Size, it really does matter.

Thursday afternoon, about 1pm, that was my brick wall.

You don’t see them coming by the way, and I hit this one fairly soundly, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m painting this week is the context. That doesn’t sound remarkable of course, because I teach painting for a living. But I mean Painting (with a capital P), that’s painting for my self and for my all too imminent show ‘Beyond Here‘, which opens on the 24th of October this year.

I’d confidently set aside the week for painting, as I’m about twenty canvases in now, my themes are established. my visual language is looking right, and glancing at a studio full of the things on Monday I was feeling pretty sorted.

But – there’s always a ‘but’ in creative matters, that niggle if you will.  But… I’d only painted large scale, because quite frankly I love the physicality of working big, and the question was, the problem was, the ‘but‘ was, could I take it down a notch or two to a more domestic scale?

Well I have, and I am, but (there I go again), I just don’t like them as much. So I downed tools on Thursday and have given myself a day to kick it about.

Size lends painting a physical presence, dignifies the simple and accommodates the complex. Years ago I stood in front of a huge Turner which was – and he wouldn’t forgive me, just awful.  Bad composition, awkward figures, broccoli like trees, clumsy narrative, yet because it was the size of a small house it was compelling.

Palestrina - Composition 1828, exhibited 1830 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

Palestrina by Turner. At this size it looks awful, but in the flesh it’s an overwhelming presence.

Now i know it doesn’t have to be like this, because Jane and I went see Kandinsky to Van Gogh, back around ’09 from memory. It was a show about post expressionism really, the ‘now what do we do’ bit once artists realised that classical painting wasn’t the way to go, and Impressionism was as fleeting as its name would suggest.

An impressive show, with lots to see from Whistler to Mondrian, lots of northern expressionists whose names my keyboard can’t do justice to (too much of this Ö malarky and this Ä nonsense)  and even a Da Volpedo, looking awkwardly Seurat like in the corner. But the real star of the show was the eponymous Van Gogh, and reader, it was the size of a small paperback. But (again!), it just glowed. Yes, it might have been small, but it fizzled with energy, creativity and colour.


Tiny but it stole the show. Van Gogh the Sower, and as it turns out my motivation to do better.

So a benchmark, and in the world of struggling with one’s personal creativity or lack thereof, benchmarks are good things. When the small ones are half as compelling as Van Gogh’s The Sower I’ll be a happier man, and post a few up.

In the interim, we signed off the launch of Beyond Here today,  It will be at Tennants of Leyburn (very accessible from the A1, and on the edge of the Dales near my studio), on the 24th of October, but I very much hope you’ll join me for the my talk (and quite possibly paint and talk) about the show on the afternoon of Saturday the 27th 2pm – 4pm.

I confidently expect to present works – both big and small – which will do my feelings for this astonishing bit of Britain justice. See you there, I’ll be by the small picture in the middle of the big wall.



To Begin at the Beginning

I’m spending a bit of recreational time pulling out and dusting off old bits of Art and Art History from what passes from my memory and education . Why? Because the govt. has decreed that the study of Art as a subject, is pointless and I respectfully disagree.

Art it seems is old hat, worthless in this age of digitisation. As a counter view, I’d like to suggest that digitisation means we need fewer people who can do sums and a more who can evaluate and think of the next original widget; an eccentric view I grant you, but there it is.

Art is about thinking, and therefore should be relevant. Alas even Art colleges have consigned traditional art to the dustbin.

Despite that and then, this time – really old – and therefore presumably really worthless art.

Now you won’t generally find this piece, or anything of its ilk,  in an art gallery, but then again you will find influences of it everywhere after Picasso. I’m alluding to neolithic and primitive art of course.

You see Primitive art wasn’t really considered art at all, at least not with a capital A, more like anthropology I suppose, but as Picasso pointed out, and then went on to demonstrate the ‘idea of primitive in Art is an illusion.’ Or to put it another way, there is no link between chronology and progress in the visual arts.

The Victorians of course saw it otherwise, Giotto was ‘better’ than his master Cimabue, and by the same token Rembrandt would be ‘better’ than Titian I suppose, but ‘worse’ than Constable. Which makes me or you better than Turner…See what I mean?

Chronological progress in art is clearly nonsense. I’ll add that to my list of reasons to dislike the Victorians.

Now, if you accept that old can be the next new thing this gets really interesting, because there are tens of thousands of years of great visual ideas out there just waiting for you to pick them up, and make of them what you will. And of course, we needn’t restrict ourselves to Western European Art , Africa, Asia, Oceana, The First Nations of the Americas , these were all – could only ever have been – visual cultures.

The piece I’ve chosen for this chat is one of my favourites, The Venus of Willendorf, thought to be some kind of fertility figure. Goddess? Shamanistic Item? Ornament?   Scholars argue pointlessly about these things, but one thing’s for certain it’s definitely supposed to look female.

No, in fact I’ll rephrase that it’s Female with a capital F: pendulous breasts, pregnant belly, prominent vulva, childbearing hips; this is absolute visual clarity. Nothing in this image is superfluous, and in the visual arts, that in itself is rare.



It’s very instructive to compare the Venus of Willendorf with other depictions of women. Here’s a famous one, The Mona Lisa.


Now ask yourself which is the better visual depiction of women? The Mona Lisa has more fame, it’s arguably a more technical image to create, it’s definitely more nuanced in its composition, paletisation and so forth. But do those things really matter, or is the essential femininity of these subjects the key thing?

Tricky isn’t it?  Or rather it isn’t. The Venus is clearly and far more obviously female, in fact many have argued that the Mona Lisa (and all of Da Vinci’s women for that mater), is very androgynous.

The big idea here is this: Prototype Form. That is to say the perfect visual representation of not an instance of woman such as Botticelli’s Venus, or Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. but all Women.

Da vinci and Boticelli painted instances of men’s ideas of women in their time, the creator of the Venus depicted the essential nature of all women, in all ages on all continents, for ever. Quite an accomplishment.

I’m no expert, but the Venus is the same thinking behind the famous analogy of Plato’s Cave.Here’s the entry from Wikipedia:

The Allegory of the Cave, or Plato’s Cave, was presented by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work Republic (514a–520a) to compare “the effect of education (παιδεία) and the lack of it on our nature“. It is written as a dialogue between Plato’s brother Glaucon and his mentor Socrates, narrated by the latter. The allegory is presented after the analogy of the sun (508b–509c) and the analogy of the divided line (509d–511e). All three are characterized in relation to dialectic at the end of Books VII and VIII (531d–534e).

Plato has Socrates describe a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality. Socrates explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not reality at all, for he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the manufactured reality that is the shadows seen by the prisoners. The inmates of this place do not even desire to leave their prison; for they know no better life. The prisoners manage to break their bonds one day, and discover that their reality was not what they thought it was. They discovered the sun, which Plato uses as an analogy for the fire that man cannot see behind. Like the fire that cast light on the walls of the cave, the human condition is forever bound to the impressions that are received through the senses. Even if these interpretations (or, in Kantian terminology, intuitions) are an absurd misrepresentation of reality, we cannot somehow break free from the bonds of our human condition – we cannot free ourselves from phenomenal state just as the prisoners could not free themselves from their chains. If, however, we were to miraculously escape our bondage, we would find a world that we could not understand – the sun is incomprehensible for someone who has never seen it. In other words, we would encounter another “realm,” a place incomprehensible because, theoretically, it is the source of a higher reality than the one we have always known; it is the realm of pure Form, pure fact.[1]

When Picasso started his affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, he saw her as the very embodiment of a Young Woman. Beautiful, vital, sensual, feminine. His study of her in a red armchair reveals his absolute mastery of the Primitive.

Nude Woman in a Red Armchair 1932 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

This work belongs to the remarkable sequence of portraits that Picasso made of Marie-Thérèse Walter at his country property at Boisgeloup. Marie-Thérèse is presented here – as in most of her portraits – as a series of sensuous curves. Even the scrolling arms of the chair have been heightened and exaggerated to echo the rounded forms of her body. The face is a double or metamorphic image: the right side can also be seen as the face of a lover in profile, kissing her on the lips.

By thinking about prototypes, and being beyond instances (shadows as plato would have them),  we can strip away all of the extraneous, unnecessary and distracting details, and visualise things as as they really are, and then as we wish them to be.

Using this type of thinking we could for instance redesign the health service to suit our current needs rather than political pre-conceptions, , re-imagine transport in this age of home working, reconsider the role of family units. Strip away the tradition, do away with the sacred cow of what we’ve always done before, and you get a clean sheet to work from.

Now that seems to me to be just the kind of thinking we need if we are going to be innovators not imitators. As Steve jobs remarked, innovators are the curious, the thinkers, the ones who immerse themselves in great ideas.

“Ultimately, it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done and then try to bring those things into what you’re doing. Picasso had a saying: good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas, and I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians and poets and artists and zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.”

I’m off to step outside of my cave…

Embracing change means forgetting progress…

Kandinsky, so the story goes , had been walking around the countryside near his studio at Murnau. Lost in thought, he happened to glance the most beautiful and beguiling painting had ever seen as he returned home. Shaken from his meditative state, he realises that the work is his – but not as he had intended it to be seen; leant against the studio wall, on its side in the shadows, Kandinsky’s picture cannot be seen in detail, but only as an abstract impression of a scene.

The lesson? Don’t chase reality by copying it, paint what you feel to be real; the underlying meaning of a motif is everything, it’s details are meaningless. He got this wrong in the early 1900’s when he was still wedded to the idea of the painters as an inefficient camera.


1901 landscape. oh dear.This is a painting about this view.

kandinsky murnau 1908

1908. Out with detail and realism, in with the big picture. Quite a leap, this is a painting about this painting.

I read an account of Kandinsky’s epiphany again yesterday, and it’s wonderful how these things always seem to happen when one most needs them. But then, maybe I was looking for answers, after all we notice car adverts when we are looking to change our car.

So not lucky, receptive.

Art History again, this time explaining how that sometimes, if you can’t work out the answer, that you should change the question.

He went on from there of course, and to very great heights, but for me an early Kandinsky is a good Kandinsky, later on it all got a bit , well, self indulgent. I’m off for a meditative stroll…


Effortless Grace

I’m as jaded of writing about my work as , no doubt, dear reader you are of hearing of it. Luckily the govt. has come to the rescue. Their bright idea? Art History is off the educational agenda.

As a small country with a high cost of living and a track record of innovation, I’m  bewildered at the plan to kick creative education into the long grass, in favour of some ‘proper’ subjects which train lots of people to think in the same way,  as the Chinese (1.35 billion of them, or roughly 20 percent of the world’s population), but there it is…

When the world’s leading innovators can’t see more than a couple of years ahead on the technology curve, which genius decided that what we really need ten, twenty of thirty years down the line is people who have never been exposed to creative subjects.

Madness, but there it is. Will the last one to leave the real world please turn the lights off?

I can’t fix it, but maybe some greater minds can. So a short and irregular series about why Art History matters, seems in order.  It seems to make a big difference to my students; art informs, it educates, offers different views, windows to the past, reasons for the present and it runs through our culture down to the roots. Everything we print, put on a screen, build or design is just the next part of our visual culture.

If we don’t know what we have, how can we imagine what we might create next?

I’m not giving up on my work you understand – this is just a change of air.  If you’re craving more of it , it’s being aired in public  as I speak in the Artists & Illustrators, on my website ( and for the truly dedicated at a launch in the Dales, next October (details to follow). I’ve also put a load of unpublished pictures aside for The Artist magazine, where I’ll be running a four part serialisation on creative painting projects.

So back to the big picture, to kick off I thought a little Cadell might be fun. It’s not ‘Art in the Great & Ancient sense of the word’ –  as Picasso would have it, but not all painting has to be, and Cadell never deluded himself it was.

I was lucky enough to see the first serious retrospective of Cadell’s works a couple of years ago as part of the Dean Gallery rolling program of Scottish Colourists.

I have a soft spot for Cadell, he’s always been regarded as a bit peripheral to that whole Glasgow Boy cum Scottish Colourist thing, but his work is just so wonderfully insouciant, you just have to admire his élan.

His early pieces, and the best of his later ones, look as though he could hardly be bothered to lift and load his brush, so sparse and underworked are they. Yet, there’s technique there, ability and more than that, the good sense to do more with less.

Afternoon, 1913,  is a good example; you can almost feel the ennui ; if you wanted to paint the passionless,  listless existence of the idle rich then this is how it’s done.  I love Cadell’s brushstroke, his economy with marks is as good as anything Velasquez didn’t paint.

Yes, he’s lightweight compared to Spanish Baroque painting, but – and this is the point – so was his world. Cadell offers us a mirror; should we judge him on the fact that the reflection is shallow?


Trying hard isn’t the same as being seen to work everything to death. Selectivity is the key to success and you don’t have to be the best in the world to enjoy it.






Progress – of Sorts – and an Invitation

Making choices – that’s the thing.

After over a year of looking for my show in The Dales I have two, three or possibly four. Creativity is like that, when you put the spadework in it seems as though nothing is happening, and then…

I need to think about the show and make some structural and curatorial choices, when in truth my capacity for that probably runs to red or white?

It’s been a very difficult month – the worst for decades – so I’m taking three weeks off, and not doing this now.

Nevertheless, I promised I’d post an image or two , so here they are. Everything is provisional, except my new deadline. October 2018.

Beyond Here will preview with selected works, and a talk/tour at The Garden Rooms at Tenannts of Leyburn in October 2018. Heavens knows what will be there, but it will include me (if drink and ill living don’t carry me off..)  and be at least based on these.

Enjoy, thanks for reading and have a great Christmas.

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X- Martin


Yours, bewildered of Norfolk…

I’ve had a week of it reader. It started, as it often does these days, with Facebook.

A video popped into life onto my device. On it an increasingly outraged American was denouncing modern art by comparing it to the glories of ‘proper art’, by which he meant Rodin, DaVinci, Velasquez et al.

His nationality, age and gender aren’t relevant as his views are pretty universal: Modern art is ‘the emperor’s new clothes’., ‘it’s a con’ , and when for heavens sake will we all wake up and embrace the past?

I’m not unsympathetic , some contemporary art is the stuff of landfill for me (as regular readers of my blog know). However is it reasonable to be damning of anything non representational or traditional?

In the medieval period, scholars certainly felt that mankind was staggering away from classical enlightenment into some kind of new Age of ignorance.

Good question. It bothered me, and has bothered me for years, so (unusually) having time on my hands, I’ve had a bit of an audit; only for my personal satisfaction, you understand. However if you’re interested, here’s my view.

Before we begin I have to declare an interest. I’m an artist, I’m alive (well passably so), and as far as I’m aware it’s 2017. Making me a ‘modern artist’ by default I suppose, but what’s the alternative?

Traditional art – by which critics of modern art generally mean Western European Easel Painting from Giotto (early renaissance)  to Monet (early Impressionism), encompassed and embraced  a set of increasingly complex and constraining visual ‘rules’. These rules are the ‘processes’ of classical painting, and they are largely preserved in today’s Atelier training.

The broad sweep of them was towards creating increasingly realistic depictions of what the artist had in front of him (it was generally a man of course).  So leaving aside the work of naive painters, applied artists, craftsmen and anybody working in Africa, America, Oceana or Asia, benightedly working between 1270 and 1870 or so, what does that mean to his definition of good art?

The Rules 

The linchpin of ‘good art’it seems to me is this: things should look like what they are, now that’s not to say this can’t be done with imagination, flair and all of that, but recognisable is in.


Meditation by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1885. if it looks like what it is, and it’s beautifully painted, it must be good. Right?

With this in mind, here’s how to do that:

Step 1: First of all you need Form. Painterly Form is an illusion created by value changes on a flat plane. So we need to use values to create an illusion of shapes, a linear circle is a flat disk, a gradated one is a sphere.

painted sphere

Painterly form. Look its not flat, hold on it is…A circle painted to appear spherical.

As an artist, if you want to create an illusion of form, then you’re stuck with value management: it’s the physiology of sight, not my opinion, so live with it.

Step 2: If we want those Forms to look more ‘real’ (and real is a charged word is it not for something illusory?) We must nuance those Forms by making them appear to be more realistically dimensional. We can do this with (1) opacity, with (2) temperature and with (3) edge (range) control. Which brings me neatly into perspective.

brunaille van dyck

Van Dyck,now that’s what I call range management. But it’s still a flat surface, pretending not to be….

Step 3: Atmospheric perspective (the illusion of depth in flat paintings) is created by managing range. Range is the difference between passages of paint, close it down and you loose edges, open it up and you find them.

So by methodically decreasing range as we get towards the ‘back’ of our imaginary  dimensional space we create a illusion of depth, but shouldn’t we be arranging all of these things?

Step 4: Composition is simply the trick of putting the right thing in the right place. Most traditional artists opted not to innovate (they had enough to do with values, opacity, temperature, range management and all that), and use a template, and why not?

Divine proportion is another set of rules, which allows us to get it right. Not for you? Then other systems exist, asymmetric Baroque template anyone?


I love an interesting diagonal eye path, don’t you? A flat bit of canvas pretending to be a stag in Scotland, by Landseer

Landmark or Landfill?

Just so we’re clear to create a truly good and realistic piece of painting – and I’m leaving aside optical sequencing, ground management, rheology and the credit of using various media here – we have to:

(1(Use Value to create an illusion of Form, (2) nuance that with opacity, temperature, and saturation to manage the range and (3) obey the rules of illusory atmospheric perspective, and (4-6, I suppose) we should choose to use  one, two or three point linear perspective.

Gosh. That’s a lot of rules before I get to think for myself.

Now, speaking as a painter who can do this, I have to tell you that it’s pretty restrictive. And if we’re doing it right by using sequencing, couching, colour management , value keys and ranges (chiaruscuro anyone?), then there’s not a lot of creative latitude.

Spend a decade or so learning it, and the process will allow you to turn out respectable paintings every time, but here’s the thing; like any process it creates rather processed products.

You can walk through the rooms of any National Gallery you choose to mention and see exactly what I mean: row after row of paintings by unique individuals who have produced works which are essentially, largely, fundamentally similar.


By the numbers, perfect technical painting. Learn how to replicate this, and you’ll be at the top of your game. Well in a technical sense.

Now try that same exercise at a gallery such as the Tate Modern, you might not like what you see, but heavens, it won’t be homogenous.

Weeping Woman 1937 by Pablo Picasso 1881-1973

A flat painting not wasting time pretending to be real, but focussing on visual communication instead.  Weeping Woman by Pablo Picasso. You won’t learn much about technique by copying this, but then that’s the point. We’ve gone beyond the constraints of craft. And I bet most people would know that this is Picasso, but wouldn’t have known the artist of the image above. Original Creative vision or reductive creative homogeneity, you decide what you prefer.

What separates great traditional artists from the ‘also rans’ is either truly breathtaking studio craft, (Ingres, Van Eyck), original vision (El Greco), or both (Turner). It’s the ones who broke the rules that are now the pantheon of great artists, not those who played safely within them.

I don’t see modern art as a break with the past, but a logical refinement of it.

Paris Musee D'Orsay Vincent van Gogh 1889 Self Portrait 2 Close Up

What if feels like to have a chaotic unquiet mind and a moment of crisis. There’s no quietude in Van Gogh or his work.

Emin Unmade Bed

What if feels like to have a chaotic unquiet mind and a moment of crisis. There’s no quietude in Emin’s Unmade Bed. Just as good, for my money as the Van Gogh.

All of the great practitioners from Monet to Doig are standing on the shoulders of giants.  Richer’s works might be contemporary, but Titian would have understood his technique very well

Similarly Rothko is nothing if not, the direct heir to Rembrandt’s innovative use of optical sequencing. To understand late Turner, is to understand Pollock, and so it goes.

No what the problem here I think isn’t a new barbarism amongst artists, but popularist philistinism amongst viewers.

Now before the lynch mob come for me, remember that my central criticism of most contemporary art (see my previous posts),  is that some artists don’t try hard enough to include and engage their general viewers.  Addressing some self proclaimed aesthetic elite isn’t enough; it really won’t do. Artists should reflect on the fact that art is visual communication, not verbal obfuscation, yet the degree to which many try to hide lukewarm ideas and execrable technique belong a veneer of learning is absurd. So absurd in fact you can visit and get started as a contemporary artist; well in words at least.

Satire is just a word for uncomfortable truth, but the joke wears thin when it provides ammunition for those who would damn all contemporary art as pompous, elitist and inexplicable.

Faced with such nonsense, I to become a red faced philistine, ready to dismiss elitist art as nonsense. Nevertheless,we have an obligation to meet artists halfway, if we wish to exert our right to be publicly critical.


Sir Nicholas Serota famously remarked he felt no compulsion to help the common man understand contemporary art, when replying to criticism of his oversight of the Turner Prize. He should have.

Art is supposed to be an alternative, view, it should surprise, it should open our minds, it will by definition be challenging.

But before we pass judgement on any art, let’s consider this; are we praising artistic skill, or creative vision? Is the craft of art itself enough to make a work ‘good’? Is vision without skill valid?

My view? We need both – I want creative visions, executed with technical skill, is it really too much to ask to hope for a middle ground. Is it really Ateliers in the technical corner vs. Art Schools in the conceptual one? I think as art tutors and practitioners we can be better than that, I really do.

Learn the craft of painting, embrace the art of creative self expression, and above all communicate. It’s not a bad rule is it?








Of the dust of the ground

Time moves on.

For me it sometimes races as fast as lightning, them slows soft and redolent, dropping like honey from my day.  Sundays are my slow day and they seem to last longer, and taste better on the tongue than all of the frantic week put together.

All of this is my way off saying that I finally have my new project. I have The Dales.

Simplicity is so simple in retrospect. I now realise that my theme is time.

A landscape in flux

The Dales landscape is a reflection of the passage of time, it erodes, washed away with every storm, runs down every cascading moorland stream, and accretes, silently in the darkness of caves under the hills.  These things I know, and I can see, but cannot truly grasp – geological time is beyond the power of my years to comprehend.

My people

The Dales is a landscape in flux, but to see it’s people, to hear the familiar accent of home, to be amongst their fore square surety, solidity and stolidity. Hard nosed, cold shouldered, rough handed warm and generous. Amongst them time flexes and I am no longer the middle aged man who left the North for the promise of the South and ended up in the East.  No longer lost, I am home, as though I had never left.  Half of my life – and more – blinks out of mind. When I travel north it is back in time.

A Secular cathedral

We preserve the Dales against the march of progress, not as a museum but a sanctuary.

The tourists; they are time travellers too. You see them everywhere looking for the time they have lost to that sensible job, the unpaid overtime, the unfulfilling day which races end over end to two weeks all inclusive in the sun.

The Dales is an antidote to all of that, a door to the Self. a place to Be, precisely because it’s not the place to be.  Apart, alone, aloof it is everything modern life isn’t.  In the Dales we receive time for ourselves.

Charles Saumarez Smith asked if, ‘galleries weren’t providing something the church once did?‘ I now know that the Dales are. To understand our need for space, and time and quietude is to understand that it’s not so much a National Park but a secular cathedral for our Age.

So the strands come together. The landscape. My past. Our present and our future.

Beyond Here then will be a show about these things. A landscape of memory, but also of dreams, of coming home, of belonging.

I’ll not write about this again my words have turned at last to pictures.


© Martin Kinnear 2017. October, the drive to Hawes and back again. Oil and mixed media 92x48

© Martin Kinnear 2017. October, the drive to Hawes and back again. Oil and mixed media 92×48




Reader, I’m in Love.

I fell in love with a dead German this week.  How could I not swoon when I read this?:

 “I’m a painter,” he said, “and I nail my pictures together.”

Kurt Schwitters, of course, who made ‘Merz’ assemblages that are simply painting by other means.


‘I nail my paintings together’, I love that.

I just love that quote, it speaks about the creative process, a personal vision, conviction and giving rather less than a damn about how things should be done.

Breaking the rules, is the only way to make new ones, and while that seems obvious, its amazing how many ‘creative’ artists feel compelled to work within rules. It’s small  minded, it’s self defeating, it’s stupid.

Creativity if it’s to be about anything, has to be – can only ever be – about insight, innovation and change. We don’t suddenly wake up more creative – we choose to be invested in it; it’s a state of mind.

So, on to my habitual bête noire, Received painting styes.

It’s front of mind, because I’m leading the final trimester of my diploma this week on creative development, rather than cranking out paintings in a received style.

Received style?

I mean painting,  in the words of Constable, ‘like other men’. That’s all very well when one’s learning to paint , after all we all learn by imitation. No, I become exercised when imitation becomes the aim of the game.

turner dutch boats in a gale

Turner’s Dutch Boats in A Gale, or is it Van De Velde?


No, this is Van De Velde. Turner ‘received’ his style, it’s not wrong if it’s a direction of travel rather than a destination.

Most art societies, most ateliers, most artists do this to themselves, fitting in is a self inflicted wound.

Here’s a thought. Pick a hundred, or a thousand atelier students , who’ve spent three to five years learning how to draw sight size, model Form classically, and paint with a Zorn style palette of three to five chosen pigments.  At this point they can use paint beautifully draw flawlessly and truly understand painterly Form. But – and this a big reservation – having that same input is going to affect the output.

So, put those 100 works in a room – do we see the hand, the eye, the creative intelligence, the original insight of a hundred living, breathing, feeling individuals? Does the work on show speak of their personal ideas, dreams, goals visions, creativity? Nope….

We’ll see variance of course, brushwork is like handwriting, and the more diligent students might have more accurate drawings, but processes create homogeneity; how could it be otherwise? Process was the name of the game when painting was an industry, a contract entered into, a product made.

But since the Big Bang of Impressionism, process has become the elephant in the room. Too little (‘go on just be creative’), and you’re painting without craft. too much and the craft eclipses the Art.  We need process, but we must learn the mantra ‘its a good servant, but a bad master’.

brunaille van dyck

Van Dyck, flawless technique is all about process but what happens next? You can learn to do this, many do, but first ask yourself why? To what end?  Have a plan that’s bigger than your skills, that’s all I ask.

When you think of it , my above definition of the personal creativity of 100 students,  isn’t a bad summary of why each and every one of those talented individuals got into art in the first place. Replace that passion and potential with process and how many will have the vision and clarity and purpose of Schwitters? It’s tragic, it’s unnecessary and it’s all too common.

The end game of formal training – be it to alter style or more broadly, as in my courses, to teach the craft of Art, has to be borne in mind.

While art must be craft, craft in itself cannot become Art.  To paraphrase Churchill, receiving and understanding formal skills training isn’t the end game or even the beginning of the end, but it may be the end of the beginning.

Buttermere and Crummock Water. Oil 30x40%22 205 by Martin Kinnear

Buttermere: The ‘end of my beginning’, but that’s all it is.

Once you know how paint works, you must turn yourself to deciding how it should be used by you: and that alone is what will make you unique.

I’ve no ‘right’ to say this, I’ve got no degree, I neither hold nor look for approval or accreditation from any art society , and I’ll swim through blood before I let anybody impose their rules on me or mine.


The chaos that’s my studio – but – and here’s a comforting thought, there’s no other studio like it, because it’s my vision, and there’s only one of me…

Rant over, don’t blame me, see Schwitters.



Back on Solid Ground

It all boils down to reality doesn’t it?

Regular readers of this occasional blog (to whom I extend both my incredulity and gratitude), may recall that I have been grappling with Cezanne, or more specifically his ideas about Art.


Cezanne at his best – well for me at least – a French student of mine who grew up with the view says that it doesn’t look like that. He’d be pleased I suspect

Now I’m not an academic – I have no interest for instance in when he was born, worked, died, whom he married or any of that guff. Like any self respecting artist I simply wish to steal his best ideas.

Picasso would approve.

So what were Cezanne’s ideas?

Where to start… my favourite is the idea of temporality and mutability. So in essence Cezanne postulates that we simply don’t experience things in the way that a traditionally composed painting – or a photograph for that matter – suggests.  A stiff, fixed, perspectival view is all very well; but it’s hardly experiential.

We see and experience things temporally, and more than that we know more about a motif than we see when we look at it (I’m straying a little beyond Cezanne here).  Cezanne was non conventional in his use of perspective, because he knew that the ‘proper’ way of painting it made little sense if the point of painting, was to record how something looked to him.

So in comes a willingness, if not to abstract, then to create visual ambiguity. The aim? To make something look how it felt to see it, not how it was.  I like that, and it’s a keeper.


looking into Gordale, A natural cathedral or citadel of limestone.My attempt in the woods of Bacon – to ‘deepen the mystery’ Work in progress 48×60″

Take this to its logical conclusion – and Braque did – we get multiple simultaneous perspective. Take that on and it’s a short step to Abstraction (with an A, not an a). Cezanne didn’t take these steps because he never lost his wonder at the power of great, significant Art.

So what makes Art significant? My reading is that a work of Art has to have gravitas, visual power and for want of a better word ‘orchestration’.  A Poussin for instance oozes all of that. Cezanne’s works might be unconventional in his use of perspective but they reveal his respect for the Form.

His compositions and colours are  never glib, but sober, dignified, significant. Never stooping – as I have shamefully done – to zombie expressionism , he built his works so that each passage builds with and upon the next to become a greater whole.

It’s hard to grasp, and contradictory to his ideas of non fixed perspective (but then all great artists are contradictory). So by following the principle of orchestration we can reimagine a scene as having Macro and Micro passages;  colours for instance, but this might apply to value, temperature, opacity or any other range parameter we choose.

In simplistic colour terms a simple Cezannian (if I might coin that phrase) landscape might be divided into blue for the sky, and green for the ground – so two Macro areas. Within those we want lots of close interest, a symphony of blue green, blue, blue violet, (in various permutations of value, opacity or saturation), and then the same again for the greens.

Fill the Macro areas with those smaller marks and it becomes more visually interesting. Put the right small marks together in the right order and you have Micro colour planning  and that’s symphonic if you get it right. Cezanne did.

It’s not glibly sloshing paint about, it’s not regurgitating photographic detail, it’s looking at a very ordinary scene and elevating it by being selective, being rigorous and using aesthetic judgments, which when you come to think about it isn’t a bad definition of Art.

Another keeper. I was starting to like Cezanne.

Next a surprise. Cezanne was distinctly sniffy about Impressionism. Not that it wasn’t good or attractive  painting  – it could be both of those  – but for him Art (note the A) couldn’t be about something so ephemeral as a flash of light or a vagary of weather. By its very nature Impressionism was about visual effects not observed truths.


It’s an instance, but not Truth. Or so Cezanne would have me think. The peerless work of Monet.

A tough one for me , wedded as I am, to the ambiguous effects of wax and glaze. Could it be possible for me to view the Dales  as an opportunity for great Art rather than a theatre for transient light effects?

I’m struggling with that one, because I’ve never been stopped dead in my tracks by what Cezanne terms great Art. Poussin? It might be dignified, significant, cadenced and all that give me a ravishing Turner any day.

Now a confession. I stumbled across a show of Cezanne’s greatest works one day in London. I hadn’t expected to see them ( I was there for my hit of Turner and Rembrandt in those days), but I had the good sense to take the opportunity.  Well reader, I was underwhelmed.

To my untrained eye they looked a bit drab, a bit blocky a bit like poor Cubism. I certainly didn’t feel any urge to spend time with them.  I know. But – and this is important – I’ve never forgotten that I didn’t get it.

But, back to reality.  So we’re moving on from fixed perspective, the certainty of observation and all that implies. We’re also thinking about the work in terms of orchestration which demands we never loose sight of aesthetics and visual design.

So, progress, but not victory. I’ll leave you this time with some works in progress.  Here are the Dales, solid, structural, foursquare and honestly painted. It’s not great Art, but then it’s not a pastiche, a painted photo , a bit of zombie expressionism (see my previous blog  post), or another of my long running tributes to Turner. If nothing else my understanding of reality has shifted.

For the time being I offer you a few as yet untitled and unfinished works.


Spare and majestic but divided architecturally by dry stone walls and enclosures. Work in progress 48×60″

It’s been a good week.


New starts and false finishes

IMG_3667 2

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…