Monday, August 11, 2008

My painting XXXIV

Painting at 11.8.08

My new best friend is Vandyke Brown. Rummaging in my paint cupboard amongst tubes with labels lost or obliterated, some with corroding metal caps and others containing esoteric colours briefly flirted with (including one dark orange bought in Adelaide twenty five years ago marked Australian Flesh Hue) I came across an almost unsqueezed tube of Roberson's Van Dijk Brown.

I spread some out. It covered well, as we say in the trade, and mixed generously with other colours adding rich darkness without smothering their identity. Here was the very gravy of art, the deep baritone Bisto of pigments I had always lacked. Thus it makes a late entry into the painting and an all too late addition to my compost heap of terminal greys.

Colour prejudice is rife amongst artists and old habits of mind are hard to change. The colours I favour still echo those nine or ten in the Reeves First Oil Painting Set, a Christmas surprise from my mother, lavish for our circumstances, which had me rushing up to my room to set out palette and palette knife, turps and linseed oil, and the small canvas on the easel that came with the kit: only a beret and a smock away from being a real artist.

Within hours I thought I had been the first to discover that burnt umber mixed with ultramarine provided a very passable black. Ever since, until now, I have been faithful to the umbers, raw and burnt, thinking I would need no other brown.

The pleasure of an affair with a new colour has masked to some extent current hesitations and difficulties I am having with the painting, of which more anon.

Friday, August 08, 2008

My painting XXXIII

As at 4.8.08

The ritual of augmenting the sombre rosters of Terminal Greys is the most frequent in my working calendar. It contrasts with the longest cycle which is the annual round up of 20 Sites just completed by sorting the slides (what's a slide, mummy?) into a first and second set (i.e. the best and next best photograph of each site). The first set is that now kept by the South London Gallery and presented here on the website ( The second, its shadow, is lodged with the Tate Gallery archive.

Quite early on (in the late seventies), as advertised in the above recyclable poster, the Tate started to host a lecture/performance by me of the piece as it progressed. This happened as the result of the support and enthusiasm of Richard Morphet and Simon Wilson, and continued biennially until 1995 by which time it involved the filling and refilling of many a perilous carousel in the projection room of the Clore Gallery. If the work should come into fashion again a lap top presentation (unimaginable in 1973) would be simplicity itself.

Here in 1973 and 2008 is site 3, my house in Talfourd Road, which is really a nest of studios which have gradually crowded out any sense of comfortable domesticity. The main studio, in which I am working on my painting, occupies the whole of the first floor. I am writing this in the nominal kitchen, an attic at the back overlooking a huge gingko tree which dominates the garden (a branch of which features in my portrait of Iris Murdoch). The smaller gingko seen here was planted in 1991 over my mother's ashes (for which, with the help of Jennifer Lee, I made a terracotta casket). This site alone features people I invite to appear rather than any random pedestrian. Here is Patrick Wildgust, friend, collaborator and currently the warden of Shandy Hall, passing by. His presence is appropriate since the house, in 2008, is acting as an outstation of Shandy Hall whose ghostly artist-in-residence I have mysteriously become. In this same kitchen I am at work on some new pages of A Humument to be shown at Shandy Hall in September (see events etc.). Patrick is, as it happens, in London today for the performance of Heart of Darkness at the Linbury Theatre of Covent Garden Opera House. This marks the end of a week of workshop sessions which have (opera swallows all) kept me from my painting and, more tragically, from the first two days of the Oval Test Match which in itself has been a ritual event in my life since 1948 when I witnessed Bradman's all too brief last test innings.