Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Hong Kong - Autumn 2015

This trip is to be our first tentative venture into Asia with oil paint. I’ve travelled to Japan, Vietnam and Hong Kong previously but as a tourist, not with the means to produce a serious body of work.
Our biggest painting trip previously was the two months in the US in 2013 which was part-funded through a Kickstarter campaign. This Hong Kong trip is completely self-funded although since announcing our intentions a positive relationship has begun with Manchester Airport and Cathay Pacific.
It’s coming up to the first anniversary of direct flights starting from Manchester to Hong Kong which is great for both cities with Manchester having the third largest Chinatown in Europe and significant Chinese investment in Manchester Airport City.

Our flight with Cathay Pacific was smooth and comfortable despite the best efforts of tropical storm Mujigae which was in full swing when we descended and for the first few days of being here. We had planned to dodge typhoon season which normally finishes in September but we caught the tail end.
It was actually fascinating to experience such torrential rain and gave me confidence in painting in such conditions in the future.

The streets looked incredible wet though there’s plenty of public covered space. It’s often the case that as an outdoor painter you assume you can’t work in what seems at first glance challenging conditions when the reality is relatively comfortable. Last winter was spent painting in a wet Manchester which produced some great results.
I’ve noticed some street workers were wearing umbrella hats which might allow work in bad weather conditions whilst keeping your hands free... hmmmmm...

We have found two different apartments to rent for our Hong Kong stay. I am hoping that they will capture two different sides to the city. Our first ten days will be spent in Mong Kok in the western point of the Kowloon Peninsula.
The remainder of the month will be spent in Soho on Hong Kong central. We have tried to select apartments that are not only in great locations but that have good enough views to provide subject matter from the moment we arrive. We have high hopes for the Soho apartment with exclusive roof access in an old Chinese building (although we’re on the 15th floor with no elevator) The Mong Kok apartment couldn’t be better, we are on the 27th floor with a glass corner window that gives a spectacular unobstructed panorama of the whole of Kowloon and glimpses of Hong Kong Central Island in the distance.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Oil Painting 15 - The High Line

The avenues of New York are so straight, they’re almost like artificial terrain for a computer game. I’m not used to seeing such obvious points of perspective with no curves, nothing is this straight in Britain.

This phenomenon of distance struck me walking around New York in the first few days, but the obvious problem was to see it and represent it as it most dramatic, you’d have to be set up with an easel in the middle of the road.

This particular location on the High Line park provided an alternative to certain death on a junction, with the added drama of being raised up above the middle of the infinitely straight 10th Avenue.

This park created from an old, originally constructed to transport traffic from the Meatpacking District of New York into the city after trains on the street killed so many people that it gained the nickname Death Avenue. This area became a sleazy hangout point before a further reinvention as a chic village, full of boutiques and bars. The High Line, opened in 2009 after a long campaign, has become one of the city’s most popular attractions.

The planting is more natural than I expected, lots of tall grasses and wild flowers. I guess it helps with maintenance and reflects nature claiming the unused railway initially. The people in the bottom-right corner of this painting are lower than my viewpoint, looking through glass like a TV set at the long Avenue in front of them.

There are well-kept lawns up there, wooden loungers that are always full of people sunbathing or working on Macs, sculptures which reflect the art gallery district underneath the HIgh Line and some wet barefoot walks that kids are always splashing around in.

It’s nice to have the nature in the extreme foreground, contrasting with the geometry of the straight streets and angled architecture.

The biggest turning point in the process of painting was the decision to add the text on the bright yellow advertising board. It is rare that I add legible text into paintings but I thought that such stark advertising was a reflection on Manhattan’s culture and grounds the painting in reality. Any space as prominent as this will be used for advertising and it is the first thing your eye goes to in the scene: it dominates the view. The text of the advert is simply what it says, not an artistic comment.

The brown brick building on the right hand side gives a comparison between old and new New York. A lady stopped to tell me that this building was the ‘real’ New York, and the other buildings could have been anywhere. Modern buildings, designed by computer, have no human fingerprints within them and global architect’s practices no longer build unique streets to compare with the New York brownstones and art deco skyscrapers. I thought about other people I know who battle to retain the distinctive identities of their area against erosion and loss. The range of attitudes of New Yorkers about the High Line sum up an inherent conflict underneath the surface of any reinvention.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Pop-up exhibition on Governors Island

Guest post by Clare White

A bright Sunday morning was the perfect time to select some of the best paintings of the Pointon USA collection and put on a pop-up exhibition in front of one of the greatest views on Earth.

The free ferry to Governors Island runs every weekend so that New Yorkers and visitors can get out of the city and enjoy a wide range of attractions. Over the two days we visited we enjoyed splendid sights of bygone eras with a Jazz lawn party and classic VW display, plus kayaking and food with freshly made tropical juices from the different stalls.

Many artists have temporary studio and exhibition spaces in the attractive buildings which used to house army families, so getting the paintings there was straightforward.

Attached securely to the seafront, the oil paintings of New York and San Fancisco looked stunning against the Hudson River and skyscrapers of Manhattan.

As one of the prime photo opportunities in New York, it wasn't long before the paintings, with their highly recognisable views, drew attention.

Rob completed oil painting number 15 painting of Manhattan and the immense choppy river with its constant criss-crossing traffic of all sizes.

When we got there, the trees - noisy with the hissing of beetles - were casting shadows onto the paintings and it was several hours before the sunshine really brought out the bright, vibrant colours of these American paintings.

The sun beats down hottest in late afternoon so that was when we took the exhibition down and headed off to join the queues of classic VWs for the ferry back off the Island.

Probably one of the most relaxing gallery spaces I have ever seen!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Oil painting 14 - Manhattan from Governors Island

The island is a free ferry ride from lower Manhattan. It is only open to the public at weekends, which turns it into a popular recreational getaway for New Yorkers. Formerly owned by the military, it contains a disused fort, barrack buildings and homes for army families.

It was damaged by Hurricane Sandy and has a dilapidated, informal atmosphere where it feels as though the crowds have taken over and can do whatever they like. During the days we were there it had a jazz lawn party, which meant the ferry was filled with spectacularly dressed visitors, and a VW rally.

It is only when you move away from Manhattan that you realise how high the new Freedom Tower is, and although I thought I was familiar with the New York skyline, this view was completely new. Painting a wide tidal water rather than the canal or a lake was also new, I hadn’t done much study of large expanses like this. A lot of the same rules applied as with the Year of the Boat but there are far fewer reflections and I was trying to summarise the repetition of the waves with strokes. We had two beautiful days of constant sunshine which meant the days were full of vibrant colours and I captured the contrasts of sun-hit land and water. As with the balusterade in Bryant Park, I consciously didn’t adjust the straight line perspective into a curve as we track round the wide angle view, keeping it as a straight edge to give a sense of the rigidity of the land against the organic water. Curving the line would have softened that effect.

Two small boats appear in the painting although a lot of crafts of different sizes came, including the Staten Island ferry and a large clipper. I deliberately avoided the rest of the boats so I could focus on the water.

Although faced with one of the most spectacular man-made skylines in the world, I pushed it up to the top of the view, preferring the impossibility of painting water and this natural expanse. From this vantage point, it looks like a small tropical island but one that has been crammed full of skyscrapers. While the other New York paintings are in the centre of walls of skyscrapers, giving at best a breathing point in a green square, this view allows you to take a breath and appreciate the vibrant energy of the city by stepping away from it.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Oil painting 13 - Summer in Bryant Park

Bryant Park, at the rear of New York Public Library, was well located in-between the paintings at Grand Central Terminal and Times Square so that I could work across multiple paintings in a day. It is very formal in structure, with a large central lawn.

This was a favourite place to paint and spend time: it has become a branded visitor attraction with a unique, enjoyable atmosphere. There is a busy programme of events including chess players, table tennis and the best public toilets in the city playing classical music. While we were there we watched ET with thousands of other enthusiastic people on the lawn underneath the moonlight. The classical furnishings and avenues of trees make it an oasis from the surrounding city.

I have condensed the vista on the left to include the Empire State Building and Bryant Park Hotel. I’ve kept the perspective straight on the balustrade and along with other linear features it funnels us into the stylised tunnelling of the avenue of trees.

This was a good space to work and engage with the public, people felt relaxed enough to start quite in-depth conversations. I think this painting really sums up summer in the city.

Oil painting 12 - Times Square looking north, New York

Although I was pleased with the feeling of height in the first painting of Times Square, I didn’t feel this painting summed up the magnitude of the visual spectacle of the movement and people, the joyous challenge of painting such an energetic scene, bizarre heights and extreme depths. I did a further painting and could have done more. While other subjects would fall flat if the weather was dull, Times Square is colourful and alive at all times, day or night.

For the painting looking north, I flipped the canvas to landscape and pushed the avenue to the extreme right. This gave enough room across the composition to get a sense of the fast-moving, blurred traffic.

There are few places in the world where you’re being attacked by quite so many brands at once, your vision filled up by so many names and adverts. I was consciously trying not to be drawn in and give them extra attention than the rest of the landscape. I painted them with as much detail as I would a tree, not giving them any special treatment. Famous logos of global brands that we are familiar with have been painted in an impressionistic style as if I’d never seen them before, summed up as strokes of colour rather than necessarily copying the lettering.

The painting includes other familiar American sights including the Naked Cowboy, singing for every passing tourist and a pair of trainers hanging from the overhead wires.

This area has a nearly Bladerunner feel to it with its neon signs and height of the futuristic city.


Oil painting 11 - Times Square looking south, New York

Thinking I’d have trouble setting up in such a well-known location, I spoke to the NYPD in their booth which doubles as an army recruitment centre, but they were very relaxed. I set up and straight away blended into the mass of entertainment.

I am breaking composition rules by having a central vertical band running up the canvas, but I knew it would stand out as an oddity and wanted to draw attention to the thinness of the building which occupies the space between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. 

I also wanted to invite a comparison between the two halves of the painting with pedestrians on the left hand side and traffic on the right. I flitted between these two different worlds by alternating which side of the easel I looked around; these two slightly different vantage points helped me to eliminate a drab flowerbed which would otherwise have been in the foreground.

The main thing you want to capture in Times Square is the bright artificial colour: the primaries of the yellow taxis, the red of the parasols in the foreground were constants amongst the sea of changing LED advertising boards.

It’s not a very enjoyable place to spend time. It was quite unnerving painting so close to fast-moving traffic, which must cause a lot of injuries in the square. You feel that you’re being assaulted visually by changing lights and it’s an impossible phenomenon to paint, but at the same time stimulating. I couldn’t have predicted what the end result was going to look like because the scene changed every time I looked up.

A little boy gave me a can of diet coke, the only tip I received, putting me well behind multiple Elmos, Batman and other characters of the square.