At the beginning of 2008 me and my girlfriend of the time took a plane to London. She had worked there a while back and wanted to show me the places she knew, it was a really special trip , not least because I had to fly , something I have become less and less happy with over the years , which is strange because one of my childhood dreams was to become a fighter pilot ( until my dad pointed out being colorblind it wasn't going to happen). The hotel was where she had worked in the nineties ( Correct me if I'm wrong!) , and slap bang in the middle of London , as it was winter it was completely deserted , but that was fine with me . We wandered the streets , places that she knew and loved , I went to second hand shops looking for books on art , I'd started buying them , something I'd never done before , in one shop I picked up a copy of 'Theories of modern art' by H.B.Chipp - a set text on the degree course at Winchester.
We went to galleries , something I'd stopped doing a long while back, the National gallery in particular, which was an eye opener, we spent hours wandering around and seeing one great painting after another , I was drawn more to the Renaissance and medieval art than anything more modern. But one of the main reasons for going at that time of the year was the exhibition at the Royal academy ' From Russia' which for me seemed to switch something on inside , having looked at still lives in the National gallery ( and buying a brilliant small book from there on still life) seeing room after room of top quality work which hadn't been seen outside of Russia since before the revolution was a revelation - this is a good overview of what was to be seen - (though Matisses ' the dance' was worth the price of admission alone)- http://www.lrb.co.uk/v30/n03/peter-campbell/at-the-royal-academy
We cued for hours in the cold to get in ( my girlfriend got pneumonia when we got back to Ireland ) we were sleep starved because the hotel room had really bad plumbing and air conditioning which was too too loud and made sleep next to impossible) . What the trip did do was open my eyes to the possibility of still life and realism , I'd finally found a way out of the quandary I saw between my and my sisters work , but I also wanted to make my work more obvious and more honest , partly because of the relationship with my girlfriend of the time , she took no nonsense , and if something was wrong she said so . I abandoned abstraction, scoured second shops for art books and objects to use as a new language , partially referring to the still life's I'd made in the 90's and started to slowly relearn the tools of my craft .
The first fruits weren't mindbogglingly accomplished , I liked them but there were many technical faults , my drawing needed to be brought up to scratch , I'd started using the technique of measured drawing taught to us at college ( really only one of two methods of drawing I see as valid) and I'd found this horse in a charity shop , which became a symbol for myself.
I'd also rediscovered the work of Giorgio de Chirico , take the time to read about him , he really is one of the most important twentieth century artists too my mind https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giorgio_de_Chirico
He , along with looking at renaisance artists , and Vermeer , surrealists like Magritte and some of the later Hyper-realists changed my view of what painting could be .
(These are paintings I consider more like tuning up than finished paintings , I had to learn a new set of skills - I feel very much that each time I come to drawing and painting I know nothing ). I don't see what I was doing then as classic still life , they are more like Trojan horses ( forgive the pun ) in that each still life is actually a self contained story containing objects which are symbols which though mysterious in meaning at first once 'read' in relation to the other objects within each painting ( or series of paintings) give out their meaning .
From the video I had made, the African mask, or any of the masks I use always stands for my dad - the baby is always me as is the horse , the goblet is either the tarot card the ace of cups ( love source of love) or a sign of drink or a refusal to drink . I like using children's toys in the paintings as they throw people somewhat , they see a depiction of a toy but then the toy itself is in an uncomfortable or adult scenario - the skull I went on to use is a child's toy from a serial magazine about anatomy and the body . A painting is a flat space in which we give the illusion of thing , thing becomes the anchor on which I tell the story or twist perception.
The thing that I Learn t from looking at De Chirico which was probably the most important was that technical ability isn't totally necessary , not is 'correct' drawing , 'realism' isn't about accuracy . His paintings can sometimes seem very crude and unaccomplished technically but that misses the point , the idea can carry the painting if what you are talking about is recognizable to the viewer .
I also abandoned the use of oil paint , I'd used acrylic exclusively on foundation , but Winchester was very pro oil paint , but for the speed at which I like to work , portability ( some of these paintings were carried around and worked on at my girlfriends house or at the house my daughter lived in with her mother and siblings , along with paints and sometimes miniature stage sets and props I'd made up to carry around and work / draw from) and just plain usability acrylic is hard to beat , but thats a personal choice , I just like it more.