Seascapes and Birds

When Gill and I had our Gallery, a popular range of original pieces were a series of small (and some large) seascapes painted on various artisan papers – handmade paper; flower petal papers; etc – usually with an assortment of seabirds included. Our gallery overlooked Campbeltown harbour in Argyll, Scotland and so such artworks spoke of sights readily visible in Campbeltown Loch and from almost any vantage point on the peninsula.

I have felt to return to this type of painting after a break of 5 years or so as I have always enjoyed the challenge and the resulting surface textures of this artistic viewpoint. It is not something I have seen others do, although I feel it inevitable that some must, but I see it as a style that I still need to explore – moving on to other subjects perhaps; a natural change of direction as we live on the landward side of County Wicklow.

Here are the first few results of my efforts this month.

Kintyre road signs now have refreshed logo

After many years, Kintyre will have a fresh ident on new and replaced roadsigns. BEAR Scotland, acting for Transport Scotland have commissioned a new version of the logo.

The artwork for the original version, which I prepared in the 1990’s, had been lost at the signmaker’s, so it was a great opportunity to ‘tidy up’ the detail and give more emphasis to the Viking longship allusion in the K of Kintyre. The new version is sharper than the old one, and the brighter colours should improve the branding of the Kintyre area within Argyll.

Here are images of the old logo alongside the new to give you a better impression. Alsi included are a couple of photographs of existing signage. I am told that signs at Campbeltown should be in place at the end of February/beginning of March 2015.

For more information about these signs, please see my artist website.

George John Stewart – February 2015

An Alaskan Landscape

This picture came about as a result of a commission for a friend recently returned for a time from the 49th State. I used a photograph to give me the image required, and felt that a fairly representational approach in acrylic was needed – without any firm direction otherwise as to style or medium.

George John Stewart – February 2015

‘Pilgrimage’ continued… A Work in Progress Update

A glimpse of how the completed work should look

We have been silent on this blog of late as we re-orientate our thinking to a new environment, a new land and new inspirations. This re-direction does not mean wiping all the old creative thought-patterns aside. It is always about building;

Panel 3: The Way*

about moving forward based on where we have been, but trying to keep it fresh and alive. Sometimes this is the most difficult part in any creative project.

I cannot speak for Gill; but for myself, the fun part is the ongoing execution of any piece. It is what keeps me doing what I do. I never relish commencing a work, and I am rarely happy when I finish – or at least after I have finished, when one must find the nerve or courage to push your child out to face the wolves.
Last year I contributed to Artmap Argyll’s exhibition for The Year of Iona 2013; an event tied in with the Irish events loosely labelled as In the Footsteps of Columba. The theme was one of Pilgrimage, and our interpretation could be as exact or as tenuous as we chose.
I did not want to contribute an picture illustrative of a story from Columba’s life, nor did I feel that art was to triumph over spiritual content. My interest in symbolism revealing spiritual ideas in many paintings of the Italian Renaissance was an area I thought I might explore, but I did not want to produce a 15th century lookalike either. In the end I consider that I have failed to achieve anything close to the vision I saw in my mind’s eye. Not a disaster; just different from the original concept.
Panel 2: The Truth*

There was also the idea that suggesting a stained glass window might be a way to go – and certainly it does lend a unique air to the work, but as always, doubts creep in. There is too much of my cartoonist leanings for my liking, but maybe I should not suggest such a thing and put ideas in your head.

In the final analysis, there has to be an integrity to any artwork that transcends failure of technical effect, and I hope that this I have achieved. 
Early on I realised that some sort of written explanation needed to accompany this project, as many of the symbolic elements are obscure, even as others are readily discerned. At that point I felt that the written part of the work had to be integral to the whole. Indeed, as the original motivation for me was a sort of visual sermon, it seems only proper that it should incorporate one, although this may also be seen as an admission of failure. If the visual sermon cannot survive on its own merits then it is not a visual sermon at all.Not every artwork needs chapter and verse to reveal what it has to say, of course, but sometimes a bit more in the way of explanation can set the viewer in tune with the artist’s vision. It can also upset, of course, if the artist’s vision differs significantly from the viewer’s initial response.

I have spent a lot of time over recent years interpreting other peoples paintings – to give myself a deeper understanding of the artistic imperative behind works that have had an impact on me. 

Panel 1: The Life*

It occured to me that many artists relish being obtuse or obscure; assuming that it confers an air of mystery or sophistication at least on their work. I believe that an artist should not merely provide the viewer with an interesting or beautiful image, but should also have layers of understanding and depth to raise a work above the everyday.

At the end of the matter, “it is what it is.”
Once the work is complete, I shall publish as full an interpretation as I can, along with the final images, although I wonder if it will ever be a settled matter. Even as I paint, I am seeing additional aspects that I had not expected, and so it grows and grows – not like Topsy, maybe, but into a different creature than I had envisioned.
This work in progress, has been an interesting adventure, and one that has had an unusual impact on myself; not the least of which is this post, which has become a public pondering on my internal dialogue. I wonder what the outcome will be, if indeed there is an outcome at all. There has been no attempt on my part, until now, to make a statement to anyone other than myself, and thus I can expect no more than blank incomprehension from others.
The artist however, always hopes for others to understand the motivation and the struggle; to appreciate what has been achieved and the cost, not in financial terms, but in …what? Most people rarely connect on that plane, I suspect. In the end, it should be enough for me to see what I have learned from this project; to have done, then cast aside and moved on.
It is only a picture after all, it is not a matter of life or death.*Click on the images to open the lightbox and see more detail.

Work in Progress… December 2013

I am really enjoying getting to grips with my latest commission. With Christmas opening at the studio and all the associated running around festive season-wise, it is good to get lost in the creative process. The end result may be a catastrophe, but at least you enjoyed getting there.
As our own Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” I believe this to be true, but I have always liked arrivals…particularly for commissions, which are more stressful by far than speculative work.

In the Footsteps of Columba: ‘Walking In Truth’ painting

This post was originally published on my Write The Vision blog and considers a painting of mine, currently (June, July and August 2013) on exhibition in Argyll as part of Artmap Argyll’s contribution to the Iona 2013 celebrations. The exhibition is named IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF COLUMBA. This explanation is intended to aid interpretation and guide the viewer into deeper meditation of our relationship with Christ.
The painting exhibited is the middle segment of an illustrative triptych (as yet incomplete), taking as its inspiration the idea of Pilgrimage. Although often taken to be merely a journey to a shrine or holy place, the scriptural idea is one of ‘walking with Jesus’ – in reality, allowing the Holy Spirit to govern one’s life so completely that the spirit of those faithful and that of God are inextricably joined.
John 17:23 “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
In the Bible, the word translated as ‘pilgrimage’ means ‘dwelling place’, and so the destination – the shrine, so to speak – is that of being ‘made perfect in one’ which John relates. The believer’s walk with Jesus follows a pattern of maturing; growing up to the point where – in community with all those ‘called of God’ – they become ‘His dwelling place’.
This middle panel illustrates some of the spiritual significance of the second of the three Great Feasts of Israel – Pentecost. (The first is Passover, the third is Tabernacles – addressed in panels 1 and 3). Pentecost is representative of many matters of faith; the coming of The Holy Spirit to men, bringing clarity of understanding and wisdom; it means spiritual discernment; a coming in to The Holy Place from The Outer Court in the Tabernacle of God, and also the revelation of the truth as expressed in the person of Jesus Christ.
Saint Columba stands as our representative in all three illustrations. He is not our intercessor with God, for only Jesus has that honour, he merely stands in our place as a saint of God and could fairly be substituted by any individual ‘used of God’.
The Bible is filled with images and allusions that reveal how this can be achieved, many of which informed the medieval and Renaissance painters in their work. Some of these metaphors are used here, and thus the concept of this part – and the triptych as a whole is based on patterns as used in Scripture and as used by artists of the past (particularly in the medieval and Renaissance periods).
LAYOUT – The triptych reads from right to left and not in the ‘western’ convention of left to right. This is to highlight that our walk with Christ follows the sun from east to west (right to left to follow the usual reading) and illustrates Isaiah 55:6-11 showing that our ways run in the opposite direction to God’s ways.
6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: 
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

NUMEROLOGY – Meaning was ascribed to many numbers in the ancient times when the various writings and prophesies brought together to form the Bible were given. Thus 3 represents all things pertaining to God, 7 means perfection, wholeness, completion and so on. (For more on this topic, please see ‘The Numerology of Scripture’ by the Reverend E W Bullinger.)
In this painting you will notice:
One Dove. 1 signifies God, and the dove is a symbol for The Holy Spirit, an aspect of God. Genesis 1:2b And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Two Figures. 2 is the number of witness, and those of faith must witness to and be a witness for Christ.
Three Feet to reveal that the walk must be inspired by God. Psalm 37:23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. The feet are also unshod to show a clean-ness of walk.
Four Hands to represent creation, the world and a solid foundation. (4 elements, 4 winds, 4 corners of the earth, four-square, etc)
Five Scallop shells. Five is usually taken to reveal the grace of God.
Six symbols behind and around the 2 central figures – six is the number representing man (created on the 6th day), and these 6 symbols show things which the natural world teaches us about the heavenly realms.
Seven Basic colours used (excluding white) – blue, green, ochre, red, gold, brown and black – to indicate the perfecting work of God in Christ Jesus.
Eight Colours. As above but including white, to signify the new life in The Holy Spirit.

The pictorial elements are (from top to bottom):
DOVE – symbol of the Holy Spirit (See Luke 3:22  And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.)

SKY – represents the ‘Heavenly Realms’, living in the Holy Spirit.
VINE, VINE LEAF – represents Jesus, the true vine. Vine used as symbol of the church of God. (See also John 15: 1, 5 & 8).
GRAPES – (fruit of the vine) the cluster; representing the fellowship of the mystery, or the community of believers.

BUTTERFLY – Used as a symbol of life, death and resurrection. The Chrysalis stage (as here) is death, a metaphor for dying to our old life.
JESUS AND COLUMBA – both figures now walk from east to west, with Columba following in the way of Christ, who is robed in white to denote purity and holiness. Columba’s garment on the other hand is only part white to denote that he has yet to reach perfection, but that the Lord is nonetheless working in him.
CLOUDS – symbol of the unseen God and represents the veil.
COLUMBINE – Latin for Dove (columba) and sometimes represented the gifts of the spirit (from Isaiah 11:2). St Columba (an colm chille) was known as “the Dove of the Church”.
PLANTAIN – common plant which thrives along roads and pathways. It became known as ‘waybread’, and a symbol of the ‘well-trodden path’ of the multitude that seek the path to Christ.
FOUNTAIN – Song of Solomon 4:12 and Psalm 36:9. Also another symbol of the Holy Spirit; the fountain was perceived as a version of the ‘single eye’ (the nozzle through which the water erupted) and scripture tells us that we must have a ‘single eye’ (to be single-minded) in our relationship with God. Also “rivers of living water”.
GROUND – The right to left viewing shows the figures moving off dry, stoney ground (death) onto green grass (life), indicating a spiritual movement from the old life filled with difficulties, into a new life in Christ. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Psalm 23. COCKLESHELL, SCALLOP – signifies Pilgrimage. Scallop often represents St James the Great. Generally supposed to allude to the countless pilgrimages made to his shrine at Compostella in Spain. Artist Alexander Hamilton pointed out that the scallop became thus associated as it was readily found on this journey to Compostella and that the two halves could be used by pilgrims for the Breaking of Bread. The flatter part of the shell served as a small plate for the bread, while the deeper top shell could be used as a makeshift cup for the wine. In this way, the true meaning of pilgrimage becomes intertwined with the sacrament that Jesus gave to His followers to lead them into all truth.

These are all only part of the ‘reading of this painting. Each colour can be assigned a ‘spiritual’ meaning, and the relationship between this and the other two panels has a story to tell.

The style of the painting alludes to the idea of a stained-glass window in a church, and the image has been kept deliberately straightforward and ‘un-painterly’.
Ultimately the intention is to reveal that we cannot know Jesus without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, who reveals the truth of God in all things and progresses our pilgrimage towards its fullness of expression in tabernacling with God.
John 15:4  Abide in me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself,
except it abide in the vine; no more can ye,
except ye abide in me.


‘In The Footsteps of Columba’ Exhibition

A new exhibition to celebrate the Year of Iona 2013, put together by Artmap Argyll, this fascinating exhibition, inspired by the idea of ‘Pilgrimage’, gives you much to consider and contemplate.
Filled with unusual concepts and talented work by 23 artists (including myself), this exhibition is well worth a visit. Catch it at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Oban during June; at Campbeltown library in July, and in the Three Villages Hall in Arrochar for August. Additional venues may be announced later.
Posing artfully at the exhibition preview in Bishopton House, Christ Church, Lochgilphead are (left to right) LOUISE OPPENHEIMER (Textiles; Drawing & Painting); MELANIE CHMIELEWSKA (Sculpture); MARGARET KER (Ceramics & Mosaic; Drawing & Painting; Printmaking); ALEXANDER HAMILTON (Photography; Sculpture; Wood; Mixed Media); GEORGE JOHN STEWART (Design; Drawing & Painting; Mixed Media; Photography).  LESLEY BURR (Drawing & Painting; Ceramics & Mosaic; Printmaking) added photography to her skills by taking this one.
ALEX, MELANIE, MARGARET and LOUISE are joined by LESLEY for this happy photograph.
The exhibition is open 10.00am to 5.00pm Monday to Saturday, and from 1.00pm to 5.00pm on Sundays. It runs in Oban until the 29th June.

George – Work in progress – October 2012

We are both loving having the opportunity to spend more of our time in our studio space, and thought to let you have a look at some of the artwork Gill and I are working on at any particular moment.
To start with, here are some images of my current work, both commissioned and as I am led. 

Starting a new commission is always a bit nerve-wracking until you begin to get into it.
This is my coloured pencil sketch from the photograph provided as my starting point. Although I frequently work straight from a photograph for my own subjects, I find it helps ‘get the feel’ of a commission if I do a sketch or two before starting in paint, and I have always loved working with coloured pencils – particularly the aquarelle ones.
The first washes of colour – letting your choices speak back to you about the way ahead.
And beginning to see where it is going. Don’t want to stop here as I will have to go through the whole ‘displacement activity’ time when I come back to the studio – working myself back to where I am now.
Of course I can always ‘warm up’ by tackling another work – this is of Fingals Cave on the Isle of Staffa. It is sometimes useful to work on 2 or even more works at one time, if working in watercolour; it reduces ‘wasted’ time spent waiting for paint to dry.
A couple of last weeks thoughts.
This is a reframed small tonal study from a few years back that I pulled out recently. It was painted on one of our Mallorcan holidays for Gill – and I was rather pleased with it, (he says immodestly).

All photographs and the images portrayed are copyright GEORGE JOHN STEWART