COG9 CopyCity of Glass 9 - (Fiction & Fact)   120x200cms


19 FEB 2013

The painting was resolved and the two sides pulled together when I put in the blue-grey drip vertical in the right side painting.The drip stopped in the perfect position. Love the division line between the canvases and the power of the pink dot (which is no longer an attention seeker but an incident in the whole).The other dots/perforations were repainted to bring back their shape and clarity and reinforce the idea of the opened notebook. Curiously by putting in the long blue'grey vertical there was no need to extend the pink horizontal from the left-side into the right. The eye picks up and connects the existing horizontals and the repeated motif of the large rectangular block of Central Park. The eye is tricked: the large blue rectangle is not Central Park (which of course is the large orange rectangle to the right). The blue/grey line is just enough to suggest a building and moving across the painting into the left-side, the orange rectangle of Central Park becomes an almost identical building (the Twin Towers?) and the left-side can be read as architecture/buildings/skyline - buildings that are there but not there. The verticality of New Yorkimplied in the grid-pattern of the streets. There is an interesting feel about this piece: scale orientation/viewpoint are all subverted and ambiguous. Painted facts and painting-truth derived from fiction.


COG9 7 Copydetail 1


The letters that spell T.H.E.T.O.W.E.R.O.F.B.A.B.E.L. are all there on the right 'fact' side - map-truth (though it depends on which map you are looking at), letters that are there but not there, looking for them turns the viewer into a detective. On the left-side, I had intended to transcribe the letters invisibly written by Stillman's walks, superimposing them on top of each other and spiralling around their start-point, the Hotel Harmony. However, once I put down the grid and the painting began to develop, this seemed unnecessary, with the off-straight purple line, the drip that misbehaved (and the missing cross-streets) providing the fiction. I am certain the original idea will re-emerge in another piece with a simpler background. There is a rawness about the paint on this side but this is tempered by the discipline of the grid. 

There are links to the other paintings in the series, particularly 'City of Glass 2 - (Hotel Harmony)' where a section of the Upper West Side, with the curve of Broadway, sits alongside Manhattan. Also 'City of Glass 4 - (Truthville N.Y.)' where the dot of Truthville sits on top of the Tower. While Paul Auster's novel 'The New York Trilogy' is the inspiration for the painting, I am also indebted to Mondrian - I have long admired the purity and beauty of his later works. , their asymmetric balance and the exquisiteness of their execution. I can also see connections with some beautiful books made by artist Ruth McDonald, about her journeys in Cornwall and Kent, that I saw recently. 

The next piece will explore the novel's multi-layers of identity. There will a figure - Stillman - who will be covered by six layers of human shadows of increasing size representing Max Work (Quinn's fictional detective whose persona Quinn adopts on his assignment), William Wilson (the pseudonym Quinn uses for his detective-fiction), author Paul Auster (the creator of Quinn), myself, the artist and creator of the painting of the novel, and finally the viewer. Ideally this piece will be lit in such a way that the actual shadow of the viewer is superimposed on the shadows in the painting. 

Already I can see the shoulder of the figure of Stillman jammed up alongside and following the curve of Broadway...

I have been looking at the description of Stillman in the novel for my painting: tall, white-haired, a long shabby brown overcoat...and then today I met some friends In Falmouth and Simon Bor was wearing....a long shabby brown overcoat. I took some photos..a perfect Stillman (not that Simon is old or white-haired!. I have used a similar figure before: on a red-hot summers day in Blackpool I saw an elderly gentleman in an overcoat, hat and scarf. I took a photo, named him Harold Parkinson, and he appeared in several paintings at art college in the early eighties. Love these connections.


COG9 10 Copy
in the studio



Frustration! This is so difficult to see. I was hoping to be in a larger studio but it hasn't worked out. Nevertheless, this is challenging and exciting to make this work as a diptych and read as an open book. There is a beautiful symmetry and linkage between the curves of Riverside Park in the left-side and the curves of the East Side of Manhattan on the right-side. The line where the paintings join is very powerful. The piece needs a building, a Tower of Babel - there is the suggestion of one with the ziggurat-shaped in the left-painting but I might make more of it. The large tall vertical on the right side of the left painting represents Central Park but I'm thinking of introducing a similar-sized block on the left side of the right painting so that the blocks read as the Twin Towers, exquisitly divided by the physical divide of the paintings. The painting needs a strong unifying horizontal: I'll make the pink horizontal of W100St pop up from behind the towers and either cut across Manhattan in thre right painting or go behind, cutting the space and de-flattening the painting. The pink dot is no longer an issue - it is an incident in the whole. The lines of dots/perforations will work better when they are more regular and straightened up.



The painting is getting closer after a week in the studio but the balance is not right yet between freedom and control. There is not enough range in the paint, not enough movement or precision. At this stage, the idea of finding the fifteen letters that spell THETOWEROFBABEL in the streetmap of New York is stronger than the execution. I found my 'R' at last! 
COG9 6 Copy
I do like the empty spaces towards the edges though, flanking Manhattan. Not sure about the palette - for the first time in years I have used tube-black instead of my own mix and those areas seem a little dead, I'll put a coloured glaze on top and also use a glaze to break down and soften the edges around Manhattan. There is also the problem of familiarity/similarity but I'm sure this will go away when i work on the left-side of the diptych (the 'Fiction' side, showing the letters formed by Stillman's walks in the novel*). The piece will read as an opened book, fiction and fact side by side.
It is a curious phenomena: the painting looks stronger online than in reality.
COG9 8 Copy
MON 20 AUG 2012
During the final session of 'City of Glass 6 - (Pages 106 -112)' it struck me that one of the piers at the southern tip of Manhattan resembled the letter 'L'. Then I remembered painting the perfect letter 'O' of Madison Square Garden. The excitement grew and the idea for a new piece took hold, reconfirming the magic of working in series with the paintings feeding each other.
COG9 11 Copydetail - 'City of Glass 6 - (Pages 106-112)'
The most striking image in the story 'City of Glass', is that of Stillman, by the means of his daily walks, invisibly writing the letters spelling THETOWEROFBABEL onto the streets of New York. What if, aswell as their existence in fiction, all the letters spelling The Tower of Babel, actually existed in the 'facts' of the streets of New York? Some were easy to find, like 'A' in the angled intersections of Broadway, others like 'B' and the 'W' (Greenwich Village) more difficult to find. I still have to find an 'R' but am confident it is there, somewhere. I love the connection with the spirit of the novel and with the other paintings in the series: the idea of a building that is there but not there.
At this point, the idea is stronger than the painting - I want the letters to have a neon-glow - but this will be resolved, 'Detectives' was my original title for the series. In the novel, Quinn, a writer of detective-fiction, by accident/chance/choice becomes a real detective. In turn, I have become a detective, looking for ideas, images, inspiration in Paul Auster's text. The viewer also becomes a detective, following my clues and visual notes and language to understand both the piece and its' links to the novel. With this new piece the viewer will emulate Quinn and find the Tower of Babel.

COG10 Copy
City of Glass 10 - (StillmanStillman)   120x200cms


THURS 30 MAY 2013


Hard day. Problems with the drawing of the brown-figure and its' weight. The center line/canvas divide caused complications. The breakthrough came when I switched canvases: the figures now follow each other (and the viewer gfoolows them) into an enigmatic space. Is it enough? To test the painting I'll introduce a subtle grid tomorrow to identify location. Love, love, love the horizontal, the attention drawn to the central divide by the white canvas and the curiosity of the repeated pose. Strange piece.


COG10 5 Copy
in the studio


COG10 4 Copybefore the canvas-switch



COG10 3 Copyday 3

In defiance of Matisse's dictum: '....whoever wishes to devote himself to painting should begin by cutting out his tongue..' and perhaps because I this series is inspired by words, by text, words are flowing irresistibly and helping clarify ideas and understanding of the paintings.

I am fascinated by the idea of twin-paintings/pair of paintings/diptych and the power of the space between them and the central  dividing line. The idea for this painting goes back to the novel*. Author/detective Quinn has an assignment to follow Stillman, recently released from jail, who is arriving at New York's Grand Central Station, on the 18.41 from Poughkeepsie. Quinn has a photo (several years old) and spots Stillman, wearing a shabby brown overcoat, and starts to tail him. But incredibly he sees another man, whose face 'was the exact twin of Stillman's'. Paralysis: Quinn knows he is in the hands of fate, of chance. Forced to choose, he follows the second Stillman but after a few paces has a change of mind and follows the first Stillman. 

The intention with this painting is to involve the viewer with Quinn's dilemma: which Stillman to follow? The viewer becomes Quinn - the near life-size figures and the split canvas help achieve this. 

Not there yet. I have yet to think about colour, my paints are still not fully unpacked and laid-out and in my impatience I have been grabbing anything to hand. The grid of Manhattan is beginning to go in but I'm not yet sure of the scale. The blue strip on the right will stay, representing the East River and I'm happy with the position of my 42nd St, (the main horizontal). I'll make a point of Grand Central Station, currently the rose block on the canvas, but shall try it straddling the central-divide. Whatever I decide, this line will be one of the avenues. The figures need to be locked into the background more - they are floating about. Blue may spill/flood into the right-side or the dirty pink may darken and match the tone of the brown overcoat.

The figures have changed a lot. First, the left-hand figure was walking towards the viewer and the right-hand figure away. Then they were both coming forwards. Then I had the idea that each figure, each canvas, would be near-identical, each including Grand Central Station. This would be like two frames on a film, divided by the Central line, but in my painting, the figures lacked movement but I'll try this again in another piece.


COG10 2 CopyDay 2: p.m.


COG10 1A CopyDay 2: a.m.

 COG SB2 CopySimon Bor 'in character'

*'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster



COG11 CopyCity of Glass 11 - (StillmanStillman)     80x120cms
City of Glass 11 - (StillmanStillman) was selected for the 2013 Ludlow Open
MON 3 JUNE 2013
Today, with this piece and the excitement and strength of the resolution, I was reminded 'what painting is, what it can be, the possibilities in painting...', words I use whenever I teach. When I put those canvases together, there was electricity- one of the best moments of my career. I knew. As artists, we should never be passive with the world we see: we have to do something with it. We should be ambitious for our piece and strive for something new, something we have never done before of seen before: the trick is to recognize that 'different' thing, however you get there, whether by chance, design or hard slog. This is the excitement we crave.
Earlier, as the two canvases were not working together, I separated them - during the day the gap became wider and wider....The canvas with the red figure had no New York context: the grid of the streets was imposed time and time again, blatantly and subtly, horizontal, vertical, avenue , cross-street, none right but each contributing and enriching the paint, colour and surface.
 The final painting is more about the idea and the center-line more powerful, with this criss-crossing of the figures and glorious ambiguities and tension created by who is in front of who. The figures are fighting for space - like rutting stags - but it is not a space 'out there': it is a painting space, an ambiguous space, so difficult to find with the human-figure...the painting now has the clarity of last friday, but with much more. The New York context is there, with the calmed-down horizontal green band of Central Park and Columbus Circle. I'll be starting a new painting tomorrow with the same idea of the two Stillmans but on a single large canvas so there is no option of switching the canvases. I'll have to find my elusive, ambiguous space within the canvas...figures jammed up against the Manhattan shape perhaps...
COG11 6 Copy
City of Glass 11 and City of Glass 6 in 'The New York Trilogy exhibition at Plough Arts
Many thanks to Janie M McDonald, my fellow artist during Open Studios at the Shire Hall. For a couple of days she had been questioning my brown figure - i was being too literal, one of the Stillmans at Grand Central in the novel has a brown overcoat. Janie reminded me of the blood-reds I had used in our last two stints together at the Shire Hall and suggested reversing the canvases as I had done in my last painting. Sometimes you miss the obvious: when I made the switch...
Like 'City of Glass 10 - StillmanStillman', this painting explores the idea of author/detective Quinn's dilemma about which Stillman to follow at Grand Central Station: one goes left, one goes right. The viewer becomes Quinn, flitting from figure to figure, forced to choose...My only niggle about City of Glass 10 was the absense of location and its disconnection to the other paintings in the series. I thought that instead of forcing location onto City of Glass 10, if I did another painting that had two figures and location, the link would be made. On reflection , the painting was possibly resolved on Friday (see below). Midtown Manhattan (where Grand Central is located) is hinted at, with the Hudson indicated by the two parallel lines behind the blue figure and the thick band of grey behind the brown figure.
Today, I tried to make the location more explicit and introduced the lime-green horizontal to indicate the bottom of Central Park, with the canvas-divide as 5th Ave. I also introduced a grid which confused the painting even more. Lots of Problems with the right figure: either too graphic or too subtle or too heavy or too brown! The figure disappeared at one point which confirmed to me that it had to be there. I agreed with Janie's comment today, that the left painting works on its own. Splitting the canvases is an option but may make the idea weaker. Perhaps a small gap might work. While it works in the left canvas, the green band doesn't help the diptych - I'll try a new colour on Monday and extend it into the right-side or even take it out. The band weakens the power of the divide. Need some clean brushes first!
* from 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster

COG12 Copy
City of Glass 12 - (W107thSt, E69th St)   150x120cms

SAT 8 JUNE 2013

Went deeper and deeper into the painting today and found my answers. The orange is immense. I was painting in my sleep last night and went into the studio with a bunch of ideas. Firstly, I felt the left side/west side of Manhattan was too soft, not tough enough. The drawing was strengthened by filling, with flatter paint, the fantastic shape of the Hudson between Manhattan and the left side of the canvas. I found a green that set off the orange/reds. A warmer green line was added to the edge, running in parallel to the now straighter line of the West Side and connecting to the vertical drips of the avenues. I'm still looking for more, for something else - I realised that the grid of Manhattan needed a horizontal or two to break up the verticals so i introduced W107th St and E69th St, the green lines flanking Central Park and the streets where author/detective Quinn and his client Peter Stillman live* Already, there was a subtle scaling up of the street-grid on the right side of the painting, so taking the main horizontal of E69th St, I introduced the image of a tiny ziggurat-topped apartment building, illusionistically three dimensional not flat, so I could repeat the angle of the lower West-side. The building went in and went out: all the painting needed was the tiny angle.(below)
COG12 6 Copydetail
COG12 2 CopyE69th St
COG12 8 Copy
Janie told me about a thing on TV - 'What do artists do all day?' My seven hrs today were spent moving the painting from below to above. Forwards? Buildings went in and went out - they complicated and cramped the space. I enjoyed the freeing up of Manhattan and the emergence of emptiness. With that came the refinement of proportion and the very special bottom right corner. But it all seems very familiar - does this piece need more? It still may be the left half of a larger piece - we'll see tomorrow. I still think there is a painting somewhere that links my last two 'StillmanStillman' paintings with the other paintings in the series, a painting that contains the island-shape of Manhattan and the figure of Stillman.
COG12 3 Copy
The obvious problem is that if you put the two side by side, the figure becomes a giant, which I don't want: it is the new Tower of Babel that is giant. One solution was to make the Manhattan-shape a painting of Manhattan within the painting (referring to Matisse's 'The Red Studio') with the figure of Stillman disapearing behind. Another idea was to have Manhattan on the extreme left , and the figure of Stillman on the extreme right of a very large painting which is why I rushed home for a second canvas on Thursday. The idea was to have the Manhattan shape and the figure the same-size but to make the figure appear smaller by gradually scaling up the grid of the streets as you move left to right. At the end of the day, I put one of StillmanStillman canvases alongside this painting and saw that the paintings are linked: they are both shapes in colour, connected by the paint handling, composition and the subtle horizontals. And of course the shape and proportions of Manhattan suggest the human-figure. 
COG12 7 Copy
COG12 9 Copy
COG12 4 Copybeginnings
* From 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster

COG13 Copy
City of Glass 13 - (Entrance)   120x150cms

This painting began in June with three Manhattans side by side (of increasing scale from left to right). In COG 2 & 9 I had two Manhattans in the same piece so why not three? A New York Trilogy? The idea was to explore space by moving the Manhattans around, touching or tucked behind each other or placed apart to see what works best. The three shapes were connected visually by each having 42nd St on the same long horizontal. Once again the idea was stronger than the execution - there was no space, the painting was cramped and claustrophobic so I made the decision to keep the strongest, the Manhattan on the right. There are ghostly traces of the other two in the swirling paint on the left side. I'll go back to the idea with a wider canvas.
A friend described the shape of Manhattan as ugly - can't argue with that! - but throughout the series I have made a point of isolating and highlighting the island-shape and seeing in it the curves and proportions of the human-figure.
In this painting, Grand Central Station is a door, the entrance to the implied tower - the new Tower of Babel in New York*- in the surrounded streets, emphasized by shape and a narrower grid, with fake streets and false avenues. I toyed with the idea of calling the painting 'False Avenues' - I love the dual meaning: avenues that don't exist out there and the faklse avenues we find ourselves travelling down, in life, as artists, as detectives....I'll save the title for another painting. The almost-solid orange Hudson River also suggests architecture, a building 'there but not there', the top cut-off and open and the left-side deliberately straight. The colour, flatness and physicality of the paint all help create space, with the purple tucked in behind, and the large curve leaving the canvas and popping up as a purple stripe in the bottom right corner.
COG13 1 Copydetail -architecture implied in the streets around Grand Central...
COG13 4 Copyearly days- COG 13 on right
*From 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster