at Gavagan Art  in Settle ( North Yorkshire).

I am glad that he decided to write about this pivotal work :

Sam Dalby, Yorkshire based portrait painter who spent many years as a painter and decorator, fantasising all the time about doing what I loved for a living. Attended Harrogate College of Arts and Technology, Cleveland College of Fine Art.

 It's a painting that I love every inch of, flaws and all. It had a long and troubled gestation, and was the first painting of mine that survived and emerged stronger after such a gruelling process.

This painting was started in 2009 as a large charcoal drawing of a Eliza, a young spirited and beautiful older lady. The drawing itself had to be extensively re-worked, cut down, spliced, and extra sittings demanded for repositioning the hands.
I transferred it onto canvas, blocked it in, and painted diligently from the sketch for a few weeks. I thought I was not far from finishing, when I received a lot of severe criticism (some of it valid) from an artist I went to for advice. This set off a crisis of confidence, and on returning to the picture, hated it so much that I painted it out with a dark wash, which I wiped away until Eliza could just be seen peeping out of the mist. I slowly started back working from the sketch, and realised after a month that it just wasn't working. After a few months break, It dawned on me that a lot of the problems I was having stemmed from the odd shape of the canvas, and the unstable way the figure sat on it, so I cut it down and re-stretched it on a stretcher that was the same width, but not as tall. I painted another dark glaze over the work, and called Eliza up for more sittings.
By now it was mid 2010, and sittings continued on and off for another year, as the painting inched its way forward.
Towards the end of the sittings, the painting changed from being a ground down and overworked mess. Passages of paint started to make sense, colours began to hit the right notes, a sense of light illuminating the flesh appeared. Slowly, Eliza's character became manifest in the paint, the delicate features began to carry the underlying apprehension, an old lady still with the naivety of a teenage girl.
No portrait since this has had to go through this pulverising, attritional process. It was the painting where I became a problem solver, where I learned the value of good planning, the value of perseverance, and where I finally began to understand in a profound way how to create life from paint.

I cannot remember what the specs of the original canvas were, but it is a heavy cotton, double primed with an acrylic primer.

Sitting at home. it occasionally goes out to exhibition, where people admire it and never buy it.

My palette at the start of the painting was a grisly affair, but had settled down into a recognisable tonal painters palette by the time I'd finished:
Titanium White 
Lemon Yellow
Yellow Ochre
Venetian Red
Alizarin Crimson
Cobalt Blue
Ivory Black

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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Mi Blog Es Tu Blog - Kim Scouller


I met Kim a couple of years ago as we painted together sharing a a model, and I admired her powerful paint handling, particularly in the small scale. Selectors for the BP Portrait Award have spotted her very early when they chose her work for the 2003 show - I remember admiring this painting back then ! Her recent London show at the Caledonian Club was excellent.
I am glad she has chosen this particular painting from that show, it was my favourite because of the strength of the image and the perfect mastering of the square format :

Self Portrait, oil on panel 30x30 cm

Who are you?

I am a painter living and working in London. I grew up in Scotland and made the move south 7 years ago to study on the 'Drawing Year' at the Prince's Drawing School. While I was there I met lots of wonderful like minded people and I've been here ever since.

Why this one?

I chose this painting because it was the last work I made which surprised me. I'm always looking for a new way of seeing and this painting allowed this to happen.

Something about it?

I made this painting in April while staying at my parents in Scotland. I have made many self portraits over the years, I use it as a way of engaging with myself and the painting process; experimenting with ideas about paint and what it can do. Most of my breakthrough paintings were probably self-portraits. In this particular one I was experimenting with using a black ground. I found it really difficult at first, every mark I made was in a completely different key from what I thought I was mixing on the palette. I often work with different coloured grounds, I'm excited by the colour vibrations you get when it goes well. I'm always trying to find the right balance in keeping an energy and openness in the handling while also trying to define the subject without losing the emotion.

Technical notes :

This picture is oil on panel (30 x 30 cm) which had been primed with blackboard paint.

Where is it now?

It's on show at the Caledonian Club, Belgravia ( in an exhibition called Two Scottish Painters with another Scottish artist David Caldwell. ( by appointment : 
Eilidh McCombe or 020 7333 8722, no jeans, shorts or trainers)

Basic Palette :

My palette changes but I tend to stick to using :

Titanium White
Naples Yellow
Lemon Yellow
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Red
Alizarin Crimson
Cerulean Blue
Ultramarine Blue
Paynes Grey

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Monday, 19 May 2014

Four shows

I have many friends exhibiting in London these days !

I have met Lucy Powell years ago in painting classes. She was always a very good painter but in recent year she has progressed even forward by following more classes and experiment fearlessly, and her work has become bolder and more free. Lucy, together with the painter Annie Field, is showing her work this week at The Studio, 73 Glebe Place, London. Just off the Kings Road, the show will be open until the 21st of May from 11 to 7pm.

Adele Wagstaff has been painting the Rehearsal Orchestra for many years now. The paintings and drawings she has produced in this period are now on display at St. John’s Waterloo, Waterloo Road, London SE1 8TY until the 5th of June ( 10 to 6 closed on the 26th of May). 

Daniel Shadbolt  is showing a large number of works at 286 Gallery in Earl's Court. Daniel is a very sensitive and dedicated painter whose work is gaining increasing recognition. Having had the privilege of seeing him painting in a number of occasions I admire how he is always ready to make changes, some times radical ones, painting with relentless concentration and energy.
The show "New Paintings" will run from the 10th to the 30th of June  at Gallery 286, Earl's Court Road.

Kim Scouller and David Caldwell are currently showing together at the Caledonian Club in Belgravia. I have been following Kim for a while and I enjoyed the show very much, I particularly liked her self portraits. Her fellow Scot David Caldwell is showing a series of beautifully observed and lyrical London landscapes. The show is open until the 8th of June at 9 Halkin Street, Belgravia.  ( by appointment : Eilidh McCombe or 020 7333 8722, no jeans, shorts or trainers)

Monday, 5 May 2014

Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual Show - My works

I am very happy to have two works selected for the RSPP show at Mall Galleries, London. I have been selected for a number of years and every time I am very grateful to the society for allowing me to be part of this beautiful show.

The core of the show is made by members of the RSPP but every year about 100 pieces are selected from open submission. This year I have entered a painting and a monotype and they were both selected.

I was very excited that the small (10x10cm) monotype  "Study for the Queen of Sheba" was chosen. Monotypes are a fairly recent endeavour of mine and although I have been showing them already at art fairs this is the first time that they are included in an important show.

This small portrait of Fre' is one of about twelve monotypes I made of the same subject and size, and the only one that did not end up in the bin. Although the execution of a monotype is rather quick, the risk of failure is high, particularly in such small works. Not that this one is perfect but it's the best I could do.
I like making monotypes based on my own paintings, it takes the pressure off "finding a subject" and viewing the work at a different scale and in reverse helps me understand much more about the painting itself.

The oil painting that will be on display is from a "portrade": I sat for Daniel Shadbolt for a few sessions last January and in turn he came to my studio three times. He just sat as he was, with his jacket still on.
Half way through the sittings I decided to include in the background one of his paintings which I own and love, an urban garden with a lonely chair and a shed ( that " looks back", in Daniel's words).

A few weeks ago at the National Gallery I spotted this painting by Moroni that I had always overlooked: an uncanny resemblance !

The Royal Society of Portrait Painters Annual show is open from the 8th to the 23rd of May at Mall Galleries.