MASTERPIECE – or merely a collection of successful daubs?

Occasionally; very occasionally I miss painting huge canvases.

Not drawing – I really don’t miss drawing at all – nor watercolouring, or working with gouache or pen and ink, or even small and regular size oil painting. But once in a while I miss the thrill of that rarest of moments, when I almost felt like a genius, and for some reason this only happened to me when I was working on an epic scale.

I experienced the feeling just a handful of times in the thirty years of painting big canvases. It was normally sparked off by a single brushstroke when, just for a millisecond the brain achieved total control over the brush with the resulting daub a near-perfect expression of the thought behind the action.

Normally, these experiences and daubs occurred toward the completion of a painting, and were all the more satisfying for underlying the fact of conclusion – something rarely guaranteed when making any work of art.

I remember one such daub being a fleck of white light on the shoulder of a girl walking into a heat-hazed distance, and another being a splash of red, of a coke can littering a pavement.

But of all the special daubs I ever applied to canvas, only one painting contained more than one, and this is the picture below, called Bormio 3000.

It’s particularly remarkable because unlike all the others which were “free works”, Bormio 3000 was a commission, and because of who it was for, and what they were paying me, it was painted under considerable pressure.

The patrons were a married couple who owned a successful commercial art gallery in London, and they wanted an extremely large skiing – themed oil painting to decorate the main room of their new chalet in Verbier. Moreover, they were paying me the largest sum of money I had ever been paid for my work – several thousands of pounds.

Somehow, and for whatever reason, the painting was a huge success, pleasing both the patrons and for once, the artist too.

Even more unusually, I like the painting as much now as I did then, when “special daub” after “special daub” seemed to flow from the brush as easily as breathing.

Bormio (unlike Swiss Alpine Verbier) is  in the Italian Alps, and “3000” refers to altitude (in meters) at the top of the run, pictured in the foreground. The painting was about 5 by 7 feet and when I look at it now, especially the portrayal of the far mountains and clouds I have not the faintest idea how I achieved it.

The term “masterpiece” is obviously a relative one and normally, highly subjective. However, based purely on Adam Green terms, so far as I am concerned, both in the summer of 1983 when I completed Bormio 3000, and now, 34 years later it remains the work of which I am most proud. It hits the mark in every department; tone and colour control; composition; light; drama; and near-perfect brush-work. All-in-all, not a bad conglomeration of “special daubs”…

(Bormio 3000 is available as a signed limited edition print – limited to 25 prints – about 32cm x 48cm / 13″ x 19″ size – at £150 each. See the purchasing and ordering artwork link above.)

Bormio 3000

 

 

“MARS ON EARTH” – Chile’s Incredible Desert

Of all the photos in my extensive archive of old camera film, there few that still excite me as much as those I took in the Atacama Desert in 1991. Regular visitors to this site will know that I have something of a passion for deserts and wildernesses.

Rather than try explain in words what it is exactly that gets my juices going (and to be honest, I’m not even sure I fully understand myself) here are a set of images from that trip. I made a series of mostly huge canvases together with a complementary set of small gouaches from these pictures, and they were the basis of two of my last one-man shows as a fine artist – one held at the Chilean Embassy in 1992. The first picture presented here (91 Chile Atacama) was the basis of the super-large canvas that eventually found it’s way to an architect’s studio in Seattle, as payment for the designs for our house in Spain.

The original images were taken on my then-antique Nikon FE using Agfa chrome slide film, and one day I hope to have a scanner with sufficient power to faithfully reproduce the pictures digitally — or better still, pay the Atacama a return visit with my current camera. Nevertheless, I think that with these pictures I’ve managed to reproduce some of the magic of Chile’s genuinely awesome “Mars on Earth”…

 

BOULOGNE BLUES – The story of how we became stranded for six months in the famous French Channel port

For reasons which will no doubt form the basis of a separate post, about six months after completing our house in southern Spain (https://adamhalevi777.com/2017/03/01/the-folks-who-would-live-on-the-hill-the-story-of-the-building-of-our-home-in-southern-spain-in-pictures/) we found ourselves living in a shabby rented apartment in a rundown part of Boulogne sur Mer on the north eastern tip of France.

Virtually penniless, we could not afford nor did we wish, to place our Maremma Sheepdog, Aura into the-then obligatory six-months of quarantine in Britain. We were in a pretty desperate situation, and if desperate situations require desperate measures, then the one we came up with was a genuine peach, although it did not seem so at the moment we conceived it.

Firstly, Dido took a job managing a paediatric occupational therapy department in Folkestone on the Kent coast, just a 40 minute Seacat (hydrofoil ferry) hop across the English Channel from Boulogne. Traveling as a foot passenger was cheap, and with a health-authority car provided at the English end, the daily journey would be both inexpensive and quicker than most commutes from the London suburbs into the City. It appeared to be totally reasonable solution to a tough problem; six months living frugally in a tatty loft then once we were more comfortably off, moving into a nicer flat in the charming old citadel above the port. Aura our dog was already 11 years old and towards the latter end of her life expectancy, and who was to know? Two or three years living in the charming quarter of an historic French town might actually be rather pleasant. The plan even seemed sufficiently fool proof that Dido need not disclose to her new bosses the fact she was living in France and risk their disapproval(the requirements for the post were that she lived within 30 miles of work… there were no stipulation as to whether the miles were measured across dry land or water).  But then, to paraphrase a famous remark of a late British prime minister, “events” intervened to devastate our plans.

Having committed ourselves to the minimum six-month rental contract, we moved into our dingy lodgings the week before Dido was to start her new job. The flat was unfurnished, without even a kitchen, and so we spent the whole of the first few days madly rushing around in a rented van, using our credit cards to purchase the basic essentials to make the place habitable. Amongst other things, we got a type of sofa-bed (known as a clic-clac in France) and a tiny Baby Belling oven with a double hob. We couldn’t afford luxuries like refrigerators then, and still couldn’t afford one by the time we eventually left the flat at the end of the six months. Nevertheless, by the time we had scrubbed the flat half-a-dozen times and got our few pieces of furniture set up (including a table improvised from a lacquered MDF board) the place seemed habitable. That, in addition to the fact it was only a five minute walk from the Seacat dock gave us reason to think the next six months would be reasonably tolerable. However, it must have been the Thursday or the Friday when we made that walk down to the port for the first time since settling in that the bottom fell out of our world.

Without notice of any kind the Seacat company had cancelled all runs to Folkestone with immediate effect. Dido had talked to the ferry people just a week earlier—days before we had signed the contract on the flat—and they had made no mention of their plans to cut back their service. It seemed like a sick joke. We were now tied into living in Boulogne for six months, and the only morning and evening transport across the Channel anywhere near practicable for Dido’s requirements was a 40 minute drive up the coast at Calais. Moreover, the only affordable foot passenger service was on the regular ferry boats, which took-one-and-a-half- hours to Dover. Suddenly, Dido’s easy two-hour daily return journey, now with the commute to Calais and the 20-minute drive from Dover to Folkestone added to the mix, had mutated horribly into a return journey taking five hours—on a good day.

But, with no money, and Dido’s job  starting on Monday she had no alternative but to do the Calais crossing.

As it happened, the commute turned out to be just one of the many grim and farcical components of what was to prove the most miserable period of our marriage—the details of which will be the subject of another future blog. Enough to say for now, that the France most people experience as tourists has little in common with the dingy, rough, criminal-infested street we inhabited during our sojourn in Boulogne sur Mer.

The origins of the pictures below lie in my numerous walks on Boulogne beach with Aura and apart from being a modest nod to great Dutch painters like Jacob van Ruisdael, express both the blueness of my mood in Boulogne, and my ever-growing yearning to cross that 20-mile strip of water back to England…

Boulogne Beach 1Boulogne Beach 2Boulogne Beach 3Boulogne Beach 4Boulogne Beach 5Boulogne beach 6Boulogne beach 7Boulogne beach 8

WALKING AWAY – or the ephemeral nature of being

The image of someone walking away into the distance has stirred my artistic sensibilities since early adulthood. I’ve returned to the subject photographically and in paint pretty regularly since about 1979, from when the first picture presented here dates (Astrud at Tel Hai).

Several of these pictures are of loved ones, past and current, walking into a variety of landscapes, urban and open, and I guess that with them in particular, powerful feelings of vulnerability, both as a partners and individuals are aroused.

Two of the photos here have special poignancy: The one of my mother Hannah with my grandfather Harry was taken on a stroll in my home town of Edgware in the early 80’s when they both still had many years to live. I took the photo on my old Cannonette camera by accident. I was meaning to line up a shot of the lake we were passing when I must have clicked the shutter too early. It was only when the film came back from the developers that I saw the photo, and even then I instantly realised that it was a happy accident in that it had somehow captured the essence of them and their relationship in a way that no face-on portrait ever could have matched. The fact they are both now dead has made this image increasingly precious to me as the years have passed. The picture of my wife Dido walking her old and frail father into his house in Little Rock is even more poignant in that it represents the last photo of them ever taken together. About an hour later we returned to the airport, never to see him again.

All the pictures here, even those of total strangers, like the chap on Hampstead Heath, have a quiet melancholia about them in that they share a sense of our human transience.

1-astrud-walking-away-tel-hai-israel-19792-p-walking-away-ein-kerem-israel-19813-zaida-hannah-edgware-19834-f-walking-away-amir-israel-19845-dido-on-boulogne-beach-19946-dido-in-oxford-20077-dido-in-kovno-lithuania-20098-dido-and-david-little-rock-usa-20129-man-on-the-heath-hampstead-2016

LOVE AND MARRIAGE – and a few laughs

With Valentine’s Day less than a month away and in light of the favourable response to my two recent greetings cards posts, here are some of the more successful designs I made back in the 1990’s with a romantic theme. While some were done specifically for the feast of said Valentinus, most were commissioned to cover the themes of wedding and / or non-specific anniversaries of a romantic nature.

The more conventional designs were for the UK market with the more quirky, and risqué images proving popular with Scandinavian, Dutch and German clients — although how they translated the captions, I have no idea.

My particular favourite — albeit retrospectively — is “You’re Just My Skype”, which originally bore the caption “Think of Me Always”. Given that the card was published in 1998, a full five years before Skype was launched I’m struggling to remember what influenced the design? Maybe it was just my “Jules Verne” moment…

WANDERINGS AND WONDERING OF YOUTH

Regular readers of these pages will know that travel comprises a significant part of my life, even to the point that I once had homes concurrently in three different countries.

But, when I look back now, of all the hundreds of journeys, vacations and adventures since my first flight – aged three – to Zurich from London on a Swiss Air Caravelle (I remember that we sat facing each other with a little table between us, as on a train) – there are eight trips of which every detail remains etched into my memory.

All of these trips were specifically formative in that they either changed my life in a literal sense, or my perceptions of life in some fundamental way. Followers of this blog might already be aware of some of these episodes.

Firstly there was the trip to Israel in 1967 just weeks after the Six-Day War which blew both my 7-year old mind and my 1960’s, suburban British olfactory senses. I vividly remember being on the Golan Heights, walking along the safe paths marked out by Israeli mine disposal teams, into Quneitra and dozens of Syrian military documents blowing on the dusty hot winds like confetti. And equally, I recall the first time I tasted real humus and roasted eggplant and being almost emotionally overcome with the sheer pleasure of it;

Then there was a gastronomic drive along the length of France in 1970 which turned me into one of the England’s most precocious connoisseurs of food and wine;

A year later, I was treated to my first visit to Spain where I discovered the hitherto (to a typical Jewish lad like me) forbidden twin joys of fried bacon and fresh shellfish in addition to poolside cocktails and luxury hotels. The fact this was all part of a photographic shoot for Max Factor and that I spent the entire time in the company of two of the UK’s top fashion models was the icing on the cake for a sexually curious eleven-year-old;

Fourteen years after it was Andalusia again, but this time a romantic five days in Seville, in the company of a beautiful law student, where I discovered the exotic joys of tapas washed down with ice-cold fino and late-night flamenco.

About a decade later in 1991 saw my first flight across the Pond, where the sublime “New World” strangeness of newly-democratic Chile bludgeoned me back into painting landscapes and left me a life-long lover of cazuela de pollo;

Then, twelve years after that in 2003, there was our visit to southern India where I was held enthral to the equally glorious and wonderful strangeness of ancient Tamil Nadu and Kerala and where I discovered that a mostly vegetarian diet could almost be fun (not to mention hugely fattening);

In 2007, I made my first trip to Australia, which, especially in magnificent Melbourne turned out to be quite simply the most enjoyable and mentally invigorating shattering of dearly-held pre-conceptions I have ever experienced;

And finally, just this January, when the cliché “better (incredibly) late than never” took on a whole new profundity for me after my first visit to New York City left me and all my senses dazed, awestruck and ecstatic in equal measure.

However, when I ask myself what was the trip that played the biggest and most enduring role in shaping the adult I eventually became, it would have to be another of the trips I made to Israel; this time in in 1978, during the summer break of my first year at Saint Martin’s School of Art.

The pictures below are all that remain of my “Wanderers Period” and represent the most eloquent way I can describe the feeling and atmosphere of those six weeks; the highlight of which was when four of us – two guys and two girls – walked the entire circumference of the Sea of Galilee in two days. We slept on the stone beaches, and lived on falafels and bags of crisps washed down with cheap wine, accompanied by the dulcet tones of Weekend in LA on our cassette player. Without going into details, it became my coming-of-age drama in every sense, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and of course, sensual. It was my “Summer of 42”, except it was 78. It was when I truly fell in love with life and this Earth (and the incomparable virtuosity of George Benson).

Most unfortunately, the large canvases that emerged from these sketches and scrawls I painted over the following year after my art school tutors deemed them “unsubtle, hopelessly romantic and naïve” – they were a bunch of passionless idiots, but that’s another story. Nevertheless, I think these pictures, for all their rawness, convey the power of an 18-year old’s emotions, lusts, yearnings and wondering (and one or two aren’t bad drawings either)…

CHRISTMAS CARDS – THE BI-POLAR SERIES

Of all the people I ever dealt with in the various branches of the art world – “fine” and commercial – by far the most disreputable (and this includes gallery owners, art dealers, advertising bods, and even agents!!) were the greetings cards companies.

A good example of what I mean is represented by the set of cards displayed below. Around 1990 I had the idea of doing humerous cards based on Arctic/Antarctic/Polar themes. I was particularly pleased with the way the dark blue starry skies and snowy landscapes threw the subject matter into sharp relief. They just looked great and I knew they worked and I knew they would sell well.

Anyhow, that Spring I arranged a meeting at the offices of one of the UK’s leading card companies to see what they thought of the designs. After a brief meeting the lady who interviewed me asked if she could keep the pictures for a week or so to enable the “production team” to give them full consideration…

Stupidly, I agreed to this, without even so much as a signed receipt from her proving that she had taken temporary possession of the designs.

About a week later, the lady met me in a cafe behind Selfridges in London and returned the artwork to me, saying that “the team” had decided that the designs were not for them after all.

To my dumb and ingenuous horror, my designs, redrawn by different artists appeared in the shops later that year. After speaking with a top London copyright lawyer I realised that my position was probably hopeless as I had no sure way of proving that the company had had possession of my designs, or that my designs predated those now being printed and sold – in their thousands! Moreover, he told me, even if I did win a legal case – back in those days at least – I would still most likely have ended up out of pocket.

It was an exceptionally painful lesson which contributed significantly to my decision to turn away from art.

Nevertheless, presented here, for the first time is that series of original designs. I think you’ll enjoy them – even if you’ve seen them before – sort of…

MY “DON’T” SERIES – (of greetings cards)

Can’t recall if I already mentioned that for a while I made a modest crust designing greetings cards and I also can’t  recall what on earth the concept was behind this “DON’T” series?  I cannot think of many occasions when one would either present, or wish to be presented with the sort of messages displayed here. Perhaps I actually intended them as posters for a psychiatrist’s waiting room? Who knows?

They were done using sheets of coloured acetates with drawn-then-stenciled figures positioned beneath. In the pre-digital age, this was a tried and tested method for artists on low budgets (without access to things like lithography or screen printing) to achieve clean blocks of solid colour and sharp edges.

Whatever, the images seem reasonably affecting looking at them now.

MOODY GIRLS – in tone and colour

Here is a sample of my latest digital reworkings of some of my most commercially successful old library and sketchbook images.

More beautiful girls, fully clothed (more or less) and in regular – taken-from-life (also more or less) poses.  The girl in the polka dot dress is an obvious homage to that famous Athena tennis girl poster (from my back garden in Edgware in 1979) and there are also two of my wife Dido (one in Chile – 1991 and the other in the gardens of the Alcazar in Seville – 1988). The other two are of a girl on a trip to Israel from around 1980 (one at Ramon Crater in the Negev and the other at Rosh Hanikra).

I’ve had a few queries regarding the “validity” of these works in comparison to actual paintings, drawings and lithographs etc. Well, all I can say – at the risk of sounding hubristic – is that it takes not a little skill, and an intense amount of work to produce each and every picture. To all intent and purpose I am painting and drawing with the mouse in a way remarkably similar to using pencils and brushes. Often, a digital picture can take longer to execute than one of my old gouache paintings, and the results, for me at least, are just as satisfying. I love the contrast of the natural lines and edges containing pure and clean blocks of tone and colour. The level of satisfaction at completing one of these pictures is likewise, at least as complete as I used to feel after a day or so working on a gouache.

But, as ever, this is only my opinion. See what you think…

OILS ON PAPER… “FORM THROUGH COLOUR”

I fancied myself as something of a colourist around the the time I started at Saint Martins (1978/79), when this selection of oils on paper dates from. The idea of expressing things like bodily posture and even personality and human attitude through blocks of colour – with just a bit of assistance from drawn lines – was a concept which had interested me since I’d first started looking at pictures by anyone, from Matisse to Mathew Smith.

The paintings here are all of people (including one each of my maternal grandparents) done from life, which even then, was unusual for me – I was always more of a studio artist than a “field artist”. All of my early oil paintings were done on paper (like those presented below) or board. It was only once the generous student grant kicked in (those were the days!), when I’d actually begun at St. Martins, with access to subsidised stretchers and countless yards of cotton duck that I was able to enjoy the use of canvas.

Looking at these pictures now I’m struck by how fresh they look, and despite some pretty crude handling of paint, how closely they portray the subjects.

All in all, they’re not half bad, and the pictures of my much-missed booba and zaida  (the bottom two – Becky and Harry Pizan) are surprisingly evocative and poignant- for me at least…