John Renshaw

May - June 2016

May - June 2016

Recent work continues to focus on relationships between objects, with a continuing regard for the space they occupy. In addition, I am seeking to maintain some visual connections concerning relationships between the illusion of three dimensions and flat surfaces. This is explored through tone and also the grouping and compression of separate forms and shapes. My response continues to be highly intuitive and remains a process of discovery through making drawings.

April 2016

Morandi maintained his remarkable commitment and persistent visual engagement with still life throughout his life.

I must concede that responding to his paintings remains quite challenging - (particularly in connection with the issue of repetition .....but this is perhaps inevitable!)

Each new drawing becomes a problem to solve. Although I am not not working directly from actual objects,there has been an emerging concern with what perhaps might be referred to as 'visual / pictorial mechanics'.My drawings are an attempt to deal with both shape and form.Decisions concerning potential tonal relationships emerge during their making,gradually exposing and revealing structure.

.......a process of discovery that has become strangely addictive !


The following observations appeared in an excellent exhibition review written by Siri Hustvedt (following her visit to an exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery in Venice. ( 'The Later Morandi:Still Life's 1950-1964'). The catalogue for this exhibition published by Mazzotta,Milan.

See: 'Seeing through the image,checking out the shadows,getting past the edges of ordinary things - Not Just Bottles' Siri Hustvedt: published in Modern Painters magazine Winter 1998.pp.20-26 )

" can be argued that these objects create a formal arrangement that plays with abstraction,that mimesis is secondary to the space itself.The exhibition's excellent and thorough catalogue mentions the links that have been made between Morandi and abstract artists,including Rothko,Albers,Donald Judd and Mondrian.While it is easy to see these connections,particularly to Rothko's luminous canvases and to Mondrian's development from his architectural trees to his famous rhythms of primary grids,I think that the project Morandi undertook for himself is finally very different from that of painters who ended up in thoroughly abstract space.Morandi stubbornly resisted the debate about abstraction that raged around him during the years when he painted these canvases.He stuck to his bottles.In a radio interview in 1957,he said, 'For me nothing is abstract.In fact,I believe there is nothing more surreal,nothing more abstract than reality'.This curious statement contains a paradox. Morandi first says that nothing is abstract and then he says that reality itself is abstract.So which is it?

I think it is not either/or,but both-an almost mystical statement about the problem of seeing.What I see and paint is real.I paint the real and that reality looks like this - abstracted.....'


I have also discovered a very interesting book of photographs - Morandi's Objects by Joel Meyerowitz.

He has been given access to Morandi's studio and taken photographs of the objects Morandi used to make his paintings.

Each image depicts a single object - some 103 images in all plus a very haunting image of his room.

Published in 2015 by Damiani - Bologna, Italy

ISBN 978-88-6208-453-6

December to January 2016

An exhibition is currently taking place at the ’Ingleby Gallery ’in Edinburgh (28th November 2015 - 30th January 2016). It takes its title from a Sean Scully essay on Morandi - ‘Resistance and Persistence’ - and includes work by the following : Agnes Martin.Cy Twombly.Edmund de Waal.Francesca Woodman.James Hugonin.Rachel Whitread.Richard Foster.Richard Long.Roger Ackling Sean Scully.

(Although there is no catalogue to accompany the exhibition some examples of exhibited work appears on the gallery website.)

My personal (and intuitive and improvisational) visual conversation’ with Morandi continues!
In connection with a recurring concern for tonal relationships in recent drawings ( and the issue of ‘contrast’), I was prompted to recall the drawings of Myron Stout. Most particularly his black and white graphite drawings. In addition, his thoughts concerning painting and also abstraction also seemed interesting.

The following is an extract from an interview with the artist discussing painting and published on-line:( interviewer : Robert Brown:see ‘Oral history interview with Myron S. Stout 1984. Archives of American Art - Smithsonian Institution’

At one point during the interview, Stout references the teaching of Hans Hofmann.
“He had a very explicit philosophy of what painting is,and the means for that. It wouldn’t matter if he were talking about a Picasso or a Piero della Francesca - the same thing applied, whether it was a completely abstract Kandinsky or a Giotto ”…..

“At bottom, the painters problem is the business of the flat surface, two dimensions, and you have to imply three dimensions. You don’t make three dimensions. You have to adapt, you have to allude to the third dimension. You do it through various dynamic means,from variations in colour, to overlapping planes. It applies in Japanese or Chinese Art or 14th century, or 20th century art”.

“……Morandi freed himself from having to conceive each picture as a new, unprecedented, narrative event; instead, he could consider the essential abstract issues of picture making itself. A parallel can be found in the working methods of American abstract painters of the 1960’s and 70’s, such as Kenneth Noland or Frank Stella by working in series, thoroughly exploring the permutations of a given pictorial structure before moving on to a variation, they were able to concentrate on what truly fascinated them - colour, interval, proportion and expanse - just as their Italian colleagues did in his closely related images…”

( from catalogue essay by Karen Wilkin - Giorgio Morandi - published on the occasion of the exhibition Giorgio Morandi: The Suspended Vision: watercolours, drawings, and etchings’23 September–30 November 2008.Italian Cultural Institute of New York & 1st October–30 November 2008 Casa Italianate Zerilli-Marimo, New York University. Exhibition curated by Renato Miracco. catalogue edited by Renato Miracco.Edizioni Charta sri Milano 2008. P.9.( Charta Books Ltd.New York City.Trieca Office. ISBN 978–88–8158–704–9).

November 2015

Drawings continue to deal with invented forms grouped within a space.Tonal relationships continue to emerge during the process, and inform the emerging structure.

Morandi’s persistent visual engagement with the theme of ‘still life’ involved the arrangement and rearrangement of similar objects.They were strategically placed and the visual relationships between them carefully planned in anticipation of making a painting.

Whilst I am not,( at this point )working from actual objects,the location of the my ‘invented forms’ are initially composed. Once organised,potential tonal relationships can then be explored.Such ‘variations on a theme’ whilst challenging, appear to be unlimited.I am hoping that some small three-dimensional pieces may inform further developments.

Morandi referenced Cezanne, and was alert to the evolving significance of cubism.My Additional thoughts in connection with artists whose work may be of some particular significance include: William Scott, Ben Nicholson, James Bishop and Laurence Carroll.The connection with ‘Arte-Povera’ and ‘Minimalism’ may also be of relevance. 

However, I hope to retain some sort of balance between intellect and intuition! One hopes that things will emerge through practice ( and not necessarily start with a result ).

In discussing the paintings of Morandi, Robert Irwin made the following observations:

1. Concerning the ’interpretation between figure and ground’

’In Morandi they were never really separate. in fact, even with the figurative elements there were cases where his ground actually got in front of the figures or in many cases couched them so intimately that there was no separating the two. Physically he carved a space for each one of these elements where the amount of space left by the so-called ground was exactly that which the object occupied, so that it was as if the air had taken on substance…..’pp 60–61

2. Concerning Morandi’s continual repetition ( & painting the same subject matter over and over again ).

“One of the extraordinary things about Morandi’s achievements”, he asserts, “is precisely the spareness of his means. It’s always those same bottles on the same table.On a conceptual level, the subject remains the same. One could, I suppose, insist upon interpreting the relationship between various sets of bottles. But what Morandi did there was to take the same subject to the point of total boredom, to the point where there was no way you could- or he could, anyway-seriously any longer be involved with them as ideas or topics. I mean, through sheer repetition he entirely drained them of that kind of meaning: they lost that kind of identification and became open elements within the painting dialogue he was having. And the remarkable thing was that although the content of those paintings, in the literate sense, stayed exactly the same, the paintings changed radically, I mean, each painting became a whole new delving into and development of the physical, perceptual relationships within the painting” (p.72).
‘Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees’

(Expanded edition - over thirty years of conversation with Robert Irwin.) Lawrence Weschler. University of California Press.2008. ISBN. 978–0–520–25609–5 (pbk)

October 2015

Drawing continues to provide a significant means of exploring possibilities, and the process has become increasingly intriguing. Initial marks begin to establish structure concerned with the location of forms and shapes. Once established the problem of dealing with tonal relationships begins. This is not dissimilar to solving a puzzle - adjacent tonal areas determining how the image is interpreted and how forms/shapes become separated or connected. This strategy seems rather like distinguishing the zones/areas on a map i.e. two adjacent areas of the same tone may interfere with the structure).

Morandi's   use of shadows often presented a degree of ambiguity. Dark areas might be seen as relating to a solid form or may simply make reference to a space between forms.

I remain quite uncertain about what may happen next, but a number of recent drawings have begun to reference three dimensions.

Alongside the drawings and paintings, current work in three-dimensions is slowly developing, although more finished pieces have yet to emerge. This currently involves 'temporary' and 'permanent' sculptures, wall and shelf pieces. I have also been considering the role photography might play in dealing with 'objects', specifically in connection with light and shadow.

Reference to Cesare Brandi (1906-1988) art historian and critic.

'When Cesare Brandi published a book on Morandi in 1942, he made a point of comparing his work to Cezanne's and even to the 'audacious abstractions' of Kandinsky's.
'Kandinsky's formal elements were circles, triangles, rectangles and carefully planned lines. Morandi's were an equally limited and repeated assortment of boxes,vases and bottles arranged on the circus cubed space of a table top'

- From a catalogue essay: 'Portrait of Morandi' by Luigi Magnon - p. 37 in 'Giorgio Morandi' - an exhibition organised by The Des Moines Art Centre: September 24th - November 1st 1981.( library of Congress Catalogue Card Number : 81-68604. first printing September 1981 / second printing December 1981)

See also: 'Morandi - Cesare Brandi' edited by Marilena Pasquali, with correspondence between Brandi & Morandi. ( New enlarged edition: First edition :Editorial Riuniti. Rome 1990. ( ISBN 978.88.7336.330-9. Copyright 2008 for the edition Gli Ori,Siena-Prato).Book realised in collaboration with Centro Studi Giorgio Morandi,Bologna).

Post 5 September 2015

Work so far has prompted two avenues of enquiry:

1.The implications of the term ’Rhopography’ and the potential visual and narrative implications suggested through the use of found and discarded objects and materials. This has been explored through both temporary and permanent constructions.

2. The exploration of ‘pictorial’ or ‘visual mechanics’ suggested by Morandis’ paintings. 
Recent drawings seek to examine such issues.
For example:
The significance of the spaces between objects.
Surface and space.
Relationships between curved, horizontal and vertical elements.
Organisation and placement of objects/shapes within the confines of the picture plane and the configuration of elements within an implied space.
( I also need to further explore, and pay closer attention to his use of colour ).

"The only interest the visible world awakens in me concerns space, light, colour and form’ ( from a letter written by Morandi on 6th January 1957 and cited in Georgio Morandi - Ernst-Gerhard Guse: Franz Armin Moratorium (Prestel 2007) p.15.

( note: With reference to my last entry, and particularly my reference to the term 'narrative'. This relates not to genre of still life painting, but to my evolving response to the paintings of Morandi, and the commentary on my progress within the project.

For example , aspects of the unfolding narrative emerging from often unexpected connections with the work and ideas of a wide range of artists.
For example :
Brice Marden and the notion of repetition.
The formal compositions of Ben Nicholson,
Cy Twombly and links with Arte Povera - specifically the transformation of raw materials.
Anthony Caro 'table sculptures,

( Bryson's erudite commentary on the subject of still life and narrative painting raises issues concerning the status of the genre within the broader categories of paintings histories.
See Bryson:chapter 2: Rhopography pp 60. 61)
Bryson also discusses a preoccupation with the accumulation of objects by the Victorians. He then makes a comparison with a modernist interior; open plan, white and empty walls.

" The visibility of goods becomes an embarrasment and must be screened, making of culinary space, for example, a vacant stage surrounded by concealing doors;Those few possessions which are displayed are chosen to make the surrounding space vibrate with its own emptiness"
Modernist still life knows this space well. The work of Morandi, is made up of such vibrations in vacancy, of seeing 'solid in void and void in solid', and of inter resonating intervals eventually so fine that it takes a lengthy viewing to analyse their discrimination".( chapter 3 : Abundance
pp 97.98. - 'Looking at the Overlooked-Four essays on Still Life Painting' - Norman Bryson: Reakton Books Ltd.1990. ISBN 0-948462-06-x pbk.

Post 4 July 2015

Some small objects temporarily constructed from 'trivia'...................

Rhopography :' (from Rhopos – trivial objects, small wares, trifles) is the depiction of those things which lack importance, the unassuming material base of life that ‘importance’ continually overlooks'.

From: ‘Looking at The Overlooked – Four Essays on Still Life Painting: Norman Bryson.

Reakton. 1990 ( ISBN 0-948462-06-x pbk ) Chapter 2. P.60.

Post 3 April 2015

Currently continuing the struggle, exploring issues arising out of the paintings of Morandi. Although small drawings and painting continue, I have also, quite recently considered making some work in three dimensions using  ‘found’ objects and ‘found’ pieces of wood .The intention – to exploit both the ‘poverty’ of materials and respond to some of the structural clues triggered by Morandi’s paintings'. The search continues................ !

Post 2 March 2015

Drawing by John Renshaw


December 2014 / January 2015

Context: A brief statement concerning my current (and continuing) practice:

Paintings provide opportunities for both planned action and improvisation in response to an increasingly varied range of visual experiences, both actual and remembered. This process, modified largely by intuition, also acknowledges the significant role of the medium in the generation of possibilities. Paintings and drawings may stand as metaphors or analogies for experience but also function as catalysts, stimulating memories or unexpected associations. Such issues arise not only during the process of creating the work, but also during periods of reflection following its completion.

At this point, the paintings exist not only as visual propositions in themselves but may then serve as signifiers confirming further correspondences with the visible world and prompting further related drawings and also photographs. This process continues to raise some interesting questions concerning relationships between alternative forms of visual representation, and (to quote a favorite comment by the American painter Philip Guston) … ‘it goes on’*

(* Cited in Ashton D -‘Yes but, A Critical Study of Philip Guston. Viking Press. New York.1976. P.186)


RE - TAKE / RE-INVENT: 12th December 2014:

Notes made during my visit to the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.

The following random notes and collected references were initiated during the gallery visit. I was simply searching for clues regarding a possible source for my planned visual excursions. I also made further notes on my train journey home. These were simply quite random thoughts and inevitably somewhat imprecise. They have since been expanded  (with the support of additional of references and quotations) .I hope they will continue to reflect my thoughts and intentions as things progress.

How do I select a specific work of art from which to draw inspiration? 

Form (i.e. visual appearance, material qualities etc.)

Content, Context, Process?

Distinctions between subject and content?

The issue of an artists  ‘personal style’?

Perhaps the method of handling and managing the medium of paint is an important issue?

‘… as far as I can see, an artistic medium is the only thing in human existence that has precisely the same range of sensed feeling as people themselves do...’ (Motherwell cited in Terenzio 1992, p139 - Terenzio S. (ed.) (1992) The Collected Writings of Robert Motherwell, Oxford; Oxford University Press.

 A transcription is not a copy

The problem of describing the process of making a painting remains challenging:

“ Verbal description stops visual mediation in its tracks - and the more brilliant and profound that description is the more deadly in its effect in freezing or arresting the instinctive flow of the purely visual thinking which, in the painter, first produces the painting and, in the spectator, lies at the heart of his experience of the painting ‘ (Patrick Heron - The Shape of Colour rep in  “ Concerning Contemporary Art - The Power Lectures 1968 - 1973 ed. Bernard Smith Clarendon Press. Oxford 1975. P.157).

The challenge is not a question of ‘copying’, but a question of interpreting and responding to the work of another person. Process might appear a particularly significant issue here? Responding entirely to the ‘visual’ evidence may suggest the need to compromise. Thus it may certainly prove necessary to challenge or test ones established personal visual vocabulary.


".......... When you've done something a lot, it gets built into your arm, and wrist and just comes out - in the way you might use a certain phrase habitually, though in wholly different contexts". (Robert Motherwell - interview with David Hayman 12 & 13 July 1988. from 'The collected writings of Robert Motherwell' edited by Stephanie Terenzio. Oxford University press 1992. ISBN 0-19-507700-8.)

‘…when you paint you don’t choose to paint the way you paint, how you make a shape or a form. You are compelled to make it that way because it reflects your nature and you are therefore able to recognise it as being true, and then you leave it that way’ (Sean Scully in interview with Dr. Hans Michael Herzog 1999, see exhibition catalogue: Timothy Taylor Gallery, London – no pagination)


Towards the end of the days visit to the gallery I discovered paintings by Giorgio Morandi and Prunella Clough. I have found the work of both artists to be of particular interest over a number of years. The Morandi in the collection was a particularly good example. The painting by Clough was quite an early work and, although a strong image, it had been her more recent paintings that I have always found to be more significant.

However, I began to consider the differences in their working methods. Both artists were engaged in a process of interpreting their personal visual experiences through the medium of paint. Each approached the process in a distinctly different way. Giorgio Morandi scrutinized intensively a collection of humble objects seeking to account for both their solid form, the space within which they were situated, and the relationships between them. He demonstrated a concern for the effects of light, with shadows often given equal status to the objects. Prunella Clough, particularly in her later works, although responding to the visible world filtered such experiences in the studio through memory and re-collection through a process of improvisation.

‘I am essentially an ‘eye’ person, totally affected by visual facts’ – from Prunella Clough: New Paintings 1979-1982, exhibition catalogue. Warwick Arts Trust, London 1982 (Interview with Bryan Robertson 1982



Morandi and Clough occasionally used a common palette – greys and browns - a dull tonality.

Humble objects

The ordinary becomes extraordinary.

Re-vitalisation of formal relationships with reference to colour, surface and shape.

The ‘architecture’ of a painting .

Morandi: Still Life: a proposition built of carefully placed/arranged and located objects.

Formal relationships

Spaces between objects

Effects of light & the status of shadows

Picture plane – a considered and defined space

“There are two problems in painting. One is to find out what painting is and the other is to find out how to make a painting. The first is learning something and the second is making something” - Frank Stella .ref: The Pratt Lecture (January / February 1960) in Frank Stella: The Black Paintings (Baltimore: Baltimore Museum of Art 1976 p.78)

(In discussing the issue of abstraction, John Rajchman makes reference to the ideas of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze. ‘…. in Deleuze, one finds an abstraction concerned not with extracting ‘information’ from things (as though the material world were so much clumsy hardware), but rather with finding within things the delicate, complicated ‘ abstract’ virtualities of other things………” (see Rajchman J. (1995) Another view of Abstraction: Journal of Philosophy and the Visual Arts: Abstraction No.5. Academy Editions London pp16 –24. cited in Sack W. (1996). ‘Painting and Theory Machines ‘. in Painting in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (ed.  Moss D): Art and Design Profile no. 48. Academy Group. London ).

In order to negotiate the issues raised by the notion of ‘transcription’, I have started to make a series of small drawings in response to the painting by Giorgio Morandi. ( 30, so far, three of which appear below ). These are simply a means of thinking things through in visual terms.

The following books continue to serve as a point of reference:

‘Morandi’s Legacy: Influences on British Art.

Paul Caldwell. ( Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art. Philip Wilson Publishers).

Published on the occasion of the exhibition 12th January-25th March. 2006

Abbot Hall Art Gallery. Kendal. Cumbria. & Estorick  Collection of Modern Italian Art.

 London 5th  April – 18th June 2006. ISBN 0 85667 620 9

Guida - Museo Morandi: published by Museo Morandi . Palazzo d’Accursio, Piazza Maggiore 6

1993. ( Italian version )

Morandi: Marilena Pasquali . Giunti Art Dossier publisher: Giunti Gruppo

ISBN 88-09-76143-X

Giorgio Morandi:  ( Exhibition Catalogue ) Exhibition organized by the Des Moines Art Centre.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art September 24th  – Novembe 1st  1981

The Solomon Guggenheim Museum, New York

November 19, 1981 – January 17th 1982

Des Moines Art Centre

February 1st –March 14th 1982

Library of Congress Catalog Car Number  81-68604

Giorgio Morandi – Paintings, Watercolours, Drawings,  Etchings.

Edited by Ernst-Gerhard Guse & Franz Armin Morat

Published: Prestel. Munich.Berlin.London.New York. 2008

ISBN: 978-3-7913-3953-5

Giorgio Morandi: ‘Silenzi’

Exhibition Catalogue: Museo Fortuny. Venezia

4th  September 2010 – 9th January 2011.

First published in Italy : Skira Editire S.p.A -2010


  1. The sculptures/constructions initiate a more emotional response in me. Something of the spirit of their previous 'lives' remains with the objects animating the new forms. One clearly has two eyes and a large white tear .This is probably not entirely intentional but sometimes happens when you are concentrating on another area entirely. I also see echoes of Schwitters ,dada and surrealist constructions and the constructed sculpture of Picasso.
    I am really enjoying seeing this series of works and this blog.Thanks John for continuing to educate through making these works.

  2. Thank you very much for your observations. At the AGENDAS talk last week John emphasised the progression through visual thinking of drawing, painting and sculpture; however, the interplay between all three is surely fundamental in the development of the work.