Archive for the ‘Sketches’ Category

Barocci at the National Gallery and Picasso at the Courtauld

May 17, 2013

Up in London this week delivering my work to Novella Baroni and Flavio Gianassi at the Baroni Gallery for the forthcoming  From Surface to Structure:  An exhibition of drawings and sculpture by six contemporary European artists. Drawings by Adrien-Angelo Bastien, Sandra Beccarelli, Dianne Kaufman and Fiona Robinson; sculpture by Matteo Baroni and Mark Beatie, Very exciting to see the space and meet three of the other artists in the show.


I spent the rest of the week in London and managed to see the Barocci Exhibition at the National Gallery and the Picasso show at the Courtauld.  Wonderful stuff!  Federico Barocci (c. 1533–1612) was an extremely accomplished draftsman as well as painter. Despite having studied Italian Renaissance painting when I did my BA I was not familiar with his work.  I found one or two of the portrait studies a bit saccharine, in particular the study for Mary Magdalene where the warm skin tones reminded me a bit of Renoir’s Girls at the piano.  The study, in the same row for the head of St John the Baptist has similarly rosy cheeks but the greenness of the skin tones suggests that maybe, like many Byzantine Madonnas, the colour has deteriorated over time.  It is painted in oil on paper lined with linen which puzzled me as a combination couldn’t work out which was the top surface.  The study for the head of Nicodemus which is also in this row of studies was very beautiful, startling in its strength, depth of emotion and modernity.  All these studies were for the Entombment of Christ 1576 – 82.


federico-barocci-head-of-nicodemus-for-the-entombment-national-gallery-of-art-washington-ngaFederico Barocci, Head of Nicodemus.

Lots of the drawings in the exhibition appeared to have been done from life and on cheap greenish paper which looked like modern sugar paper so it is interesting to think that Barocci never meant these works to be seen outside his studio and here they are on display in one of the most prestigious art museums in the world.  In the painting of St Francis receiving the Stigmata the drawings of the trees were wonderful, so full of life and movement and there were some framed studies of trees too which had a similar vibrancy and immediacy.

Next stop the Courtauld Gallery to see the Picasso exhibition.  I love the Courtauld exhibitions, usually just two rooms worth of the most astounding work and so you can really immerse yourself in the work without getting gallery/eye/foot-lag!  I saw the Child with a dove for the first time and there were many of the poignant introspective works from Picasso’s blue period.  The exhibition is on until May 26th so still time to go and see it.



More sketchbook drawings, dancing from page to page…

December 18, 2011

I love working in my sketchbooks.  No pressure I just hop, slide, move, dance from one page onto the next, following my train of thought. Making drawings from observation, rubbing them out drawing over them, playing with ideas. Thinking I’ll try that or I wonder what would happen if. It is the best way of visual thinking.  The excitement, waiting to see what things will look like, knowing  it doesn’t matter if it works or not because it is about finding out, opening doors not closing them.   Taken from one of my Ballycastle sketchbooks which is full of drawings of Main Street, this little group of drawings started with a  sketch of a derelict notice board, plywood streaked with rain-water stains.  They then started absorbing the narrative of  earlier drawings of the horizon and the cracks in the pavement of the same street..


Sketchbook drawings from Ireland

December 4, 2011

Spent a couple of days scanning in pages from some of my Balinglen Sketchbooks to send to someone.  A boring chore but actually it was lovely to look again at those images and remember the when the where the light the weather and the things I had forgotten about. Realised there are some many ideas here that I want to take further.

A new direction , maybe – and Johns Cage and Berger

July 13, 2011


Post New York I have been looking at a lot of Art. Exhibitions and books. I have been picking through Every Day is a Good Day:  The Visual Art of John Cage,  the catalogue for the Hayward traveling exhibition which is sadly not traveling anywhere near me.  And today whilst working on No. 33  of my RN Drawings I have been listening to Cage’s pieces for Violin and Piano. I also bought  Bento’s Sketchbook, John Berger’s imagined drawings of what might have been in the lost sketchbook of the 17th century philosopher Benedict de Spinosa.  Promises to be utterly fascinating.  Working on another new drawing, large, already time-consuming and complex, based on a sketchbook drawing made from the top of Bolus Head in the Ballinskelligs in Ireland, I needed to revisit Kathy Prenderghast’s work.  So I dipped into The End and the Beginning, which has quite a few of her love city mapping drawings in it, though they are so delicate they are difficult to photograph and consequently difficult to see in reproduction. So a productive day in the studio, at last, lots of reading and I’m off to London at the weekend to engage with the Tracey Emin at the Hayward so watch this space!

My most recent exhibition roundup is on isendyouthis art-diary, link in the side bar.

Horizons Sketchbook – Shortlisted for the Sketch Drawing Prize

March 27, 2011

My Horizons Sketchbook containing 55 double-page spread drawings of the changeable, mesmerising view of the sea in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo has been shortlisted for the Sketch Drawing Prize at Rabley Drawing Centre.

During my Fellowship at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation in September/October, 2010, my house faced the sea and every day I drew the rapidly changing vista from my window; the light, the weather, and the mountains appearing and disappearing like ghosts. The exhibition, Sketch National Drawing Prize 2011 which contains 40 sketchbooks by 38 shortlisted artists from all over the UK, will open on 9 April through 28 May and then tour nationally for a year.  Looking at some of the other artists who have been selected I think it will be a fascinating exhibition and I am very honoured to be part of it.  It was selected by Deanna Petherbridge, artist and author of ‘The Primacy of Drawing’, Meryl Ainsley, Director of Rabley Drawing Centre and artist Sandie Sykes.

there is something about horizons fading into darkness

January 14, 2011

At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,

The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable

And you are in the dark again.

These lines from Seamus Heaney’s  ‘The Peninsula’ have a particular resonance for me and the whole poem is a magical evocation of shoreline reminding me of Achill.  They accompanied me as I came to the end of  my first large Unstable Horizons painting.  Heaney talks of breakers being ‘shredded into rags‘,  ‘leggy birds‘ which suggest to me the exquisite white egrets which stand in the river that runs alongside my studio; and ‘Islands riding themselves out into the fog‘. Achill again.  Such wonderful imagery.  Seamus Heaney’s collection Opened Ground Poems 1966-1996 was on my wish list but I ended up buying it myself.  Couldn’t wait! And it is wonderful.

The painting, for now just Unstable Horizon Painting 3, has been looking at me for weeks daring me to put the final marks on it.  Pencil, graphite, charcoal one after the other in destabilising lines, blowing charcoal dust all over the studio as I go.  Then covering the surface with butter soft paint and cautiously scraping it away again, stopping  the charcoal from smudging and muddying the paint.

Top. Unstable Horizon Painting.  Oil charcoal and graphite on canvas, 80 x 100 cms. 31 x 40 inches.

Below.   from my sketchbook, Achill Island

The unstable horizon from a small boat in wild seas

December 6, 2010


During my two residencies in Ireland this year I worked extensively in sketchbooks.  In Ballycastle my house faced the sea, nothing between me and Greenland, and every morning I drew the rapidly changing horizon, the light, the weather, and the mountains of Donegal appearing and disappearing like ghosts. At The Cill Rialaig Project on the Kerry coast  there was nothing between the wild rocks and America apart from the Skelligs, inhabited in the fourth century by a group of monks. For them their location was the edge of the known world. I went out to the Skelligs in wild March seas in a ferociously bronco-bucking, little fishing boat and once there, climbed to the top. Two of the scariest things I have ever done! The sketchbooks full of horizon drawings, the drawings from the cliffs in the Ballinskelligs, the memory of my trip to the Skelligs and getting to know the local people in Co. Mayo has translated itself into a body of work concerned with Unstable Horizons. They reference the physicality and history of the land and my experience of it as well as the uncertainty of the economic and political situation in Ireland, which is also part of my family history.  These small paintings are the beginning of a determined exploration of these ideas and I am already working on two larger canvases.

Cracks in the pavement

October 22, 2010

Thursday 21 October


Beautiful day but cold.  I went to Downpatrick head with Gigi in bright sunshine this afternoon and found a way down onto the flat cracked rocks below the cliffs.  The are huge and right where the waves crash in – very spectacular.



This morning I walked backwards and forwards up and down the Main Street drawing the cracks in the pavements.  Then I walked back and photographed everything that caught my eye from drain covers to abandoned glasses from the night before and derelict buildings.



…observation of the perfect line…

October 19, 2010


I have been here over a month now.  Sitting at my window this morning, looking out over a stormier sea than the last few days I felt I was daydreaming my time away.  It is very seductive to watch the light change, the sea mutating from succulent steely greys to pale almost white as the rain comes in but I feel I need to push all of this further. I am becoming absorbed in combinations of graphite and white chalk.  It gives me the tones I want and the rubbed out, white out, that happens, but I want to get more passion into the drawing.  They seem too careful and tortuous – I want some speed and some unpredictability that I can then try and tame.  I started doing some bold marks, mimicking the movement of the sea, strong energetic mark-making.  This I want to get into the finished drawings without losing their subtlety or their aura and meditative quality.  Conundrum – Maybe it is impossible.  This morning I have done three chalk and graphite drawings – which I am sitting and contemplating.  But I also want to draw the cracks in the pavement as you walk down the hill into the village.  Maybe the passion comes from the observation of the perfect line…..


Notes from my sketchbook.

Cracks in the pavement

Straight lines curved lines horizontal lines even vertical lines

October 15, 2010


It was bound to happen all this obsessing with the horizon and I have duly finished two paintings, at least drawings in graphite on paint on canvas, but at least my lines are attempting to subvert the horizontal.

After a week of running around I finally spent the whole day in the studio on Thursday and got some interesting work done.  Two big drawings and two smaller ones, on Arches Hot press with ruled lines in various weights of pencil, which as they went seesawing down the paper created a curve of unstable horizon.  Not quite where I want to be with this yet, need a darker tone somewhere, but getting there, and I am a little uncomfortable with the geometry.


On Tuesday I went to Achill Island.  I thought I would never get there it seemed to take forever and on the journey there I found the landscape disappointing.  Very flat in places, just endless bog really, auburn ferns and dark pine forests. Then I started to see mountains in the distance and gradually I entered Mountain country. They were semi-circles of hills with close-cropped red sides, sheep everywhere wandering on and off the road mostly the wrong side of the wire that was supposed to contain them. The landscape started to change, more trees and to my right water, but lake not sea. The trees, as if sculpted by the elements were flat topped and bent double like some ancient whose spine long ago gave up trying to support its body.  The surface of the road bent so the car moved more like a small boat on a choppy sea than wheels rolling on tarmac. Finally I crossed the bridge at Achill Sound which leads onto the Island and took the Atlantic route around the bottom right of the Island.  As I climbed the scenery became more and more spectacular.  There was a low mist masking the base of the hills across the water so that they looked as if they were floating, disembodied, above the surface of the sea.  The road now dropped away in slopping grassy mounds away down towards the cliffs below making me very conscious that one missed bend would send me hurtling over the edge.  The road was often only one car wide, so nowhere to go.  At what seemed the top I stayed a while and did some drawing, it was so warm and beautiful that I was tempted to contemplate the concept of nature and the sublime!  But also to ask myself if beauty is suspect?  I wondered what other people had stood there and surveyed this deceptively calm and safe landscape.  Undoubtedly many tourists but many others; fishermen, tenant farmers, who do not look at it for its beauty primarily but for the information it offers them.  Coming down I negotiated a couple of very tight hairpin bends where  the camber of the road was all askew.  I stopped at a beach which was clean and the water crystal clear, so that  Gigi could .have a run.  I had already taken her up into the scrubby cliffs at the top, which she loved, no doubt smelling game and hooded crows, which were everywhere.


Notes from my sketchbook