Friday, December 19, 2014

Inspiration in the 'Off season'

It feels like the 'off season' to me at the moment. The sky is grey and the colours are too. My framer is working hard to make up some frames for some pictures heading to some competitions in London. It's the annual attempt to penetrate the world of the British watercolour elite, so far I've been unsuccessful.

The Bosphorus is still an illusive subject for me, an enchanting place whose main landmarks have been painted so often they feel worn out just to look at sometimes. But at the same time each time I cross it on the ferry I need to photograph it.

The city remains in traffic gridlock. The new metro will be a while coming, though the third bridge is swiftly progressing. The traffic just seems to get worse and one wonders if no end of tunnels and metros would merely dent the deluge of vehicles pouring into the city each day.

Roll on spring...

Monday, December 1, 2014

Contemporary Istanbul 2014

Vachagan Narazyan a Russian born artist made the event for me. His modern take on Bruegel was amazing. I loved seeing oils used in this way. His haunting and disturbing images were fresh and original especially next to the tired 'modern' re-works of Warhol prints that seemed to fixate those in need of inspiration. Soonja Kang's hyperrealist watercolours were also beautiful a refreshing use of a traditional medium.

Back to work....

Friday, November 21, 2014

Too Much...

I've just read a blog post on what to do when you get too involved in a picture, 'give up' was the answer! I think I got too involved in this picture, then when you finish you think, um, that's too much, too much information, nothing left to the imagination etc... Too much colour, etc..
Back to the drawing board.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Spike II

I Choose to Forgive

Though the cuffs of my jeans are muddied
from the dirt you have dragged me through,
I choose to forgive.

Though the nails of my fingers are bloodied 
from the fighting you've forced me to do,
I choose to forgive.

Though no book or belief I have studied
can make sense of the path you pursue,
I choose to forgive.

Though the walls of my heart are broken
and the centre of my self is black-bruised
by the lash of the lies you've spoken
and the wounds of the words that you've used,
though I huddle, a tear-trembling tragedy
stripped of the power to trust,
blocked off from all who might help me
by the guilt that came wrapped with your lust,
I choose to forgive.

And this act alone
breaks the cycle.
This act alone
rights the wrong.
This act alone
ends the evil.
This act alone
makes me strong,

heals blind hatred with soft sight,
kicks the darkness into light.

I choose to forgive.

Gerard Kelly

Watercolour on paper

Sunday, October 19, 2014


The world seems to be going crazy at the moment, the continuing rise of brutality in the Middle East is casting a shadow over everything. The growing ebola crisis is causing a general nervous drawing in of breath amongst those of us in countries still untouched by it. The relentless insistence of everyday life thankfully draws our gaze from the news on our screens as we have to engage with earning money and 
providing for our family.

But then of course there is anchovy bread ( I mean the fresh variety). This is the time of year when anchovies swarm down from the Black sea into the Bosphorus causing a fish bonanza. You can fry them and eat them bones and all, you can bake them with rice, you can even find them in bread! I was buying one such 'loaf' the other day and I was met with a monologue about the prophet Noah, fish and something to do with Turks being related to Noah. I've never quite understood the propensity of certain of my dear friends to monologue about religion. It can be endearing to listen to at times as long as you have an escape route when the tea grows cold. 

I have to point out that anything to do with anchovies brings a look of utter revulsion to the faces of my teenage kids.

Watercolour on paper

Sunday, September 28, 2014

More Trash

Art is all about creating meaning. 
Trash is laden with symbolism.
What we discard tells us much about our worldview.
Think on…

Watercolour on paper

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An Exhausting Week...

Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey - Watercolour on paper

Beylerbeyi Palace is one of those remarkable Ottoman royal residences that can be found along the Bosphorus. We were lucky enough to secure it for an exhibition that we opened this last week. The exhibition area is in a tunnel that runs underneath the length of the building and actually used to be main route of access for traffic coming down side of the Bosphorus to Uskudar. 

All this might sound quite romantic but opening an art show down there needed a lot of work. To start with it was damp which means that watercolour pictures need to be sandwiched in glass and sealed with silicon. The space needed lighting too which required getting a local electrician to wire in our flood lights with just hours to spare. There was also a lot of space to fill and hanging pictures on the wall was trying. One can't drill into the walls of an Ottoman architectural treasure so we utilised old nails that had been in the walls for many years and fishing line purchased just up the road from the old men who supply Bosphorus fishermen. 

Whilst working on this I must confess to dreaming wistfully of the ease of exhibiting in other modern purpose built spaces where lighting, hanging and conditions are so much easier. The opening evening however, was fairly spectacular, the venue came to life in the late summer sunlight of an Istanbul evening, the tunnel with lights and classical music was a remarkable space. All in all it was an exhausting event but the small band of artists that make up the Istanbul Forum of the Arts  managed to pull off an impressive opening again. I should heartily thank Üsküdar Municipal Government and Beylerbeyi Palace for their sponsorship of this event (we called it the Üsküdar Biennale), their generous provision of the venue, the cocktail and transport for activities that were put on for participating artists this week was much appreciated.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cappadocia 1

The Cappadocian Fathers apparently spent a lot of time in caves, caves in 'fairy chimneys' (as they have come to be known). The Cappadocian landscape is host to multitudes of strange conical rock formations which over the years have had houses, churches, barns and many other dwellings hewn out of them.

There is a lot of material for me to use here, the landscapes, textures and forms are striking.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ten Least Painted Scenes of Istanbul - Number 6

It's been a very sad month here in Turkey. The tragic death of over three hundred miners was a terrible shock for the nation. The responses to the tragedy were many and varied but there are a lot of families grieving the loss of their main bread winner and father or son. We stand with the people of this nation in their sorrow.

There was a nasty little tremor on Saturday which sent us all running for cover, the earthquake which is apparently due for Istanbul thankfully has not yet happened. Our 'earthquake bag' remains poised in a convenient place, I'm hoping it remains unused for many years to come.

Summer finally broke through in the last few weeks and we are enjoying glorious days of sunshine and evenings of tea and talk. The schools are beginning to organise the activities of the final weeks of term and we are thinking about our annual wall painting chaos. There is a lot to be done before we all retire for the summer.

Old Basin - Watercolour on Paper 

Friday, April 18, 2014


This is the top of a water pump, otherwise known as a tulumba. It's from the usual part of the city, a forgotten corner of a forgotten warehouse, but it has a strange charm.

The 'Printemps des Artistes' Exhibition I was pleased to be part of last week went really well. I was very impressed  by the organisation and enthusiasm with which the event was organised. I was also really pleased to be showing my artworks with other great artists. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Watercolour Wizardry in Istanbul

There was a kitchen, a woodwork room, a room for making candles, an art room and lots of other facilities too. The special needs school on the outskirts of Istanbul was a large building with different classrooms set up to teach a variety of skills to young adults with special needs.

The Principal enthusiastically explained what the school was trying to achieve whilst we drank tea, then shortly after I found myself in a room with fifteen young adults with a variety of special needs eagerly awaiting whatever I was going to do. Keeping things informal I got the kids out from behind their chairs to surround my table. I had come prepared with a lightly drawn view of the Bosphorus on a piece of 300 gm paper stuck to a board and my rather chaotic pile of equipment ready to go. To add to the pressure the local artist's group that had invited me had turned up 'en masse' to witness what I hoped would not be too much of an anticlimax!

After establishing which football teams (soccer) the kids supported, and also making sure that they realised that whatever transpired on the paper was going to be as much a surprise to me as to them, we began. Creating a bit of atmosphere is essential so talking slowly and quietly I started by applying a little masking fluid much to the puzzlement of the kids. I then loaded a large brush with a light blue and soaked the whole page with bold strokes of the brush. The kids smirked to themselves that I'd messed that up “muaf oldu!” they giggled. From there on in I began to show them that with a few simple principals in mind, some carefully placed masking fluid, a lot of kleenex and a hair dryer one can come up with some fun pictures that aren't so bad!

I use a lot of water, a lot of splashing, dripping and tipping the board which I'm glad to say the kids found very entertaining. At one point the class teacher put some music on to enhance the atmosphere and after about 30 minutes I emerged perspiring with a picture that, though technically flawed, was worthy apparently of a round of applause. The crowning moment was when I peeled back the dried masking fluid revealing sparkly strips of while paper creating the effect of sunlight on the sea. I asked the kids to promise not to give away my 'magical' secrets which they called 'sihirbazlik' or wizardry and they winked in agreement.

I drove away with one of their home-made candles as a present and some satisfaction that I'd shown these kids that with a little practice they could do just as well as me and have a lot of fun. They were a great bunch of courageous young people with so much to offer, I hope they go on to do great things, as for me the whole experience was life giving!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Printemps Des Artistes

So it's exhibition season and here's one I'm involved in this coming April. This particular exhibition looks like it's going to be a a fairly well organised affair (not like our usual!).  Istanbul is beautiful in April and the Tulips will be out (did you know tulips were a Central Asian import?), so come on over and buy a painting or two, or three.

Also comments on my artist's statement would be welcome, let me know what you think (be gentle)….

Artist's Statement – March 2014

Why paint an old pair of shoes? Why paint a rusty bucket? Watercolour painting is often seen as the definitive way to portray awe-inspiring landscapes or city scapes, why abuse this medium to describe ugly, hum-drum objects?

I love and respect the long traditions of watercolour painting and have painted many landscapes. However, I'm also inspired by observing man-made, mass produced, functional objects that have been sculpted and painted by the hand of time, where the natural elements have woven their poetry round the cold hard demands of functionality and economy. I choose at the moment to work in a realist style, it's in the recognisable portrayal of everyday things that pattern, colour, form and texture can be most surprising and attractive.

It's difficult to determine at what point one of my art-works begins. After being drawn to a scene it can take some time before I put my thoughts down on paper as I think about the technical aspects of the creative process. After spending time drawing the image I apply masking fluid and then a number of different washes of colour to bring texture and depth. I use watercolour for it's versatility and ease of use. The process of one art-work can take hours or weeks depending on it's scale and complexity.

I want viewers of my art-works to see on a number of different levels. I want them to imagine and sense the story behind many of the objects I paint, the years of wear and tear through use by ordinary people living their lives. I want them to be intrigued by the mystery of the hidden pasts that surround us in the objects we pass by, the social history they witness to. I also want them to be charmed by the beauty of some of these scenes, beauty that usually eludes our busy glances as we rush through life. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Public Transport Stereotypes - I

The government continues to pour investment into the transport infrastruture of the city, which makes the commuters glad! There are the usual disputes, complaints and moans about other political issues I'll not comment on here, but getting around the city is getting easier (as long as you avoid using a private car!). 

One anachronistic mode of transport remains; the minibus. I expect precious few tourists who come to the city would brave transport on a minibus as it's pretty hairy and requires knowing some of the Language. You can flag one of these minibuses down anywhere along it's route, although you'd only know it's route if you were pretty familiar with the area. Likewise you can get off one of these at any time too, if you can make it to the door past the human flesh and bones that are often crammed in tight. 

Map of Istanbul minibus routes
Passengers on the minibuses are a set of different stereotypes. There are the young students (usually girls) who quietly sit listening to music through head-phones whilst furiously texting. They look to be in a world of their own trying to ignore (understandably) the riff-raff around them. They are also impervious to the hard stares of any standing elderly passengers, who by all that Turkish culture holds precious should be offered the seats of the younger passengers. This particular type of passenger often sits down in a seat and then passes the fare up through the bus via the people sitting in front. This is a clever ploy to avoid losing the possibility of getting a seat through wasting crucial seconds walking up the bus and paying the driver. I have sympathy with these young people as commuting on a minibus everyday is a tiresome thing and these habits are born of necessity, plus my daughter is one of them!

Anyway, lots more sterotypes to come, I'll stop there.

Untitled Watercolour - on 600gm paper

Monday, February 10, 2014


Growing up I was always told to keep my shoes polished. Those were the days when 'proper' shoes were leather and supposed to be shiny. However, growing up in the 70s and 80s all the people that I can remember aspiring to never wore shiney shoes, in fact as I remember they were probably wearing swade desert boots or something like that. Moving to Central Asia in the late 90's mean I had to rethink my attitudes. Many of the people I worked with were exceedingly concerned about the shinyness of their shoes, pieces of tissue paper would be used to wipe off the ever present desert dust a number of times a day, my slovenliness borne of out-of-date beatnick aspirations had to be reformed. 

The other thing I picked up in Islamic Asia was a habit of never wearing outside shoes inside a house. This brings a whole pile of implications concerning what footwear to choose; lace up boots are out, 'slip-ons' are in. So despite the bad memories of taking the bus into town to buy shiney, slip-on 'sensible shoes' (which marked the end of the summer holidays for me in the 70s) I am back to wearing sensible, polishable slip-ons wherever possible. What goes round comes round.

Shoes in a forgotten attic - Istanbul - Watercolour on Paper

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


This city never ceases to surprise me. Today I was staring at a forge. Sometimes I head over to the small streets that skirt the Golden Horn in the Karakoy district of Istanbul. It's a fascinating area where ancient Ottoman 'hans' (sort of trading centres for craftsmen of all types) nestle amongst fish markets or hardware markets. It's a great place to go to buy drills, scales, large chain saws, ball bearings, rope and chains (you never know when a 30kg coil of chains is going to come in handy).  

Yesterday I found a mouldering two storey brick edifice that was another one of these old Ottoman structures that I'd overlooked before. It had a long path running down between workshops that was partially covered by the second storey. Everything was black and sooty, at one end in a darkened cave-like room was a forge with flames blasting out of the gaps in the cover. There were a few men scurrying back and forth with various items to be melted down. They were very patient and endured my questions and our 'oohs' and 'aaahs' as they tried to go about earning a crust. 

We didn't out stay our welcome and continued to roam around the less travelled parts of the old city. It is fascinating to see so many diverse lifestyles, trades, occupations, social classes and religious identities live and work so close to one another. As we were admiring a particularly interesting doorway in the han I mentioned above, one of the workers passed by and with an ironic smile yelled out 'Harika!' (meaning 'fantastic!!'). 
He was apparently fairly at home with the presence of foreigners finding remarkable what he no doubt sees everyday, live and let live.

Watercolour on paper: '39'

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