Sunday, 6 December 2015

'Sunset Ltd' & 'Crescent'

'Sunset Ltd'   120x120cms

The third and fourth paintings in the Amtrak series, showing the journeys from Los Angeles to New Orleans and then back to New York.  

As well as referencing my travels, 'Sunset Ltd' was also driven by the challenge of making a circle work in the centre of a square. Before this piece I had had a rare commission where part of the brief was to place a sun in the centre of the painting.  I struggled with this and moved the sun slightly towards the bottom edge, breaking the perfection. 

in a way,I felt I had avoided the challenge so I made an identical 120cms square canvas and screwed down in the centre a circular piece of wood that had been hanging around in the studio for years. The idea didn't come until a few weeks later when i read 'Sunset Ltd' by James Lee Burke where New Orleans and the train-line feature. 

The expressive brushwork of the oceans spins around the still centre, flamboyant shapes continue the movement across Canada. Desert colours, the Great Lakes like palm trees. Within the plateau of the circle is the image of a sun setting behind a mesa, which also reads as the Texas and painting truth, plan-view and frontal view,  once again intertwine.

'Crescent' below shows the last leg of my journey from New Orleans to New York. It is a strange piece, sweet colours, the pale-blue hints of sky and I see the image of a horse.

Saturday, 21 November 2015


'Self-Portrait'  70x45cms   oil on wood

My daughter Faye is working on a self-portrait in the style of Matisse for her art homework and it made me think of this painting, a rare self portrait. An antidote perhaps to all those recent red paintings. Strange, I cannot remember when or where it was made but possibly early nineties, Camberwell or Nunhead. I would have been looking at Auerbach and I was definitely looking at the Bellini's 'Portrait of Doge Leonardo Loredan'  in the National Gallery.

The painting reminds me of the advantage of painting on wood - I must have been broke- where you load on the paint without picking up an impression of the stretcher bars. Though wood does weigh ten times as much!

I'm enjoying the richness of the brushwork and mark-making, the paint itself, and it's a pretty good likeness with the blue background representing the sea and it's importance in my life and my art. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

'Porthleven 24'

'Porthleven 24'  40x30cms

Thurs 19 November

Twist!  I dreamt about the painting, convinced there was something stronger to be found, making changes in my head. No hesitation this morning in the studio, straight in with the green triangle on the pink smear/pier. If you know Porthleven, the triangle is there, a piece of reality, a vertical triangle that creates a delicious dialogue with the horizontal plane of blue triangle. The green triangle is echoed by the green angled line of the slipway in the top left. Together, they imply a corner to corner diagonal movement across the painting. The large angled slab of hotter red cuts through the gap, linking to the procession of red rectangles up the right-side. 


The final act, in the top left corner- a backhand slash with a loaded brush of cobalt/kings blue.

 I have answered some of questions, niggles from yesterday. The painting has moved on, it's a stronger piece, more complex, more context. Denise knew it wasn't finished! No explicit image but a place defined by a unique combination/concentration of angles and curves, structure and movement. Time to move on.


Wed 18 November

A looser painting- is it enough?  Could be a couple of lines away.....

Stick or twist? At any point in a painting there are a million options: choice- the next action- is dictated by knowledge, experience, intuition, emotion, curiosity, the idea, the subject. To 'stick' can be cowardice or exhaustion, the feeling of being painted out or it can be the bravest option. One hopes that to 'twist' is a sincere belief that there is a stronger painting to be found but can also be impatience or boredom, a failure to look, to see, to fully understand the piece.

It's the timeless conflict between freedom and control.

‘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 two extremes.’    Anselm Keifer

So what's going on with this piece?What are the options if I twist?  I love the duality/ambiguity of the blue triangle, its' purity and clarity as a colour and its description of form, the horizontal plane of the pier. You may not see that or care, you may enjoy the painting as sensation, as colour and marks interacting, but for me this mark is special, an ideal I am looking for, the tipping point where a mark, a piece of paint has a context, a possibility of being something concrete and experienced, without illustration. 

Do I need to introduce line here and there, a bit of drawing, to further hint or transform the paint into 'something'? 

Should I bring in 'image?- perhaps the vertical element of the iconic clocktower up the right hand side to subvert scale and mess up the space (though a familiar space in my work)

Should I have a slash of blue in the top left to imply sky or accentuate/repeat the motif of triangles? 

Or will all the above weaken the power and purity of the blue triangle? 

Stick or twist.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

'RED', Dec Workshop in Canterbury- 5 places left!

Two- day workshop exploring Red

Red is passion, courage, revolution, luck, blood, sin, fire…..

It is scarlet, cadmium, crimson, pink, burgundy, red earth…..

Red gets noticed…..

A red painting (or 2) - abstract, figurative or somewhere between- awaits all participants on the course.

It's no coincidence I've been working with red recently! - the course is definately going ahead, I've just booked my train ticket. I've even started a new Red 'Porthleven' painting today  Unquestionably, Matisse's 'The Red Studio' has had an enormous influence on my own work. Red is everywhere, it floods the canvas, disrupting space. The world is not the same anymore….

'The Red Studio'
One of my red paintings......

'City of Glass 8 - (The Red Notebook)'

Friday, 6 November 2015

'Porthleven 23'

'Porthleven 23'   40x30cms

A smaller piece, this might well be finished. Love the sea/paint/sea/paint/sea.......edges breaking down....Reds from cadmium/indian-red/geranium/burnt sienna- more prep. for the 'Red' December Workshop in Canterbury!

Monday, 2 November 2015

'D.C. - (Diamond City)'

'D.C. - (Diamond City)'   168x132cms

I have enjoyed looking at this painting again in the studio, triggered by a recent re-reading of ' Shame the Devil' by George Pelecanos. He has written a brilliant series of crime novels set in Washington DC. I can't remember which particular novel I was reading, but this 2003 painting from the Americascapes series, originally highlighted the locations of all the murders, using the repeated motif of a gun. 

My own personal experience of Washington is non-existent - just a few minutes in the train-station! During my travels around the US, I had an Amtrak Railpass which was about to expire and I had to be back in New York by midnight, so when I got to Washington I had to stay on the train. In a sense, i have got to know the city through the novels of George Pelecanos. 

In my work, I have always been fascinated by the 'shapes of places' and the almost-diamond shape of Washington had to be taken on. In the hands of politicians, planners, cartographers, a few drawn lines on a map become reality- the diamond of Washington, the capital, distinct from all the rest. Even within the diamond, the city is divided into four quadrants, like a kite, NW, NE, SW, SE. shown in the detail below, and centered in the painting.

detail 1

I love the colour and the composition in this piece - the placement of the diamond - and the subversion of scale with the out-sized Washington Monument, whose angled top echoes the diamond. 

To give a true sense of scale- to help judge how big the city is - I've put in the runways of the Ronald Reagan Airport, close to the meeting of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. 

detail 2

detail 3

'Arizona' and 'DC - (Diamond City)' at the Michael West Gallery

Thursday, 29 October 2015

'Penzance 9'

'Penzance 9'    30x40cms

Another Penzance painting that changed dramatically- the only constant the rose-colour of the Inner Harbour. I enjoyed highlighting it's house-shape, echoed by the images of the Lifeboat Station and concertinaed warehouses. I don't usually care or remember the paintings underneath but I'm still very fond of 1, below. It was my demonstration painting in my very first Freedom in Painting workshop at the Penzance School Of Art - I was new to teaching and talked too much and one of the artists left after 10 minutes saying she was 'going home to paint'!




Wednesday, 28 October 2015

'Penzance 2'

'Penzance 2'   150x120cms

The still center in 'Porthleven 22' brought memories of this painting - a wild night in Penzance when it seemed the town was about to be overwhelmed by the sea. Penzance 2 was shortlisted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 2012.

As usual the painting changed orientation several times during the process, hence the two lighthouses in the detail below!  Male (structure) and female (the sea) in battle. Curiously, towards the end, when I was asking friends which way up it should go, opinion was split by gender, with the majority of females i asked preferring it with the left hand side as top and all the males liking it this way. 

Throughout my career, I have intrigued/obsessed with the shapes of places and how that shape can define their uniqueness. With Penzance, I was particularly interested with the house-shaped inner-harbour which appears in a different position in each of the  paintings in the series, the lighthouse pier moving round like the hands of a clock.  Looking at it now, sea-shape in the earlier version lookjs like a creature, a sea-horse? The almost-diamond shape remains, now it's like a spinning top, the painting full of movement. 



in progress

Friday, 23 October 2015

'Porthleven 22- (The Red Studio)'

'Porthleven 22'   70x50cms

Wed 11 November

The reds are so dark and dense- I've been waiting for two days to see the painting in the daylight. The cross/post/vertical has gone back in, further to the left and not as stark. Also a little bit of drawing of a building - an incident in the bottom left corner, breaking up the reds. The building is the Old Lifeboat House, the studio where we hold the Porthleven workshops, and it's presence gives an opportunity to acknowledge the enormous influence of Matisse's 'The Red Studio' on my work and re-title the painting. Nice balance with the angled lines of the slipway in the top right, creating a diagonal movement across the painting. The final act was to strengthen the bottom line of the top-right of the four central piers, which had seemed a little bit lost. A long journey from the original drawing which I think works as it is- an exploration of the idea of angled lines. On to the next painting.


Mon 9 November

The last session I think. Neil Young's 'Southern Man' blasting out. Saturdays painting was just a little too graphic, a little too still, so I've gone in with more red and used directional lines in the paint to create movement. The final dilemma was whether to remove the post/cross at the bottom of the painting which seemed to be grabbing too much attention. Lets' do it - let the red dominate the drawing. 
The line is now barely there, deliberately off-vertical, and doing a job for the painting, linking with those other discreet verticals. 


Sat 7 November

A good day in the studio. Sorry to tease, it was too dark to photograph, I’ll post  a new image tomorrow. 

My latest painting, ‘Porthleven 23’ made me look again at this piece last night.  I concluded that while ‘23’ was a painting, this was an illustration. I saw confusion: too many shapes, too many small areas, too many lines, too much painting to the line. Perhaps I was too deferential to the linear elements of the original drawing.  Above all, I saw lazy colour: is that the best blue against that red, the best green?- answer, no. I also realised that the red and blue/green areas were too evenly balanced - very dull - and that the sea, compared to the sea in ‘23’, was a cartoon, an illustration, the marks stopping you seeing the quality of the marks up the left-hand side. There is a point where information, drawings, photos, have to be put to one side and imagination allowed to take over. Paint is different stuff. I realised there was a stronger, purer painting to be found. I had no hesitation in taking the plunge to find it, do whatever it takes for the painting. 

Freedom in painting.

Listening to early Bjork -'Definitely, maybe'  Ho hum.

Mon 26 Oct

Dreaming about my painting- got up early to resolve a niggle and put in a tiny red, near horizontal-line to hold the sea-shape in place. It's on the right hand side near the top, bang in the center in the detail below. Not only are reds difficult to work this they are also difficult to photograph- they look garish on some screens, dull on mine. You have to see the real thing- I think these are pretty tasty reds!

Apologies for confusing my friends on Facebook by putting out 2 versions of the painting yesterday!  I think this final version is stronger and more interesting spatially. Since turning the canvas round, I repainted the sea, reversing the direction of the waves and adding a warmer green at the top to make the transition into the center green basin less harsh. I much prefer how the harbour is held now by the pink curve, with the choppy sea leading the eye into the painting. I quite often turn my paintings round during the process - this painting started off in the landscape format- doing whatever it takes to make a stronger piece. The buildings you see on the left-side are in fact the buildings you would see 'in reality' at the back of the harbour at the top of the painting. But I feel they work better for the painting on the left- painting-truth. 

Earlier version

So, after one or two false alarms, I’m finally happy with the painting - it has something else, something new, something different to the other paintings in the series. Maybe to tie in with the ‘Red’ workshop in Canterbury in December, I thought it was time to explore red again: Indian Red, Venetian Red, Cadmium, Alizarin, Light Red, Rose….

Red is difficult because it changes so much in different light; bright reds in the artificial light in the studio become, deep, dark reds in natural light.  I have to find the reds that work in both. And of course, the blues and greens look darker in the studio…

The start-point was a drawing I made recently in Porthleven from the fisherman’s quay, picking up the rhythms of angles and triangles of cranes and boats, the slipways and the buildings behind.  The painting followed the spirit of the drawing but I wasn’t happy with the big shape- like a loaf of bread- the too obvious blue sky and the static viewpoint.  

The painting began when I put the drawing away and turned the canvas: immediately the imagery was less obvious, the space more interesting. Now we are looking at the whole harbour, with its’ three distinctive kinds of water, separated/broken down by the two pairs of piers and jetty.

Forms, structures are hinted rather than illustrated, the marks and shapes and colours have their own interest. The viewer has to work!


Now I do like the large shape and how it sits within the rectangle of the canvas, and the strong and beautiful  's' - shape within. The painting is full of intriguing shapes, the pink curve, the sea barrelling in, the warm green still center, the curious curved triangle/structure/pier, pointing in from the right.  It is probably the most ‘Lanyonesque’ of my Porthleven paintings, with its’ twisting forms and multi viewpoints, but I am enjoying its’ colour, the cascade of red shapes and the journey around the painting, in and out and around.  It is Porthleven and it is a painting, and in my eyes has the elusive balance between freedom and control that I'm after.

P.S.  Soundtrack: 'Brilliant Trees' by David Sylvian., 1984. '..drowning in my nostalgia....'
         Five Live- United win again
         Bjork, 'Debut' and 'Post' 

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

October 'Freedom in Painting' Course in Porthleven

Porthleven - The Old Lifeboat House on the left

The Old Lifeboat House in Porthleven, Cornwall once again became the perfect studio for our 7 experienced artists from all over the UK. Porthleven delivered - wild weather and big seas followed by beautiful sunny days, giving our artists plenty of inspiration for their paintings. Under Ashley's guidance the artists worked extremely hard resulting in a very strong and eclectic exhibition by the end of the week.

On Sunday afternoon the artists had their first experience of the studio's stunning location, with the sound of the sea through the open door. After setting up their space, Ashley gave a brief talk about the aims of the course and an insight into the week ahead before hosting an 'unofficial'  meeting at The Ship Inn next door - a great way for everyone to get to know each other.

Hils Sketchbook

Stormy Weather Photo - Courtesy of Hils
The dramatic weather on Monday morning didn't deter our group -  they were excited! Many wonderful weather-charged drawings were produced during that first session around the harbour. Back in the studio, Ashley then set a series of challenging group exercises throughout the afternoon, exploring different ways to start a painting.

During the next few days there was a mixture of outside drawing exercises (weather permitting) and demonstrations from Ashley. As part of the course, Ashley worked on his own Porthleven painting, giving an insight into his ideas, methods and techniques- which the group seemed to love. Most importantly, each artist pushed their paintings forwards,  finding their own personal vision of Porthleven.

Ashley and Jane in the studio

Ashley entered into a dialogue with each artist, offering advice about where their painting might go and introducing them to the work of other artists including Terry Frost, Peter Lanyon and Alfred Wallis amongst others. A great camaraderie was formed and everyone was happy to share ideas and discuss each others work.

Diane painting

Antonia sketching
Ashley instructing for a drawing exercise

After the clear up!

Friday was Private View day - but not yet! All the artists worked right up until the 12 noon deadline  - before the big clean up. The afternoon was spent transforming the studio into a gallery, ready for the exhibition opening in the evening - it was now that the artists could see their work properly for the first time .

Friday night Preview

Speaking about the exhibition, Ashley said ' The work is very inspiring, I know Porthleven very well but the artists' paintings are making me see it in a different light. It 's fascinating to see how, during the week, some artists have moved from abstraction into figuration and others from figuration into abstraction. I would like to congratulate them all.'

Diane Bedser
Antonia Glynne Jones 

Hils Tranter'

Jane McClement'

Erica Shipley

Jo Rollnick
Mitzi Delnevo
Ashley Hanson- Porthleven 21

The Preview was a great success and one of the strongest paintings from Jane McClement was quickly snapped up. Following tradition the artists and guests (including the younger Hansons) celebrated with a delicious dinner at Amelies. After dinner I made a special presentation of one of Ashley's Porthleven prints to Jane, who has been on one of our courses every year, since our very first Painting Holiday, five years ago.

Celebrating at Amelies

Making my presentation to Jane

The exhibition continued all day on Saturday and the artists enjoyed chatting to the many visitors about the work. Ashley particularly enjoyed the conversation with Stephen Rod about the history of Porthleven and its' harbour.

Dramatic Porthleven

Freedom in Painting does what it says on the tin! The concept acknowledges that artists cannot stand still and all our workshops/holidays are designed to encourage artists to explore the possibilities in painting and to move their practice forwards - well done to our latest Porthleven group for your hard work, for taking the principles on board, and producing such amazing paintings. We hope to see you again soon!

Denise & Ashley

If you are interested in joining one of our Porthleven courses next year. The dates are:
Sat 21st - Fri 27th May & Sun 2nd - Sat 8th October but hurry as the courses are filling up fast! Contact for more details.