Man Cannot Discover New Oceans Without Losing Sight of the Shore

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

Back in the day, when pubs were dimly-lit places where what little light there was came filtered through a haze of cigarette smoke, and alcohol fuelled many a deep philosophical discussion, I tried to learn Pool..I wasn’t much good - actually, I was really bad - but I enjoyed the challenge of trying to improve.

One day a girl-friend of mine happened to join us in my local, The Fountain in Enmore Green, in Shaftesbury, Dorset. She had never played the game but, undeterred by her lack of skill, took up a cue and had a go. The experience prompted her to remark that she thought everyone should take up something new each year, just to remind themselves of what it was like to be an absolute beginner, to feel nothing but confusion and stupidity, and grossly inept.

She'd tossed the idea out casually, and the conversation soon moved on to deeper matters like, how to make the white ball bounce from edge to edge until it finally nudges the ball you were aiming at to drop into the pot, and magically stops short of the hole itself! But her suggestion has always lingered in my memory as being fundamentally a very good idea for all kinds of reasons that I won’t elaborate on right now, because they could probably fill a small book.

Anyone who has ever embarked on something new knows what I am talking about, especially if you are someone who creates in any medium. Confronted by the blankness of potential and vast possibilities, panic sets in, only to be amplified when you see the appalling mess that your first attempts have produced. This reality of making myself feel like a complete novice asserts itself with especial force every time I embark on new work. It is profoundly unsettling, and it is playing out again right now as I explore a new way of working.

Allow me to explain.

I could surely go on making pencil drawings and charcoal sketches of the newly-encountered ancient olive tree for years. There is so much there to take in; so many experiences etched into the tree’s bark; so much history stored in its twisting roots and branches; so many textures and so many faces.

I could equally well carry on making work about olive trees along more or less the same lines as I have done to date in my previous series. It works very well, but I have my reasons for wanting to explore a new vernacular to articulate the deep feelings that these old trees stir up in me.

To begin with, repeating the same technique will end up in it becoming formulaic, and the work will lose its freshness and its impact. Also, if the work becomes routine it will lose conviction, and the feelings that these old trees stir up in me are far too deep to be allowed to be expressed glibly. Last, but not least, I feel as though I need to add more depth to the work.

And so I stand on a precipice, and it makes me feel dizzy. Which way to go? Which materials to use? What to emphasise? How to get the point across with conviction and real impact? What size to work? Endless questions, repeated false starts, fleeting successes and countless failures are what populate my mornings at work these days. It’s a chaotic process.

An ancient tree with twisted roots and broken branches stands in a land of red earth and reaches branches to a mottled cyan-coloured sky. Broken white lines creep around the tree trunk like veins.
Trying to find order in the chaos

A chalk pastel and charcoal sketch of the rotten wood at the base of an ancient olive tree. Features broken lines in greys and blacks to depict rough textures and damage, yellow ochres and greys to pick out the varying colours of the old wood.
Rotten wood and deep hollows

What on earth am I trying to do? Everyone knows you can't use watercolour over acrylic!

These are the workings that we prefer to hide; the things that rarely see the light of day. People who view and buy art seem so often to have the idea that it all just sort of flows out the artist effortlessly. I have no idea where these faltering efforts of mine are going to lead me in the end, nor even whether or not I will achieve what I have in mind, but I thought I would share them with you because I always find it fascinating to see what goes on behind the scenes. Talking about it like this also makes me more aware of my own process in a way.

I hope that you will enjoy a chance to follow this artist’s progress. Your reactions and any other feedback on these early explorations will be heartily welcomed.

On another matter altogether, could you help me to make a decision, please.

I am currently trialling a new artwork platform online, the Artwork Archive. The free trial period ends in three weeks, and during this time the only way people will find my work there is by following the link that I share with my contacts. I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to find me here, and let me know what you think of the platform in general. Does it make viewing work an easier experience than going onto an artist’s website? Would you be more inclined to look for and find work there than through an artist’s website? For now, I cannot sell there, but do you think that you would be more inclined to buy art from there? If so, why?

And while we are talking about buying art, have you considered buying a work of art as a Christmas gift for someone special this year? It is one way to give something unique while at the same time supporting artists, whose usual channels of income - exhibitions and gallery presences - are currently not happening. You can buy direct from the artist, and you’ll be supporting the local community, as well as by-passing the internet moguls who are getting richer every day with their online shopping portals.

Here is the link to my website portfolio, and here you can see my most recent work. You will find a huge range of work in all sizes and every price point. Remember to order soon so that you don’t lose out to someone else and to make sure that it reaches you in good time for Christmas.

Incidentally, the title of this Blog is a quote by the French author, André Gide.

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