Tower blocks

A series made in Brighton over the course of 2007-08. Oil on board and canvas.

There’s a place in Brighton, a little walk from the centre, on the side of the easternmost of the two main hills the town has spread over. It rises quite sharply for about a hundred metres before breaking back into parallel streets of terraces, like Hanover just to the north. There’s roads here for car parking access but no real streets, just a large green area with several fifteen-storey apartment blocks sprouting from it. A number of elements I find compelling in drawing and painting converge in this place: a range of planes in both depth and elevation, a framing device in the abrupt verticals of the buildings, intersecting flat planes of the steep hillside and the buildings, and a lot of sky. The buildings form lenses between them, through which you can capture snapshots of Brighton; the tower of the Church of St. Peter, the distant bulk of St. Bartholomew’s, the newer offices and apartments leading to the station. Turn ninety degrees and you can see West Street pinpointed by a wooden church spire, the hill St. Nicholas Church sits on guarding the view towards Hove, and the sea meeting the sky. It’s a place where you can really feel all of Brighton out there, and imbue that feeling into painting.

Outdoor painting has an urgency that usually defeats the self-consciousness that’s always in danger of spoiling a studio painting. The second plein-air piece I made on the hillside was Tower Blocks 8, and it’s probably still the one I find most satisfying. It was a pretty windy day – hence the shifting billowy clouds – and it was a bit of a struggle to keep the board from blowing over and hitting me, thus I was in a hurry to get the form down as quickly as possible. This hurriedness fit the motif somehow, and – to me at least – it all came together very well. Tower Blocks 10 was made on a contrasting day: extremely bright, warm and calm, which I suspect contributed to making me a little too comfortable to have a repeat satisfying experience. The resulting painting is very calm too, with a sort of serenity that I can appreciate now but somewhat bored me at the time. I think, therefore, I need some kind of urgency when painting to give me a sense of accomplishment.

All the other Tower Blocks pieces, with the exception of Tower Blocks 2 (an earlier attempt at outdoor work in oils) were painted either in the studio or at home, from charcoal drawings. I don’t disparage them for it, but they feel like a different kind of work, using drawings and memory in combination to create some kind of map to a painting.

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