I have always enjoyed looking at paintings and sculpture. As a kid growing up in Brixton, London, I would take the bus to wander around the National Gallery, in Trafalgar Square, or the Tate on Millbank. I preferred the Tate. How one feels about what one sees is about subjective experience and enjoying the art, and can have little to do with the objective reality of what one is viewing.
My taste in paintings veers away from those that tend towards accuracy that can be achieved by a photograph. I can see that it made sense in pre- Fox-Talbot days for families to wish to preserve for posterity a likeness of their relatives, but these days painting for that purpose is unnecessary. The same goes for other subjects. Present day photographic accuracy is amazing and an art form all of its own.
When I look at a painting I want to see an interpretation, perhaps just a small variation from strict reality, but I want it to help me see something that a photograph would not necessarily reveal. In recent years I find that my interest is drawn increasingly to abstract or near-abstract paintings; something that reality has inspired but which is a very long way from a simple photo-type image; something that perhaps only hints at what inspired the artist.
Sometimes I am foxed altogether when trying to understand what I see. It is at those times that what I am inclined to call my inner-eye comes into play. Let me explain. Some time ago I was visiting an exhibition of Modern American Paintings at the Royal Academy in London with my son who at the time was studying for a degree in fine art. We stood before something, I knew not what; I didn’t understand it and asked my son to explain it to me.
‘Ah’, he said, ‘with a painting like that, and many other paintings besides, it isn’t so much about the painting on the wall it is about you. For a moment don’t try to understand what you see. Present yourself to the painting, look inside yourself and check how the painting makes you feel. Be conscious of your reaction to what you see. There is a time for looking critically and analyzing how the effect is achieved later’.
It was a wonderful learning experience. I have done this many times since. Indeed, I try to do it each time that I look at a fresh painting. I have learned to appreciate what might otherwise appear bizarre or even meaningless. ‘Appreciate’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘like’; it means I am aware of my reaction to what I see and that, in itself, is worthwhile. I find that it works for whatever type of painting I am seeing.
In moving into an appreciation of abstract art I find that the things that I enjoy most I would describe as chunky. I enjoy paint laid on in thick impasto, the thicker the better. In some of my favourites it could almost have been applied with a trowel. I find that impasto gives a painting something of a sculptural quality.
When we were in Wales we came across, Eloise Govier, a young lady artist who was showing in a local gallery in Cardigan. I admire her work. We bought a couple of her paintings. She paints what she calls tactile canvases – rich in texture and
movement. Since that time she has done well and now exhibits in galleries in Japan, Spain, Holland, Germany and America. I would love to be able to express myself in paint as does Eloise.
Like many people, throughout my life I have often thought that I would like to be able to paint and draw but I have to
acknowledge that I have not put much effort into achieving it. When we retired Maureen and I took ourselves off to college for an ‘Absolute Beginners in Drawing and Painting‘ course. Maureen continued her painting after our move to Wales. I put my effort into reshaping the garden. It was gardening more akin to civil engineering than horticulture. However, our new life gives opportunity for a different kind of creativity. I’m turning to the palette once again. Given what I have said about photographic images it may be surprising that I have turned to photography to help me begin.
Taking a lead from something I saw at a club show, at which Maureen was exhibiting, I started. By using Photoshop to reduce a picture down to the basic shapes and, using a palette knife and mixing acrylics with impasto paste, I’ve produced a self portrait. I learned a lot in the process, both about making textures and the use of the palette knife. I would do it differently next time but it was a fun experience, it was a beginning and is my first picture for ten years.
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Vincent van Gough walks into a bar, and the bartender offers him a drink. “No thank you”, says Vincent, “I’ve got one ‘ere”.