Thursday, 14 November 2019

An Artist's Thoughts on the Creative Process: Returning to Oil Paint

'Dawn Poem,' acrylic and oil paint on board, 45 x 30 cm


In a week or so I will finish my review of the Beijing International Art Biennale, once I have collated all the sizes of the artwork and names of the chosen artists, but for now I'm posting a few new and reworked paintings from the past 8 days.

A recent painting, posted on October 17th, shows some of my current interests and how I'm exploring the fluid qualities of acrylic paint because it allows me to parallel the approach of working with ink on rice paper. However, this week I decided to go back to using oil paint and to rework some older paintings. It's always good to break the 'pattern' of working for an extended period of time in one medium; it allows you to see things afresh and combine the best of several mediums, if you choose. It allows for new questions.

Much of my work focuses around questions such as: can I take this risk? does it have meaning and make sense in visual terms? does it have to make sense according to pre-determined rules? can I extend the boundaries of past ideas? am I being surprised by the elements; are they expressive of my inner world? I've written quite a few blog posts about these questions which have helped me to clarify aspects of my journey and I always hope they may be helpful to readers.

I love to work on top of old paintings because there's already substance and potential to excavate. I can 'live' the worlds emerging in the paint as fresh new colour begins a relationship with older paint. The first two of these four paintings relate to my recent insomnia and seeing the first light of dawn. The Dawn paintings are a bit more abstract, bringing thick paint qualities back in to my mind. While the first Dawn painting is more structured with colour, the example below is toying with an emptier, looser kind of space.

'Dawn Rising,' oil and acrylic on board, 60 x 40 cm

I tread in circles around a form of calligraphic mark making and colour, letting my imagination inform the various elements, and a series of paintings which tend to have horizon lines and are more landscape based, such as this one.

'Fiona's Place,' oil, oil bar, and acrylic on board, 45 x 65 cm

And paintings which almost seem to excavate their shapes and rhythms....

'Windswept Landscape,' oil and acrylic on board, 40 x 60 cm

(The colours in the above painting are not quite correct - there's a delicate red shape running through the lower quarter of the painting which just doesn't show up at the correct value and which really informs the sense of space in this work.)

I worked on the 4 paintings in the same session which is quite helpful as there's no pressure on any one painting. 

I'm going to leave these paintings as 'finished' because I feel that they have stopped 'speaking' to me of the need for further work, and I'm sitting today hoping my new stretchers may arrive so I can start new work.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Inspired by my Flight to China for the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale 2019

'Flight to China,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 110 x 70 cm

While I collate the set of photos for the second review of the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale, I'm posting a photo of a work in progress which was inspired by my recent long flight to Beijing.

I actually hate flying! But when I've had a few glasses of wine I'm able to marvel at the changing landscape below and often draw. This painting is a composite of my 4 flights to China since 2015 and it intertwines so many aspects of landscape and my love of landscape. Since I was a child I've felt the underlying energies of the land and this painting explores a sense of those energies, a feeling of movement, the movement from West to East, and approaches mark making and variations of colour in reference to my many ink paintings on rice paper,

The quality of mark making and the quick spread of ink, as you work on the highly absorbent rice paper, creates all kinds of unexpected effects and beautiful transitions. I wanted to see if I could take aspects of these qualities on to canvas using thin washes of colour. The photo does not really show the transitions of tonal values in the colours or the textures and thick versus thin paint. There are light veils of colour (coastal areas) and ink brush strokes made with a calligraphy brush. It is a painting which, as it is largish, needs to be seen in reality to experience all the detail and contrasts. I still see this as 'In Progress' because there are a few tiny areas I may still tweak, but I see it as a highly personal painting and the shapes and colours emerged from the painting as it developed; there was no planning or sketching in of areas.

I like my work to be a parallel for journeys and as I painted this I relived certain parts of that journey, remembering both the actual landscapes and also the intense feelings they created and my imaginings about what lay below. Most important for me is to be able to travel through my imagination as the paint sets cues on the canvas.

Stay tuned for the 2nd part of my reviews of the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Review of the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale, 2019, Part One

Elmar Peintner, 'Children's Feet and Ladders,' oil and pencil on canvas

As a painter I always love to write about other artist's work and being a participant in the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale at the National Art Museum of China gave me the chance to see a diverse array of artwork that simply called to be written about!

The 8th Beijing International Art Biennale this year had the largest number of participating countries (113) and the theme was 'A Colourful World and a Shared Future.' There is a size requirement of a minimum of 120 cm by 120 cm for paintings, though sculptures were many sizes, and this may be because the walls of the National Art Museum are so large and high that they call for large paintings. Many of the Chinese artists' work is very large indeed! 

In these articles I will be selecting a few artists to write about and also posting general photos of the exhibition. Unfortunately I did not have time to see it all as the large rooms across 3 floors needed a few days to fully explore.

I met the Austrian artist Elmar Peintner in 2015, (painting above) at the 6th Biennale, and since that time I have been a big admirer of his paintings. His large compositions always give an unusual viewpoint and an unexpected interpretation of the Biennale themes. 

The painting above combines powerful empty space (bare canvas), patterns and figuration in a masterly way with great subtlety and sensitivity. It is a painting which invites you to go closer to examine the flow of textures and colours and to marvel at the concept. Elmar's paintings all display such a creative and emotional use of composition and sensitive transitions between colours and shapes. Many times I thought that the medium of his paintings was watercolour because the lightness of touch and quality of the brushwork has the delicateness of watercolour.

He writes about this painting: 'The children's feet in a variety of skin colours represent childhood in a cross-cultural context..'


Elmar Peintner with his painting 'Children's Feet and Ladders.'






A view of the exhibition


Shefali Ranthe, 'My Life is in Your Hands,' oil on canvas

Shefali Ranthe lives in Copenhagen. I first met her at the 7th Beijing International Art Biennale in 2017 when I was impressed by the beautiful colours she uses and her rich imagination.  Her work defies any category being entirely her unique vision of life. It combines inventive figuration and abstraction with vibrant colours and shapes. I love her boldness and the way she pulls abstract shapes of colour through elements of figuration, using both large areas and tiny accents of detail to create movement, and I admire the richness of her paint textures. I feel that she is completely at ease with who she is as an artist and her paintings exude happiness.


Shefali Ranthe with her painting






The Opening Ceremony

Soraya Sikander with her painting 'A Winter Night.'

Soraya Sikander is an artist from Pakistan who currently lives and works in Dubai. She paints large abstracts which have an interest in calligraphic brush work and colour and are often layered with fluid paint. They allow the viewer to make all kinds of associations and to enter their imaginary world. She says:

'At the point of action, at the point of painting, all sorts of other elements come in to play. It is not totally cerebral, it is not planned on a piece of paper and replicated on canvas. My work has the ability to surprise me. It captures the complexity of development.....It is the whole meaning that interests me not just surface development.'

The photo does not give the full beauty of the complex surface and marks or the richness of the colours. In reference to the theme she writes that it is:

'...a  universal common thread shared by men.'

This was a painting which kept inviting me to go back and look and find new meanings and places each time.

'A Winter Night,' and its caption


The Official photo of all the invited artists outside the National Art Museum of China, Beiijing



Liao Qin (China) 'Sharing Wind and Woe in the Same Boat.'

The painting above by one of the Chinese artists was truly amazing. The photo does not do it justice because the colours and details really need to be seen in reality. This artist also spoke at the symposium and I was moved by his humble request for people to critique his work and make further suggestions. It looks perfect to me!

Further works by these artists can be found on their websites.

To be continued with more paintings and also sculptures.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

My Participation in the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale 2019 , Part Three: Landscape Painting

View of the distant lake, ink on paper

As part of my series of articles on the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale, I'm posting some ink paintings I made in the Chinese landscape on September 1st. 

To my delight I was invited to go on a painting trip to a village not far from the mountains with about 30 other artists, a mix of Chinese participants and others from around the world. As I'd found out about this trip before I went to China I packed my ink (bought in Beijing in 2017) and calligraphy brushes and bought paper while in Beijing.


Mountain View, ink on paper

Mountain View, ink on paper


View from the tower I painted from


The journey out of Beijing and into the verdant landscape took about an hour and then we were divided in to groups when we reached the village. Some of us were taken down to a small river to paint but I think that possibly artists had specific ideas they wanted to work from because no one wanted to work from the river. (If I had had longer time I would have been happy to paint there as it was quite interesting.) Consequently we split up to seek out other places of inspiration.

Since my first glimpse of distant mountains I knew I wanted to paint them.  Two of the guides took me up a hill to a wooden tower where I was able to paint alone for about 90 minutes. The view was incredible; a panorama that stretched on two sides (north and west) to mountains, and then the land fell away in to undulating pastures and areas of trees to the east, and to the south I could see a lake and far beyond the hazy outline of Beijing. It was very hot and once my eyes acclimatised to the bright sunlight, an array of many greens spilled out from the land. 

I had deliberately taken only ink as my aim was to catch some shapes and lines I might extend back in the UK.


Add caption

I painted mostly North, West and South, and made 12 ink paintings. One of the guides had her small daughter with her and I was quite surprised when she looked at a small ink - quite abstract with few marks - and exclaimed 'It's a whole picture yet with so little brush work!'


View of the Lake,, ink on paper

View of the Lake, ink on paper

Though I initially concentrated on the mountains, I soon became quite intrigued by the distant lake because I knew we would be painting there in a few hours. The sun being in front of me cast deep shadows in some areas while other elements faded in to a shimmery haze.

The guides took me back to the village where I met up with the other artists and we had a huge lunch which consisted of many different dishes brought to us freshly cooked from the kitchen. 

Tables being set for us in the village


The table I shared with friends

The amazing dining area
Not long after our meal, we were taken to lake Quilong where everyone set up next to the rippling expanse of water dotted with islands of lotus leaves. There were floating water lilies with small yellow flowers and I became mesmerised by the swaying water as I sat on large rocks to paint.


Ripples on the lake, ink on paper

Artists painting by the lake, ink on paper

I was also intrigued by the distant mountains which seemed to echo the shapes of the tangled lotus leaves....


Lotus Leaves and Mountains


Lake Quilong

Artists at work

The lake and nearby houses


Some of the artists (I am the 3rd from the right)
Finally, we all went back to the village to have a discussion with the leaders of the village and the Chinese artists. It was wonderful to have this exchange and to share our ideas. There were several photographers and we were filmed as well. I was invited to say something because they had seen my speech the previous day and I mentioned how much I had loved the experience of being able to paint in the landscape and that I would love to stay for several weeks! I felt really lucky to have been offered this chance and to have had a glimpse in to aspects of village life. 

Everyone was so friendly and wanted to know how we felt about the trip and what ideas we had to extend or improve it for the future.

The leaders of the village starting the discussion

Some of the artists

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

My Participation in the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale, Beijing, China 2019, Part Two

Coming in to land at Zurich airport

It is a month since I flew to China for the 8th Beijing International Art Biennale and I've only found the time now to collate images for my blog, both for my personal account of my trip and also for several articles that will follow over the next few weeks with photos of individual artworks.

For this post I'm adding photos of my journey and the first day in Beijing. It has always been exciting for me because though this was my fourth trip to China (third for the BIAB) I simply love China! I've had a deep interest in Chinese art since I was 11 and spent many hours copying ink paintings of animals and landscapes from library books. I've also enjoyed Chinese films since I was a student.

This time I flew with Swiss Air and changed aircraft at Zurich. I've flown Air France and China Southern in the past and this airline was just as good.



Flying out over Switzerland for a 10 hour flight to Beijing

Though I took off during the day on 28th August, about 5 hours of the final part of the flight was in darkness. Here are a few photos of coming in over Beijing and landing at dawn. We seemed to circle for ages over Beijing and its suburbs and I loved seeing all the flashing colourful lights below. Then as a strip of eastern sky lightened to pale orange-red, we began our descent. We landed just as the sun was about to rise! It was about 5.15am LT.


Beijing at night

Touchdown at Dawn!

It took quite a while to get through Terminal 3 - the first time I've landed at this largest terminal - and this included getting a small train across the airport. Then I collected my bags and walked hopefully out to Arrivals looking carefully for the BIAB representative. She greeted me so sweetly and I asked her to take a photo of me in all my sleepless glory....


I felt worse than this....though very excited

We went out to the bus once everyone had arrived, about 10 of us, and some of the artists were known to me from previous trips. Then we went to Terminal 2 to pick up other artists. Finally at about 9.am we set off on the colourful journey to Beijing which took about an hour. I loved seeing the trees lining the route because there is a particular type of tree with leaves that sway in the breezes like pieces of glittering silver coins. None of the other trees' leaves appeared like shimmering silver and I don't know the name of these trees but they seem endemic to China. I will post a video of them another time.

Arriving at the hotel was quite chaotic because of the time of day. Lots of artists were already in the foyer and we found out that we could not check in till 2pm so it was suggested that we have an early lunch - 11.30 - and wait. I met up with old friends and found two Chinese ladies who I was thrilled to meet up with again because I had lost touch with them since the 2015 BIAB. I was approached by an artist from Chile who told me she reads my blog!

Here are some photos of the foyer area. It is a Theatre hotel, showing genuine Chinese theatrical productions, and beautifully decorated with great attention to detail, as everything is in China.


Part of the foyer


Artists waiting to get their room keys




Entrance to the theatre

When I went for the amazing lunch in the dining hall I met several old friends. Altogether I guess about 150 artists were invited for the 4 days though not everyone arrived at the same time or even on the same day. Some arrived that night, some had been exploring China for several days before coming to the hotel.


Entrance to the dining hall


Some old and new friends

Then I was able to get the keys to my bedroom and it was on floor 5, room 5071. It was a really large room with a huge bed and very large bathroom. Being at the side of the hotel I had a view across a street and I realised that this was the area I had seen from the aircraft as we came in to land because I had noticed shadowy blocks of flats and worked out our flight route from the position of the moon and direction. Every night aircraft flew in over the hotel area though not so low as to be noisy.

It was by then 2.30pm and I decided to sleep for 3 hours because I had not slept for about 48 hours - I had waited overnight at Heathrow on the Tuesday night.



 View from my window


My room

That evening our supper was at an early hour - 5.30-7pm - and I met many more old friends and was really happy to see these artists again. (I will be writing about the artwork of some of these artists in a future post.) Mobile phones and cameras never ceased to take photos....


Our first supper (I am 3rd from the left in green cardigan) with most of this group being artists I knew



After our meal a group of us went for a walk in the area around our hotel. (I was quite regretful that I did not know about the David Hockney exhibition that some of the artists went off to see that evening.) In Beijing there are areas of Hutongs, which consist of traditional old houses called Siheyuans with narrow alleyways.  I really like these old houses and a painting may come from this. One such area was just behind our hotel and we went to explore it. In the past the Hutongs were being destroyed but now some are being preserved as tourist areas because they have such a charm and give a glimpse in to other aspects of Beijing. I could imagine how Beijing might have looked centuries ago with a sea of these grey buildings and their tiled, peaked roof tops. Their brickwork is a very particular grey.

So here is a collection of photos taken in the small Hutong area we walked around.



A Supermarket

A street in the Hutong area

Typical Siheyuan - grey bricks and peaked roof



Siheyuan showing peaked roof

A small restaurant in the Hutong area

Entrance to the restaurant which was full of people

I said to one of my friends that the lighting on the streets in Beijing, the bright, warm colours and the whole lively atmosphere really reminded me of Nicosia. It is quite a different feeling to the vibes of streets where I live in Tunbridge Wells, Kent (UK). 

We took a few group photos before returning to the hotel really tired. I slept a few hours and then jet lag set in. I was not able to throw it off for the four nights and spent most nights watching people on the road outside my window, people cycling late at night, a large van cleaning the roads with jets of water, and the sun rise, while drinking jasmine tea. If I am lucky enough to go again I will take sleeping tablets!




I am the second from the left.....

And a view of our hotel, Qiamen Jianguo.


Stay tuned, more to follow!