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Mastering The Hit and Mystery of Watercolour

I live in a blur.

Drawing deblurs…..it defines boundaries, it makes lines round things and creates shapes. However- in nature edges arrive due to the force that drives from within. A line is a direction – a movement. A line does many things during the drawing process. As it changes direction it becomes less ambiguous. Defining a shape, the line loses its energy and transfers the energy to the shape it has enclosed. The  line then has two jobs – to define what is next to it whilst retaining the energy of the stroke.

This morning I am strolling through a thick fog,  a white sun seeps through the haze like a melting marshmallow. Walking downhill through the park that lies between my home and the invisible otherwise gleaming spires of Oxford, all I can see are the ghosts of trees dappled with a few remaining pointillizing leaves and a looming figure trailing the silhouette of a dark dog. The blur that wraps around me like a scarf is vaguely comforting. My surroundings are simplified- they are mystified into a state that could readily be translated into paint!. Nevertheless, I walk on in punning rather than painting mode – mist defying.

I am pondering the mental blur that passes for my thought process, the way in which I am constantly trying to define things, the need to organize, make boundaries, have goals, arrange, how life is a drawing process, balancing on the cusp between order and chaos, creating structure from day to day in order to survive whilst keeping in touch with the disordered self, the self that has the ideas that make me tick.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of painting on large metre square tiles in the studio of a Beijing ceramic factory. Armed with a variety of brushes, my favoured tools turned out to be sponges, wire wool, rags and fingernails. The process of getting the glazes fixed to the slippery surface was totally unlike painting on paper. I found it exhilarating. Ideas that I had previously laboured on with mixed success on paper, board and canvas became liberated on these tiles. Marks that I might have previously considered out of order in my paintings suddenly gained respectability on ceramic. Each day I arrived in the studio I was off on a new tack responding to the mood of the day. I can’t wait to see how they look after firing.

Back home in England I am considering the ‘safety’ and ‘validity’ of my own painting whilst driving west for the opening of the RWS show at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro and then on to visit a long-awaited major exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Cornish painter Peter Lanyon at Tate St Ives.

Lanyon was a visiting speaker at my college when I was a teenager – I didn’t realize then his importance in the development of English landscape painting.  Subsequently, I tuned in to his preoccupation with the shape that topographical images take in our memory and how they reassemble themselves when we act out and represent places and experiences in paint.  St Ives painters and sculptors, like Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, who abstracted elements from nature to make aesthetically pleasing and tasteful objects, were anathema to Peter Lanyon who employed shapes and colours derived from his Cornish surroundings in a simultaneously jumbling and ordering process, to represent a specific place or sensation. Taste didn’t come into the picture.

This ‘getting a grip on reality is obsessive for we painters. Our mental images may seem clear to us until we start to express them and then we realize the enormity of the blur we are attempting to grasp!


Artist & Illustrator “A Splash of Colour” No.13 | Jan 2011