Wednesday, 29 December 2010


As I prepare to go to Cyprus for a few weeks, I'm thinking about the way that no one thing affects the way a painting evolves. Poetry flows from layers of experience, finds its path into a painterly vision from mulitple scents, sights and emotions, and memories.

'Choices: Carob Trees and Figures at Dusk' emerged through the act of painting, and through the realisation that the points of red paint could be a metaphor for the last rays of the sun during a walk along the coast in Paphos. The choices represent paint choices, as much as referring to the choices we all make as human beings. It was painted 3 months after my experience of the coastal walks, but I start to wonder if perhaps that passage of time allows a purer synthesis of
the original sensations. Links are constantly forged, broken, re-created, and drop into a painting in unexpected ways. I find the contrasts between painting in situ, painting from memory, and the many walks here and abroad coagulate and re-assemble in my work in ways that are increasingly exciting me.
('Choices: Carob Trees and Figures at Dusk,' Oil and acrylic, 91cm x 61cm)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Overlapping Lives

As I prepare to continue work on a large commission, I'm remembering the many commissions I undertook when I lived in Cyprus. The memories are particularly poignant as the painting I've been commissioned to do is based on one of my favourite themes, Nicosia at night. I have always loved night and random views through windows onto people's lives. In Nicosia, people tend to live on their balconies, especially in the summer. I'd push my way through crowds on the pavements, catching snippets of conversations, while my eyes were always drawn to figures on balconies above. They would be sitting at tables eating, or watching a TV pulled out of a half-lit room. Sofas jostled for space with plant pots. Lights flickered eerily within fluorescent rectangles, curtains danced in the longed for breezes, and figures leaned wearily across their washing and watched me move past. Lives overlapped, breaths were shared, and heartbeats echoed within shimmering blocks of yellows and greens.
Sometimes I sat on the flat roof of my building in darkness and watched shadowy forms moving inside semi-lit rooms. My eyes journeyed through the many shades of Night's interiors. All the time I tried to memorise the particular warmth, scent and pulse of night. Gradually it seeped into me.
The painting has evolved from these memories. I know the streets intimately, I know those crooked balconies and unevenly spaced rectangles of colour. I can smell fried food, hear the chink of dishes. It is a theme I could paint forever because within each brushstroke I'm reliving my walks and the warm passages of night life.
('Nicosia Night,' 120cm by 60cm, oil on canvas - work in progress.)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Finish It

The eternal Artist's Dilemma is: How do you know when a painting is finished? It's something that I've dissected a lot recently, as I try to finish 3 troublesome paintings, and prepare to start a large commission. In trying to assess whether a painting works (for me), I take into account a number of factors:
  • Does it bounce back to me something of the original intent and emotion - especially important when a painting starts from a word or experience.
  • Do the colours work all across the painting, not just in sweet, tempting little pockets?
  • Have I in some way gone beyond the original idea?
  • Have I created a self-contained world?
This painting took a long time to finish. It was inspired by the vibrant memory of Spring trees seen on a daily car journey. One morning I said to myself that the passages of colours were so sumptuous that I wanted to dive into them! I began painting in a burst of energy. Once I start and colours are painted on, wiped off, gouged, knifed, stroked on, swiped on, I find that it is indeed like swimming across a tapesty of essences and meanings. They keep coming into focus - then a slash with the palette knife, a sweep with a loaded brush, and they slip out of focus.
For me, painting is life splattered across a surface, my breathing, feeling, movement pressed and encapsulated into brushstrokes. I have to excavate the image from the paint, and to re-experience my lived experience......incidents, events, relationships made and broken, redefined, a change of mind, all the time surfing on edges, textures, bursts of time and colour.
In the end it's that indefinable something that either lets the painting stand or fall. 'Finished ' can be some sudden flourishes of last minute indecision. Searching and finding are the sirens that call me back to paint over and over again.
And then you simply hope that it may meet some recognition in someone else.
('Diving Into Green.' Oil and acrylic, 91cms by 61cms)

Monday, 1 November 2010

Goats and Celery

October 14th Thursday.
The Frieze Art Fair takes place over 5 days in October and features over 170 galleries from around the world. This year it was on my calendar as a must-see. A queue of shivering, cloaked forms stretched beyond the huge tents in Regents Park towards a hazy infinity. Yellow and gold foliage flickered in the breezes, and someone shouted out, 'There's the Mayor of London arriving on his motorcycle!' The art critic Matthew Collings drifted by as I wondered if I'd ever reach the entrance.
Once inside the biggest tent I'd ever seen, the sense of excitement was infectious. Galleries had carved the massive space into pristine white cubicles. Each space had its own identity and I struggled against determined spectators to see the wares on display. The gallery representatives all looked so young and model-like and were worthy of being exhibits themselves. I checked around for the artists. These were the Sacred Ones, the cream of gallery artists, and I thought if I looked hard I might learn their secrets. Is there a gallery Circuit you can get on, how do you get on it, and once there, how hard is it to keep your footing?
I saw some wonderful Picasso drawings, some work by famous artists (Chris Ofili, Damien Hirst) and a fair amount of what I felt was rather cliched, sensation-grabbing stuff (a line of pornographic magazines laid across a table top). A couple of large paintings took my breath away. I handed out a few postcards of my own paintings just for the hell of it. And then reached overload, when it all spun in my mind and suddenly had no meaning!
There's so much media attention around Frieze, and the accompanying parties and bright young stars. It's like the Oscars of the Art World. But under it all, of course, is money and money-making on a huge scale. It's all about marketing - smart, relentless, fastidiouslessly planned marketing. That stark aspect stayed with me after the images faded.
So much of it comes down to fitting the current trends, and having something extra that allows you to be marketed as a brand. I used to think it was only to do with quality, but it's far more complex than that. It seems to me that artists now have to plan their careers like a game of chess. And what if your work is simply not marketable? Sometimes there is no reason why one thing sells over another, though names can be made by the big galleries. And broken.
I have a wide circle of artist friends. Some make a living from their work, some sell intermittently. One said to me recently, 'See your work as a commodity, like goats and celery at the market. You have to detach yourself emotionally when you finish a painting, and if it doesn't sell, just make another!'
('Chances.' Oil and acrylic. 70cm x 49cm)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Paths Long Travelled

September 25th Saturday.

This date was circled in my diary many months ago. Scrawled in red was, 'Don't forget APT Open Studios!' These open studios showcase the work of artists working at the APT studio complex, in Deptford, London. I was really looking forward to this event because several of the artists were my tutors at college (Mali Morris - newly elected to the Royal Academy - Clyde Hopkins, Geoff Rigden), and one artist, Nicola Rae, was in my year at college. I was also curious to see what they are doing now, and hoping to re-open connections. Being an artist is a lonely business, and having artist friends is of great value. They are among the few people who are able to understand one's daily obsessions and preoccupations.

I ended up spending nearly 4 hours going around the studios - there are 37, plus a gallery - and I was in heaven, being able to talk art! There was a great variety of approaches and themes, from abstract through to figurative, and after lots of animated discussions about paint and aesthetics, I had a lovely talk with Nicola. We reminisced about our student days, and I suddenly had an inner vision of paths long travelled. Far from being a painful reminder of the passage of time, the visit highlighted a luminous path stretching into the future.
('Park, Night Paths,' Oil and acrylic, 61cm x 45cm. 2010)

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

One Among Many

As a postscript to my previous post, this is a painting that came directly from the experience of my rejection by the selection committee for the Discerning Eye exhibition.
After I climbed those basement stairs, with my bags of paintings swinging from my hands, I meandered along to the Mall Galleries, where I would have shown in November, had I been accepted. It is one of my favourite galleries because the cafe is in the centre, so you can drink your coffee and entertain lofty thoughts about the work around you. On this day it was the prestigious Threadneedle Exhibition, which I'd been tempted to submit work to. I realised that my work would not have fitted the tone of this show.
This realisation instantly offered an idea for a new painting. I made an emotional little drawing in biro about being just a number among many, and the eternal fight to carve an identity, artistically, personally and creatively. In today's ever-homogenised world, I believe that many people feel that they are merely a tiny and unimportant part of an impersonal machine. This is why many of my figures have towels over their heads.
('One Among Many,' Oil and acrylic on canvas, 51cm x 41cm. 2010)

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Dread and Inspiration

Friday September 10th.

I woke up with a stupid knot of dread in my stomach. It slowly worked its way through my whole body, as I opened my eyes and realised that I had to go to London to collect my rejected paintings. My first thought was, 'Oh no, everyone will see that I'm collecting ALL SIX paintings!' Then as daylight and my pink orchids shimmered before my eyes, it occurred to me, 'Who exactly is everyone?' It wasn't as if the whole of the world was going to mutate into some composite being, (there's an idea for a painting!), which was going to sit there jeering as I collected my pictures. This realisation was calming, as it made me reflect on how one is viewed, or thinks one is viewed. How many people have to like you, or what you do, in order for it to be valid?

Before I went to collect the work, I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of drawings by one of my favourite English painters, Keith Vaughan (who died in 1977). As I entered Gallery 27, in Cork Street, Keith's rich visual energies enfolded me, and instantly I felt all the potential for creativity return. That's what good art does for you - it gives a sense of life, and its onward flow. As I admired this artist's work, I felt a kind of encouragement from each drawing, as if it was saying, 'You never fail, because there's always the next painting.'

As I stepped down into the dark basement where artists were queuing to collect work, several sad faces peered at me. They were all feeling that sting of rejection. No one jeered, no one passed judgement. Silently I wrapped the six paintings. It didn't really matter that I'd been rejected because I knew I'd done exactly what I set out to do in each painting. Even as I walked back up the narrow steps, I had the next paintings in front of my eyes, and could hardly wait to get home to start them.
(Paintings: 'Autumn Stripes,' and 'Flooded Fields.')

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Other Artist's Successes

When I began this blog my aim was to describe my experiences without any sugar coatings! I'd read many artist's blogs and most of them sparkled with glowing reports of this and that success, each one creating a picture of a logically developing career, with step by step success. I know of artists whose careers do in fact progress from one success to another, and of course success tends to snowball, as people start to see your name repeated at different venues. I've often wondered if my own struggles were a rarity, and it crossed my mind that maybe my work wasn't good enough. Over the years I've been to numerous exhibitions to see what is actually accepted, and I've come to believe that there are many artists who don't get noticed simply because they don't fit the bill of what is wanted, or the selectors' tastes. The narrow band of acceptance will always be defined by these things, which can sometimes be at odds with artistic merit or aesthetic merit, and certainly it's not an even playing field. And so we go onwards.

Today I received yet another rejection notice, this time from the Discerning Eye Exhibition (a prestigious annual show which takes place at the Mall Galleries each November). I don't want this blog to degenerate into a bitter and twisted tirade along the lines of 'I never get work accepted for anything, I'm one of life's unrecognised artists!' So I tried to keep a balanced outlook as I opened this notice. Then I saw the dreaded and heavily written R in front of each of the 6 works I'd submitted. I felt a sharp pang of disappointment followed by disbelief. I squinted to see if perhaps one of these R's was really an A, but no such luck! I was drinking coffee in my favourite cafe, a new ploy to prepare myself for the inevitable jolt, and my mind stumbled for a few moments, seeking some kind of explanation or reassurance. Then I remembered something. An artist friend told me recently how she'd seen a painting that was rejected from a famous show one year, but went on to be accepted the following year, and won the top prize. There is no rhyme or reason, it comes down to the tastes of the selectors.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Some Success

My contract with Elegant Clutter came last week. I'm over the moon! The 6 cityscapes I had digitally scanned in Birmingham on June 30th are now on the company's website. ( My paintings can be found under Cityscapes in the elegant clutter artbook section - the red book at the top of the home page - on page 8.) The work is now available to hotels and the leisure industry as prints. Next step is to scan the 5 landscapes that Elegant Clutter also want as prints, the current obstacle being the cost! For the moment, I'm waiting to see what kind of response the cityscapes get.

(Paintings: 'Spring,' watercolour, and 'Nicosia,' oil painting.)

Friday, 23 July 2010

Spring Fever

Maybe it's true that as you get older, the years pass faster! I've never known a year to slip by so effortlessly, and invisibly. Perhaps it's because I have been busy with painting, and busy with Life Events. My niece had a major operation, I've set up my own website (which required many hours, to study the manual on how to do it), and I've been occupied taking paintings to Birmingham be digitally scanned for inclusion on a website that sells prints to 4 and 5 star hotels internationally.

My paintings became more concerned with overworking, to find the right balance of colours and shapes to convey my internal world as well as the external image. Consequently, while I have made many watercolours in situ this year, the numbers of my oil paintings fell, as I worked very intensely on a group of 8. I like the idea that I am free to take them in any direction the painting demands, and the sense of confidence that comes from fearlessly destroying whole paintings, knowing that sooner or later the true form will emerge. And if it never emerges, then the 'failed' painting becomes the foundation for something new.
Increasingly, my paintings either evolve from watercolours painted in the land, or from drawings made from the memory of a place, or concept, or dream. Sometimes all my sources overlap.

(Paintings: 'Women Behind the Trees,' Watercolour, 16ins by 12ins/'Diving into Green,' oil & acrylic, 91cms x 61cms)

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Fiona has her own website!

It's taken me 2 weeks to set up, but finally my website is up and running! It can be seen on the right hand side of this post, under 'Fiona's Paintings website.' It still needs a little updating, but showcases all the themes I like to paint.

Currently I'm painting outdoors. I'm totally obsessed with the colours of Spring. As I travel in the taxi every morning accompanying my niece to school, the vibrant passages of fiery greens, pinks, ochres and infinite variations of lemon-greens, and lilacs, have been an immense inspiration for painting. Though the new oils started out in a fairly literal way, I now find I want to spread shapes of colour across the canvases in an abstract way, just letting the colour dictate how the paintings should proceed.

Other than that, I'm about to get some paintings scanned digitally for a company that wants to put them onto prints for 4 and 5 star hotels and restaurants around the world. Considering that a year ago, my London gallery politely dumped me, I feel that things are looking up! (Read post from 12th May 2009, called 'Striped Coffee Cups.')

Monday, 8 March 2010

The Far Edge of Winter

This painting says everything about the potential of the approach of Spring, and the rising waves of energy I feel as a painter. Though it's still like the arctic here, I have struggled to go outside with frozen fingers and feet, to start some new landscapes. In comparison with last year, when the colours of Spring excited my eyes and brush much earlier in the year, there isn't much sign of impending change yet. But I can feel it, especially in the changing quality of light.
My painting embodies my preoccupation with the impending surge of light and colour. Though made from a drawing of Nicosia, my delight that day was in the luminous sunlight, the washing blowing in the breezes, a bird circling the rooftops, some men replacing some roof tiles, and plant pots on rooftops. There was also a Digger, which was demolishing some old buildings, to make way for the new. I chose this painting to mark the far edge of winter, and brighter, more optimistic times to come.