Abstract Paintings

Ryepress has come to be synonymous with “Prints of Rye, Hastings and the East Sussex coast” and indeed this web site was established over 20 years ago in Rye with the intention of showcasing my etchings and the local views I had been doing since moving to Rye. I had very few photographs of the abstract paintings I had done before and what originals remained didn’t sit well with the more traditional views of Rye.

History of Art

When I was living in Kings Cross in the 1980’s I had been heavily influenced by the History of Art evening class I took immediately after leaving college. I began screenprinting large geometric images and producing abstract screen printed greeting cards in what now looks typical of the style of that decade – all very derivative of De Stijl. Colourful and energetic, they did well in the winebar exhibitions I had constantly running throughout London. Arrow of God was my keywork of the time.

ARROW OF GOD abstract screenptrint 1985

Danby and Martin

However I wanted something more painterly and was instictively drawn to the huge, dark, atmospheric paintings of Francis Danby and John Martin in the Tate (see blog post The Deluge) and the brutal accidents with paint exploited by Francis Bacon. On studying a Rembrandt original close up for the first time I saw how the paint took on a life of its own freed from the constraints of having to look like something else. From then on most of my work consisted of large 39ins x 52 ins oil on canvas abstract paintings.

“Remember that a picture—before being a war horse or a nude woman or an anecdote—is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order. ”
Maurice Denis (1890)

To be honest, many of them just didn’t work and certainly were slow sellers! Having worked through most of the ideas I was interested in and having exhausted the vocabulary of textures and marks I had then at my disposal I returned to figurative work with the Kings Cross St Pancras series of etchings and then on moving to Rye carried on with mainly figurative etchings and paintings.

LICK OF PAINT painting and limited edition giclée print

Coastal Textures and abstract painting

After a short time in Rye I discovered the groynes on Winchelsea beach and have spent the last 20 years exploring their wind and wave battered textures in a succession of representational etchings and paintings. These were followed by related images of paint, rust and splintered wood on the old abandoned fishing boats at Rye Harbour and Dungeness. More recently a series of paintings exploring patterns of erosion on rocks at the base of cliffs at Rock-a-nore had led me to the conclusion that I now had a viable vocabulary of marks and textures to return to non-representational image making.

RED PLANK painting – oil on canvas board 14 ins x 20 ins

In Coastal Textures I was “zooming in” on each object to the very blueprint of its construction and destruction, exploring the minute and inconsequential worlds that hide unnoticed within the much larger and more recognisable forms that we see as rocks, rust or splintered wood. These paintings attempted to chart the individual continents, islands, and oceans that make up a patch of faded and chipped paint, the canyons and ravines in a splintered piece of wood and the faint maps of ancient coastlines etched by erosion on the exposed face of a rock.

… just paint

In these totally abstract paintings I have taken away the representational element of the early paintings. These are … just paint. There is no scale, no existing frame of reference and no attempt to copy or replicate.

CRACK IN THE SKY painting 14ins x 20ins Oil on board
DELUGE painting – oil on canvas

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes.”
Arshile Gorky

The inspiration for these abstract paintings can come from many varied sources but what seems to be the driving theme is the repetition of form that occurs in nature whether zooming out from a cell or zooming in from a galaxy.

BLOCKADE painting 14ins x 20ins Oil on board
GREEN AND PLEASANT PLANS painting 14ins x 20ins Oil on board
SANDSTORM 14in x 20in Oil on board

Painterly technique

As well as painting with brushes I also often make use of sponges, rags and tissues to apply increasingly thicker layers of oil paint which can rubbed away or ground into the surface of the painting. The history or archaeology of the marks and layers of the painting are important to me. Occasionally I will brush on a paint stripper such as “Nitromors” and scrape back the layers to uncover earlier lines and ghostly forms. Slowly thicker layers of paint are added, accidental marks are not only tolerated but actively nurtured and finally thin glazes of almost transparent primary colours are layered over each other.

FIREWORKS painting – oil on canvas
BRIDGING THE GAP painting 14ins x 20ins Oil on canvas board
DOCKING TALES painting – oil on canvas board

“Of all the arts, abstract painting is the most difficult. It demands that you know how to draw well, that you have a heightened sensitivity for composition and for colours, and that you be a true poet. The last is essential.” Wassily Kandinsky