Noëlle Griffiths

Noëlle Griffiths has chosen to work with the painting
‘Ligeia’ acrylic on cotton duck; 244x216cm; 1978 by John Hoyland (1934-2011)

Re-Take Exhibition at Oriel Ynys Môn, Llangefni, September - November 2016

POST 7: April 2016

STUDIO  April 2016

I have finished making all the FRAGILE artist’s books and all the paintings for this project. This includes twelve artist’s books and nineteen paintings (including two now destroyed).

The twelve FRAGILE books
Three FRAGILE books

The above image shows the two books which relate to the destroyed paintings and use part of each canvas as their covers.  What is interesting is that the two paintings which did not work, and were later destroyed, took the longest time.  There comes a point when a painting cannot be saved.

For each book I have tried to incorporate different aspects of the creative process of making a painting.  I have looked through my notebooks and included selected notes, sketches and words that relate to each painting.  For the Fragile – Barragan book I used studio paper (often old posters) with the evidence of paintings painted on top to print text on.  A record of many paintings’ colours, brush marks and spatters.  For Fragile – Enclosed (studio) book I photographed the studio at the time of making the painting and each day includes a small studio view with three or four words.  Some books do not include any text and are purely visual.  The swipes of colours used each day are in their own right quite beautiful.

This bringing together of written and visual notes has been an important part of this project for me.  It responds to the film Six Days in September which documents John Hoyland making a painting in his studio in 1979 :

“It’s so fragile an activity making a painting, trying to bring a painting into the world...” John Hoyland, transcribed quote from the film Six Days in September.   

I have called all the books FRAGILE and refer to the title of each painting alongside.  All the books include pages of the colours painted each day.

Five books have soft covers using parts of discarded paintings:

Fragile – Large Yellow Painting Selected studio notes
Fragile – Island Departed   Selected studio notes
Fragile – Gilardi Tree   Selected transcribed quotes by John Hoyland from the 1979 BBC Arena film ‘Six Days in September’
Fragile – Enclosed Tree   no text
Fragile – December Tree   no text

Five books have hard covers using a deep pink fabric:

Fragile - Barragán I & II   Selected studio notes
Fragile – Barragán Pool I & II   Selected studio notes
Fragile - Gálvez Pool I & II   Selected studio notes
Fragile – Enclosed Studio   Studio photographs and words
Fragile – Studio   Studio photographs, no text

FRAGILE Barragan book

FRAGILE Enclosed book

One book is not bound, as I would like to exhibit the pages on the wall grouped together.  The painted and printed pages are contained in a folio which is covered with the deep pink fabric: 
Fragile – Agosto I – IV   Selected sketches with date, time and temperature notes

FRAGILE Agosto folio

One book is painted with printed text within a Chinese folding book (as part of a group exhibition):  
Fragile – Gilardi Tree II   Selected transcribed quotes by John Hoyland from the 1979 BBC Arena film ‘Six Days in September’

At the beginning of this project I stated that I wanted to explore:

The creative process.  How do we make paintings and why?
I have found the process of recording colours used for each painting quite revealing.  In these paintings I wanted to create thin layers of acrylic paint, on paper and canvas, which remained transparent for as long as possible.  Although I did not want to keep the light, warm colours in the painting for long, I found that these were often the starting colours.  To use dull or dark colours meant I would lose the quality of the unprimed canvas or paper too quickly.  I would not be able to keep the colour light or bright if I chose to do so as the painting progressed.  The colour swipes record how some days I used lots of colours and lots of changes, whilst other days I seemed to use very close colours with shifting tones.   It also became evident that paintings often worked less well the longer I spent painting.  Some paintings revealed themselves quite quickly, and the important thing was to know when to stop and have time to consider where to go next.  

Time : 1982 - 2015.  I have spent time looking back over work that I had kept since art school.  I digitally photographed a lot of paintings that had only been recorded on 35mm slides, and in the process discarded unwanted paintings from their stretchers.
It has been interesting to look back to when I started painting and see how my work has developed since my time at art school.
I have always been interested in ideas and making visible something experienced or felt.  Although I live in the midst of beautiful landscape I have not chosen to paint the landscape.  I have been interested in painting about my experience of being in the landscape: feelings, memories, moving through the land, rather than what I saw.  Titles such as Soft Wind, Blue Necklace and Towards Bryn Melyn are from my early years in North Wales after leaving London in 1985-86.
My paintings have always been autobiographical and I can easily remember the time and what I was experiencing when I look at each painting. Earth’s Blood Burning, Earth Tomb, Searching for my Rural Idyll all come from 1990-91, before I had my two sons. 
You can see paintings from 1991 on my website and see how my life unfolds through my art.
Looking back I can see how I have always been drawn to making paintings using thin layers of colour – earlier in oil paint and about fifteen years ago using acrylic.  Although I have flirted with thicker paint and more expressive mark making, I have always returned to calm areas of colour. 
I started making artist’s books seriously in 1996, and started making editioned digital books in 2003.   I visited India in 2003 and this experience influenced the way I used colour and flat space in my paintings.  My paintings became simpler compositionally but still held motifs of reality. 
Making books has enabled me to shift into making art that is almost entirely abstract.  In my artist’s books I can still work with images, reality and a poetic narrative - often using text, photographs or scanned images.  In my books I can explore ideas that are more tangible and recognisable.  This has freed my painting to explore paint, surface, colour - striving to find harmony, balance and a feeling of ‘rightness’.  My paintings are often still about making visual an experience or feeling.
In recent years I have been looking at and appreciating artists who when I was at St Martin’s School of Art I rejected.  Artists such as Ben Nicholson, Victor Pasmore, John Hoyland, Albert Irvin, Gillian Ayres, Jennifer Durrant, Prunella Clough. 

Our mortality and what we leave behind.  John Hoyland died in 2011 aged 77.

What is fashionable in art?  When I chose Ligeia by John Hoyland at the National Museum of Wales in December 2014 both Hoyland paintings were brought out of store for me to study.  A colleague commented that Hoyland was ‘out of fashion, way off the radar’. 
But I am pleased to say that John Hoyland  has had a terrific year!  

21 July to 31 August 2014  Hoyland’s 1981 painting ‘Memory Mirror’ has been chosen by the British public for the UK’s biggest and most democratic art exhibition, Art Everywhere, which took place on over 30,000 billboards and outdoor sites across the country from 21 July to 31 August 2014. It was voted the 10th most popular work on this year’s shortlist, just behind his closest friend Patrick Caulfield’s work, ‘Pottery’.
The original painting has just been re-hung and is currently on show to the public at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
8 October 2015 – 3 April 2016   JOHN HOYLAND : POWER STATIONS  (Paintings 1964–1982)  A major exhibition of works by Hoyland is the inaugural show at Damien Hirst’s newly-built London gallery Newport Street, Newport Street, London

20 November 2015 – 16 January 2016  Pace Gallery, London showed an exhibition of works by John Hoyland, Sir Anthony Caro and Kenneth Noland, exploring the friendship and affinities between the three artists.
The John Hoyland Estate is represented by Pace Gallery, London (announced 2015)

10 March 2016   Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts, London, hosted an all-day symposium exploring the career of John Hoyland, entitled Colour, Emotion, Non-Figuration: John Hoyland Revisited.
“John Hoyland was undoubtedly one of the greatest abstract painters Britain has produced. For over five decades he made vivid, life-affirming and startlingly present abstract paintings, never allowing himself to be restricted to a single style. The current revival of interest in his art – most notably the exhibition of his paintings from 1964-1982 at Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery – coincides with a general revival of abstract painting amongst artists, students and scholars. Now that the certainties of modernism have dissipated, what lessons can Hoyland’s paintings provide to young artists today? And conversely what overlooked aspects of these paintings could be revealed by examining them by the light of today’s attitudes?” from  John Hoyland Symposium, Chelsea College of Arts.

POST 6 February 2016

STUDIO  2016

I have finished the large canvas Tree and Fragile – Tree book which relates to the colours used to make that painting. I have chosen to make this book purely visual without text in a concertina format.

Tree painting

Fragile – Tree book

 Over the last few months I have been working with the many book pages which accompany the different paintings I have made.  From the 14 paintings on paper, 3 paintings on canvas I am in the process of making 12 one-off artist’s books.

I have tried to vary the ways I am binding the pages for the different books.  I am using different papers and different ways to include text.  The tactile quality of handling each book is equally as important as the visual quality.

I have been reading my notes made at the time of making each painting and deciding what to use in each book.  For some books I have used some of my selected studio notes, for others I have used some of the thumbnail sketches I made at the time of painting.

Each book records which colours I have used in the process of each painting.  It has been interesting to see that I tend to start a painting with light and quite bright colours, some of which are still visible at the end of the painting.  More often than not they are layered and dulled as I try to find the atmosphere of that particular painting.  Often a painting starts with an element of reality:  whether a photograph, sketch or something I can see.  But it is the development from this starting point that I find compelling as I explore composition and the subtle shifts and relationships of colour, tone and surface.

For the book pages that accompany the Acehuche I – IV paintings I have decided not to bind the pages, but to keep them as a folio.  This means they can be seen as a series next to each other, with their studio pages grouped alongside.  I have called this folio book Fragile – Agosto. 

Fragile -  Agosto text pages

Fragile -  Agosto stripe pages

I have just started my last painting for the ReTake/ReInvent series and printed selected words from the ‘Six Days in September’ film for the book pages.  I have chosen two or three words for each day.  This book will still relate to Hoyland’s transcribed words, but in a less literal way.

Update: November 2015

STUDIO November 2015

Earlier this month I took the FRAGILE book to the Small Publishers Fair in London.  This was displayed on the stand along with other books of mine and books by nine artists from the website.

I was able to visit the exhibition
JOHN HOYLAND : POWER STATIONS  (Paintings 1964–1982)
8 October, 2015 – 3 April, 2016
This show marks the opening of Newport Street Gallery in Lambeth, south London, a major new space which is free to the public.
The paintings are all drawn from Damien Hirst’s art collection – known as the Murderme Collection – and span a particularly important period in Hoyland’s career when he was starting to make a name for himself with his first solo museum show at the Whitechapel Gallery (1967). It also covers the time from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s when Hoyland was first engaging with the New York art scene. Curated by Hirst, the exhibition takes the viewer from the vast colour-field works of the 1960s, through the textured surfaces of the 1970s to the more spatially complex paintings of the early 1980s.
It is the first major exhibition of Hoyland’s work since his death in 2011.  (from

Power Stations exhibition leaflet

The exhibition is on two floors with 33 large canvases on show.  The gallery is spacious, well lit and a perfect ‘white cube’ to show these paintings to their best advantage.  It is a fantastic opportunity to see paintings from early in Hoyland’s career up to and just after the time of ‘Ligiea’, the painting I have chosen from the National Museum, Cardiff.  It is also interesting that Damien Hirst chose to open his new gallery with John Hoyland.  For many of the people coming to the gallery it will be the first time they have seen Hoyland’s work or a large show of abstract paintings.  Whilst I was there the gallery was busy with lots of visitors, apparently when it opened there was a queue outside waiting to come in.

From my notebook:  “Huge paintings, very simple, colours that really zing with edges and backgrounds painted over with strips of other colours and lots of surface paint.  Stained surfaces often with thicker paint on top – some applied with a brush others with a wide knife.  Some colours are really close but not quite the same.  A warm orange next to a vibrant orange – really close tonally but creating a slight and subtle shift.  Some paint is fluorescent and there is a painting which is stained with gold - but this only becomes obvious when the gold is seen on top of a bold flat colour...

Gallery 5 with six plaster pink paintings from 1971.  Stained background and almost papier mache spattered areas in the middle (not off edges) as if he has hurled damp loo roll at the canvas with such force that it has stuck.  These do seem fiddly and contrived in comparison with the cooler more controlled earlier paintings.  They are quite fascinating.  The thick spatters and shapes, the paint so thick and the surface contrasting with the stain and glops...
Gallery 6 with seven paintings from 1979-82.  This gallery is so different – the ordered chaos after the simpler paintings.  A progression from the previous gallery.  Amidst the many layers and colours each painting has a strong colour and shape – either one large opaque flat shape and many other smaller ones; or two or three similar sized shapes of strong colour and clean flat quality to offset all the surface chaos...” 

notebook pages 4-5

notebook pages 6-7

Update: October 2015
STUDIO October 2015

I have been working on a series of small paintings on paper called Gilardi Tree and have recorded the colours I used for two artist’s books.
I am continuing to use the internal spaces of the Mexican architect Luis Barragán as a starting point, and Gilardi is the name given to a house Barragán designed in Mexico City,  1975-77.
I have just made up two concertina books that use a selection of transcribed quotes from the 'Six Days in September' film of John Hoyland in his studio.    I have called the books FRAGILE and use the transcribed quote " is so fragile an activity making a painting, trying to bring a painting into the world..." as the first quote in each book. 
FRAGILE books being assembled

These books are not for sale, so I am able to use the quotes as 'fair usage'.  They are both one-off books, and the copyright page for each includes permission from the John Hoyland Trust and explains the context of the quotes.

One book will be exhibited as part of 'Open Books', an international travelling exhibition of artists using the traditional Chinese folding book in a contemporary way.  The exhibition is scheduled for India in 2015 and Canada in 2016.  Size of book: 23x12cm closed, 23x284cm open. 

For this book I had to take it apart and divide it in two, so that I could print the text using my A3 digital printer.  I then recorded the colours used for the Gilardi Tree paintings with swipes of acrylic paint.   After the paint was dry I re-assembled the book.

The smaller concertina book will be exhibited at the Small Publishers Fair, Conway Hall, London on 6 & 7 November 2015.  All books at the fair can be handled by the public.  Size of book: 13x12.5cm closed, 13x206cm open. 

I have many other book pages ready to make into books, each relevant to paintings.  I am considering what text to include for each, possibly using sections from my own notes written at the time of making the relevant paintings, as well as words or short quotes from the John Hoyland film.  The purpose of these books is to reflect on the creative process of making a painting, not only on the practical aspects but the thought processes that unfold.
FRAGILE Chinese book LH side

FRAGILE concertina book detail

Post 3: August 2015  

I have been working on a series of paintings that relate to the Re-Take/Re-Invent exhibition since mid January 2015.  The first two paintings Island – departed and Large Yellow Painting will get destroyed as they are not resolved and cannot be saved.  I will keep the book pages I made alongside these paintings and will bind them with text as part of a series of books.  This project is about the creative process and the failures are as important as the paintings that find a conclusion.

...”The bad paintings have to be painted and to the artist these are more valuable than those paintings later brought before the public.”...  Agnes Martin

Since then I have been working with geometric shapes, space, colour and tone.  Barragán I & II are named after Luis Barragán - a Mexican architect who used colour, light and shade to create architectural spaces both inside and outside of his buildings. 

I am in Spain and have set up a studio in the shade.  I can see the shapes and colours of the porche walls and from this starting point of reality I want to explore where it will take me and whether I can find a point of ‘rightness’.  I am thinking of the ‘Ocean Park’ series by Richard Diebenkorn which I saw at the Royal Academy in April earlier this year, and referring to notes and sketches I made at the exhibition. 

I am using thin washes of acrylic paint on 300gsm watercolour paper 130 x 90cm for each painting and each book page is 30 x 33cm.  I want to keep the acrylic as thin and transparent as possible, building up layers.  I am trying not to allow these paintings to be too busy and to simplify my colour palette as the painting develops.

As with all the paintings for the Re-Take project, I am making book pages for each day of each painting.  It is easy to forget to add the swipe of colour and sometimes I have to re-mix or dilute what I have left.  Often I record the swipe of colour before I use it in the painting.

I am thinking about the text for the books, and may use some of my own notes made whilst painting.  I want to include some of the transcript of Hoyland speaking in the film ‘Six Days in September’ and have approached the John Hoyland Trust for permission.

Earlier this summer I visited the Agnes Martin exhibition at Tate Modern.  I loved everything about it – it was beautifully hung and her simple use of colour and repetition was breathtaking in a way that you cannot experience from reproductions.  They are large 6’ x 6’ or small 12” x 12” and do not look much without their scale and subtle surfaces.  I was given a photocopy of some of Agnes Martin’s ‘Writings’ shortly after I left art school and have dipped into them over the years.  Reading them now whilst painting Acehuche I, II, III seems particularly relevant. 

...“Seeking awareness of perfection in the mind is called living the inner life. 
It is not necessary for artists to live the inner life. 
It is only necessary for them to recognise inspiration or to represent it. 
Our representations of inspiration are far from perfect for perfection is unobtainable and unattainable.
Moments of awareness of perfection and of inspiration are alike except that inspirations are often directives to action.
Many people think that if they are attuned to fate, all their inspirations will lead them toward what they want and need. 
But inspiration is really just the guide to the next thing and may be what we call success or failure.
The bad paintings have to be painted and to the artist these are more valuable than those paintings later brought before the public.
A work of art is successful when there is a hint of perfection present – at the slightest hint ... the work is alive.
The life of the work depends upon the observer, according to his own awareness of perfection and inspiration.
The responsibility of the response to art is not with the artist.”....  Agnes Martin, from a short essay ‘Reflections’

Post 2 Noëlle Griffiths has chosen to work with the painting

‘Ligeia’ acrylic on cotton duck; 244x216cm; 1978 by John Hoyland (1934-2011)

Studio March 2015

 I have chosen this painting as a starting point for the RE-TAKE/RE-INVENT exhibition for the following reasons:

John Hoyland was my external assessor in 1982 when I graduated from the Painting Department as St Martin’s School of Art, London.  I never met him, but he was friends with most of the painting tutors and well known as an artist.

 Like many of my fellow students I reacted against his large ‘macho’ abstract paintings.  The exhibition ‘A New Spirit of Painting’ was hugely influential when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1981, and I was drawn to emerging artists such as Mimmo Paladino, Sandro Chia and Julian Schnabel.  I was contextualising my own work with historical artists such as Paul Gauguin, Franz Marc, Ernest Ludwig Kirchner, Max Beckmann and I have always loved the paintings by Mark Rothko.  Amongst the students was an awareness and criticism of the male dominated abstract world of painting.  We had a diverse range of tutors and visiting artists, some of the female artists were Jennifer Durrant, Eileen Cooper, Claire Joy, Tricia Gilman.  As students we talked about how to make paintings that were visibly painted by a woman.

 John Hoyland stood for a type of painting that I rejected at art school and for many years afterwards.  So it is strange that since 2010, nearly 30 years after leaving art school, that I find myself painting abstract paintings and looking at some the abstract artists I had earlier rejected. 

But it was seeing a film of John Hoyland painting in his studio that really made the decision to choose his painting for RE-TAKE/RE-INVENT clear.  Made for BBC Arena in 1979 ‘Six Days in September’ explores the creative process of making a painting.  Hoyland talks in a direct and honest way, making observations that will resonate with artists who work in the isolation of their studio.

On Day 3 two friends visit Hoyland’s studio to look at the painting in progress.  One is Bruce Russell, who was head of third year Painting Department at St Martin’s when I was a student.  Bruce was a good tutor and I liked and respected him, the other man looks familiar but I can’t place him. 

It was extraordinary to see Bruce on the film looking exactly as he looked when he taught me.  It really threw me back in time – in the same way hearing a long forgotten piece of music can transport you almost physically into the past.  ‘Ligeia’ was made at a similar time to the painting in the film and uses the same diagonal composition.  At the end of the film it shows ‘Ligeia’ next to the completed ‘Six Days in September’ painting at the exhibition ‘John Hoyland Paintings 1967-1979’ at Mappin Art Gallery in Sheffield in 1979. 

In response to John Hoyland’s painting ‘Ligeia’ I am in interested in exploring:

The creative process.  How do we make paintings and why?  The insecurities and questions we ask ourselves.  What is more important - the process or the end result? 

I regularly write about work in progress, making thumbnail sketches in my notebook and analysing the choices and shifts in direction as I paint.  For RE-TAKE/RE-INVENT I am making a series of paintings, recording the process and also making an artist’s book for each painting.  Each day I record each of the colours I use, and at the end of this project I will make a series of unique artist’s books which combine the colour book pages with text.

Time : 1982 - 2015.  I intend to look back to when I started painting, the influences and fashions in art at that time.  How painting is perceived in the art world 33 years later.  How my paintings have developed and changed since 1982.  How I have developed and changed.

 Our mortality and what we leave behind.  John Hoyland died in 2011 aged 77. 

Towards the end of his life he made paintings such as ‘Elegy for Terry Frost (24.9.03)’ and ‘The Golden Traveller’.   For an exhibition in 2010 at the Lemon Street Gallery, “Hoyland described his later work as being darker and more introspective in mood, which he attributed to his advancing years and the sense of loss at the passing of old friends. Introspective the images may be but gentle they are not.” RA magazine.

When Hoyland made the film ‘Six Days in September’ in 1979 he was 45 years old.  Bruce Russell was 33 and I was 19.  I had just finished my foundation year and was about to start at St Martin’s.

Now in 2015 Bruce is 69 years old and retired from teaching.  I am 56 and after teaching art part-time since 1985 I am now starting to think of when I might stop teaching.

What is fashionable in art?  In the film Hoyland lists the types of art that had, even in 1978, eclipsed abstract painting – “pop art, optical art, found art, kinetic art, happenings, land art, conceptual art....think about it art” he adds disdainfully at the end. 

Are the paintings of John Hoyland still out of fashion? The two Hoyland paintings owned by the National Museum of Wales are both in storage.  The newly curated galleries of Twentieth Century Painting include paintings by Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon and the ever popular Gwen John amongst others.  But these are also “out of fashion”.  What type of paintings are fashionable now?  When we visited the National Museum last December the fashionable art was in the Artes Mundi exhibition on the opposite side of the Museum. Installation, film, conceptual art – I don’t remember any painting in it.

Pages from Retake Notebook

Post 1

Noëlle Griffiths has chosen to work with the painting

‘Ligeia’ acrylic on cotton duck; 244x216cm; 1978 by John Hoyland (1934-2011)

Friday 12 December 2014

I leave Hafod y Llyn listening to owls hooting, dark, pre-dawn.

7am:  Oakley Arms is busy, four buses engines running, people waiting in the dark – a transport hub, a metropolis! – a world away from my sleeping family up the hill.

7.15am:  we set off to Cardiff, Wanda and I with Andrew driving.  We are diverted into Newtown due to flooding.  Swollen rivers, the Wye with waves like the sea.

11.15am:  we arrive at the National Museum of Wales in time to meet everyone for coffee and bara brith.  There are twelve of us at the Museum.  Bryony unlocks doors.  I wander amongst paintings - the large ‘Ayres Rock’ painting by Michael Andrews, acrylic on canvas glowing as you enter – I pass brown traditional portraits, religious paintings, landscapes, Impressionist gems, Cezanne, Monet, Daumier.  Then we go into the closed gallery being re-hung.  Past Gwen John, Sickert in Venice, many I didn’t have time to look at.  The second gallery alive with 20th Century paintings of colour and non-realistic subject – Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Peter Lanyon, Karl Weschke, Ceri Richards, Keith Vaughan, Brenda Chamberlain, Ben Nicholson, Ivon Hitchens, Adrian Heath, Graham Sutherland.  Time to sketch and look at a few.

Image 2:  Noëlle sketching ‘Brown Harbour’ by Terry Frost at National Museum of Wales, 12.12.14

2pm:  we meet by the organ and go into the gallery where our requested paintings from the storerooms are leaning against the walls on foam blocks.  John Hoyland is immediately to the right of the door, two small Morandi’s, a large vibrant graffiti-like Karel Apel, Max Ernst, Gwen John – I spend the limited time we are allowed looking and analysing ‘Ligeia’ by John Hoyland.  

Image 3:  Noëlle sketching ‘Ligeia’ by John Hoyland at National Museum of Wales, 12.12.14

Image 4+: A selection of notebook pages 1 – 8 analysing colour, tone and composition of ‘Ligeia’ at National Museum of Wales, 12.12.14

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