Some thoughts after a wonderful week in Cornwall

The experience of living at the very edge of the British Isles – Cape Cornwall has helped to bring together several threads of enquiry, which have been bouncing around in my mind, each fighting for supremacy. I am beginning to see now, how they all interlink.

I have previously maintained that my work is about nothing more than life itself. This has worried me as I felt that this is not really a valid statement and sounds rather shallow and predictable, almost trite. But it’s not. It’s absolutely what my art is about. However, it does need further detail and evaluating.

I have frequently talked about ‘Sense of Place’ without truly signifying what this means. There cannot be a sense of place without the intervention of a human presence to acknowledge this through the senses and consciousness. Merleau-Ponty goes even further stating that we are ‘the flesh of the world’. This is another way of saying, ‘being in the world’ or, at one with your surroundings. Peter Lanyon puts it that he paints ….’(the)ambiguity, between that place’s historical experience and the artists subjective phenomenological experience of it. These words came to mind when we explored the Bronze Age Village of Caen Euny and also at the deserted tin mines.

Another thread of my research has been concerned with movement, with particular reference to the human figure. As Hockney has said, unless you are dead, your eyes are never still. We see everything from multiple points and it is only a camera, which can freeze that view totally. So it is apparent that not only are figures in motion, but our surroundings too, through the perspective of our eyes. Similarly it follows, that to capture our view of objects and surroundings on a two-dimensional surface is impossibility. Our attempts to do this must be supplemented by various skills and techniques to trick the eye into believing or ‘seeing’ movement.

I suppose there is an element of my work, which until now, I have barely acknowledged, although it has always been embedded within me. It is a desire to capture the sublime beauty of the world we inhabit. I suspect I am not alone in a tendency, to shy away from some art movements such as the Abject, which portray not the beauty, but the misery of the World.

Certainly there is extreme beauty in Cornwall, admittedly alongside the poverty, which does exist there. The sea is inescapable and a great source of inspiration in my work. I took video footage both in and of the sea and would like to find a way to use this in conjunction with paintings. That is going to be my next challenge and I have various ideas about how to accomplish this to express movement and human intervention within the landscape.

I shall try to incorporate a feeling of the edge of things – thinking of the words of Peter Lanyon ‘ I like to paint places where solids and fluids come together, such as the meeting of the sea and cliff, of wind and rock, of human body and water’

And this is a painting I made quite quickly with these thoughts in mind. It’s a start towards my final MA module. Think I may have found a direction….but I’ve said that before…hmmm. Here’s hoping.


If you read my blog, you will be familiar with my struggles with the rigors of the MA course I am pursuing. Every now and again I hit on something which makes sense to me and this has been one of those moments. Recent email feedback  from a tutor  shone a light on Tim Inchgold’s writings, in particular this….  ‘We cannot make the future without also thinking it…The theorist does his thinking in his head, and only then applies the forms of thought to the substance of the material world….by contrast (the maker) allows knowledge to grow from the crucible of (his/her) practical and observational engagements with the beings and things around (him/her). This is to practise what I would like to call an art of inquiry.’

No prizes for guessing which camp I fall into! I’ve kind of edited the quote in order to own the words for myself. Clearly I am a maker rather than a thinker when it comes to my art practice. My tutor urged me to look at what my painting does beyond the initial intention.

I think I have been moving towards this. My work needs to express more than representation or narrative. But the next step is to use observations to initiate a connected but new image which is inspired by more than one thought.

These 4 images may appear to be unconnected but actually all feed into a new piece of work. I pinned a large sheet of paper to the wall and began rapid sketches of a generic figure moving through space. These were in my head because of the  remembered poses from observational figure drawing I have been doing recently. They will be superimposed onto a landscape from any one of the areas I have worked on during the previous months when I was concentrating on landscape as a subject.  I’ve been painting abstracted portraits of Kate too and even these might creep into this new work, I suspect.

Next I will let the materials take over and see where it leads. It’s in it’s very early stages at the moment. Movement, time and space will all be illicited somehow – not sure how yet. Memory plus feelings plus responding to the materials will all play their part. I think I’m making some progress towards a greater understanding of how my work is moved forward by thinking. How theory and research affect practice. 


Trying to focus my work into a sensible, acceptable, believable, academic Research Question on which to hang my current art practice, is an ongoing and largely frustrating task. I’ve dithered about with Landscape, Sense of Place, Time, space and movement, The Phenomenology of Life, as various ‘pegs’ on which to hang the stuff I paint. But nothing quite explains what I’m doing.

I’ve tried a really simplified and uncomplicated description, stating that I paint about ‘Life Itself’ . But that’s a bit of a cop-out. Or is it? Looking into existentialism, (Researching ?  Yaaay!) I found various complicated definitions but the one which most struck a chord with me was this – ‘The philosophy of Existentialism was an influential undercurrent in art that aimed to explore the role of sensory perception, particularly vision, in the thought processes….art is not an exact science but a means of capturing the complexities of what the eye observes.’   It does have to do with 1. phenomenology, 2. ontology and good old-fashioned 3. observational drawing. All of these 3 are built into my DNA and basically what my art practice is about.

Have I hit on the answer perhaps ????



The course I am attending at the Royal Drawing School in London is inspiring me each week with light-bulb moments.  We were asked to draw with our left hand without looking at the paper and without taking the charcoal off the page. Sounds a bit gimmicky, but it produced surprising results and felt very freeing.

We were allowed to look at the end and to make one image on top of the scrawls.  Next we had to look intently at the model then turn our backs away and draw  from memory. That was interesting in that we were told to trust our memory when drawing rapidly moving figures. Once a memory of the exact shape of the models arms, legs etc. was embedded in our minds through one careful observational drawing, all we needed to observe as the model moved, was the relative positions of each part and then fill in the detail from memory. I realise I have been slavishly believing that pure observation is the key to drawing but it’s not the whole story. Drawing movement is difficult but learning various techniques has helped and almost wiped out my ability to draw a static pose.

At my local life class  I found it hard to draw poses which lasted more than 10 minutes. I found movement and speed of recording  the rapid poses much easier.

The London course introduced me to ,  the drawings of Victor Passmore, Peter Lanyon, Medley and Hilton. These artists were contemporaies and their drawings were concerned with the extremes of both figuration and abstraction  ‘Without these two poles – the idea,implacable, thorny, remote and the medium, fleshy, lecherous and lurid – and without the battle between them and the final sinking of each sovereignty in a common wholeness, there can be no art’  These words were written by Hilton and quoted in a catalogue to describe Medley’s work.

I think this gets close to describing the general direction in which I am currently heading. My long battle to place my work within a framework of either abstract or figurative seems less important than the concern to let an image express something more relevant. I used to worry about choosing a subject but  now that too seems irrelevant. All art is basically about life and the subjects just evolve. I used to propose that my work was centred on landscape but increasingly I find myself painting the human figure, within the landscape. Perhaps that sounds boring but it’s really all there is. Art is a mirror held up to reflect, not record life. We exist in space….end of story.



Yesterday I attended the first of five day classes in Drawing and Movement at The Royal School of Drawing in London. It was a very full-on practical session where I learnt so much about drawing from the tutor, Sara Lee-Roberts. I’ve been drawing all my life yet there is always something new to learn…a way of looking, a way of expressing, a variation on a well-worn technique, a letting-go of elements of your comfort-zone. It was inspirational and most of all practical and active. Here is a small sample of the dozens of drawings I made.

So different from the previous days activity where I sat in college with my peers for a group crit for 4 solid hours. We listened and discussed the work of 5 of the MA group – it’s my turn next week with the second half of the group. A trite expression…. but it blew my mind. The contortions my brain went through trying to understand the complex theories they proposed in relation to their individual practice were exhausting.

So I’ve had a pretty demanding time both physically ( leaving Colchester for London at 7.30 a.m. and getting home at 9 p.m.)on Friday and mentally on Thursday.

Today (Saturday)I woke early with a lot of thoughts swirling around which I just had to get down before they disappeared.

  • What is ART? Is it skill-based or all in the mind?
  • Until I started my university journey I more or less believed it was skill-based. Having been born with a natural ability to draw which over the years I have sought to improve upon, and having always loved looking at art in galleries and learning from this it has become the central part of my being.
  • Alongside this practical skill-based aspect, I have of course, informed myself with the History of Art. Essential to fully understand the subject and have been greatly influenced in my practice by what I have learnt….context (in the mind).
  • I think I’ve always been aware of context but have never given it a name until now. A great simplification, I’m aware, but art pre-14th Century actually changed very slowly and was almost entirely skill-based. There were no schools or movements as such. We have given them names retrospectively. Artists simply competed to outdo each other in artistic skills.Painting and sculpture were  mainly commissioned by the rich either to adorn churches and sometimes public buildings or to represent themselves in portraits.
  • It was not a global, technological world as it is today so that styles and innovations grew slowly in isolation in different parts of the world. I suppose I have to admit that I am mainly thinking about Western European painting practice here.
  • It was not really until the invention of the camera when the ability to represent instantly and in stark reality became possible that art took a dramatic change in direction and purpose.

Again, simplistically, from the Impressionist movement onwards there was such a proliferation of Art Movements that it’s a giddying task to keep up and to understand them all. Artists like Van Gogh began to be influenced by Japanese prints – the start of globalisation?  a Prompted by a desperate search for originality from the 19th Century onwards, artists began to draw from their minds and emotions as the need for representation was stolen from them by technology.  Their inherent artistic skills somehow became less admired or valued. Originality, shock and intellectual mind-games took over. (The Shock of the New???)

To me this is worrying. The search for originality leads to ever more stretching of the boundaries of traditional skill-based practices. Progress is vital of course and innovation of thought and of new technological advances cannot and must not be stopped. These things lead to increasingly beautiful and amazing artwork but I just feel that art should always be underpinned by fine art skills. At it’s best this is still true. Many of today’s artists are superb draughtsmen and although not evident in their final works, these basic skills are at the heart of much ground-breaking artwork. But there are also many other so-called artists who do not possess these attributes and their work is the poorer for this and it remains to be seen if much of it will endure.

I am of the opinion that we should redefine art into new categories of Fine Art and Creativity. The term Creativity could define a vast array of things which  are happening in art today but which are not, in my opinion, actually Art with a capital ‘A’ however incredible or beautiful the results. Inevitably there would be crossovers but these would retain the value of skill-based art which is being eroded to some degree.

The great leveller of time will prove what does or does not survive as Art. In the meantime I must struggle to come to terms with the jungle of art styles, schools and movements for the sake of gaining my MA.