Do please come along to the first show of Michael’s paintings since 2000. On show will be lots of works not seen publicly until now, plus a few favourites, and a new range of 5 beautiful and affordable giclee prints, including Tea Party (as seen on the poster below.) Looking forward to seeing you there!
One of Michael’s early influences was Vincent Van Gogh, which is clear in this small painting of a flowering apple tree in the family garden in Cambridgeshire. He had recently visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and was working through some ideas gleaned from the trip. The paint is thickly applied on the canvas and the colours sing through the layers, reflecting the layers of blossom on a tree. Michael preferred to paint from life at this point, he didn’t use photographs as a reference until much later, so this painting really captures a moment in time.
One damp and cold winter’s evening on a family visit to London, Michael’s attention was captured by the lights, colours and activity in a hairdresser’s shop in Soho. He stood outside the door, sketching with oil pastels until he had enough information on the page, but not before his three small children had loudly stated their utter boredom with waiting for him to finish. The black panel on the right side indicates his constant testing the boundaries of composition and also prefigures his experiments with dense blocks of colour that we’ve seen in Picturepost 1 (Closed Visits) and Picturepost 3 (Grantchester Meadows).
The Poll Tax Riots exploded onto British streets in March 1990 in response to the introduction that year of the Community Charge. The widespread newspaper coverage provided plenty of images for Michael to begin a series of works, which culminated in a large oil painting of a rioting crowd, which will be the subject of a future post. This b/w gouache sketch captures the intense anger many people felt about the imposition of what came to be called the poll tax. He was naturally attracted to the challenge of conveying emotion and energy in his work; sometimes the atmosphere would be calm and quiet but with events like this he was inspired by the energy that drove the action. He always tried to remain apolitical, but actually he was strongly against the policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government, believing that the existence of the working class was threatened by their policies.
Michael travelled to Australia in the mid-70s staying with friends in New South Wales and Western Australia and, as you can imagine, he recorded as much as he could on paper and board, rather than with a camera. The light and colours in the landscape inspired a series of paintings of which this is perhaps the most complete. In Australia he felt that he was looking at the world with new eyes and his already strong sense of colour was developed significantly during and after that trip. This rockpool was close to a friend’s farm that lay 20 miles up a dirt track and with the neighbours five miles away. He was enchanted by the light reflecting on the surface of the water, and by the lizards that stalked through the grass, looking for a tasty lunch of snake.
This dramatic landscape depicts the top of the cliff at Highcliffe in Dorset; many family holidays were spent on the beach below. Michael’s favourite place to paint was looking east from the cliff, towards Lymington, with the Isle of Wight to the south. With this series he was interpreting landscape more simply than he’d done before – the question was how to strip the image down to its most basic shapes, without losing the essence of what he was seeing. The paint is thickly applied, which gives the painting a tactile surface and lends depth to the sharp white arrow shape.
Capturing on canvas the energy that comes from a large group of people was a constant inspiration for Michael. A child’s birthday party was the setting for this lively work, which is part of a long running series that culminated in several oil paintings. The source material was a selection of family photographs, some portrait commission work, and drawing from the life. He wasn’t especially interested in the fact that his own children feature, only in the challenges of the work itself. Family photos are often messy; they’re often unplanned, they are snapshots of a moment in time, which is why we all like them. In the right artist’s hands they make productive source material. For example the old man in the hat was the elderly father of a friend; he had died recently and he seemed the perfect ‘watcher’ at the feast, but more importantly he balances the composition. Several sketches and paintings of this man exist, but he certainly wasn’t at this party.