29 April 2018

A Liverpool Bestiary. Liverpool John Moores University Print Project.

Yr Afanc

For my beast, I chose Yr Afanc. The choice was partly to do with geographic location, Yr Afanc is described to have dwelt at Betws y Coed near to my my studio location in nearby Meirionnydd and also because the visual documentation of the beast is scarce, leaving more to the imagination.

The beast is described as ferocious and terrifying, being sometimes a dwarf like creature, frog with claws or like a beaver. It is quite large and big enough to cause flooding in the Conwy valley from the lake where it resided and is named after, Llyn Yr Afanc. It had green eyes and could emit loud noise. Legend says because of the flooding, the people of Betws planned to remove Yr Afanc and eventually with the help of many people, oxen, and a maiden to tempt the beast out of the lake, it was dragged up the Lledr Valley to Llyn Ffynnon Las, close to the summit of Snowdon where, hemmed in by the rocks around the lake, it is now trapped. Yr Afanc was perhaps evolved as a myth because of the flooding that is a continual issue in the Conwy valley. 

The description of demon is useful. My interpretation was to envisage a large beast, that would fill the print. It would have as a feature at least one eye, a large jaw with zig zig teeth and claws perhaps similar to a crab. However, I did not want to be descriptive rather create a form alluding to elements of this imaginary creature that might loom in and out of focus as perhaps in a dream. The looming in and out of focus is also linked by the beasts location at the lake. I imagined mists and fog the would be horizontal across the surface of the lake and this would distort the form of the beast and make its presence more foreboding; what we cannot see, we fear. 


My preferred choice for the prints was reduction linocut. The inherent drawing process fits with the subject yet allows flexibility in the cutting for non-linear areas of flat colour. The linear marks left by cut away sections would add to the expressive quality. Being familiar with reduction lino print (where one plate is reduced by repeated cut and print and the image made by successive overprinting), I felt the combined drawing and colour application could deliver satisfactory result.

Three lino blocks were started with three different Yr Afanc drawings, making three series of prints. For these, initial idea drawings in pencil were made and then the structure carried onto the block for cutting. The initial print of the block was without any cutting so solid colour (no blank paper) is evident in the final prints.

Materials used were oil paints with Daler Rowney block printing medium, printing onto Seawight 250gram acid free cartridge paper. Equipment was an Intaglio JM25 roller press with one blanket and perspex blocks to support the lino, that is flexible. The perspex blocks also reduce slippage, a common issue with lino block/roller pressing.

Colour was applied with lightest first then through successive printing moving toward deep blue black for final linear description. Colour was applied throughout in stripes with two colours on the roller to facilitate the effect of the mist running horizontally through the prints. This also highlighted the effect of hue and tone and with interaction of colours to varying degrees of contrast so that in places it is just the hue rather than any tonal element that is evident. The feature of mist or fog was as important for me as the drawing of the imagined Yr Afanc.

Reflective Comment on Process

Non figuration and abstraction are terms not unfamiliar to the labelling of my work although neither are really true. However, the challenge of the bestiary with its descriptive and literary facet was to be challenging and I found myself returning to methods previously departed from. 

In actuality, the territory was surprisingly familiar though and the intervening exploratory practice largely to do with colour came into a new perspective as the process developed. My prime investigation in studio practice into colour remained to the fore by the deliberate decision to use my existing range of oil paints and mix on my painting palette with block printing medium. 

With print there is necessarily time to wait and absorb as you work through the at times laborious method of making prints, but these are essential periods when reflection can take place. The linocuts appear structured and planned; this must be to do with the cutting away of the block. You have to do this section and slice through the surface, imagining what will remain underneath (the colour previously printed) but in effect through colour, the chance revelations of one colour against another happen despite all planning, revealing something new and unexpected and the element of chance and risk remains. 

For me, the final cut and print remained problematic. I liked the colour of the prints but the final blue black linear elements would define Yr Afanc and further the structure of the image; it remained and printed through all three series.

Final Prints

One illustration from each series:

11 February 2018

Winter Painting 2017 - 2018

Work currently in progress on a multi panel component painting. Possibly to be shown together or separately, the new series represents a study of tertiary colour with a focus on space in and around shape in each  panel area.

2017 New Paintings: Return to Rectangle

The full 2017 series of paintings are available here

Painting No.8 2017 62 x 81cm oil on canvas

Paintings in Oriel Brondanw December 2017

Two new paintings from the 2017 series were shown in Oriel Brondanw in December part on an international selection of artists as part of Connexion 2017.

Painting No.3 2017 35 x 46cm oil on canvas

Small Sierra 2017 31 x 45cm oil on canvas

Oriel Brondanw installation first floor north side

Oriel Brondanw installation first floor north side

Oriel Brondanw installation first floor north side

Connexion Project Poster December 2017

19 October 2017

Shape of Sky

These photographs were taken from the single rear window of a small flat in central London at 20.10 hours on 24th June. Not only was the colour spectacular as a fiery sunset illuminated the buildings from this high summer unusual angle but the whole sky seemed to radiate with luminosity. These photographs required little processing and are very close to the camera's settings - the environment was totally photogenic!
Why put these rather than any other landscape? Why add them at all in fact! It is the shape of sky that interests here and moreover within the context of studio practice, I have been observing these shapes from this window on and off for the past nineteen years during those important everyday intervals when there is time to simply stand and stare. With the radiance of light, an opportunity to document the physiography of this particular vista.

Canon Powershot SX610HS

29 August 2017

Open Studio with Helfa Gelf

Open studio with Helfa Gelf features new paintings made between February and June this year. Also project drawing books For El Arreciado Sculpture Wool Symposium May 2016 and Color de la Ciutat - Palma, Mallorca with the portfolio of gouaches made on location, 2014.

18 August 2017

Four New Works: RCA 135th Summer Show and Helfa Gelf at MOSTYN 2017

Four new works on consignment, 2 Paintings and 2 Gouaches:

4.2.15 62 x 82 cm gouache

15.5.17 65 x 84 cm gouache

Central Red 37 x 49 cm oil on canvas

Sierra Nevada 33 x 48 cm oil on canvas

22 June 2017

12 Paintings: New Series: First Completed

The first completed painting of the new rectangular series of oil on canvas paintings has just been finished. The series, being made since February, marks a return to a rectangular format and support. The main reason for the use of a rectangular support was to challenge the shape format itself and test to see if the issues of pictorial image making that I have become familiar (forms constructing the perimeters) would be restrictive in the conventional rectangular picture frame format. Whilst the format has been challenging, shapes have engaged with the perimeter edges to define an integral but perhaps more unified painting. Further reflection on these no doubt to follow but results look promising and certainly different.

20 March 2017

A Note on R E - T O U R / R E - T R A C E

The film has been made as part of my contribution to the Re-take/Re-invent project. For this, I was looking at the work of Thomas Jones (1742 - 1803) and in particular, the series of small paintings he made whilst living in Naples. In December 2015, during the project time, I was able to visit Naples with International Contemporary Art Wales as part of a group exhibition in CAM Casoria Contemporary Art Museum. Whilst there, I visited the city centre, actually for one morning just before leaving, to research for the project and was able to walk across the city and visit the area around the Castel Nuovo, that features in the particular painting by Jones that I was working from. In Naples, I was struck by how familiar the city was through the eyes of Jones because of the light on walls and the washing that was hanging in the December sun to catch the warmth and how this is very much still the current character of the city as it was in Jones’ time. I live partly in London, where my family are based and was very interested to read that Lawrence Gowing (1) had a studio with others in Maple Street whilst teaching at the Slade and he thought it was the house that Jones used to live in with his family, when he lived in London. The street then, in Jones’ time, was called London Street, being renamed later in line with the furniture business on Tottenham Court Road. Part of it, directly next to the base of the BT tower does have a terrace that dates from Jones’ time. In reflecting on Jones over many years particularly since the 2002 National Gallery exhibition of his work (really a walk from Maple Street) right through to this project, my investigation required creative output and film seemed a possibility. Chance, time and place all play a part here under the construct of a project of reinterpretation. Connections and differences between two cities drawn together perhaps by noticing the transitory and temporary features of metropolitan life.  

(1.) Gowing, Lawrence. The Originality of Thomas Jones. 1985 Thames and Hudson

R E - T O U R / R E - T R A C E

12 March 2017

New Series: Return to Rectangle

New series of paintings under way in the studio. These are 18 small to mid-sized canvases and mark a return to the rectangular form. Utilising old stretchers (mainly) and canvas off cuts from previous large canvases, these new works are a return to the confrontation of the conventional edge of support and how this will or will not contribute, influence, dictate the content of the paintings. I am using photographs of architectural spaces to start these works and the palette is exploring a more tertiary hue range at this early stage of production.

Deep yellow almost a dark yellow

24 November 2016

iJADE Conference 2016: DRAWING University of Chester

Engaging Studio Practice for Learning: New Art from Past Art Re-take/Re-invent Paper at iJADE NSEAD conference on Drawing. 18 and 19 November 2016.
Big Naples Painting at Re take Reinvent Main Exhibition Oriel Ynys Môn

Andrew Smith | Bangor University, UK

Re-take/Re-invent is a group exhibition project at Fine Art, Bangor University, looking at the art collection of the National Museum Wales as a start point for an exploration of studio practice. The paper will examine the role of drawing in the investigation and development of new ideas from the works chosen. Fifteen artists have taken part in the project with different approaches to drawing being at the forefront of several portfolios. As a result, strategies for thinking through drawing have been exposed that might not have been at the forefront of the artist’s usual practice.