Trusting our instinct

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Lexi by window, 1200 x 1200mm acrylic on canvas.


It sometimes feels to me that we live in a world where instinct is seen as reckless, ten year plans are the basis of successful modern lifestyles. It’s impossible to quantify but trusting your instinct feels a little unfashionable, maybe it’s just my age.

I’ve been doing a bit of portrait painting and it feels old fashion at times. I’m fighting to find out what you need to do to make a good portrait. One thing I’m sure of; it’s very very difficult! I was recently talking to a friend about cooking, most people are fairly instinctive when it comes to most styles. Chop and throw. For them the cookery book shows the outline. If there’s a detail it’s in the odd ingredient or precise cooking time. Then you try Thai, anything out of your comfort zone and it’s not so easy, you have to relearn, and that should be exciting. When I’m painting I try to balance instinct with techniques I’m learning and around a framework of a clean, geometric and hopefully pleasing composition.

I saw the Damian Hurst at the Tate recently and didn’t feel instinct played much of a part, in that or in most contemporary British conceptual work. Maybe playfulness, humour, and an eagerness to get a thing made, that’s the positive. It’s an idea based art, not a crafty, making art, the joy of getting your hands dirty and to learn a skill is pretty irrelevant. Actually, I found the whole money as art thing repulsive, especially in the shop you must enter to leave the show. It’s an egomaniacs art.

Lexi portrait 1000mm x 250 acrylic on canvas.

Lexi in ballet stance, 100 x 250 acrylic on canvas, detail.


If there is any instinct it’s lost on me. This is art that feels like it’s tightly wrapped up by curators. The impenetrable, poorly written wall notes are required to justify what the gallery has installed. These naff little stick on boards repackage the dull thought, they try to turn a whimsical off the cuff idea into a thing of great cultural importance with deep insight. Why repackage a dum idea as any thing other than that, aren’t we celebrating the slow and dim witted, the new foundations of modern life. Thankfully the Freud and Hockney shows this year prove that there’s a demand for looking at good paintings. Of course there always has been.

Does the instinctive approach need a bit of repackaging? It feels like it’s been sidelined for years. Maybe the curators can’t rebrand this type of creativity onto a bit of foam board so easily, they can’t find the ironic cultural links.






Lexi 1200mm x 1200mm acrylic and pencil on canvas, detail.


With painting it’s all about trusting your actions in real time, you make a mark and hope it works. If it’s no good you can do it again, that’s the joy of it. Chop and throw, nothing can go ‘wrong’, if it doesn’t please you learn from the mistake and do it better next time.

I really believe we can think too hard and for too long and that can dull the creative process.