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...

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