John Woodwark
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I completed my first oil-paintings when I was twelve. I have them still. Creditable efforts (in my absolutely impartial view). Sufficiently creditable, in fact, to justify a long retirement.

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Ignoring some discreditable dabbling in watercolour, I started painting again in 2000, in what I like to think was a neo-symbolist vein. Here is a typical effort:

"Baubles", 25" x 17", oil on canvas on board, 2003 (sold 2003).

The infernally illuminated architecture of unspecified antique style piled up behind the figure owes more than a corbel or two to John Martin.

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Unlike "Baubles", many of the pictures I painted then had very little depth at all, and were largely concerned with pattern. For example, this little piece of everyday technology gone surreal:

"Crossover", 8½" x 8½", oil and copper foil on board, 2001.

This one had the dubious distinction of being "selected but not hung" at the RA Summer Show.

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Here is a racier effort:

"On the tiles", 22½" x 17", oil on board, 2001 (sold 2003).

It is actually a shameless excerpt from Albert Moore's "Shepherds and maidens at a well", 'reimagined' as ceramic tiles.

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I have rather a thing about Mr Moore. Here he is in person, as it were:

"Library chic", ??" x ??", oil on canvas on board, 2005.

Around 2008, these efforts petered out in a series of remarkably time-consuming divisionist still lifes in oil pastel, with some geometric exaggerations which I thought interesting, which I produced with the aim of getting reproductions editioned commercially. But apparently they were not at all what the market wanted. You are welcome to dilate on the shortcomings of this one:

"Lemon tea", 22½" x 17", oil pastel on coated paper, 2006.

Towards the end of 2019 I began painting once more. For various reasons, I had no intention of revisiting any previous style.

I did havehad various ideas regarding materials. The chief of these was to try painting on oriented-strand board (OSB). This ubiquitous material is beloved of all builders, who use it to make anything and everything. Despite this dubious recommendation, its surface, evened out by two or three coats of thick primer or gesso, presents a very paintable texture, with the rugged look of coarse canvas but without its monotony. OSB also has the signal advantage that it can be made into a support with irregular outlines without the need to take account of any fixed grain direction (let alone trying to make an odd-shaped stretcher for a canvas).

An irregular outline allows a picture to suggest movement — at least, forthcoming or completed movement — in the picture plane, with an effectiveness that makes it surprising — to me — that non-rectangular paintings have rather gone out of fashion since the 'shaped canvas' movement of the 60s (think Frank Stella).

Obviously this sort of picture needs to be planned ahead. This approach can be described as 'constructivism', as embraced by Vladimir Tatlin and the other self-styled artist-engineers (художники-инженеры) of the early Soviet era. It may be contrasted with the thought-of-the-moment (and CIA-promoted) 'abstract expressionism' of the post-WWII era (think Jackson Pollock), which has the signal merit of rapidity.

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Having hyped up OSB, and bought a lot of 4ft squares of the stuff, what to do with it? Here is my first effort:

"Utacunax", 35" x 42", 2019 (drying).

Subverting (good word that) its conventional rising diagonal composition, this picture aims to confound the expectations of the eye: what meets what; what is background, what is foreground; and what is flat and what has depth.

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Subsequent paintings in this series follow, in the order in which they were begun (which is not the same as finished, if they ever are). First, a little diversion back to realism:

"Krokabout", 42" x 42", oil on OSB, 2020 (drying). (Better image to follow.)

It just came to me, guv.

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Never mind, now we come to the Great Leap Forward:

"Kranzolma", 36" x 46", oil on OSB, 2020 (drying).

Here we have a rectangular picture apparently cut into two, the two parts part sliding along each other, and taking the halves of the picture with them... more or less. The deliberate ambiguity in this picture would hardly be possible without its shaped support.

The stylized marine shapes emerged as the original sketch was developed: that tends to happen when you live by the sea. Kevin F. says that the curves show a Polynesian influence. It must have floated here in a bottle.

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Now things take a strange turn:

"Junkabout", 42" x 42", oil with crushed walnut shells on OSB, 2020 (drying).

This is rather obviously a development of "Krokabout": partly planned, partly worked out on the canvas OSB.

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Meanwhile... the sea creatures (remember them?) have been running riot:
"Merivari", 35" x 42", oil on OSB, 2020 (drying).

What are we calling this style, then? Dunno. On to the next one...

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...which is altogether more minimalist, including the palette. There's sliding going on again here. Of a sort. Perhaps:

"Tabulatrix", ??" x ??", oil on OSB, 2020 (drying).

Pictures like this require a fair bit of work on the support. Here is a snap taken during the construction of the support for "Tabulatrix". The edges have been shaped, and the resulting projections reinforced; now a 'chassis' is being glued on to the reverse side of the board to keep it flat.

Now we abandon the a straight-edged outline altogether. And, instead of sliding, introduce a rather graphic notion of squeezing:

"Malachata", ??" x ??", oil on OSB, 2020 (drying).

More to come. I'm afraid this page tends to lag the pictures themselves by weeks if not months. And the text is subject to partial or complete overhaul, as I discover that my various notions aren't as original as I imagined, and I retrospectively attempt to provide context.

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Completed paintings and works in progress are sometimes on view at WhimbrelArt, or may be seen by appointment. Please contact me by email.

© John Woodwark, 2020. This page was last updated on 20 August 2020.