New starts and false finishes

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My low point. Pen Hill, all technique and no heart. I could do better, and I might well have done (watch this space …)

A series beckons, or rather looms on my work horizon. Twelve months ago it seemed like a good idea; serialise my new project of painting the Yorkshire Dales.

Now, I’m a landscape painter – or at least I was – so the challenge of painting a few hills didn’t seem like a challenge at all, more of a holiday really, with a bit of enjoyable work thrown in. More than that, I come from the bloody place – or the next best thing  – my birthplace in the Pennines would make the dales feel very familiar, surely?

The trouble is , I love the place.

So when I cranked out a few worthy and respectable looking paintings, I knew it wasn’t enough. The  awareness came, as the things do, in an unexpected place at a time of its choosing.

Jane and I were sat in a teashop – the Dales positively swarm with them – and I was idly flicking through an art blog on my i-phone while she placed her order at the counter. It wasn’t a great blog, but one phrase stood out ‘ Zombie Abstraction’ . This – the author assured me –  might be best described as aping a style without understanding it.


I’d applied a style I knew, and I was competent with – on my new subject, without taking the trouble to really get to know the place.  I don’t do zombie abstraction, but I had done zombie expressionism…


Nice sketch, but that’s all it is…

A quick look at Google confirmed my worst fears, Google’ contemporary art Yorkshire dales’, and there they (and potentially we) were, rank upon rank of zombie expressionists. A dash of solvent, a few drips, a hill vaguely marked out, a Turnerseque dash of glowering light.

There comes a time in every painter’s career when this is OK; pressure from the gallery to create pictures ‘like those, only a bit smaller‘ , pressure from the bank to sell a few, and pressure from oneself to feel successful.

But this wasn’t that time, and that couldn’t be me again. I’d worked uncharacteristically  hard to get myself a studio in the Dales, and could I really look myself in the face again if the best I could do with that opportunity is crank out a few commercial turkeys?

So, back to the drawing board.

Having a sincere, personal reaction to one’s subject, might seem to be the obvious first step to any Art project,  but wrapped up in complacency, buoyed by competence and goaded by deadlines; I’d not stopped to think. Or rather I’d not stopped to experience.

They say that creativity is a process, not an event, and so it is.  Now, I’m not here to give the impression that all of the wonderful artists who work in the dales are copyists, or have no artistic merit, just that there style is not – could not be –  a successful outcome for me.

craven herald

‘Modern Artists who step in Turner’s footsteps’ from The Craven Herald & Pioneer newspaper. It’s not bad painting, but it is a well trodden path…


I know what I’m painting now, won’t be widely well received, I know it won’t fit in galleries ( I like BIG), and I know that it won’t be easy viewing for lovers of my earlier works, but it will have the virtue of sincerity.

In the interim , I offer you some zombie expressionism, as evidence if of nothing else of my commitment to the iterative, destructive, creative process that is painting.


Save me from myself – Zombie Expressionism; The Oil painting Dead…


5 thoughts on “New starts and false finishes

  1. Give yourself a bit of a break you’ve had a really tough year health wise. OK you will say thinking time and obviously so it was but remember the “baby and the dish water” or something like that. Still having said that I can’t wIt to see what you come up with. Tom Hx


  2. Enjoyed your playful honesty in the blog Mart, you are certainly stretching the envelope ( a test pilot’s expression from the early days of the aviation industry), the thing is at the edge of the envelope there is always success, however breaking through and out of the envelope brings a new world, inventing discovery.
    Now I’m going to sit down to write a Haiku to put me in the moment before painting again, or more likely a poem, “Ode to be a zombie”.


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