out of the analogue past

Above: an image originally stored as a transparency, now transferred to digital. It’s of Carn Euny in Cornwall. I forgot to add details to the slide label, but judging from the style, I figure it was made in 1997. If so, then I haven’t seen this painting in the nearly twenty years since it was made, exhibited and sold.

Before digital, images of my work were recorded and stored as small transparencies. Peter took the photographs, and it was my job to check the contact-sheets when they returned from the laboratory, using a light-box and magnifier. The rejected images… out-of-focus, wonky or colour-imbalanced… were thrown away. The rest were snipped and inserted into plastic holders. Then began the arduous task of labelling before storing them in fat ring-binder files.

The information had to fit into a tiny space on each slide. Sometimes I wrote on slivers of gummed paper, and sometimes I wrote directly onto the plastic with a mapping pen and indian ink. Neither technique was foolproof. The paper labels could drop off, and the indian ink, even when set, would sometimes stick to the insides of the polyurethane slide-holder sleeves, and would require a wrestling-match to get them out.

Each tiny slide would have to contain:

my name, a unique studio ref number, title, date, measurements and media.

This for every painting, study, drawing, print and preliminary thumbnail that I produced. A red dot denoted that the work had been sold. Other colours denoted ‘out for exhibition’, or ‘on loan’. It was an unwieldy system, and time-consuming and difficult to keep up to date. But it was the only way.

Above: transparency transferred to digital. This one is of Tretower Castle, where I once worked.

It was boring and damnably fiddly work, and I hated it. But if I didn’t do it regularly, the backlogs became massive and disheartening. Occasionally I’d spend two or three days working non-stop to get everything up to date. I always resented the time spent on it, but Peter was insistent. (He was, of course, right.) The worst thing was when I’d get the top-copies ordered into the ‘archive’ ring-binders, and the duplicates for ‘sending off’ into even bigger ring-binders, before discovering that I’d missed a pile of slides. Then I’d have to move all the images in the transparency sleeves to get the missed ones into the right numerical places, which could mean moving on hundreds of slides.

Then the ring-binders had to be carefully stored. If they weren’t, and light got to them, then the colours of the slides would quickly fade or turn yellow.

There was also the inconvenience that nothing could be ‘touched-up’. Today, with everything digitally recorded and edited in i-photo, images can be ‘tidied’: trimmed and levelled, errant specks of dust or hair removed and the colour adjusted to better represent the original works. It was not so back in the days of slides. Daylight could colour-cast images too blue, and electric light too yellow. It was a constant struggle to accurately record, and the results were often too ‘approximate’ for comfort. Black and white were hell to get right. Blacks, no matter how dense in reality, would look grey in the slides, and white could just look… well, not white. If I added up the hours, I think I’d find that Peter and I have very likely spent months of our lives trying to generate and then store good images of my work.


The duplicates were the slides for sending to galleries, publications, competitions etc. I always put in stamped SAEs for them to be returned, which meant a fiddle at the post-office getting the SAEs weighed with the slides in, before packaging the entire thing in another envelope to the recipient. My trips to the post-office always included taking packaging-tape and scissors with me. Every part of the process was time-consuming. At the end of all this, I probably got one set of slides returned in every fifty that I sent. Somewhere in the world there’s a landfill-site where my transparencies went to die. But the ones I kept are still with me, filling a chest of drawers in the studio.

Very few have been transferred to digital. To do all of them would be weeks or more likely months of work. But this week Peter did a little clutch, and I shall shortly make some posts of them for the Artlog. The fact is that there are hundreds of images of work made, sold and gone from my life so long ago that I look at them now with wonder, barely remembering having made them.

Above: the detritus of a defunct system, piled higgledy-piggledy into studio chests of drawers.

Below: analogue to digital transfer of an image. The painting is of Carn Euny, and probably dates back to 1997.

11 thoughts on “out of the analogue past

  1. So glad to see more early pictures–and thanks to Peter for that painstaking work. When you think how much labor went into the retrospective, and then it is gone in a flash… well, to do these things is to leave a massive retrospective, at least if the internet survives.

    Interesting how fluent you were so soon, and how rich the colors are. And you were so quick to start developing your cross-mode of still life combined with landscape.

    • Marly, it’s been a bit of a revelation to me, to see all these images from the past. We traced quite a few early works in private collections for the retrospective, but having now started to more closely examine the old slide archive, I’m reminded of just how much I produced in those early days, and how relatively quickly. And the paintings sold, and so they’re out there, somewhere.

      Locating paintings for the retrospective was massively time consuming, and the National Library simply didn’t have the staff available for the task. So the task fell to me, armed with lists of purchasers supplied by two galleries: the Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff, where I’ve remained the longest, and the Attic Gallery in Swansea, where I once showed. But before either of those there was the Kilvert Gallery in Clyro, now long gone and its records with it, where I had my first big exhibition and where a lot of the early paintings were sold. Then there were the works that went from exhibitions organised by The Welsh Group, which I joined quite early in my painting career.

      So one day there will be plenty of work to be hunted down and discovered in the private collections of Wales and beyond. There were the paintings sold by my then London dealer, Keith Chapman, and those exhibited and purchased from the Summer Exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London. Later I showed for a number of years with Anthony Hepworth in Bath.

      But all that searching must be for someone else to do, and no time soon, either. I had my sixtieth retrospective, and I was lucky it came my way when it did. The exhibition turned up some works from the past that were lovely to see again. In these post-world-banking-crisis days, such opportunities for big exhibitions are fewer. Plus I’m pretty sure it will be considered that in 2011, I had my turn. For now, the Artlog must be where these early, unearthed-from-the-slide-archive paintings can be curated and viewed.

      It’s good to know there’s work out there being enjoyed on walls in private homes. That’s a comforting thought.

  2. Golly, but I am so glad that you spent those inexorable hours with the cataloging etc. I have only just discovered you, so to speak, and to see the work you were producing 20 years ago is therefore a privilege. But, boy were you good!!!! I hope the people with all of these pieces know how lucky they are!

  3. Wonderful to see those early pieces, Clive. That whole ghastly thing of slides rang bells with me – I am SO glad that the digital age came along!

  4. I love the sheer joy of painting in the first and second ones, beautiful gestural brushwork, and the colours in them all, I love the moods you’ve captured……..and aren’t we lucky to be living in this age where cataloging is so simple? It’s great that Peter insisted, because now you have a diary of your own development. I’m afraid I’ve not been so assiduous in keeping track of my earlier paintings, I’m leaving it to future archivists to sort that out, if they are interested enough that is! On the subject of photography, now I have tens of thousands of photos to every one I had in those days, it’s almost too easy now! Love to you both xxxL

    • Dear Liz, I and many others love your painting. I’ve always admired your fluency, and back when we worked together during your Welsh National Opera days, long before I became an artist, I learned from you that when paint flowed, it could be a vector for energy. Good lesson, that.

      None of us can know whether after we’ve departed the room, anyone who cares enough will still be around to sort through our ‘stuff’ and order it. At any given time the fates and reputations of artists hang by the slenderest of threads. There’s serendipity in what survives, what’s seen, what hangs in private and what hangs in public. Some of those trumpeted during their times as ‘great’, fade into obscurity with the passing decades, while occasionally an artists unknown in life, gains the admiration of many after his or her death. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stood dumbfounded in front of some medieval masterpiece of an altarpiece, bearing the label ‘anonymous’, or ‘unknown’. I’d be happy if something of mine survived even unattributed where people could see it and look. The work is the dialogue between the artist and the viewer. Names don’t really matter.

  5. even back then, such gorgeous colors. i love these images, your landscape styles really move me — i wonder, when you see the slides after so much time, does it give you an “instant” feeling of that time period? once, i heard a forgotten recording of a rachmaninoff concerto i had played, and i actually started crying uncontrollably. it was bizarre. but i wonder if you see the painting and become that person again, temporarily (the feeling of that whole being, i mean. does that make sense?).

    • Thank you Zoe. At this distance much of my work from back then looks a tad overwrought to me. I seem to have been discovering that painting could reflect my emotional state, and my emotional state was… well, let’s just say, wobbly. I was emerging from a dark place.

      I like the paintings posted here. I can see that there’s a lot of bravura brushwork going on in the first two images, and I like the atmosphere in that last, sombre, slate-blue and ochre Carn Euny night-scape.

      For me too, emotion is readily accessed through the medium of music. The other night I watched a documentary about the late Peter Maxwell Davies, whose music I’ve always loved, and particularly ‘An Orkney Wedding’, which had once been the doorway for me to his less accessible work. My late friend Catriona, loved it too, and it was played at her funeral. In the documentary they showed a performance of it at the Proms. Barely had the first strains of music begun, when the tears started rolling. By half-way through I was sobbing and laughing in equal measure, aware of the ludicrousness of the situation. It wasn’t just re-ignited grief for the loss of Catriona… all these years on I miss her still… or even grief for PMD, but rather that ‘An Orkney Wedding’ immediately opens the sluice-gate behind which deep waters are usually contained.

      What do I feel when I look at these early paintings? Mostly I feel surprise that I was able to make these works embody what I was feeling back then, though I don’t think I realised that at the time. And I certainly didn’t realise that many were as good as I now know them to be. I admire the fluency of brushwork. It’s blazingly apparent there’s a kind of dance going on. I can tell from them that in my DNA I was a dancer, and the paintings were dancing for me. I know now I was mourning what I’d lost, but in some fabulous act of alchemy, what flowed from me were not tears, but paint.

      • ah, that’s lovely to read… and that feeling is just what i mean, that realization that the work embodies what you were feeling back then, even though you didn’t realize you were doing that at the time. that’s *exactly* what i meant. there’s such a surprise to it.
        and yes, they are definitely dancing, that must be what takes me so!

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