Noel McCready

                                                     25th June, 2016
                                                  IN CONCLUSION

       Apart from a few dots and dashes my paintings are now finished,  I’ve been excited by the transcription process.  It’s presented many problems and I’ve leaned from solving these problems.  Keeping a journal has meant I can follow the development of the paintings from first instinctive scribbles through many revisions to the finished work. This gives me a useful understanding of how my painting-mind works and also confirms what constitutes my “handwriting”. The marks I make.

        What particularly did I get from the Michael Andrews painting ?  I believe now that I chose him because I recognised him as a member of the same “clan” as me. That I felt an urge to say “hello” when I looked at his painting.  Certainly I’m grateful that he provided me with a signpost for my direction of travel. Through “Lovers” I have developed a better understanding of painting figures in their space. His subject also provoked me to explore and research into how love has been such a dominating subject in all of the arts.

        I’ve enjoyed writing the blog, together with the text in the journal, and I’ve written far more than I initially expected to. It is often easier to write than to paint. Writing has
sometimes been a way of avoiding the challenges of painting, like stopping to have a cup of coffee!  This is why I have always believed that art-students should be allowed to write less in their courses. They should be encouraged to be practitioners of their art, not to write about art….unless they want to.  (I am unlikely ever to write again about my painting).

        I think I saw in Michael Andrews’ painting characteristics which I have always seen in a Lucas Cranach painting in the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, “The Nymph of the Fountain”, painted in 1534.  I ask myself why it is embedded in my psyche. It is not noticeably distinguished from many other fine paintings in the gallery. Its obvious eroticism must have been attractive to a seventeen year old lad, but there are many more erotic paintings in the Walker, none of which I can now remember.  So, for other reasons I found this painting more appealing than the “famous” or popular paintings on view at the time.  “When did you last see your Father?”  and “The Boyhood of Raleigh” for example, Victorian genre paintings, historically romantic, skillfully drawn, of doubtful political sentiments and depicting a mundane, realistic world.
        The “Nymph” however, introduced me to a world of mythology, an imagined world, removed by several levels from the world we normally inhabit. The world of the poet, of parable, of universal and timeless truth.
        Another element which I liked; I discovered that this Cranach painting was the thirteenth that he, or his studio, had produced of this design. Although he had his head in spiritual clouds, his feet were firmly on the ground.  He was an artisan, a producer who lived from his trade and was not averse to repetition. He was also a politician. I liked this, I liked him. He was not an Ivorytower painter, he would not have recognised the concept.
And the painting is a beautiful object. ( The green-striped pillow in all my retake paintings is a nod to The Nymph….who rests her feline smile on one).

        In the end my paintings will have been justified only if somebody is even slightly effected by something in them, as I am effected by seeing a painting by Cranach, or Matisse or Rothko, or by reading a poem by Auden, or by hearing music by Britten, or by seeing a play by Shakespeare.

                                              A good name to finish on.  

                                        From a journal :   JUNE 2016

       To return to the subject of titles,  First,  I can see that it’s a bit odd that I am content to write about this subject more than I am to write about the paintings. I have throughout this blog skirted around describing or analysing any of my images or in any way engaging with their meanings. In the absence of photographic images it would be difficult for the reader to know what the paintings look like, apart from general subject matter (lovers), the image they are based on (Michael Andrews) and that they are strongly coloured.  Yet I seem prepared to write at length about subsiduary topics…like titles!
       I have pretty well decided on the titles. But not yet which name should go to which painting.  Because we have been asked explain our working processes and our thought processes I will also explain where the names originated. Normally I would not do this.
        Transfigured Night                                                 bed- swerver
        morning dew                                                          Out on the lawn
        sleeping head… faithless arm                                small rain
        in Arcadia.                                                              loves for granted
        like virtue                                                               the peace of death
        the thrushes too                                                      deep unending

After I decided these names and wrote them down I noticed that they mostly contain unintentional irony in relation to their sources. There are contradictions, paradoxes.
       ( In his excellent book “The Genius of Shakespeare”, [ Picador 1977] Jonathan Bate examines modern literary theory.  William Empson was trained as a mathamatician and in the 1930’s was an early writer on Quantum Mechanics. He later became a respected Shakespeare authority. One of the key theories of Quantum physics is that an object
is able to exist in two different places in the same time instant. It has dual and equal existance.  Empson saw a parallel in literature and argued that a word could have a contradictory truth within itself. Bate writes “To see that something is there in a play
even when a speaker says that it is not and to judge a character in different ways simultaneously are to view Shakespeare under the aspect of a quantum world”. )

         *   Transfigured Night… the name of an instrumental tone-poem by Arnold Schoenberg. Written in 1902 it is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel. The poem is about human frailty, love and forgiveness, but is not quoted by Schoenberg. 
         *   morning dew…….is from the final verse of a folk-song,”O Waly, Waly”, from
Somerset                        …… O, love is handsome and love is fine,
                                                And love’s a jewel while it is new,
                                                But when it is old, it groweth cold,
                                                And fades away like morning dew.

         *  sleeping head.. faithless arm…..from the opening lines of W.H. Auden’s “Lullaby”                                 Lay your sleeping head, my love
                                                 Human on my faithless arm;  …...(….)

         * Arcadia…….Arcadia is a region in central Greece, believed by the ancients to be a world of simple, easy living. Perfect climate, plentiful food. An idyllic, bucolic life.
In 1640  Nicolas Poussin painted a landscpe of this perfect world, with healthy, happy shepherds and shepherdesses curiously examining a black, stone tomb. Inscribed on the tomb is the line,  “Et in Arcadia ego “. This is widely interpreted as Death warning, “ I am even here in Arcadia”.  An alternative reading is that the occupant of the tomb is saying “Heaven is as wonderful as Arcadia”

           *  like virtue….  From a line in “The Rape of Lucretia”,  libretto by Ronald Duncan, opera composed by Benjamin Britten.
                   ……The pity is that sin has so much grace, it moves like virtue,

           *  The thrushes too…..from a poem by Charlotte Mew,
                                      I so liked Spring last year
                                                  Because you were here; -
                                                                  The thrushes too-
                                       Because it was these you so liked to hear-
                                                                   I so liked you.
                                                                                             ( etc)

           *  bed- swerver…..In Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”, Leontes calls his wife Hermione a bed-swerver  (an adulterer).       I was much taken and amused by the recent gallant attempt to have the new Antarctic research ship named as “ Boaty McBoatface” and in the spirit of anarchic absurdity and solidarity I thought to give one of  my paintings an equally meaningless name. (We should all laugh at ourselves occasionally). However the authorities decided to relent and to give the name Boaty… another boat, so my solidarity melted away.  Meanwhile I had come across bed-swerver, which seemed comic and absurd, but not meaningless.  Also sad, because she wasn’t.     

           *  “Out on the lawn”….a poem by W.H Auden.  Set to music in Britten’s ”Spring Symphony”. Not strictly a love poem but about friendship and guilt and leisure, until the final crushing lines  (of the song).

           *   small rain…..from a 15th century anonymous poem.
                                                      Western wind when will thou blow,
                                                           The small rain down can rain-
                                                       Christe if my love were in my arms
                                                            And I in my bed again!
                                                                                               ( A short story in four lines!)
           *   loves for granted….from a Louis MacNeice poem
                                  (…..) And the orange moon sits idle
                                                Above the orchard slanted,
                                            Upon such easy evenings
                                                 We take our loves for granted   (…..)

*   the peace of death…..From “The Rape of Lucretia”. Ronald Duncan/Britten.
                                Beauty is all in life! It has the peace of death
                           *  deep unending.…In 2011 a student group gave me a gift. A poetry anthology,
                “The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart”, (pub. Harper-Collins). It was a kind and  timely gift. It is always close by me and I browse it frequently.  
                                Around us fear, descending
                                Darkness of fear above
                                And in my heart how deep unending
                                Ache of love 
                                  (…….)   (On the beach at Fontana;  James Joyce.)


                                    Journal.     Late June,   2016

           This is my Bibliography,  not just of books but of a few (?) of the references I’ve used during the project Retakereinvent.  Things remembered, things re-discovered, things new found.

[Family love] Gainsborough’s paintings of his daughters, particularly with the butterfly .
[First love]. Vladimir Nabokov’s “Speak Memory”, autobiography. Chapter12, (Tamara)
[Old man’s love] Janacek, string quartet “Intimate Letters”. When in his seventies                                   
                    Janacek formed a passion for a much younger married woman, who hardly                                                                                                                                                                                       
                    acknowledged his existence. But he wrote this wonderful music for her.
[Absurd obedient love] “Abraham and Isaac”, poem by Wilfred Owen, used by Benjamin       
                    Britten in his War Requiem. Mind numbing final lines
[Transcendent love] “Four last Songs”, by Richard Strauss
[Obsessive casual love] “Don Giovanni”  Mozart.
[Thwarted immoral love] “The Marrige of Figaro”, Mozart.
[Infatuation] “1909”, poem by Apollinaire (translated Oliver Bernard) pub.Penguin.             
                    The lady had a dress
                    Of violet- coloured silk
                    That woman was so beautiful
                    She frightened me
[Cynical love] “Norwegian Wood”,  The Beatles
[Mothers love] Stabat Mater Dolorosa. (See the Mother, standing weeping)…of the
                    Crucifiction text, and the many Stabat Mater settings to music, for the     
                    comfort of the grieving
[Father’s love] “When David heard that Absalom was slain”.Choral setting of the     
                    Biblical text, by Thomas Weelkes and also by Thomas Tomkins. Absalom   
                    was the son of King David of ancient  Israel, he was killed fighting against     
                    his father’s army.   “ When David heard that Absalom was slain, he went to       
                    his room above the gatehouse, and wept.  And thus he said,  O, Absalom,  
                    Absalom, my son Absalom, would God I had died for thee.”
[Happy married love] “Pale Fire”, lines 245-292. The wonderful and bizarre novel by  
                    Vladimir Nabokov. ( And we can smile at his wicked parody of a not          
                      quite brilliant poet).
[Bitter vengeful love] Willie Nelson singing “Funny how time slips away”.  Horrible and
                      brilliant. Always makes me laugh.
[Tragic love] “Ode to Billy Joe”,  Bobbie Gentry. Schubert would have loved it!
[Desperate dreams of Romantic love] Most of Schubert’s songs. Particularly “Die Schone
                     Mullerin” song cycle, (“The miller’s young daughter”).  Once upon a time,
                     at a student party in Liverpool…candle- lit, noisy, alcoholic…I was in a
                     (probably very befuddled) conversation with a barrister, who was                                   
                     frequently at such gatherings. He was a sot, always brought his own gin, 
                     loud, black suited, ash-smeared waistcoat. I mentioned (as one does) that  
                     I had just discovered Schubert’s songs and had been listening to the    
                     Mullerin set. My drunken barrister was an enthusiast. He leaned forward  
                     and sang into my ear, musically, with gin-perfumed breath, one of the         
                     songs, in German. I was impressed.  I don’t think I ever knew his name,
                     nor had any other conversation with him. But I have always remembered 
                     him, and I have always loved Schubert.  Years later I’ve seen sketches  
                     and engravings and eye-witness accounts of musical evenings held in
                     Schubert’s lodgings. They became the place for artists and musicians to
                     meet, play music and sing….candle-lit, noisy, alcoholic, youthful and with 
                     reveries of sexual encounters. It seems they were closer in spirit to my
                     student party than to modern concert-hall performances.  They had 
                     Schubert,  we had Bob Dylan.
[Forlorn love] “Kilvert’s Diary”  Poor Francis Kilvert. 8th Sept….23rd Sept 1871.
[Madcap impulsive love]”Kilvert’s Diary”. Poor Francis Kilvert. 19th June 1872.
                      Journeying to Liverpool.
[Love under stress] Raymond Carver short stories, “What we talk about when we talk
                      about love”
[Sweet, doomed, transient love] “Der Rosenkavalier”,  opera , Richard Strauss.
[Perfect love] Love songs by Richard Strauss….but best of all,  “Morgen”.
[Journey through love] “Summer with Monica”, collection of poems by Roger McGough.
[Popular song and Folk song] The dark songs of Edith Piaf;  Leonard Cohen “Suzanne”;
                      Bob Dylan, “Lay lady  lay”, “I’ll be your baby tonight”;  Beatles,
                     “Michelle”;  Joan Baez, “Plaisir D’amour”;  Glen Campbell, “By the time I     
                     get to Phoenix”;  Billy Jo Spears, “I love you because”.    Folk songs,      
                     “Salley Gardens”; “Tom Bowling”; “Shallow Brown”.

                                                      And many, many others.



  From a Journal.   April 2016       

        As the six large paintings near completion I begin to feel the urge to paint some other smaller ones. This is partly for pragmatic reasons but also because there are some ideas which I’ve neglected. The pragmatic reasons; There are two galleries where the project will be shown, one of them large, suited to showing large works, the other smaller and more intimate. I’m aware that I have produced a lot of work and wall space is limited, so some selection may be needed, thus smaller paintings are more appropriate.

        The other reason for producing smaller works; I’ve become interested in painting

with more limited colour sets. Perhaps two colours plus black and white.The two colours will be pre- mixed, eg. very pale pink (magenta mixed with yellow- ochre and white)  and dark, rich green ( sap green mixed with burnt umber). Only black and white and these two (mixed) colours will be on the palette.Each painting will have its own particular colours. So far so good.   It’s tempting to sneak in a bit of a new colour but its interesting to see how some unlikely colours can mix happily.  Subject is still “lovers” and I’m using existing studies and sketches. New paintings approx. 16ins x 12ins.

                               Extracts from a journal,   January 2016

     During the winter until mid-January, I’ve been inactive.  I convince myself every year that such inactivity is genetic….that our early ancestors went into a semi-hibernation when the weather was cold, when food was scarce, when daylight was brief. The sensible and safe thing to do was to wrap up in furs, stay near a fire and sleep long through the unlit, unrelieved darkness.  Well, now we have central-heating, electricity and plentiful food but I feel that genetically we have not moved on so much.
     Now that the daylight is longer and there are signs of growth in the garden my health and energy are restored. I feel like one of those athletes….high-jumpers and long jumpers …who sway backwards and forwards, from foot to foot at the beginning of their run. They imagine the next ten seconds, the perfect moment to take off, the flight through the air, the landing.  Well,  I’ve been swaying and imagining for several days and have finally taken the leap.  I’m painting again!  And feel much better for it. I don’t know how far I will leap or where I will land….but all’s well again.
      Returning to the paintings after the break. Although I have looked at them and puzzled about them often, I havn’t painted on them. I now see things in them that I was happy with but now am not,  and things that I was uneasy about which now seem OK. So they are in some ways old paintings ready to come to new life. The changes I need to make are minor, but are important and cannot be left unchanged.  First I must revitalise the palettes. Each painting has its own palette which now needs scraping down and I need to reaquaint myself with the various colour-sets. I feel excited that there is some good work done and that I can now see the solutions to what were formerly problems.
                                                            March 2016
       I had reason recently to refer to my painting influences, my mentors. I usualy name them as Samuel Palmer, Lucas Cranach, Thomas Gainsborough and others. But these are all painters who died more than 150 years ago!  Why would I want to be influenced by them? And why no 20th century artists?  Well of course I’m not thinking of painting styles. I’ve no intention of trying to paint like  Palmer etc. It is more to do with mindset and ideas.  I want the poetry of Palmer, the unworldly mytholygy of Cranach, the humanity of Gainsborough….and their understanding of the strangeness of the world.
      I might equally name, for similar reasons, Matisse, Picasso, Bacon, Rothko, Benjamin Britten, Richard Strauss, Harrison Birtwhistle, Messiaen, (even these are old-hat to some critics!).  It is interesting to note that when musicians are asked the same question, ( I have heard Britten, Stravinsky, Tippet, Messiaen, Shostakovich respond to it), they name Mozart, Beethoven, Purcell, Bach. There is no interest in adopting the style of these previous composers, style is only the clothes they wear. Only beneath the clothes is the substance.
       It is true of course that we are all influenced by our contemporaries.  We tend not to name them as mentors, unless we know them personally and have a fruitful relationship. Reputations are sometimes brittle and ephemeral.  We feel more comfortable when time has shown us the whole output and position of a chosen artist.      

NOVEMBER,  extracts from a journal  (September) 2015.

    Although I still think of and refer to these (my) paintings, by their colours…the green one….the yellow one….etc. I am not a colourist.  Not in the sense that Gauguin, Matisse, Howard Hodgkin are colourists.  A true colourist uses colour as the main expressive element.  So the emotions, thought processes, of the viewer are suggested and manipulated by the colour. Whether this gift (and I envy it as a gift) is inate or learned I don’t know….but there does seem to be a common factor with many such artists….that they experienced colour as an important element in their early life.

      Gauguin, although born in France, lived in Lima, Peru, with his Peruvian mother and her family through his childhood years, and later as a merchant seaman he visited Central and South America for long periods. Eventually he was attracted back to the primitivism and exotic landscape and people of Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. The dark richness of his work and the unrealistic and poetic colours were a huge influence on French painting at the very end of the nineteenth century.

      Matisse was born in cold northern France, but in a town renowned for the production of richly coloured, printed and woven, fabrics. Many of his family were employed in this industry, it was a familiar part of Matisse’s childhood environment.  Later he was drawn to the south of France and then to north Africa, where he was again enveloped in the rich colour and patterns of rugs, fabrics and ceramics. All of which found their way into his paintings and designs.

       George Braque started his career in his father’s painting and decorating business, with the soft, sophisticated colours of  fin- de- siecle  Parisian interior design. Despite a flirtation with Fauvism, during his involvement with Cubism and in his later, wonderfully creative years, he was again using the soft, low-key palette of the “decorator”.

      Hodgkin has many times visited India to experience the light and colour and he is a collector of and respected authority on Indian miniatures.

      On the other hand, I was born and raised in the still war-damaged city of Liverpool. Even in the 1960’s there were many spaces….bomb-sites…visible in central Liverpool and the dust and grit of war and reconstruction, and industry, were part of life.  Consequently, for most people “colour” meant which football team they supported.  So art-students were trained to be tonal painters. We still had to visit London or access expensive books to let the 20th century art-world into our lives (Liverpool is now an exciting and attractive 21st century city.).

      Much later, when we lived in London, my wife, a tapestry and needlepoint designer, worked in the studio of Kaffe Fassett.  He was….is….an inspirational knitter and fabric/textile designer and maker. Born in California, fearless, inventive, charming and a workaholic, he employed a small team of skilled “stitchers” to help him realise his designs, under his supervision. A traditional and very productive workshop environment…..daily, at his north London house, (tasty lunches provided). On a few occasions I was asked to help.  Dogsbody work, I am not a stitcher. On one occasion he wanted me to do the “colourways” for a wallpaper design. He had finalised the design and needed examples of artwork produced in various combinations of colours. We sat down and he mixed gouache paints into small pots.  “Paint this part with this colour, that part with this blue”, etc. Full instructions. Secretly I thought they would look awful….such odd combinations…but it was not my place to say so. I did as instructed.
….and was amazed at the harmonious results. Then he gave me new instructions for the next sample, with equally striking effect….and so on.

       It was then that I realised what a mysterious thing colour choice was.  And that Kaffe
understood it….and I didn’t. His designs and colour use are now identifiable as ”Kaffe Fassett”.

       At about the same time as I was growing up in impoverished and broken Liverpool, Kaffe was living his boyhood on brightly lit, colouful and warm Big Sur.  When he came to England he made an early visit to Scotland, where a friend taught him to knit.  He always says that his “british colours” came from the wools, but also from the moss, peat, heather and rock colours of the Scottish landscape.

       It is often stated, and is largely true, that Art feeds on Art. But not entirely true.  The”not entirely” is a very important bit.  As I’ve written earlier in this blog….the quote from Messiaen….works of art are technically alike and related to one another, in that they rely on past practice for their production and structure.  However it is an elusive, mysterious impulse which is at the core of the work.  This “mysterious wisdom” is from the non-art baggage that artists carry around with them.  The artist’s ideas and emotions feed on the wide world…on personal relationships; on politics, religion; on poetry, music, literature, drama;  on philosophy; on science; on luck, the zeitgeist, joy and sorrow; on genes; on life experience.       It is this individual and random input which is the “not entirely”.  It is wonderful.
                                                      Full of wonder


SEPTEMBER.   From journal entry of July.
More words about why I’m reluctant to use too many words! I think that what I mistrust is the inappropriate use….overuse…of  one artform to describe another
        But words are useful, and are produced in large quantities, to guide us in a general way.  For instance, to tell of the life and personality of the artist; the artist’s context in the history of art and in the history of society;  how the artwork was made (technically); what other commentators have said and written about the artwork. But words cannot explain the ”meaning” of an artwork
        There are many examples of artists complaining when critics/theorists attempt to do this. These complaints are often misattributed and apocryphal but are neatly summed up by “writing about painting is like dancing about architecture”
         When Schoenberg played a new piano composition to a group of friends, one of them asked him later what was it about. He sat down at the piano and played it again, “that’s what it’s about”.  When Benjamin Britten was asked what was the main difference between his “Turn of the Screw” and his “Billy Budd” he replied, “same notes, different order”.    Olivier Messiaen wrote extensively and in analytical detail about his own music.  Thus, about one of his compositions, “Harawi”. (This translation by Robert Sholl)
                     “There is above all in this work a great rhythmic research (added
                      values, non-retrogradable rhythms, rhythmic canons “irrational”
                      values and short notes linked to longer ones(…); inexact augmentations;  
                      (….).a great quantity of non-classifiable chords and sonorities (notably                                                                                                                               
                      the chords of inferior contracted resonance); the pursuit of a
                      melodic line that is vocal, simple, singing, with its own melodic
                      cadences; birdsong; counterpoints of waterdrops; [and] atmospheric
                      vibrations.  It is finally, and this is the only thing of import, a great
                      cry of love ”                                                         .
                                                                           from essay #2 by Robert Sholl.
                                                                           “Messiaen Studies” edited R.Sholl
                                                                           Cambridge University Press,  2007.

          So Messiaen describes the nuts and bolts, the mechanics of the piece, a list of technical parts.  But the final sentence, which he puts into italics, points to “the only thing of import”. The Great Cry of Love can only be experienced by listening to the music.


Looking at one of my Re-invent paintings in the same way (let’s choose the yellow one) it would go ….Strongly coloured, mainly harmonious in colour but with areas of complimentary colour throughout; thin, scrubbed paint and broadly painted impasto. Use of line, contrast of tone, contrast of colour, to distinguish and separate the images  Large areas with no detail; carefuly delineated close observation; use of conventional perspective, with distortions; large and small marks; use of pattern; Oil paint, underpainted with acrylic. The oil paint is mainly undiluted but there are in places thin glazes of transparent colour  It is finally, and this is the only thing of import, lovers on a bed.



My paintings will have titles. Not simply to identify them nor to describe them. Thinking through the subject of lovers and love as I work, I’m reminded constantly of references in poetry, music and painting, which may or may not be directly useful to me, but which remind me of all the possibilities. From these references I will devise the titles It is not necessary for you, the viewer, to know these references but they are part of my source material. I take pleasure in being aware of them, and acknowledging them, if only in gratitude to the originators.  The origins of the titles will not be casualy identifiable because I will present them as apparently random phrases. I’m not yet decided whether to reveal the originals or not, and anyway I’m still coming across new possibilities  The paintings are in no way illustrations of the titles. Indeed the brief titles and paintings will be interchangeable.  In general I think titles are useful when they point a direction. In the present case they help with my mindset.
         I do not dislike or discount the use of sentimentality in art, but it has limited and short term appeal. (How many of us fail to feel lump- in- throat or tearful at the final “Mimi” in La Boheme, only to laugh at ourselves later, for our gullibility?  Although Puccini said that he sobbed as he wrote it). Using lovers as a subject, it is easy to fall into that sentimental trap.

         Conscious of needing to avoid this as I produce these paintings, my head is filled with references from poetry, song, music, paintings, few of which are setimental although many are emotional and romantic/mystical. And most of them have references to betrayal, the end of love, cynicism and death.


For instance, “…sleeping head…human…faithless arm…” which I may use as a title, is recogniseable as from the first line of “Lullaby”, by W.H.Auden. The avid illustrator may find this line to be promising material. But…the poem is about guilt; philosophical concepts; human failure; spirituality; human joy. (this is not my “interpretation” but is there in the skeleton of the poem, which must be read to reveal its complicated and poetic meanings).  How could anyone hope to illustrate  “And the grave proves the child ephemeral….” ?


         So will any of these poetic concepts rub off into my paintings? I don’t know. But I do have faith in the unconscious mystery of creativity…..and in crossing my fingers.


May 2015

   I’m producing these paintings by spending a lot of time in preparation, which for me is a very important part of the process.
   With watercolour I probably spend more time in preparation than on the final painting. Probably because watercolour is quite difficult to alter or to remove without spoiling the freshness of the paint.  For large watercolours I usualy do several small preparatory sketches and then a full size acrylic version in which I push and pull the forms about until I’ve ironed out some potential problems.  Nevertheless, even when transferred onto watercolour- paper there is a lot of scrubbing and spongeing out. For this reason I usually make an initial ghost image and underpainting in Cobalt blue,  a colour which easily washes off a good watercolour paper. The image is transferred from the acrylic to the watercolour paper as simply as possible, using grid-squares or transfer paper (tracing paper)

    The oil paintings are prepared similarly.  Small dummy trials of composition and colour, then a larger….perhaps same size…acrylic which is worked on and altered over perhaps a period of weeks.  Then transferred onto the canvas where initial underpainting is also done with acrylic. The quick drying nature of acrylic is useful for repainting and changes of mind.  It is also an extra primer for the canvas and means that oil-paint can be applied within an hour of underpainting. The underpainting is a ghost image, often almost monotone. Once oil paint is applied of course acrylic cannot be painted over it.

    Only the main large areas of the image are painted at this stage, hardly any detail.
All of this applies only to larger studio works, I frequently paint watercolours, acrylics and oils alla-prima.


      If I pay attention to the production process (creative process)……how do my paintings materialise?.  I see a picture complete in my minds-eye, with assembled parts, objects, colours and a vague atmosphere which is to do with my personal mysteries….my style. And all wrapped around “the subject”,  which may already have a half formed title.

     Then, when I come to turn the imagined image into reality on paper, it immediately starts to change.

     For instance, the painting var.6 (yellow painting). Lovers on a bed, in a similar soft light as the original Michael Andrews.  When I drew the figures independently of the room, I realised I had drawn them from an overhead viewpoint and when imposed onto the room they were in a “wrong” perspective. Perspective was not meant to be faultlessly accurate but was also not wanted to be contradictory. So something had to change. I changed the room. The furnishings of the room were then arranged eccentrically to suit the high viewpoint and this also suggested a change of colour set.  And so the original concept of the painting had adjusted itself within a short time of being assembled…..and will change again, so that soon I will not be able to recall the original…imagined image..

       Examining my production methods (especially when written down), worries me. It becomes “writ in stone” and describes a method which may suddenly or eventually become obsolete for me. But having written it, it looks like an established and permanent method. The past should not be allowed to obscure the future. I want only to see clear water ahead. I realise that it is 90% certain that I will now always work in this way….but the 10% uncertainty is precious.

       I also think that writing (for the artist ) can diminish the creative stimulus. That using words can dilute the power of the image.  I avoid talking about work in progress and intended projects because I’m afraid that I might empty the creative pot by expressing too much of my intentions in words, or by misleading myself up the wrong avenue.

       I will use words to describe the working process (superficially), or perhaps to mention related ideas flicking about in my head,  but not to”explain” the paintings or why I painted them thus, or to say what they mean. Because I don’t know.             




Michael Andrews. Lovers. 1956. Oil on board, 15 x 19.7 cm

Collection: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales
Copyright the Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London.


                                             Extracts from a journal

                                                   Noel McCready

                                    FIRST  THOUGHTS.  OCT. 2014


     There seems to be little on the Cardiff National Gallery website….little at least of the sort of painting I’m looking for ! There seems to be some (temporary, I hope) absence of images, iether for copyright reasons or because of re-organisation.


     So what am I looking for?  When the idea was first proposed I immediately thought of figures,  figures in a landscape.  Probably of 17th or 18th Century origin.  When I learned that we were not limited to a particular period I then thought of 20th C. or late Impressionist…Manet for instance, or Gauguin, Vuillard, Maurice Denis.

    “ Figures in a landscape “ because that seems to be where I’m headed in all my recent work,  For many years I’ve painted landscapes (it was “my subject” ) and in recent years I’ve done a lot of figure drawing.  They seem to be converging.  One of the characteristics in common among the above artists (except Manet ) is that they are all representational painters but they do not try too hard to hide the flatness of the picture surface….indeed they include it as integral to the painting.  So I enjoy that paradox.  It always seems to be a strange thing for  artists to do… construct a three-dimentional world on a two-dimentional surface, using pigment mixed with oil !  So I will probably explore/exploit that quality.  Indeed, I think that some of my satisfaction in making large watercolours is their physical flatness….no paint textures….so I will probably produce at least one watercolour for this project. Although oil will be my main medium.

       HOWEVER…it remains to be seen what, if anything, of these artists is in the Cardiff collection.  Maybe nothing…..or nothing to my liking.  Most of the tutors will be visiting the gallery on Dec.12th and arrangements have been made for us to see works currently in store….so we will have a wide choice. I visited the gallery for the first time two years ago and was impressed….particularly by some fine 20thC works.


       ( I considered some J.D.Innes figure paintings)………..looking at these paintings again I find them sentimentally romantic….even fay. I don’t want to go in that direction. They had particular and personal meaning to Innes…..which I can’t latch onto.



                                                    DECEMBER,   2014


       On 12th Dec most of the tutors involved in the project visited the Cardiff National Museum and Art Gallery to make decisions about the works we would each choose for our transcription.

       I made an early start (………………….).We were welcomed, and made to feel welcome by museum staff,  particularly the exhibition curator who had gone to much trouble to plan the day for us and she spent much of her day making sure that we saw as much as we wanted to.  We were free to photograph, with only slight restrictons and draw

or paint in the galleries under the watchful, but kindly eyes of the gallery attendants. We were conducted through stores of paintings and paintings we’d requested to see were made available.

      There was also an exhibition (of 20th centuary works) being hung, which was interesting to see…..the canvasses seemed more approachable as they leaned against the walls in an informal way….as the artists had handed them over….rather than “properly dressed” and carefully hung.

      I felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of images available and thought how much easier the whole exercise would have been if we had been given a restricted list of (say) a dozen works to choose from.  There were no Manets, Vuillards, Gauguins that interested me, so I hunted about for inspiration.. The difficulty was that the “masterpieces” were so

compleat and definitive that making a transcription seemed pointless  (………………..)

I looked at and sketched mainly from respectable but minor landscapes from the 17th and 18th centuries and was particularly taken by a Daumier, (a grand horse)

      On the train journey home and during the next few days my thoughts became occupied by a small painting,  “ Lovers “ by Michael Andrews (1956).  It is so understated and mysterious and suggestive that it seems to offer lots of scope for variations.                  So that is my final choice.       It is tiny, 8ins by 6ins. One of the smallest painting in the gallery, but it engaged me….I feel at home with it.

                                                      FEBRUARY,    2015


        Jotting, scribbling, thinking, planning, visualising, doodling, writing.  I’m keeping a journal/ studio book/sketch book/ideas book specific to this project. Keeping a record of the development of the transcription(s)………..(……………..) ………Thinking at the moment is of large oil paintings (well large for me, 50ins by 40ins) and as I’ve developed and produced watercolours for many years….some will be watercolours. This begs the question,  how many? I’ve six or seven months production time, this suggests six paintngs….a variable.  What will be the subject?  Lovers, obviously.  How much will I take from Michael Andrews?  Not colour. Not technique.  What has attracted me to his painting?  The vagueness, the figures in an ambiguous space. The basic simplicity (two figures and little else…..except suggestions of lives being lived)

       And lovers.  It is not possible to be interesed in the Arts….drawing, painting, poetry, sculpture, music, literature, opera, theatre, film, photography…without quickly realising that love, or the relationship between two people,  or simply human relations,  the Human Condition…is a primary subject of major interest to artists.  And to everybody else !!      (………………………………………………………………….


      At the moment I think I will keep the basic composition of Michael Andrews. The two figures in the same location on the canvas, a vague light source, the blank undeveloped edges suggesting an inner frame (“this is a painting” or a theatre?).  But the envioronments will change.

      Because I listen to a lot of music the phrase “theme and variations” springs to mind. So I will paint a set of variations on M.A’s theme. Two watercolours, four oil paintings. Each with its own colour set. They will be painted as a group, side by side, but not with a running narrative, (NOT the seven ages of man…and woman )                                   



                                                 MID APRIL,  2015.


     By now I have designed all the pieces, at least in embryo and they are all started on canvas or paper. I’ll be interested to see what happens next !!    I do not normally provide a verbal commentary on my work but for this project I’m intrigued to do so.


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