Bicycle Challenge

It was months ago that I was working on this painting, a scene that I spotted in a much- frequented compound here in Kingston (Dr Gomes’ office for you Kingstonians), of light dappling on yellow awnings, and a bicycle, and palm trees. Its initial horizontal rendering worked beautifully, apart from one area, which when I tried to ‘fix’ became two and then three areas that didn’t work, and then the whole thing got lost, as so often happens, and so, after many days’ work, I flipped it in frustration to the vertical, and took on less of the scene, and hoped for the best.

It turned out OK, and it’s found a home already, and the lady who bought it exclaimed when she saw it, and said, “It makes me happy!”, so I’m really glad about that. I do want my pieces to have a positive emotional presence and to calm people’s souls. So it has achieved that. At least for her. For me it was rife with issues – all those straight lines of the grillwork, and trying to have the metal bars look soft in the shade and not like a prison cell, and then of course the bike…. bikes are hard, at least for me, and it went through so many manifestations, none of which came out alive, and I eventually left it as is and put my brushes down in defeat.

I look at it now and mourn all that I lost, all the lovely little areas that were so good and to which heavy-handedness dealt a fatal blow… but, I don’t stay there. There was A LOT of learning in it: using a ruler was fun, and new for me, and I want to use them more because I really like straight lines (news to me); and I introduced a grid for the bicycle, which again was a fun accuracy tool that I’d not used for many years (in fact, I think I’ve only used it for teaching, to people who are new to drawing, but it’s a very handy tool that this painting reintroduced me to, so for that I’m grateful). And I got more experience using the newspaper, which is such a lovely element on the surface of a piece, but elusive, as it can only take the lightest of glazes before it’s lost.

So, I’m chalking it all up to experience, and there are other areas that I like; the brushwork of the shadow on the awnings, the drips coming off the building and suggesting palm fronds, the textured palm tree trunk that is all that remains of the first vertical painting, and so on. Indeed, it’s the smaller areas that work best. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that, to paint smaller and try and get what’s within a small space working, rather than have such big pieces that present so many problems when trying to make all the little places work as a whole.

As it happens, I can’t photograph the whole thing without glare and shine, so it’s best to enjoy the details in all their abstract mark-making cameo glory….

But I do have to ask, what is it about us artists that has us struggling after something that we can’t even define? Why are we never satisfied? I’d think it was just me that sinks to depths of despair if I didn’t teach art, and am therefore a witness to others’ frustrations, and the subsequent coaching is as much a part of teaching as anything technical as they too struggle with finding satisfaction.

I garden too, and it doesn’t cause me ANY grief, and the flowers are way more beautiful than my paintings will ever be, so what is the problem?

 

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‘The Bicycle of Many Moons’, Oil and collage on panel, 48″ x 36″

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JAMAICA panels, Part 4

fishing panel

Acrylic on panel, 48″ x 48″

The fourth and final panel features Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth, but it could be any coastal fishing village in Jamaica. Stylized fish and a turtle fill the only boxes; the rest is open sea and sky, peaceful and restful.

Because the competition was abandoned, I had 4 panels on my hands and didn’t know what to do with them… but a good friend who runs a hospital for cancer patients, Dr Dingle Spence of The Hope Institute here in Kingston, was giving the place a face-lift, so I gave her the last two panels as a donation to a very worthy cause. I thought with their dreamy skies and soft blues they’d be a welcome addition to an environment that offers palliative care; something to take the mind off the drudgery and pain of dealing with cancer, for both the patients and the staff.

The other two panels went into storage, and I forgot about them for years, and then just before Christmas 2018 I remembered them and took them out, and to make a long story short, they were spotted by Mr Christopher Issa of Spanish Court Hotel and promptly bought by him to be displayed in his new S Hotel in Montego Bay. Not only that, but he commissioned another 4 panels, 3 of which are done. I’ll soon start the fourth…

JAMAICA panels, Part 3

Downtown panel

Acrylic on panel, 48″ x 48″

The third and fourth panels were depicting places, this one Downtown, with landmark architecture, the ubiquitous taxis, and a push-cart man. I had the sky sweep through the two levels of Cityscape, uniting them and lifting them up, thinking as I was of a large public space filled with massive tapestries…

JAMAICA panels, Part 2

Green panel

Acrylic on panel, 48″ x 48″

The first two panels were formatted to read almost as a comic strip. Mini-paintings in every box speak to different aspects of Jamaican life that everyone can relate to, whether they’re born and raised in Jamaica, or are visitors discovering this beautiful island for the first time. So in this second panel (the Green panel), the hills and Blue Mountain coffee are featured; an agapanthus flower and one of the old-time country buses; a schoolgirl, and dancers, and Jimmy Cliff; a Carnival girl, a football, a pouie tree and a pineapple. All are painted with a limited and harmonious palette.

JAMAICA panels, Part 1

Red panel

Acrylic on reinforced panel, 48″ x 48″

Back in 2012 I painted 4 panels for a competition. Had I won, the 4 ‘designs’ would have been woven into 40 foot square tapestries and hung in a semi-public space, the foyer of what was to have been the new headquarters for Digicel, an Irish phone company here in the Caribbean. I designed the 4 panels to read a s a storyboard of Jamaican life, featuring athletes and music, fruits and trees, and lots more besides, in quintessential Jamaican colours and in simple shapes, so that they’d weave up well on a massive loom. On the day that all submissions were due, the tax authorities raided Digicel’s corporate offices and seized their computers at gunpoint. End of competition…the company decided to relocate to Miami, Florida, and that was that.

Visiting Old Friends

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oil on canvas, 24″ x 54″

Revisiting this piece and making some changes has me wanting to be up there again, in the soft rain amongst the agapanthus. I think an annual pilgrimage to either Mandeville or Greenwich is a worthy aspiration as I know there’s a lot that can be done with these heavenly flowers, and this is just a beginning.

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There are the buds in their various stages, and the sculptural perfection of them; there’s the spindly stems of the flowers and the way they burst into soft blue stars; there’s the spherical suggestion of the blossom, and the tall and slender stalks; there’s the host of lilacs and cobalts on the hillsides. And then there are the homes that they usually surround. I introduced a building into this painting to give it a context, something to work with the pathway; I’d like to work more compositions with agapanthus and buildings. Spring soon come….

Kingston Garden

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oil on canvas, 42″ x 57″

Started well over a year ago, this piece hung on the wall unfinished because I didn’t know how to finish it. It is now completed. There were so many areas I liked I was afraid to continue in case I lost them, but once I gathered my courage and began back in it actually went well, and it revealed itself to me without (too much) hesitation. In fact, it’s got a freedom of brushstroke that I really enjoy and have been aiming for – loose and seemingly spontaneous, and the palette is so pleasing – soft and dreamy…. so I’m happy with it. Always a good place to be.

The flowers and leaves are all in my garden so I see them all the time, and I’d been painting a series of these sexy pinks and hanging heliconias, so after much fumbling and attempting to do them justice I am finally finding a dialogue with them that we both enjoy…at least I do, and they’re not complaining.

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I’m finally beginning to accept that each piece I paint starts beautifully and with lots of promise and gorgeous marks, and then I mess it up, and then I spend a long time with plenty cussing trying to ameliorate. Trying to make what’s terrible better. Or not good enough acceptable, and then some. To save it from the reject pile.

This process allows a lot of luscious paint to build up, and there is the lovely play of drips and strokes and colours and tones, and that’s what make it interesting eventually, at least to me.

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Not tight and controlled. “Spirit over rendering” is my new mantra.

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It’s big, and difficult to photograph, but this is a record and that’s all it’s supposed to be.

Today I varnish it and prepare it to head off to a new as yet unknown home…