Peter Doig (1959 –

I’ve spent the last few days listening to some new music, thinking whilst Kate Tempest & Akira Kosemura knock it out of their respective parks, about variances between painting & music. How music feels personally much more about the excitement of the unseen whole and the potential for its completion. A new song is one heard new in so many ways, each return finding new ideas creeping out from the woodwork & its fretboard.

Painting is more immediate, there’s less to catch in a sense. Songs are chases, lyrics and choruses hanging ephemera that soon becomes something else entirely. Yet there is an odd paradox within painting, that whatever is portrayed on the canvas, from the minimal stillness of today’s artist, Peter Doig, to the bombastic war zones of Eugène Delacroix, everything contained within is in status and up for scrutiny. Ironically meaning that the greatest literal action possible on a canvas is paint drying.

Picking the two paintings today for Peter Doig was tough as the incredibly accomplished artist (His 2007 work White Canoe selling at Sothebys for a then European living record of $11.3 million) has a style so wild and varied. I begin with a piece I saw at this year’s excellent John Moores Painting Prize, which showcased ‘Blotter’ as a past 1993 winner in its archives, following on from its sombre affections to a later piece of Doig’s, ‘White Canoe’.

‘Blotter’ – 1993


The bottom half of this work is so intensely captivating that at first we fail to see that the trees and bracken landscape high above the slope, are about as lifelike as the reflected life the boy ponders beneath him. An easy mistake to make however considering the entrancing perplexity of the narrative on display. Doig’s far off capture of contemplation showing both the boy reflective of his own image and thoughts, but also reflective of ourselves as we too scour the meditative image before us.

We’re watching him watch himself, which gifts an odd intimacy. ‘Blotter’ seems aware of this, referring within its title both to, as Doig put it, ‘the notion of being absorbed into a place, but also to the process through which the painting developed: soaking paint into the canvas’.

There is exquisite skill throughout; the water forming a delicate swirl of distortions, masterfully mixing both the reflections themselves from elsewhere in the image, as well as the moments in which these echoes intersperse and spill. The very weather of the scene is dealt with equally well, small nicks and white thumbing against the frame suggesting old reel footage, evoking a place out of time.

Logic reigns in the ordering of the presentation here, with everything coming across horizontal in bands of colour. The boy skewered between two certainties amid his contemplation. The lower portion featuring the exuberance of another life, the higher middle a jagged depthless quality to a reality of ours.

‘White Canoe’ – 1997


The suggestion of voyeurism is magnified by the inclusion of a fence looking out to the warm sticky water. Colours hang and languish lazy, a landscape uncomplicated by detail in which the hand of man passively glides through rather than engages and changes.  From our privy view behind the bank the real barrier of the wild stands staunch and celebratory.

There could potentially be a disturbing visage here, the passive passed out passenger keeled over and taken forward on the water’s momentum alone. But with its inverted colours and out of place photorealist canoe, it becomes more an opportunity to imagine places like this that are so free normally of human gaze. The symbolic pioneering canoe confidently exploring amid the barren landscape of nowhere in particular.


Recent article on 2014 John Moores Painting Prize entries, a competition Doig won in 1993 with ‘Blotter’.

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René Magritte (1898 – 1967)

Whilst fellow Surrealists such as Ernst & Masson rely on the outlandish and insane to communicate their ideas, Magritte operates within a paradox, his paintings reaching abstraction through the presentation of a familiar reality. Amidst his skilful natural brushwork there comes a truthfulness to whatever his diverse mind imagines, experiences here then becoming surreal and uncomfortable precisely because of the intrusion of the commonplace.

 ‘Collective Invention’ – 1934


We see this in the quietly disturbing, yet oddly logical, Collective Invention. With its anatomically reversed mermaid, featuring a fish top and eroticized female bottom half, lying stranded and helpless out on an anonymous shore.

From the back of the image Magritte has the waves curving forward, gently ushering our eye to the uncomfortably glassy gaze of the unseemly synthesis. This then is not pure fantasy; rather there is logic here that makes it all the more alarming and affecting as neither part of the creature is truly contradictive of the other; the skin tones of the feminine legs fade naturally upward to the steely flesh of the fish as if it was mere evolution. The alluring hips too ache temptingly up out of the skin before the wide dulled fins.

It does however seem to behave more like an animal, its helpless caught pose reminiscent more of a drying silent fish than a human. The potential though for it to stand and move is what disturbs me most, to see this creation upright would for me be that true lapsing into unreality. Classically indicative of the painter’s style & tone however, we as an audience aren’t pushed this far in terms of our perceptions. Rather Magritte hangs us on the edge of the incongruous but never fully releases to chaos such as the aforementioned Masson is so fond of doing.

There is of course wonderful technique here too; the delicate wet deposits of damp sand around the creature’s ankles, the slow crawl of the fog to the back of the canvas. Magritte really can paint and it’s quite incredible he could conjure such alarming ideas and still execute them in such an elegant and refined yet cowing manner.

Through such fragmented verisimilitude comes questions, most importantly of all perhaps, where did this come from? Well, the sea behind of course. So why then does it exist? Who caught it? The fish looking out to us seems as ignorant and perplexed as we will always be.

‘The Month of the Grape Harvest’ – 1959


Similar to the feeling that the mutant of Collective Invention could rise up and gawp forward, Magritte within The Month of the Grape Harvest plays menacingly with potential.

Though only two clear rows of the anonymous bowler-hatted men can be seen sealing the window view, more can be discerned by looking deeper. Edges of further hats peek from behind the wall, with a single placid mouth seen also between the crossed shoulders of two men on the right of the pane. Through their synonymous height a clear division between themselves and the view above is defined, a barricade that adopts an odd aggression in spite of the monotone passivity held by all.

There’s a profound poetry here, one that dwells upon the impossibility of keeping out the outside world. Shutting windows or closing doors then is but an illusion that we are in effect stopping anything. Arguably a window that looks out to the world rather than this army of men is just as confrontational in its reminders of a time and existence that carries on without you.

The hollowness of the room suggests that the people themselves are starting out into nothing; Magritte then here showing us nothing confronting nothing, a commonplace occurrence within the world that continues when we shut the blinds or close our eyes.

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Raoul Dufy (1877 – 1953)

In spite of Fauvism’s short lifespan (1905-1907), France’s early avant-garde movement made quite a splash upon the grand history of Art – both literally in terms of its unhinged splattered tones, as well as through its strong later influence upon painters such as Henri Matisse.  So called after a comment by journalist Louis Vauxcelles, whom compared the vigorous brushwork and pastel liberation of the group to ‘fauves’ (wild beasts), the genre is wild, lawless and invigorating. A style in which its painting avidly avoids anything in the way of content or message, rather far happier to cover over traditional artistic reference with luminous bands of unorthodox colour.

Personally guided to writing this piece more through an interest in the movement itself rather than an individual stylist, I found Raoul Dufy to be the most interesting of the twenty or so loosely connected Fauvist artists. His painting oddly childish, yet captivatingly different.

‘The Three Umbrellas’ – Raoul Dufy (1906)


The backs of three women look out from below their eponymous umbrellas, but the focus here seems to more on what we see than what they do. Meaning for the most part is unimportant here, Fauvism more about the force conveyed through its unique colouring, than the narrative to which it coyly suggests.

The umbrellas themselves then are starting gaze points for the viewer, signals which through their semi-abstract swirls point to a symphony of instability within Dufy’s painting. Against the right hand road of the piece we see more umbrellas shilouetted off to the canvas edge, along with a further duo in black across the way on the bridge, the two owners staring back towards our own direction.

Now whilst many praise Fauvism for its celebratory nature, I’ve always enjoyed tangling with it as more of a form of hallucinatory representation. Spirals and abstract palette choice apart, its own sense of distance is what I find so distorting. At the front of the piece for example there is some clarity, the three women fairly recognisable in their postures; down below them however figures grow stretched and odd amidst the mottled brushwork, with the aforementioned couple of the bridge facing the same fate. Positioned at the back then in such reassuring warmth then, it’s odd to see the buildings painted in such brilliance of skill. Their own representations, dare I say it, actually looking like as they actually are.

‘Venice’ – Raoul Dufy

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Life doesn’t look like this. Whilst Dufy doesn’t dispense as readily with familiar colouring as is other work, there is still a cartoonish playful quality about every brush and shade. The trees for example appear in praise, there arms guided upwards by the leaves twiddling amidst themselves. The clouds too are nothing more than squiggles amid a well composed sky, which compared to Alfred Sisley (an earlier article featured)  seem almost unimaginable. But, this blog isn’t about comparison. Neither is Art for that matter, it’s about movement and self-expression, the ability to disregard foreknowledge in favour of individual worth.

Which is why I really like the painting, I like the exuberance and wily tone. Everything seems brushed up against invisible curves, divided to make quick motion. At the back we have a rabble of residences all crammed staring onto each other, whilst amidst the front, trees gather in joy with armpit hair leaves.This clever juxtaposition allows a breath to be taken, both for the unique manor of portrayal Dufy uses, as well as the difference between town and city.

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Top 5 favorite shows seen at Edinburgh Fringe 2014.

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to stay in Edinburgh for the week, watching and reviewing shows for ‘A Younger Theatre’. Every day had 5 plays to see and 5 write-ups to follow. It was tremendous. And though it galls me as mere voyeur to say, really quite exhausting too. The city seems hillier on every visit.

What follows here are my favorite shows seen during my time in Edinburgh. As I personally saw 31/3000 shows on offer (some 1%! of all productions), these picks are in nowhere representative of any general trends of inclinations.

Nathan Penlington: Choose Your Own Documentary – @npenlington

Upon entry to Nathan Penlington’s creative homage to the compulsive page turner Choose Your Own Adventure Books, ‘Choose Your Own Documentary’ gives each audience member upon a entry a small clicker remote. At various points of this moving  tale, Penlington allows a democracy to bloom as we mere watchers are given opportunity to vote on the direction we want the narrative to follow. Told in excellent cinematography through various clips behind Penlington, the show’s 1566 possible journeys are presently concisely, always leaving you wanting more, allowing the somewhat novel clicker concept to become exciting and real:


Ablutions – @FellSwoopTheatr

Music is used so cleverly in this piece. The melodies and moods spewing forth effortlessly from a thread bare band made up of skilful character actors. Following Eoin Slattery’s bard barman finding no joy in the endless existence of endless pouring, the story is a twisty constantly downward spiral. The entire cast skilled, with the music as amorphous as their salubrious depictions of a familiar yet compelling downward America:


Away From Home – @RobWardPlazy

Football can be a right fickle game. One that not only finds thousands of people despising thousands of others for no other reason than the team they support, but also one that forces homosexuals within its ranks to hide their true selves for fear of career suicide. In the superb Away From Home, Rob Ward’s wonderfully drawn Kyle begins by not caring about this one bit. He’s a male escort who sees the funny side to the occupation, filling the entrancing hour we spend in his warm company with various quips, “I went limper than Brazil’s defence”. It is only when Kyle, a dedicated football fan who demands Saturdays off for games, meets a professional footballer as a client, that things take a turn for the worse:


The Fair Intellectual Club – @loonabimberton

Intelligent and really well performed clever stuff here by first time playwright/comedian Lucy Porter. A look backwards to Scottish Bluestockings group who make multiple contemporary references despite the 18th century setting. Purely made up of a superb trio of women: a poet, a mathematician and, best of all, a gossip. Individual stories are told with grace and meaning, so much so that when the ladies take a selfie at the conclusion, it feels anything but anachronistic:


The Post Show – @TheBerserkerRes

You know you’re onto a winner when you’re laughing before you’ve even taken a seat. Upon entering for The Post Show, US comedy trio the Berserker Residents are already in full swing, finishing up the bombastic closing scene of their 6-hour tour-de-force Prodigal Father. We’re all late, and as the show’s cast, haunting Noh-style ghost included, bow out to applause, the troupe then turn to the audience inviting questions in what is now a post-show Q&A on a show we’ve but glimpsed.

The three hold microphones and sit on stalls like any other feedback session, however this one begins with ‘popcorning’, a technique encouraging us all to vocalise a word we feel encapsulates the entire six hours of Prodigal Father. With a set littered with clues of what may have happened, along with a hilarious programme given out beforehand, there is much ammunition in this free forum for the questions the skilled performers so eagerly invite:





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Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale (1871-1945)

The best surprises come at book sales. Recently trawling through an open top market in Manchester I discovered a copy of Jan Marsh & Pamela Gerrish Nunn’s, Women Artists and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, finding countless intriguing countesses and painters within its wide crinkled pages. Though the Pre-Raphaelite Movement is far too vast and complex for me to ever do justice in several posts, let alone one, here’s what John Ruskin helpfully had to say in his work, Modern Painters (1848): 

‘The Pre-Raphaelites have one principle, that of absolute uncompromising truth in all it does, obtained by working everything, down to the most minute detail, from nature and from nature only’

Working some 40 years after Ruskin’s statement, in what is known as the third & final generation of the movement, Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale’s ‘The Guardian Angel’ both seems to embody and contradict the critic’s edict.

 ‘The Guardian Angel’ – Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale (1910) 


The paintings contradiction however, both through its ideological disobediences and contrasting styles within the same image, really unify the piece for me. This after all was one of the first works within the genre to bring together the raw imaginative force of the Pre-Raphaelites with the modern technology of the time – the majority of PR paintings to me seem to be more portrait orientated. Brickdale was supposedly inspired by the death of the Hon. Charles Stewart Rolls (half of the Rolls-Royce Partnership) in a flying accident near Bournemouth in July 1910, the piece then is an inverted triptych of sorts, detailing both a progression and inherent order within the pursuit of higher realms.

Across the angel’s legs we can see a deft mass of birds collecting, all of them yearning further upward but none seemingly able to escape the pull of their own nature. It’s the mass of energy here that really drives it forward – some large birds yearn and seek higher skies, others cast their bodies flat and seem to drive further into the storm.

Above the reach of instinct, a far more technical mechanical style of painting emerges, with the plane in all its glory and detail seeming to penetrate through both frame and angel. Perhaps as a comment on the crash itself, the plane too it seems, just like the birds, has its limit, the both of them nestled below a dominant angelic force.

Indeed the guardian dominates the picture, clearly controlling man’s own will within its hands, as well as mocking the birds below with its own dominating wingspan, one that Brickdale cleverly abridges at the corners to increase the epic spread of feathers a real power and relevance. It’s the face of the angel though that I keep coming back to, a malignant yet benevolent watcher, a seer that looks on to both man and no nature.


‘Knight Carrying Child’ – Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale

A Sweet Lullaby, illustration from 'The Book of Old English Songs and Ballads', published by Hodder and Stoughton, c.1910 (colour litho)

Carried away by his father to someplace up the hill, a child stares out vacantly. Its own tiny body against the adult armor brings us back to our own recollections of being young, when a parent really was a knight, something incalculable in power, authority and respect.

Though the winding & somewhat haphazard path behind the action is interesting, it is this dialectic pull between parent and child that really makes the picture worth pondering. Similar to how she clipped the wings of her angel in the aforementioned picture, here the armour dominates the frame, complex not only in rich design but also the play of light against the polished steel.

The father’s head too, leant and nestled against his pondering son creates a warm intimacy as they continue on their journey, The intricate weave of the designs give weight and wonder to the front ended image, with the fantastical nature of the protection subtly balanced against the piercing eyes of the boy.

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The John Moores Painting Prize (2014)

First held in 1957, the John Moores Painting Prize is the UK’s best-known painting competition and is held in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery almost every two years. During a recent trip to the city for its Biennial festival I visited this year’s showcase and was really taken aback by the invention and diversity on show. So, to ignore the past for a brief moment, here are 3 of this year’s entries that really got me staring and nodding – oft at the same time!

‘People 61094′ – Frank Pudney (2013)

photo1 (1)After spotting it from far across the gallery, Pudney’s amorphous enormity altered before my eyes with every step I took. At first within squinting distance it seemed but a mass of long dappled strokes merging elegantly against rising steam. Closer still it became to me a snowy mountain landscape as if seen from far above, the dense mottled brushwork now looking more like trees beneath gasps of cloud. With my feet firmly in front of the frame however, my view changed once more as I noticed that every paint flicker was actually a person silhouetted against the wide canvas expanse. The majority of these people huddled close but never touching in thick bundles, with a few escaping to the blankness inbetween.

This impeccably crafted visual instability plays well into the emotions evoked by the piece. Face to face with the image, individuality soon becomes a thing of insignificance. Feelings of sonder (the realization that everyone you’ve ever glimpsed experiences a life just as complex as yours) overwhelm as the eye traces over the thousands upon thousands of people painted onto the board.


By crafting every single person (though perhaps it’s difficult to ascertain from the above image) with great care and effort, Pudney spins what could be a dwarfing sense of triviality into something uplifting. Yes, the world is one in which our own experiences form a single heart beat in this world’s life cycle, but that is the same for everyone, we are all unfathomably small and ultimately inherently colossal.

Some of the figures lean in inquisitive to their fellow; others gaze and wander out above and beyond. They all however stick to their space and existence, whilst in the top left corner a searing emptiness waits for us all.


‘Freezer’ – Susan Hamilton (2012)

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Regardless of the flattened patterns of abstraction that bleed all across this piece, the motifs of supermarket shopping and frozen food aisles are all too familiar. What I really loved at this painting was this sense of place in spite of the abridged grotesqueness exhibited onto the acrylic. Faintly beneath the false white light for example are absent strokes to designate shelves amid the portal like entrance of the open fridge. The figure too is drawn in an uneasy equanimity with the food taken, both in color as well as their hands being  animalistic, like raw lobster claws in their execution

The blemishes on the back of the coat became a real focal point for me on my first viewing, their pulsing rings being the only real circular calm within a jagged canvas of transmutation and disarray. Indeed the surroundings of the image seem to be collapsing and engulfing upon the whole itself, with the true menacing black slowly seeming to crush both shopper and shop.

‘Sometimes I Forgot That You’re Gone’ – Rae Hicks (2013) 

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Tall natural pines lie up against a wall by a roadside, beside them Christmas trees have been painted onto imitation green board. Though the picture lacks the energy of my aforementioned choices, there is a moving quietness to the piece. The fake lies in the company of the real, all ignored against a setting sun and a road that seemingly goes on forever out of the edge of the frame.

The heavy use of triangles throughout is subtle but well placed, not only through the smaller shadow cast by the cut out, but also the wide triangle constructed by the leaning tree on the right. Hicks presents a piece of insensible assembly, laying before us dormant parts and asking us to construct and imagine.

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Jan Steen (1626 – 1679)

My favorite works of Art are those nestled in that sweet middle between contemplation and investigation. Whilst the aforementioned Alfred Sisley is undoubtedly of the former, today’s artist, the Dutch Jan Steen, seems to stray between both of these parameters. His bustling scenes of the everyday always aglow with the subtle life inside them.

‘Rhetoricians at a Window’ – 1662



Straight out of the canvas we perceive four distinct figures (though more lurk in the viscera), whose clarity of humanity is quite astounding. On the bottom left is the reader of a poem, his face so jovial and clearly thrilled with the piece. Across from him, a critic listens and stares with great intent. By positioning both of the men slightly out of the window frame, Steen plays expertly with the contrast of light on their clothes and bodies, there is great skill in-particular in the fold of the reader’s elbow as well as the recess of the critic’s hat. The men just feel as if they are actually together, not figures painted in abstraction on a solid plane, but really together, all in someway responding to the presence of their companions.

After taking in these  figures however, more pragmatic thoughts took me over. How high up are we? The climbing vines and insignia hanging from the frame suggest a certain tallness, so why then are the men performing and to whom?

The jester seems to know in some regard, his farcical expression in contrast to his more humane companions marking him out as the piece’s centre. With his piercing looks he stares straight out into the viewer with his little finger focusing you back into his gaze just to make sure you’re paying attention. Indeed, the rhetoric that the men seem to be practicing has much in common with painting as a whole – both only truly acknowledged if given an audience, both in need of response. Whilst we can’t hear what the men are saying then, the Jester, just like Steen himself, encourages us to listen.


‘The Christening Feast’ – 1664


As with all pictures of this clustered sort, it’s always worth scouring every inch of the piece to get a genuine scope of the image’s intent. The picture is so crammed of activity for example that I all but ignored the busy floor on my first viewing.

It is not only the subtle splashes of egg yolk on the tiles are are wonderful, but also the rigour of the ground’s checkerboard design . The way the relief retreats into the background helps to give surface and depth to the busy christening, drawing our eyes towards the back of the painting eventually up to the scribble of skin that is the baby.

I find however the woman with her back turned to us as a far more captivating figure, her melodious colors strike out perfectly across the wash of beige that covers the contemporary image. Her apron, which apes the shawl of the baby in its peachy blossom, helps to cut a nice slice of flair across the setting.

Supposedly though this painting is more intended to be subversive rather than triumphant. Steen is actually the figure in the background just entering, the one holding his hand above the child’s head – a supposed sign of cuckoldry at the time. The broken eggs scattered amongst the floor too seem to solidify this intent.

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