Monday, 15 January 2018

New Work, Extended Ideas, New Adventures

'Over the Hills and Far Away,' (China series) acrylic and ink on canvas, 70 x 50 cm
For this post I am just going to add a few new paintings made in the last two weeks. January tends to be quite a busy month because of applying for new opportunities and getting new work ready. It is exciting and also requires much work to follow leads in the work and follow leads to new opportunities.

'Paint-Poem,' acrylic and ink on MDF, 80 x 63 cm
I am also re-posting a few paintings I posted last time which were not of good resolution. 

'When Will We Walk in the Land Again?' acrylic and ink on canvas, 30 x 22 cm

'Don't Worry, Spring Will Soon Be Here,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 30 x 22 cm

I am trying out some ideas about colour and space along with my interest in calligraphy and how places can be suggested with these elements layered and combined. 
'Walking Through Broken Structures,' ink and acrylic on canvas, 65 x 55 cm

I joined Instagram just over a week ago and I have found the instant viewing of artwork really quite helpful to my own practice and in particular the way that paintings can be saved in a private album. This has enabled me to collate work by some of my favourite artists and to have those works in one place. I always look at the work of other artists as a source of inspiration and a reminder that there are no rules, only your own!

'Going Home,' acrylic and ink on MDF, 80 x 65 cm

Thursday, 11 January 2018

An Artist's idea of 'good' and 'bad.

'Going Home,' acrylic on MDF, 62 x 80 cm 

This last week I felt happier for getting my painting rhythm back after some weeks of interruptions. When I don't paint I feel that my ideas get blocked and then I become really frustrated! Today I am going to post some of my thoughts from this past week.

My doorway in to re-establishing that rhythm is always to start several paintings. In between painting I think a lot about what 'good' and 'bad' mean for me as an artist. Sometimes in this search and sifting through of elements- most of which appear intuitively and are not forced - I re-evaluate what elements mean the most to me and what is just 'filling in,' or not relevant to the piece I am working on. This may be different for each piece and I allow that difference to happen because without it the work may not step forward. Each piece is a separate entity yet part of the journey. 

'Flying into Amsterdam Airport,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 30 x 22 cm

If I say to myself before I begin painting, 'It has to be more simple in approach,' then that thought will get in the way and force decisions. So I like to work by putting down some paint and seeing where those strands of ideas can be expanded upon or developed in the next painting. I may start with a few colours and in the search for a coherence there may be the need to add more colours or work over colours that are not working well. I think that for each painter this 'well' will be something different and the main thing is to decide what it means for you. 

'The Seagull's Flight,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 30 x 22 cm

This past week I worked on two older paintings - still in progress - 6 smaller canvases, and 2 medium canvases. I also painted on a piece of MDF I had prepared with ideas of working into the textured gesso. (I am posting a few of the new ones.) My thoughts circled around calligraphic marks, colour, space, and my ongoing interest in suggesting landscape or a place without illustrating it. Sometimes paintings may remind me of a place or experience and I allow this to shape the painting. I also want the work to be about paint and to extend some ideas gained through my trips to China. Other than that, it is always and will always be a mystery! Some paintings succeed, some don't, and all the time my intuition about what works keeps evolving.

'Highlands,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 30 x 22 cm

I see the canvas as an arena of discovery and enjoy watching an image emerge. I really enjoy struggling with a canvas. That is when something new may appear. My work seems to alternate between quite complex and simpler paintings. It used to bother me but now I find that the one approach feeds the other approach. 

I believe that intuition becomes honed the more you paint and look at paintings. A few years ago a friend gave me a copy of an interview David Sylvester did with Francis Bacon and I keep in mind the phrase Bacon used about 'trapping' an image. It seems most appropriate for my way of working.

Friday, 5 January 2018


'Routes and Directions,' acrylic on canvas, 92 x 73 cm
I have always hated the first week of January! Somehow it is without shape, neither the festive end of the year or full of new, memorable events -  mostly a conglomerate of bad weather and dim light! But over the years I have learned to use that first week as a time to write lists of aims for the year and to start new work. I believe that the sluggishness I feel is due to lack of light because when I go to Cyprus at this time of year to visit my in-laws I always feel brighter. But with the beginning of January I have discovered that new directions seem to be triggered by that imaginary line between old and new.

A family illness has interrupted my regular posts and also my intention to write a review of the Beijing International Art Biennale. This will have to be delayed for the moment. For now, I am going to post a few paintings from last year. Straight after this post I am going back to work on the 3 new paintings begun this week. I am still exploring the way that paint can suggest places and at this point I feel that some figuration may find its way back in to the paintings.

'Feeling My Way Through the Land,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 30 x 22 cm

'Fiona's-World,' acrylic and oil on board, 60 x 33 cm

As a first step also into the New Year, I joined Instagram! I had put it off for quite a while, finding my Twitter and Facebook accounts enough, but some artist friends from the 2017 Beijing International Art Biennale convinced me to create a profile on there. As I have discovered, artists need platforms to profile themselves and their work. Things move so fast, you need to be seen regularly!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Knowing When to Stop Painting

'Excursion,' acrylic on canvas, 30 x 40 cm
My last post was way back in October and normally I would not leave such a gap between writing but unfortunately a family member had a bad accident and I have been running back and forth to the hospital. My whole schedule had to change for a while. I have not yet been able to write the review of the Beijing International Art Biennale or finish a number of paintings that are standing gathering dust!

This brings me to the subject of 'finishing work', a question that was asked by a friend last week on Facebook in relation to the above painting. How do you know when a painting is finished? My response to this question would probably have been different 12 years ago, when I relied more on landscape studies to guide me, using that ready-made skeletal framework to tick off the elements within the painting: is that tree 'correct;' are the shadows the right shapes and colours; what about the horizon line? I have spent years painting in the land but often found that paintings made from the memory of an experience convey more fully the spirit of the place than literally copying a scene. I have also always had a love of paint itself and like to explore how brush strokes, marks and layers of paint can recreate a place or arena of imagination. This excitement of discovery is what keeps me painting.

'First Glimpse,' (work in progress, China series) acrylic and ink on canvas, 68 x 89 cm
That then brings you onto the subject of who are you painting for? If you are painting for the 'market' then most potential buyers need to see something they can pin a degree of recognition on to. For this reason I used to paint portraits and animal portraits and sold a lot. There is a market for colourful abstracts too but it is not as wide as the figurative market. 
'Tom's Midnight Garden,' acrylic and oil on board, 65 x 50 cm (finished)
I take as my starting point that I paint for myself. I am my own critic, and the painting has to meet my intentions and more. It has to have that something extra that is beyond anything you can plan for, and it must extend my own ideas as an artist. If I start with a painting of a memory from China, in particular my month living next to the Great Wall, then I already have some elements in mind that I may want to explore and extend. Then my work nearly always grows out of the process of applying paint, trying things out, scraping paint off, and making changes until the work sings to me. This is a very hard thing to describe! It is easier to say why I feel the need to continue a painting than it is to say why it is finished. It is often judged by feeling and also how does it speak to me as a visual poem?
'Bay Area,' acrylic on canvas, 32 x 45 cm (finished)
I always have several paintings on the go at any one time. This helps me because if I reach an impasse on one canvas, I go to another for a while and sometimes I gain insights from that one that I can take back to the problem painting. Sometimes a work has to be painted over, and then there are glimmers of under-painting that speak to me of something new to be explored. It is always a journey with lots of the unknown thrown in! It is not as 'easy' as having a definite subject in front of me but I love the discoveries along the way.
'Fragile-Landscape,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 30 x 40 cm (finished)

I have a number of paintings that are being 'considered.'  They may end up being considered for months. I used to become a bit discouraged if I worked on something for a long time and it did not come together! But I have realised that bad days lead on to new discoveries and many bad paintings are the result of a re-evaluation of certain elements and either I eventually solve it in that painting or something new enters the next series of work.

Recently, some figuration has crept back in. I don't like to be fixed in my ideas about what is and is not 'allowed.' Some works just end up more abstract than others as I sort through my ideas and look at the needs of the evolving imagery. My Beijing Biennale painting 'The Silk Road and Human Exchange,' combined figuration and abstraction in a way that has since impacted on new work.
'Untitled,' acrylic, oil and gesso on canvas, (work in progress)
As for the paintings in this post that are labelled 'finished,' it is because I felt they were resolved in their own terms, or they presented something unexpected that conveyed an imaginary world that I liked. For me, painting is like creating a visual poem and I seek that elusive combination of elements that make magic! It is wonderful when that world resonates with someone else.

Monday, 16 October 2017

The Beijing International Art Biennale part 3 (food related!)

Entering the dining hall
Three weeks ago today I attended the Symposium for the Beijing International Art Biennale. It was held in the Qianmen Jianguo hotel, where we were staying, and it filled the whole day. I found it very interesting because artists spoke about the Silk Road and how their art related to the theme, and issues of exchange between artists and different countries. It was also a chance to meet more of the artists and exchange our business cards. By then, many of us had become firm friends. It is incredible how quickly artists bond on these events.

A view of the dining hall, at breakfast
One of the interesting aspects of our hotel was that it was a theatre hotel so there was the chance to see theatrical productions every night, and I felt that the decor reflected this theatrical theme. I am including some photos of the dining hall which was quite elaborate and colourful. The choice of food was laid out so beautifully on orange gauze and materials, or displayed in huge metal trays. I found it almost impossible to choose because every item looked so delicious! As well as cold and warm food, there were many different kinds of tea and juices, and eggs were fried in front of you! Of course, there were noodles and dumplings. I found meal times a really good time to sit with my friends and chat about art and everything else!
Breakfast display
Strangely, I did not feel too much jet lag this time, or find it difficult to eat breakfast at a time when my husband was getting ready to sleep!

I loved this screen in the dining hall! Red is one of my favourite colours so I felt quite at home with so much red.

A great memory of conversations with friends at breakfast
Next time I am going to write about the Opening Ceremony (September 24th) and our visit to the interesting and unique 798 art zone. Also, still to come, a review of the Biennale. Sadly, it closed yesterday, and I still can't believe how fast the time has passed since I was in China.
Fiona with Soraya Sikander and Yvette Kaiser Smith in the hotel foyer

Monday, 9 October 2017

7th Beijing International Art Biennale part 2

Coming in to land, September 23rd
I have been home for 12 days and only just now had the chance to check my photos. For this post I am going to add some photos from my trip to China. More photos will be added later and a detailed review of this fabulous Biennale!

I will never forget landing just after sunrise. We flew over the mountains and the Great Wall which were shrouded in a beautiful golden haze, and landed just as the sun came up! It was worth flying most of the night just to have that unforgettable view of the mountains and the Great Wall, which snakes its way across the peaks.

Moments before landing!

The official meeting and collection point at the airport

And some views coming into Beijing....

Our hotel....

My room....

The day after my arrival, we attended the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Biennale. All artists had to sign their names onto a lengthy piece of red paper which was changed each time it was filled!

With my friend Soraya Sikander, half an hour before the Opening Ceremony
To be continued!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Back from China!

Fiona and her painting (acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 120 x 160 cm)

This time last week I had just attended the Opening Ceremony of the 7th Beijing International Art Biennale, at the National Art Museum of China, and seen my painting on the wall! I was so pleased with the place it had been hung - it had its own wall and perfect lighting that really brought out the many shades of yellow and green. 

As you can see, it is on an end wall and really stands out. There were very few mainly yellow paintings in the show and it needed its own space.

This is me outside the National Art Museum of China, moments before we went in for the Opening Ceremony. I had to be up early that day, at, in order to get a bus at 8.15 to the Museum. Buses were laid on for us and the traffic in Beijing inevitably holds you up for longer than you can imagine! It was such a hot sunny day, and what you can't see in the photo are the crowds of people arriving and taking photos.

There were so many photographers from the media, and TV cameras, and all day the artists were treated like film stars. Everyone wanted photos of us and with us.

The theme was 'The Silk Road and World Civilisations.' There were artists from 102 countries and roughly 620 artworks ranging from paintings to sculptures, to tapestries, installations, videos and glass. The museum is huge and the exhibition covers 3 floors, each with many rooms. My painting is in floor 5, in room 21.

The photos do not do justice to my painting. There is a lot of detail and many yellows, and different textures. I envisaged my canvas as a piece of yellow silk blowing in the wind with various activities taking place across it. There are traders, camels taking products to different countries, and various ancient buildings including the Great Wall. My colours and shapes also represent human exchange and the travelling of ideas as much as actual physical items. My painting is called, 'The Silk Road and Human Exchange.'

More photos and stories from the trip will follow. I will also write a review of the exhibition with photos of the wide range of work. It was amazing!