Monday, 25 April 2016

The Suffering Is Important

Lifted from the Spring 2016 edition of The Palette (The journal of the Armed Forces Art Society)..............  I wrote it some time ago.

The Suffering Is Important

By Tim King

One Autumn I was painting in Woodstock in the rain.  Despite my clamp-on umbrella my kit was soaked but I was determined to get some lovely street reflections ‘nailed’ before I gave up.  A passer-by stopped and asked me why I was painting under such awful conditions.  I said, ‘The suffering is important to me’.  He looked into my eyes, thought about it and then turned away, apparently satisfied.

The suffering artist is the butt of much humour and irony.  The irony once came to me very forcibly when I received one of those polite rejection emails from the Woodstock arts festival.  With it was a short promotional film encouraging artists to participate.  That was fair enough but it included footage of me painting.  The organisers obviously saw nothing strange in using me to promote the festival whilst rejecting my actual participation.  The irony was perfect!

Those of us who paint out of doors all year round become inured to the discomforts and inconveniences: being there is too important to succumb to them and run for shelter.  Eugene Boudin (1824-1898) once said ‘Everything painted directly, on the spot always has a strength, a power, a vividness of touch that one does not find again in the studio’ and for observational painters it is so true.  I have lost count of the number of times I have scaled up a plein air sketch in the studio and destroyed the magic.  And one May, as I watched my box easel blow over in Mousehole, scattering my kit along the harbour wall, I realised that I was no longer upset by such a thing – it had become part of the process.

Rejection comes hard (and in my case frequently) and one is forever searching for that elusive thread that will lead out of the labyrinth of failure to the bright light of success.  I am always impressed by the doggedness of my plein air colleagues.  In an almost perverse way, the psychological suffering just makes them more determined.  Buffeted by disappointment, discouraged by the attitude of many gallery owners, often wracked with self-doubt, they just keep going.  I sometimes wonder if we are not all suffering from the same obsessive compulsive disorder.    For studio painters it is no different.  Dennis Syrett, past president of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, once confided that it had taken him 15 years of determined effort to succeed in becoming a member.  Despite years of disappointment the thought of giving up was, well, unthinkable.  For him achievement could only come through endurance.

I have just reread a great statement by Derek Balmer in the Catto Gallery’s catalogue of a one-man show of his work.  In it he lists 19 different categories of people for whom artists create employment, including curators, gallery owners, art critics and white van men.  And of course they all get paid before we do.  Are we mugs?  Was it just for commuters that the graffiti, (now sadly obliterated along with ‘F... Blair’ and ‘Marry Me Pam’), was written on the famous M40 wall ‘Why Do I Do This Every Day'?  Poor sales at a show; a botched attempt at an easy subject; the pressures of work or domestic life; yet another rejection by a gallery: all these must make us wonder why we bother.
St Paul was right.  What makes the difference in the end must be the hope that perseverance will finally be rewarded: a conscious decision to accept all the physical and psychological ‘negatives’ and keep going.  David Curtis ROI RSMA is adamant that it is not always the most talented artists who succeed but those willing to stay the course.  

Creating art is a lonely business but there is strength to be had in like-minded friends – those who are willing to share the difficulties and support each other.  I certainly owe a great debt to my plein air painting pals.  We sometimes think we are crazy painting in those conditions but being crazy together does not seem so bad.  So perhaps the message is ‘Embrace the suffering - it will come anyway – but never give up’.   

Monday, 8 February 2016

Seville 2016

What a fantastic trip thanks to our ever-generous hosts, David and Herme Bachmann, some good weather and great companions.  The UK contingent consisted of Haidee-Jo Summers, Pete (the Street) Brown, Karl Terry and me.  The locals were David, Eric Davis and Robbie Thompson.  Karl and I went for 5 nights and the others 4 nights and we all had one night in Granada, which meant 2 painting days in the Alhambra and a lot of driving for David.

The evening we landed, Haidee, Karl, David and I went straight out and started.  Haidee produced an exquisite study of one of the horse-drawn carriages in the square.  I managed a little 10x8 of the Giraldillo (pronounced something like 'Hiraldeeo') hotel and restaurant.  (The Giraldillo is the weathervane on the top of the Giralda - once a minaret for the city's mosque when the moors were in power but subsequently converted to a bell tower.  It has become an icon for Seville).

Giraldillo Hotel from the Square 10x8

We then went to the river where I did 2 small pastels of the Triana Bridge as dusk came on.

Peter flew in the next day (Monday 1 February) and by then we had gained entry to the Royal Palace and Alcazar Gardens with our 'painter's passes' and had a go at painting them.  I tried a small pastel of a fountain with archway behind to see if it would work in oil and then committed to a 14x11 oil:

Hercules Fountain - 9x7 Pastel
Hercules Fountain, Alcazar 14x11
By the time we were on our third painting and had had a quick bite to eat we heard that Pete had arrived so went to paint with him in the cathedral square.

The gang - joined by Eric Davis at right
I decided to do a quick pastel and then head for the river - on my own because the others were still painting.

From Cathedral Square, Early Evening. pastel
The sun was beginning to set behind the Triana Bridge and half way through my painting all the lights went on!  I tried to re-adjust and somehow this is not too bad:

Triana Bridge, Sunset 8x11
The next day we set off very early for Granada and took a bus up to the Alhambra where there was the usual business of issuing us with our special passes (for which we paid only half the tourist's charge for entry) that last a month.

We went straight to the Partal Gardens and the Torre de las Damas.  Foolishly I tried a pastel first so that by the time I came to paint this oil the others were moving off to try something on the Sierra Nevada side.

Torre de las Damas 10x14
I followed round the walls to a point just short of the Medina where you can look out on this view with the mountains in the background.  I used the pitch where Pete and Karl are in this photo:

They were moving off just as I was setting up.  I tried to do justice to the scene but it was hard to follow the 4 really stunning paintings that  D, H, K and P had just completed.  Still, this was a really enjoyable subject:

Sierra Nevada from the Alhambra 10x12
At that point the others went down to paint in the town but I went round the back of the Carlos V palace to get this view of one of the Alcazaba buttresses with the city below:

Steps To The Alcazaba 8x10
 I managed to find our hotel, down by the river and not far from the main square.  My room on the first floor was just right for one person, with balcony onto the atrium, shower, loo and basin, etc all for 38 euros.  We had the usual hilarious night on the town with Pete and Karl entertaining us.  The Bodegas Castaneda serves the best drinks in town because every time you order drinks you get tapas as well!  Then we had the giant-cream-and-meringue incident recorded by Haidee:

The next day David and I took an early bus up to the Alhambra and had a wonderfully peaceful tour round the Nazrid palaces, including the Court of Lions.  Totally mind-boggling.  Back in the Partal gardens we had another go at the Torre de las Damas.
Torre de las Damas, Alhambra 14x11
I then walked round to the Generalife and looked back across the valley to the main part of the complex:

Alhambra from the Generalife 8x10
On the way back from the Generalife I turned and did a quick pastel of it from the wall between the Torre de las Infantas and the 'Tower At The End Of The Street'.
Generalife from Alhambra - unfinished pastel
I had promised David that I would be at the Placa San Nicolas at 3pm but could not resist entering the Alcazaba and wandering round the battlements there before descending to the city and taking the bus up to Placa San Nicolas.  The others were finishing their masterpieces but the sun had become covered and so I never got the view that they had had the day before, of the whole of the Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada behind it and had to content myself with this evening view of the Alcazaba section.
Alcazaba from Placa San Nicolas 11x14 (unfinished)
I walked down to the centre where Peter was finishing yet another of those Pete the Street masterpieces and we all piled into the car for the long drive home.

It was very windy on the 4th (Thursday) so Haidee and I headed for the Alcazar gardens while the others braved it by the city hall.  I found a spot near the Carlos V pavilion with my back to the Senador Del Leon:
In the Alcazar Gardens 14x11
Haidee did a lovely fountain view just round the corner and then we snatched a quick sandwich before heading to the cathedral square to find the others.  They had gone off somewhere else so we decided to do a small contre-jour study of the fountain in the cathedral square.
The Cathedral Square Fountain, Seville 10x12
We finally caught up with them in the square with the statue to the sculptor Juan Martinez MontanĂ©s in it.  Eric and Robbie had joined them so 7 of us lined up to paint:

This is my rather rushed effort:

Montanes Statue 14x11
Haidee had to be whisked off to her plane and then the rest of us enjoyed a lovely BBQ in Eric's rooftop flat.  It was too cold to use his huge balcony for sitting so we huddled inside while Eric cooked outside. Another 3 bottles of Rioja were polished off but there was no time off for hangovers as we were up early on our final morning for one last go in the cathedral area.

I did a little pastel of a carriage and horse before deciding to whip out my mouth organ and try a bit of busking next to the painters.  After several tunes and the princely sum of 2 euros in my hat I thought better of it and did one last tiny pastel before we headed back to pick up our bags and fly back to a miserably cold and wet UK.
Last Pastel Seville

Friday, 23 October 2015

Venice - Final 2 days

Wednesday 14 October was our wettest day.  David Pilgrim and I dutifully trogged off to the fish market and searched for a subject.  Out of sheer frustraion more than anything else I sat down under an arch and tried a pastel of the market:
By The Fish Market - pastel
We decided to go back to Ken's via Campo Santa Maria Formosa and by the time we got there the rain had eased so we had a go at the corner of the square:

Corner of Campo S Maria Formosa 10x12
The rain set in again and we made for a favourite bolt hole in Campo SS Giovanni i Paolo (it has a loo!) where David filmed me underneath the leaking awning, enjoying the beverage and bun he had bought me.  After a rather depressing stay in the square we made the brave decision to run for cover and paint at Ken's.  David painted me working at Ken's big table and I hope he won't mind me borrowing an image of the work from his Facebook page:
 Painting At Ken's by David Pilgrim ROI
Karl and Tony left on Wednesday afternoon so there were just 3 of us living at Ken's.  Thursday promised to be a better day so we started early for St Mark's square.  Another aqua alta was due later so we made the most of the absence of tourists and water:

A deserted Piazetta
Soon, people started to arrive and before long the place was a sea of umbrellas.  I tried a 11x14 using a compositional idea that had worked well for Paul and Karl:

Wet Day In San Marco Piazza 11x14

We went back to Ken's for a break and a sort-out of kit before walking to Campo San Giovanni i Paolo.  The weather was still dull and I started a study of one of the well heads near the Colleoni monument but then at last the sun came out and changed everything.  The most sensible thing to do was what David did - wipe the painting and go somewhere else.  I stayed and lived to regret my persistence.  The finished painting was a waste of time.

I wended my way to Campo S Maria Formosa to find David there painting the south east corner with green awnings out and people sitting around and saw that he was making an excellent job of it.  Here he is in action:

I started the same view and he moved on.
Afternoon in Campo Santa Maria Formosa

David Bachmann then caught me up and we walked through the city up to the Arsenale for our final pitch of the day.  David P caught us up having knocked off another gem and the three of us prepared for sunset over the Salute from the Riva opposite the Arsenale entrance.  I decided to use pastels - for speed and convenience.

I managed three in the next 90 minutes so these images reflect the passage of time from near sunset to after sunset:
San Giorgio from the Arsenale - late afternoon - pastel
San Giorgio from the Arsenale Riva - near sunset - pastel
San Giorgio - Dusk.  Pastel
I also had another go later at the Salute sunset of 11 October in pastel:

The Salute - Sunset (pastel)
All in all it was another great trip, made so (despite the weather) by my painting friends who always  inspire and encourage me and are enormous fun to be with.

We never got to paint the Colleoni Monument again - maybe next time.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Venice Days 2 and 3

Monday 12 October was reasonably bright so we headed out to the Rialto and weaved through Santa Croce to the Scuola San Rocco where there was a good deal of debate about what to paint.  Eventually David Pilgrim and I settled for a canal view.  Behind us Paul Rafferty was painting the arches of the Scuola and the other three were trying different things nearby.

This one turned into what David calls 'a jigsaw puzzle' - narrow canal, reflections, just what you would expect and all that.  I must admit I found it hard to breathe something different into it.  Later I added the washing (that I had seen in the Via Garibaldi area) but it still looks rather twee to me:

By the Scuola San Rocco - morning
David and I wandered through Dorsoduro, past the San Barnaba square and on to the last remaining gondola squero in Venice.  We found our friend Robbie painting it but it looked a bit too much for us and we moved on to the Zatterre where we tried a view of the San Giorgio across the Giudecca canal:
San Giorgio Maggiore from the Zatterre
So far we had worked hard but not really 'nailed' anything.  We walked out to the point of the Dogana, round to the Salute vaporetto stop and took a boat to the Molo so that we could paint in St Mark's Square:

Late Afternoon - San Marco Piazza
David's one of this view was full of light and knowing that there was no time for anything else we took a 5.2 round the city to the Fondamente Nove and home.

The forecast for Tuesday was rain and a moderate aqua alta.  We walked to St Mark's hoping to get one in before the crowds and the water appeared.  In the event we had both to contend with.  Paul and I pitched straight away in the corner uner the clock tower, using the arcade as shelter from the drizzle.

We had done one by the time the water started creeping out of the holes in the Piazza and Paul had almost finished another when Karl joined us and we all bashed on regardless of the water creeping around our ankles.

This is my first one and I might post the other one if I can 'tidy' it a bit:

Rain In The Piazetta 12x10
Paul took us for a hot drink and a bun before the three of us trogged off to the Rialto where we found Tony and both Davids struggling manfully with the fould weather.

Paul pitched in the corner of the San Giacomo di Rialto square looking out towards the Grand Canal along an arcade.  Showing my customary lack of initiative i pitched behind him and painted the same scene but not nearly so quickly or well:

Arches near San Giacomo di Rialto
This is David P later and you can see how dark the scene is - which means that one tends to paint in a higher key (not necessarily a bad thing).

David Pilgrim - Rialto
We were all pretty hacked off with the weather but I stayed for a pastel.  I had always wanted to paint the San Giacomo facade so gave it a go in pastel.  Sitting next to me was a gent painting a lovely watercolour of it.

San Giacomo di Rialto - Pastel
I overdid the reflections but enjoyed the exercise.  Back home we all went out for a delicious and inexpensive meal in Castello as it was Paul's, Tony's and Karl's last full day.  The restaurant is on the salizada that runs off the SS Giovani i Paulo square and  I must get the details because it was such a great experience eating there.  The final two days in the next post!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Venice 1

Wet, wet, wet!  Torrential rain and three aqua altas made this a challenging 6 days.  Self, David Pilgrim, David Bachmann, Karl Terry and Tony Dakin staying in Ken and Dora Howard's spacious apartment near the Fondamente Nove and Paul Rafferty and others staying nearby.

We arrived in gloomy weather but the next day was not too bad so we headed out.  This is us in the Campo Santa Maria Formosa - one of my favourite squares.

Heading Out - 11 October 2015
We pitched at the Straw Bridge for our first attempt.  OK at first but very crowded later with tourists taking photos of the Bridge of Sighs and going to and fro along the Riva.

Molo and Piazetta From the Straw Bridge 10x14
I was rather slow with this one and the others left to start another one.  I thought they had gone along the Riva towards the Pieta church but having wandered all the way to the Arsenale I realised I had lost them.  I decided to try out my pastels - a real experiment as I rarely take them out of the studio and never abroad until now.

San Giorgio and Salute frome the Arsenale bridge area - pastel
I wandered down Via Garibaldi, bought some lunch and sat in the little park that commemorates all 'stateless, anonymous persons' and ate it.  Wandering through the park brought me to the municipal gardens and back on the Riva where I tackled another pastel:
San Giorgio and Salute from the Giardini- pastel
At this point the two churches are almost 'in conjunction' and I reckon that from this spot the sun will set between them.

I took a vaporetto back to the San Zaccharia area but found that the crowds were obscuring so much that there was no point in staying.  I then took a '2' vaporetto over to San Giorgio Maggiore island to see what sort of a view it would give of the Salute.  It was now late afternoon so I had to hurry because I also wanted to do a quick pastel as the sun set.

Santa Maria della Salute from Isla San Giorgio Maggiore
The pastel was done in about 8 minutes and it shows!  I wanted to record where the sun set as much as anything.  I now knew that if I came back on a good day I could paint the sun setting almost behind the Salute from a point far up the Riva - maybe as far as the Biennale site.

Quick pastel of the sunset and the Salute
It was now late and I guessed that the others would be heading back to Ken's so I took a 4.2 going towards the Ferrovia.  I knew that this would eventually head up the Canareggio canal and turn along the Fondamente Nove.  It would then be a short walk.  Unfortunately I had not banked on there being so many stops along the Giudecca and on the main island so it was rather late when I eventually turned up.  All in all we were lucky with the first day but it was not to last.  More in the next post.

More On Waterloo

I am giving a talk on Waterloo in our village this Thursday, with one of Lord Hill's descendants, Nick Crowley  (Lord Hill commanded the Allied 2nd Corps at the battle of Waterloo).  I have dug out the paintings I did in June to refresh my memory and here are some of them.

I tried to paint at all the significant sites, especially on those of the 4 main battles:Ligny, Quatre Bras, Wavre and Waterloo.

On the 16th June 1815 the battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras were fought - Ligny between Napoleon and the Prussians under Blucher and Quatre Bras between the British and Allies under the Prince of Orange/Wellington and the French under Marshal Ney.  This is a view from the French side at Quatre Bras looking towards the monument to the Duke of Brunswick who fell here leading his own troops:

Quatre Bras and the Brunswick Monument 16 June 2015

At Ligny I painted an old chateau in the village, reputedly used by French officers as a billet after the battle.  I also sketched Ferme d'en Haut where General Gerard set up his Corps HQ after the battle, having driven out the Prussians.
Sketchbook page showing th Ferme d'en Haut, Ligny on 16 June 2015

Chateau In Ligny Centre 16 June 2015
Wavre was too built up to see anything of the original and like Ligny it was mainly fought inside the town anyway, so I concentrated on Waterloo.

Here is a view from near the old Frischermont monastery at the eastern edge of the battle field.  It is the view towards Plancenoit village that Brigades from General Bulow's 4th Prussian Corps would have had before they swept down to engage the French right wing at the end of the battle:

Track to Plancenoit from Bois de Paris 17 June 2015
 This view (still covered in flies from painting it!) shows what the French on the right flank of Napoleon's army would have seen, with Bulow's Prussian troops pouring down from the skyline to attack the French right rear and General von Ziethen's 1st Prussian Corps also attacking from the left edge of the view:
Frischermont heights from the track to Papelotte from La Belle Alliance, 19 June 2015
Another view I painted was from the Frischermont heights across to the Butte de Lion (Lion Mound), which marks the rough centre of the Allied line.  The Allied left wing stretched to the right edge of the picture and beyond.  I think the white patch near the Mound must be the farm of La Haye Sainte - another key feature of the battle .

Lion Mound from Frischermont Heights 17 June 2015
On the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo I painted at Hougoumont, the Allied bastion that all day resisted ever more frantic attempts by the French to capture it.  Today all is peace and quiet but 200 years ago it was carnage, with the buildings on fire, wounded men and horse being burnt to death, cannon fire raining down and desperate hand-to-hand fighting within and outside the courtyards of the farm and chateau.  This is a view of the South Gate today:

Hougoumont South Gate 18 June 2015
I made 15 oil paintings and filled a sketchbook.  Visiting the battlefields and painting on them gave me a unique insight into the ground over which the Waterloo battles were fought.  I was also very lucky to go to the re-enactments and get a feel for what it was like - especially all the white smoke that really does make you undetstand the phrase 'the fog of war'.