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Paintings


Paintings Archive
2000 show - Bond St
2005 show - Norfolk
2006 show - Notting Hill
2013 show - Kensington
Artist's CV
Painting and Writing


Paintings

The disciplines of writing and painting are complementary. Yet people are often surprised (in this country at any rate) if you try to do both. 'Which are you more,' they ask, 'a writer or a painter?' 'Both,' I reply innocently. Friends who are writers often praise my paintings, suggesting that what I should do is concentrate on painting. Friends who are artists likewise seem to be happier to see me as a writer.

But the two things are equally important to me. They both depend on close observation and feed off each other in numerous ways. Sketching someone sitting in a café, for example, forces you to look at them far more closely than you would if you were left alone with your thoughts and a double espresso. Who knows, a verbal version of that picture might turn up in a book. By the same token, working with watercolour over years means that describing a landscape evocatively becomes easier - quite apart from anything else you know the names of the colours.

In purely practical ways, the two strands of my life work well together. Sitting painting in a landscape lets you become part of it in a unique way. Nobody much notices you. You hear the comments of passers-by. ('If you try that shagging again, Archie,' says a woman to her collie on Primrose Hill, 'you'll be in deep trouble. You're allowed to do it to Molly and that's it!') If they do see you, people sometimes stop to talk, maybe even volunteer their stories, in a way that they would never do if you were sitting there with a notebook and tape-recorder. One of the most powerful confessions of racism that I detailed in my South African book Happy Sad Land came from a man who stopped his car to talk as I was doing a painting of the lonely Sani Pass on the border of Lesotho. As soon as he had gone, I abandoned my picture and scribbled down his angry words.

Local people, particularly in less-developed countries, also tend to treat you with respect if they can see that you have the ability to reproduce what lies in front of you. You are no longer just a tourist, whose superior wealth is something to be envied, exploited, or quietly mocked. Your skill is visible; people often have a genuine interest in engaging with you. In my artist's life this has taken many forms. Painting out in the bush in Botswana, I was often joined after a few minutes by a circle of tiny children who would stand watching in rapt silence for the whole progress of a watercolour. In Portugal, café owners have swapped meals and drinks for sketches of boats on the beach, or else offered to sell my landscapes to the tourists from their walls. Drawing caricatures in Covent Garden, London, I got used to a growing crescendo of approved murmuring, sometimes even a round of applause if I managed a strong likeness of my sitter; by the same token, sneers would be followed by the crowd evaporating when things weren't going so well.

My main work is watercolour landscape. I hope the pictures displayed here speak for themselves. It should be obvious that I am moved and fascinated by light on landscape. I hate the kind of watercolour that fails to catch light, or is overcrowded with detail. I aim to capture the essence of a scene, often doing something that borders on the abstract around a central focus. There seems to me no point painting things that can be better captured in a photograph. But despite alarming ultra-modern developments like the 'watercolour' button in Adobe Photoshop, the medium is still ahead of the game in its ability to catch fleeting moments of light. And even the most skilful photographer or computer programme can't capture the emotion of the artist's reaction to landscape the way paint can. Not yet, anyway. Doubtless the 'enhance emotion' tab in Photoshop is just a year or two away.
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