Everyone knows the story about the sunflowers - how Vincent painted a whole series of them to brighten up his home in preparation for the visit of his friend Paul Gauguin. For once Van Gogh was happy and optimistic and these paintings reflect the joy and excitement he was feeling. Vincent foresaw and was looking forward to a burst of artistic endeavour with a man he much admired. Vincent saw heady weeks ahead of painting outdoors together every day with stimulating conversations about art every night. Sadly we know it didn’t turn out that way. Gauguin was looking forward to a different kind of break away from the city. He was looking forward to happy times discovering the local bars and brothels so inevitably there was going to be clashes. Clashes of personality too as Gauguin found it impossible to cope with Van Gogh’s intensity. The ultimate result was Van Gogh cutting off his right earlobe and Gauguin departing back from whence he came. Vincent was blissfully unaware of this outcome though when he painted these explosions of colour. I would imagine he worked very quickly on them mixing his colours straight on the canvas ‘wet on wet’. I allowed myself a bit longer and spread my painting over short sessions on four consecutive days totalling about five hours altogether. It’s a happy painting and it was a joy to paint. The colours are vivid and the composition elegantly pleasing. I decided to use a very limited palette. Van Gogh probably used primary colours but I used ultramarine blue, Winsor yellow and brown madder as my blue, yellow and red. It is a large painting so I worked with my trusty Chinese brushes. I picked them up for a couple of quid at a Chinese Herbalist in York and they are brilliant for this sort of work and probably the best bargain I ever got. Made of hog’s hair (that’s pigs!) they are very versatile and the same brush can be used either for large washes or incredibly fine work. They are also extremely tough. Working in my ‘Van Gogh’ mode I painted onto dry paper instead of my usual sodden mess. Apart from the irregular background wash, the painting is made up of individual brushstrokes some layered with another colour and some ‘wet on wet’. Although initially it was a mental exercise it was impossible not to get drawn in to the spontaneous joy and freedom of the work. I am pleased with the way it turned out and the original is now hanging on one of my granddaughter’s wall. I can honestly say that I really enjoyed experience working with Vincent and I look forward to spending some more time with him. Now where did Merice put that bottle of absinthe? Cheers
“That is the eternal question, is life all that there is of life or do we only know one hemisphere before our death? Speaking for myself I have no idea what the answer is but the sight of the stars always starts me thinking"
Vincent Van Gogh 1853 – 1890
I have done quite a few paintings in the style of and based on the works of many old masters from yesteryear but up to now have never tackled Vincent Van Gogh. Although most of them were oil painters it was never a problem translating into watercolour as they all blended their colours to achieve a smooth finish. In some ways it was probably easier for me to get that effect with watercolours than it was for them with oils. Not so with Vincent no attempt at smooth blending with him. So why now to suddenly take up the challenge? I blame it on one of my lovely granddaughters. She and her partner are moving into their first home together and she asked me to paint one of Van Gogh’s sunflowers as a new home present. Now you won’t be too surprised that I do not have an original hanging on my wall but I consulted my art library and found a print. At first glance it didn’t look to be much of a problem but on closer inspection I realised it was not going to be so simple, in fact nothing about Van Gogh’s work is simple. The reason for that lies with the man himself. We have all heard it said that there is a fine line between genius and madness. If anyone ever proved that it was this man who constantly veered from one side of the line to the other during his short life. As an artist he is totally unique. There had never been one like him before or one like him since. He does not fit into any category or style – he just is Vincent Van Gogh. Vincent’s paintings were not just about the colours or the marks. He was painting more than a visual response to a scene – he was actually painting an emotional response to what was before him. Now my granddaughter wants a large painting. Fair enough but being a Yorkshireman I decided to try a small one first to see if I could do it. After all why waste a large sheet of paper if you can get away with wasting a small one. Looking through a selection of his paintings I decided on this one. There were several reasons. Obviously it is well known and fixed in people’s mind what a Van Gogh looks like. More importantly for me it has all the trademark colours and swirls. If I could do a half decent job on this complicated subject then I should be able to tackle the relatively simpler sunflowers.
So how to paint it was the question? You all know my mantra by now – “you can’t use too much water in watercolours and use the strength of the medium by working with large washes.” Not this time. I painted all the marks onto dry paper building it up layer by layer. Vincent often painted ‘wet on wet’ with his brushstrokes to get varying colour tones and I replicated this technique. He worked mainly in primary colours which was handy because so do I. I gleaned that he used ultramarine blue so I made this my base colour. Thus I was able to stick to my usual six colours with the addition of cerulean blue which, being semi opaque, gave me extra tones. I haven’t a clue where Vincent started on his painting or how he did it. Being an oil painter he could have worked from dark to light but I had to do the opposite and work from light to dark. So the first (very tentative) marks were the yellow swirls in the sky and I proceeded from there. I went slowly at first constantly checking the reference piece for accuracy of the marks. Gradually I developed more confidence and began to paint boldly. As the painting started to appear something extraordinary happened to me. What had started as an intellectual exercise and a test of my skill and colour knowledge with watercolours became something more. I became aware of a deep desire within me to get it right and do it justice. I painted it during three sessions but couldn’t stop thinking about it constantly – are the colours working, are the tones OK? Vincent had evoked an emotional response in me to his emotional response to the original. It took a while filling the white paper with marks instead of washes but finally it was done and I am very pleased with it.
Vincent Van Gogh is a figure of many myths but the two most common ones are easily dispelled. It is commonly stated that Vincent never sold a painting in his lifetime but actually he did…just one. Sold by brother Theo who acted as his agent, it was bought by Anne Boch, sister of the Belgian painter Eugene. It is also commonly believed that he cut off his right ear and presented it to his fellow artist and houseguest at the time, Gauguin, after a quarrel. Again not true. He cut off part of his ear and presented it to a prostitute at the local brothel and returned home to lie bleeding all night in his bed. One thing that is certain though is, despite the madness and the myth, Vincent Van Gogh is a towering figure in the history of art, an artist who altered the way art is viewed and who is still revered to this day for his unique vision.
That’s me done for today so I’ll be off leaving you to hum Don McLean’s “Starry, Starry Night” to yourself while I go fulfil my date with a sunflower. By the way if you would like a ‘Van Gogh’ on your wall my original is for sale. Just contact me for the details. Cheers, Glenn
“The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. It is for the artist to do something beyond this.” James Abbott McNeill Whistler
What do you think about this comment by Whistler? For its time it was very controversial not that he was a stranger to controversy. Back then nature was treated as ‘sublime’ and could not and should not be altered. It was the duty of the artist to try and faithfully reproduce what was in front of him. Inevitably Whistler’s approach to his art brought him into conflict with the establishment. Particularly one John Ruskin who was the most celebrated art critic of the time and a guardian of nature’s perfection. He gave a vitriolic review of one of Whistler’s works so Whistler sued him for libel. After a long drawn out and very public trial, Whistler finally won his case. But the judge was also part of the establishment so he only awarded Whistler the sum of one farthing in damages. Whistler was left bankrupt so took himself off to Paris and built up a successful career there. Interestingly when the Impressionists were preparing to hold their first controversial exhibition Monet and Pissarro invited Whistler to join them. Perhaps not wanting to take on the art establishment yet again Whistler declined the invitation. Ironic then that this most unconventional artist is best remembered for a portrait of his mother!
Let’s go back to the comment though. Obviously he is correct especially these days when everybody has instant access to a camera to faithfully record what’s in front of them. So the artist has to add something extra to his painting – his interpretation of what’s in front of him (or her). He has to imbue it with his own unique vision. Normally I take my time over a painting building it up layer by layer and adding more and more detail as I think necessary…sometimes too much detail. So I decided to try something a little different with this one. I allowed myself just thirty minutes to finish the painting. I did a quick pencil sketch based on one of my own watercolours and set to work. I had to paint very wet onto wet just allowing the colours to do their own thing. I found it exhilarating. It was the same excitement I used to feel when I first started painting simply because I had no idea how it would turn out. It took me a just a bit longer than the allotted time mainly due to having to wait patiently while it dried a little. Luckily the sun was out so it didn’t take too long. So after 35 minutes I was left with “Country Lane in Bright Sunlight.” I really enjoyed it and think it captures the excitement. I shall certainly be doing a lot more of these quick paintings. One thing I hope not to do again is paint the dog. Dilly had been lying down beside me in the warm sun and at some point she had acquired a yellow back! It’s only watercolour though so a quick wipe with wet kitchen towel and she was restored to normal. Don’t tell Merice though.
This painting has been on exhibition in the Long Gallery at Burton Agnes Hall. They have quite a collection including works by Pissarro, Renoir and Augustus John amongst others so it is quite a privilege to be in such exalted company. I was delighted therefore when I was informed of its sale and I hope the new owner gets much delight from his purchase. It's been a funny old week and this sale has not been the only pleasant surprise. Last Sunday I met up with an old friend from Batley Grammar School who I hadn't seen for fifty one years. Later during the week Merice found a group on Facebook called 'Gildersome - Past and Present". Gildersome is (or was) a small village in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It is the place I grew up in and though much altered I still have very many fond memories of my life there. I joined the group and have already been reunited with some friends from the past. There are photographs of me when I was but a lad attending Gildersome C of E School. They were taken sixty years ago or more so quite a blast from the past. Here's one - see if you can spot me!
Notice that all us lads had short trousers on...it certainly was a different world back then!
But now for the sting in the tail. Last night I went with Merice for a short stroll with Dilly. I felt something on my coat collar so shook my head and felt it as you do and felt a sharp pain in the back of my head. It must have been a wasp that had landed on the collar and when I went to feel what was happening the little blighter stung me. I can't ever remember being stung before but was surprised just how painful it felt. A large lump swelled up there but manfully I finished our stroll uncomplaining of course. No I didn't curse and shout or threaten deadly vengeance on any other wasp that happened to come near me again...well maybe just a bit..well maybe quite a lot but I thought my behavior had been extremely dignified and composed in view of the circumstances. Merice clearly didn't agree. You might reasonably think that I would have been able to add 'sympathy' to the title of this blog but no - the whole occasion was a source of much merriment for Merice and I swear even Dilly was cracking up with laughter. I ended the week with the title "Lumpynut"! Ah well let's see what next week brings. Glenn
Unexpectedly I met up with John Grayshon, an old school friend, yesterday. Although we have been in contact with each other on Facebook this was the first time we had met physically for 51 years. Spending some time together brought back many memories and I thought I'd share them with you. The school in question is Batley Grammar School and John was part of a quartet of good friends who shared the experience all those years ago. We were John (Grash), David Walker (Whacker), Raymond Gray (known inexplicably as Raymondo) and I was "Mash". I suppose John was always the leader of our little gang. He as just a little older than the rest of us and we more or less followed his lead. Thanks to social media I have also talked to David and another old mate Richard Parkin. Raymondo has disappeared from our radar but who knows one day we might have a reunion.Back in 1961 it was quite an achievement for a young lad from a council estate to go to grammar school. Although right in the middle of the 11+ period I never actually sat the exam. In one of the interminable experiments by the Ministry of Education as then was, our school was part of a project where overall school work would be used to decide if you worthy of a grammar school place rather than place the emphasis on a single exam. Anyway be that may I was invited to apply for a place in a grammar school for my secondary education. I remember how proud my mum was when I was offered a place. There was a local grammar school nearby in Morley but Batley GS had a much better reputation for its level of education so that was the one I (or mum!) chose. Things were very different then. I would have to have a school uniform of course but this was very expensive as only a few shops stocked them in those days. Luckily mum got some kind of grant so, together with my dear old nan, off we went to Rawcliffe's in Dewsbury and when we returned home I was fully equipped ready to begin my new school career. Nan had even bought me a brand new shiny leather satchel for my books bless her. Uniforms were compulsory and had to be worn throughout your time at BGS. School caps were mandatory right up to the day I left and woe betide if you were ever caught without it. I think I had the just the one throughout my school days and inevitably it became a bit shall we say well worn. Not of course that we ever wore it all the time despite the penalties for not. You just put it on when you got off the bus and walked into school. That was the one and only brand new uniform I ever had and for my last year I was conspicuous by my bright blue blazer that my mother must have accquired from a jumble sale. Many enquiries were made as to whether I was thinking of taking up a career at Butlins (if you know what this is all about you may just be showing your age).
For our first year we had to wear short trousers. As succinctly put by the headmaster "Young boys fall over - cut knees mend by themselves but not trousers!" On my first day we were shown round the facilities and one young lad plucked up the courage to ask where the woodwork room was. "Over the hill boy" was the terse reply " at the high school. You have come here to work not play." Despite that rather forbidding start I soon settled into my new class and school routine. The school had three streams catering for different levels of pupils - A, Alpha and B. I was put in the A stream for the brightest (Merice - please don't comment!) and there of course first met the boys who would be my closest friends throughout our time there.
Batley GS was founded in 1665 and was very proud of its traditions built up over the years. Teachers wore black gowns and were always "Sir" - none of this first name malarkey. We were always addressed by our surnames though we quickly got used to this. Even talking amongst ourselves we would use this mode of address to each other though usually in the form of nicknames we all got. In addition to ours shown above there were some memorable ones. Gatenby became "Gate'hole'", Paul Gelder was "Redleg" (work it out for yourself), Richard Parkin was "Piggy" and our Polish pupil whose name began with a 'W' became "Whiz" even by the teachers. There were many more but you get the picture.
Things were a 'little' different in those days. For example on our first P.E. lesson there we all were lined up dressed in our P.E. kit. This comprised a pair of white shorts and white pumps. Nothing else. The teacher, one W.A.R Smith walked down the line and give us all a sharp crack on the backside with his ruler and the information that this what was in store if we didn't do as told. He finished up "I'm one in front now boys!" Corporal punishment was a way of life. The most common punishment was lines which could be 25, 50 or 100 written repetitions of a sentence decided by a teacher usually beginning with "I will not........" though a whack with a ruler was not uncommon. Some teachers had a preference for chucking the blackboard rubber at you and they had many years of practice behind them so you had to be quick to get out of the way. In extreme cases it was the Headmaster's Office for the cane and for the very worst offenders there was a public flogging in front of the whole assembly. These were very rare and of course, the recipients quickly acquired a certain amount of awe and respect from the rest of us. Probably the worst form of punishment was Saturday morning detention. That's right you would have to get up early on a Saturday morning and report to School for a two hour detention where you would be assigned menial tasks. This detention was awarded for a variety of reasons. Yes you've already guessed one which would be caught without your cap. But being late three times a week would also incur this imposition. I didn't have many because I wanted to spend my Saturday mornings playing football for the School 2nd XI.
In our third year the world changed.Yes it did. A certain four lads from Liverpool burst on the scene - the Swinging Sixties were born. Suddenly it was OK to be cheeky to authority, to do your own thing, wear what you wanted, get rid of the short back and sides and grow your hair. Not so at Batley Grammar School. My I.B. Fallows, our formidable headmaster, saw to that. To be fair we didn't have all that much contact with him apart from morning assemblies but he did take a class in Latin with us every week. His speciality was Aeneid's Odyssey, the Roman's reply to Greek mythology. Basically we were assigned a section of this baloney, "Sorry Sir masterpiece", to be studied for our Latin GCE exam. Each week we had a passage of the book to translate into English or as a special treat, translate a passage of English back into Latin. Very exciting indeed. Mr Fallows would solemnly walk up and down our row of desks and if he saw a stray hair peeking over the collar it was "Haircut by Monday boy" That was all it took and the blossoming Beatle cut was gone. Yes you are reading this right. Yours truly did indeed learn a bit of Latin in fact believe it or not I've got an 'O'level in the subject. Like generations before and since the first Latin verb we were taught has stayed irrevocably in my head - "amo, amas,amat......" I'll let you finish the rest if you can but if you can't - don't worry you haven't missed anything! The title of this blog is our school Latin motto but I can't remember what it means...but if anyone does..let me know.
I could go on and on and maybe will do later with tales of smoking in the toilets, chemistry teacher blowing himself up, two full terms in the school lavatories in stead of the geography class and many other thrilling tales of school life in the sixties. However no blog about school days would be complete without a mention of school dinners. We had a simple choice. Eat it or leave it. All meals were prepared and cooked each morning in the school kitchen every day. I loved 'em. We always wanted to be a 'server' on our table because then we were in charge of portion control. Four days a week me and the gang took it in turns to occupy these favoured positions and I apologise unreservedly for the way we treated our tablemates on those days. But on Fridays for some reason I can't recall, they got there first. If you happen to be reading this I hope your revenge was sweet and filling!
If there are any old boys from BGS reading this I'd love to hear from you and any comments too on what I've written. Glenn
One Day Workshop - Tuesday 26th September 2017
"Woldgate in Late Spring"
Now who fancies a day in a pub with me? Not a bad idea especially as the pub in question is the Ship Inn in Sewerby, a traditional village pub with spectacular views overlooking Bridlington Bay that serves real ale and has a great menu. You could easily spend a day there enjoying the view and the hospitality or you could join me in exploring an iconic part of the Hockney Trail in watercolour. This will be a full day workshop starting at 10:00 am and running through till 4:00 pm or just after. The main aim of the day is to have some fun together so don't be put off by 'workshop' because I promise you the last thing it will be is 'work'. All abilities are welcome. If you already paint this is a fine opportunity to spend time with like minded people to share tips and techniques together. If you are just starting don't be put off - we will be a friendly bunch I guarantee and you will definitely benefit from the experience. Now what about if you have thought about having a go but not quite got round to it yet? Well this is a golden opportunity to dip your feet in the water in convivial settings and just see how you get on. We all started somewhere and it could be the beginning of a marvellous new pastime. Who knows you might turn out to be next Van Gogh! If you are interested but haven't got any kit just let me know in advance and I'll rustle you some up. Just to get you in the mood here's a few snaps from one we did earlier:
So if you want to come and join us we meet up in the Ship Inn from 9:30 onwards. I would expect us to be starting at 10:00 after suitable refreshments (plenty of black coffee should you require it!), breaking at about 1:00 pm for a hearty lunch from the Ship's menu and then back to 'work' till about 4:00 pm or shortly after. The cost for this artistic extravaganza is just £70 per person which is all inclusive of lunch and refreshments throughout the day. Please let me know if you are joining us and remember to inform me if you require some materiels. I very much look forward to seeing you. I'll be at the bar. Cheers! Glenn
This is one of my very early paintings. Until recently it was in a private collection belonging to my mum. After her recent death they have been returned to me with the exception of a few chosen by family members for them to keep as memories. When I was first starting out she was obviously one of my biggest admirers and purchased lots of my early work to help keep me going. Apart from a few gifts she always insisted in paying something and even though I always charged her a nominal price there were times when the money came in very handy in the early days of a starving artist! There are a good many in the collection that went straight to her without even being photographed so this is the first public viewing of this piece. It is Burnsall, a delightful village nestling in the glorious Yorkshire Dales. However when I took it out of the frame to catalogue and photograph it I got a surprise. On the reverse was another painting not even seen by mum let alone anyone else. Would you like to see it? Hope so 'cos here it is:
To be honest I don't even remember painting it never mind where it is but hopefully the drystone walls are a bit of a giveaway. It was obviously painted round about the same time as the one above so I'm assuming that's another clue to placing it firmly in the Yorkshire Dales. "Elementary my dear Watson!" I have a vague idea it could be in the Kilnsey Crag area but anyway it's definitely a white farmhouse. I was still working out my pallette but as prussian blue seems to figure quite a bit I'm assuming it's my Ashley Jackson period. Both paintings are for sale if you're interested. You can pick one or t'other but either way you will get both.That's what I call a bargain! I am working my way through the collection in no particular order so watch out for more of my early work. Thanks for looking and for reading. Glenn
Me in New Studio
This is me in my studio. It's all kitted out now and electrics going in Monday or Tuesday so it will up and running which is just as well as I have a lot to do.
It's been a bit of a year so far. What with Merice's illness and the recent death of my dear old mum it is understandable that my 'art' life has been on hold and things have been piling up. However things are just about back to normal and I can get back to work. So what's to do? I have three commissions to complete by the end of this month, get some images ready for inclusion on an exciting new website, photograph and catalogue a load of my early paintings that I have received back from Mum's and organise a one day workshop for early September. So yes...things have indeed piled up! I suppose the question is where to start? Well the sun is shining for a change and we are just seven miles from the sea so I think the best course of action is to have a cuppa and then head off to the beach with Merice and Dilly. I reckon that's the best way to proceed don't you. An artist's life is indeed a happy one. Have a nice day yourself. Glenn
I have had several pleasurable afternoons visiting various Yorkshire Forests and these have resulted in four new paintings of which this is the latest. None of them have been exactly specific to any particular forest but rather I have tried to paint the spirit of the places I have seen. There is something akin to spirituality in a forest. Maybe it's an unconscious ancestral memory from when we lived in the safety of forest and woods thousands of years ago. I don't know but what I do know is that I am always moved by being among old trees. This watercolour features a scene we have all probably come upon. Setting off for a steady stroll we are suddenly confronted by a seemingly impassable pool of water blocking the trail. What to do? If you're young you might happily splash right through but if a bit older make a detour into the trees till you get past it. Whatever don't let it spoil your day and continue to enjoy your time in our wonderful forests.
This painting started life as a challenge for a watercolour workshop I was conducting with Driffield Art Club. They are a talented bunch of artists so I wanted to give them something to get them thinking. The painting incorporated several different techniques and I was pleased how it turned out. It had to be a large one so everybody could see. This is the painting in its original form entitled 'Cascade of Light':
After the workshop I went home and hung the framed painting on my bedroom wall. I left it there for a couple of weeks and looked at it constantly. I do this quite often so I can see if any improvements can be made. There were certainly parts of this painting that I liked but generally the painting was a bit one toned which made it appear bland. There was no drama in it and I started to find the gap in the middle irritating. It split the painting into two halves and led the viewer straight through and out of the scene. That was the obvious starting point when I got it back in my studio. Once the gap was filled the painting started to take shape and make more sense. I added more trees and changed the tones of others to create more depth and space. Finally I made the reflections more exciting by emphasising the light and darks. The painting has more depth and the eye is now persuaded to wander through the trees before heading back to the light. I suppose the moral is never give give up on a painting and if you spoil it altogether you haven't lost anything! Incidentally the workshop went well and some excellent paintings were produced.
Professional artist now semi retired and enjoying being eccentric!