I’ve been working on a series of paintings based on the Seven Deadly Sins for some years now.  The project began as an idea to put a show together with two photographers I know, and this was the theme we eventually decided to use to tie our work together, however loosely.  At that time I had begun painting a lot of fruit, mostly falling through or floating in dramatic skies, and one of the photographers teased me about using fruit for the Sins paintings.  We all laughed but I took it pretty seriously and in fact that is what I did:  interpreted the 7 Deadlies using fruit.

The series is still not entirely finished, as I keep showing and selling pieces of it, and in one commission painted all Seven for a client.  So I have and I haven’t finished it… one day I would like to have seven large canvases (possibly more) and set up a show in one of the many dungeon-like venues around here.  I would also like to include some multi-media pieces in this show, possibly some type of installation, definitely music and film, some interactive stuff.  The whole event just keeps growing in my mind, as these things do.

Many artists have used these themes in their work, from Bosch to William Burroughs.

Seven Deadly Sins, Bosch

The idea of “sin”:  the forbidden, the outlaw, the dark side, appeals to artists in every medium, possibly because we crawl around in the underbelly of society a great deal.  I have read that the reason these Seven were defined as Capital or Mortal sins is because each one can lead to other sins or vices–they’re sins as well as sin-generators.  This is certainly true of Greed, which can lead to Envy and Lust and of course Pride.  They’re all linked in a sort of narcissistic web of asocial behaviour patterns, and at the same time each is deliciously tempting.  Dante’s Inferno is probably the most comprehensive poetic document describing these Seven and their mind-boggling punishments in Hell, and is well worth a read.

I may write more about the intellectual/emotional side of this exercise at a later date, but for the moment here are the paintings I did on commission.  They’re all oil on paper, more in the nature of studies than final works;  Anger in particular I have very different ideas about now, but that’s why we do “studies”, after all.

Greed (yum yum) © B. Sutton

Lust © B. Sutton

Gluttony © B. Sutton

Anger/Wrath © B. Sutton

Pride © B. Sutton

Sloth ©B. Sutton

 

Envy (in the morning) © B. Sutton

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invisible beauty

12/07/2011

My lovely niece shared an article the other day from the UK’s Daily Telegraph about grains of sand.  A photographer has documented these amazing miniscule fragments that we see so often–we walk and lie on them, we run them through our fingers, we use them in our gardens, we shake them out of our shoes–all the while we don’t realise how utterly gorgeous they are, tiny documents of time and life.  I’ve nicked a couple of images to show what I’m talking about (below);  they are reminiscent of paintings I’ve done in my fossil series (though much more colourful), and when I saw these I was entranced and inspired.  I hope you are, too.

grains of sand

print this

12/07/2011

My dear friend Sam Garriott visited us in May and, while our time together was short, we did manage to have some fairly epic conversations about art and, in particular, colour.  Sam is a book artist, as well as a “tiny artist”;  she makes one-off books of marvellous intricacy, both in form and content.  In order to support this nefarious habit, she works as a colour specialist in high-quality printing, so our wine-fueled talks inevitably wandered to the language of colour.

One thing we discovered that we both do is habitually parse the world around us into its various colour combinations;  me with the standard oil paint colours and Sam with the colour combinations she uses in her printing work, as well as paint colours.  It becomes almost a tic, you might say, one I’m certain is shared by other artists who work with colour.  For example, I look at a gorgeous sunset with light-limned clouds and while part of my mind is reacting to the utter fugitive beauty of the moment, another part of my mind is thinking “cadmium yellow light mixed with alizarin crimson, titanium white, just a touch, possibly a wee dollop of naples yellow for that sky area” and so on.

I imagine every trade changes the way one looks at the world, creating deeper dimensions within things that others take at face value.

cyan

magenta

yellow

concept or object?

23/02/2011

I decided recently to do some reading about conceptual art, because I see the term applied in so many different ways.  I used it myself recently to describe some of Griggio’s work (his containers), and although it was a correct descriptor, I realised I didn’t understand the term to my full satisfaction.

So I started rummaging around on the internet in an attempt to correct this inadequacy, and found a modicum of enlightenment along with an even larger number of questions.

Basically, “conceptual” is an approach to “art” that believes art is of the mind rather than the perceiving senses–the art-ist (hyphen intended) is a thinker engaged in a process that supercedes the making of objects.  Conceptual art replaces the illustrative or representational with the semantic:  the thoughts and knowledge used in creation are of greater consequence than a finished “product”.

One and three chairs, J. Kosuth, 1965

Conceptualists reject the materialist, consumerist approach of traditional art–ie, using various media to produce a “focus of appreciation”–in favour of the reflective process itself as the act of creation.

In the words of early conceptualist Sol LeWitt, “(when) an artist uses a conceptual form in art, it means all the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair”.

The roots of conceptualism trace back to the Dadaist movement and artists like Merrett Oppenheim, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp, who declared that any object imbued as such becomes art.  Duchamp’s famous urinal is the icon, if you like, of this belief.  Conceptual art is also closely allied to Minimalism and New Minimalism, but I’ll let you look those up yourself.

This is all quite interesting, and certain sectors of my brainpan go all fizzy just thinking about it.  But as a working painter whose activity is, in effect, nullified by the precepts of conceptualism, I find myself rejecting a lot of these notions–and not just out of fear of redundancy.

photo by Keith Arnatt

So:  if the idea of and knowledge about a proposed work of art are the art itself, then why ever show your work?  Doesn’t the belief that every thought, person, event or process is “art” render the category of art itself moot?  Isn’t this more of a philosophy than a taxonomy of artistic creation?

And yet conceptual artists do make things–they exhibit and sell their work, they hire themselves out, sometimes for staggering amounts of money, they win prizes for their efforts.

Many working artists I know operate to a certain extent on instinct–the kind of instinct that is enhanced and reinforced by training and experience, but also an impulse toward understanding through representation.  The need, desire, and ability to do this is what leads them to become artists rather than, say, bricklayers or insurance salesmen.  Intellect is a tool in the process rather than the goal of the process.

Theory has nothing to do with a work of art.  Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures.  A picture presents itself as the Unmanageable, the Illogical, the Meaningless.  It demonstrates the endless multiplicity of aspects;  it takes away our certainty, because it deprives a thing of its meaning and name.  It shows us the thing in all the manifold significance and infinite variety that preclude the emergence of any single meaning and view”.  Gerhard Richter, 1964

I’m with Gerhard on this one… while I appreciate the conceptual approach as a purely intellectual conundrum, making art is, to me, a physical act that gives substance to a concept, an idea, an analogy, and in the process heightens our perceptions.  I don’t believe that this part can be skipped over and rejected as “consumerist”.  The ideas, the knowledge, the technique and the execution are all essential parts of the whole.

Could conceptualism be used as a dodge by unscrupulous individuals who like the idea of “being an artist” but aren’t willing or able to put in the time and considerable effort it takes to actually learn the trade?  I’ll let you answer that one.  What is it about art that fosters these kinds of movements, anyway?  How seriously do you think anyone would take a conceptual bricklayer:  my idea of the wall is more important than the building of it?  Is it the sheer subjectivity of art that allows such pretensions?  Do you ever hear anyone say “I don’t know anything about nursing, but I know what I like”?

What do you think?

influence

31/01/2011

People who come to my shows often compare my work to that of other (much more well-known) painters. This can sometimes be annoying, but in my more generous moments I accept that it helps them as observers to place my work into a familiar context, one that is already assimilated into their cultural landscape. What can be annoying about it is that it keeps them from working very hard.

talk to me

The painters I am most often compared to are Georgia O’Keefe; René Magritte; Frida Kahlo (the fruity bits); occasionally Dali (nose-crinkle); and once, oddly, di Chirico.

All of these are certainly influential painters whose work I have studied and returned to again and again (except Dali, whose mastery I respect but whose later self-referential hubris I find mildly repellent). No artist works in a vacuum—we are all a small moment in the long human history of reinterpreting the world through visual expression. When I say “influence” I don’t mean that artists try to copy the painters they most admire, but rather they possess a shared perception that emerges in their work.

Other painters I would cite as influences include Jan Vermeer and Edward Hopper, masters of light; Raphael; Goya; Caravaggio; and the great Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

self-portrait, Archimboldo

Every artist I know has, in addition, influences particular to their own individual lives: almost every single one can name an art teacher who fanned the spark early and made it burn. Personally I would have to include my mother, who always brought paper home from work for us to draw on; my father, who taught me shadow and light; my sisters, with whom I would play endless games of “I Vote For”*, and a book my parents had called something like The Great Paintings, which we pored over for hours.

The 4 Seasons

Other influences: light coming through a window onto just-picked tomatoes;

ma cuisine ©

a sky full of blundering clouds;

trees set on fire by the sunset;

the rock formations and ancient dolmens of this area;

things I read and study, in particular mythology and anthropology;

outer and inner space.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

*I Vote For was a game we invented where each kid makes a list of things to draw, then all the players draw them in turn. At the end of each drawing we voted for the one we liked best. OK a bit competitive but it did make you strive.

detail, Autumn Sky ©

desire path

26/01/2011

path to a magic well, Cornwall

I was looking out at the garden yesterday, at the paths the dogs have made through the winter grass. Landscape architects call these “desire paths”; other people would call them short-cuts. Landscapers find that no matter where they place paths and walkways, people will always make their own based on the shortest trajectory or other factors.

I like to think about all the desire paths being made in defiance of the structures in place.

painters and poets

21/01/2011

manfredi fragment

I got inspired this morning reading about the 60th anniversary show at the Tibor de Nagy gallery:  Tibor de Nagy Painters and Poets.

Beginning in 1950, this small and unusual gallery brought painters and poets together on various collaborations, and produced a line of books combining the two.

Any poets out there want to work with me?  Some paintings are visual poems.

My mind is racing.

rendering

19/01/2011

I read this the other day from Joseph Campbell:

“Their task (creative artists) therefore, is to communicate directly from one inward world to another, in such a way that any shock of experience will have been rendered: not a mere statement for the information or persuasion of a brain, but an effective communication across the void of space and time from one centre of consciousness to another”.

The more I read this, the more I like it. It brings me back to the pressure cooker idea (rendering), and also the reason many artists paint (or sculpt, or whatever). We see something in the world around us–a moment, an object, a patch of light–and feel a desire to communicate it, to interpret it and share that interpretation. We spend our lives learning the techniques we need to know in order to communicate more effectively what the inner eye has perceived. In the process we either add to or strip away layers of that thing until it is close to what we have seen. Then we try to show it to others, give it to them–and not just to their eye, but their “centre of consciousness”.

The best work hits the observer in the gut and speaks some kind of truth to them.

Many of the painters I know tend to stick to one subject for awhile and paint the hell out of it–I was at Serge Griggio‘s studio last week and his new series is a lot of paintings of the same prie-dieu (for the non-religious, that’s a low chair you kneel and pray on). The prie-dieu in question was sitting in the middle of his studio, its red velvet taped over with cardboard so that only the basic form was revealed. Written on the cardboard was a quote from Liebnitz: “why is there something rather than nothing? pourquoi il y a quelque chose plutôt que rien?”

Serge is struggling with the “something-ness” of these objects, and how to communicate that.  Ceci n’est pas un prie-dieu.  Et ces ne sont pas des fruits.

falling fruit © bjs

winter green

16/01/2011

I was walking the dogs through a little wood up the road from our house, and was struck by all the new shades of green that emerge from winter’s palette. In this semi-arid climate, mosses are almost non-existent in the warmer months, but in the relative damp of winter a soft carpet emerges beneath the trees and fills the eye.

moss in the woods

I squatted down in the wood and looked more closely. In addition to the hardy scrubby moss that lasts most of the year, a lush mattress of bright green and ochre has grown along the path and over the rocks and fallen branches. This is interwoven with a lacy silvery-green growth that serves to enhance the acidic colours of the new moss. I put my hand onto a bed of this moss and felt the luxury of its cushion, several centimetres deep. I wanted to lie down there like a woodland creature and watch the branches overhead move in the wind.

People who live here decry the winter; they say things like “making it through” as if great suffering is required. True, winter is a lot of hard work for most of us (don’t worry, we’re not going to have the Firewood Conversation) and we don’t have the unifying plague of tourists to both nourish and outrage; our gardens are stilled, our trees dormant, all of our visitors have gone home.

olive trees in winter

The vineyards are in stasis and the hard work of trimming is underway, exposing the twisted, silvery-black stumps of the vines and the red earth, the white rocks.

The warmer months are a riot of colour here: the bright new green of the vines in the Spring, the lush deep leafiness of summer, the wild persian patchwork of autumn. But it is in winter that the colours reflect more truly the spirit of this landscape–the transient growths have fallen away to reveal the earth, the trees, the grasses in their essential state. Soft greys and tans and silvers overtake the view; new greens and yellows of lichen and moss emerge; the slant of the sun pierces with greater clarity.

colleagues

13/01/2011

I met a really interesting artist yesterday, in his studio in Narbonne.  He’s in this neighborhood that’s an eclectic mix of modern, old, and very very old.  His studio has a stone arch in it that must date back at least 300 years;  if that were my studio I would just stare at that arch all the time.

the same, but different

Anyway this guy is a painter, and once we got talking he asked my other friend “Do you ever get that feeling like, why should I paint any more… there are thousands of paintings out there, millions, why should I keep producing these things” and my friend said, “no, not really” but I was thinking, whoh–I get that feeling sometimes!  It was a wee thrill for me that someone had the same moments of despair as I do about this work, the same questions.  Not because I wish despair on anyone, but because it made my questions somehow more valid.

This mostly made me realise I have to hang out with artists more… it’s a very solitary life and we need colleagues to bounce these kinds of things around with.  It is also incredibly inspiring to wander around in someone else’s workspace, and read their work in all the little things they surround themselves with.  We both have the skull of a wild boar, for example, tho mine has tusks.

ººººººººººººººººº

I’ve been thinking about Sin a lot the past two or three years, as I’ve been working on a series of paintings about the 7 Deadlies.  More on those in a later post with some images.

Falling Angel, oil on linen ©

I don’t have a thing about angels, but I was painting this sky and there this little fat person appeared, and oh they’re falling, so I gave them one wing–possible happy ending, possible eternal damnation.