martin davis artist

Mark making is a primal urge. This is where I explain the ecstasy of painting and why it calms my soul.

Salon Contemporary Arts, Derby(oh and the RA Summer Academy!)

Well I did it! After more years trying than I care to think about I finally managed to get work accepted by the Royal Academy for this year’s Summer Exhibition (“Here comes summer”-see last post) …… still can’t really believe it.

May have mentioned it before but I enjoy the challenge of presenting my work to others for critique and their occasional recognition of the quality of a piece of work can be a great confidence boost and it really helps dispel the sort of “impostor syndrome” that so easily sets in. One of the problems of being a bit anal and driven by these things like me is that they start to assume an importance out of all proportion to their real significance. In the grand scheme of things I guess it’s no big deal but while I’ve been labouring away it has seemed that way to me, I’ve come to realise it’s the achieving not the achievement that’s the thing. Achieving the aim is, I have to admit, important to me – it’s just the way I go about things. Many people would find it bemusing that I have to set myself challenges such as this, they might not find the need to. Well good on them! I’m self aware enough to accept that I have to do it. And once you get used to the repeated failures that such an approach brings the very occasional successes are all the sweeter for it. Importantly though it does push me on and makes sure what I do with my art always pushes at the boundaries – and that is key for me!

Although it does feel great to have got through the selection process at last, unfortunately this time I won’t be able to enjoy the spoils of victory. I can’t attend Varnishing Day along with other exhibitors because I’m already committed to another exhibition event – Salon Contemporary Arts 2022, Museum of Making, Derby DE1 3AF. It runs 14-16th June 2022 10.00-5-00pm

SCA promises to be a great exhibition with 14 outstanding artists presenting some of their best work in a fabulous multi-million pound venue like M of M! And it’s not just painting, this will be a treat for all the senses!!

I always promised I would never use this blog for advertising or shameless self-promotion but I make an exception this time! This time you really do need to go to both these things …… what was all my effort for if not?!

Pssst!

Can you keep a secret? don’t tell anyone about it yet but I’ve managed to get a painting shortlisted by the Royal Academy for this year’s summer exhibition – this one “Here comes summer”.

I know, I couldn’t believe it either! In fact I don’t even want to think about it in case I queer the pitch and scupper my chances of it getting through final judging and making it into the show.

Salon Contemporary Arts, Derby

Well I hope this lives up to its billing. This the SCA juried group exhibition at The Museum of Making, Derby 13-15th June and it’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to be a part of an exhibition with the word Salon in its title. Pretentious? moi!? No real reason to write this blogpost except for vanity, but there we are. We are all susceptible to it, no matter how much we might try to rise above such things lol.

Anyway like it or not I am pleased as punch to have been selected to show some of my work (mostly still lifes this time) at this prestigious local venue, thank you Simon Henry et al! The only fly in the ointment is the weather which has been atrocious and the Old Silk Mill aka Museum of Making is currently well and truly flooded ………… fingers crossed for June! If you’re reading this you are cordially invited as my guest.

Hope to see you there.

Silver linings

One of the upsides of these turbulent times over the last few years (Covid virus etc), unless it’s my imagination, is the surfeit of culture/art programmes on the telly. Many of them yes are repeats but it’s good to get the chance to see some of them again and to catch the ones missed last time. Yes I know you can do it on catch up and there are many ways of accessing you favourite programmes these days but let’s face it most of us are too lazy.

There are some exceptions but wouldn’t it be nice though if it wasn’t all about Impressionism and impressionists but something a bit more updated. There is only so much Monet and Van Gogh I can take, great artists though they were. I suppose it’s all about the viewing figures – and Abstract expressionism and Post Modernism are never going to cut that particular mustard, more’s the pity! That requirement will always dumb down the broadcasting to appeal to the “chocolate box” loving masses.

I do enjoy the portrait or landscape artist of the year stuff though, if only to watch the contortions and suffering of the artists. Is it me or is the standard of art produced on these things declining year on year?

As a habitually slow painter (I mean my last commissioned portrait took me 12 weeks rather than 4 hours – I’ve been known to stare at the blank canvas as long!) I tried to produce something decent in a couple of hours and this is what I got;

  • not bad eh? Think I’ll enter.

Royal Cambrian Academy

Well I was delighted to learn the other day that both of my submissions to the RCA in Conwy were successful and will now be exhibited there in the RCA Open Art Exhibition which runs from 8th Jan 2022 – 26th Feb.

There are definitely two separate strands developing now in my art and I would loosely describe them as 1. pictures and 2. experimental. Neither tag is really satisfactory but the first refers to my works which are inherently representational and purport to be of something, something rational and recognisable. And these are the paintings which mostly, though not always, sell more readily and are liked in the main by the person in the street. The second however is the result of those occasions when I let my artistic spirit go and allow it to blossom however it wants with little attempt to restrain it or point it in a certain direction.

The two paintings here successful at RCA are decidedly from the second camp, and though still partly representational, they are a bit more abstracted and less resolved. These are much more successful within the artistic community ie. with people involved in some capacity in the art industry – and therefore have some degree of expertise and a more trained eye. I have had some success in juried selection competitions like this one over the last couple of years (I suppose during the pandemic when few other avenues were open to me) and it’s particularly pleasing to me when professionals recognise the value of the work I can produce when I am being me rather than just a hack producing pretty pictures.

The problem though is that I can’t produce unlimited quantities of it as inspiration strikes of its own accord whenever and however it can. I seem to have little control over my output here and I just have to go with it when it does happen. A bit of a bugger really, but if I try to press the accelerator with quality work it just turns out s…t! Still I’m glad I am able to produce stuff I’m proud of at all.

Therapy

  • painting therapy in Venice. ‘cept I wasn’t there! Good for the soul though. I actually started the underpainting for this one in acrylics and just decided to keep going. I’m pleased with the result, think it came out rather well.

Sitting for a portrait

Yesterday I travelled to Sheffield, UK to start the portrait of a former colleague of mine in the fire and rescue service. She is currently the Chief Fire Officer of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, one of the first cohort of female firefighters to reach the very top of a career in what used to be traditionally a very male preserve. So she deserves praise indeed for her achievements and for championing the causes of equality in many walks of life on her rise to the top. Quite rightly she has been awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal but remains modest and approachable in her day to day life……. even to the point of agreeing to sit for me for a portrait!

As it turns out I think I was more nervous than she was (she took it all in her stride of course, if you can do that sitting down) because she was my first real sitter and I think I learned far more than she did about the process. I was over-prepared about what I could achieve in a couple of hours, not being the world’s fastest painter, and about the amount of kit I could actually make use of. I was terrified you see that I might forget something vital as she looked on quietly bemused about the amount of stuff I planned to use – so I took the kitchen sink!

Anyway I found it quite distracting feeling a certain need to keep her comfortable, happy and entertained doing something she had never done before, as well as trying to paint which after all was the whole point of my visit. The time flew and I felt the pressure of expectation (mine not hers) as I explained for the umpteenth time that I could only start the portrait and she shouldn’t have any expectations that it would look much like anyone yet after that first session. She finally had to leave to attend a meeting and I spent more time tidying what painting I had managed to achieve, leaving at least half an hour after my sitter had disappeared.

It all felt so odd for me …………. but I suppose I’ll get used to it! I’ll have to if I want to do more of this kind of thing.

No pics, at least not for now. It feels strangely like an invasion of privacy and I didn’t really manage to record anything on my mobile. Picture of the finished work I promise once she has seen it and is happy with it.

Portrait commission

I have to admit to feeling kind of nervous as I prepare for my next artwork. Next week I have arranged to start a significant portrait of an ex fire service colleague of mine. She is now the Chief Fire Officer of South Yorkshire Fire Service Alex Johnson and she has agreed to sit for me; a real sitter and a very important personage to boot. Must admit too though that I’m really looking forward to the challenge. She is one of the inspirational female leaders, a role model to many and a successful woman in what was traditionally a man’s world. Hence the challenge, to get the balance and composition just right to reflect the person in the uniform and the authority she carries.
Portrait images later!

Inside the mind of an artist

Here’s an article I penned recently when I was asked to make the argument for experimentation in an artist’s practice.

“I wonder what kind of an artist you are or want to be? Do you ever consider it? Or do you just start an artwork same as you always do?

I admit to being a “troubled”, “unsettled” sort of an artist – and one with an incredibly low boredom threshold. It stops me in my tracks should I ever consider painting the same thing twice in succession. I can’t help it but I never settle to start a painting without revisiting that initial question – why am I doing this? What do I want to achieve? And how? Why am I an artist at all? I ask myself these things again and again in all seriousness because I don’t want to just do the easy thing and to stop myself from doing it. I never get past that question but it always puts me in the right frame of mind to begin with.

You may know already in what high regard I hold Richard Diebenkorn. If you’re not familiar with him or his approach to starting work I really recommend you look at his “Notes to self”*. Personally I aspire to his dicta knowing I could never achieve them……. but they keep me sane and fresh and madly in love with painting. You could well do worse than summarise them as “art for art’s sake”. Such a pity the phrase has become a stock cliché.

I was asked to make the case for Experimentation. To my mind its value in art is incalculable and beyond any doubt, but you might be surprised that I don’t consider myself experimental at all …. well not on the same scale of your average Turner prize wannabee anyway!  But experimentation with a small “e” yes. Variety is central to everything I do. Never satisfied with the last thing I did I am always looking to change – make marks with different things, different media, different support, different size/shape, less paint more paint, limited palette, tonal variations of one single colour, incomplete composition, no composition, paint the frame, leave bare canvas, one touch, finger painting, splatter – you name it I try it, and I’m always adding to it. The same applies to when I paint, where I paint, how I paint – sitting, standing, lying down, in bright light, in darkness, music on/music off, squinting, one eyed, fast, slow etc etc. It all helps switch off my conscious mind – essential for me. And don’t even get me started on subject matter!!

These things are what I call experimentation. I know on some level it’s all petty and pretty idiotic but however small it all helps. Keeps me from stale. Try it!”

*”Notes to myself on beginning a paintingby Richard Diebenkorn

  1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
  2. The pretty initial position which falls short of completeness is not to be valued – except as a stimulus for further moves.
  3. DO search.
  4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities but consider them absolutely expendable.
  5. Don’t “discover” a subject – of any kind.
  6. Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
  7. Mistakes can’t be erased but they move you from your present position.
  8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
  9. Tolerate chaos.
  10. Be careful only in a perverse way.

I’ve never liked January

Last year – or was it the year before? time just merges into one at the moment – I mended my studio roof. A slow leak had been gradually destroying the lining and making its presence felt so I tore out the lining and stopped the leak. Job done!? Well no actually. I went out into the studio earlier today to discover this;

a rather wet preparation table area. Despite my best efforts previously the intense rainfall we’ve just experienced had found a way through, fortunately it had missed any works in progress (these have regrettably, but perhaps fortunately, been few since my wife suffered a fall in early December forcing me to shut up shop earlier than usual for Christmas and be her carer).

Ironically I had already made the decision to replace the studio when Covid hit us. I have been waiting for slightly easier times before I order one. Anyway I am now faced with a few options, abandon this studio and work elsewhere, spend money on repairs for something that will be taken down in the near future, or bring forward my plans and replace now – something I’m reluctant to do until the situation eases and vaccination reduces the risk for all of us. Or I suppose stop work!!?! What?

What to do? Hoping for drier weather soon I will keep you posted,

In the meantime this is what I was working on when this little disaster struck:

This is one of my first WIPs in acrylic for some time. I am continuing to try to find a style that suits me when using acrylic – not my usual preferred medium. We will see how this develops.

See more of my finished work on my personal website – https://martindavisartist.co.uk