Belgian artist, James Ensor is considered an uncompromising painter and printmaker, an innovator of his time, 1860-1949 . Some of his theatrical, macabre and unconventional subject matter made him notable to me as a young student, but the skills he employed throughout his career seem masterly to me now.
It was while studying at Art College at the end of the 1970’s, that I was introduced to this artists extraordinary work by our art history lecturer Peter Gorga, a generous and eccentric tutor who shared with us his deep understanding and appreciation of art and artists.
Here, I offer a few examples of Ensors unnerving subject matter to celebrate Halloween, and to remember this truly skilled, avant-garde artist.
I have brought together 10 paintings that are a part of the series ‘100 painted vows’ made some years ago . Each of them was made in response to Media or News articles. I felt the need to honour the subject matter in the only way I know, through painting, in this case as Ex Votives, both as an offering and a record of that time.
With the prospect of one million plant and animal species in danger of extinction. Sir David Attenborough’s documentary Extinction: The Facts, again gives us the stark warning that humans urgently need to work together to stop the destruction.
I came across this sun filled and evocative painting, by Sir Alfred Munnings, of Lamorna Wink pub.
The pub is still there on route to Lamorna Cove in Cornwall, although it has been modernised . There was a time I used to go there once in a while for a bit of lunch , with my old friend Paddy, before she died. Inside the pub was so cosy , especially on cold or rainy days , a slate floor, beams black as pitch, the walls a cream colour from the wood fire and decades of cigarette smoke , pub dogs snoozing or barking , lots of brass and memorabilia which told stories of the cove and sea adventures, greeted with a big welcome from landlord .
Talking to friends and family members during the Coronavirus, they say one of the most difficult aspects for them has not just been the isolation, but the fact that they don’t spend time with their loved ones.
For close families, the lost weeks and months, without that shared time has been painful .
I made these painting about family events some years ago . To trace the fragments of shared love , friendship and respect between the generations, that I found so valuable through my own childhood.
Because of the Coronavirus , those fortunate to have access to a garden or outside space, may have had some quiet time to get out there and to see what’s been going on with all the beautiful birds and bugs that share our world.
This weekend we are encouraged to look out for Stag Beetles. It seems they need of our help, along with a lot of other endangered insects, on whom we rely without knowing it.
The beetles larvae live underground for a few years growing and eating old wood, so if you have a tidy garden they are less likely to visit , this is my excuse!
Stag beetles look prehistoric , wonderful , harmless and are one of the many amazing insects on the endangered list, that we need to nurture not kill.
This painting is one from series of a hundred, that I made over a number of years until 2019, to mark events, both personal and worldwide, that matter to me .
On VE Day the country woke up to the news that the war in Europe was finally over. The crowds in London celebrated, singing Land of hope and glory as Churchill in his boiler suite made the victory sign . A time for us to celebrate , but for some families and friends it was a time to remember their loved ones, who had paid the ultimate sacrifice, and would never be coming home.
Many artists and their families who until the outbreak of war had been living in London decided to leave . Some came to Cornwall and established, what was to become a new artists colony. Artists like Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Christopher Wood, Naum Gabo. They and their group went on to influence the second generation of artists such as Peter Lanyon , Terry Frost , John Wells, and Patrick Heron. Heron was living in Cornwall because his father Tom Heron managed the fabric printing company Crysede . The influential nieve painter Alfred Wallis, lived in a cottage in Back Road West, St Ives . The story of these artists can be found in Denys Val Bakers lovely book ‘Britain’s art colony by the sea’. A copy of which my grandmother gave to me when I first came to live in Cornwall , before Tate St Ives was conceived .
So it was with this in mind, I thought today I would celebrate this special day with two Ben Nicholson paintings, in which at the time, he marked this historic day , adding the Union Jack Flag into his still life paintings .
The Stations of The Cross below, were made for All Saints Chapel in Truro Cathedral . They depict The Passion. The ten paintings were first on view, on site, in 2013.
At this important time in the Christian Calendar , we reflect on human frailty , injustice and corruption. And yet we witness the strength of the human spirit and astonishing kindness in people, as the world struggles to cope with the coronavirus.
I stretched out my hands and approached my Lord: For the stretching of my hands is His sign: My expansion is the outspread tree which was set up on the way of the Righteous One. And I became of no account to those who did not take hold of me; and I shall be with those who love me.
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning. The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry, The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony Of death and birth.
I was reacquainted last week with two paintings I made many years ago, recently acquired by Paul Longthorne, the Director of Market House Gallery, Marazion.
The earlier of the two is this oil painting, ‘ Girl with Ducks’ dated 1984.
In the 1980’s, I made number of painting exploring the theme of relationships between children and animals … cats and ducks in particular. This painting was made when I lived in a rural cottage between Gloucester and Ledbury. There I had a small studio with a window that overlooked a few dwellings and fields towards the town. During those years, I was selling work through, what was then, Rooksmoor Mills Gallery, Nailsworth and the Arts Centre Cirencester.
In 1987, we moved to Cornwall, and for many years I rented an Acme Studio in the Old Net loft at Porthleven. The new studio and location naturally influenced my work in many ways, and it also gave me the opportunity to have people to model for me, like Paula, recorded in this oil painting below, at the time she had begun the male to female transition .
If you wish to contact the gallery about either of these paintings, here is the link – http://www.markethousegallery.co.uk
Lot number 662 is an oil painting I made in 1987, when for many years I rented an Acme Studio in the Cornish fishing village of Porthleven, in what was the old Net Lofts. I used to go there with Ruby, my little dog. I would paint for a bit then we would take a break and walk along the cliffs. The views from the second floor studio window were spectacular as the building is positioned right on the harbour side. The Mens Institute with its clock tower has been the subject matter for many an artist and photographer especially when the storms come in .
When I rediscover work that I made some time ago its like being united with an old friend, and all the memories associated with that time come flooding back . This is coming up for sale at David Lays Auctions, Penzance, Cornwall on Thursday 31st January 2020.
Over the years, like many artists, I have made paintings in which I explore mans inhumanity to man, and to nature. For me a determining measure of a civilised , caring society is its willingness to tolerate harming behaviour.
In this collection of paintings, I have gathered together imagery that illustrates what I consider to be ‘harming’ behaviour . Some of the paintings were made for a project entitled 100 painted vows. These images tell the stories of War & Politics, Sexual Predators, Environmental and Animal abuse, Human Rights & Slavery, Trolls, Domestic abuse & Mental Health .
Its that time of year again . Between Friday 17th of July and Sunday August 9th we are encouraged to keep an eye on the health of the butterfly and moth populations out there in our gardens and environment. If like me you are not confident , don’t worry, there is a chart to down load to help with identification.
Right, I’ve got their information , now all I need is a promising looking spot in the garden, a cup of tea and my glasses .
On Tuesday the 16th June, Barbara Kirk Auctions is holding an Online Sale of Antiques, Art and collectors items at 10am .
I have learned that a small framed painting, one of a bird series I produced some years ago is in this sale . Lot 294.’Figure and Birds III.’ Oil on board. Signed & dated . 10 x 15cm.
Through life I have felt at one with nature, but there is something about birds , their song, beauty and fragility that has me returning to them again and again as subject matter. At the time of painting this in 1999 I was working on the theme of figures and birds in harmony within the landscape, and I had a tiny edition of prints made of some of them.
If you take a look at the Auction , you will also discover a large collection of Bob Bourne paintings, with proceeds and commissions from that work donated to a cancer charity.
I am saddened to hear of the death of The Marquess of Bath , taken by the Coronavirus.
Without exception, I found him to be a kind and interesting man. Alexander lived life on his own terms , colourful , creative and a free spirit , and will be greatly missed by all of his friends and family.
Jacqueline Sarsby , social anthropologist and photographer, has guest-curated an exhibition at the Gloucester Museum which opened on 12th October 2019 and closes on 18th April 2020, so there is still time to take a look. It is called ’The Magical World of William Simmonds, Puppets and Paintings’.
A treasured image that I keep in my studio is a beautiful black and white photograph taken by Jacqueline , called’ Catherine White and Kitty’, in it she records a little girl with her black and white cat . It evokes fond memories of childhood and pets. In that photograph, at that moment, Jacqueline Sarsby captured something unspoken, the affection and shared trust between the two.
I made this painting some time ago . This week my little muse is off school again, at home, and feeling rough, like many others are at the moment. It is a difficult time for everyone just now, but for those of any age who’s health issues make them more vulnerable, its tough. Get better soon X.
Its known that many of Edward Elgar’s compositions were inspired by the Malvern Hills and surrounding countryside. I discovered a love of his music and the place when I lived nearby, having graduated from Art College.
Listening to this , I am returned to a time spent walking on those hills. We climbed to the top on a clear morning, catching breath, standing on the short dewy grass nibbled by rabbits . In total awe of the view below , feeling like birds in the sky. On one side the black welsh mountains , the other, sweeping green countryside, dotted with tiny houses.
Elgar put his deepest thoughts , experiences and sorrows into this work. It never ceases to move me, his expression of profound emotion a connection to a time and place.
The wonderful Paul Tortelier plays Elgar cello concerto 1st movement
This Pandemic has been life changing for everyone. Many people have suffered very badly, and it continues to be a difficult time on so many levels .
As a painter and visual narrator , one of the more curious sights to emerge over the last few months has been the very inventive masks that people have made, using the most unexpected materials. Modifying and adapting whatever is to hand, in an attempt to keep safe when leaving home.
The result has been an amazing array of videos and photographs on line, which record the unusual as standard or somehow ordinary now.
With this in mind, I wanted to celebrate our inventiveness in an emergency, and mark that moment in society when the eccentric became quite ordinary.
These paintings from an estate, are coming up for sale at Lays on June 11th 2020.
The paintings I have made over the decades have become a visual diary and a record of life . Those below were owned by a dear friend , who often came to my studios . When I see them, I am reminded of the original influences and inspiration for them.
This is a painting I made of John in 1987. At the time, he was the harbourmaster when I had an Acme Studio in Porthleven. He was a man of few words , out in all weathers organising the boats and keeping the place tidy. His office was next to the stone steps that took me up the second floor studio that I shared with my dog Ruby.
The painting below, is all about a tiny black cat that we rescued when we lived in a cottage in Gloucestershire . He was a scraggy little thing , very under fed, the vet had told us he had kidney damage from rat poison, so he had ongoing health issues, anyway, he lived out the rest of his life happily with us. Although, he never grew , he was always like this , affectionate, and shy, with wide eyes.
In the 1980’s we had visited family that lived in Spain. While there, we took the opportunity to go to Madrid to see the wonderful Goya paintings in the Prado . That day, we came across a flea market in a square, and I bought a rustic painted and carved wooden duck . Sadly, I think it was originally intended as a decoy. But back in the studio , the carving inspired this colour palette and a new narrative .
While walking along a Cornish lane near home, I saw a Swift swoop and glide over a tall green hedge ahead of me. The arrival of these beautiful birds who have flown all the way from Africa is a welcome sight, as they bring with them spring and summer days.
In this poem by Keats , he expresses his love of nature , the joy it can bring, and reminds us to enjoy it while we can. The line, ‘when all the birds are faint with the hot sun’, reminds me of childhood and empty summer holidays exploring the countryside. I’d take myself off to watch crickets, and discover other strange and fascinating bugs and beetles in some wild spot.
On the Grasshopper and Cricket. A poem by John Keats.
The Poetry of earth is never dead: When all the birds are faint with the hot sun, And hide in cooling trees, a voice will run From hedge to hedge about the new-mown mead; That is the Grasshopper’s—he takes the lead In summer luxury,—he has never done With his delights; for when tired out with fun He rests at ease beneath some pleasant weed. The poetry of earth is ceasing never: On a lone winter evening, when the frost Has wrought a silence, from the stove there shrills The Cricket’s song, in warmth increasing ever, And seems to one in drowsiness half lost, The Grasshopper’s among some grassy hills.
I would like to join in thanking all of those good people who risk their own wellbeing to help others during the Corona Virus pandemic. Their acts of selflessness are the building blocks for us all when this difficult time has passed.
Artists over the years have naturally been inspired to record their experience of the medical profession.
I have chosen a few favourites to share with you .
Keep busy, take care of those you love and stay safe x.
This week in the studio I spent an hour or two , playing with my little boxes of mixed typefaces, images and quick drying black ink . I used a very simple relief printing method to make a few thank you cards, something I began many years ago when I was unable to find the cards that I liked in the shops.
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