While many of you are baking in England and dealing with a hosepipe ban, in Donegal it’s cloudy with occasional showers. I thought I would share you my recent newletter. They have ended up being quarterly. It depends of how much news I have and how busy I have been. I always make it strong on the visuals and light on the words! I also make the typeface large for reading on smart phones!
No sooner than I arrived in Donegal and made a start on two large paintings than Seamas and I came down with Covid 19. Apparently the current wave has been mopping up many of the people who had thus far avoided the horrible virus. I never gave up wearing my mask in shops but I still caught it. Darn! So I have spent most of the last two weeks sleeping and lying in bed trying to do very little, in the hope that my immune system will bounce back and my energy levels will return to normal.
I am also feeling faintly stupid but very delighted because I only just realised that Claire Keegan’s novella “Foster”, is the basis for the film “The Quiet Girl”. My oil painting “The Traditional House, Gola” has been used for the cover of the reprint of “Foster”. Actually, never mind the covid, I nearly fell over when I made the connection.
I must have seen these adverts on TG4 (the Irish language chanel) because I thought of this film by it’s Irish language title “An Cailín Ciúin” – as just about all the dialogue is in Irish. I didn’t realise that it was the same story as “Foster”.
It’s story about a nine-year-old girl, Cáit, who is sent to spend the summer with her aunt Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her husband Seán, who live in the Rinn Gaeltacht, County Waterford. The film is directed and written by Colm Bairéad , based on Claire Keegan’s story “Foster”. It has won a whole pile of International awards, rave reviews and has been breaking box office records in Ireland and UK. I am really excited and greatly honoured to be connected, even in a tenuous way, to such an amazing project!
I am now going back to bed, in the hope that I haven’t over done it.
Just a quick notice to say that my shop on this website (www.emmafcownie.com), and shops on Artfinder.com and Singulart.com will be closed for a month from today. This is to cope with final packing, tidying up and a million and one things we have to do before leaving Wales as well as the period of self-isolation we have to undergo in Donegal (14 days, possibly less, depending on the results of our PCR tests after day 5).
This week I passed an important blogging milestone. On Tuesday moring I was greeted with the message that my wordpress site had passed 100,000 all-times views!
My husband, Séamas, set up this wordpress site for me over seven years ago. When I took it over full-time in 2015, I had 91 followers, now I have just over 800! Views for my site have steadily been growing but 2020-21 was a bumper year.
Breaking my leg last year provoked the most comments by far!
I would like to say a great big thank you to every one who visited my website, bought my work, read my blogs and left comments!
It seems that I like animals almost as much as I like Art. Turns out that Wayne (Barnes) of Tofino Photography is my chattiest follower. He certainly makes me laugh! He takes wonderful photographs of the incredible wildlife of Western Canada – eagles, bears, wolves, orcas and humming birds! Take a look here.
Thank you to everyone who has visited my website and blog. Whether you have just stopped by to look at my paintings, read my blogs but especially those who “like”, comment and buy my work. Without you I could not continue to make art.
Here is a short series of paintings based on the shadows in a backlane in Swansea. The photographs I used for these paintings were taken a couple of years ago. I came across them in my folder of printed images and decided I wanted revist my “urban minimal” themes. The light in St Thomas is quite different to that in Brynmill, where I am at the moment. I don’t know if its because the sea is closer to this part of Swansea, or because Kilvey Hill has a particular angle of steepness, but on a sunny day the light is luminescent.
I particularly wanted to used a glazing medium called liquin, to see if I could add depth to my shadows. I first did an under-painting using red ochre and sepia and then used the medium to add colour to shadows.
Back Lane, St Thomas (Swansea)(2021)
As I grew in confidence I used more liquin medium to paint the drying washing on the line and shadows on the stone wall.
I think the darker shadows were more successful than the lighter ones.
I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the neat house with its clean, fresh drying washing and the apparent ugliness of the rough breeze-block wall in the backlane. This painting is very hard to photograph because of the very light and very dark colours. Some part of it end up too light or too dark! I think I got about right but I am still not happy with the final image. Just a reminder that you need to see a painting in real life to really appreciate it.
We are all glad to see the back of 2020 but I am pausing for a moment to reflect on some of my painting sales over the year. Sadly, my accident and having my leg in a cast meant that I couldn’t get up the steep stairs to my attic studio (or anywhere else) to paint any oil paintings for over three months but things have ticked over during 2020.
I would like to say thank you Rob and David who waited a very long time in the cold with me for the ambulance to come, to the paramedics and firebrigade who got me out of the woods, to NHS staff at Morriston who fixed my very broken leg and looked after me, as well as to the Physical Therapists who gave me lots of advice on exercises over the phone. I still have a way to go!
I have to say an absolutely massive thank you to my brillant husband, Séamas, who trudged up and down two flights of stairs with trays of food many times a day (and lost weight doing so) for months. He kept my spirits up when I got frustrated and tearful. It wasn’t that often as I was so glad to be home but it was all hard work for him in the midst of a pandemic! He also kept the show on the road by packing up and arranging the shipping my paintings. He was, and remains, utterly wonderful!
Here’s a selection of some of my sales from 2020
Here’s to a happier and healthier 2021 to everyone!
“When a picture isn’t realized, you pitch it in the fire and start another.” (Paul Cezanne)
Artists create. Over the years they can create a lot. Not all of it is good.
A while back I read an article about a man who had been left hundreds of paintings by a relative of his, an aunt I think, who was an enthusiastic amateur artist. My recollection of the paintings is that they were bad. Really bad. I mean, I would have struggled to keep one of them (hidden in a dark corner of the house) but he had hundreds of them! Sadly, they weren’t quite bad enough to be added to a collection of the wonderful Museum of Bad Art. Yet, the loving nephew was going to keep and treasure them all! This story has haunted me. As artist Robert Glenn wrote, “There’s enough bad art in the world already and we don’t want to add to it by leaving substandard stuff out and about.”
I just don’t have the room for everything so a cull has been taking place. I have been destroying old paintings of mine that I don’t think are up to the mark. It’s a form of curation. In fact, I believe that destruction and renewal are central to the all creative processes. Writers cut and redraft. I think of the time I wasted reading Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”, which turned out to the first draft of the much-superior “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Harper Lee was right not to want to publish it. Painting is the same.
An element of destruction and renewal has always been part of my process. If part or all of a painting isn’t working, I would much rather scrub the paint off the canvas and start again than let it dry and attempt to paint over the error. I usually have to work myself up into a minor frenzy to do this. I feel better looking at a scrubbed canvas than one that is “wrong”. Sometimes, I might spend a whole day on a painting that I scrub away and start again the next day (to the dismay of my husband). Usually, this is down to poor light. I don’t often do this, but I think its important to be able to”kill” your work so that better work can come forth. It’s reassuring to know that great artists like David Hockney have also destroyed unsatisfactory work in the process of creation.
Over the years I have stored older, or just less successful paintings away in the attic, behind stacks of other paintings. They fall into two categories a) early work done on cheap canvases. These are easy to destroy with a metal spike. You get what you pay for, I suppose. I actually like some of these paintings, especially the animals and so I have taken a sharp knife to them and carefully cut them from the stretchers.
I have decided to store these in a large folder the rest will destroyed; and b) work done on linen canvases I don’t think are up the mark. I wont show these to anyone. Again I will cut the canvases from the stretcher to keep the wooden frames to reuse with a fresh canvas. The canvases will be cut up and thrown away. If I had a large garden I’d burn them.
I have tried reusing canvases in the past by sanding them down and painting gesso on them but I am never really happy with the result. I use paint too finely. i like a smooth surface. This is a luxury. In his early days as an impoverished artist, Picasso would often paint over pictures he thought unsuccessful because he didn’t have the money to buy a fresh canvas.
It is important to conduct the destruction in private so no one can make you feel bad about it. I have found the process quite cleansing. I did not realise that every time I looked around my crowded studio and glimpse the edges of an unsuccessful painting that it brought me down. They reminded me of my failures. That I was a lousy artist. Out comes my imposter syndrome! Ironically, if an artist sells a lot of work, they have little evidence of their successes around them.
I think that most artists have to come to terms with destroying work that isn’t up to the mark. One of two duff paintings can make all the others look bad. It’s sometimes difficult to decide as many artists develop their style, improve their technique, or just explore new themes so their earlier works can seem at odds with their later stuff. How to decide if it is bad or just different? Lucien Freud is an excellent example of an artist whose style changed significantly throughout his career as he found his own style of painting.
I once went to an exhibition of Cezanne’s early work In Paris and decided, that with the exception of the House of the Hanged Man, most of it should have been burnt. We know that Cezanne burnt his poorer work so it must have been really, really bad! We are best not seeing it.
Likewise, Vincent Van Gogh should have burnt more. Before he discovered colour and light in the south of France in 1888, he produced a lot of dark and miserable work that no one wanted to buy. Yes, its interesting to see his journey as an artist, but I don’t think the world would have many of these early brown works if he’d burnt them.
Claude Monet was prolific. He painted around 250 “Water Lily” paintings over the last three decades of his life—but originally, there were many more. Before an exhibition of the paintings in 1908, Monet destroyed a group of them with a knife and a paintbrush, disappointed by their quality in comparison to “better” canvases. Time magazine called this a “rage of perfectionism”.
Monet was at this time struggling with his eyesight and was diagnosed with cataracts in 1912. Over the next decade, both his vision decreased progressively as well as his colour perception. Monet had surgery in 1923. He recovered excellent near vision and reasonable distance vision in the affected eye, but he complained bitterly about the world appearing too yellow or sometimes too blue. It took almost two years before he finally told friends that his color vision felt normal. After his surgery, Monet destroyed many canvases, maybe as many as thirty of them. I can only imagine his rage as I saw these substandard works.
Francis Bacon also frequently destroyed work he was not happy with. He worked on the Screaming Pope paintings for about 20 years and some of them turned up as recycled canvas which had been used by an amateur painter, Lewis Todd. When these scraps were discovered the Todd paintings shot up in value. They are still on the lookout for a pope’s screaming head! Below Todd’s paintings (left) Bacon’s scraps (right)
Francis Bacon was not at all thorough about destroying his work. In 2007 a group of damaged Bacon paintings was found in a skip outside the artist’s London studio by electrician Mac Robertson. He sold them.
Georgia O’Keeffe, was another painter, like Monet, who had difficulties with her sight, and who destroyed her own work. Her decision to destroy work was also about keeping her reputation strong. Curation.
She had been diagnosed with macular degeneration in 1964 at the age of 77, and by 1972, her vision had fallen below 20/200 despite attempts at laser treatment, and towards the end of the 1970s she gave up painting altogether. In the 1980s “she wanted to go into storage to destroy some of the paintings that she didn’t think were at her level,” Some allegedly destroyed works have apparently slipped through the cracks.
Red and Green II (1916), one of her first watercolors, is listed in her notebooks as having been destroyed after she showed it once in 1958 at New York’s Downtown Gallery. Yet the work surfaced in a Christie’s New York American Art sale in November 2015.
Some conceptual artists have made a career out of destruction but that’s not what I am talking about here. I am talking about Monet’s “rage of perfection”. It is not vandalism if its your own creation. Sometimes, after a distance of months or even years, you can see your creations clearly. I once only “saw” a painting of mine clearly as it was leaving the room in a collector’s arms. “Ah”, I thought “That’s a lovely painting”. It’s not always the way. Sometimes, I look at a painting from several years ago and wonder “What was I thinking?” I hadn’t been able to see it before then.
Being able to let go and destroy work is a sign of emotional health. I am not doing so well as many of these paintings were done over a decade ago. I don’t think Edward Munch, who suffered from terrible anxiety exacerbated by excessive drinking, could let go of many of his paintings let alone destroy them.
He was in the position that he did not need to sell his work and he ended up with a collection of almost all his art on the second floor of his house. He even called his paintings his “children”! In Self-portrait Between the Clock and the Bed, which he painted in the years just before his death, Munch seems crowded out by his “children” on the wall behind him. I think they should have been made to leave home!
Anyway, I digress. Artists and writers should be allowed to destroy early work, failures, something that was really only a first draft (Harper Lee), a work in progress or a cry for help (Edvard Munch’s Angry Dog, surely?). It’s not always easy to do. That first novel should stay in the locked drawer and those early paintings and sketches go into the bin. So those paintings of mine in lying in that folder may yet end up on a bonfire!
As a rule, I don’t rework my paintings. Either they work or they don’t. Here’s the exception. This is a large painting (80x100cm) that has hung in my hallway for the past five years. It was for sale on an online gallery a several years ago but for some reason, it was taken off. I am not sure why.
I didn’t really look at it until this summer when it got moved into our bedroom and I looked at it again. I was talking to my mother and sister on messenger/facetime and they saw it on the wall behind me – “Oh, that’s a nice painting” they both called out. “Oh, no that’s old,” I said as if it was a dress I had smuggled back from the shop. Why wasn’t I proud of it? I thought about it. It was an example of my early work when I was going through a phase of drawing lines around everything. I believed this was in the style of the fauvists like Derain and Matisse.
To be honest, it worked at the time but my painting has changed a lot since 2015 and I wasn’t comfortable with those lines. There was no light. I love painting shadows and light and yet there were none in this painting. Curiously, the omission of the skyline helped give a lightly claustrophobic sense of being in a crowded town. That was its real strength. It was a forerunner of my urban minimal series of paintings of Brynmill which culminated in my “Hollowed Community” Exhibition in Cardiff in 2017 (see examples of this series below)
Top of Rhyddings Park
In light and Dark
Rhyddings House Swansea
Brynmill Primary School
Former Cricketers, Swansea
Former Grocers, King Edward’s Road, Brynmill, Swansea.
Why had I painted this scene on an overcast day? Why had I cropped it in so tight so there was no sky? I really could not remember. I tried to find the view again. I spent some time hanging out of the windows at the back of our house trying to find the same angle. Eventually, I discovered something similar from the attic window.
There were a lot more trees. These are the plane trees line that Bernard Street. This road runs from Brynmill uphill to Gower Road, in the Uplands. The trees branches are cut back to stumps every year to control their growth but they burst forth every summer again (See three of my urban minimal paintings below, which feature the trees of Bernard Street).
Bernard Street, in the Summer, Swansea
Bus Stop (back of Brynmill Launderette)
It wasn’t the only thing that had changed in the last 5 years. Many of the houses had been painted in a different colour. A tin roof towards to centre of the middle (on the right) was now orange with rust. The sunshine also created shadows and changed the colour of many of the roofs.
So I started painting and worked on this when I wasn’t working on commissions. I changed the colour of the chimney pots in the foreground of the painting.
It took some time as I ended up pretty much repainting the whole canvas. The end result was painting with more depth and yet a “lighter” feel. There were still some of those lines but I had reduced them so they did not dominate the painting. I was much happier with this version of Brynmill/Uplands in the sunshine.
Here are the two paintings side by side so you can see the changes I made.
Life in the Uplands (2015)
Over to Bernard Street, Swansea
My next post will be about the paintings that I decided could not be reworked and what I did with them.
I have been on the Artfinder website since 2013, and during that time I have been fortunate enough to sell an incredible 788 artworks! I am very proud of the 254 5-star reviews that I have collected over the years via Artfinder.
So, I thought that I would share with you some of the customer reviews and messages I received last month from the collectors of my work on Artfinder. They are the icing on the cake for me and my husband Séamas, who has been working incredibly hard packing and shipping my work whilst I am recovering from my broken leg & ankle. I often think that my collectors describe my work better than I can and love reading what they say. I am very happy that my work is appreciated and enjoyed around the world.
Review by Maureen, I love these beautiful, atmospheric pieces. Emma captures her subjects to perfection. These two pieces are special to me as they remind me of my youth, growing up in an offshore Island in Ireland I look forward to seeing more of Emma’s work.
Review by Laurent- “This [“Winter Shopping”] is the third painting from Emma I have bought. As before, everything has been perfect… great communication, delivery in two days.. And it is a beautiful painting!
Message: Dear Emma, The painting [“Storm Over Inishbofin, Ireland”] has just arrived safely. It is lovely and I especially like the contrast between the optimistic houses and the darkening sky! Best wishes, Katharine
Review by Cameron, Have been viewing Emma’s works & style for a while now so grey happy to finally have 1 of her works hanging in my home [“Between Tides, Tenby”].
Review by Elissa, “Love this painting [“Hazy Tenby”] which was despatched and received within a few days of ordering. Thanks so much, Emma”
Review By Helen, “We were so pleased to purchase the painting [“Roshin Acres, Irealand”]. It is beautiful and when it arrived it was what we had hoped for when we purchased it. It arrived super quick”.
In my last post I decribed visiting the abandoned fishing village of An Port tucked away in a remote corner of the Donegal shoreline (read it here). We were inspired to seek out this very remote spot by American artist Rockwell Kent, who visited and painted the area in the 1920s. I was waiting for […]
An Port has loomed large in my imagination for a long time. It’s very remote and quite difficult to get to. To reach it, you have to drive down a very, very long single track road (it’s about three miles but it feels longer) on the way to Glencolmcille. There are plenty of sheep and […]
Rossbeg (sometimes spelt Rosbeg) is a tiny townland on the west coast of Donegal, just south of Portnua and Nairn. There is a pier and a scattering of houses, some are modern, but many are old cottages, probably used as holiday lets. The day we visited the weather was calm and sunny. It was just perfect.