Past and present, stopping, starting and trying to find the hidden song in a piece of artwork
Bob Claytor 2019,
Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 24” x 24”
This is a description of my thought processes and creative decisions whilst making the above painting; provisionally called “Record Collector” (what else?).
The image began as a photograph of this familiar record shop in Broomhill in Sheffield, that I then cropped and further changed using a vector-tracing filter to alter the overall effect. This simplified the whole image into an arrangement of flat coloured shapes. It is a similar process to that of abstracting the image in a drawing (except that it is quicker) and also has some of the colour decisions and light effects that can be more elusive in drawings completed for the artist.
Original photo -unfiltered
Vector -tracing version
I have spent many years tracing images for one reason or another and feel that it is embedded into my creative thinking process now in terms of how I look at the world. This is not to say that I do not still enjoy observational drawing, I do. However, some of my need for observation, abstraction and other interpretation realises itself more in the final painting itself nowadays.
I drew out a grid on both a colour print out of the digital image and the 24” x 24” canvas. This enabled me to transfer over an outline of the image onto the canvas.
Grid transfer to canvas
I enjoy this careful transfer of the vector lines, as a technical exercise in observation, which then affords me a clear structure for painting over after I have sealed the charcoal with dilute PVA glue.
This is clearly a flat image in the sense that there is no natural foreground middle or distance in it. As such I am more at ease with the underlaying pattern that is created by the content of what is on view. I have allowed myself to relax my normal observational drawing skills around form as subservient to this flat pattern graphic effect and concentrate on the flat shapes created by the vector tracing. (I have dwelled on this lack of conventional form throughout the making of the painting however and wish to test out this process on a picture that demands more of a traditional “walk into the landscape” response).
Meanwhile, I experimented with a time-lapse film of this initial “blocking in” stage of the painting.
Time-lapse set up
Click here: This worked well with a basic punk drum track as can be seen from the link to Instagram below, but was a major distraction to my working process. Nevertheless, it did seem to punctuate that initial stage of the work for me very well.
It was clear from the final blocked in image that I still had some way to go before the picture was completed. At this point I left it for a couple of weeks before returning to complete a second stage. Discussing “finishing paintings” on Instagram gave me some other insight into my process and help me not to feel too rushed about this and “allowing my brain to catch up with the needs of the painting”. The other idea I considered at this point was that of a “finishing queue” for a number of paintings at any one time. This was harder than it sounds however, as one inevitably begins to think in terms of “a series” of paintings and make links across them. I have only recently started painting again full time and so what had been a comfortably extended process of reflection on several paintings over a period of years was now beginning to concertina and overlap in a more challenging manner.
The idea of the “Theme” or narrative had hit me right between the eyes with this painting and yet I was imposing a rigorous abstraction of the shapes before me in the first instance, that belied the obvious narrative connotation of the image. This was I think, a bit like pulling the string on a longbow and resisting the temptation to let go. This was further fuelled by the time-lapse experience. So, in the end I didn’t so much let fly with the arrow from the bow, as simply put it down and wait for the target to come to me.
View inside the shop
Shop window close up with reflections
I had returned to the shop a few times during this interim period, as I pass by on a regular basis. On one occasion, the place was closed and I took some photos through the window of the inside (see above). At one level, the shop is very uninspiring in its dishevelled appearance, but clearly has thousands of individual stories to tell of records bought and played over almost half a century. As can be seen from the photos it is deceptively large on the inside and there is a tangible sense of tension between the surface dereliction and the promise of riches and wonder below the surface. Again, during this period, I was shopping for some paint in Town and ended up in conversation with an old guy in a shop. I told him about the painting I was doing, showed him a current picture and to my astonishment, he revealed that he had installed the halogen lights above the sign (the black squares in the painting) and also re-wired the whole shop in the late seventies (close to when it first opened I think).
So, here was the theme I had been looking for. Could I make my painting of the shop somehow ring with the music of the decades and try to reflect the dignity of its history? That all sounds rather grand doesn’t it, but it needed more than just shapes and abstraction (jaunty as that may have been) to give it some real life. So, for the second stage of the work I repainted pretty much the whole surface in an attempt to give it the vibrancy and light it needed to be able to properly sing its story.
Paintings are always about the artist and their experience also, though aren’t they? So, my mind was travelling back and forth over my own record buying and listening as well as listening to the radio and compiling playlists on Spotify as I worked in the studio. I considered making a point about downloads and the death of the music shop in general (a little Spotify logo in the window?), but that would perhaps have been a bit trite and maybe disrespectful, so I let it go.
I got a lot of inspiration and energy from reading Sting’s autobiography “Broken Music” whilst making the piece and it has become for me “the book of the painting”. As I read about Stings much more interesting and daring life in the seventy’s music world than my own, I felt a growing sense of permission to impose some of my personal lyricism on the painting. I guess I’ve sung along with Sting’s music hundreds of times but what I’ve tried to do here is to find and sing along with the music of “Record Collector” and express it in the form of this painting.
Coming back to the idea of finishing a painting, I really want it to be complete now and so it is. I had started to think of the shop as a kind of “time machine”, full as it is with millions of memories. I listened to a very interesting radio program about H. G. Well’s “The Time Machine”, which I’d actually read at some point during the 1970’s. It gave me a lot of pause for thought, but that is perhaps where I will leave the thread of that theme for now. I’ve not yet finished Stings autobiography either, but again, that’s ok, as we need all these unfinished ragged edges and half started beginnings when making art, as otherwise I doubt we could function at all.
Bob Claytor 2019,
Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 24” x 24”
Bob Claytor October 2019