Working (and not working) during lockdown

June 3rd, 2020

Revisiting earlier source material, for the first month or so of lockdown I continued to paint and draw, though before long realised my attention was often elsewhere and I was struggling to focus. I made a few pictures I was happy with, but – like everyone – was finding the unfolding situation difficult to adjust to, and after a while realised I needed a break from the studio.

Now (after five weeks of DIY misadventures), I’m happy to be getting back to work and hope to manage things a little better.

As well as returning to the unfinished canvases I found waiting in the studio, I’m very excited to be talking to self-isolating dancers about ways in which we might collaborate remotely, and perhaps find new ways to create pictures together. It’s been uplifting to see the innovations of so many other artists – including Ballet Cymru, with their regular videos and livestreams – as they’ve adapted their practices in response to the restrictions and uncertainties affecting us all, and I’m finding a lot of inspiration in that.

Future exhibitions are all necessarily up in the air. Front of Bicycle was unable to go ahead with its spring show in Basel, and the Albany Gallery and Ffin y Parc Gallery remain closed to visitors (though both are very active online). Other shows previously in the pipeline for later in the year are now uncertain, though I shall update when I can.

That said, I hope everyone is well and keeping safe, and finding their ways through this extraordinary time. I’ll be posting new pictures fairly soon, I expect, and, as always, will welcome any comments.


With Ballet Cymru at Ysgol Llanllyfni

March 1st, 2020

A great week at the village school Ysgol Llanllyfni, near Caernarfon in North Wales, with Ballet Cymru and Dawns i Bawb working with the children on the Duets dance programme, as I ran figure drawing and painting workshops leading to the creation of some very large canvases.

After first sketching each other and experimenting with the improvisation techniques I use in my own work, each of the school’s three classes moved to the hall to draw their friends in the dance workshops. As well as working from classical ballet positions taught by the dancers, the artists sketched poses exploring themes of trust, joy, betrayal and despair, inspired by the tragic ballet Giselle, and created by the children themselves. Over the course of a day and a half, the entire school took part in these drawing activities, producing some beautifully observed images.

Using these sketches as starting points (and in a few cases creating new ones, with Ballet Cymru dancers modelling), smaller groups of children from each class then worked together to develop ideas for four huge paintings. With canvases laid out across a classroom floor, the groups discussed their ideas and began sketching them out in charcoal before starting work in acrylics. Further details were added as the pictures developed, with the children discussing and agreeing among themselves how they should proceed.

Yrs 1-2 and yrs 3-4 each created paintings five and half meters long – the first a happy dance scene (featuring ballet poses they had learned in their Duets workshops) relating to Act 1 of the tragic ballet, and the second a far sadder and spookier scene, reflecting Act 2, with spirits and sorrowful figures gathered in a forbidding forest. Yrs five and six worked together to create a four-meter-high diptych representing both acts of the story, each full of emotion and interconnected symbolism – for example, falling blossom, blooming tulips and fluttering butterflies in one image, echoed by falling leaves, dead sunflowers and a beady-eyed raven in the other.

I was hugely impressed by the children’s enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and focus. Knowing how big the challenge was, the artists worked long after school hours to make sure we were able to finish in the time we had. It was inspiring to see, and they did a wonderful job.

Many thanks to all the children and staff at Ysgol Llanllyfni – a lovely school, with an extraordinary sense of community – and to Ballet Cymru dancers and staff for all their support. I’d not led a school project on quite this scale before, and everyone’s help throughout the week was much appreciated.

Thanks also to The Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Pontio, and Arts Council of Wales, who funded the work.

The four paintings and a selection of drawings will exhibited from early June at Pontio, Bangor, coinciding with Ballet Cymru’s performance of Giselle later in the month.

An album of images from the project can be found on my personal Facebook page, (linked on my arty Facebook page on March 1st).

Further information about Ballet Cymru’s Duets programme can be found here.


Close of Painting Dance

February 29th, 2020

A busy couple of months preparing and delivering workshops in primary and secondary schools, resuming work with Ballet Cymru pre-professionals, and reflecting on my 2019 project Painting Dance.

As discussed previous posts, support from the Arts Council of Wales last year enabled me to experiment with ideas, materials and scale with a freedom that I had not had before, and culminated in exhibitions that would not otherwise have been possible. I’ve learned a great deal from the experience, which I am now looking to build on as I continue to explore movement and narrative in figure painting with the dancers and choreographers of Ballet Cymru – in particular, developing the collaborative approaches employed in making my pictures of Giulia Rossi and Renan Manhães playing with their piece Untitled Yet, and the Montagues series, made with Andrea Battaggia, Maria Brunello and Miguel Fernandes, and inspired by their roles in the company’s production Romeo a Juliet.

I’m hugely grateful to the Arts Council of Wales and to everyone at Ballet Cymru – and their guest choreographers – as well as to Ffin y Parc Gallery, Wales Millennium Centre, Alastair Sill of Word of Mouth, Newport’s Riverfront art centre, and all the other organisations and individuals that made the project possible. It has strongly consolidated my practice as an artist, and I’m looking forward to properly getting back to work and taking things further.

I have had postcards made of eight of the pictures from the Painting Dance exhibitions. If you would like a set, do drop me a line.


Figure drawing workshops at Wales Millennium Centre

December 11th, 2019

Accompanying my show Painting Dance at Wales Millennium Centre is a series of figure drawing workshops.

The ninety-minute sessions explore some of the approaches Ballet Cymru dancers and I developed in creating work for the exhibition – particularly in the case of the Montagues series of drawings and paintings, and pictures inspired by Untitled Yet, with Renan Manhães and Giulia Rossi.

Working in pairs beneath Luke Jerram’s installation Museum of the Moon, dancers slowly improvise sequences of movement, knowing that at any point someone may shout Stop!, at which they both freeze – perhaps for thirty seconds, perhaps for five minutes or more, depending on the precariousness of the pose. Participants and dancers may also adjust poses or discuss ideas together, and in that way further collaborate in developing their pictures.

Artists of all ages have so far taken part, with sessions modelled by Izzy Holland, Krystal Lowe, Romy Adair and Jade Cawthraw. Still to come are workshops with Beth Meadway, Sophie Halford and Amy Becke, as well as further sessions with Krystal and Izzy.

Times are as follows:

  • Saturday 14th December – 11.30am and 5.30pm
  • Thursday 19th December – 11.30am and 5.30pm
  • Saturday 21st December – 11.30am and 5.30pm
  • Saturday 4th January – 11.30am and 5.30pm

Workshops are free and informal, with no booking required. Materials are provided.

Everyone welcome!

Painting Dance is supported by Arts Council of Wales.


Painting Dance at Wales Millennium Centre

December 9th, 2019

My exhibition Painting Dance at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, is now open.

Marking the end of an eleven-month project, supported by Arts Council of Wales, the show features sixty-four paintings and drawings inspired by Ballet Cymru dancers and choreographers. Pictures are hung across five areas of the venue, including the two main Glanfa balconies and the landings on the Angorfa side of the building.

The opening of the exhibition – part of the venue’s fifteenth anniversary celebrations – was accompanied by drawing workshops, beautifully modelled by company dancers Danila Marzilli and Robbie Moorcroft, during which guests were able to turn their hands to sketching from life. It was great to see the range of styles and approaches people took, particularly among those who had never done anything like it before. Some lovely work. Hats off to all!

Pictures are for sale, with price lists available from the Box Office. Please contact me with any enquiries.

Exhibition runs until January 5th.

Photos from opening night by Craig Kirkwood