Friday, August 24, 2007

Coney Island, Van Morrison and Art

This week I received a number of responses to an email I sent to Robert Genn in regard to 'Bonus Creativity'. Robert's compatriots used an old image of mine 'Coney Island' as an illustration of my work. One person who responded with an email, John McLean, particularly stood out for me. With his permission I have included his letter and the subsequent replies below.

Dear Mr Miles,
While perusing the 'clickbacks' of Robert Genn's latest newsletter I was surprised and delighted to come across your painting 'Coney Island' which I recognized as the place where I had spent all of my summer vacations as a child (about eight weeks) for the ten years or so between the early 1940's and the early 1950's. I grew up in Belfast and my grandparents had a summer house at Coney Island. Those were halcyon days of leisure, swimming, fishing, lobstering, and playing cricket on the beach when the tide was out. What fun to have them suddenly brought to mind again! I was back in Northern Ireland a couple of years ago, visiting my sister, and went to Coney Island to see some old friends who now reside there year round. The place hadn't changed much - some more and newer houses but the same quiet, peaceful atmosphere. When did you do this painting? I remember very well the house with the added-on front porch. I have some old photos which I have thought of using as material for watercolors, but haven't gotten round to that yet.
Anyway, thank you for sharing this painting, and I hope I haven't taken up too much of your time with my reminiscences.
John McLean, Trenton, Georgia, USA

Hello John
Many thanks for your kind comments! It's so nice to receive feedback on my work, and wonderful to hear your reminiscences about your halcyon days. My brother lives near that area and I painted that particular picture what must be 5 or 6 years ago when I had only been a professional artist for a year or two. I have moved on somewhat in slightly different directions with my art since then, especially since I came to live in Spain. Although I will be in the area again in 2 weeks time with my next batch of paintings for my representative galleries around Ireland. Maybe I should take a look at the area myself and see if it has changed even more in the last few years. It's interesting to hear your comments about the fishing, swimming and lobstering etc. and it brought to mind a song by another Belfast boy - Van Morrison. Not everyone's cup of tea perhaps, but I do feel a sway towards his music, particularly since leaving the country. Your words made me think of the song's lyrics, and just in case your not aware of the piece I have copied it below so you can read it. It sounds just like your memories. If you don't have a copy of the song, you should try to get yourself one. Then get the paints out John - and start painting that scene with the music as inspiration!
Thanks again John for your time, and good painting.
With kindest regards

CONEY ISLAND - Van Morrison
Coming down from downpatrick
Stopping off at st. johns point
Out all day birdwatching
And the craic was good
Stopped off at strangford lough
Early in the morning
Drove through shrigley taking pictures
And on to killyleagh
Stopped off for sunday papers at the
Lecale district, just before coney island
On and on, over the hill to ardglass
In the jamjar, autumn sunshine, magnificent
And all shining through
Stop off at ardglass for a couple of jars of
Mussels and some potted herrings in case
We get famished before dinner
On and on, over the hill and the craic is good
Heading towards coney island
I look at the side of your face as the sunlight comes
Streaming through the window in the autumn sunshine
And all the time going to coney island
Im thinking,Wouldnt it be great if it was like this all the time.

Hi TJ,
I enjoyed hearing from you and thank you for sending the lyrics of Coney Island. As I read through it more and more memories came back to me - I guess at my age (73) I'm starting to live more in memories! The list was so inclusive of the part of the country that I knew so well -Downpatrick, St. John's Point with it's horn that blew so dolefully through the summer fogs, Strangford Lough where I raced a small sailboat out of Whiterock for a few years before emigrating in 1960 to North America, Killyleagh where there was a fleet of Lightenings that the locals had built themselves, and of course Ardglass which we walked to for shopping and where I loved to go and watch the herring fleet come in on mornings that were windy and rough. Soooo... many memories that the song elicited. I had not ever heard of Van Morrison so went to the internet and saw that he had made a lot of recordings. I will try to hear some of his music. I looked for a CD that might have 'Coney Island' on it, but so far have been unsuccessful. I'll search more when I have more time.I looked at your website and see that you have a wide variety of paintings; I looked mostly at the landscapes, which is what I tend to paint, and enjoyed all of them, though I especially liked Coney Island. How is living and painting in Spain? And, how is painting for a living? In my case I don't think I would be eating too well if I was depending on my art to support me!! I admire you being able to do that.
After sending yesterday's e-mail I was trying to tidy my "studio" (I don't know how it gets in such a mess so fast!) and in the process came across a copy of a clickback you had sent to Genn regarding a critic's comments on your boat paintings. I think I had kept it because the address was Belfast, and because you obviously were an enthusiastic, confident sailor who was willing to undertake the delivery of other people's vessels. I've been an enthusiastic sailor all my life and though I've done some ocean passages, I've never been in command; I don't think I have the confidence for that. So I admire you for that!
Well I've rambled on enough for now, I guess. Don't you enjoy Genn's newsletter and the opportunities it provides to interact with artists all over the world?
With my best wishes for wonderful paintings,

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Go Large With Your Medium

When two artists of a similar calibre, one working in oils or acrylics and the other in watercolours show together, people tend to compare them, and quite often the watercolourist can come off worse. No reflection on the artist, of course, simply a case of oils having a more dramatic effect on some viewers. Watercolours can, of course, be used to create dark, foreboding and breathtaking works of art as well, but here I am talking about fledgling artists starting on the rocky road to Paintsville and I am trying to warn them of potential stress along the way.

Now before letters come rushing in to protest at the hard done by watercolour artists, or tubes of gouache are squirted at me by ‘W.A.S.P.’ - the ‘Watercolours Are Supreme Party’ - I am merely stating a fact about the boldness of materials. If you want a light colourful wispy feel to a painting then watercolour’s your man. For bold and heavier work, whether it be textured, layered, watered down, oiled up, impastoed, impregnated, adulterated etc. then for me it’s oils or acrylics.

It really is one of those chicken/egg things. Most people when they start painting, myself included many years ago, tend to go for watercolours first as they think will be an easy way to get started. Untrue. How many times I had paintings almost completed, only to ruin them with a careless stroke of the brush, I honestly can’t remember. The problem then is one of constant frustration that only the most dedicated of artists can persevere with, to get past first base and produce something meaningful that is considered good enough to be put on show.

The secret to watercolour painting is the quality of the drawing. If the drawing isn’t up to scratch, with perspective, balance and content for example, then the opportunity to correct these errors later may not be available and the individual will be back to square one again. Very off-putting when you’re just beginning. However, oils and acrylics, and to some extent gouache, forgive the artists little foibles before he or she actually begins putting pen to paper or brush to canvas so to speak. I changed to acrylics about ten years ago and have never looked back.

Why acrylics over oils? A number of reasons actually. I am an impatient painter. When I am working I don’t want to wait for hours on end before I can get the next layer of paint or texture on the board, I find that my paint dries extremely quickly here in the warm weather, and almost instantly in summer! This is good practice for me as it hones my skills to a point where I have to work fast and with enough confidence to get the paint on before it sets off. It also helps to create terrific textures you wouldn’t get if the paint was put on fresh or directly from the tube.

Acrylics are extremely versatile. Depending on your mood, you can water them right down and use them as an alternative to gouache (opaque watercolour) - or throw dirt, sand, broken eggshells and general kitchen waste into the mix to create textures beyond your wildest imaginations. Note - try not to use any kitchen waste that is bio-degradable as this may leave you with a smelly, oozing mess running down your walls when you hang your finished work! Although in some avant-garde circles this can be misconstrued as art in itself. Here I’m thinking of a pretentious couple who supposedly went into a capital city modern art gallery and raved about the violent red tubular installation in the corner of the room and discussed loudly what they believed the artist was trying to say about modern societal values, in an attempt to show they were ‘cultured and knowledgeable’. It’s a fire extinguisher you plonkers!

Finally, and most importantly, acrylics are more forgiving when you make a mistake. Give it a minute or two and you can repaint the area without running the risk of ruining the whole picture. If you have left raised areas of paint when making the mistake simply take a razor blade or similar implement and gently shave off the raised areas to return it to the same level as before, then recoat with a neutral base colour before changing it to what was originally planned before the mistake was made. Alternatively, just leave the raised paint in place and use it as a texture to enhance the final finished piece.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Room With Many Views

It is always a pleasure to sit in the Casino on the Paseo Alegre in Torrevieja. Over a strong wake-me-up cortado I took in the latest two-man exhibition. The artists concerned, Victor Leal i Francés and Antonio N Serralta, are both Spanish, live in Elche and have been painting professionally for a number of years. I met them both at the opening and discussed their work in more detail.

The paintings being exhibited are mostly locally based scenes of Torrevieja and the surrounding areas of the Costa Blanca, but I was surprised to see a familiar looking coastal scene of Dun Laoghaire from my native Ireland among the brightly coloured Mediterranean scenes on show. I was intrigued to find out why a Spaniard, Antonio Serralta in this case, was exhibiting an Irish scene in Spain. Usually artists use the excuse of capturing the light, ambiance or flavour of the Mediterranean to justify a trip to Spain rather than the other way round. I know I did. Antonio informed me that his son is presently living and working in Dublin and he painted the scene when visiting on a planned holiday earlier this year. I noticed a couple taking a great interest in the exhibition and introduced myself to them. David and Helen Coles, currently living in Torrevieja, are both amateur artists and were very taken with the Irish painting. They said they preferred it because it captured the muted colours of Ireland so accurately, making such a strong contrast to the other works on show.

What I found interesting was the fact that each artist works in a different medium. Francés in watercolours, and Serralta in oils. Instantly I tend to side with the oil painter, which is unfair at times, as the use of oil or acrylic is not always the best option. It really depends on the subject, but I am biased, and I make no apology for that.

That said, the watercolour work of Victor Francés is delicious. Sharply detailed street scenes with subtle colouring and shading in muted warm tones are counteracted with willowy, shadowy, almost wispy natural elements of trees and plantings that appear to be deliberately less defined than the surrounding buildings. There is one painting in particular of the market stalls that works really well. Almost to the point of sensing the smells of the churros frying and the sounds of the stall holders cries for attention, that you would normally associate with a ramble along there on a gentle autumn evening. I always judge a street painting by its ability to make me want to know what is around the next corner. If it draws you in at that level then you’re hooked. Victor has that ability and puts it to good use in a number of his paintings.

The oils of Antonio Serralta are detailed and quite textured, and yet still have a great sense of depth to them that has been captured with skill. In the foreground textures of the seascapes, he has managed to create a feel of where in the landscape he actually painted from. I particularly liked one that showed a slightly confused sea and dark underbelly of clouds, which in turn, creates a nice underlying feeling of movement mirrored in the gently breaking waves in the foreground. The horizon is normally roughly judged to be approximately seven to ten miles away when standing between five and six feet off the ground - the supposed height of the average human being. In this case, it helps to create a depth of field for the cloud cover of perhaps five to six miles, breaking up before they hit the horizon line.

I have always played a game when going into an art exhibition with friends or family. Separate, and then look at each painting on your own without discussion between each other. Take as much time as you like and don’t be rushed by your non-art loving, possibly bored companions, then meet up back at the start and discuss which painting you would buy if you were so inclined to do. It doesn’t matter if you never intended to buy or cannot justify spending a certain amount of your pension, or children’s inheritance, as it’s just for fun. It’s interesting how different peoples taste in art can be when not influenced by those around them. Go into the Casino this week and give it a try for yourself. You may even be tempted to take one home.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Paintings In Flight

As well as both abstracts packed and en route to Northern Ireland as requested, I have finished off four of my more usual style of paintings for one of my representing galleries in the Republic of Ireland.

I have included one here for you to look at. If you want to see it 'in the flesh' so to speak, just call in to Munster Fine Art, County Limerick, Ireland. Say hello to Maureen Delaney for me.

It's a night scene entitled 'A Valued Insight' 12"x16".

Saturday, August 4, 2007

August Abstractions

This week, in between my usual work, I have been creating two abstract style paintings for a venue in Northern Ireland.

Simply named 'Landscape' and 'Seascape' I wanted them to talk for themselves, so I deliberately won't explain any further but leave you, the viewers, to decide for yourselves whether you like them or not.