martin davis artist

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

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.


  • 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 –

Pandemic blues

So here we are early January 2021, more or less one year on. I’ll tell you on reflection what has surprised me about myself over the last 9-12 months. I can’t be the only one who has often craved a bit of peace and quiet from the hurly-burly of the world, many times in my life. And I always thought that given the chance, such as we have now what with lockdown, lockdown lite etc. etc., I would grab it with both hands and make the most of it – not least with my art. Now here’s the shocker………….I can’t and I haven’t! well not so far at least.

It would seem that rather than blossom in a quieter world I do much better by seeking my solace in the usual noisier stressful one. Weirdly enough quiet forced on me from outside doesn’t provide what I need to produce my work – as I always thought it would – but a noisy environment from which I have always had the ability to escape, switch off and turn inward does. Isn’t that strange? so here I am a year into enforced “solitude” and I have very little, artistically speaking, to show for it.

Maybe it’s a bit like the Brexit transition period (you remember that!). Perhaps I need a period of time(length indeterminate) before I feel the same old artistic drive start to surface again, something that has always been there before, that I’ve taken as a given, just waiting to snatch a moment to create in between the non-stop madness of hyperactivity that characterises the modern world.

I hope so because this endless nothing is stifling me.

ps: last bit of completed work below, November last year;

Title: No such thing as transparent.

much ado…….

I always promised myself that I wouldn’t use this platform for self promotion. Well that’s still the case but sometimes it just can’t be helped if it occurs as a result of making a serious – well semi-serious – point. After the excitement of breaking through in the prestigious Harley Gallery Open this year I settled down for a peaceful second half of the year.

Here comes the serious point – how many times in your life do you put your heart and soul into something and it turns out…well, not as you were hoping? I can tell you as an artist it’s almost a daily occurrence! The thing is never to cast these things away as an embarrassment, because sometimes we are ill placed to judge something’s true worth. On a whim shortly after my Harley escapade I submitted three paintings to the even more prestigious (sorry Harley!) ING Discerning Eye exhibition, one of which was a quickly executed self portrait, you know one of those works I was just talking about falling short of expectations. If you’re ahead of me at this point you’ll not be surprised to learn that of course it was selected by the very discerning Discerning Eye judges (along with its companion piece) for exhibition in the 2020 event. And this is after years of trying and failing to get other work accepted.

This exhibition is on now but sadly only online this year for obvious reasons. Well point made I think! never, ever dismiss your work, any work, as worthless junk. You are not the arbiter merely the creator. Here are the two successful artworks. I’ll let you figure out which one I was talking about.

Harley Open 2020

It’s been a year so far! a case of extremes. At one end of the spectrum, along with everyone else, I’ve been trying to cope with the changed world we now find ourselves in. I was tempted to add the words “post Covid”, but I don’t think we can be that confident yet!  Almost spelling the end of the artworld, definitely not business-as-usual anyway.

But every cloud has a silver lining, even this one. So at the other end of the spectrum something seems to have happened to the good in the portrait commissioning world. I’ve never had so many requests, and along with the free multiple portrait I offered to our heroes in the NHS (#portraitsfornhsheroes scheme) I’m a busy boy….AND now I learn I’ve been successful in getting my work into the prestigious Harley Gallery Open 2020. Things are looking up!  Stay alert and be careful!

A day out at The Harley Gallery – S80 3LW is in order? My contribution to the exhibition is “the minutes, the hours, the days” – see below.

the minutes, the hours, the days

Some good news.

I’m guessing that with the coronavirus outbreak there will be a deluge of bloggers out there filling in spare time during self isolation and social distancing with needless posts. I am determined to stick to my guns and not just write stuff for the sake of it so I’ll continue to put out just my “genuine” stuff. I always limit it anyway.

So just when my artistic life/confidence is taking a battering – rejections etc – along comes the cavalry in the nick of time with a bit of a boost. So pleased that my still life “Coffee break” (below) has made it through to the longlist for the Jackson’s Painting Prize 2020. That gives me reassurance that I have made the right choice to focus on still life for the time being….I do think it is my best stuff! Really pleased with this one.

Please, please please register and vote for me for the People’s Prize here

Coffee break