Clockwise from top left: Still Life with Ginger Plant, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 76cm; Green Handbag, mixed media on canvas, 76 x 50 cm; Interior with Bed, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 76 cm; Still Life with Window, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 76 cm.
This series of works is inspired by domestic interiors. The simplicity of a bag hanging on the back of a door, an unmade bed, a vase, a table. Colours and forms spring forth and through an abstracted lense can become something beyond themselves.
The tradition of painting still lifes is deeply entrenched in fine art, and indeed has been a recurring element in my own practice over the decades. The colours and forms of real life objects have been inspiring artists for millenia, and I find great satisfaction in finding ways to represent, and suggest those forms in the most expressive way; so that you don’t just see a vase, or a bowl of fruit, or a chair; but you feel it. The expressive marks and deep colours pull you in and come to life, and allow you to make your own impressions of what they are.
Working across different disciplines adds an element of confusion to the casual studio visitor, or, in one case it was somebody who wanted to see some work for a local show. Being familiar with the range of my children’s illustrations, the first thing she saw in the studio were several very large non-figurative paintings and lots of smaller ones. Puzzlement and doubt abounded. There was nothing cozy about these things. Had she come to the right place? How to extricate herself?
This was symptomatic of the reaction of many visitors and has led to me providing a brief tutorial in order to clarify this. Let’s start with the ‘abstract’ stuff.
My explanation was, and is, by invitation only otherwise the listeners boredom levels would be severely tested. Their interest was genuine and any hint of a patronising attitude from me would be spotted at once.
The gist of my riveting talk turned on learning the history and the language (or lack of it) of painting. As it is with literacy or numeracy or musical notation or culinary techniques, the study of these things is crucial. Otherwise, without the background knowledge of ‘reading’ paintings then the the lure of conventional pedestrian ‘proper pictures’ in all their tedium prevails.
Does one tackle this with a barrage of words? Heaven forbid. Consider this. After having enjoyed a play, or a novel, or a collection of poems, would you like to see a series of pictures to further increase one’s understanding? Or, conversely, does the visual experience have to be translated into mountains of words? Of course not. I once had a show where the only words were ‘fire exit’, and that was because it was compulsory. As somebody said ‘painting is about painting, everything else is about everything else.’ Quite so. Study it, learn about it, look at it, and even try it. Then forget the words.
As previously mentioned, illustrating childrens books has been quite a successful venture. And along with Ronda’s superior literary skill our Lighthouse Keeper books have kept us both busy for over 40 years. Being published by Scholastic they have been a hit in schools, with hundreds of lighthouses being crafted by kids all over the world!
Some years ago, Ronda and I were doing a school visit in London. For some reason, we worked with the kids in a lecture theatre, at the end of which was a grand piano. It was lunchtime and I was on my own finishing off some session pictures for my young audience. At some point a young man appeared, asked if I minded if he did a rehearsal on the piano. ‘Of course not’, I replied, ‘can I come and see?’ He was doing that wonderful warhorse, the piano part in Beethoven 5, a piece I had known since I was about 4 years old. His concert date was pretty close. He was nervous. He had umpteen goes at the start of the rondo. I approached the piano. ‘Look at this,’ he said, gesturing to the left hand page. He played a bit. ‘Now look at the right,’ he said. ‘You can see the problem! Bloody difficult, fancy a go?’ Of course, I could not see it at all. All I saw was a series of black marks on a piece of white paper. He looked at these marks and his head filled with music. This language was incomprehensible to me. My head filled with nothing. Not a hope. The music of top class painting is the same. It is wordless and deeply affecting.
And of course, the dross of the ordinary in this venture is just as evident and as easy to spot. There is acres of it. This can be very confusing. Online websites are full of the stuff, so much of it is of spellbinding mediocrity. More explanation required….
[A coda: Back to the lecture theatre type experience with the children….
Making images for children is wonderfully unequivocal and almost totally wordless. The scene is a draughty assembly hall. 200 kids, years 1 and 2 are settled down and expecting a good show. So, get to work and then grab them and hold them, but be quick about it. Do that and the rapport is a kind of silent and magical electricity. The children almost take all the oxygen out of the air. At the end, nobody wants to leave, including me and the teachers. If you are not up to it, death is not lingering, it is immediate and horribly final . Children don’t mess around with platitudes. This activity is not for the faint-hearted. In which case, go and do something else…..]
Stunning painting, inspired by Giverny, sold to collector.
This stunning artwork has at last found a loving home. A large scale abstract painting, inspired by beautiful Giverny, home of course to the father of impressionist painting, Claude Monet.
Bought by a long – time patron, and art collector, who has had his eye on this painting for some time. It sits perfectly in the space, and I hope will keep it’s new owners happy for many years to come.
It is wonderful to have returning patrons who truly appreciate and admire the painting as an object, as well as appreciating the investment. A piece of original art can make a room and last a lifetime.
I first started my studio shows about 1980. Why? Dealers and I have never had a meaningful relationship, indeed, apart for a couple of minor skirmishes, one could say no relationship whatsoever, a state of affairs not likely to change. This isn’t a personality based phenomenon as far as I can tell.
For many years I worked as a jobbing illustrator. At times this could be stressful, to say the least. A phone call on Sunday evening. Who could that be I wonder? The caller, an agent, comes straight to the point.
‘Right, David, we need an A3 4 colour spread of….(take your pic)… a snow scene / children playing / an exotic forest / Greeks / Romans / Victorian slums / a moody sea scene / dogs / ducks or general livestock / portraits of war poets / airships and balloons / a Romanesque basilica / a street scene / a gooey sunset….etc. etc.’
We need it NOW, please, and… if you could courier it over by lunchtime tomorrow that would be terrific. The client will be lobbing in about 2pm. No time for visuals or scamps. Bye’.
Socialising grinds to a halt, back to the studio. Job is done to the accompaniment of an out of tune tawny owl. My motorcycle mate arrives at 10 a.m. to collect. (Wi- Fi has changed all that.) I have breakfast and get on with a bloody great ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ pic which was way overdue. What was good about all this? It paid well. The downside? One develops a pathological dread of forever doing this kind of stuff. If I see a load of this , or similar ilk, at any dealers, (quite right and proper from their point of view). I thank God, with all my heart, that I will never have to knock out these sort of pictures again. EVER .
Besides, there are loads of highly trained seals who are also really good at this, and they enjoy it! Good for them.
Amongst all of this, illustrating children’s books, a totally different discipline and for a much tougher audience, proceeded rather well to say the least, and still does. More of this anon. Finally, the discipline of painting was also prosecuted to a greater or lesser degree. I still want the painter to create a new magical world of their own, not merely illustrate, more or less, the one we just happen to inhabit. Pictures in other words. That’s easy.
Anyway back to the studio shows. These are, and still are my shop front, so to speak. These were/are a happy melange of painting, children’s illustrations, life drawings and cartoons. A lot of fun can be had juxtaposing a 5 metre abstract painting with some little A4/fragments and a load of children’s illustrations.
Audience reaction or lack of it is wonderful. I have invented a ‘shortest viewing time competition’. The current record is 2.4 seconds (viewed from the doorstep) but that will be bettered. The other great obstacle is the husband/wife dynamic. An example:
They appear. Wife sees a 1.5 metre -ish painting to die for. Hubby a slab of indifference. A tape measure was produced, the problem of furniture moving discussed at some length, generating conviction and increasing volume. Then, the matter was decided. The price agreed, a mere snip at 8 grand, a cheque written. Delivery sorted… I immediately thumbed through the en primeur wine lists and told the bailiffs to call off their dogs.
Next morning the cheque was cancelled. Never mind. I have been there, on a lesser scale, many times, and doubtless will do so again.
Die Schöne Müllerin is a song cycle of 20 songs composed by Franz Schubert. They move from heady optimism to tragedy. A young miller wanders happily through the countryside, soon following a brook which leads to the mill AND the beautiful miller’s daughter. Her response to his approaches is luke- warm and worse, is rapidly supplanted by a green clad hunter. The miller becomes obsessed with the colour green.
In the final song cycle, Des Baches Wiegenlied, our lovelorn suicidal hero gives himself up to the tender clutches of the brook as it meanders through the bleak countryside. The moonlight is reflected back from the flowing water.
It is the brook who sings the lullaby as it embraces the heartbroken miller.
Good night, good night until everything wakes sleep away your joy, sleep away your pain the full moon rises, the mist departs, and the sky above, how vast it is.
Provided to YouTube by Sony Music Entertainment Die schöne Müllerin, D. 795: XX. Des Baches Wiegenlied · Christian Gerhaher · Franz Schubert · Gerold Huber Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin ℗ 2003 Bayerischer Rundfunk Producer: Wilhelm Meister Lyricist: Wilhelm Müller
David Armitage has also produced an illustrated book of ‘Winterreise’, Schubert’s other great song cycle. Follow the blog to see more posts on Winterreise, Music Box, paintings, memoirs and more!
This is either ‘Azrael’ or ‘Queen of the night’, depending on which music I am listening to at the time. My work relies on ambiguity, I find either title suits this very powerful figure. They are not un-alike.
After all, this is a painting, not a picture.
‘The magic flute’ is rather like a fairy tale. A noble prince is commanded by the Queen to rescue her daughter, who has been kidnapped. Things get off to a great start with the appearance of a huge serpent which threatens our prince, but lo! 3 women (employed by the Queen) turn up and rescue him. He is then given a magic flute and sets off to rescue the daughter who is in the clutches of the High Priest of Isis and Osiris. The plot thickens, other characters appear, as does splendid music.
Moving quickly on, eventually the Prince and daughter get married in the temple after a series of very testing adventures. Furious at this turn of events, the Queen plots to destroy the occupants of the temple but the High Priest calls the shots and the Queen is vanquished.
Although she is hardly on the stage at all, this powerful and pivotal coloratura soprano is up to no good and has a huge influence on proceedings. An equivocal figure, of uneven temperament, she scales vocal heights which would terrify the faint- hearted.
The original play ‘Salome’ was written, in French, by Oscar Wilde. Richard Strauss saw the play and immediately set to work on producing a German operatic version. It was duly performed in 1905.
What with a heady mix of the biblical, the erotic, and the murderous all wrapped up in splendid music it was controversial to say the least, and banned in London until 1907.
Towards the end of the opera, after quite a bit of to-ing and fro-Ing, Salome, who must have been quite a girl, performs the then startling ‘dance of the seven veils’ before the besotted King Herod, finishing up lying naked at his feet.
Herod then promises to grant her most desired wish….. which, of course turns out to be the head of John the Baptist. Said head is duly delivered and is fervently kissed by Salome. Goodness. The climatic music is extraordinary, a much debated chord seems to echo the degradation of Salome. This lowly state does not last long, the lovely girl being crushed under the shields of the soldiers. Not too many jokes, but wonderful stuff.
This painting is currently available to purchase / for exhibition. Please contact me for more details.
The Quadrangle, Ailies Lane, East Hoathly, BN8 6QP
Across two large studios in an idyllic location in the heart of the East Sussex countryside, three contemporary artists share their unique take on abstraction. From expressionism to geometric, and utilising a range of techniques and mixed media, their work explores different styles and crosses over in unexpected ways.
Meet with and chat to the artists, view an exciting range of vibrant and thought provoking work, and soak up the calm and creative atmosphere of this unique corner of Sussex.
Original artwork for sale at varying prices, along with affordable prints and cards. Browsers also welcome!
Chris Mansell MA
Chris Mansell graduated with a masters from the Royal College of Art. His abstract paintings combine painterly techniques with printing, and play with both minimalism and expressionism. Having worked for many years as a technician in a number of arts institutions, his deep knowledge of techniques gives depth and integrity to his work.
“I suppose I have been, mainly, influenced by the painterly abstractionists, like De Kooning and Rothko, but my favourite work still decorates the cave walls at Altamira and Chauvet. I will never tire of looking at these images from 35,000 years ago which are still as sophisticated as anything which has happened since.”
Although working largely within the abstract aesthetic, there are many underlying themes and inspirations behind Myers’ work. Interests in literature, psychology and conceptual art combine with a passion for colour, shape and the exploration of composition to create works which are both visually stimulating as well as being an expression of concept.
Spray paints, acrylics, emulsions, marker pen, and other mixed media combine to create impactful contemporary abstract paintings.
Abi Myers graduated with a BA Fine Art from Portsmouth University in 2003. Alongside her own artistic practice she assists other artists and arts institutions.
Armitage has been working as a professional artist and illustrator for several decades, and the relationship he has built up over time with this most primary of artistic mediums has been a balance, with Armitage mastering the use of colour and mark, whilst accepting his part as slave to the medium, inviting accidents as part of the creative process.
Both abstract and more figurative works are inspired by various sources, including travels to other countries, shrines, landscapes, people and tragedy. Large scale colour-scapes are his metier, but he is also finding ways in which to distill the same energy, space and depth into smaller scale works.
Armitage has received much critical acclaim for both his painting and illustrative works, and has exhibited both nationally and internationally.
The exhibition runs as part of Lewes Artwave Festival 2018. There are many other open studios nearby, please see their website for details, trails and maps.
Open daily from 18 August – 2 September, 11am – 5pm. Free entry. All welcome. There are no stairs, but the ground is uneven in parts. Purchases by cash / cheque.