Saturday, 19 December 2009

I have an article in the guardian regarding "stop and search" watercolouring

See the article here

Taking a photograph in a public place has become the quickest way to attract police attention, as increasing numbers of photographers can verify. But now it has emerged that anti-terrorism officers are uneasy about a far less sophisticated piece of surveillance technology: the watercolour brush and canvas.

Liam O'Farrell, an artist who exhibited at this year's Royal Academy summer show, has described how he had been questioned and searched by police twice inside a week while painting a scene close to City airport in east London.

The artist contacted the Guardian following a series of incidents in Britain in which photographers, tourists and students were stopped under anti-terrorism laws.

The situation was highlighted in last Saturday's Guardian when a reporter, Paul Lewis, described being questioned within two minutes of taking photographs of the Gherkin building in the City of London.

In a similar spirit of inquiry, Lewis went to the London Eye, central London, today armed with an easel, canvas and acrylic paints.

What O'Farrell called, perhaps inevitably, his "brush with the police", began when he set up his equipment on a grass bank adjoining a public road just south of City airport. With his back to the complex he set about painting a composite scene of terrace houses and the Tate & Lyle sugar factory a few streets away.

Inside half an hour two Metropolitan police officers from the specialist unit based at the airport arrived in a patrol car and demanded to know what he was doing, saying he had been spotted on a CCTV camera.

"I told them, 'I'm hardly a terrorist, I'm watercolouring'. One policeman said, 'you're not painting the airport, are you?' I told him I was painting the sugar factory. He said 'no one paints factories'. I told him Lowry painted loads of factories and made a mint. He got a bit touchy then."

For 15 minutes, O'Farrell said, one officer checked his identification on a radio while another searched his bag. "They said I had 'weird paraphernalia' with me. I said 'it's a flask of coffee and an iPod'."

O'Farrell said he had returned to the same spot a week later to complete the work and was interrogated again, by two other officers.

"I told them I was just doing a watercolour of the sugar factory. One of them said 'no one does watercolours of factories'. I told them about Lowry – it was groundhog day. It was extraordinary.

"Then one said 'I can see what you're doing now, I'd be a bit more concerned if you were painting the airport'. I remember from my art history that centuries ago in China artists were murdered in case they [painted] maps and roads. But in the days of digital photography I hardly think a watercolourist painting an airport would be some sort of international threat." The experience left him baffled. "I've been painting in Moscow, in Vietnam, Ukraine, and all I get round me are bunches of kids. If the police come by they're just curious about the painting. It's extraordinary what happened to me."

The incident took place in the summer of 2007, O'Farrell said, and he was prompted to write after hearing about recent events.

A spokesman said the Met's assistant commissioner, John Yates, had reminded officers last week that they should not stop photographers without reason. "Anyone could imagine why an airport is seen as a sensitive site, but we are aware that there are issues of communication with officers about what they can and can't do, which is why John Yates has taken these measures," he said.

Today the advice was seemingly being heeded. The Guardian's reporter spent a couple of hours creating his rendition of the London Eye on a winter afternoon, and, barring a polite request from a security guard to move to a different section of the riverside thoroughfare, received no official attention whatsoever. The only other interest came from tourists keen to see the work's progress

Thursday, 17 December 2009

I have a letter in the guardian on friday 18th december

I was stopped and searched twice near London City airport – for watercolouring! I was not even facing the airport. I was painting the Tate and Lyle sugar factory opposite. They said they saw me on a camera and thought that "no one would want to paint a factory". I explained that LS Lowry did loads. Then they said I could be an anarchist and I was carrying "suspicious paraphernalia" – this being a flask of coffee and an iPod. Oh, and a box of watercolours.

Once they had all my gear out, rummaged through what identity documentation I had and double-checked it on a few radios, they were satisfied I was just "weird" and left me to it. Until the next week, when I went back to finish off the picture and had to go through the same rigmarole all over again.

I have painted in Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam and plenty of other "controlled" states, and have never been questioned about watercolour anarchism.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

the allotment fair

am currently working on an oil painting and the preparatory drawing is below. The painting is based on an event at my mum’s allotment.

As the growing season nears its end the members organise an “Allotment show”. Quite a jovial affair. They pitch a large marquee, have a jumble sale and sell cake. At least thirty varieties of cake. So much cake!

The culmination of the show is the grand prize giving for the finest fruits and vegetables. They have the usual categories, ‘Largest pumpkin’, ‘Best onions’ and so on. Each winner is presented with a small trophy and large applause. No better way to while away a late summer afternoon.

Drawing note:
I really struggled to make the child at the rear column come alive. I was looking for somewhere between “Butter wouldn’t melt in the mouth” as a first impression, then on closer inspection “Precocious little bastard”. The subtleties of this contrast eluded me. I finally discovered a child painted by Michelangelo on the wall of the Sistine Chapel, and he appeared to have what i was lookng for. Interestingly the child was frozen in purgatory awaiting the lord’s judgment. Perhaps the great man was searching for this good/bad expression too?

I am not Michelangelo so of course I am still not sure I have captured him. I will try to work him up at the painting stage. We shall see,

Friday, 13 November 2009

three watercolours sold on the first day

All good news that three of my six paintings have sold on the first day of the exhibition at the Llewellyn Alexander Gallery in waterloo. One of which is featured below. It is of the bridges above Bourough Market. When i was painting it every second person kept telling me "That pub was in Bridget Jones' Diary!". I have never seen the film myself. I will be painting the fish market in oils in 2010. Should be fun.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

art exhibition in waterloo

Latest news
I have an eight man show at the Llewellyn Alexander Gallery in waterloo. Exhibiting both watercolour and oil paintings. It starts on the 8 – 28 November. Private view on Wednesday 4th.

Gallery Open 10am to 7:30pm Monday to Saturday:
124 -126 The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 8LN UK
(Opposite the Old Vic Theatre)
Tel: 020 7620 1322/1324 Fax: 020 7928 9469

The Garden

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

a quick thought on art

To say that a work of art is good but incomprehensible to the majority of men, is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can't eat it.
Leo Tolstoy

Friday, 11 September 2009

the garden: a new oil painting

I have recently finished another oil painting. ‘The Garden’. Oddly, all the plants are poisonous. You will find Hemlock (little sprigs of white flowers bottom left) among them. Socrates was forced to take Hemlock for upsetting his fellow Greeks.

The daddy of them all however would be the Castor plant (the red one mid right). The husk of its seeds contain ricin. An amount of ricin the size of a grain of salt will kill any human. Which is why it was great favourite of the KGB. It makes even the deadly Hemlock look like an antiseptic mouth wash.

The hubrisious grower has not yet notice the poison ivy climbing the rake. Too busy looking proud. The overgrown garden is in the process of turning on its faithful soon to be victim who has so diligently nurtured them.

I suppose it is a ‘Reap what you sow’ allegory. We all in reap what we sow in the end.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Where is british art heading? are the yba's really dead?

I attended a debate at the Mall Galleries Threadneedle Prize this evening. Where is British art heading? Are the YBAs really dead? Who or what is going to replace them? Attending were leading Brit artist Bob and Roberta Smith, writer and broadcaster Brian Sewell and realist painter and Threadneedle selector Jock McFadyen for a lively and topical debate during The Threadneedle Prize exhibition. Arts columnist Karen Wright chaired the panel.

Brian opened with the statement:"Twenty years or so ago I attended a debate like this and I said that British art was more or less dead. Now there are two things that happen when something dies. First it pisses itself, and second it shits itself. Well the YBA (Young British Artists) are the ensuing piss and shit from the rotting corpse of British art and its time for change."

Well now there is an opening (rubbing hands together).

As the debate/battle went on however I found that the points drifted somewhat and stayed very much in the present. Some lamenting the dreadful current state of the teaching standards in our art colleges, others blaming Messers Saatchi and Serota for all the worlds ills. This was further hampered somewhat by Jock McFadyen who insisted that the YBA's did not exist at all which led nowhere. Brian broadsided his vast dictionary across Jocks bows in reprise. (The crowd jeered!)

There was also an undertow from some members of the audience promoting the HATE of contemporary art no matter what. Culminating in one or two pointless, personal and spiteful comments directed at Bob Smith (who seemed a fine chap to me). They at the same time viewing Brain as an artistic messiah. Brian seemed uncomfortable with his new promotion to 'the right hand of the father' and shifted in his chair.

No final decision was made on the future of our art though I did rather enjoy it all the same. Lots of long words with a touch of the Hogarthian cock pit!

Monday, 31 August 2009

a completed picture of columbia road market

After much aggravation in the initial drawing stage I have finally completed the painting of Columbia Road Market. It was a challenge to do and took much longer than I first anticipated. I just kept adding figures. The last being the small girl in the front. I also had to redo the shadows below the figures three or times. I got there in the end.

Saturday, 15 August 2009


We had one of those notorious “staycations”. Camping in Yorkshire. The campsite was in Glaisdale, this being a tiny village in the nook of the North Yorkshire moors. I say campsite. Really it was just a small patchwork of fields huddled around a few stone built farm buildings.

It is ruled by well meaning octogenarian martinet. She had festooned the whole site with impromptu signage warning that you transgress at your peril. It was everywhere. Everything had a sign, with a punishment to match.

She spotted me sketching and I was cornered. Once she was satisfied I was not checking up on her from the council I was marched into the house to see her dads drawings. After the tour was complete she insisted on showing me what she was most proud of. Even more than dads drawings! A framed certificate which was presented for winning a gooseberry competition. On closer inspection I noticed it was dated. Dated 1944! I could help feeling a little scared.

After escapingI painted a picture of nearby Robin Hoods Bay.Lovely place too.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

a sketch of columbia road

I am currently battling away with a painting of Columbia road flower market. I say battling because when the market is open it is utter mayhem.

A virtual 80’s trading floor at the summit of a black Wednesday. There are great eddying tides of people heavy with boxes of plants and flowers elbowing each other out of the way. I found it impossible to stay in a steady position. And ended up getting bellowed by a so called ‘Yummy Mummy’ with three children and told to ‘Get out of the fucking way!’. Charming!

I have finally decided to cheat. I went to the market on a day it was closed and worked in the buildings. I moved the odd warehouse around a little for composition sake. It was bliss. I did however have to go back to sketch in the people and the stalls. This I achieved by jamming myself into doorways and in the gaps in between each plot, avoiding all irate parents. I eventually escaped with what I wanted.

The oil painting seems to be coming on. I have painted the street with serenity rather than the floral rugby scrum it actually is. The bloody memory is too brutal.

More on my site

Thursday, 2 July 2009

the leaves are green?

I visited the Stanley Spencer Gallery the other week and like many artists I jammed my nose right up to the canvas to dissect the mysteries of technique and style.

I noticed flecks of sky blue on the top of the leaves. It was pure blue and fairly strong as well. I stood back and of course it worked perfectly.

With that in mind I decided (Pedanticly) to take a photograph of a bush and with the aid of Photoshop pick out the separate colours. Sure enough dear old Stanley was totally correct. Blue there was; pure blue and plenty of it. Obviously the leaf is taking the colour from the sky just as the sky is reflected in water. There was also a rather dark gray and fairly vibrant yellow. As for the greens; there were far too many to enumerate. I have highlighted a few.

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Sunday, 14 June 2009

royal academy summer exhibition

I am pleased to say that my recent work "Waiting' successfully made it into the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition this year. (click on the image to view it larger)

The opening event was an odd day. I expected to turn up at Burlington House, have a few glasses of wine with the great and the good then finally search the rooms to see if my picture was in a ‘prime place’ to add a further boost to the day.

Not a bit of it. In the square we were all assembled (even the great and the good) only to be trooped over to St James’ Church across Piccadilly for a service of thanks. Such an odd thing to see
Tracey Emin singing hymns and behaving impeccably while sporting her RA medal. I felt rather disappointed. A little part of me wanted her to be plastered and do something outrageous in front of the vicar.

I recalled church at school where Brian Hanson always played up and got into trouble. My companions and I would giggle deliciously as he was led out once more by the furious Miss Ferris. Dear old Brian. Naughty in front of God!

Don’t be too good Tracey.