Exhibition day


The springboard for this years two October Porthleven courses was the sizzling colour in the Patrick Heron exhibition at Tate St.Ives and the lineage of colour through Bonnard and Matisse. This year, our 'gallery-day' was at the beginning of the course with a colour-exercise on canvas on our return to the studio late afternoon. Many of the exercises then became paintings during the week.


porth clock CopyFrom the studio


Day 2 began with a drawing session around the harbour, which never fails to inspire. Each artist worked on a single sheet of paper, with several drawings superimposed, which undermined the idea of 'truth' from a single viewpoint with repeated motifs and unexpected rhythms providing another way into painting.


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As we moved around the harbour, the artists were asked to pick out shapes and shadow and negative-spaces. Manipulations/editing and collage were encouraged to strengthen and simplify the drawings, a process designed to provoke ideas and specifics for painting. 


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Over the next few days, these ideas extracted from the landscape were developed into paintings, the artists also responding to incident and phenomena such as the gig-race and the extraordinary shadows thrown by the clocktower seen from the studio.


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Each artist found their own Porthleven, and as always, the paintings were displayed in a one-one day exhibition at the end of the week, this year attracting a record number of visitors (and sales!).


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The Yellow Studio after Bonnard 700 Copy'The Yellow Studio - (after Bonnard)'  30x60cms  oil on canvas


What a ground to work on (below). I nearly stopped there but it's not enough. New challenges in this painting: looking into the sun through the door of the studio early morning, image dissolves into light...

Partrick Heron and colour was the catalyst for this years autumn courses in Porthleven but you cannot discuss the paintings of Patrick Heron without reference to Bonnard...


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Monday p.m.

 Observation, idea, information (drawing), action/process, dissatisfaction, analysis, risk, doubt, despair, understanding, surprise, clarity, exhilaration...


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Sunday p.m


On the walk to the studio early morning: from a familiar viewpoint - the unexpected.  A triangle/chevron popped out of the landscape (second -left in the drawing) which then linked to the triangle of the steps to the studio on the left-edge and then my eyes shifted to the right, razoring in on the triangles as shapes or negative spaces between structures and  telephone wires in the landscape. An entry/motif/context to move the painting-exercise from Saturday forwards.. The heavy drip on the right edge is distracting: I don't want a downward movement there. Needs tidying up tomorrow- to make another triangle...


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drawing for Day 2



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Saturday p.m


'Orange & Lemon & Small Violet'  1977


In my own work, colour is always paramount.  At Canterbury Art College in the early eighties, colour liberated my painting. How could it not? I was introduced to the sensuous canvases of Matisse and Bonnard and taught by Stass Paraskos, Thomas Watt, Mali Morris & Geoff Rigden, with visits from Patrick Heron and Terry Frost.

I have always remained ambivalent towards Patrick Heron, the painter: for every stirring painting, there were disappointments. (the 1994 exhibition at Camden Art Centre springs to mind, where the paintings were shocking not because of what they were, but what they weren't). The exhibition at Tate St.Ives exposes his range, from the powerful to the limp. I may have my own preferences, but the colour-saturated canvases, painted to the edge, are his most distinctive, radical work. I believe the painting above 'Orange & Lemon & Small Violet' is a great painting - his masterpiece - and viewing it, I was as physically affected as when in front of a great Matisse or Bonnard. The scale and saturation of colour seduces - the proportions/imbalance of colour outrageous, different. The uniqueness of Heron's shapes - the terrific tension of the hanging orange. The exquisiteness of surface and edges, painted with a small brush. Endless questions, spatial games: is the orange in front of the yellow, is the yellow in front of the orange. Is there a receding space or simply a smaller shape?  The best question of all - what am I looking at?

I was also moved by 'Two Reds with Emerald Fragment' and by the colossal 'Cadmium with Violet, Scarlet, Emerald and Venetian' with it's characteristic 'inter-penetration' of shape and negative space, leading the eye across and around the painting, 'bouncing off the edges'. I gave time to these paintings- they demanded it and I'll be back again on Saturday.This is painting as pure and sensuous as it gets, the western tradition of  image and ground made irrelevant and subservient to the senses. 

 For me, the spell is broken and the paintings less interesting in this period, when forms/shapes overlap or 'appear' to. 


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'Cadmium with Violet, Scarlet, Emerald & Venetian'


In contrast the paler, later works are disappointing. There is a sketchiness to them: confident, yes, but where is the invention, the reflection, the going back,? The missing elements are doubt and depth. Decorative; is this an artist running out of ideas? These linear paintings, with the white canvas prominent, just don't move me - they fail to grip the eyes like the best of Heron's work. Why couldn't the late garden paintings be as rich, alive and pulsating as 'Camellia Garden' from 1956 or 'Scarlet Verticals' 1957. One cannot help but think of Monet's late Giverney paintings - how revolutionary, tactile and sensuous they are. 


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'Camillia Garden'  1956


The hang is wonderful but themed instead of chronological. Whether intended or not, this had the positive effect of the paler, garden paintings giving us a breather between the hits of colour. A chronological arrangement would have shown us that 1977 was a very good year.


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Of course one can only praise his championing of the St.Ives school and certainties about the direction of art* but my view - which is probably career suicide for a painter living and working in Cornwall! - is that Patrick Heron made great paintings but is not a great painter, in that the quality and invention were not sustained over a complete career. For me, the giants of the St.Ives painters remains Peter Lanyon, Wilhemena Barnes-Graham and later Sandra Blow. However the exhibition did not disappoint; the new space at Tate St.Ives is fabulous, the paintings can be seen at their best and I went away uplifted and looking forward to mixing some colour...


*'What one should be doing is leaving oneself open to the invisible suggestions of one’s’ own reflexies when stimulated through the eyes. To make oneself available to previously uncharted rhythmic movements, suggestions and devices – this is the great ideal’   Patrick Heron 1987


 IMG 37761 Copy'Scarlet Verticals'  1957


IMG 37721 CopyA good wall...




 The latest Freedom in Painting workshop at Creek Creative explored the powerful opposites of black and white.

Each 2-day workshop explores a different aspect of painting to challenge and inform the participating artists. My own practice is dominated by colour but black has been increasingly creeping in over the past few years, and giving it some thought, I concluded that there is usually a reason behind choosing a black and white palette over colour- there are undeniable associations.  In advance of the course, I asked the artists to think about what black & white means to them, both symbolically and emotionally and to resond to the question: Is silence black or white or grey?

Other questions were posed: are black and white colours or non-colours? What's the difference between a black and white painting and a drawing? 

A brief talk on the use of black and white in painting, historically, from 'grisaille' to Gillian Carnegie (with Spain and the USA in the fifties prevalent) was followed by the first group exercise. Each artist artist was given two pieces of A4 card - one black, one white- glued together along three edges. The artists were asked to tear, cut, collage, improvise, to produce an idea/template for a painting. Would black dominate or white? Newsprint was the grey and and I handed out pieces of a glossy cut up Rembrandt painting (shame!) as a contrasting black. Some very inventive results which led to some remarkable paintings. Have fun matching the studies to the paintings...


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A short critique of the studies was followed by a demonstration exploring, discussing, mixing the different tube blacks and whites and made blacks and whites on a grid-structure, including using my first ever tube of Paynes Grey which every other artist in the world seems to have. The artists repeated the exercise onto a grid on their own canvas, another way into painting. This exercise too, led to some strong and eclectic work. My canvas was also the beginning of a new painting in the '20 Books=2 Paintings' series, where black & white are significant in the narrative. 

The rest of the time was spent developing the two exercises into paintings and we concluded the workshop with a invaluable review and critique of the work. Congratulations to the artists. For a perspective on the workshop from one of the participating artists please visit artist Margaret Ramsay's Blog. Click here


A gallery of a selection of paintings - where you can view on a large scale - can also be seen on the Freedom in Painting Group Facebook page here 






Hard work, challenging and really enjoyable thanks particularly to the quality of Ashley's teaching but also to the other participants. I certainly learnt a lot from all of you.  AIDEN FLOOD


 It was a great workshop and some really good work emerged. Huge thanks to Ash and everyone there who made it v special. PHILIPPA LANGTON


A huge thank you to Ashley for this week's painting workshop. The best yet!  TEDDY KEMPSTER