Friday, 6 September 2013

Oil Painting 15 - The High Line

The avenues of New York are so straight, they’re almost like artificial terrain for a computer game. I’m not used to seeing such obvious points of perspective with no curves, nothing is this straight in Britain.

This phenomenon of distance struck me walking around New York in the first few days, but the obvious problem was to see it and represent it as it most dramatic, you’d have to be set up with an easel in the middle of the road.

This particular location on the High Line park provided an alternative to certain death on a junction, with the added drama of being raised up above the middle of the infinitely straight 10th Avenue.

This park created from an old, originally constructed to transport traffic from the Meatpacking District of New York into the city after trains on the street killed so many people that it gained the nickname Death Avenue. This area became a sleazy hangout point before a further reinvention as a chic village, full of boutiques and bars. The High Line, opened in 2009 after a long campaign, has become one of the city’s most popular attractions.

The planting is more natural than I expected, lots of tall grasses and wild flowers. I guess it helps with maintenance and reflects nature claiming the unused railway initially. The people in the bottom-right corner of this painting are lower than my viewpoint, looking through glass like a TV set at the long Avenue in front of them.

There are well-kept lawns up there, wooden loungers that are always full of people sunbathing or working on Macs, sculptures which reflect the art gallery district underneath the HIgh Line and some wet barefoot walks that kids are always splashing around in.

It’s nice to have the nature in the extreme foreground, contrasting with the geometry of the straight streets and angled architecture.

The biggest turning point in the process of painting was the decision to add the text on the bright yellow advertising board. It is rare that I add legible text into paintings but I thought that such stark advertising was a reflection on Manhattan’s culture and grounds the painting in reality. Any space as prominent as this will be used for advertising and it is the first thing your eye goes to in the scene: it dominates the view. The text of the advert is simply what it says, not an artistic comment.

The brown brick building on the right hand side gives a comparison between old and new New York. A lady stopped to tell me that this building was the ‘real’ New York, and the other buildings could have been anywhere. Modern buildings, designed by computer, have no human fingerprints within them and global architect’s practices no longer build unique streets to compare with the New York brownstones and art deco skyscrapers. I thought about other people I know who battle to retain the distinctive identities of their area against erosion and loss. The range of attitudes of New Yorkers about the High Line sum up an inherent conflict underneath the surface of any reinvention.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Pop-up exhibition on Governors Island

Guest post by Clare White

A bright Sunday morning was the perfect time to select some of the best paintings of the Pointon USA collection and put on a pop-up exhibition in front of one of the greatest views on Earth.

The free ferry to Governors Island runs every weekend so that New Yorkers and visitors can get out of the city and enjoy a wide range of attractions. Over the two days we visited we enjoyed splendid sights of bygone eras with a Jazz lawn party and classic VW display, plus kayaking and food with freshly made tropical juices from the different stalls.

Many artists have temporary studio and exhibition spaces in the attractive buildings which used to house army families, so getting the paintings there was straightforward.

Attached securely to the seafront, the oil paintings of New York and San Fancisco looked stunning against the Hudson River and skyscrapers of Manhattan.

As one of the prime photo opportunities in New York, it wasn't long before the paintings, with their highly recognisable views, drew attention.

Rob completed oil painting number 15 painting of Manhattan and the immense choppy river with its constant criss-crossing traffic of all sizes.

When we got there, the trees - noisy with the hissing of beetles - were casting shadows onto the paintings and it was several hours before the sunshine really brought out the bright, vibrant colours of these American paintings.

The sun beats down hottest in late afternoon so that was when we took the exhibition down and headed off to join the queues of classic VWs for the ferry back off the Island.

Probably one of the most relaxing gallery spaces I have ever seen!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Oil painting 14 - Manhattan from Governors Island

The island is a free ferry ride from lower Manhattan. It is only open to the public at weekends, which turns it into a popular recreational getaway for New Yorkers. Formerly owned by the military, it contains a disused fort, barrack buildings and homes for army families.

It was damaged by Hurricane Sandy and has a dilapidated, informal atmosphere where it feels as though the crowds have taken over and can do whatever they like. During the days we were there it had a jazz lawn party, which meant the ferry was filled with spectacularly dressed visitors, and a VW rally.

It is only when you move away from Manhattan that you realise how high the new Freedom Tower is, and although I thought I was familiar with the New York skyline, this view was completely new. Painting a wide tidal water rather than the canal or a lake was also new, I hadn’t done much study of large expanses like this. A lot of the same rules applied as with the Year of the Boat but there are far fewer reflections and I was trying to summarise the repetition of the waves with strokes. We had two beautiful days of constant sunshine which meant the days were full of vibrant colours and I captured the contrasts of sun-hit land and water. As with the balusterade in Bryant Park, I consciously didn’t adjust the straight line perspective into a curve as we track round the wide angle view, keeping it as a straight edge to give a sense of the rigidity of the land against the organic water. Curving the line would have softened that effect.

Two small boats appear in the painting although a lot of crafts of different sizes came, including the Staten Island ferry and a large clipper. I deliberately avoided the rest of the boats so I could focus on the water.

Although faced with one of the most spectacular man-made skylines in the world, I pushed it up to the top of the view, preferring the impossibility of painting water and this natural expanse. From this vantage point, it looks like a small tropical island but one that has been crammed full of skyscrapers. While the other New York paintings are in the centre of walls of skyscrapers, giving at best a breathing point in a green square, this view allows you to take a breath and appreciate the vibrant energy of the city by stepping away from it.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Oil painting 13 - Summer in Bryant Park

Bryant Park, at the rear of New York Public Library, was well located in-between the paintings at Grand Central Terminal and Times Square so that I could work across multiple paintings in a day. It is very formal in structure, with a large central lawn.

This was a favourite place to paint and spend time: it has become a branded visitor attraction with a unique, enjoyable atmosphere. There is a busy programme of events including chess players, table tennis and the best public toilets in the city playing classical music. While we were there we watched ET with thousands of other enthusiastic people on the lawn underneath the moonlight. The classical furnishings and avenues of trees make it an oasis from the surrounding city.

I have condensed the vista on the left to include the Empire State Building and Bryant Park Hotel. I’ve kept the perspective straight on the balustrade and along with other linear features it funnels us into the stylised tunnelling of the avenue of trees.

This was a good space to work and engage with the public, people felt relaxed enough to start quite in-depth conversations. I think this painting really sums up summer in the city.

Oil painting 12 - Times Square looking north, New York

Although I was pleased with the feeling of height in the first painting of Times Square, I didn’t feel this painting summed up the magnitude of the visual spectacle of the movement and people, the joyous challenge of painting such an energetic scene, bizarre heights and extreme depths. I did a further painting and could have done more. While other subjects would fall flat if the weather was dull, Times Square is colourful and alive at all times, day or night.

For the painting looking north, I flipped the canvas to landscape and pushed the avenue to the extreme right. This gave enough room across the composition to get a sense of the fast-moving, blurred traffic.

There are few places in the world where you’re being attacked by quite so many brands at once, your vision filled up by so many names and adverts. I was consciously trying not to be drawn in and give them extra attention than the rest of the landscape. I painted them with as much detail as I would a tree, not giving them any special treatment. Famous logos of global brands that we are familiar with have been painted in an impressionistic style as if I’d never seen them before, summed up as strokes of colour rather than necessarily copying the lettering.

The painting includes other familiar American sights including the Naked Cowboy, singing for every passing tourist and a pair of trainers hanging from the overhead wires.

This area has a nearly Bladerunner feel to it with its neon signs and height of the futuristic city.


Oil painting 11 - Times Square looking south, New York

Thinking I’d have trouble setting up in such a well-known location, I spoke to the NYPD in their booth which doubles as an army recruitment centre, but they were very relaxed. I set up and straight away blended into the mass of entertainment.

I am breaking composition rules by having a central vertical band running up the canvas, but I knew it would stand out as an oddity and wanted to draw attention to the thinness of the building which occupies the space between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. 

I also wanted to invite a comparison between the two halves of the painting with pedestrians on the left hand side and traffic on the right. I flitted between these two different worlds by alternating which side of the easel I looked around; these two slightly different vantage points helped me to eliminate a drab flowerbed which would otherwise have been in the foreground.

The main thing you want to capture in Times Square is the bright artificial colour: the primaries of the yellow taxis, the red of the parasols in the foreground were constants amongst the sea of changing LED advertising boards.

It’s not a very enjoyable place to spend time. It was quite unnerving painting so close to fast-moving traffic, which must cause a lot of injuries in the square. You feel that you’re being assaulted visually by changing lights and it’s an impossible phenomenon to paint, but at the same time stimulating. I couldn’t have predicted what the end result was going to look like because the scene changed every time I looked up.

A little boy gave me a can of diet coke, the only tip I received, putting me well behind multiple Elmos, Batman and other characters of the square.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Oil Painting 10 - Gapstow Bridge over the Pond, Central Park

This site was a private commission, for friends who got engaged on Gapstow Bridge. The Pond is lovely, full of terrapins and surrounded by greenery, the park holds back a wall of old buildings and is one of the most recognisable views of New York. 

To see old, attractive skyscrapers like this is a delight because Britain never built as high as this during this period. Art deco buildings set off newer glass buildings and this mix is pleasing. 

The design of Central Park works very well, with the sudden change from Manhattan’s grid format; the curvy paths are disorientating, meandering and this encourages relaxation. During the time of producing this piece we staged an impromptu painting class with some friends that had flown over to visit, and we achieved an enjoyable sense of escapism from a potentially intense citybreak.

I condensed the view slightly to bring the bridge into the same image, which leaves people at the very left hand side looking at the view with us. 

This painting has been left in a looser state than the majority from this trip as it reached an unexpected state of satisfaction for me, after two short sessions. I had been looking at the landscapes of Paul Cezanne in the MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art and have been enjoying how he can summarise the majority of a landscape in a patchwork of patterned brushstrokes, and only give a different treatment to the point of focus. I am attempting a similar treatment with this piece, directing our eyes quickly past all the framing foliage of the park by representing it with broad repetitous pattern, and holding our interest in the very different, vertical treatment of the city and pond.

Oil painting 9 - Grand Central Terminal, New York

For the first few days in New York City, we walked around everywhere from the East Village to Central Park in order to get a sense of possible locations around Manhattan. This was the first location I settled upon, celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2013. 

People are constantly streaming in and out of the station and it was exciting to be walking down 42nd Street with all the office workers at 9am, comparing my career to theirs.

The usual iconic view of Grand Central is from the inside and the spectacular main concourse. This outsider’s view, in a smoking area for office workers, is full of movement and colour, points of focus and different height levels. 

Working within the tall avenues of skyscrapers meant their shadows were constantly shifting with the sun tracking round,  giving short windows of opportunity to paint each section in full light. While the sun was on my side of the street I painted the people and yellow taxis in the foreground, then as it shifted over I’d paint the light first catching the station. 

Using an Indian yellow for the first time worked well with the reflected sunlight of the golden stonework of Grand Central Terminal. 

This was the first time we had moved paintings around using public transport as we had been in walking distance before. I learned to position myself in the centre of bendy busses, a dead zone that gave me storage. 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

The Vegas Sketches

Las Vegas Sketch 1 - The Strip

We were only going to be based in this wonderland for 2 days and 3 nights, and so time constraints meant I switched to sketching and watercolours in order to capture and experience more of the fabulous Las Vegas. It also meant it was easier to produce work inside the casinos, cocktail bars and cafes, and work done outside in the extreme desert heat could be compiled quicker.

I first learnt to paint with watercolours, sat alongside my grandmother, Mary Pointon, who ran a watercolour group in Caverswall, Staffordshire and studied under Potteries artist Reginald Haggar.

So here's the first Las Vegas sketch, produced in a bar that overlooks the Bellagio, but i was facing more towards the Cosmopolitan. I wanted a view of the traffic continuously queuing through this heart of the strip. The bar had some shade, misters and kindly kept me hydrated with water but still the desert sun at 42 degrees made it difficult work, I was working through sunglasses because the reflection off the white paper was so bright, and I was beading sweat in no time. I am quite pleased with the results though, having not used the medium for so long, I think this method of colouring a pencil sketch is a good method of capturing the subjects and communicating the information whilst building up my skills with watercolours.

Las Vegas Sketch 2 - Starbucks, Las Vegas

After retreating from the desert sun, I was hunting good subjects in shaded or air conditioned space, and found this great moment of silhouetted people overlooking a good view onto the main strip of Planet Hollywood and the Paris casinos (complete with fake Eiffel Tower).

The medium of watercolour really came into its own with this piece, I knew the subject was mainly the people and had limited time with them so, just drew and painted them until they moved, and then worked up the background. This is the opposite way of working to oils with which I only get chance to define people at the very late stages of a painting when the background has been developed.

Las Vegas Sketch 3 - Karen at the Bellagio

Of course, this body of work demands some interiors of the gaming halls in casinos. This is a view of Karen playing the machine on the bar inside the Bellagio after we had watched the famous evening fountain display. The Bellagio was our favourite casino somehow retaining an air of class in amongst the funfair. There were piano and double bass musicians playing within earshot, along with the clicks of poker chips. I like the macabre feeling to this drawing, Karen's incidental pose of the hand supporting the face, makes a great reflection on the casino experience. I am very pleased with this composition and subject, I feel it would make a great painting or series of works should the opportunity arise in the future. For now though, due to time constraints, it remains a light pencil study.

Las Vegas Sketch 4 - 'New York, New York' Casino

We stepped inside the plastic version of New York before our visit to the real thing. I wanted to represent the glowing lights of the endless rows of slot machines that make up all the casinos gaming halls. The darkness in these halls  that are shut off from the outside world and time, when you know just how bright the sun is shining outside i found unnerving, as a guy that spends a lot of time studying light cycles. Still they are a spectacle, like no other, and worthy of a visit.

I was up against it with my choice of medium trying to get glowing lights in a dark space using pastel watercolours and starting on a white background but I think the result has captured something. I used conte crayon over the watercolour and pencil which added some needed harsh contrast. The sitters on the machine in the foreground left so I asked Karen to model in their place. Whilst modelling she put a dollar in the machine and won a $34 jackpot!

Las Vegas Sketch 5 - Fremont Street

Fremont street is the downtown edgy little brother of the uptown Vegas strip. It is where we stayed and enjoyed the buzzing nightlife. This sketch is of a magician performing in the daytime. I was sat in a bar overlooking and witnessed his act 5 times over and think I have figured out all his secrets!

Next stop New York!

San Francisco - Las Vegas Road trip

We hired a car and drove from San Francisco to Las Vegas, the drive was one of the most spectacular road trips I have done, stopping off in Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite National Park. Here are some of our photographs ...

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Oil Painting 8 - Pool in the Napa Valley

We drove from San Francisco to Napa Valley expecting to produce one image of a vineyard, however, on arrival at our 'garden' accommodation I was more taken with the pool as a subject. After a few weeks of urban subject matter in San Francisco I knew a water study in a private space would be relaxing and link back to our previous life aboard a boat -

This is the first swimming pool I have tackled and I would like to do more in the future. Of course, any attempt to paint a swimming pool in California, and you need to be prepared for the shadow of the great pool paintings of David Hockney.

David Hockney. British, born in 1937 Portrait of an Artist ( Pool with Two Figures) 1972

The challenge with this piece was speed of execution, we were only at the hotel for one night, so this was begun at 3pm for about 4 hours into the evening and finished the following morning between 9am and 1pm thanks to the understanding hotel owners who let me continue despite having checked out.

The main problem with this, is the dramatic shift in light half way through. What was spotlit by evening sun was completely in shade by morning and vice versa.

I worked into a Venetian red base in this painting which sped up the process. With an attractive mid-tone you are then painting what matters rather than filling the white of a blank canvas.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Oil Painting 7 - Happy Donut Cafe

I was aware a lot of my takes on San Francisco had been big, large vistas and I wanted to start a piece that gave more day to day intimacy, that reflected the immensely rich cafe culture, and that was an interior that involved some human interaction. The Happy Donut Cafe, a 24hr budget coffee shop and bakery kindly allowed access and so we started our very own window display of painting Karen whilst she worked on the laptop plied with beakers of coffee. I liked the vantage point of being lower down than pavement level so the pedestrians strutting past would tower over us.

The American cafe paintings of Edward Hopper and his uses of the compositional device of a window in separating two worlds were a major influence on this piece.

Edward Hopper - A room in Brooklyn 1932

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Sketching with the San Francisco Sketchers at the Merola Opera Program inside Yerba Bueno Gardens

A friend recommended the 'Meetup' website for activities in New York. The website looks like it could be a very useful tool for very quickly meeting some of the active local art community in foreign destinations. I joined the SF Sketchers group and requested to come along to this meeting, sketching a superb open air opera performance in Yerbs Bueno Gardens.

Oil Painting 6 - The Zoetrope Cafe

Our main walk into town from North Beach (because it was the only route that didn't involve steep inclines) was along buzzing Columbus St, cutting diagonally through the grid structure of San Francisco. Columbus is lined with mainly Italian businesses, cafes, delis and restaurants that spill out onto the pavements. The walk down leads you towards the very impressive and iconic Trans-American Pyramid building looming over the city like one of the ministries in George Orwell's 1984. Big brother also seems to be present here as a siren like a WW2 air raid warning goes off every Tuesday at noon and has done ever since 9/11 followed by a very muffled illegible tanoy message that should say it is a test.

As we are approaching the Trans-America Pyramid another architectural gem pops up on the right of Columbus - The Zoetrope Cafe. A beautiful building with an exciting history. It was in this building that Zoetrope Films was formed, and the editing for classic films such as Apocolypse Now and The Godfather took place here. Francis Ford Coppola now owns the building, he keeps an apartment on the top floor, there are still film editing suites and offices on the middle floors and Coppola's Zoetrope Cafe now runs at street level selling wines from Coppola's vineyard in the Nappa Valley.

Again I made use of the shelter of the large street furniture to sneak in the easel on the busy street and gain a viewpoint that compared the two buildings. I have brought in some dark canopies and lampposts to carve into the sky and help achieve a sense of urban claustrophobia. I talked to a lot of passers by with this piece and felt I had at last scratched the glossy surface of the general American public, with one meeting in particular, with a William Bates, a African American who during a 2 hour intense conversation on the street corner relayed the tensions and frustrations of being a black male in this country. Tensions that had bubbled right to the forefront with the 'not guilty' judgement of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. 2 major protests had happened outside Federal buildings, because of this case, whilst we were in San Francisco. William also informed me of the local poets meetings; San Francisco and North Beach in particular has a rich history of activist poets with Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, the Beat Museum and the City Lights Bookshop on Columbus, and the culture continues today. From William's recommendation we went to a evening poetry reading at a bookshop in Fort Mason. The below sketch is of a utterly brilliant San Franciscan poet of Columbian descent reading at the podium. Thoughts of these regular meet ups to vent frustrations through an art form are refreshing and exciting, which I would like to see more of in the UK.

Oil Painting 5 - Downtown San Francisco

A major part of the excitement of this trip is having the opportunity to tackle the dramatic height that these American cities give you. I wanted to get a vantage point as high as possible and was delighted that our Lonely Planet guide book had suggested some public garden spaces on top of buildings. This space on top of a beautiful Art Deco building at 343 Sansome Street, is a wonderful sun terrace on the 15th floor. 

Office workers often bring their lunches up to the quiet garden area up here to get some air with the traffic a distant murmur below. There was one corner where the view of the financial district was clearly the most dramatic, looking down along Sansome towards Market St. 

In this view you have the drama of the height we are at, coupled with the fact that we are still being dwarfed by nearby skyscrapers. Contrasting bands of dark tinted windows with lighter concrete on tower blocks either side of the view pull your eye into the composition like a Japanese sunburst flag. I have kept the brushwork loose and expressive on these sections so your eye is quickly swept past them toward the more detailed brushwork of the street level in the centre of the painting, coupled with the device so often used to catch the eye in urban american paintings - the yellow taxi.

Oil Painting 4 - Pier 39

A guaranteed colourful crowd scene walking along a popular pier boardwalk with an iconic San Franciscan skyline behind was enough to tempt me to this spot and work through the necessary permit process to bring the oil painting set up here.

The view down on a sunlit crowd made me think of Claude Monet's La Rue Montorgueil, and how he tackled the challenge of a moving mass of people with combinations of coloured brushstrokes.

The piano staircase on the left reacted something like a real piano, which was a real novelty for the first couple of hours.

The composition tilt has been introduced to keep the viewers attention on the flow of the crowd down the pier and reduce the impact on a potentially boring vendor roof directly below my vantage point.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Oil Painting 3 - Chinatown, San Francisco

Probably the busiest pavements in San Francisco, Grant Street, is never quiet through Chinatown with 24hr bustle.The deliberately 'over the top' oriental architecture, the masses of lanterns, signage and packed street level shops culminate in an intense jigsaw of colour that would translate well into oils.

There seems to be a lot of large street furniture in the US that can be useful to a street painter to tuck in-between and keep the hazardous easel legs, turpentine and oil paint out of the crowds.

I seemed to attract a large number of older generation Chinese men to really intensely study my painting process and spoke with a few fellow painters despite a language barrier. I think there must be an enormous appreciation of craft in this demographic.

The composition i have chosen isn't 'neck-craningly' wide, instead wanting to have the majority of the picture plane filled with Grant St.'s cacophony of colour. Just as you need dark around light to know that it is light, I have brought into the frame quite a plain, spacious sunlit wall on the right as a breather, that highlights the depth and attack on the senses of the main street.

Oil Painting 2 - Up on the Roof

Roof terraces have always had an appeal to me and I am sure to other cold English people living in rain dripping pitched-roof houses and watching American television.

So now it is my turn to share in the Californian sun, with our accommodation having a flat roof with access and a fascinating vista right the way around. From up here we can see cable cars, the sea, Alcatraz and the Sister Act church, as well as Lombard Street, some Steve McQueen 'Bullit' and 'The Rock' car chase scene locations and even some of Scorpio's hideouts from 'Dirty Harry'.

This painting is a morning view, I often try and start something that isn't too challenging to travel to for in the mornings, so having this lot literally upstairs was perfect. Early mornings in San Francisco are quite misty so this painting started around 9.30am until noon over 5 days. I was keen to capture some typical Victorian-style colourful architecture along with the cable car route, and the distinctive incline streets and flat intersections.

It was quite a perilous place to paint with no rail or barrier which I have tried to relate with an exaggerated pull down to the nadir vanishing point.

The harsh relatively continuous sunlight is facilitating some enjoyable experimentation with injecting strong colour into shaded regions.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Oil Painting 1 - The Crookedest Street in the World

Oil Painting1 - 'The Crookedest Street in the World'
We allowed ourselves a few days much needed R and R on arrival to get over the jet lag, see some sights and get to grips with our new surroundings before sourcing the equipment and starting work.

Our accommodation is in North Beach relatively close to this landmark - Lombard Street.

You probably already know this street it has featured in that many films, photographs and computer games. Hitchcock used it in Vertigo and it played a popular role in Grand Theft Auto.

The street used to be a straight 27% gradient drop before town planners introduced 8 hairpins to slow down the speeding Model T Fords in 1922. With the equally famous cable street cars dropping you off at the top, it's fun to walk down the hill amongst the flower beds and watch the drivers winding down the hill.

It's a difficult subject to capture despite everyone having a go with their camera. The obvious vantage point is at the bottom of the hill looking back at all 8 turns although I have attempted a different view that hopefully locates the viewer in the centre of the action rather than a postcard view from a distance.

I have tried to reflect the steepness of the hill by flipping the canvas into a portrait and condensing a 180 degree sweeping viewpoint, looking both up and down the hill from midway, into the tall format. This is a similar approach to a previous subject I painted in Shrewsbury, a steep winding road into the County town known as Wyle Cop (read more about that painting here ) -

This has given quite a 'cartoon' feel to a very cartoony landscape full of bright colours in the Californian sun, epitomised most by the resulting near vertical car near the centre of the composition.

The bright colours I am using I sourced over here, are a range of Gamblin oil colours made in the US. I decided it better to buy over here rather than ship all the equipment.

The curves in this section of the road and the curved sweep of the painting contrast the strict grid format of the rest of San Francisco seen in this painting further down Lombard Street as it heads up Telegraph Hill towards Coit Tower. The other landmark squeezed into this composition (and slightly enlarged to be noticeable) is the Trans-Atlantic Pyramid Tower.