COG 19
City of Glass 19 - (Park Ave)  210x60cms


City of Glass 19 - (Park Avenue) was 'Shortlisted not Hung' in the 2015 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Nearly!



It's been a good week - I have a new painting and City of Glass 6 & 13 have been shortlisted for the Royal academy Summer Exhibition - fingers crossed.

The third tower-shaped painting in the City of glass series. The shift in this piece is that the verticals of the avenues extend beyond Manhattan to the edges of the canvas: the grid of the streets connecting to the grid of the building. I am enjoying the verticality and the subtle rhythms of angles and triangles around the painting but most of all I am enjoying the colour, the new blues and greys and reds. There are intriguing shifts in perception : what am I looking at? The view from the air, the view on the ground, an incredible giant tower, bigger than Manhattan. Is it one image or two? Is the tower transparent , made of glass? Is the image of the island-shape of Manhattan seen through the tower, or is it in front of the tower, or part of the tower, or outlandishly, painted on the tower like a giant mural? I think it is a new kind of space, slightly disorientating...


COG 19 1 Copydetail - East River bridges

In spite of the colour, the tower - the new Babel - is oppressive, which is what I want. It has the feel of the sinister tower of the Salvation Army training camp in Camberwell, maybe it is because there are no windows. 

For a long while there was no title, which always worries me: it's an indication that I'm unsure what the painting is about. Because of the emphasis on the verticals, towards the end the favourite was 'The Vertical City'. This changed when I put in Washington Square with a fantastic pink made from Fanchon Red by Williamsburg Paint - at one point this small rectangle was the strongest thing in the painting, not just the colour but all the lines firing in. But even this couldn't compete with the long red stripe against the blue, a colour heaven that grips the eyes.


cOG 19 2 Copydetail- Washington Square

My daughter Faye said it was her favorite painting in the series. She immediately zoomed in on the saturated colours flanking Park Avenue, re-affirming the choice of title. (Park Avenueis, of course, significant to the novel*). Denise was missing a particular blue that had been mainly painted out and wanted it back. I went back in the studio and added some more blues, especially to the bottom canvas, and it's made a big difference. Thank-you girls! Ollie likes the vertical lines carved into the paint. 

The soundtrack to this painting was 'Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake. Beautiful.


*'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster


COG 20 CopyCity of Glass 20 - (Cage)    90x60cms



Stillman enters the cage formed by the grid of the streets where he walks - 'bounded. and on the  on the north by 110th Street, on the south by 72nd Street, on the west by Riverside Park, and on the east by Amsterdam Avenue.'*

The cage also refers to Stillman's obsessions, the cage in his head. Perhaps my obsessions too, over two years of my life working on the series.

A couple more tweaks on Tuesday morning - a subtle vertical score down Stillman's back and a blob of blue paint on his left shoulder to lock him more into the painting, with the colour echoed, with a touch of green, in the small square touching Central Park in the top panel. The dot of the Hotel Harmony on Broadway provides a visual link between the two. Formal painting truth - what works in the painting - and context in harmony. 


COG 20 1 Copy


I am very aware of my photo-realist roots, especially when painting the figure - the fallacy of the frozen moment. The introduction of the figure of Stillman has shaken up the series and presented intriguing problems, not least how not to make him giant when placed alongside the street grid of Manhattan. To counter this, I've tried to place him in an ambiguous space, a 'painting space', one that doesn't exist out there, one that asks questions - where is he? He is standing on the tightrope of 72nd St. His 'illusionist' interpretation and position in the painting make you think you know what you are looking at but this is subverted, undermined, by the physicality of the paint and by the strong horizontal of the canvas divide and the subtle verticals that cut through his body. In this piece, the grid is also ambiguous - it's vertical, lifted from the background, an almost-delicate lattice you can put your hand through....the bars of Stillman's cave. At one point in the painting the grid covered him - he was in the cage - but the idea was rejected. It would only work if Stillman faced outwards, staring at the viewer.


COG 20 2 Copyin progress


*'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster


Tower Triptych COG 16 17 19Tower Triptych: City of Glass 16 -(Private Eye), City of Glass 17 - (Adam & Eve), City of Glass 19 - (Park Avenue)


This series started with a question: how do you paint New York? I found my way in through the written word* but with this piece, a triptych of three large scale 'architectural' paintings, I think I've found an answer. It's a skyline - the paintings/buildings lie flat against each other but there is also a receding space as the island-shape of Manhattan within them gets smaller from left to right.....


*'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster


COG21 CopyCity of Glass 21 - (Nowhere)    140x100cms


'By wandering aimlessly, all places became equal and it no longer mattered where he was. On his best walks, he was able to feel he was nowhere. And this, finally, was all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere. New York was the nowhere he had built around himself, and he realised that he had no intention of ever leaving it again'  The words of author/detective Daniel Quinn" *

That powerful intersection again- Park Avenue and E69thSt, the location of the Stillman apartment.. Grand Central hangs like a pendulum.. My architectural roots to the fore: blueprints, buildings. Central Park is a tower but how tall?


COG 21 1 Copy



COG21 6 Copy



Exploring blacks again - a rectangle of true/tube black in the bottom left corner to use colour to make it work...thoughts of Richard Diebenkorn's black/orange ' Ocean Park 133' (below) and a black/orange Mark Surridge painting at his recent show at the Millenium Gallery....Manhattan fragmented, open, anonymous, nowhere, subjugated to the painting...


Black is 'nowhere'.....


cog21 5


It's Open Studios again at The Shire hall Gallery- a fabulous space I'm sharing with Janie M McDonald, The dialogue has already begun...Janie's loathing of the salmon pink led to the red found with an Alizarin glaze.... I spent three hours repainting the central green vertical with the difficult aim of getting a line with presence, a line that was straight but not perfect....Denise saw the outline of a figure in the curves of the eastern shore...Quinnn?...Stillman?... the pursuer or the pursued?


COG21 2 Copy


* from 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster

COG 23 22 1City of Glass 23 - (Stare)    120x100cms                                                                             City of Glass 22 - (The Fall)     120x100cms


WED 18 JUNE 2014

Red/green apple...the Big Apple...the Garden of Eden...'The Cholmondeley Ladies'....

This is a strange piece...I have been looking again at the paintings in isolation and have concluded that while working as a pair, they both work individually...they were made that way. I only put the paintings together when a photographer friend, Dennis Morgan, took the photo below for a competition and then I began to see them as a pair with a 'cleave' within each and also between them which adds an exciting additional dimension. As a pair, the power of the face is diminished, both because of its' smaller proportion within the whole but also because of the power of the divide between the two paintings.


Cleave studio2 Copy


The painting(s) have divided opinion and provoked thought, in particular 'Stare'. I had a fantastic discussion about the piece with students and staff from Canterbury Christchurch University when they visited the studio., exchanging ideas and possibilities for the piece. There have been other comments on whether the face works at all, whether it belongs, whether it is too strong, too graphic, too out of kilter with the rest of the series. Also how disturbing the face and the stare are. This is intentional: this is the face of Stillman who locked up his two year old son in a dark room for nine years in a deranged experiment to discover the language of God.

So, to conclude, I think I can and shall, show the paintings individually or as a pair. This duality is delicious: after all, in the novel, in his thesis*, Stillman discusses the dual meaning of 'cleave, to both break apart and to put together.

* P:43, 'The New York Trilogy' by Paul Auster


City of Glass 23 - (Stare)   120x100cms

COG 23 Copy



In the twenty-third painting in the 'City of Glass' series, the face of Stillman finally emerges. Below is an earlier version which I wasn't happy with - it felt like a cartoon, a drawing rather than a painting and was in front of the divide. I like the new Beckman-esque Stillman, trapped behind the 'cleaved' shape of Manhattan, like the bars of a cage. He stares into the dark room where he has locked up his son for nine years , he is menacing, obsessed...dense reds and greens add to the feeling of claustrophobia. I have enjoyed juggling wth the figurative and the abstract languages and have brought unity and coherence to the piece by  linking the angles and triangles of Manhattan with the angles in the face, shirt collars and coat.  The last act was the introduction of the one circle/button of the overcoat, which in it's perfection, softens the power of the face.


COG 23 11 Copy


COG 23 2 Copy



 City of Glass 22 - (the Fall)   120x100cms

COG 22 Copy



Even though the image of the figure was removed, there is a human presence, the marks left by my own hand, the dragged fingers in the paint on the top left.

The idea of duality, of 'cleave', of good and evil resonates. When I showed the painting to an artist friend, she was initially seduced by the richness and denseness of the colour. But when I explained the context, Stillman's experiment, locking up his son Peter in the dark for nine years, she was repulsed by the painting: she saw the fingermarks as belonging to Peter, clawing at the walls of his prison. 



This piece continues the exploration of the power of the divide and also references Stillman's musings about 'the fall', where quoting Milton: 'It was out of the rind of one apple tasted that good and evil leapt forth into the world, like two twins cleaving together'

'Stillman also dwelled on the paradox of the word 'cleave', which means both to join together and to break apart'*

The idea was to split/cleave Manhattan in two, one side New York today with street-grid and piers and Central Park and the other side how Manhattan would have looked at the time of the Garden of Eden, a natural, empty landscape...

However, to establish the shape on the natural, 'before the fall', green right side, i used a grid and enjoyed those plotting marks...then I found/made an immense red which established the direction of the painting. In the early stages, Stillman's face stared at the viewer between the two sides, but then colour took over.


COG 22 3 Copy