Generally, one associates the concept of theme and variations with music. From Classical to Heavy Rock (e.g. Brahms’ wonderful takes on that tune of Haydn’s or more recently Leslie West’s fabulous live improvised versions of his own Swan Theme on the album Flowers of Evil) and all idioms in between and beyond, most composers have enjoyed playing around with a basically good tune (their own or other people’s) and taking it to new places.
However, this is hardly unique to musical composition and if anything, an exercise exploited far more by visual artists, and most famously by both the Impressionists (e.g. Monet’s Waterlilies) and then the post impressionists (e.g. Cezanne and Mont Sainte-Victoire).
The greatest distinction between the musical and painterly approaches is that in the former the variations are normally presented together within a single work, whereas in the latter they typically appear as a series of individual pictures.
As a regular practitioner of the latter painterly approach in my past life, I often mused whether or not I was merely obsessed – struggling for an unreachable perfection – or rather practising the artistic imperative of interpretation.
In the end, I came to conclusion that it was a mixture of the two and that in fact, the secret of all good art, and good science too for that matter, is an obsessive love of a particular subject and the interpretive skills to channel that love into something coherent and meaningful. The four pictures shown here present my first ever paintings of Dido, before we were married, standing in a doorway in the gardens of the Alcazar in Seville: The object of my love, obsessively interpreted…
The Sea of Galilee (known in Hebrew as Kinneret, due to its having the shape of a harp – a “kinor”) is well known to most people in the “Abrahamic” world as it played such a crucial part in Jewish, and especially Christian tradition and history. For followers of Jesus it is of course famous for being the actual site and / or backdrop for several of his miracles, while for Jews, its main city of Tiberius was a post-biblical centre of learning and culture.
For the modern State of Israel, Kinneret is a major source of both pious and recreational tourist revenue, in addition to its crucial role as the country’s primary fresh-water reservoir.
Sitting as it does towards the northern tip of the Great Rift Valley; filled by the creeks and streams of the western Golan and the Upper Galilee to its north; at its southern point, spilling into the River Jordan and; surrounded on three sides by steep escarpments, the inland lake (for that what it actually is) has a geography to match its epic traditions and history.
As an artist, and a romantic it was always the stunning physical beauty of Kinneret which excited me most. To this day, I can still clearly remember my first-ever sight of it, from high up above, standing on the Horns of Hattin (where Saladin defeated a Christian army in 1187) – a dazzling smear of precious turquoise sitting deep within a heat-hazed frame of ochres and pale greens.
That was in 1967, when I was seven, and it is a view which I have never tired of since, and which I have been fortunate enough to revisit on many occasions, and never more so than during the summer of 1980…
It was in that year that I and three friends decided to walk the entire circumference of Kinneret – starting out from, and returning to, Tiberius over the course of two days.
We decided to do a clockwise circumvention and so set off heading north along the west shore of the lake, with only the clothes on our back, two rucksacks (a couple bottles of wine, cans of beer and packets of crisps and Bissli falafel chips in one, and music cassettes and radio batteries in the other) and a small ghetto-blaster…
As it turned out, these meagre provisions and sparse equipment helped generate one of the most pleasurable 48 hours of our young lives…
The fact we were two boys and two girls; the wine and beer (chilled each evening in cool water of the lake); two lingering golden evening swims; and some incredibly empathetic music provided by the likes of George Benson and Carlos Santana made for an intensely sensual experience…
…So much so, that even though it all happened the best part of 40 years ago, whenever I think back to that walk it still makes me smile.
Thanks to the fact that I made many sketches and paintings of Kinneret, and the people I witnessed playing on its pebble beaches and bathing in its refreshing waters, I get to smile on a more less a daily basis. I hope that the pictures shown here provide an equally happy reminder to those of you fortunate to have been there, and an enticement to those of you thinking of going…
During my ten years or so as a commercial artist I had spells with two top London artist’s agents. The main and obvious advantage of having an agent was that they went out and got you commissions. Most artists by definition, tend to be ill equipped, emotionally and attitudinally for the tasks of both finding and especially negotiating with clients. Artist’s agents on the other hand, often with backgrounds in advertising and / or art production have extensive lists of contacts and the wherewithal for exploiting those connections.
The big disadvantage in the artist / artist agent relationship however was the near-total lack of control the artist has over the process, from commissioning to payment. And, it was ultimately the payment issues which trumped the advantages and convinced me to toughen-up and go it alone. My final artist’s agent’s commission was a case in point and also the last straw. What began as an unusually free brief – to paint a series of of 24 poster-style gouache paintings to decorate 12 luxury, first-class cruise liner suites for a seriously good fee, manifested as an exercise in frustration and acrimony. The fact I had to resort to the threat of lawyers against my own agent to extricate partial payment gives a good idea of just how sour things got.
In the normal course of events, I worked directly with the clients, and delivered my work to them myself. For some reason never fully explained, on this occasion I did not get to meet the client and instead dealt exclusively with my agent. What exactly went wrong between the time of me handing over the finished pictures to the agent, and her passing them to the client – or indeed, if she ever handed them to the client, I never discovered. All I did know for sure, was that two months of hard work was never fully paid for. Fortunately, during my ongoing film-to-digital trawl, I recently came across colour slides of several examples of the artwork from that fateful commission and the original photographic templates.
If I was ever to receive a similar commission again, apart from making sure to deal with the client on a one-to-one basis, I might also decide to produce Photoshop images (presented on the similar art papers to the original gouaches) rather than paintings. For me the finished results, especially with these highly graphic, minimalist images are at least as good as paintings, and in the awful prospect that I again would not be fully recompensed, would have expended a fraction of the time.
Presented here (within the text) in triptych form are four of those very images. The photo templates comprise the central images, with the original gouaches on the right, and my new Photoshop treatments on the left. See what you think and don’t be afraid to let me know…
In 1992, at an exhibition of my poster-style paintings, someone remarked to me in a disparaging tone, ‘you know Adam, these sort of pictures are to fine art what film music is to classical music…’ She meant the observation as an insult, and at the time, although I basically agreed with the premise of her analogy, I felt duly insulted. But soon afterwards I realised that it was her intent and her tone that had upset me, not her premise.
The fact was, I had always been a huge admirer of film music and its composers, several of whom I believed then, and continue to believe today to be geniuses in their own right, every bit as accomplished in their own way as their “classical” contemporaries (after all, what will be more listened to in a hundred year’s time, Elmer Bernstein’s score to The Magnificent Seven, or Pierre Boulez’s “explosante-fixe”?). So, having my work compared to movie tunes was for me, in its purest sense, a unintended complement.
Sure, it can be argued that poster artists are merely creating visual mood music to the given theme, but that is no bad thing, and if executed well, and with feeling, a great poster can be at least as impressive an image as any piece of “pure” art. Ultimately, as with the best film music, if the piece lives on in the memory and has the power to stir deep feelings then surely this means it is good and worthy art.
However, unlike my commissioned advertising work, my non-commissioned posters were a bit like movie music without a movie. And some time after this particular exhibition an album of exactly that type of music called Eternal Echoes was released by that greatest of British film music composers, John Barry (Lion In Winter, Zulu, You Only Live Twice, Midnight Cowboy, Born Free and The Ipcress File to name just a few masterpieces). I was initially quite dubious, but then, after listening to the record, I realised that it worked in exactly the same way as my “free” posters, with bags of atmosphere, lyrical content and just enough emotion to stir the blood.
As things turned out this style of work became my most enduring, heavily influencing the pictures I am making today (e.g. see my work now available here) and my love for movie music continues unabated.
Here are a selection of posters with architectural themes, another post, of more “human-centric” works will follow shortly…
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…