Gallery 3

The Russell Square series

Originally, these pochade paintings were a chance to incorporate some of the figure sketches that had been accumulating in various sketch books over the years. I’d been drawing figures regularly outside as I wandered around London, but had rarely chosen them as subjects within my landscape work.

 

Outside the nearby British Museum where I first started drawing figures, tourists congregated but rarely stood still for long, content to pose in the foreground of the wide frontage for a minute or two, then off inside. Most of their poses were samey, rarely striking anything of note. These required very fast drawing, much in the manner of the two-minute poses of art classes – not particularly satisfactory when I wasn’t that experienced. Foreign school groups preferred to sit on the benches and balconies that ring the flower beds. They were still restless, but tended to stay together a bit longer. They also tended to be more observant, so were often soon aware of the artist paying them attention, making them more self-conscious, if not downright inquisitive.Those come to study the Museum contents strode confidently past at speed without stopping, as did locals nipping in for the toilets, cafe or a short-cut to the street behind. (I fit into that last local category, but a day is never wasted gazing at the Smiter of the Nubians sculptures in the darkening light of the Egyptian Rooms even in passing) But these were the available subjects to draw, so I set to it…

But in Russell Square, I realised that around me in a seemingly infinite variety of poses were the very people I needed to improve my drawing. My kind of people!

 

 

A combination of many circumstances, some designed, some fortuitous, Russell Square is an oasis of calm amidst the bustle of the West End. Close to a tube station, on a main thoroughfare lined with shops and hotels, the opposite side containing both the British Museum and a major University, Russell Square is ideally placed for the students, tourists, travellers,  toolbelts and suits, actors from RADA, fitness freaks, dogwalkers and vagrants to take a break on the grass and benches. Built around a small fountain, in which children cavort with the pigeons amid the water spouts, the garden has an almost ideal plantation of mature trees for shade, yet leaving broad expanses of open sunlight for those that prefer to tan. For me, the secret of the Square, if it has one, are the clear, diagonally placed paths that draw people in and out across the garden. Why? That I’m not so sure about, but having a painter’s love of diagonals in composition, their placing in the grounds seems more than fortuitous – neighbouring squares just don’t have the flow, being either private or well, just square, both in aspect and approach. So be it…

 

 

It also dawned on me that if I saw someone come in and sit down, then I had them for the hour – it was almost certainly their lunch break. People already there might leave at any moment, but unless I was very unlucky that could still mean five or ten minutes of modeling. Close-up and distant people struck delightful shapes leaning and lying, reading and writing, phoning or feeding the birds or  just gazing off into the beyond. Squirrels, dogs, pigeons and crows hopped, pecked, barked and darted into the frame, integrating and developing the narrative between the figures. After the first painting I’d effectively abandoned the idea of a horizon line, so the animals allowed the rhythm of the pictures to develop around the local colours.

 

 

 All were painted using a pochade box onto wood panels – initially they were all 6×8’s  but gradually I started to introduce the larger 10×12″ box as well. Both are quick and fairly discreet paint boxes to use, ideal for ‘guerilla-painters’ to work fast and be gone.

 

 

Gradually, I have increased the scope of locations over time, particularly taking in winter scenes in London at the various open-air rinks and in the snow on Primrose Hill.. But as London’s loveliest square provided the impetus for these and started it all so they go under the same series title…

(The sharper-eyed may have noticed that I have included deckchairs where none exist in Russell Square. I confess to having added that detail to a Russell Square under-painting after a visit to St James Park, as I started to expand my locations. Ditto the odd wildfowl crossing the frame. Too good to miss.)

 

OfficeBreak(6x8)x
Office Break – 6×8″ – Oil on panel

Rarely have I met the people in the pictures, but apart from initial embarrassment at my earlier efforts being seen, I’ve never hidden what I am doing and enjoy talking with anyone who’s interested enough to notice. Anyway, it’s all part of the gig. One group of foreign students were sat on the grass playing cards and I had almost finished them when, getting up to leave, they noticed what I was up to. I took immediate advantage of this favourable interest to  get the young woman in a deep yellow jacket to stand perfectly lit in the pose she had been holding so I could finish off her jacket with a flamboyant stroke or two.

Once or twice I have sold pictures on the spot, something I’m happy to accommodate but rarely seek. Sometimes I’d like the subjects to see the result, but rarely want to disturb them, they’ve earned their break and I’m loathe to disrupt their sense of repose when they come in to relax – but they do all exist, those people, every one, they are all out there.

Thank you to everybody who generously, if unknowingly, contributed to this ongoing series…

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