Saturday, 26 November 2016

'The Power of the Dog' - new painting

'The Power of the Dog'    oil and acrylic on wood    88x107cms

FRI 2 DEC 2016  p.m.

Breaking down some shapes/states below the border, strengthening others - purple Durango, bird-like Nuevo Leon and the new blue brushmark on the right now appear almost sculptural, sitting upright on the bottom edge. Tweaks of colour...two fast brushmarks, left to right, deflattening the image and bringing movement..The eye was being pulled downwards in the earlier version, now we are going across the image following the line of the border.

Denise's idea- a touch of the purple near the top, describing the edge of New Mexico.

The drill holes/bullet holes now continue around the 'frame' I have been considering a utilitarian grey for the 'frame' but then it may become unambiguously a frame and not part of the painting. The 'functional' holes from the screws that held the perspex now become part of the painting. Looking back on my notes, I originally intended to drill holes along the border, showing the twin border towns. The holes around the painting are physical/real/actual, symbolic and decorative, darkness and light...

This is not a political painting, it's art from another piece of art, a novel, that reconnects me to a landscape I last visited eighteen years ago. There was going to be much more red, but it is what it is, a seduction by colour and paint. The edge in this painting is what is revealed as you approach it, the collected residues of the process on the bottom ledge. 

Beauty and the beast....perhaps this is the link to the message of the novel - the pus below the surface of respectability...

I've painted this border before - above is a detail from 'Sunset Ltd', the name of the trainline that hugs the border on it's journey from LA to New Orleans. In comparison, the new piece looks almost flamboyant. 

FRI 2 DEC 2016  a.m.

Late night session...the jigsaw states are back, lots of borders, edges, shapes to play with. Maybe it's become too literal and 'tasteful'? I much prefer the subtleties of the paint and colour and the openness of the borders on the US side. Or is it good to have the contrast, highlighting the difference between man-made and natural borders?

The excitement in the painting comes in the bottom shelf where ideas and actions are collected. Stronger (accidental) compositions too.  Pools of congealed red in the gutter. 

So is the piece about that surprise, that contrast between image and process that is revealed as you approach the painting?

I'm going to extend the drill holes all around the painting to break up the flatness of the frame (bullets?- again too literal) The frame may be gray.  The jigsaw shapes sit too smugly- I'm missing the dynamism of the angled brushmarks in the version below. Time to re-look the image. 

The painting opening up...borders broken down...the.jigsaw states of Mexico submerged , for now....residues collecting.... I've put a temporary piece of perspex at the bottom to collect the paint...

The start of a new painting (series), once again working from a novel, 'The Power of the Dog' by Don Winslow, about narco-wars in Mexico and the American Southwest.  It's also my response to the theme of 'Borders', the theme of the inaugural Newlyn Society of Artists exhibition in January at their new home at Tremenheere. 

I'm working on a customized frame, with the idea that the bottom recess/shelf will capture the residues of my process and be an integral part of the painting.

Early days, mainly acrylic underpainting, but I have plans....It's good to be back in the game.

There are borders between countries and borders between states but the desert either side is the same. The frame itself is a border...

Friday, 11 November 2016

'Porthleven Painting' - an essay by Ali Day

'The Sea'  80x80cms  oil on canvas 2017

A writer and friend Ali Day has written a perceptive essay on my latest painting 'The Sea' and through her words I am looking again at my painting in a different way. Her observations pinpoint the principles that define my practice, finding that elusive balance between freedom and control, succinctly described by Anselm Keifer in the forward to his exhibition 'Il Mistero de Cattedrell' at White Cube: 'If there is too much order it is dead; if there is too much chaos, it doesn't cohere. I'm continually negotiating between these extremes'

'Porthleven Painting'

Porthleven’s quintessence of character, style, and uniqueness is timelessly appealing for artists who love to work close to the sea and is where its essence can be captured fervently. Re-living the fine memories of romantic Porthleven is the easiest thing to do when faced with an Ashley Hanson oil painting.  Bright tints and pigments combined together, reveal an intense flamboyance and style which is conjured from the artist’s connection with the harbourside and sea beyond. Hanson’s orchestrations of paint enable a glorious recreation of atmosphere, emotion, and the vibrancies of this pretty Cornish village.  His art is a successful homage to Porthleven and its community.

Hanson’s technique is to interpret the visual, spatial and transcendental through colour.  He is concerned not with what colour things are, but the meaning they radiate, when linked side by side or when combined with other marks and impressions on canvas.  Peter Lanyon, said, ‘It is impossible for me to make a painting which has no reference to the powerful environment in which I live’. It is easy to see that Hanson’s approach to meaning is similarly taken from the environment, predominantly a response to landscape through colour.

Porthleven, is a thriving village on the Lizard Peninsula, and is the most southerly port in Britain; it’s a special location, loved by artists even more so because its uniqueness as a typical Cornish seaside town seen by some to be in jeopardy.  The sights however still include the iconic clock tower, plentiful granite fisherman’s cottages, narrow cobbled streets, and pretty quayside lights, all  complementing the  sounds and sights of a bustling fishing port.

On the Freedom in Painting course, steered and tutored by Ashley Hanson, we were given insights into the role of colour, mark-making, composition and the theme of choice and freedom for the artist. During one-to-one tuition, mentoring and collaboration with Ashley we each found something special in location and guidance. And the Old Lifeboat House studio too, is itself a little gem.  It is perched on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the sea, and is a muse to the artist.  It would be easy to throw a party in here, but similarly it’s a blessing to just have an opportunity to paint, to the soundtrack of the sea.

          In an interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, Hanson has spoken of the origins of an idea, ‘I need a surprise in my painting,’ he tells the interviewer, Tiffany Truscott. This is something that allows his work to emit a fluency, freedom, and journey, because ideas develop during his process.  Hanson uses this discipline to capture the essence of a place, emotional response, and the pursuit of difference.

Watching Ashley work was a key element on the course. Pointers given by Ashley to the course delegates triggered an understanding, and ultimately decision-making. When an idea is introduced into a painting, Hanson will test it to see if it works.  It might be that through an accident or chance, something is born.  It is then worked, manoeuvred, or even discarded. Hanson maintains that there is always the idea of a context, which is expressed in paint, so the piece is never completely abstract. Again, as Lanyon has said, ‘Paint represents experience, and makes it actual’. Hanson is a keen admirer of Lanyon and similarly likes to work with what is actual.  There is an explanation so to speak, and he is able to talk and write about the ‘how and why’ that happens on the canvas. 

I find Hanson’s art enlivening and uplifting. His paintings, if not created for space, attract space – perhaps because they give so much energy and vitality. There is a clean element, too. The purity of the colour enables the paintings to lift from the canvas. You do not get bogged down, looking, even though there is undoubtedly complexity when you do stare for a while. The work is striking, beautiful, gaudy, extravagant, and once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. 

Every now and again, I buy a painting; it’s a scary thing, but we do it because we want to live with it and look at it time and time again, finding new things with each viewing. It is exciting, and empowering, to go out, choose a painting that you love, possibly one of the reasons I think this is because paintings provoke questions, and also, as Thomas Moore said in Care of the Soul, ‘art intensifies the presence of the world’. I have a couple of Ashley Hanson paintings and because of this relationship, I have been able to borrow paintings, and offer my opinion. So, recently, Ashley came over with The Sea and hung it in the living room, and we had a brief conversation. I felt excited. For me, it was like having a brand new kitchen installed, in one second. I don’t really mean that, because art has so much more longevity and transcends consumerism.

‘It’s called The Sea; that’s it,’ he said. 
‘I can see why,’ I think I said.
‘Can I write about it?’ I said, wondering what he might say.
‘Yes, of course; let me just tell you, the brush stroke there was the ending of the painting; and then it was finished’.

Hanson gesticulated, miming the action of running a brush along the bottom of the painting; he then had to go.

So, I was alone with the painting but I knew there wasn’t time for intimate looking as the house was going to be full soon, as everyone was coming home.  I wanted to see how the painting interacted before I had my own time with it. I decided to do housework, and not to look – for the moment.  I took glimpses and glances – a peripheral vision, but that was different. I was unconsciously recording what I liked I suppose.  I was still waiting for the right moment for the deep study. The idea of a painting giving a performance, was not what I wanted, so I decided to leave it alone, for now, if that was possible! 

It was a couple of days later when I came home from work one evening, before I was able to assimilate something in my mind. At about 7.30pm, I put my key in the front door and walked in. I was late in, not a problem though; I perceived everyone in motion, though not necessarily moving. My husband was cooking a risotto; my son was  searching for more trainers online. And my girls were playing Lego peacefully. The painting was in motion too, and then I understood that the painting was a part of the narrative. I love the way Hanson’s work integrates with the observer and place.

Physically, there is an airy action; this is in the style of the brush strokes, that evoke charm, warmth, complexity. There is energy within. It’s possible that the painting evokes an empathetic voice. It acts as collaborator. Although all Hanson’s work is abstracted to some degree, it is not purely abstract, and this painting for me is more of an ambiguous painting. I have actually wondered if the painting is of a woman, or if there is an impression of woman.

After my full study of the painting, I found that it communicated meaning, on different days, at an assortment of times of the day, and in mixed ways.  This was possibly to do with the ether in our house. I sensed a tomboyish nature emanating from the painting, perhaps because of an evocation of the sea’s energy.  As I have already described, I wondered if there is a woman in this painting also.  Ashley did tell me later, that for him, the sea is always feminine, curvaceous, stronger than the male structure which it pounds against. You could interpret this as a metaphor for the strength of women. The painting’s colours are sensitive; there is a sense of compassion, freedom and benevolence translated.

I do not find the loose brush strokes at all reckless, in fact I sense they are controlled and at the same time free. The intricacies, or the work’s smaller details, whether by design, accident, or both, are connected somehow, perhaps due to the colour purple, which flows, gushing down the canvas. Shapes appear in the painting – they are appealing – erotic? The colour purple also reminds me of the purple sea thrift flower, growing on the coastal paths.

Yesterday evening was Bonfire Night, and my husband and I decided to re-watch the film Gladiator. I’m getting to tell you how this relates…. The score for the screenplay was something we liked, so afterwards we decided to listen to it. The Now we are Free soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard is something we were both wowed by. I looked at the painting as we listened.  The painting and the music worked well; there seemed to be an agreement or affiliation. I’m not sure if this was because we have the same taste in art as we do in music, or how this works! The painting did not overpower this strong piece of music. The two worked well together. I also noticed that as the soundtrack reached its climax, the painting receded; however, as the music gave way, the painting stood. I love the way art and music work together, and a Hanson painting is able to do just that.  We continued with music that evening, listening to the Interstellar theme tune as well; I could imagine the sea wind, the flow of the tide, the freedom of the sea air at the coast. The deep, rich, orchestral notes matched a further boldness in the painting which I was not familiar with earlier. The bold brush strokes up and down, although strong, emitted a repose, as well as a quieter fundamental strength – perhaps I can see in the painting the strong granite pier at Porthleven, which extends into the sea and is able to withstand the force of the sensational waves that have hurled against it in recent storms.

Additionally, I love the movement in the painting, the sense of action and the ability to create an interior dialogue with the viewer as participator. As we all move, in time and space, if that is what we do, it is essential that the painting is not static. The bottle greens, teal blues, and hues emit a fresh warmth and seem to be positively charged. The painting feels ‘new’, and that’s not because it is new to the house; it feels new every day.  I love the brandy purple at the top left, the chartreuse green, practically a psychedelic colour, neon even perhaps.  It represents vitality, but also capitalizes the relevance of the The Old Lifeboat House studio.

Perhaps it is the purples again, that give the painting a vibe of something ceremonious, as well as feminine and soft. The purples, almost colbalt violets recall the impressionist movement and the atmospheric nature of art associated with it. There is the possibility of a depiction of waves, with the rhythmic, lyrical, brush strokes in places. They are not restrained brush strokes, but do not emit the sense of a storm either. There is serenity, control and calm within the sea’s movements.

The painting does have an abstract appearance; it’s certainly more abstract than some of Hanson’s other Porthleven pieces, although I am constantly brought back to wondering if there is something else, if we look. In the early morning dawn, one particular morning at home, the painting evoked the sea at its strongest, most representative, giving the home a distinct coastal, energetic feel.  The Sea takes me back to Porthleven village, to the rather exotic harbourside smells from the restaurants serving the catch of the day, and the invitation to wander along the peaceful cobbled lanes, quietly soaking up everything. The timbre of the painting this morning has sound, but also has quiet. The regal purple colours at the top left are picked up by the eye, as is the gorgeous left side brush stroke which rises up. I guess this strong brush stroke, moves the eye away from the strength of the chartreuse green I described earlier. This flashy green, is in keeping with Hanson’s style, and is a reminder that this is a Hanson painting.  There is something about the painting this morning that urges me to put my hands across the canvas, to find knowledge. I don’t really want to give it back.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

'City of Glass 41 - (T.H.E.T.O.W.E.R.O.F.B.A.B.E.L.)'


Babel rises….built brick by brick.  A new Babel in New York. In the spirit of the novel, each brick/canvas contains one of the letters that spell THETOWEROFBABEL, hidden in the real or imagined grid of New York, ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ once again intermingled.  As I have mentioned before, what is exciting about this piece is the flexibility offered by the rearrangement of the bricks. Perhaps the new Babel will look more like the arrangement below, from this years Open Studios....

This painted tower was always intended as the centerpiece of the series, the finale, the idea was always lurking in the background. However, after a break of a few months there are new ideas and memories of half-explored ideas, unresolved. The ‘City of Glass’ series goes on….


For greater clarity, I have given this piece different number 41, with each individual brick/canvas/letter numbered in sequence 42-56


A very short session in the studio- one thought, one tool, one colour, one action, one line....the Tower is complete.  Looking forward to a day off with the family.

The extension of the line works for me, fading out towards the edge....I have really enjoyed making this piece- not least because it has forced me to work in the landscape format and on smaller canvases (25x30cms), where changes can be made very rapidly. While enjoying looking at the Tower, the downside is that each individual brick/letter/canvas is undervalued and hard to see. I think some of the paintings are as good as anything I have done, especially the later canvases so I am going to give each a City of Glass number to recognize their quality. It might take away a bit of the fun of working out the letters but perhaps they are obvious anyway....

City of Glass 56 - (T)


Reflection: I'm seeing the painting in a different light- it's the New York canyon thing,...fiery sun... it's aerial view and image and a letter and the final brick..Now for the final arrangement...  

A long session in the studio, the Tower is one mark away from completion. The horizontal needs to extend further across the painting, almost to the right edge. It was there but the falling paint took it away.  A necessary subtle, subtle line to counteract all those verticals, a cut or the edge of a blade...

Small painting, big mess...

MARCH 31 p.m.

A looser, more flamboyant painting, I usually have Manhattan on the vertical, but this time I've using the natural 60 degree angle. It's undeniable - I must have been thinking about the terrific Mali Morris painting on Paul Behnke's recent post in Structure and Imagery. Thanks to you both!

Having a look again: leaving the gap between the 2 angled lines of the grid is critical, keeping it open, an entrance to the painting. It's done. 

City of Glass 55 - (A)


When you look into the nothing what do you see?

I am just enjoying this painting as sensation, colour, peace, that beautiful central divide when i went back in with the colour. In terms of context, the painting is based on a 'real' district of New York, but there is the ambiguity to enjoy of what is water, what is land....

City of Glass 54 - (E)


I was seeing these colours in my sleep - in the studio at 5 this morning. Magenta+ Emerald Green + a bit of Hookers Green + White has made 'Lush Lilac' and an orangey Indian Yellow/Cadmium yellow mix. The single line de-flattens the space and offers an escape... two bricks/letters to go...

Went to Charlestown today, to escape from my cave. The Tower was still in my thoughts-  I was looking at mortar between the bricks of the harbour walls!. Love the reduction and the colour and the purity and the emptiness in this latest painting.


City of Glass 53 - (O)

Q: When is a square not a square?   A: When it is a double-square

The excitement builds getting towards the completion of the Tower, hopefully by the end of the week.

'The building of the Tower became the obsessive , overriding passion of mankind, more important finally than life itself. Bricks became more precious than people. Women labourers did not even stop to give birth to their children; they secured the newborn in their aprons and went right on working' (P: 44, 'The New York Trilogy)     Quite!


City of Glass 52 - (O)

Denise suggested the colour- scheme for the new 'brick' - pink and pale grey. Might tidy up the bottom and have the circle truly balanced on the line. The circle feels as if it might roll off to the right but maybe that brings a tension to the piece. Imperfect circles are best - Trevor Bell is the master. 


City of Glass 51 - (W)

'Brick 10' has been a battle - I've just spent five hours in the studio trying stuff out, looking for a stronger, purer painting. I was bugged by being able to see the stretcher behind the paint on the left in (2) and needed to know whether the point of the triangle should touch the bottom of the canvas. I think (2) and the final painting work in different ways but I believe I've made a better painting. (2) is more decorative, busier, but the painting above has a strength in the drawing and the more intriguing space. I particularly like how the purple triangle sits on the line and its relationship with the pale-yellow corner.  The softer edges too against the severity of the scored lines. It's an uncompromising piece. 

The scored line was technically difficult- drawn by hand in one go with no room for error and because of the thickness of the paint, there is was a build up of excess paint around the sides which had to removed afterwards with a knife.  A pure freeing mark- if it went wrong I would have to remake a flat surface again, losing the unique combination of colours and marks underneath. 

Underneath? Where exactly is the line? The not knowing makes the painting interesting. 

The composition and the key elements have remained from the first session (1) The angled paint is critical as it mirrors the angled streets of the district. The purple triangle is a specific detail that cuts the horizontal of the street and of course the 'W' is one of the letters in THETOWEROFBABEL. Within these parameters I've made a painting.

I hope my daughter Faye likes it- she was upset when I started to make changes.  I like how the painting is, I think I can leave it. Like the building of the original Tower of Babel, this piece has become all obsessive - five 'bricks' to go. I have the locations for the remaining letters- lets see what happens. 



Possibly a new 'brick', maybe make the scratched angled line more precise. Found a new colour, Faye said it was one of those colours you can't name but she has come up with Kinda Cornish as it is a real sea-colour. Triangles (and letters) everywhere in this part of New York. 



 I couldn't wait- I took off the blue paint with a knife allowing the underneath greens to come through. A vertical mark instead of a block of colour. I still need to straighten the edge. I've also taken out the scratched triangle at the bottom to allow the deep,deep violet to flood through the right side. A little bit of crisp drawing at the top of the column brings clarity and a suggestion of architecture....

City of Glass 50 - (T)

A good session- I've been  looking forward to introducing a dark 'brick' into the tower to shake things up. Might put a dark blue glaze over the column on the right to push it back into the painting at the same time simplifying the composition. Got to wait a few days 'til it's dry. I also want to straighten the edge- it was straight but the paint slid off!

MARCH 21-22

I like all three versions but particularly the whimsical feel of the final painting - the spinning wheel of the strange contraption held by the dark line. Just. Denise and Peggy (from Modern Artists Gallery) see a face...Although upright, it is also a 'real' location in New York...

Version 1 is very graphic but I felt the letter was too centered and too obvious. I do like the mysterious dark space though. Version 2 was nearly a contender- very sculptural, very still, pure and austere, but with too much downward movement.

City of Glass 49 - (R)

Version 2

Version 1


City of Glass 48 - (E)

The version below was too static, the letter too blatant. The purple line, above, weighted at the bottom, the tiny-angled purple line, and some vertical brushstrokes have transformed this painting - it's much more complex and intriguing. 


'Another brick (letter) in the wall....'

City of Glass 47 - (E)

'Another brick (letter) in the wall....'

City of Glass 46 - (L)

In the recent City of Glass paintings, the Tower of Babel, the central image from the novel*, has been neglected....In this piece, each small painting, 25x35cms,  becomes a brick in the Tower. In the spirit of the novel, each 'brick' will contain one of the fifteen letters that spell THETOWEROFBABEL, some obvious, some more obscure. 

Further exploring the blurrings of 'fact' and 'fiction' in the novel and in the series, some of the 'bricks' are based on the street-grid of Manhattan, others are pure invention - they could be part of the grid. It is for the viewer to become detective to make these discoveries....

Manhattan is dismantled, fragmented, rearranged. There is a discipline: if one of the paintings/bricks happens to sell, I am obliged to replace it, find another way to paint the missing letter. 

In this way the piece is renewed, kept fresh. I am looking forward to arranging the finished 'bricks'. Because of the infinite number of combinations, the piece need never appear the same twice. The 'new' Babel in New York may not be necessarily ziggurat-shaped....

This piece is for Geoff Rigden, who sadly passed away recently. Geoff taught me at Canterbury and set me on the road to becoming a painter, He often came to my Open Studios in London, and was very generous and perceptive in his comments about my work, opening my eyes to the possibilities in painting. Although, you don't normally associate 'image' with Geoff's painting, I hope that each individual panel contains something of the serious playfulness of his work. 

The 'bricks' below may change, though I hope by not too much. 

City of Glass 45 - (H)

City of Glass 44 - (F)

City of Glass 43 - (B)

City of Glass 42 - (B)

*'The New York Trilogy', a novel by Paul Auster

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

'Still Life' - Gallery & Report at Creek Creative, Kent

Teddy Kempster

Each of the twelve Freedom in Painting workshops in Kent have explored a different aspect of painting. We have looked at 'Red', 'The Circle, 'LIbra (Balance)', 'The Diptych', 'The Space Between'. We have worked with the model on several occasions, there was a workshop that explored composition using the two lighthouses of Dungeness and recently we looked at the work of Richard Diebenkorn. 

This time, eleven artists from all over the country gathered together at Creek Creative Studios in Faversham to explore the important genre of Still Life. In advance, the artists were asked to look at the work of Morandi and William Scott and also to bring in one or two of their own favorite objects.

A talk on the history of the genre was followed by a loosening up, compositional drawing exercise. The artists were then split into three groups and each group was asked to arrange on their own table, by consensus, a still- life of six objects which they drew for the rest of the morning, conventionally and unconventionally!

After lunch, the painting session began, and without giving too much away, the still-life changed during the afternoon. 

Day 2 began with a challenging painting exercise and throughout the day, the artists pushed their paintings forwards, in the spirit of the words of Richard Diebenkorn:

'I have found in my still-life work that I seem to be able to tell what objects are important to me by what tends to stay in the painting as it develops'   

As always, the workshop ended with an invaluable group critique. Over the 2 days the artists gave their all - intellect, painting skills and instinct, and through their intensity of working produced an incredibly strong and varied set of paintings. 

Many thanks again to Anne and Simon at Creek Creative for promoting the course and helping set up the room.  


Griselda Mussett

Griselda Mussett

Hazel Crawford

Hazel Crawford

Jan Bunyan

Jan Bunyan

Jane Crane

Jane Crane

Kathleen Alberter

Kathleen Alberter

Margarita Hanlon

Margarita Hanlon

Nicola Waters

Nicola Waters

Jo Dunlop

Jo Dunlop

Philippa Langton

Philippa Langton

Robin Marks

Robin Marks

Teddy Kempster

Teddy Kempster

The next 'Freedom in Painting' workshop at Creek Creative will be:

'Looking at Lanyon'       Fri 31 March - Sat April 1 2017       £90

If you would like to book a place, email