from start to finish. part five: the shoes of saints and angels

The new Saint Kevin drawing moves closer to completion. It’s to be titled Flown.

I don’t always have a model present in the studio, and so frequently I use mirror reflections of my own hands and feet for reference. This has been my practice ever since I started drawing and painting the human figure. A couple of months ago while at the National Library preparing notes for a gallery talk, I noticed a young man sitting in front of the painting Green George. To begin with he barely registered with me, but then when I looked over again ten minutes later he was still in front of the painting. After he’d been in the same place for twenty minutes I walked over and sat next to him. His elbows were resting on his knees, his body hunched forward, eyes focussed on the floor. He didn’t look up when I spoke to him. I said that surveys had shown visitors to art galleries rarely spend more than two seconds looking at any painting, and that consequently I thought it remarkable anyone should study Green George so thoroughly and for so long as he had. To which he replied, quick as a flash, that he thought it pretty remarkable to suddenly find himself looking down at the artist’s feet in the same shoes the saint was wearing in the painting!

A correct observation wittily expressed. Most people don’t notice footwear very much, either on feet or in paintings. Here are details from a few works in which the shoes appear. (For anyone wondering, the manufacturer has kept the design continuously in production, so I’m on my third pair to date!)

Detail from Flight of Swallows Over the Field of Gold

Detail from The Blind Boy and his Beast

Detail from Leap

Detail from Study for an Annunciation

Detail from The Virgin of the Goldfinches

15 thoughts on “from start to finish. part five: the shoes of saints and angels

  1. It’s funny, because I have noticed the shoes in your paintings, but perhaps that comes from having access to most of your work at once (that wonderful book!). Had I seen your paintings separately I may not have noticed.

    At any rate, that was in interesting comment for that lad to make!

    Myself, I’m partial to Earth Shoes.

    • The exhibition has been a bit of a revelation. Such a quantity of work gathered in one place hasn’t half joined up the dots. My development as a painter and the way I moved from landscape to still-life to narrative, is all writ clear and large for all to see on the walls. For me it’s a strange experience, this gathering together of memories. I can’t recall the process of making every drawing, print and painting in the retrospective, but in all cases I remember where I was when I made them.

      I’ve had five studios in total (two of those generously loaned to me) plus the various kitchen and dining-room tables I’ve worked at when those were the only spaces to be had. But a few of the early works were done in the cramped custodian’s hut at Tretower, and they really pack a visceral punch for me. Standing before them in the grand and glorious space that is the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales, and thinking back to my beginnings as a painter at Tretower Court and Castle, I’m brought up short. The leap seems unlikely, impossible even, and yet it happened.

      • I know what you mean, and have a similar experience when hearing songs from my older albums: I’m immediately taken back not only to where I was but to WHO I was at the time the music was composed and recorded. Not always a pleasant experience but one I must accept as a step along the way.

  2. Oh lovely! Are they Cotton Traders? I’ve long wanted a pair but fear getting the size wrong by mail. Also the colours are so various and interesting I can never choose which I prefer…

    I’m usually quite shoe-aware but I’ve not registered these in your paintings before. One might call them an anachronism I suppose but then your pictures are really altogether outside of time so that would be crass, and anyway, there’s something rather of the Platonic ideal of a shoe about them. I shan’t stop seeing them now!

    • Lucy, they’re made by Merrell. I find them to be the most comfortable shoes, with or without socks, and because I’m forever having to exchange indoor for outdoor footwear at Ty Isaf, they don’t delay me when I’m rushing about as they slip on and off so quickly. I have versions in fawn and black.

      I agree their presence might be regarded by some as anachronisms in the paintings, but I’ve always included contemporary and timeless dress in my narrative works, and so they shouldn’t come as any surprise.

      There’s never been a conscious decision to use them so much. At the easel I simply look down whenever I’m painting feet, and these shoes are what I’m usually wearing. I’d rarely think to go downstairs and exchange them for another type of shoe, preferring to get straight on with what’s available.

      • The use of contemporary apparel in your paintings has always brought to mind the tradition of biblical paintings from the middle ages, in which the artists often did the same thing. It also gives an added sense of immediacy and relevance to your work.

        • Thank you Thom. Generally I try to keep things simple, though occasionally I’ll see an item of clothing that really sticks like a burr in the mind, demanding to be painted. This is what happened with the embroidered jacket in Flight of Swallows. The painting came about because I couldn’t get the damned jacket out of my head. It had to be painted come what may. Of course it was a woman’s item of clothing, but it turned out rather well with a fine figure of a man buttoned tightly into it. (A touch of Cirque du Soleil!) I enjoy painting patterned and embroidered textiles, though my opportunities are limited.

  3. Wrong, Sherlock! As we were walking around the exhibition, quoth Louis: They’re all wearing those shoes that Clive’s got on. Yes, I replied, I’d noticed that, too. Love, signed Orph (signed off, geddit?)

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