Brancaster Chronicle No. 67: Richard Ward Paintings


march18r, 80 x 70 cm


16th July 2018, near King’s Lynn

Taking part: Richard Ward, Anne Smart, Anthony Smart, Hilde Skilton, Mark Skilton, Robin Greenwood, Sarah Greenwood, Alexandra Harley, Noela James Bewry, Edward Pile, Steven Walker, John Pollard.





april18o, 70 x 60 cm



february18b, 70 x 60 cm



february18k, 60 x 60 cm



januar18g, 60 x 60 cm



mai18k, 80 x 70 cm



mai18l, 80 x 70 cm



mai18m, 60 x 60 cm



mai18o, 60 x 60 cm



november17l, 80 x 70 cm



november17m, 60 x 60 cm






  1. tony smart said:

    Never more so do I come away from the years chronicles so in anticipation of what will follow.

    Regarding all the films a number of questions arise.

    Can a mixture of figuration and abstract come together and produce something whole?
    Can abstract and figurative space, surface, illusion combine and would they be understood in part or together?
    Or…as Richard says…Is space always figurative ?
    Can a wholeness accommodate a need, fulfilled for the viewer to do some of the ‘bulding’ themselves ? { I am thinking here of something Robin said about the viewer ‘ building’ in the film ]
    What does …” It works? ” mean ?
    How much sense do you want to make in Abstract art ?

    PS probably to get the best understanding of these questions you would need to see this film!

    All these come to mind in Richard’s but I feel , for me, are pertinent to this year.


  2. Noela James said:

    I really appreciate your ideas and comments around abstract art, Richard, and I think I understand what you mean about space across the surface of a painting and the ambition to create an image which gives full frontal impact as well as depth within passages.
    I think seeing a painting as both figurative and abstract, if it is meant to be abstract, could be confusing though.
    As a figurative entity I feel a work needs to have definite decisions made for it to be so, rather than just randomly appearing to be so.
    I am wondering if you are thinking of figurative imagery when you are painting abstract works?
    I think you have a sensitive and rather seductive way of using colour which for me is a key element in your work.
    I do think the pink lozenge in April1 80 still looks a bit alien and unintegrated into the painting, but you did say you had wanted to paint into it, so maybe that is still possible?
    The photographs seem more muted than reality, I seem to remember the colours were brighter in the studio.
    A thought provoking Brancaster which made me want to assess what’s going on in abstract painting, is figurative plus abstract okay? And as Tony asks how much sense do we make of it all?


  3. I certainly don´t consider myself to be a figurative painter or even a “partly figurative” painter. During the phase of a painting where I am hoping that something will happen, that an image will form, that the thing will acquire a life, I am either slapping on paint regardless of anything or else looking to see what the painting wants me to do. Thoughts, if any, are about more or less formal issues like colour, filling up holes, coming to the edge etc. It may be that something figurative takes hold and I may find myself following that for a while, but it is almost always to the detriment of the painting and I watch it with suspicion whenever I become conscious of it.

    When an image announces itself, it is usually in the form of a coherent space, combined with harmony of colour and that elusive rightness (Tony´s “making sense”?). What remains to be done are then adjustments in the colour, getting rid of annoyances and “bringing it all to the surface” without losing the space. I simplify of course, but none of this is figurative thinking. I actually spend hours and hours eliminating faces, animals etc. which distract from the image, while trying not to destroy everything at the same time.

    If, on the other hand, the image turns out to contain figurative elements that (for me) entirely fit into a coherent whole, then I have no problem with this. Examples would be the horse in “march18r”, the swimmer in “mai18k” or the cherry tree, charging rhinoceros and huge, flaccid penis in “mai18o”. I can´t point to any concrete reason why these should be OK for me. They just are, and the paintings would suffer without them.

    The virtual space is anyway certain to be figurative. In my painting it is mostly landscape- or tree-space, and this in turn reflects back on the image. Again, I have no problem with this. I think it can even be an advantage. Since Picasso and Hanna and Barbera at the very latest, we have no difficulty in finding distorted figuration in almost any shape at all.
    If you look carefully at Matisse´s “Odalisque with a Tambourine” there is a large amphibian climbing up the figure´s right shoulder and a red goblin sneaking in from the painting´s right-hand edge. Cover up the figure´s face and her torso becomes a silly potato-head.
    None of these are a problem for Matisse´s image, because they are completely overruled by the intended figure. For an abstract painting, those same elements would mostly be disastrous. Trees, landscapes – what I would regard as transparent or harmless figuration, can help to avoid problems like this, without compromising the play of abstract colour and shape. The important thing is that they should be discovered without interfering with any of the abstract decision making. If they are planned or nurtured then that, for me, would be figurative painting.

    Susanne Langer has an interesting take on the fusion of artistic form with representation:
    “Art is the objectification of feeling; and in developing our intuition, teaching eye and ear to perceive expressive form, it makes form expressive for us wherever we confront it, in actuality as well as in art. Natural forms become articulate and seem like projections of the ‘inner forms’ of feeling, as people influenced (whether consciously or not) by all the art that surrounds them develop something of the artist’s vision. Art is [thus] the objectification of feeling, and the subjectification of nature.
    The rationale of the ancient and almost ubiquitous practice of representation in painting and sculpture lies in this dialectical aspect of the arts. Our present cultivation of non-representational art, for all its importance, is episodic in history. It is a purification of vision that has become necessary, partly because people’s conception of portrayal had degenerated to a point of complete misconception, and partly because, at just that same time, an entirely new demand on formulative, intuitive vision arose from the social stresses and disconcertments of a new age. A new mentality was crying for recognition and projection. The power of abstraction became a central need, and the elimination of referential meanings threw the whole task of organizing the work on the artist’s imagination of sheer perceptual values. The great abstract painters and constructivist sculptors are clearing the way to a new vision; and when they have found and completely mastered the principle of its presentation, they will presumably turn to nature again for the same purpose as always before. And it will look different to their eyes.”

    My reading of this is that abstraction need not be pursued to any kind of ultimate extreme but only so far as to escape from the conventionalised, clichéd meanings of a degenerate representational art in order to bring new patterns and aspects of feeling into play.
    This can then lead to a refreshed and re-potentiated representational art, or at least to an art that isn’t hampered by a dogmatic rejection of representation.
    I don’t entirely agree with Langer. It seems to me that abstract art can be a thing on its own terms and not just the saviour of representational art. But I do like the vision of how intertwined figurative and abstract art can be and how they are both doing the same thing in what is essentially the same way.


  4. tony smart said:

    Hello Richard
    Thank you for your the above…..

    Whilst not sharing all of your conclusions I do share your right to independently follow your own thinking.
    One thought, which probably is not mine, is that Abstract art, whatever that may mean today, is more demanding of being visual than was, or is, Representational art, on the grounds that it has that visual element almost to the exception of anything else.
    I feel that is the case because Abstract sculpture has slowly been re-focussing upon a position apart from that held by the ‘object’ and all of its satellite forms.
    We should be a part of this evolution and the only real measure of any piece of art is how it will sustain itself going forward, standing as purely visual and apart from any need of explanation.
    Further, on the day , I approached your paintings as Abstract, directed by the paintings themselves. Some of your thoughts confused me a little but I accept them as a parallel challenge.


  5. I appreciate Richard’s experimentation and think the paintings were, overall, a step forward from last years, where in a couple of paintings some of the content looked too isolated and unintegrated. The figurative debate, in a way, doesn’t interest me, unless I get suck on what looks like figuration or partly figuration in an individual painting. This is very rare in Brancaster work.
    You said:
    “But I do like the vision of how intertwined figurative and abstract art can be and how they are both doing the same thing in what is essentially the same way.”
    I think the sharedness can be due to the formal visual judgement of work (e.g. the abstract qualities of a figurative painting); but a Constable landscape delivers its form with obvious subject matter, an abstract painting doesn’t, it refers (relatively) more to itself.
    Richard, despite some of the gestural process, has a really good sensitivity to colour relationships and structure, which reminds me of Hilde’s strengths (although they deliver this in very different ways).


  6. Richard Ward said:

    Some more (tentative) thoughts:

    I’m not convinced that pure abstract visuality is a worthwhile end in itself. There have to be reasons that make it good for the art.

    Figuration has some pretty big advantages. It’s a powerful way of creating deep, coherent and precise virtual space. It brings an enormous richness of non-visual meaning to accompany and intensify the visual sensation. And it is easily accessible.

    On the negative side, that richness of meaning can easily become conventional and so strong that it obscures the visual, and the accessibility can be a doorway to kitsch. There is also the danger of narrative, which can destroy immediacy and turn the art into illustration. I think this may be especially true of “de-skilled” painting, where the figuration often consists more of signs for objects than sensual renderings.

    So the point of abstraction might be to avoid conventionalised meaning and narrative.
    The question is, how far do you go?
    I think Cézanne, for instance, managed to avoid the downsides of figuration while still benefiting from the space-making properties. The artistic form in his painting is mostly in the space and the colour, and his figures (think of those weirdly impenetrable portraits) defy conventional interpretation.

    Of course it’s possible to go further than Cézanne along the road to the purely abstract/purely visual but each step further cancels the advantages as well as the disadvantages of figuration.
    Isn’t that how abstract painting ended up flat and dead?

    To be more concrete, why should it be necessary to do away with figure/ground, grids, every indication of perspective, structure
    etc. when none of these necessarily bring any destructive conventional meaning or narrative with them?

    Or what is it that art does, that even these aspects of figuration interfere with?


  7. Keith Williams said:

    Of the paintings, when I first looked at march18r, mai18l and mai18m I understood them more as landscapes with hints of Cézanne quarries. Then I read the second post by Richard, talking of Cézanne. Adding to the comments that have been made, I would also suggest, green can be a representational colour, more than any other colour. It is the colour we associate with landscape. Could it be the amount, type and placement of green that makes me consider some of these paintings to be landscapes, or landscape derived?

    Then there are some of the questions raised by Tony. Can a mixture of figuration and abstract come together and produce something whole?
    Whatever the figurative element, once recognised, it will overpower the abstract. That is the way our eyes have developed. As is evident from Richard, finding representational elements within these paintings. When I looked before reading his comments, I found nothing representational. The ‘swimmer’ in mai18k, I read as an awkward mark, bright against dark, that does not fit with all of the others. As for the cherry blossom, I can now see that, the penis I think I found, but the rhinoceros, no I don’t see that. I only looked at the photographs, so in the paintings these elements may be more pronounced. If they bother you so much, edit the areas until you are happy, rather than pointing them out to everyone, so all will read then as representational.

    It would help to have a formal definition of abstract. Many artists combine representation and abstract without even referring to it as abstraction. The Internet is full of those who call themselves abstract landscape painters, when their work is only pushed slightly away from pure representation, with augmented colour, or simplified line. Abstract purists would never accept such a combination.

    Is space always figurative? It depends how you define space; abstract or figurative. Mondrian and van Doesburg fell out over the diagonal, which Mondrian claimed introduced distance/depth/space and therefore representation, so could not be read as abstract. I prefer van Doesburg’s paintings and do not find the diagonals create distance or representation. Though they do direct movement for eyes to follow. Some diagonal lines create a triangle that pushes you to the point, so space has been introduced. There is also a layering of forms, which also breaks away from purist abstraction. Most abstract depth is shallow and in reality only shows different levels of the same surface through layers of paint. It is rare in abstract painting to establish a depth that rivals figurative painting, but not impossible. Although I feel some of these paintings, hint at Cézanne quarries, there is none of the form and depth that interested Cézanne, it obviously the facets of colour and their placement that makes the connection.

    ‘It works’ and ‘sense’ are subjective, for the artist and viewer. That subjectivity must be based upon previous experience. What works for one person, may not work for another.

    Of these paintings, some ‘work’ for me as abstract paintings, therefore they make sense abstractly; especially ‘february18b’, ‘januar18g’ and ‘mai18l’, even though I also read that painting as a landscape. Others I feel do not work, as I believe they are not yet resolved. Finding accidental objectivity is not the issue, that can be removed. A few do not make sense abstractly, and others seem unbalanced; organic/geometric, or they are repetitive regarding the strong shapes or marks used.

    I find ‘april18o’ the least resolved, yet by far, has the most potential. Considering it is 70cmx 60cm, probably the bottom 20cm, I consider really great painting, the most interesting of all. I like the geometric and abstract shapes, their colour contrasts and layering that creates depth. The larger dark red and blue lozenge shapes, do not work for me, especially as they have been outlined, with the black one simply a dead void (though that may be a result of photography). The white ovoid at the bottom establishes its own layer sitting on top. I do not understand what the other ovoid shapes are trying to say, or where they sit on the picture plane. The blue one, seems to fill and then define, a space left by the other marks. I am not saying all of them need to sit on top like the white one, but their role needs to be defined. Adding and incorporating such geometric shapes offers something challenging not found in the others. But the challenge is making ‘sense’ of them, so the painting works as a whole. For me, there is so much potential in this painting, just waiting to be resolved.


  8. Richard Ward said:

    Hi Keith
    Thanks for your comments.
    “april18o” often gets singled out as somehow different to my other paintings.
    I think the reason is its immediately accessible space. It’s actually the painting which I consider to be the most figurative among those shown here. Not that there are any direct representations of trees, boulders, leaves etc. but the whole thing forms a coherent, “woodland” space in which the lozenges are more or less precisely distributed with the aid of (among other things) scalar perspective. None of this is deliberately planned. It happened that way and I’m happy with (or at least interested in) the result.

    The point about cherry tree, rhinoceros and co. Is that I AM happy to leave them there. I’m also quite happy to point them out, because as I think I remarked to Hilde during John’s discussion,
    if you are going to spend more than a couple of minutes with any paintings then these kinds of unintended figurative elements are going at some stage to become apparent. It’s a form of denial to ignore them, and unless one is absolutely comfortable with them (i.e. seeing them and simultaneously letting them go) they will compromise the eye’s freedom of movement within the work.
    I think that the more coherent and resolved a painting is, the more these accidental figurations can be accommodated.
    For instance, it doesn’t bother me for a moment that I can see the milky way in Anne’s paintings because their abstract properties allow me to let go of any such figurative interpretations instantaneously and with ease.

    And I think this can possibly be extended all the way to overt representation. Past Cézanne’s deliberately unimposing motifs to something like Rubens’ impossible convolutions of
    horses, limbs and armour,
    where you suddenly realise that it’s all about the articulation of space and not about the figures.

    Maybe one can add the “figurative properties of abstract painting” to Robin’s “abstract properties of figurative painting”. That’s how I see things at the moment anyhow.

    It would be great if you could provide an example of deep pictorial space that you would call abstract.


  9. What a great year it has been for Brancaster, with everybody making a strong contribution to the development of abstract painting and sculpture in all sorts of ways, and lots of interesting and varied argument and points of view from different people. Wonderful. There is nothing better happening ANYWHERE in art. Can’t wait for more…


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