Mini Pictorial Biography

Painting as a boy of about eight years old I was so frustrated that the prince I wished to draw had puffed sleeves, like Bonnie Prince Charlie but I could not get them to look soft and puffed.  At about that time my mother gave me her box of oil paints and some brushes with the little lead tubes with those pure magic colours inside. Later when I went to secondary school I often skipped lessons to paint alone in the school art room. It was a kind of salvation that scruffy, messy, wonderful place. I had exhibitions along with other pupils and from time to time put tranches of my work on show in the schools main concourse.  I studied the history of art and architecture, through from the Greeks to the Renaissance to the 20th Century. In my holiday time whenever I had pocket money I’d travel to York to the art shop in the Shambles and buy paints. I never had enough money to buy all the glories that I so badly wanted.

After I had left school studying to be a teacher of art I learnt to draw from a life model. A beautiful girl patiently sat for us every week on Friday evenings. I painted all the time but gradually other commitments to the life I had chosen, being a family man, husband and builder (not teacher) finally forced me to give it up. I marked the moment with a great bonfire, hence no images from the first part of my life.  Many years later I consulted a therapist and reconnected with my love of painting. Since 1989, even while I have other work as a psychotherapist I have continued to paint and draw as much as time allows.

The interesting thing I observed on my return to my painting was the images I went on to make were so completely similar in spirit and colour to the work I had done earlier in my early life. It was almost as though I had never put my brushes down.

The first important painting I did when I began to paint again was this ‘Self Portrait’. Through an inspired teacher I really got a feeling that I could be a painter again. I was attending a class in the sadly now lost ‘369’ gallery. For years it provided space for new and emerging Scottish artists and housed many studios besides but alas, along with many other adjacent properties in the old town of Edinburgh it was burnt to the ground in 2002.  ( Self Portrait- acrylic on paper 31”x23” 1996)

Self Portrait

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This work has a feel rather than a likeness of who I am, at least who I was 18 years ago. Most of the best portraits I have made have been concerned with the spirit of the subject rather than any thing to do with conventional likeness.

My paintings deal in archetypes, by which I mean I try to get to an essential aspect of the self that is represented to us in so many differing forms within one person. Jung said of them that they are “…like deep water courses along which the water of life has flowed for centuries digging deep channels”.  He thought “The Archetype is a piece of life, an image connected with the living individual by the bridge of emotion” , which connects very well to how I see my work.

This one is of my daughter Abigail . (oil on canvas. 20”x20”.2004)

It captures something of her vulnerability but strong sense of awareness too.  I had no idea it was of her until later!

Abigail. oil on canvas. 20"x 20". 2005.

I have often painted couples and pairings of people. Lovers, married couples, couples in some mythic relationship. The idea of combining energy with another person so that two become one is perhaps the deepest desire within us all.  It seems to me to be at the heart of what it means to be human and why dualistic thinking him/her, you/me, them/us is so common and such a plague if not also a necessity.

This one calls on Jungian ideas of feminine and masculine aspects of Self in which the self is seen as a mixture of the two polarities as in Ying and Yan within Oriental philosophy.

Animus/Anima . oil on canvas .38”x36” .1989 )

Animus Anima - oil on canvas 38”x36” 1989

This is more psychological in a straightforward way. It is called “Three Fingers” done in 1998

Oil on Canvas Painting - He says to Her. 16"x21"

One purely symbolic image of coupledom is a screen print I made from a charcoal sketch in 2005.

Coupledom Screen Print

Both, the idea of family and of refugees have been and continue to be themes that play important parts in my work. The life of a person, anyone who has made it beyond childhood, leaves scars and traces on the soul.  I came from a large, emotionally deeply chaotic Catholic family and when I finally separated enough, a task I achieved in part through painting, I found the images I made were often a mix of family and refugees but also prophets. This work I painted in 1992.

Refugee family with Prophet-oil on board 48"x44"- 2001

This one I called “Family Breakfast” .The egg was a last minute serendipitous addition that brought the painting together.

Family Breakfast.oil on canvas.40"x38".1996.

This one was the culmination of many efforts and avoids sentimentality though it has sentiment and captures a little of the timeless embrace of parents with the miracle of their first child .

Oil on Canvas - Family With New Born

This one I did in 2000. I called it “Family at Night”

Family-at-Night.-oil-on-canvas.36'x40'1997

Since 2004 I have been drawing and painting people holding, offering, loving, admiring and moving flowers. Flowers convey in the most obvious terms our passage through life to death. They are beautiful but fragile; their language is about the fleeting nature of life and as such is well known to us all.

Flower Offering - Oil on Canvas 20x26" 2005

This one I called “Flower Offering” oil on canvas 26”x20”.  I painted it in 2005.

A major piece called “Summer”. oil on canvas .48 x 60” .2009 came together only slowly and after months of painstaking work.  In the end it made sense only after I had become completely frustrated with it and in a fury of painting completed it. In a few hours, majoring in the addition of a lot of darks and yellows, it was done. It was a relief to have some resolution.

Summer - Oil on Canvas 48x60"

 

The words that I mixed into the painting and in part brought about it’s closure are by the American poet Emily Dickinson. The two crows represent my twin and myself.

That Love is all there is,
Is all we know of Love;
It is enough, the freight should be
Proportioned to the groove.

 

Perhaps the single most important painting I have made is called ‘Painting the Bindi on Jesus’. ( click here to see entry in the archive ) With it I felt that I had made a piece that touched on the business of living at it’s heart, an expression of universal desire that we be accepted loved and understood for who we are. Painting the Bindi is I feel an expression of this desire to be met, understood and blessed; such a deep need in all of us at times in our lives.

Painting the Bindi on Jesus

This is one of the most recent pieces I have made and contains something of what I am often after in my work; a sense of movement and also connection to a real person. It is not a portrait really though it captures something of her vitality.

Saras. oil on canvas. 34"32". 2012.

Saras- oil on canvas- 34”x32” – 2012.

Influences and inspiration for my work comes from Chagall the Russian émigré painter who I still revere though my work is really nothing like his nowadays. Also Northern European twentieth century artists like Oscar Kokoschka, Rouault, Joseph Herman, the Belgian artist Constant Permeke and a great but outside Poland little known painter called Artur Nacht Samborski who worked through out the communist era making  paintings of great freedom and colour. And then also the many anonymous medieval artist, painters and sculptors whose concentration on the religious was not a hindrance to making stupendous work. I am also a devotee of the great Australian artist Arthur Boyd for his wonderful and to my mind unsurpassed mythic work and more recently a terrific painter called Roy Oxlade who is still alive unlike all the others who I have mentioned. Oxlade’s disregard of the ‘right way’ to paint I find captivating. Creativity thrives best in atmospheres where rules can be broken. Learn the techniques but  for me being a painter is primarily an education in personal responsibility. It is about being willing to truly allow ones critical judgement from a deep place and to take real risks in pursuing your vision so that a work even of many months may be rejected because it is not good enough.

Sometimes it can feel like throwing your life away. Well why not. Meaning does not come from accepting the second rate.  It was Samuel Beckett who said;

Ever tried?

Ever failed?

No matter.

Try again.

Fail again.

Fail better.