Diary of a Painting - Michael Roberts

Frontier, 2019 Oil, wax and resin on linen. 61 x 36 cm

French fine universal primed linen, Russell & Chappell
branded stretcher, Old Holland and Michael Harding
oil paints with various mediums. Sandpaper.

I’m not in the habit of rescuing a painting. Off with
its head, out with the Stanley knife, into the bin. In
the spring of 2017 Frontier started out well and I
left it alone, almost finished before going on my
summer holiday. I constantly thought about this
painting and right royally fucked it up within an hour
of my return.
Painting, my obsession with painting and the activity
of painting pretty much fills my head and heart all day
long. When things go wrong, frequently, the results
play on my mind and nervous system, its uncomfortable
and I’m told I’m difficult to be around.
However, I’m dammed if I going to give up on it.

Some time was spent sanding back the surface and I
began again with a clean slate, one imbued with echo’s
and ghosts of previous versions.

This version of Frontier superficially resembles the
previous two, except it inhabits a different universe.
This is an important small big painting. Important
because it unlocked space, gave new permissions
and air to my practice.I’m of an age where friends and

Ffamily start dying, unfortunately. I’m thinking long and
hard about what really matters and apart from my
private life, everything comes right back to painting.
It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.
Frontier is a circuitous meditation on the fragility of
life, how we are held in suspension as time keeps
pushing forward and dragging us along whether we
like it or not. There’s also a passing nod to Munch
and Johns along with some crap sci-fi TV shows
from the distant past.

What pulled me through to completing the final
version of Frontier was an injection of ‘get on with it’
after a visit to the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg
last winter. This museum was high on my bucket list
with its amazing collection of paintings and especially
its holdings of Matisse and Picasso, those two old
chestnuts. Going from room to room was totally
re-energizing. They contained powerful and life
affirming work, which confirmed my love and desire
for painting. Starting with Matisse’s purple decade,
Red Room (Harmony in Red) 1908, Dance 1910, Music
1910. These wonderful perceptive paintings proudly
showing their corrections. Meanwhile next door was
Mr. Picasso with bloodied axe chopping away at
painting with Dance of the Veils 1907, Dryad 1908
and Farm Woman 1908. The list goes on, never mind
the superb artists in the subsequent rooms. Francis
Bacon said, “Painting is the pattern of one’s own
nervous system being projected on canvas”. For me
these words give form to this experience.

Michael Roberts 31/12/2019

Images by Peter Abraham

I rarely have music playing whilst painting, I find it too
distracting. I do listen during the cleanup process but
mainly at home.

Albums recently around the hifi-

Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew
Trio Lirico: Max Reger- String Trios - Piano Quartet
Trio Lirico: Weinberg, Penderecki, Schnittke -
String Trios
Edith Mathis: Selected Lider
John Ireland, A Downland Suite: Richard Hickox,
City of London Sinfonia
Marianne Faithful, Negative Capability
Doris Duke, I’m a Loser
Stan Tracy Trio with Peter King, The Last Time I Saw You
Jonathan Dove, In Damascus with the Sacconi Quartet
Feico Solo, Feico Deutekom
John Coltrane Quartet, Crescent
Talk Talk, Spirit Of Eden

Personal standout exhibitions seen in 2019-

Bridget Riley @ Hayward Gallery
Reinhard Mucha @ Sprüth Magers
Victor Willing @ Hastings Contemporary & Turps Gallery
Tal R @ Hastings Contemporary
Elizabeth Murray @ Camden Arts Centre
William Blake @ Tate Britain
Don McCullin @ Tate Britain
Lee Krasner @ Barbican

Two standout books-

Into Words.  The Selected Writings of Carroll Dunham.
Fantastic take on Art by a wonderful artist.
The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay by Michael
Chabon. Just get copy and hold on for the ride, truly great


Diary of a Painting - Jo Hummel

Clinch and Comedy, Emulsion and Acrylic on watercolour paper and ply, 60 x 60 cm, 2019

I’ve chosen two paintings which were made simultaneously, Comedy and Clinch, created August 2019. It would be difficult to discuss a work as a single entity as they are all made in twos, threes or sometimes fours.

Comedy and Clinch were created at the end of an intense 9 month studio period. In this time I’d created work for 3 solo exhibitions as well as taking part in the Turps Painting School correspondence course. They were the final two paintings to make the cut for the exhibition in Sweden. There were some interesting questions cropping up at this point. I have been using positive and negative space in large central areas of the canvas to create commanding pure forms which are governed by the details in the outer margins. I’ve been asking myself ‘Who is the painting performing for?’. I see visual motifs in the work which I find reassuring, calming, soothing, energising, empowering, and I have a notion that the subconscious is guiding the conscious self in some profound, personal, developmental way. I’ve also been using visual routines such as symmetry, stacking and repetition. The recent intense studio period helped me to reach a new visual understanding of space which I’d easily compare to the sensation of standing in a room which you have grown to know intimately. I worked on the two final pieces quickly, over 3 or 4 days. My decision process had sped up. Clinch took longer than comedy and presented many manifestations before it became the finished piece. Because of the repeating deadlines I’d been adhering to a strict work routine, balancing practical and physical tasks with conceptual development. By the time I’d started on Comedy and Clinch I was already looking towards a slower, less militant pace.

My process is separated into two stages, painting and then assembling. I work onto a watercolour paper made by St Cuthbert’s Mill. Using brushes and rollers, I paint or artwork the paper sheets on both sides in household emulsion or mixed acrylic. In this case it was a very dark purple which is a nearly black aubergine when dry. On the reverse I used a chocolate grey colour. Often I’ll force the accidental bleeding and printing which occurs naturally when working the material in this way.

All of my colour understanding comes from what I see around me. The green corrugated iron boat shed next door to my studio is the same green in Comedy, in a certain light the dog’s aubergine nose contrasts with his black coat which you see in Clinch, the orange life aid at the pool was also a trigger. A colour will stir an emotion, then I go find it or mix it. Other colour choice is made in the moment, recycling what’s around and placing and rearranging until I see a relationship which satisfies me. Because I colour the paper front and back, the reverse might withhold the solution so I flip sections on both paintings, working back and forth. In this case with Comedy and Clinch, nothing was lost or discarded, material and understanding being shared between the two pieces. It’s an economical way of working which harks back to when I used found material.
Once dry, the paper has the weight and flex which is similar to a piece of thin leather. I cut into it using sharp tailor scissors. On smaller sections and straight edges I’ll use a knife. I don’t pre-plant he shapes. It’s all decided on the spot, however it’s far from random. I’ll have combinations of shapes and colours readily available, either on view within previous works or lying on the floor. Ifs omething is the wrong colour, but the right shape, I’ll use it as a template. The paper sections are fixed to the ply substrate using PH neutral PVA and UHU for the small pieces. The paintings weret hen weighted under several smooth, heavy kitchen cupboard doors. Any large panels might get an extra bit of heat press using a domestic iron. I allowed 24 hours for the glue to set, before I varnished them using an almost invisible UV protective, matt varnish by Lasquax, and then some satin Windsor and Newton for the final layer.

I listen to soundscapes, ambient, electronic, sometimes acoustic. But I usually favour beats and digital noise. I find it more hypnotic and a useful tool for accessing the right psychological space for making work.

Whilst creating this work I was listening to:
Mount Kimbie
Blackbird Blackbird
Beach House
British Sea Power (https://youtu.be/J9fDQxt9A70 )

I made a choice to remove news from my life whilst working on the exhibitions and Turps course. I decided that in order to reach the quality of concentration I needed I had to select stimuli and distractions carefully. So I stopped buying papers, deleted news apps and unfollowed journalists. I’ve recently enjoyed returning to the chitter chatter of papers and news apps, but it was a healthy and peaceful escape from the political noise and helped me focus on my own tasks.There is a clarity in the two paintings which I think reflects the isolation I was forcing upon myself.

Recent Books:
Everybody Lies, Big Data, New Data… Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine
Constellation of Genuis, 1922 Modernism and all that Jazz by Kevin Jackson
The Class Ceiling by Sam Freidman and Daniel Laurison
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Exhibitions etc
Studio visit, Carol Robertson
London Art Fair
Sara Dare, Sid Motion Gallery
Harder Edge, Saatchi Gallery
Shape Recognition, Eagle Gallery
Carry On, Fold
1000 Years of Collage, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

During the time this work was made and the months leading up I was regularly running at the gym and exercising a friend’s horse. I like both for the early mornings, the physical engagement, and the thrill. I’m no good in the studio unless I’ve thrashed about on a running machine and arrived with a clear head. Also walking the dog is good, anything to balance out the long indoor studiop eriods.

Jo Hummel