Adventures in Painting!
I don’t have a lot of formal training in art. I did apprentice as a potter many years ago and won some awards for a sculpture that toured the US, but beyond that I don’t really have anything approaching professional training. I did have the great fortune to learn four-colour intaglio printing at school, which I do love, and I wouldn’t mind one day being able to do more. But as for painting, I just like doing it, and I like the challenge or (I guess) adventure of trying different things and learning by just doing. I used to paint little birthday cards in watercolour or ink, sometimes craft paint, for people I knew but I have no idea whether they liked them or not. This was in England, where people might just as easily take offence that you didn’t go out and buy them a card as feel pleased that you took the time to actually make them something by hand (which I guess is also a strange and potentially threatening thing to do, I really don't know). I liked making them though. I also paint “derivative” art for my walls — Fallout 3 posters, a canvas of the Japanese Pikachu stamp from some years back, that kind of thing, but I’m not showing them here because they’re not original works, they’re just… stuff for my bare walls.
A few years ago, I found some oil paints going cheaply at the local Hobby Line in my nearest town. I’d always been interested in oils — I am a great lover of art from all over this little planet — but to invest in oils, which I had heard were difficult to use, seemed prohibitively luxurious for a once-in-a-while hobby, and my financial situation means I have to make a conscious and well-reasoned decision about everything I spend. Which means I almost never buy anything just because I’d like it, unless there’s a sale that I will never be able to take advantage of again. So when I came upon these cheap paints, I figured I’d finally have a chance to give them a go. I enjoy it very much, as it turns out, so now I have a nice little stock of paints and thinners and canvases stashed around the house ready and waiting for me to fill them with whatever odd things I happen to feel like. I don’t often have a lot of time to paint, but I always look forward to when I can. It’s probably the closest I ever come to actually relaxing.
So I hope this strange little collection will grow over time, and I hope you will enjoy what’s here. It tends to be a hobby that gets relegated to “spare time” (of which I kind of have…none), but sometimes I’ll decided to paint an album cover, and that brings it back into the purview of my always-working personality type, and integrates my interest in new and challenging ways. I like to think all this has got better over time, but who knows? Maybe putting them up here in an over-time gallery will encourage others to paint, keep painting, and to enjoy the process along the way.
Some greeting cards. Quite old now, beginning of the 21st Century. A lifetime ago. Ink and watercolours on bonded paper, mounted with mulberry (?) rag craft paper on thick coloured card.
These were done in very cold weather, and I often couldn't feel my hands. Fun times!
house paint and acrylic on canvas (palimpsest), 66 x 66 cm.
When we first moved to this house, it came with a bit of furniture and some of the paintings on the walls. There was an awful red glitter heart over silver spray enamel that I needed to either throw away or repurpose. There were some partly-used buckets of white house paint also lying around, so I gave it a thick coat of that before turning it into this. It hangs in my living room.
Moon Over Sea Cliffs
acrylic on canvas, 90 x 30.
Because these walls won’t populate themselves.
Spacegoat Bleeding Heart
acrylics on canvas, 30 x 30 cm.
Very early on, (2nd album) I thought it would be fun to try to paint an album cover. First, because I knew what I wanted it to be, but didn’t think this concept would work as a 100% digital image rendered from composited photographs. I didn’t feel that my skills and knowledge in using the GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program, which I use for pretty much everything) were sufficient to the task. Second, because I knew I also wanted to try to do more painting (if only to populate the bare walls of my house with, well, something), and because I very much like the idea of drawing all my artistic interests together in service to this music. So I painted it instead, then added a few digital effects and writing afterwards to turn it into the cover.
Faro Capo Santa Croce (Augusta)
oils on canvas board, 24 x 18 cm.
My first little oil painting! This, I think, started a little bit as a Fallout joke… there are always pictures of lighthouses in Fallout. I was very nervous, and not too pleased with the result (maybe I have too much awareness of struggling to understand how the paint “works”), but people here got very excited to recognise the nearby lighthouse that it depicts. It surprised me and made me happy — and left me encouraged to continue. I probably wouldn't have put all this stuff in this gallery if it wasn't for that, so if you want to blame someone.......
oils on canvas board, 24 x 18 cm.
2nd oil painting. Still “coming to terms” with who the oil paints are, I started to have a lot more fun with this one as my understanding grew. The primitive style of these got me excited about possibly creating a series of “famous scenes” from here in Sicily, kind of along the lines of Hiroshige’s prints. That is still in the back of my mind. I can see Etna from my roof, but not as close as this.
oils on canvas board, 24 x 18 cm.
Not a famous scene at all, as far as I know, but one that I love, just at the end of the road where I live. This is a winter scene, when the yellow flowers are bright. In spring, it is a riot of flowers in all different colours and scents.
oils on canvas board, 24 x 18 cm.
A portrait of my greatest cow friend. He comes to my gate and moos until I come out to moo back. One day, he broke into my neighbour’s garden and did great work in pruning the extra leaves off their fig tree. When he saw me watching him, he gave me the delightful horror of tearing a “pad” off one of the fichi d’india cactus and just… munching it with great, slow relish. I decided to commemorate this beautiful interaction, chiefly because I so admire his Great Spirit in not giving a damn about getting caught, but also because I’d found some ok brushes in various shapes and sizes going cheap. I’m pleased with the likeness I was able to make, and in capturing that event. I had an excellent vantage point from the stairs leading to my roof.
oils on canvas, 30 x 30 cm.
After the three little experiments with oils on canvas board, I felt the need to try something with a little more room. My much-loved dog Lyuba, mother to Sugie Bear, passed away at the age of 16 a couple of months previously, and I wanted to make a kind of memorial painting of her. It went very quickly, like it had painted itself. She was a very brave and faithful companion, a skilled diagnostician with impeccable bedside manner, and an intense, quirky little being that I still feel privileged to have known. And, despite the saying, a friend to ducks! She had a vibrant, fiery spirit, and a deep, complex personality to the point that people seeing her for the first time often asked, “She’s a dog, right?” I happened to be working on Sirius at the time, so it seemed quite natural to honour her decidedly “mythical” aspects by making the identification with Canus Major, faithful familiar to Orion/Osiris, and the twinkly, sparkly star (one of my favourites in the night sky) that shines out with the same kind of spirit as she always did. So with a few digital additions, she became the cover.
oils on canvas, 60 x 40 cm.
We have some very tiny frogs and some alarmingly giant toads here. When I say giant, I don’t mean Naruto toad-spirit giant, but still surprisingly big, like the size of a child’s baseball glove opened out. Frogs and toads are good luck, so I definitely knew I wanted to paint this guy. And I opted for, well, slightly more than life-size. This was a really interesting challenge in learning about oils… and getting to grips with how very strange frog and toad eyes really are! He is a cheerful friendly soul, I feel. I like an amphibian who’ll look you in the eye…
Lord Uthari Dragonheart
oils on canvas,50 x 50 cm.
This is another memorial painting for the finest cockerel I have even known. Lord Uthari, named for a friend in World of Warcraft who also sadly passed away, he was an amazing little general, and once scared away a stoat in full blood-lust just by looking at him. The 16 geese also loved and respected him, and would come to his side if they saw passing tourists trying to harass him while he was doing his rounds. He used to flutter up into the apple trees and shake the branches until the ripe apples fell out. The geese would then bite them into pieces that were easy to eat for all the chickens and ducks (and, of course, themselves). But more than anything, Uthari loved gooseberries. It is only fitting that he should be pictured with them.
The physical CDs of Let There Be Light have him on the disc itself. Because why not?
Let There Be Light Album Cover
oils on canvas, 50 x 50 cm.
This was pretty ambitious. I love those very old kind of wonky early Rennaissance paintings that you feel grew straight out of illuminated manuscript illustrations. I also love the billowing cloth that comes all the way through to the Pre-Raphaelites from (I guess) Greek statuary. And the decorative painting and weaving of Persia, the “Orient” and the Arab world. The idea was… if Jesus was a carpenter today, what would he be doing? Here, we see him kneeling on the edge of the carpet, and arguing with the neighbour about how best to apply weatherstripping to a Medieval wooden door (it’s an impossible task, any way you look at it). It references the wind coming under the door in the song Hard Times (ENEL), and the walls are modern, painted and kind of bare. And, as with any job done here in Sicily, there are more people looking on, ready to give their advice and input. Jesus is slightly harassed here, but not angry. The neighbour who is pointing to the place on the door showing the mysterious triangle logo of The Lowest of Low (added digitally later, since I’d learned my lesson trying to paint it in acrylics for the Bad Influence cover) is based on my neighbour Franco, with a little bit of Doubting Thomas thrown in. The general concept is that this young upstart is fulfilling a duty, but doing it in his own way, to the slight consternation of the older generations, each of whom represents a slightly different traditional philosophical (not necessarily religious) standpoint, all standing in the same essentially modern room that’s inherited this weird antiquated door. The light is borne by the only female figure, dressed in green. They don’t use the electric because it’s too expensive.
In retrospect, I regret the way I wound up finishing the frame around the picture in the album cover. But it definitely needed a gilt frame. I also think it was quite difficult for the printers’ to colour-balance, because the physical CD cover looks quite yellow compared to the original. It’s not a bad thing, but I do notice it.
oils on canvas, 60 x 40 cm.
I won't call it a "New Year's Resolution", but I kind of made a promise to myself to try to make time to do more painting in 2021. I spent the last months of 2020 creating a huge amount of album art (150 pictures or so) for all of the released albums that didn't have anything except covers for digital release for the new CD Digipacks that came out in February. I knew I'd be working hard to write and record (and make more art images) for the 10th album, VOID, which I aim to release this year, too.
But 2020 (in case you didn't notice) was a strange year, and I've struggled at times to maintain a strong focus on what I'm trying to achieve with the album. I don't relax all that easily, so I came up with the idea to paint more. First, because I enjoy it, and second, because it's a way I've found to relax while still "doing something productive".
I've had to spend some time in social media to try to drum up interest and exposure for the CDs – frankly, it's always an uphill battle to get Facebook or Instagram or even Pinterest to show anything to anyone, let alone to get people who see stuff to actually engage with it, and it feels exhausting and hopeless most of the time. If I spend too much time on it, I wind up feeling that everything is pointless, and it hampers me as I continue to work. I suspect that most of my content is too fundamentally disturbing in some way, so most people, even "friends" of mine tend not to want to encourage me. Or maybe they think I don't need encouraging because I project so much confidence or something, but the reality of it is... "creating social engagement" robs me of time and energy and fortitude, and is toxic to my wellbeing and my creativity. There. I said it.
Anyway, to build up momentum and energy to carry on doing all this stuff, I decided to do more painting. And it wasn't until March that I finally made the space to start with that.
Here in Sicily, it doesn't rain all that often, but when it does it's pretty dramatic. A couple of years ago, I went on a walk just after a huge downpour. The sun was already starting to scatter the clouds and mist and the light was satisfyingly odd. At the time I thought it was something I'd like to try to capture in a painting. So this is "After Rain", a very wintery scene for Sicily, and atypical in the sense that you don't often see representations of our rainy season, unless it's news about flooding in Catania or something, complete with startling videos of raging water coursing through charming ancient streets. Originally I was going to put in a cat that I saw that day, but as the painting progressed, I worried that it would "kitchify" what I think is otherwise a fairly decent landscape. Having a cat in the foreground felt like it wuld take away from the feeling of the day, the sky, and the expanse of land. So that sweet little cat will have to wait for another painting of his own.