What does a subject matter? (When you are inside anyway) ?

Posted by Ivan Grieve on

Over the years the subjects for my work have twisted, turned and evolved.  From wanting to solve a visual challenge in which I looked at Moorish architecture to following the seasons along the river, with all her calmness then charging, beelines and convulsions. 

I love the view from the carriage drive on the Sharpham estate, looking down the river Dart toward Dartmouth. The shapes and shadows, the changing seasons are so well epitomised along the river Dart. The sounds, smells and sightings of plants and wildlife are such an uplifting experience to carry home to the studio.

The Moroccan arches grew to become an exercise that allowed me thinking time and space to seek a solution and an order within my own mind. I referred to the Moorish arches in a previous blog and on Linkedin. The river has taken me along a fresh pathway, with new opportunities and exciting possibilities, with involvement environmental projects. It is from bing open to invitations to collaborate that more ideas have been developed ( https://bioregion.org.uk/project/thesaltmarshproject/) and new with materials to explore.

Details from “Syrinx” a charcoal drawing of the Saltmarshes on the river Dart.

This personal journey has had many ups and downs. There has been some joy, along with a fair share of disappointment too. But I have no doubt that creative expression has been at the very heart of finding a positive outlook on life.


(Left; mixed media self portrait and right portrait collage in violin sheet music.) The pastel work on the left, is gestural and emotional. Letting out deep inner feelings on paper, regardless of what the overall image would look like is an important dialogue for the artist to have sometimes. At the end of making this pastel drawing there was a great sense of relief. I felt I had unburdened my inner feelings to someone who had taken time to listen. The work on the right, is a study of a face well known to me. I explored my feelings whilst staring at every detail of the face looking back at me, a face that I believed I should know so well for some reason.


At times the desire to express emotions may be the primary reason to choose a specific range of materials. The gestural marks of the “action painters” with their great splatters and drips of paint, are free expressions.  Here we might think of Jackson Pollock, even Twombly, Gorky, Kline, or de Kooning perhaps? Other times the mark making maybe subconscious in a different way. This subconscious making, leans in form, toward Tachisme, or even to works such as those of Feliks Topolski. In Topolski’s there are marks and gestures which it are almost akin to wild and magnified handwriting. I do relish the chance to explore with different methods and materials to allow the feeling and emotion of what I NEED to express to find a conduit.



 (Images from “Now you see it, Now you don’t”, thick drips of Japanese ink on heavy paper made into small “tiles” of ink blots. The “Touch Self Portraits” are exploring the surface of my face and mapping it out on a piece of paper beside me. I draw these without looking at my reflection in a mirror, allowing the exploration of my features as my fingers perceive them, in a new way for me).



(Rembrandt detail from self portrait at Kenwood House, London,  holding a brush, alongside the full portrait, both from  The Hidden Order of Art, Ehrenzweig).

 The very brilliant book “The Hidden Order of Art” by Anton Ehrenzweig explains this point wonderfully as he lays out “syncrestistic” theory. The marks of Rembrandt are, it is suggested possibly almost subconscious and toward an auto type repetition.

Below are the details of the self portrait perhaps illustrating my own subconscious mark making.


 The works of Topolski are a good example of drawing and line that are descriptive without being directly representative. I do hope that this idea is conveyed through those of my works that I have shown here? I love the way Topolski’s handwriting is so similar to his drawing, the folds and twists and curls. The twists of line in the faces of the writers club are to some extent like elements of my touch self portraits.The twists and curves of the figures in “Their burning village” is somewhat like the features of in the black and white self portrait face to some degree. Daumier too, had lines and marks that danced across the surface, wonderfully described figures without direct representations.


“The Writers club” and “Their burning village” from Russia in war by Feliks Topolski.


Gripping a piece of charcoal, pastel or pencil and twisting or swirling it as the marks freely dance across the surface, is my way of doing this I would imagine. I like to let the tool twist and turn in fingers for the sensations and sound the feeling and then the incidental marks that are made.Sometimes monochrome sometimes colours, though increasingly over years with found pigments and materials to be of a real help to explain and elaborate on my feelings with landscape.


Small works using found pigments looking down the river Dart on the Sharpham estate, over the salt marshes. The soil and mud, the smudges of plants or seaweed are so freeing to work with. There is also a very rewarding connection back to the place and to the seasons. The earth maybe dry or wet, cold or even warm to touch in the sunlight, the proximity to Nature is so very rewarding.

art magazine artist callout artistic career artistic process artist’s mind artist’s project bohemian creativity emotions expressive feelings inclusion landscapes mood outside in perception seasons selfportrait

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