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!

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Countdown to China!

View from London Bridge towards the east
In 48 hours I will be on the flight from Amsterdam to Beijing. It feels rather unreal how quickly the days have passed since the time I found out that I am one of the lucky artists who have been invited to Beijing for 4 days for the Opening Ceremony of the 7th Beijing International Art Biennale.  I still can't believe it. This will be my third trip and my second participation in the Beijing Biennale.  Unlike the first time, I know what to expect and how organised our reception and schedule will be for the four days. I have already been sent the schedule and printed it off today.

On Monday I went back up to London to collect my visa. It was a wet day. The trains from Tunbridge Wells to Cannon Street (nearest station to the China visa office) were non-existent so I had to walk from London Bridge station across London Bridge to Cannon street and then to the visa office. Suddenly rain pelted down and I was without an umbrella! 
View from London Bridge to the west (St Paul's Cathedral to the far right)
Though I already had a visa in my passport from last year's trip to China, I had to get a new one because the purpose of this trip was as an invited artist (with an official invitation letter from the Biennale) so I needed an 'F' category of visa.

This time we are staying at the Qianmen Jianguo hotel, which looks really lovely. I believe that there are about 200 invited artists. I will meet a few old friends from last time and make new ones! It should be exciting and also very inspiring. I am going to take a small sketch book with me.

On Friday morning I fly first to Amsterdam and then on to Beijing. I arrive at 6.15am local time, and we will be collected from the airport and taken to the hotel. I leave at 9.30pm on Wednesday 27th September, and my journey is rather an odd one because I travel first to Guangzhou airport (southern China) and then have a horrendous flight (near 14 hours) to Heathrow.  I don't really like flying at all, I like my feet on the ground, but will think about Art. Last time I watched a marvelous film about the artist Soulages and that kept my spirits high because I began imagining my next paintings. I am hoping there may be similar art videos.

My next posting will be on Friday 29th September and will include the first installment of photos of the trip!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Writing a Blog (part 2)

Fiona with 'The Silk Road and Human Exchange,' before it went to China
When I first began my blog in 2009 I had no idea how to write a blog. My first posts were slightly negative, with whingeing about rejections, and later I modified them!  I decided that my blog should include some information about my process and ideas as well as giving some advice and encouragement to those artists who might find it in the vast cyberspace of the internet.

My advice has always been never to give up.  Being rejected is part of the territory and I know of many renowned artists who were rejected from everything before finally getting an opportunity that was career-changing.  I have had quite a long road but I always try to generate new skills and to improve my work along the way. It is important to see yourself, your work, and your blog as a work in progress.
'Fiona's World,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 45 cm
To help myself with marketable skills, in case my art career needed some financial back-up, (as artists often need at times) I did a typing and business course for a year before I went to art school. It has really been a huge bonus because I was able to type my own thesis at college, and to type all my art related information for statements, CV and websites. It has also allowed me to get jobs at certain points. Then some years after I returned to the UK from Cyprus, I completed a computer course (ECDL Level 2) which was quite hard but I enjoyed the challenge and it is one of my best decisions. Now I am computer literate, I have been able to do many applications for residencies and opportunities that I used to ask family members to do for me. I have friends 10 years older than me who are unable to get to grips with this and as a result they miss out on digital platforms to showcase their work. Everything moves so fast these days and you need to keep an awareness of what is going on. The internet is one of the best ways.

'Paphos Walk,' oil and acrylic on board, 40 x 30 cm
Gone are the days when artists posted 10 photos with an SAE to a gallery, in the hope they would be returned with an offer of representation! Rarely were the photos returned and often there was no response. Much time is saved now because you can email website links to galleries and if you have a web presence, then galleries and collectors can find you.  Having a presence on social media also helps and I have received opportunities and a residency through my work being seen on Facebook

One of the aspects of blog writing that keeps me writing is that it allows me to evaluate my direction and to contemplate how my work may be evolving. My blog shows me that the work has evolved and will keep evolving. It is also really encouraging to know that people follow you and then click the link to your website!

Friday, 8 September 2017

Writing a Blog!

'Mutianyu Valley Memory,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 70 x 50 cm

This week I helped my niece set up a blog as part of her new college course. It caused me to reflect on my blog and the reasons I started it in 2009. At that time I knew nothing of Facebook or Twitter and I was very isolated as an artist, and writing the blog became my way of expressing my ideas and thoughts. It made me feel less isolated. I have always loved writing and enjoyed regular posting. I think it also gave me the chance to let off some steam about rejections and the struggles of being an artist.

Since that time I have discovered the diverse artistic communities on Facebook and Twitter and this has extended my own artistic practice and allowed me a great deal of support. I have also discovered some fabulous blogs by other artists either about their art and ideas, or advising artists on the complex aspects of exhibiting, finances, marketing, and discussing the evolving strategies for showcasing your work.  I continue to learn through these blogs and one of my most recent discoveries was a blog entitled: making a mark:

This blog is one of the most comprehensive blogs for useful and important information for artists.

'Traces of My Thoughts,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 50 x 40 cm
 After I set up my niece's blog, I decided to check my own and for the first time in 7 years I went right back to my first posts and read them. It was a strange feeling because it was as if I was reading someone else's blog. It also pointed out to me that I have done a lot of writing over these 8 years!

At this moment I am getting ready for my trip to Beijing for the 7th Beijing International Art Biennale. I have received my official invitation letter, booked my flight, my visa appointment is in a few days time, and two weeks from now I will be on the long flight to Beijing. It is only a short trip but I know that it will be exciting to see my large painting in the National Art Museum of China and to meet the other artists. This Biennale will feature work from 109 countries with 652 artworks on display. It will also give me a chance to pop across the road and buy more calligraphy brushes, ink and rice paper!

Friday, 18 August 2017

Packing Work for China, a new skill!

My husband attaching polystyrene to the back of my canvas
My husband and I were up very late on Monday night and into on Tuesday morning, packing my painting for its air trip to Beijing! It had been quite an effort to get the MDF box made up to the specific size (having contacted 10 carpenters, only two were willing to make the box), and to get the painting framed. We were unable to find the correct packing foam so had to use a combination of bubble wrap and polystyrene. The depth of the box was only 7.5 cm and we had to pack the painting so it would not move about while in the box. 
The painting, bubble wrapped, with me
It affirmed how good it is to learn new things because two years ago we packed a much smaller painting for the 6th Beijing International Art Biennale, and that seemed hard at the time, and here we were packing possibly the largest painting I will ever send abroad! Next time we will know exactly how to do it. I don't like to feel daunted by things so I am glad for the experience.

My husband moving the painting out to the van
After we slotted the painting into the box, screwed it up, and stuck on the labels, we had the boring job of brushing up hundreds of particles and scraps of polystyrene from the carpet! Then I had 3 hours sleep before getting ready for the shippers to arrive for collection of the work. But they had made a mistake about the day and did not come until the next day!

The box was very heavy so my husband helped carry it up the stairs to the waiting van. The driver told me that it was being taken straight to Heathrow and by the next day it would be in China. As I watched the van drive off down the road and turn out of sight, I wished my painting luck and hoped it would not get damaged in transit.

Ready to go into the van

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

You need to have a prolific output!

'The Silk Road and Human Exchange,' spray paint and acrylic on canvas, 120 x 160 cm

As artists we have to be prolific in our output because so many paintings either get lost or damaged during our lifetime.  I try to keep key paintings either tracked or hold on to them myself as sometimes you need to be able to show your most important pieces again, especially at prestigious exhibitions. There are pieces I will never part with, and I know other artists feel the same about some of their work because either it is a favourite painting or it was pivotal to a new direction. I learned to hold on to pieces because some of my key paintings were damaged or lost in the past and I regret that!  A favourite piece was destroyed during a fight between the owner and his wife. Yet another large and very beautiful painting was put out to the rubbish collectors after a close friend received it and her then husband did not like it and secretly threw it out. She told me that he did not like the fact it contained nudes! I only found this out years later! My thought was; WHY did you not give me the option to take it back?  My hope is that someone decided to hang it in their home.
'China Revisited,' acrylic on canvas, 22 x 30 cm

Not all artists can be prolific, if their process is a lengthy one, (and depending on the hours they have to paint) but even so, I am guessing that either they hold on to some of their work or they keep track of customers so they can borrow work back if necessary.
'Fragile Landscape,' acrylic and ink on canvas, 30 x 40 cm
My good news is that I had a large painting accepted for the 7th Beijing International Art Biennale!  The painting is posted at the top of this article and it is a translation of the Biennale theme, which was 'The Silk Road and World Civilisations.'  I painted my landscape as being like a piece of yellow silk - especially I imagined the sky as pieces of yellow silk blowing in the wind - and various traders are seen along the lower edge of my painting. I loved painting this!  Mostly my work verges towards abstraction but I have always at times painted figures and animals.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Remembering a Place and Time

'Falling Stars,' ink and acrylic on canvas, 30 x 22 cm

When I am not painting, I am always thinking about my work to try to evaluate where I have been and sift through where I would like to go next. It is not possible to be too fixed when thinking about painting because, with the way I work it is very spontaneous and I rely on the intuition of my hand and brush. But I do believe that thoughts influence how I paint when I pick up my brushes, and it is always good and positive to evaluate the work. 

Paintings constantly influence each other, both past works and current works. Ideas branch out in to new directions while all the while taking the most relevant aspects of my current ideas.

The painting posted above is about a memory from my time staying at the Brickyard Retreat, next to the Great Wall of China (during my Fellowship) last August. Every night I sat outside the restaurant, next to a small pool of Lotus,flowers and watched the moon rise above a forested hill to the east. It was a much appreciated quiet time after the heat and being in the studio every day. That area is very rural and the sky held the brightest stars I have ever seen anywhere! The hill to the east was near where I was sitting and it was covered in a dense forest which appeared jungle-like by day and night. As the moon rose very slowly, I watched it illuminate parts of the hill and the stars almost appeared to be falling and sparkling. This painting incorporates ink and as I worked it suggested this place and time.

Friday, 9 June 2017

New Work

'Looking For a Friend,' acrylic on canvas, 45 x 55 cm
This past month I have not been able to write this blog because I have been preparing work for shows and also making more paintings. On my Birthday at the end of May I delivered my two paintings for participation in the NOT THE ROYAL ACADEMY show, at the Llewellyn Alexander gallery in London. I am preparing work for a group show in August and a joint show in November. It's always a case of marking in advance which paintings may go to each show, so there have to be enough available!

'The River,' acrylic and marker pen on canvas, 40 x 30 cm
For this post I am including a few pieces of new work. I feel fortunate that I have been able to carve out time to work and to push ideas through.

'A Place to Dream,' acrylic on canvas, 45 x 55 cm

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

Everything also has to be signed, varnished and labelled on the back with title, etc.
'Vista,' (2) acrylic and ink on canvas, 30 x 22 cm

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Four Exhibitions

'Stormy Day, Brighton,' acrylic on canvas, 25 x 20 cm

I was surprised to find that it is over a month since I last wrote anything in this blog. Time has once again been an issue and I wrote a long post recently on Facebook about this because I believe that it is a problem for most artists: juggling life commitments with earning money and family obligations, and trying to fit painting in between! I have found a way to paint 3 to 4 days a week but this calls for much planning and rigorous adherence to my schedule in order to get paintings finished and canvases stretched. It's also a case of developing a rhythm that works for you, and for me that means working between 4 or 5 canvases and also making works on paper or rice paper. A dialogue emerges between different images and mediums which I believe extends my ideas further.

Also, there is a chunk of time gobbled up by submitting to Open Calls - and I had work in three exhibitions last month and the two paintings posted are going to the Llewellyn Alexander gallery in a few weeks for their annual 'Not The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.' I received a phone call to inform me that these two Brighton inspired paintings had been selected. They are different to my usual style and approach but figuration has been creeping back into my work and I do not have fixed ideas of how my work 'should' look; I just follow its call!
'Bringing in the Canoes, Brighton,' acrylic on canvas, 25 x 20 cm

I have work in a painting and photography exhibition at the Crowborough Community Centre (Sussex) until May 17th, and also I had a painting in the annual Haywards Heath Art Trail last month, and currently I have two paintings in an Abstract exhibition at the Baker Tilly offices in Crawley (Sussex)

Monday, 20 March 2017

Trails and Places

'A Place Where I Dream,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 cm

After a break from painting with oils for some months, I re-discovered their joys last week. Working on two old paintings, which had never been fully resolved, I used thick oil paint and really nothing equals its presence! I am posting the two I worked on. The first is finished, the second is being considered.

'Reverie,' oil and acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60 cm

I like to leave 'trails' of where my thoughts have been, captured within brush strokes and colour, and for the painting to create a place that, while it may reference a place I know or have seen, is at the same time new for me in terms of paint.