Contemporary painting versus constructed reality

©Stuart Bush, Nobodies fault, oil on board 70.2 x 50.4 x 3.6cm
I have certainly had the feeling that there is some wrong with the world and I’m sure most people have. I recently watched the film ‘The Matrix’ (1999) again after reading the Guardian newspaper article titled, ‘Constructed reality: are we living in a computer simulation?’  I think it is unlikely that we are residing in a computer simulation, even though some people think it is true. Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of Tesla and Space X believes the probability that we are not all living in a simulated world is one in billions, but I think most people would not think too deeply about this argument. 
 
©The Matrix (1999) Warner Bros
The Matrix dialogue
Morpheus:  Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know, you can’t explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there. Like a splinter in your mind – driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix?
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
 
I enjoy thinking about ideas that challenge what we believe to be true. It wasn’t that long ago we thought the earth was flat.  To try and find out what the purpose and meaning of life is and believe the simulation argument leads you down a rabbit hole.  I think it is impossible to verify and confirm whether it is true or not.  Life still matters, either way, we are still conscious and aware of our own existence, sensations and thoughts, we still have purposeful relationships and activities.  
 
A great approach is to follow your instincts by exploring, responding and make sense of this world.  Personally, the only way I can see to do this is through my relationship with making art. It feels natural to me through making art to look for a deeper level of meaning and value in our ordinary everyday lives. I am always looking for hidden depths of our deepest self.
 
I feel like I see the world differently and I see my ultimate goal as an artist is to locate and communicate this.  I would always feel incomplete if I tried to suppress this urge. It is a passionate engagement and something I have to do.
 
Braque said,”the only valid thing in art is which cannot be explained.”
 
Further reading:
Is our world a simulation?  Why some scientists say, it’s more likely that not.
 
Are you Living in a Simulation? By Nick Bostrom
 
The Matrix as Metaphysics by David J. Chalmers
 

Hodgkin says goodbye to absent friends – Howard Hodgkin exhibition review at the National Portrait Galley in London

Portrait of the Artist Listening to Music by Howard Hodgkin, 2011-2016, Courtesy Gagosian © Howard Hodgkin Portrait of the artist by Miriam Perez. Courtesy Gagosian.

Ever since I was interested in art, I have always seen Howard Hodgkin as one of my artists who’s work resonates strongly with me. In this review of Howard Hodgkin’s Absent Friends exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, I want to explore, understand and put into words (if that is possible) what it is about Hodgkin’s paintings that has managed to turn mere paintings into objects of contemplation and hold my curiosity for so many years.  At the same time say goodbye to another great artist; Howard Hodgkin died on 9th March 2017, two weeks before this show opened.

 

Howard Hodgkin was born in 1932.  He studied at Camberwell School of Art between 1949-50 and Bath Academy of Art between 1950-1954.  In 1985 Hodgkin won the Turner Prize and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.  Since then he has gone on to exhibit across the world and has his work is in many private and public collections.

Mrs Nicholas Monro by Howard Hodgkin, 1966 – 1969, Private Collection, London © Howard Hodgkin

The art I expect to see at the portrait gallery normally refers to an anatomical likeness of a person in the traditions of pictorial realism.  However, in this show, the paintings are titled as portraits that capture a memory of a person and a moment as a dematerialised idea imprinted on the mind.  They are described by Hodgkin as ‘representational pictures of emotional situations’.  The paintings capture realism as a complete expression of individuality, of both the artist and what he sees.  Paint and colour refashions the world as he sees it.  Hodgkin sees more than an individual likeness; he sees how the light falls to create abstract forms of intense emotion.  He paints his thoughts from memory with swirls and splashes as a response to the flux of the world.  The paintings are like a recording that captures a feeling, that took place between him and the person in the title.

 

Hodgkin once said, “Painting is like putting a message into a bottle and flinging it into the sea,” Observer article, 2001.   Howard Hodgkin believed his paintings talk for themselves and often was reluctant to discuss the meaning behind his work.  He was always happy for the viewer to see and interpret what they like from his deeply cherished moments.  

Waking up in Naples by Howard Hodgkin, 1980 – 1984, Private Collection, London © Howard Hodgkin

The paintings are more like artefacts or an object rather than just paintings.  Hodgkin worked slowly producing a maximum of 10 paintings a year.  He laboured and agonised over them in an intense process, which is evident from the dates of the work and from listening to him discuss the torture he injured when painting.  His artistry clearly lies in making something that took years look like it was made in a couple of hours.

 

“It’s very hard to keep all the things going on in a painting, the feeling, the emotion, the memory; they have to turn into something else. The problem really is making the painting stand up by itself.  The memory has to turn into a thing, into an object. And that is a very slow process for me.” Howard Hodgkin, BBC Radio 4, Desert Island Discs.

 

It was always clear to Hodgkin when a painting was finished and complete, as it captured his original idea that triggered the picture.  He painted on used blackboards, kitchen worktop and old picture frames rather than canvas.  He liked pieces of wood that already had an identity and a life.  When walking through the chronological hung exhibition, it is evident to see how Hodgkin developed a confidence with colour through his career.  Each painting has a strong, unique, distinctive character of swirls, curves, dots and lines in vibrant pigment, a collision of pattern and forms.

The Spectator by Howard Hodgkin, 1984-87, Michael P. Green © Howard Hodgkin

The painting that sums up Hodgkin’s painting practice for me is ‘Mrs K’, 1966-7. It is a portrait of Jane Kasmin.  It reminds me of being in a dark room as someone enters from the far end through a closed door.  The sun floods into the dark room, and a bold form of a figure interrupts the light, as you adjust your eyes.  The painting opens up heartfelt sentiments of solitude and vulnerability.   The painting challenges your visual psychological space, it encourages you to learn something new about the world about what realism could be or should be.  In my eyes, the painting is a more accurate and truthful interpretation of human perception than traditional pictorial realism.  

 

The impressive show with many well-lit rooms of high-quality work was a pleasure to visit.   The exhibition delves deep in Hodgkin’s practice of painting, asking questions about our human construction of reality in this seemly meaningless world.  Every single one of the paintings in this show feels like a battleground between the artist, materiality and reality.  They are an expression of individuality of the artist and its subject; they are self-portraits of the artist and subject portraits wrapped up in one.    Hodgkin created paintings that outlast the subject and the artist himself.  A makeover of the world in paint, with the paint being the carrier of vibrant and radiant feelings. It is a joyful farewell to an outstanding artist.

Portrait of the artist by Howard Hodgkin, 1984-87, Private Collection © Howard Hodgkin

Drawing, The creative act

©Stuart Bush, I’m not mad at all, oil paint on paper

 

Allowing freedom in the studio for creativity exploration is essential. When I work on a plain sheet of paper or in my sketchbook, I seek to have an openness in my drawings that allows and embraces a large number directions and options that can be pursued. A chain of evolution takes place in my pictures over an extended period of time and patience is essential. Working on and towards a finished piece too early can make the outcome contrived and often can leave me frustrated.
This explorative phase is more like problem-creation stage than problem-solving stage. I am looking to generate new ideas to stimulate my visual imagination and leaving space for creativity and ambiguity. I have often found that without this freeness, the development and exploratory of my thoughts are restricted, and the work comes to a dead end.
With creative freedom in my drawings, my insight and intuition give me an inkling of what to do next allowing me to focus on specific issues and open questions. I can then remove certain details and concentrate on the whole by copying and repeating to expand conceptual ideas and structures by following a hunch.  
Inspiration is an essential ingredient and can come from chaotic and imprecise work made with an open mind or by viewing another artist’s work or for me, by being inspired by the city. Accidents and chance can lead to seeing embedded ideas in a different way. The freeness leaves space to suggest moods and emotions and enhancing abstract concepts. I often feel the need to revisit unresolved ideas and expanding on them. Sometimes this leads to radical changes and often, exciting new artwork.
It is always important to remember that overworking can remove the essence, spirit, the actual original thoughts, and potential. The outcome is successful when the liberty and pleasure are still visible. After all seemingly effortless art signifies greatness and shows the way forward for an artist who can then capture what is immaterial into the material.

©Stuart Bush, No exit, pen on paper 43 x 61 cm

How do I begin an artwork? What equipment, materials and techniques do I use?

 
 
©Stuart Bush, You don’t understand me part 1-4, 2015 gouache on paper – 
My work starts with street photography. I wander the streets as a Flaneur.  Charles Baudelaire, the nineteenth-century poet described a Flaneur in his essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ as a stroller and loafer of the city streets observing modern life. Likewise l wander around the city like a man of leisure as l try to take it all in. Following my intuition and hunches I take pictures of what seems important to me. I look to capture that important element in the frame of my viewfinder, the essence of the importance of life.
 
The photographs I take allows me to record a rich visual diary. By having this source material I always have something to return to if inspiration is running low and I need revisit my original ideas and intentions.
 
The next stage is in the studio with a blank sheet of paper or a blank page in my sketchbook. The main thing that happens in this first stage in the studio is reducing and simplifying the rich source l have gathered and extracting important elements to use. As well as painting and drawing, l sometimes print the photos to create collages or put layers together in a photoshop.
 
Things come together slowly, often my ideas and sketches don’t go anywhere at first. The next time I’m in the shower, or going for a walk, or the next time I am in an art gallery I realise how I can use these snippets of life l have gathered! I then return to the original photographs and sketches and try to refine and develop my ideas.  
 
Often I come to dead end. Then l try to be patience and wait and allow ideas to develop. Allow my mind to bring ideas together. This normally happens when I am not particularly thinking about artwork, but when my mind is open and free to wander.
 
However, once l feel I am on to something, I look to develop a process and repeat the format in order to create a series of work. 
 
This is an ongoing and forever changing process.
 

What do I enjoyabout my time in the art studio?

 
©Stuart Bush Hard to concentrate, oil on board 30 x 40 x 3.5 cm – £1000 + shipping enquiry
My art studio is on the top floor of an old shoe factory in Northampton. I have been working in this space for over ten years now.  The space is quite full.  Ten years means ten years of equipment, ten years of paperwork and ten years of ideas on paper and canvas.  
 
I have weekly access to London where I go looking for inspiration to bring back to the studio and process my ideas.  It is great to have the exposure to view the best galleries and exhibitions and to be able to walk the streets of London with my camera.  
 
A studio is a place of unique freedom; it is a place for me and my thoughts where I can figure things out.  It is a place to use my intuition to look for problems, get things wrong, make mistakes and follow a hunch. I have learnt a way to lie to myself, and accept whatever comes out of the creative act is good enough.  
 
I feel a strong need and desire to process the world.  Thinking about my artwork is done in pencil and paint as I process what I see, as I look to figure how to process it.  I believe that what I am trying to grasp through my art practice is of importance, to get a better understanding of the seemingly meaningless void, what we call life.  
 
Through my practice as a painter if I painted nature I would want to paint the treeness of a tree, something that resonates strongly with us.  In the lines and colours of my ephemeral moments I look to reflect a visual equivalent of the rhythm the city.  The work deepens and expands to harmonise the whole.  I paint my inclination of form from the structural elements of the figure in the city to express us.   A simplified and symbolic vision that selects what is essential through reduction.  In between representational and abstraction, reality and painting.   
 
Josef Albers said in the Interaction of colour, “In musical compositions, so long as we hear merely single tones, we do not hear music.  Hearing music depends on the recognition of the in-between of the tones, of their placing and their spacing.” This quote is important to understand how I see individual pieces of my work in the studio as linked into a wider conversation I am trying to have.  My blog is titled “The Poetic Painter, Painting in pictures rather than words” because music, poetry and painting have a lot of similarities.  Like David Salle said, an iconic image has the “visual equivalent of a tenor reaching a high note.”
 
I enjoy my opportunity to communicate my thought and ideas.  I like to hear what you enjoy about your creative time.  Please join in the conversation in the comment box below.
 

Re-evaluating our relationship to space – Richard Wilson, Stealing Space, exhibition review

©Richard Wilson Block of Dering (2017) wood 353 x 250 x 268 cm Stealing Space exhibition

 

When l saw an image of the installation of Richard’s show l was intrigued and decided to visit.   Richard Wilson, the Turner Prize-nominated artist, has been exhibiting for 35 years and has won universal critical acclaim.  In this review of his exhibition ‘Stealing Spaces’ at the Annely Juda Fine Art gallery in London l was interested in how he uses different materials and ideas to draw attention to our relationship with space.   His work titled, ‘20:50‘ (1987) is an installation of oil in a room up to waist height and helped draw attention to his practice which uses methods of engineering combined with his interest in architecture. 
 
This quote from ‘Richard Wilson’ by Simon Morrissey, Tate Publishing 2005, page 7, gives us an insight to his way of thinking.
 
“I need that initial thing from the real world because I’ve always been concerned with the way you alter someone’s perception, knock their view of kilter.  And to do that I need to start with something we think we understand.”
 
This idea that you can ‘alter someone’s perception’ is something I can completely relate to and try to achieve in my own work and is the reason I find Richard’s work fascinating.  In his work Richard encourages the viewer to reconsider and re-evaluate common spaces, thereby opening up a very rich and productive exploration of physical space.
 
I believe that Richard’s work shows the importance of the artist’s role in finding a humble idea that has previously been overlooked, and make it into art by develop it into a life-long practice, elevating it up to something purposeful and meaningful and thereby adding wonder. 

 

©Richard Wilson Stealing Space exhibition all rights are with the artist
When I first saw the two large sculptures made from familiar materials squeezed into the white rooms they made me wonder how he achieved the aim of getting those big structures up the stairs.   When viewing, Space Between the Landing and the Gallery (2017) plywood on wood and metal, 310 x 740 x 101 cm, my attention is drawn to what I took for granted when I walked up the four flights of stairs moments ago.  While viewing the installation I wanted to re-consider my short journey up the stairs.  I did not notice the interesting details from the stair banister and steps, the significance of the space created and my relationship to these spaces.  My thoughts lead me to contemplate, Marcel Duchamp’s, ‘Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 (1912) oil on canvas, in a new way.  I thought how a person moves through space and they ascend and descend stairs and I found this interplay of connections and ideas intriguing.

 

Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2, 1912 – ©Marcel Duchamp – All rights belong with the artist
I can see why Richard makes a minimum of 3 sketches a day as I found his small framed drawings compelling and it is clearly the primary foundation of his ideas and practice. If I had one criticism of the exhibition, it would be that I would have loved to see the original sketchbook drawings to discover how Richard’s ideas started and progressed rather than just the finished sketches and finished installation.  I would have been very interested in understanding how he developed his ideas and this would have taken this exhibition to another level.  
 
The installations, models and drawings in the show made me take another look at the external and internal space, the positive and negative space, and to reconsider my memories and experience of moving through space.  This exhibition of Richard Wilson’s work has forced me to reassess architecture’s relationship and my response to space.  I realised I am overlooking the beauty of the familiar, the layers of meaning as I walk through a space and the resulting memories of the journeys I take. The exhibition, as a result, was one of surprise and delight and I walked away feeling I had learnt a great deal about using and understanding art and space.
 
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The secrets of art and creativity

©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 1, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 2, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 2, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
©Stuart Bush The inception of an unexpressed thought part 4, coloured pencil on paper 22 x 29cm
Art is about using your creativity to make new connections from things around you.  The intention is to reconsider what you previous thought to give you a better understanding of what life is really about.  
 
Creativity in art is really about playing and experimenting. Taking two random things and letting things happen.  Being overly self-critical or self-conscious can prohibit a breakthrough.  You’re not trying to re-invent the wheel; you need to encounter discomfort and ignore any fears and tell yourself, this is for me and try not to worry what other people think.  
 
You could connect something banal like house bricks, reflecting coldness and the mundane, as a wake-up call to the excesses of capitalism like Carl Andre and his artwork, Equivalent V.
 
You take on some of the big topics, like immortality, life and death by linking the cycle of life, with flies living and dying in a glass box like Damien Hirst, titled ‘A Thousand Years’ (1990).
 
Or you could take up a skill like drawing, painting or pottery and just get making and see where it takes you.  The trick is once on a path, you’re bound not to know where the work is heading. If you thought you knew where your ideas are going, your artwork is probably stillborn or dead and lacks any inside energy.
 
The Helsinki Bus Station Theory by photographer Arno Rafaela Minkkinen explains some interesting and worthwhile advice:
 
 
The Helsinki Bus Station: let me describe what happens there.

Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19. 

Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are again repeated: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19. 

Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity. 

Ok, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21. 

You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on. 

Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years others have already done. 

So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short) and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform. 

This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots of people lying on the beach from a cherry picker crane. 

You spend three years at it and three grand and produce a series of works that illicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black and white 8×10 camera view of palm trees swaying off a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann? 

So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.

What to do? 

It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.

 
 
So play and make random connections.   These new connections you make are only significant if they generate new meaning.  Use your intuition to sense which have potential and to figure out the best to communicate this idea to someone.   Make art from what is around you and try to make a comment about the world.  
 
When telling a joke, the funny part comes when two different separate ideas connect, generating a new meaning, similar to connections within a successful work of art.  Remember art is wonder!  It doesn’t matter if someone else likes it or dislikes it.  What is important is that your audience can’t stop thinking about it.  The possibilities are endless.  And remember to stay on the f*cking bus!
 
 
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Productivity in the artist’s studio

©Stuart Bush, sketch book study 78, oil and charcoal on paper
 
I am taking positive steps to make me more productive in the studio including things like planning and reviewing what I am going to do in the studio before I arrive and creating some studio ground rules.
 
I have a list of current projects and series of work l am trying to complete. Before l go to my studio I write down a short list of next steps l need to take, often between two or three depending on long each one will take.  This brief list is hand written in my diary, so it is clear to follow.  This way I know what my first task is, therefore avoiding beginning with an extended period of uncertainty.  Of course, uncertainty when painting is always present, but I try to remove it at this stage with preplanning.  
 
To choose the right tasks, I ask myself a series of questions; If l only achieve 2-3 tasks in a day what would these tasks be and would l be satisfied if l only get these done? If I made only one work of excellence, which one would make an enormous difference and have the greatest consequences? 
 
To help keep my mind clear and on creative studio time I write down all the distractions l might encounter on a to-do list.  Plus l avoid all office and business related tasks while in the studio to avoid all low-level activities.  Even if these task are urgent, I still try to do them after my creative block of time of one to three hours.  The creative time must come first.
 
The rules I have put in place while working are;    
Phone on silent, select music quickly (if I choose to listen to any at all), no tv or video, no newspapers, no friends dropping by, no emailing, no internet research unless it is related to making my next work therefore, hopefully, no diversions and distractions from the creative task ahead.
 
If you like my post, please join my mailing list for my monthly email newsletter or if you have any suggestions to improve productivity in the artist’s studio please comment below.

Michael Craig-Martin’s book, ‘On being an artist’ – book review

All rights are reserved and are with the artist. ©1973 Michael Craig Martin, An Oak Tree (1973)

Michael Craig-Martin’s book titled ‘On being an artist’ is a collection of thoughts and notes that Michael has written and collected over the years. The book presents an interesting and insightful account of aspects of an artist’s life, the central themes of Michael’s work and the way he sees the contemporary art world. The book covers Michael’s experiences that he has gained as an art tutor at Goldsmiths, teaching, Damian Hirst, Julian Opie and Gary Hume and as a successful international artist.

In the book, there are 151 texts written in an informal and sincere style. They are easy to understand and read, ranging from chapter titles such as, ‘On advice for aspiring artist,’ to ‘On British attitudes to contemporary art.’ The personal account and practice information is for art students as well as professional artists.  I am sure the book would also be interesting and engaging read for anyone who interested in creativity and the daily thoughts and practice of an artist.

Michael’s clear and concise explanation of conceptual art through discussing, “An Oak Tree” (1973) one of the many interesting parts of the book.  The artwork creates a suspension of disbelief and highlights how conceptual art doesn’t exist in the object itself but in the mind of the viewer.  ‘An oak tree’ is a mental concept like all conceptual art that becomes a trigger to encourage contemplation.  The work highlights how art is a place inside your head where you can go, on your own and process the world and it’s complexities.

I enjoyed the clear and concise ideas, and concepts explained in a friendly and helpful manner.  It interesting to hear about the highs and lows of being a successful international artist and the difficult and challenging journey of finding your own path. I would highly recommend it for any aspiring artist.  Michael is certainly honest, and I found that very refreshing, “I would never advise anyone to become an artist. If you have another option, take it.”

A dialogue between me and my work

©Stuart Bush, Strange Heart Sings, oil on board 30 x 40 cm

I have an inherent need to communicate and express something. I am constantly looking for a new way to read the world to understand the physicality of forms. I see my practice as an exercise of being a painter/curator of moments of our lives; reclaiming a more agreeable melody, restoring, reordering and decluttering to focus on what is truly important.

By focusing on the space and the possibilities of structure and composition, I hope to emphasise the beauty and harmony from the chaos in the city, to invoke a new reading of its noise, movement and pattern. By revealing things through a slow open process, my work uncovers the importance of the positive and negative space. Where rhythm, colour and form play off each other, and each shape takes it configuration and meaning from the next, as a metaphor for the qualities of a seductive poem or an intriguing piece of music.

There is truth in the paintings as I try to deal with the present tense and how these ephemeral junctures were for me. A situation and context where discoveries and revelations happen. There is a layered time as I grapple with evidence of awkward moments, aspects of failure and changes of direction. Leaving the physical traces of responding to mistakes, that relate to intrinsic qualities of being human.

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