Saturday, 12 October 2019

Bearded white men

One of the issues I have in continuing with my series of portraits of revolutionaries is finding interesting enough photos of people who I am interested in because of what they have done. I don't just paint people because of what they have done and because I find their lives, writings or place in history, I have to find a photo of them interesting enough to inspire a painting. A big problem here is the large number of bearded white men involved in the revolutionary history.  I am reading about people from all periods of history from all around the world, but as everyone knows it is a lot of men writing about men. And in fact a lot of white men writing about white me. And I am beginning to think a lot of bearded white men writing about bearded white men.  Especially when you get to looking at revolutionary Europe in the 19th century. Here's just a few:





I am sure you recognise a few of these - the obvious ones such as Lenin and Marx at least - but the others? I was looking for a portrait of Pavel Axelrod you can see him amongst the guys above - the bearded white guy ... OK the 9th of the photos above, just after Martov and before Lenin. His story is quite interesting and different and he isn't well known, so I though maybe I could add him to my list of potential portraits. But no. Just another bearded white guy. I like that photo but I have had enough at the moment of bearded white men as subjects. So what I am working on is another man - but not with a beard, and not European. Sandino.  Outline sketch below:

Monday, 23 September 2019

More portraiture... photography, copyright, composition

This blog is finally catching up with the portraits I have done but not shared. I am just getting back into painting and drawing again after my summer of pain. Shoulder and arm and knee pain have reduced to acceptable levels - now I only have my ankle and foot to deal with. X rays on Tuesday to see if there’s a break. So here is Nadezhda Krupskaya a recent portrait I have done. she was a leading player in the Russian Revolution and was at one time Chair of the Russian communist party- as well as being the wife of Lenin.

So here she is. Or rather here is a painting of her. Or rather here is a painting of her using an old black and white photo of her I found on the net. Or rather here is a photo of my painting of her. So which is the art? The photo of the painting? The painting itself? The original photo? Hmm.
Here’s my 10 pence worth: the original photo was not a piece of art. It was a photo taken for official purposes and not meant as a piece of art. Even so I would argue that it does have some artistic value as an original piece of creativity.  The photo of the painting isn’t art - it’s a digital reproduction of a painting- which is the art.  I may be wrong but I don’t think this is controversial. 

Below is a photo I took last year in the National Portrait Gallery in London:

A portrait of Harold Wilson by Ruskin Spear . A great piece of art, a great painting. I love it. Is my photograph of the painting art? Of course not. No one could say that. It’s a photo of a piece of art. Yes?

 I don’t think that’s controversial. No here’s another photo I took, this time in Barcelona:

Is my photo art?  Or just a photo of someone else’s creativity? There is at least one photographer selling his photos of other people’s graffiti. Hmmm. I know of another one who likes recording graffiti everywhere in homage to the graffiti and the graffiti artist. He doesn’t sell his photos, he just shows them on Instagram. He does it because he likes doing it. He has even less followers than I do and just does it for fun. He doesn’t think he is creating art, he thinks he’s recording art. I agree. Somehow photographing other people’s creativity doesn’t feel like art to me. It’s clear to me that there’s a difference between creativity and recording. And the fact that one person does it on their mobile phone and the other does it on a fancy SLR camera doesn’t make any difference. To me selling your photography of other people’s artwork without giving any credit or royalties is tantamount to plagiarism. So here’s one more photograph:

It’s a portrait I did of my dad, Dannie Abse, several years ago. Today would have been is 96th birthday

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Portraits Pain and Mobile apps

Well to start with I have downloaded a mobile app to encourage myself to do more on this blog. I tried this once before and it didn’t work but hopefully this app will be better.
Secondly (in reverse order in case you hadn’t realised) I have had a painful summer. First my knees went- I have put on so much weight and my arthritic knees couldn’t take it. Injections of artificial cartilage eventually cured this. But then the return of tennis elbow after four years crippled my arm and this unsurprisingly spread back to my shoulder. Aaargh. And I won’t even mention my sprained ankle. Oh ok I will.
Before all that I managed to carry on with my portraits series. 

Above is Elaine Brown- former Black Panther leader. She was for a while chair of the Panthers and their education officer. To this day she’s still a political activist and should for Senate in 2008 for the Green Party.

The painting above is of Welsh Socialist, reformer and a founder of the cooperative movement Robert Owen. I painted this alla prima - wet on wet. I think I need more practice with this technique, it’s hard but in many ways more rewarding- more accidents- more intense. It  is so different to adding glazes, layer over layer. Generally I find myself somewhere in the middle of this!
Last but not least:

I am really doing something wrong if you don’t recognise Fidel Castro above, and if you have no idea who he is- READ!!

Back soon with some other recent paintings.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Durruti and Roma


It's been kind of a busy time. I have finished a weird painting of Buenaventura Durruti which I have mixed feelings about: I like the technique I used and how the paint looks, but unfortunately I think I have made Durruti look like a moronic clown - a bit like a version of Guignol - the scary looking French puppet which I guess is a pit like Punch and Judy. 

 I am sorry about this because in many ways i admire Durruti, who led a column of anarchists to fight against the fascist Franco during the Spanish civil war. I don't think Guignol did anything as admirable. I was going to put a picture of Guignol on here too, but he is too scary and horrible looking.

"It is we the workers who built these palaces and cities, here in Spain and in America and everywhere. We, the workers. We can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth. There is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeoisie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts.  That world is growing in this minute."
— Buenaventura Durruti 


The news about Rome is that I am honoured to have been selected for Artrooms Roma an international Art Fair to be held at the end of March. It is an unusual event - each artist is allocated a room at the Church Palace Hotel (a four star Hotel in central Rome) and turns this room into a mini gallery for a few days. I am looking forward to it - as well as being excited about the exhibition,  I actually haven't been to Rome for 42 years, and plan on driving there - 1000km each way - which in itself will be an event. I am now frantically framing and tidying up paintings as well as working on a commission which has to be completed soon.  So there's nothing like a bit of procrastination by writing this blog!

Friday, 28 December 2018

The Greatest

Another portrait - a bit different, Ali, the Greatest. An inspiration too many. His political views upset some, as an active member of the Nation of Islam, but he contributed to civil rights fights in the USA, and refused to fight in Vietnam, costing him his freedom. He was a man of principle, and without question the greatest boxer who ever lived - as well as being a fantastic showman. I love him, and consider him to be another great revolutionary.
oil on canvas 90x70cm
I wish I could photograph the painting a bit better - the black background makes it hard!

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Trotsky - whatever happened to our heroes?

I had to get around to Russia sooner or later, and Trotsky's exile in Mexico and his interesting looks make him a good subject. What's the difference between Stalin and Lenin's views and Trotsky's? Put simply Trotsky believed in internationalism, not the concentration of communism in one state - the Soviet Union. Trotskyists believe that his views were more reflective of Marx's. Leninists don't . Meh. As Bakunin said- A dictatorship of the proletariat is still a dictatorship. Stalin was the real problem, as he ended up believing in the dictatorship of Stalin. Simplistic? Moi? Stalin purges Trotskyites in the Soviet Union, and eventually murdered Trotsky. As the Stranglers once noted "He got an icepick that made his ears burn".

Leon Trotsky - Oil on Wood Panel 40x52 cm

Thursday, 1 November 2018

It's been a long time... More revolutionary portraits and other stuff

It's been a long time since I've updated the blog. Lots of stuff has happened since then, and I have done lots of work of different types, quality etcetera. I have managed to keep my main website at up to date so for missing artworks take a look there! Mainly I have continued with my portrait series of revolutionaries. Here are some them:

This is Franz Fanon. A very interesting man. He was born in Martinique and was therefore French. He trained as a doctor became a psychiatrist, and is noted for his writing on philosophy, politics and race. And of course as a revolutionary and a Marxist. He swapped sides in the Algerian War of Independence and became a member of the Algerian Liberation Front. He worked on the front line of the war supporting wounded and traumatised Algerians. His written work became hugely influential, particularly his analysis of the effects of colonialism black people. It's very hard to simplify his life down to one paragraph, but here's a quote from leading African scholar and philosopher Lewis R. Gordon: "Fanon's contributions to the history of ideas are manifold. He is influential not only because of the originality of his thought but also because of the astuteness of his criticisms. He developed a profound social existential analysis of antiblack racism, which led him to identify conditions of skewed rationality and reason in contemporary discourses on the human being"

This is Giuseppe Garibaldi, 19th century revolutionary, mainly known for his influential involvement in the unification of Italy, but also because of his revolutionary activities in South America and France. He was born in Nice (then part of Piedmont) in 1807. He worked as a merchant seaman, and as a young man joined the then illegal "Young Italy" movement founded by another Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini. After being condemned to death for his anti-Austrian revolutionary activities, Garibaldi spent many years in exile supporting revolutions across the Atlantic, always looking, however to return home and fight for the unification of Italy.  He loathed the dominance of the Catholic church and what he saw as its misuse of power in Italy and in other latin countries. He famously wrote "God didn't create man, man created god". His ideas for his time were revolutionary, and he supported always increased rights for ordinary people.

Emiliano Zapata Salazar 8 August 1879 – 10 April 1919) was a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution, the main leader of the peasant revolution in the state of Morelos, and the inspiration of the agrarian movement called Zapatismo. He fought for the freedom of ordinary Mexican people from the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, which had last for 35 years, and caused immense poverty for agrarian workers. He fought all his life for land reforms that would give ordinary people control over their land and lives, and whilst he succeeded in getting these reforms implemented in Morelos, Mexico deteriorated into a series of battles, wars and disputes. Series of governments refused to issue reforms that revolutionaries had fought for, and Zapata viewed that a number of his contemporaries sold out, so he had little option but to keep fighting. Government forces killed Zapata eventually by tricking him to come to a meeting, and then gunning him down.