Saturday, August 30, 2008

Black & White Show at the Truckee River Gallery

The Dream
Charcoal on Paper

I will be exhibiting two large charcoal drawings in this themed show - The Dream, and A New Perspective.

A New Perspective
Charcoal on Paper
35 x 17"

Artists Reception
Today - Saturday, August 30th from 4-7 PM
Admission free

I love working in charcoal - it's my first love, artistically speaking. In fact, the majority of my work in art school was either just charcoal, or a mix of paint and the black stuff. I spent three years wondering around Bristol with coal miner's hands, a smudgy face and black ears (from taking my earphones on and off whilst I was working - The Carmina Burana was a favourite at that time)

It's interesting to revisit some of that early work, I think you can see some of the roots of my climbing art in there, as well as the more recent self portraits. Although my older work was driven in large part by the philosophical and theological texts I bent my head around at that time, there were a great deal of personal issues I worked through with my art. All of the drawings were huge, around 15 feet mostly. Here's a couple of examples:

InTimate Illusions (1997)
Charcoal on Paper
15 x 7 feet

Soft Liquid Joy (1997)
Charcoal on Paper
15 x 7 feet

The Truckee River Gallery is located at 11 North Sierra Street, #100 next to the Century Riverside. Summer hours include an expanded schedule, and the gallery is now open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Parking is available on the street (metered until 6 p.m.). The gallery also validates parking for up to one hour in the Galleria Parking Garage located at First and Sierra Streets.

P.S. More on Burning Man as promised tomorrow....

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Burning Man Experience

Joe being filmed wiring the electric sheep

I just got back from the Burning Man festival in the Nevada Desert. Yes, I'm home early...I went out last week to help a group of Welshmen build a sculpture which was commissioned by Welsh TV company S4C. My friend Joe Roberts is one of the two artists making this sculpture, and he invited me along to help out. It was fun, and great be involved with a totally different kind of art project, but the conditions were just too much for me in the end. A day long dust storm with winds of 50mph, along with the arid desert heat just finished me off.

Joe in the Dust

I did stay long enough to see the city - Black Rock City, the third largest in Nevada, temporarily - take shape, and see some of the most amazing and innovative mobile artworks I've ever seen.

The art project we were involved with is called 'Man Gwyn Man Draw', which is a Welsh proverb meaning the equivalent of 'the grass is greener on the other side'. The sculpture / installation, satisfying the most obvious of Welsh stereotypes (!) is a herd of sheep headed
towards a giant wheatsheaf with mock flames coming out of the top.

The faux flames

The sheep are constructed as kind of 'cybersheep', out of steel, fleece and plastic. They have lights inside them, and motion activated voice recorders. I'll post more pictures of the finished thing in the next few days.

Sheep heads

The TV show will air in November, and hopefully I will be able to post a subtitled version on this blog (it's a Welsh language production)

Here's a bit I wrote in my journal whilst I was there:

Burning Man 2008-08-24

The wheatsheaf structure

Today is day 4, and there is a dust storm. It’s been crazy so far, what with building the sculpture and the challenges of heat, time and limited materials and resources. The guys did an impressive amount of preparation for this project – having componants such as LED’s and voice recorders designed and manufactured in advance, as well as welded steel structures and fleece sheep coats. There is still a huge amount to be done on site though – 17 sheep need to be made from steel strips: drilled, riveted, bent into shape. It’s a lengthy and repetitive process, requiring cooperation, patience and hard work - far removed from my creative process.

It looks to me like they’re going to get this thing finished in time, but they’re not so confident. The heat of the day is oppressive, too oppressive for hard manual labour, so jobs need to be done in the shade. The actual site of the installation is about a 10 minute bike ride from camp, in the middle of nowhere at the moment.

The city is growing day by day, and other weird and wonderful installations are popping up around us. A giant Hummer is being constructed nearby, and the industrial lighting they use to work at night is almost enough for us to work by. There’s also a temple being made out of wood, which I haven’t been close up to yet. It looks phenomenally complicated. It’s a real eye opener how much work these people put into their camps and artworks, for no profit apart from the pleasure of making. It makes me feel slightly ashamed of my increasingly career driven artwork. Many of these pieces will be burned at the end of the week, like the temple – and this again reminds me of how attached I am to my work, and how driven I am by my desire to sell my work to buy the things we want to furnish our life with – a house, kids, a garden…It’s hard in the ‘real world’ to separate the necessity of the fiscal with your creative drive, unless it’s something you do on the side, as well as your ‘money work’. I guess this kind of event presents people with the opportunity to be childlike in that sense, making for the sake of making, with no other reward than the reactions of other people to your artistry.

The people I’ve met so far are quite odd, as you would expect in a place like this. My social ‘antennae’ feel malfunctional, and I’m not sure what people are saying to me. I think we’re the ‘square kids’ here: we’re not naked or outrageously attired, and that singles us out as outsiders. I think we might be regarded with suspicion. It’s like the reverse of what normally happens in society – the strange and unusual folk are alienated from ‘normal’ people, and are regarded at best as quirky individuals other people secretly want to be a bit more like, and at worst, as freaks of nature people are frightened and resentful of because they’re so far from the norm, and it’s imagined they might be depraved and insane, and capable of anything. Actually I’m starting to think that might be the case, there’s certainly a lot more deviant sexual character to this festival than I imagined. A quick look at the program of events is a shocking experience already.

A frankly overdressed burner (but I love pink!)
More tomorrow.......

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Two Commissions

Reflections on Pyramid Lake
Oil on Canvas

I had two commissions to do recently, and ended up painting them at the same time. I set up two easels, and shared the same palette - a big glass one on a table top. I just found it easier to to work on both together, as they both needed time for layers to dry so it worked out well.

This first one is for Russell Lindsey, who contacted me after seeing Pyramid Lake painitngs on my blog. He's putting together a touring exhibition of paintings inspired by Pyramid Lake, Nevada. For this he is collecting works by contemporary artists, and antique works he is finding through galleries and the internet. It's a really intriguing project, and I'm flattered to be asked to contribute to something which will serve as a historical documentation of a landscape so precious to certain people.

Russell wrote to me about his thoughts on the title of the exhibition:
"Pyramid Lake Reflections," since it has several levels of meaning: an image given back, like a mirror; a thought or idea formed as a result of meditation; deep consideration of some subject matter. "

Pyramid Lake is part of the Native American Paiute Tribes' Reservation land, and is a located in the stark desert mountains of Nevada. The name of the lake comes from the impressive pyramid shaped tufa formations which protrude out of the water.

I'm pleased with the painting, it evokes a sense of calm I rarely accomplish in my work - despite the fact that I deliberately chose a day when a thunder storm was brewing.

Martin & Vargas
La Vinya - CD Cover

Martin & Vargas are a band I saw in Tahoe recently - they were playing on the sandy shore as the sun went down. They are actually a threesome, two guitars and a cello, playing "a mediterranean blend of Spanish and Flamenco guitar". I couldn't help wanting to sketch them, so I just did a few quick ink drawings whilst they were playing. They came over in their break, and asked me if I'd consider doing a painting for their CD cover.

They had obviously been thinking about it for a long time, and knew exactly what they wanted. I was a bit nervous at first, to be honest - trying to paint what someone else has in their 'minds eye' is notoriously loaded with interpretive land mines. I sketched out a composition based of their ideas, tweaked it a bit, and hoped for the best.....

Fortunately they love it! Yey!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Looking Up (working title)

Looking Up
Oil on Canvas

This is the painting I mentioned recently that I was working on. I know it seems quite different to the recent fruit paintings I've been doing, but there doesn't seem enough room to really let go with the paint like this. My Kokanee paintings have more of this character - some detailed, realistic sections, surrounded by wilder, more chaotic markmaking. It makes me think of the eye of the storm, a little pocket of stillness amongst the drama. I used to have a recurring dream when I was a kid, which this reminds me of.

Looking up is a working title, as I'm still not sure what it's saying. We're 'living' with it for now (ie it's visible from almost anywhere in the house) whilst I make some decisions about it - I'm sure it's finished now, but it's quite loaded emotionally so will take some time to name. It's in the lounge, and it's much huger than I thought it was when it was in the studio.

I used a combination of brush, palette knife and foam pad to paint this piece. I wanted to create texture and light, in a slightly surreal, dreamlike way. I wanted to create something which expressed both ease and awkwardness, confidence and insecurity in the same complicated individual. It's physically a self portrait, but the ideas and intentions are more universal.

Paintings can often reveal something quite intangible about the artist, something not easily communicated in words. That's a big part of the appeal of painting for me, and the challenge of writing this blog about the processes involved in realising something so linguistically slippery, is an education every day.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Oil on Panel

So here was a fruit I hadn't seen before...a pluot - here's what Wikipedia says about them:

A pluot (pl├╝-ot) is a tradename for a fruit developed in the late 20th century by Floyd Zaiger.[1] In the United States, the fruit is known by most regulatory agencies as an interspecific plum.[2] It is a complex cross hybrid of plum and apricot, being ¾ plum and ¼ apricot in percentage. The pluot, like the aprium, is derived from the half-plum–half-apricot hybrid called the plumcot.

The fruit's exterior with smooth skin closely resembles a plum's. Pluots are noted for their sweetness (due to a very high sugar content), their intense flavor, and juicy pulp. Pluots are also rich in vitamin A.

I was looking for more dark red fruit to paint, and came across these in the supermarket. They're a bit more 'engineered' than I like, a bit too perfect, but they are a cool heart shape and I like the colour.