Oxford and Nottingham

Category: painting

BACKWATER: Creative Project OR Phd or both?

I have been inspired by a fairly innocuous Victorian postcard I found online which symbolises where I come from..literally..

I hope to create a set of three related but different media outcomes from same basic idea. Below some mock-ups of how it may come out.

The painting below is also a find. Accredited to one Evelyn Fothergill Abbot (her maiden name was Robinson) who lived in Paddington and Kensington and painted in 1932..

Further details:http://www.saxonlodge.net/getperson.php?personID=I1589&tree=Tatham

It is a hither too unknown to me image actually painted in Long Wittenham allegedly but from angle of hill I would say more likely a view down from the Clumps. I will investigate..

(c) Reading Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation


Painted the year my father born….Traced the artist..as Evelyn Fothergill Robinson..member of New English Art Club with Alexander Mann and Nevinson etc.

also connected to Arts and Crafts..exhibited at Baillie and Grafton Galleries pre marriage in 1917!

Here a black and white Italian painting. Also traced title of a Wittenham Clumps painting with harvesters ..no image yet.

I have found a painting titled Autumn Landscape Provence which sold recently for just £120!


So there you go back to what I know?…..

As part of the new painting project I also hope to be taking photographs on the spot.

Trailer Star’s English Folk album.I hope.

Finally a new book of poems.



Lost Nottingham – Lost PhD

The painter Cyrill Mann painting the Trent and the 
now demolished Nottingham City Power Station c. 1939


Even the best laid plans can have a fatal flaw.

After a hard year applying I am no nearer a funded or even self-funded PhD with the Thames based ideas.

Apart from the advice that very few PhD funding candidates over 50 now receive funding and if applying try having a sex-change I also came up against another fundamental problem.

I well aware of the pitfalls and problems of so-called ‘practice-led’ Phd study. In fact I wrote a paper on it available


I also illustrated the great and the good’ take on ‘Artists with Phds’ edited by James Elkins for which I had to read every chapter.


So I more than familiar with the argument that a practice-led fine art Phd is essentially impossible and I would 90% agree.

Most of the submitted fine art practice-led Phds thus far completed have been textual commentary on practice and nowhere do I see art objects which in themselves contain new knowledge as defined by the academy.

It is a fascinating philosophical problem but there it is and it doesnt help gain funding.

Does an art object of itself…a painting..a sculpture or a conceptual installation contain new knowledge which ‘transferrable’ NO..not unless it contains text…which funnily enough graphic novels and comix do….

This brings me neatly to my problem with PhDs. I have spent a fruitless year banging my head against the walls of funded academia. As well as the age and gender problems which make it virtually impossible for a man of my age to succeed in the AHRC rat race for pennies I was pitching what essentially a ‘practice-led’ project at solid academic text-only departments.

This reached its apotheosis in two recent meetings at Nottingham University. One in Geography the other in the English Department. In both cases senior academics were very supportive of all I trying to do and if I wished to self-fund (no longer an option as they say life got in the way) then I could do a historical Cultural Geography Phd no problem.

What I could not get support for and this also happened at Lincoln too ( trad Art History only which ironic in an institution hell bent on destroying trad arts for money making ‘performance’ ends) is get support for a practice-led (poetry/drawing/graphic-novel) whatever the practice it that element that caused a shaky heady…. Traditional academia….i.e. the academy wants a rigorous 80000 words or it a no no.

So new year back to square one. the only way I can see a practice-led PhD with the above caveats succeeding is by part of the PhD being comic/graphic novel and therefore containing the transferrable knowledge. I played with this in a ‘Visual Paper’ (NO TEXT) I delivered at a drawing conference in New York again to a few shaky heads and non-publication in proceedings because ‘no text’ 🙂
That paper available HERE:
along with animated short.

At this point James Elkins kindly stated that he thought that I had done a PhD level of work in my M.A. for approaching the topic in the way I had but that ain’t the same as a real PhD. So I have got nowhere……

Meanwhile I developing this ‘Backwaters’ research into a smaller non-PhD project or at least placing on the back-burner until things look more hopeful.

Further details of Graphic Art and Comics Research on : https://shaunbelcher.com/comicart



From Track to Backwater


In 2010 as my mother was in the final stages of Carcinoid cancer I took a walk down a disused railway line in my hometown that used to run from Didcot to Southampton.

I used it as the beginning of a NTU M.A. in Multimedia. A year later it collapsed and I restarted it as a Fine Art Drawing M.A. instead after she passed away in 2012.

As my mother worsened I continued to visit her and that track and walk it and remember the times I walked and drew it in the early 1990s.

Here is an image from a small sketchbook drawn on the 1st August 1990….I dated everything in those days.



I however had not forgotten that Track project and always thought it would come back.



Rail and River: The Hitchman Archive explored.

As a teenager I remember looking through the extensive book collection my friend at school’s father had assembled. Mostly on a natural history and a river Thames theme I wasn’t sure how many of those books were still with my friend Stephe here in Nottingham. Yesterday I looked through the remnants of the ‘Hitchman Archive’ and found a treasure trove of cultural geography material.

Here what I managed to carry home to render into a bibliography for a proposal but there plenty still in the boxes.


Most significant were the accounts of the Victorian Thames and it already apparent that the railway opened up the River Thames as a tourist destination. I also delighted to discover a hither-too unknown to me artist George D. Leslie who was living in Wallingford at the same time Mann in Hagbourne. Indeed there was a group of artists associated with two families there and George D. Leslie even wrote a book about art politics at the R.A!


This has put back my writing of the proposal for PhD as I sort through the new material and maybe revise my intended research question and title. The Rail/River juxtaposition seems to sum up the Victorian Golden age ( in Williams sense) problem. The artists used the railway to access the ‘unspoilt’ countryside/riverscapes but hardly (unlike the French Impressionists) painted the Railway…..this at root of my enquiry. Why did the British painters and artists comprehensively ignore the very means by which they were gaining access? This seems to be the essential contradiction at the heart of rural art and art movements here in the U.K.

Having found Leslie I did a quick trawl of other possible artists at work in a radius of just ten miles of Didcot Junction and came up with John Singer Sargent and John Lavery both connected to Lord Asquith estate at Sutton Courtenay. I also uncovered a small art commune known as the Broadway Group in the Cotswolds connected to Henry James and presumably linked to the arts and crafts further upstream. It looking increasingly likely that although the focus has been on Jewson and Morris above Oxford that the railway enabled a whole range of artistic activity all along the newly ‘discovered’ unspoilt Thames. Far from being the ‘Upper Thames’ poor cousin there may be more yet to uncover in ‘The Lower or Middle’ Thames Valley.

I also found this fascinating combination of travelogue, illustration and ‘staged’ photography by Charles George Harper and W.S.Campbell. I have never seen this illustration of the Clumps before and it several decades before Gibbings books were published.

I am very grateful to Mr Hitchman senior for this legacy:-)

TVVBothS TVVillages2vol Wittenham Clumps, by Charles G. Harper from Thames Valley Villages, 1910 (a)

They also published this book which has direct connection to Edwin Smith’s later photography from the look of the cover!

rural nooks

TRACKING TIME: Book or PhD? Or both?


Things have moved on considerably in the last few weeks.

I was interviewed for a Horizon CHI (Computer Human Interaction) PhD at Nottingham University two weeks ago. I did well to be shortlisted against stiff and much younger competition (average age 25). From the get go though it obvious that my interests were not aligned with CHI and secondly that I would not be able to work with their new corporate partners. I pitched my application to their older local community arts led model. No point crying over spilt milk….marked the end of my involvement in any kind of contemporary web/internet/computer relatedresearch.

De Capo.


What it did do was focus me on to what I do have an interest in and this Book proposal and possible PhD more firmly located within the Arts and Humanities area.

Here is a very rough outline of what the book may cover.


All dates and ideas provisional in the extreme :


An original provisional title from 2010


Proposed chapters .
Intro: Chalk Detonators to Concorde – The coming of the railway to the end of the line?
1. Dickens and Seymour. Railways and Illustration

2. Mr Fox Talbot and Mrs Dann: Reading’s First Female Professional Photographer and the Inventor of the calotype process.

3. Alexander Mann and the sequential image.

4. Fairground Kinemas and William Frith – Mapping Oxford a psychogeographical derive

5. Industrial film the art of industry in the Thames Valley – Rural Unions and the Co-Operative movement to Cowley Motors .

6. Rural Idyll: The Oxfordshire Railway Villages and Art Movements Blewbury, Long Wittenham and the Cotswolds.

7. Rural Presses and reactions to Modernism and Technology: Kelmscott, Cockerel Press and Communism.

8. Shooting Europe: The Spitfire Reconnaissance mapping of Germany from Beconsfield Aerodrome.

9. Atoms and Stars: The disintegrating world seen from Harwell and the DNA shuffle.11. Building the 60s Oxford and Abingdon – The Mini and The MG. The patriarchical machine.

Coda . Satellite of Love: Space -race to Boom-bust and the end of empire. Trickle down and the rise of the web..Bletchley Park to Cheltenham. News from Nowhere to News from Everywhere.


I also have a facebook page which may come in useful for future crowdfunding if I need to go down that road..or track:-)







Hockney and Film

David Hockney moves into film with Royal Academy exhibition

Hockney’s multi-camera films of the east Yorkshire countryside ‘could save cinema’, according to the artist

Mark Brown
guardian.co.uk Wednesday 7 September 2011 18.35 BST
Article history

David Hockney in 2009 at his exhibition at Tate Britain, with his painting Bigger Trees Near Warter. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

Seven years’ worth of David Hockney’s work are to be exhibited in a major show at the Royal Academy next year, including, for the first time, film.

The artist has some valuable pointers for television and Hollywood. “It has occurred to me that it could save cinema,” Hockney said, outlining plans to exhibit his landscape films, in which he used nine cameras to create large moving images across multiple screens.

“I’m going to show these to friends in Hollywood in a few weeks..”

The films show the same landscape in each of the four seasons and were taken when he lived in Bridlington, capturing the changing beauty of the east Yorkshire countryside.

They will be among 150 works in Hockney’s show, which will include paintings, drawings, sketchbooks and drawings made on his cherished iPad.

The show stems from an approach the RA made to Hockney in 2004, putting much of its grand gallery space at the artist’s disposal.

“It did give me a terrific boost,” he said. “I thought, they’re giving me wonderful great big walls that were made for big paintings right in the middle of London. I think we’ve risen to it.”

Hockney has managed to make east Yorkshire his landscape, much as Constable did with Suffolk.

“Nobody directed what David was going to do for this exhibition,” said co-curator Marco Livingstone. “He had the galleries at his disposal and he made the work that he wanted to make.”

Livingstone said the technical skill, the brushwork and the confidence in the works were all of the highest order. “I think the paintings he has made since 2005 are the most impressive body of work he’s made in his life.”

Did Hockney agree? “Any artist will tell you that the work he did yesterday was the best,” he said.

Hockney, a regular Guardian letter writer as well as reader, used the launch to get a few longstanding gripes off his chest. It’s not two thousand and twelve, for example, it’s twenty twelve. He also held forth on smoking, of course. He has cigarette packet warning signs all over his house saying “death awaits you even if you do not smoke”. And while he was there, he bemoaned the wrongheadedness of Hollywood in thinking 3D was the way forward: “A big error, a mistake,” that is only good for pornography, he said.

Filming in east Yorkshire was straightforward because nobody interfered or interrupted, he said. “In LA it would have been permits, all kinds of things.”

Using so many cameras exposed the comparative limitations of TV, he said. “You notice how pokey the television picture is, actually. It’s always edges, edges. We’re moving the edges now. You move the edge by putting a great deal more in the middle of the picture.”

After devoting so long to landscapes, the 74-year-old Hockney thinks he will now return to portraits. “That’s normally what happens,” he said.

The show is not a retrospective, but will include works from the 1950s to the 1990s, to allow his new work to be seen in context.

The stars of the show may well be multi-canvassed depictions of east Yorkshire, which Hockney painted after driving around the countryside with a chair in the boot of his car, then sitting and smoking and looking.

“Most people glance or scan but don’t look,” he said. “I love looking, I get intense pleasure from my eyes. There’s a lot of blindness. I’m not sure television has made people look very hard. I always thought television couldn’t show you the beauty of the landscape because it can’t show you space that well. The enjoyment of landscape is a spatial thrill.”

The show will be part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad programme. Ruth Mackenzie, the programme’s director, said one of her first acts after being appointed had been to approach the RA and beg them to allow the Hockney show to be part of it.

As the Hockney show was scheduled for January to April and the London 2012 Festival is in June, Mackenzie had to think creatively. “We decided to invent a category of ‘countdown’ events and countdown events are in honour, really, of David Hockney.”

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture will be at the Royal Academy between 21 January and 9 April.

Nature of Landscape

The Nature of Landscape – Visions & Distillations of Landscape & Place
David Ainley, Jeremy Leigh, Stephen Newton, Judith Tucker, Richard Kenton Webb & The Abbey Walk Gallery Artists Group

March 8th to March 19th 2011

This March Surface Gallery will play host to an exhibition that marks the culmination of an Arts Council funded project which includes the work of sixteen artists and a composer.

The Nature of Landscape project was conceived of back in 2008 by artist–curator Linda Ingham, on seeing the work of Wirksworth-based artist, David Ainley on show at De-Da in Derby. “I was looking for a project to provide for the N.E. Lincolnshire Arts Forum”, says Linda, from her studio at Abbey Walk Gallery in Grimsby. “ . . . and as soon as I saw David’s work, I realised how interesting it would be to create a project that challenges the idea of how we think about landscape.” Ainley, who has a solo show running until the end of March at the New Court Gallery in Repton, makes subtle paintings and drawings that challenge the representation of landscape as ‘scenery’ or ‘nature’ and are at odds with the interpretative excesses of the heritage industry.

The curatorial approach has been to draw together work based on landscape, which contrasts visually as well as in terms of concept. Richard Kenton Webb’s work focuses very much on elements extracted and abstracted from the Cotswolds countryside, through which he has embarked on a systematic approach to explore colour; the work on show at Surface Gallery will be from the Red series.

Judith Tucker’s work concentrates on the mnemonic content and visually atmospheric subject of war-time German resorts, juxtaposed with contemporary timelines and their relationships in terms of historic resonance.

Jeremy Leigh’s work reflects very much the artist’s abstracted feelings in relationship to Yorkshire and Scottish landscapes that speak to him in terms of the open road, and the road less travelled.

Joined in this show by professor Stephen Newton, who wrote the introduction to the full colour catalogue that accompanies the work, the exhibition also includes the work of The Abbey Walk Gallery Artists group, and a film by Annabel Mc Court with a soundtrack by composer David Power.

The Nature of Landscape as a project grew out of the initial exhibition in 2009 at Abbey Walk Gallery, and has since consisted of subsequent shows at the gallery and at East Coast School of Art & Design, as well as a seminar, a series of workshops, the printed publication, and finally the Nottingham show. “Both the Abbey Walk Gallery artists and the degree students from ECSAD have benefited from the opportunity to develop their work as part of the project. Working with Judith, David, Richard and Jerry has been a positive and inspiring experience for all of us, and we are looking forward to showing the results at Surface Gallery”, says proprietor, Gillian Gibbon, “We hope that the public response to the very individual results of our broadened horizons will be just as positive.”

New RPT Practice: Original Project Proposal (amended March 2011)

Having realised that original proposal had become over-complicated I have returned to original short proposal.

This then is a slightly amended version of that original idea. Basically I wish to revisit exact locations where I drew a series of landscapes around my Oxfordshire hometown in the early 1990’s.


Blewburton Hill Oxfordshire 1991

Using an as yet unpurchased Android slate.

I will draw on tablet from exact previous location and then merge either in adobe or through a purpose built android app. with original drawing and a photograph of the view. There is also the multimedia option of engaging with text and music too.

If this successful I will then take on to a more ‘public’ version of app. Posibly launched through an exhibition at local art centre. This however I will remove from the proposal timeline and place after the July 2012 M.A. deadline.


Here original proposal (amended March 2011)

M.A. RPT 2010-12

A project focusing on site specific experimental multidisciplinary artworks merging traditional notions of practice with digital media,computation, and internet resources”

Multimedia – incorporating fine art and literary practice

The project is centred on site specific locations – a local art centre, an abandoned railway track (now a public thoroughfare) and a large area of downland previously documented in the 1990’s. The project will involve drawing/painting on a handheld device and access to internet resources specifically GPS locative applications.

I aim to draw together my multidisciplinary activities in one specific outcome. This may be an exhibition tied in with locative media that may involve public engagement depending on timeframe.



James B. Thompson: Painting as a verb

Review: James B. Thompson’s ‘painting’ as a verb at Hallie Ford Museum in Salem
Frank Miller, capsule Willamette University


Accessed: 24.11.2010

James B. Thompson, treat “Swale,” 2008, acrylic on canvas.

As painters immersed in the 20th century’s abstract revolution stopped painting things that looked like things, several interesting things happened.

First, art — or this type of art — relinquished its sense of place. Even if the artist was thinking about a mountain or a street corner or a pillow on a bed, there was no mountain or corner or pillow to be seen. Impressionists fuzzed up the landscape. Cubists diced it and reassembled it in funny ways. Abstract artists packed it in a steamer trunk and sent it off on a one-way voyage to Yesterdayland.

Second, space became intellectual, not actual. Painting had always been an illusionary act – how can we fool the eye into seeing what we want it to see? — but now the illusion was that spatial relationships as we ordinarily think of them didn’t exist. Artists such as Mondrian and Klee were consumed with the idea of how space works – they could be downright mathematical about it – but they produced a geometry, not a landscape, and it was a geometry of the mind. (As a side benefit, abstraction also strengthened realist painting, because for the first time serious painters had to ask themselves why they were painting realistically, and then either come up with a good answer or start doing something else.)

Third, painting became accidental. Yes, Jackson Pollock had ideas in mind, and no, not every one of his drip paintings worked the way he wanted it to. But the chance of the throw became a central aspect of the process. It was the I Ching-ing of the art.


As abstraction became less a revolutionary act and more a way of approaching art – in other words, as it matured it also opened up. It could be about all sorts of things, including landscape or whatever else was in the artist’s mind, whether anyone looking at the finished product realized it or not. And that’s an interesting question: If viewers don’t know there’s a level of thought below the surface of the paint, how can they tell what they’re seeing?

The paintings and prints in “The Vanishing Landscape,” James B. Thompson’s exhibition that continues through May 17 at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art in Salem, raise precisely that issue. They’re ravishing things, especially the paintings — the sort of work that people like to call eye candy, although that’s a curiously dismissive way to think about art: What’s wrong with pleasing the eye, especially if you’re also doing other things at the same time? And Thompson’s art does a lot of other things, even if you’re only thinking about its surfaces. It’s a considered and sophisticated grappling with matters of space, color and mark-making — the difference, you might almost say, between a mar and a mark.

Underneath those lovely surfaces, marring is very much on Thompson’s mind. A native Chicagoan, Thompson has been on the art faculty at Willamette University in Salem since 1986, and he’s come to think of himself very much as a Westerner. What he sees, as he puts it in his artist statement for this show, is the transformation and disappearance of the region’s landscape “as planned developments, agribusiness and even golf resorts replace small town life, rural communities, family farms and forests.”

The tradition of landscape painting doesn’t deal adequately with the disappearance of land, he believes: Instead, it tends to depict idealized, unsullied evocations of what remains, so that we see a romanticized pastoral dream instead of the radically altered reality. A long tradition in photography has witnessed and recorded the sometimes brutal reshaping of the land, and representational painters such as Michael Brophy have tackled the issue of land use and abuse head-on.

But Thompson seems to want something at once deeper and more subtle — a philosophical undercurrent that transforms the act of artmaking into a reflection of the way we change the land. “The method of rendering abstract paintings and prints,” he writes, “is a celebration of the very act of change since this creative process involves the kind of continual mark-making that generates new sets of problems on the surface of each piece.”

In other words, you make marks – on the canvas or the land – and each mark is a risk. After all, the landscape of small towns and family farms that Thompson laments in passing was itself a reshaping of an earlier landscape far less decided by human intervention; one that might itself have been lamented as it faded before the ax and plow. So you think out each step, varying your mark-making according to some sort of loose plan, and you aim to come out with something beautiful. You don’t destroy the canvas. Chance, in the Pollock sense, is part of it. But instead of a big burst – a strip-mining of the image – it’s a considered improvisation, like good chamber jazz, each change partly determining what the next change will be.

How do Thompson’s paintings and prints emerge from this philosophical improvisation? Well, they’re gorgeous – and gorgeous in a way that invites repeated looking, because the more you look, the more you see. That’s a bit like looking, really looking, at the land.

The show’s 14 paintings, which range from about 2 feet square to 3 feet by 5 feet, are acrylic on canvas, and they’re richly layered, with a thick surface shine that makes them look almost like brightly fired ceramic tile. Yet they’re also nubbled, mottled like leather, with a suggestion of rises and hollows, or of something granular, like dirt. Their color is immediate, deep, voluble, seductive: oranges, reds, blues and greens that shout out their identities. Streaks, marks, splotches, running fences, finely scratched swirls like calligraphy, viewed in a certain frame of mind, seem topographical. It’s as if you’re seeing a landscape from an overflying airplane: lakes, rivers, roads, rises, habitations. The two dozen smaller intaglio prints are less deeply saturated in color but more significantly and lavishly marked, and at times they seem almost biological, in a microscopic way: They increase the illusion of some sort of exotic map-making.

Thompson suggests his underlying concerns through his titles: “Prairie,” “Wetland, “Aquifer,” “Range,” “Ridge,” “Karst” and the like. Yet the question remains: Does the viewer get any of these connections from looking at the art? You can easily view these prints and paintings and appreciate them as beautifully executed works that are simply about themselves. They’re abstracts – question marks. And their beauty raises another question: Are they, then, any less romanticized about the state of the land than the traditional landscapes Thompson finds so misleading?

Perhaps an answer lies in Thompson’s sense of movement, of making marks that lead to other marks in a dance of continuing small decisions. It’s a way of thinking about how we interact with the rest of the world, and it applies to intereactions far beyond canvas and paper. It’s “painting” as a verb, not as a noun. And it’s how we paint – how we make our marks – that makes the difference.

— Bob Hicks

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