Monday, 28 May 2012

All stacked up in the rain

I don't mind spending days, weeks or even months on a piece of art, but sometimes it's good to cut loose and work quickly. When I was a student I went on a two week residential art course in South Wales, where we were encouraged to do just that. I remember one of the assignments involved being dropped in Pontypridd market and told to produce as many pen sketches as we could, aiming to capture people as they stopped to buy bananas and so on, almost a candid camera approach where the work would consist of a few pen strokes at best and then on to the next subject. I found it very liberating at the time but olde habits die hard and my natural tendency is to work meticulously and neatly.

Lately, though, I've been trying to draw and paint faster, to set myself a self-imposed time limit and see if I can produce a piece of art within that period. Sometimes this can be as brief as a couple of minutes, or perhaps half an hour for a slightly more involved drawing. Where the quick approach really comes into its own is with painting, though, since it really encourages you to drop your inhibitions and just start splurging paint around.

This picture was inspired by a black and white image in a collection of images of nighttime railroads - I've blogged about O. Winston Link before, although this image while in a similar vein was not one of his - and it was painted very, very quickly. The entire thing was completed during a two hour evening at the local art society, but allowing for a coffee break, and a certain amount of faffing around at the start, deciding what to do, then cleaning up at the end, the picture couldn't have taken more than 90 minutes to finish, and was probably closer to an hour. The key in this case was that nothing in the picture needed to be painted with any great precision, and I chose to use acrylics rather than the oils I've been using a lot recently. Oils are great for working fast as well, but in this case the high contrast between the lit and dark areas suggested that acrylics would be a better bet, since I'd be able to paint highlights onto already dry areas very soon after the initial application. I began with a blue background which had dried by the time I got back from coffee, then added black and white and intermediate tones over that.

The original, and I hope the painting, has a definite noir quality which I found intriguing. Who are those people further up the train platform? Who is the figure in the hat? Do they know each other? Is the man in the hat some kind of fugitive hoping to get on the arriving train and escape the other people? Going back to my O Winston Link post, the original photo made me think of the Blue Nile, of the cover of their album Hats and the imagery in many of their songs of late night trains and rain and melancholy encounters. I love the fact that a single photograph, a snapshot of a innocent moment (doubtless it was just another day at the station) can activate so many thoughts.


  1. You do love your trains! My youngest wants a painting of Thomas!

  2. Beautiful painting. It reminds me of a memory of waiting at La EstaciĆ³n de ferrocarril de Vigo (Vigo Railway Station) in Vigo, Galicia, Spain, around midnight. It's comforting and disconcerting at the same time.

  3. Pretty impressive. It looks like a photo on first glance askance. Then upon closer inspection reveals itself to be more complicated than a pic: more information with an extra level of meaning in the play of light/location of events (which depends upon local super-gravitation). Of which you are the master lol...

  4. This painting is so interesting and have a stories to tell. I like the concept this extraordinary.

  5. Painting quick is something one of the tutors in my art Foundation Course got us to do once, in this case life painting. We had large pieces of newsprint-type paper (unprinted-on, of course) and poster paints and the model held her pose and we had about 30 seconds to absorb that and complete the painting. Here's one, and arrow back one for another.

    As for your painting, I like it. Looks like it could be another album cover, say by Al Stewart, who, like the Blue Nile, is also sort of from Glasgow (born there, raised in the south of England). Although your station looks English rather than German, it reminded me of the Al Stewart song Night Train To Munich, which references old black & white spy thrillers.

    Here's Al Stewart and some others performing it at Glastonbury's 40th Anniversary; was one of the acts at the 1970 festival who was still around to be invited back.

    Meet me at the station underneath the clock
    Carry an umbrella, no need to talk
    The man in the homburg, hding in the fog
    Will be watching
    Get yourself a ticket, go through the gate
    At seven forty-five precisely, don't be late
    If anybody follows don't hesitate
    Keep on walking

    And take the night train to Munich
    Rumbling down the track
    After half an hour in the restaurant car
    Look for the conductor
    And there will be a stain on his tunic
    A paper underneath his arm
    Then you'd better pray that he doesn't look away
    Or you'll never, never, never come back.

  6. I have that Al Stewart album (the one with Night Train to Munich on). Big Al fan here. He grew up in Bournemouth, with links to two other musicians who would go on to big things in the 70s: Robert Fripp and Andy Summers. John Wetton was also from Bournemouth I think.

    Roads to Moscow is my favorite.

  7. Love the painting - very atmospheric. I'm really impressed that you produced it in such a short period of time!

    Do you draw and paint purely for its own aesthetic value, or is this another art form you use as an aid to your writing? I ask because I'm trying to teach myself to draw at the moment, in order to be able to produce pen sketches of things I'm writing, as my visualisation skills aren't great. I'd be interested in your motivation.

    Cheers, Patrick.

  8. No, I'm pretty much a compulsive painter/drawer. I don't do it for any other reason than that I enjoy it, although occasionally it feeds into the writing.

  9. Yes, Roads to Moscow is great. I saw Al Stewart live only once, at Manchester in about 1980, where he played it (he had to start twice as he fluffed the beginning the first time). Another sf fan is Paul Kincaid*, and I figured out he was at the same Manchester concert.

    My overall favourite is probably The Dark And The Rolling Sea (Modern Times) or Manuscript (Zero She Flies).

    I got into Al S through my brother John, who was a student in Bristol 1967-70, about when Al first emerged, and saw him several times at the small folk club Troubadour there, which he remembered in a short essay for an Al Stewart mailing list and which I then put on his website for him. John writes and records Al-Stewart-like songs (recorded only by me, I am afraid). John's own favourite Al Stewart song would be Samuel, Oh How You've Changed (from the first album), which he would like to have played at his funeral.

    I like almost all of what's on Al Stewart's albums up to Year Of The Cat, then only bits thereafter. Except Between The Wars, with Night Train To Munich on it, which is the only post-YearO'TC album I like pretty much in its entirety.

    Fripp, yes, his guitar teacher at one point I gather. I'm listening to more and more King Crimson these days.

    *BTW In a nerdy bit of calculation I disputed Paul Kincaid's comment about lyrics on underage sex - "I've not finished school yet, she said as she got into bed" - as 1) she could have been 18 and still at school and besides, 2) when he wrote the song Al Stewart can only have been 21 at most; he turned 22 a month before the relevant album, his first, was released.

  10. Hi Nick - excellent recollections.

    I got into Al through my mate Nigel, who in 1983 loaned me a C90 cassette, ostensibly because one side had a collection of King Crimson songs on it. Once I'd listened to the KC stuff, I flipped the tape over and listened to "Past, Present & Future" by some guy called Al Stewart I'd never heard of. I became a great fan pretty much before the end of the first track on the album - which as I'm sure you know is the quite wonderful Old Admirals.

    I like "Down in the Cellar" a lot; it's hardly deep and meaningful but it's hard not to warm to an entire record about wine. And while I can understand people taking or leaving Al's singing style, I'd put a handful of his lyrical couplets up against anyone's. I mean "On the Border" is just a stunning piece of writing.

  11. Like the Blue Nile reference - "All stacked up in the rain" - although the picture looks like more of a film noir homage than the failed romance of the track from "Hats". Have you never thought of doing your own book covers ? You're a decently talented artist.