Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Entry to BA Great Britons competition .... artist on video shock horror!

Latest news!  My entry to the BA Great Britons competition has been accepted, just before the deadline ....
You can read all about the competition here: BA Great Britons.  Basically the premise is that the winner gets to design a new paint job for 12 of BA's aircraft to be used during the Olympics - the project runs from August to February.  The short-list is announced on August 2nd, interviews at the Royal Academy on the 15th/16th, and the winner is announced on the 21st ....

Is there any likelihood I'll get short-listed?...  Dunno - watch this space.  In the meantime, you can amuse yourself with the promo video I had to make for the entry ....  (at the moment BA have it on YouTube - if the link gets broken I'll upload it here instead).

Monday, 18 July 2011

On Artistic Practice - an essay

Well, my first pass at an 'Artist Statement' having produced predictable pretentious waffle (see here), I have unavoidably been forced to think more about art and, basically, What It's All About.  The result is the following essay on artistic practice, goals and technique, and hopefully I will get enough from it to construct a more digestible and concise definition of what it is I do......

On Artistic Practice.

My goal as an artist is to make pictures which capture people's attention - something which when they see it from across the room or out of the corner of their eye will make them say "Hey, what was that?" and go back for a closer look.  Something which gives them a feeling that something has changed in their lives, although they may not be able to formulate exactly what. Something, in other words, which makes people think.

Why do this?  Because, as artists, we can.  In the same way in which a great writer can change people's lives, if we are serious about our art, we should also be able to catalyze change.  When we sit down in front of a blank canvas (or a wall, a lump of clay, a raw stone, or a computer screen) we are God.  We can create whatever we want, and if we are good enough; 'in the zone' or 'in flow', we can make people believe in our creation.  If we have the ability to do it, then perhaps we also have the obligation to do it.

In my own case, I try to create something which will make a change in people, to 'make my mark' (for that, of course, is what artists do), by searching for combinations of shape, colour, form and texture which evoke a subliminal emotional response in the viewer. My goal is for someone to look a picture and feel that it 'resonates', that it 'strikes a chord' (note how we use expressions for visual art which echo the impressions we get from music - both are visceral experiences).  They need not understand exactly why it gives them that feeling - my goal is to work on the archetypal level, so that the viewer cannot help but respond in a certain way to what they are seeing.

The content of my art sometimes incorporates symbols which are widely recognisable (and therefore likely to be reacted to) by the majority of people.  Clouds symbolise flights of the imagination and dreams.  Flowers are for springtime and rebirth. Baroque carving evokes a feeling of luxury, exclusivity - even spirituality, and archaic lettering for nostalgia and a sense of the presence of the past.  More than this, though, I try to allow my own intuition to select shapes, forms and colour combinations which resonate on a more subtle level - that which gives me a particular feeling, evokes a particular emotion, I hope will have the same effect on someone viewing the picture. Often the meaning of an image only becomes apparent to me well after I have created it - at the time of creation it is simply in the process of becoming, and the act of facilitating that process can be conscious, unconscious and subconscious, in any combination.

"Me da la Cabeza de Juan Bautista" : Oils & egg-tempera on canvas : 97 x 55 cm
Copyright © 2010 by Martin Herbert
Technique is an important part of my practice.  When trying to evoke an emotional response, the response is unavoidably affected by the medium and execution of the painting.  There are many traditional ways in which the viewer is affected indirectly by the technique and materials used.  As an art-viewing collective we may react differently to a painting in acrylics to one in oils (the medium is more modern and plastic, so the piece may not be as worthy).  We react differently to a drawing in pencil to one in a child's crayons.  We certainly react differently to a painting done on a computer than we do to one done entirely in traditional media.  In general, if the art is representational, we react 'better' to a piece which is painted with a high degree of technical skill than we do to one which is 'messy', regardless of the message.  If the art is more 'emotional' in content, then we may consider a loose ('messy'!) expressionist style a good thing as a painstaking meticulous technique might smack of emotional detachment.  If the piece is 'industrial' in character, then digital art is no bad thing.

"A Thing of Hair and Feathers" : Ink & sanguine pencil on tempera-washed paper :
11" x 14" : Copyright © 2010 by Martin Herbert
One thing I try to do in painting is to mix the techniques - to use media which are unexpected and unpredictable for the particular subject in question.  I use digital, computer-generated, mathematically based shapes to make metamorphosing organic objects reminiscent of plants, seeds and microscopic sea creatures.  I use traditional 'old-master' oil and tempera media to make paintings which also contain whimsical references in archaic typefaces.  Meticulous representational work is used to portray the fantastic in the manner of the Visionary and Symbolist schools, reminiscent of Ernst Fuch´s 'Fantastic Realism'.  Bringing an ironic, fantastical or mythical (or archetypal) element into a superficially realistic painting, or using a computer to generate something which looks like an 18th century engraving, but one so complex it could not have been traced by hand, provides that slightly unsettling element which (see above) makes the viewer say "Hey, what was that?", and go back for another look.

"The Last Rabbit" : Oil on canvas, 2000 : Mark Ryden
Please visit the artist's website for more
It is that process of unsettling the viewer, as well, which provides the element of emotional connection which may help to change the viewer's thought processes more profoundly in the moment off viewing.  If we link the act of 'unsettling' with a subject which is in itself emotionally engaging then the connection felt by the viewer becomes deeper.  It is for this reason that 'lowbrow' art, a recent growing art movement, is so successful.  It uses realistic depictions of 'cute' cartoon-like characters (fluffy bunnies, big-eyed innocent looking Bambi creatures, and equally big-eyed, small-breasted and innocent 'Lolita' figures) in worrying and unsettling situations and with worrying and unsettling facial expressions to provoke an instant response in the viewer of "Er..... something wrong here....!"  My hope is that my paintings effect similar responses, though on a less obvious and superficial level.  The cartoon figures are not for me, but the juxtaposition of the familiar and comforting with elements which seem out of place is one of which I wholeheartedly approve.

"My Dishonest Heart" :Mixed Media on Wood : 2008 :
: Audrey Kawasaki :
Please visit the artist's website for more. 
An underlying theme in my paintings is that of physicality versus abstraction and intuition.  We live in a society which increasingly values the mental process over the physical, the intuituve approach to the pragmatic, and the generalisation to the specific definition.  We, as humans with (allegedly) highly evolved mental processes unavoidably live in a state of tension between the sheer physicality of bodies which contact the world in a myriad of sensory impressions and concrete connections, and the lofty thought processes to which we would often rather devote ourselves.  It seems sometimes all too easy to view the necessity of maintaining our physical presence here on this planet as an irritating distraction from more important things.  I like to use the lines and forms of my compositions to highlight, and hopefully help to resolve, this tension - in my ideal drawing, the beauty of line and curve contrasts with the solidity of form, expressing both aesthetics and grounded physicality in a single artistic expression.  My goal is to remind the viewer that yes, we are humans capable of high thought, but we should also be grounded in physical reality, knowing ourselves to be an integral part of the natural world, the Earth, the forest, the rock and the mountain.  All contain some expression of spirit, and therefore all are inextricably tied to our spiritual and physical selves.  We are the brain cells; the cognitive thought processes, of the body that is Gaia - however detached and lofty those thoughts, when removed from the body we die as surely as any other sloughed-off cell.

This then, is the conclusion when considering how my own artistic process manifests itself: that it should remind the viewer of the necessity to reconcile our physical and mental states of being, by using all the techniques available to the artist - shape, colour, texture, perfection of technique, to arrest their attention.  To make them stop and look again, to think and say to themselves not "Er... something is wrong here...", but "Wow! Something is very right here".  It is that striving towards wholeness which distinguishes my art and, I hope, makes it unique.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Pieces accepted for MOMA Wales!

Well ... some good news...  Both Vivi-Mari and I submitted pieces for the 2011 Tabernacl Open Exhibition at MOMA Wales, and both have been accepted.  I am especially pleased, having been turned down the last time I submitted a painting. (Ironically, the painting this year was unframed, and it turned out the only frame I had which fitted was the one I used for the piece that got rejected a few years ago!  Doubly pleasing since I had it especially made for the exhibition!).

Almost like getting into the Royal Academy ....
The exhibition starts on Monday, but there is a private view and awards presentation tomorrow at midday. No idea whether we're in the running for prizes of course (the money would certainly be handy - 1st prize is £1200) but we'll be along to see what happens anyway.  I think my painting is probably a bit lightweight for the judges, but who knows what sort of madness they may be struck with on the day?

"The Sea of Longing" : Oils & tempera on prepared canvas : Copyright © 2008 by Martin Herbert
The exhibition ( theme is 'Feeling', which leaves things fairly open to interpretation.  It comes from a quote by Leo Tolstoy from "What is Art" - "Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced". My entry is a portrait of the lovely Semele Xerri of Triple Moon in Builth Wells.  I entitled the piece "The Sea of Longing" to fit the theme.  It's in oils and egg-tempera (Mische Technique) over a pre-prepared canvas giclée-printed with a 3D 'fossil-scape' which I constructed for the purpose.

"Some Things Should Never be Forgotten" : Handmade paper collage : Copyright © 2008 by Vivi-Mari Carpelan
Vivi-Mari's entry is one of her symbolic hand-made collages entitled "Some Things Should Never be Forgotten".  (See more at

The exhibition, at Y Tabernacl, Heol Penrallt. Machynlleth, Powys, SY20 8AJ, runs from 18th July to 3rd September and is open Mon-Sat, 10-4.  Go take a look!  Report on the private view coming soon.

PS:  Well, apparently the prizewinners are already up on the website, so no luck there!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Last Month in the Arts: Part 2

So - the second exhibition opening in June was a 'retrospective' (sounds grand, huh?) at Pam Jefferies' 'PH Salon & Gallery' (formerly Pamperhouse Salon) in Newtown, Powys, about 15 miles away.  (Yes, 15 miles (24km) away is our nearest town - that's how far from civilization we are...).

"Aurora, Goddess of the Dawn" : Digital Painting 29 x 11in : Copyright © 2005 by Martin Herbert
Print available from PH Salon & Gallery, Newtown
PH Salon and Gallery is our friend Pam's hairdressing business in Newtown, and she had the great idea of turning it into an art gallery, mainly for her clients - she has a lot of people visiting every month, and she gets to have some great art on the walls to give the ladies something to talk about while they're waiting for their highlights to cook, while artists get to display their work to a discerning clientelle of potential art buyers.  It seems to work quite well. We held a private view on 24th June which was reasonably well attended and there were a few sales on the night.

Me, with Pam Jefferies (right) and Val Howard, mayor of Newtown, who officially opened the exhibition.
The show is a retrospective as it features all the framed prints which I had in stock after the gallery in Llanidloes closed when I went off to Spain. When I came back, I realised i had quite a lot of prints and greetings cards left and figured there must be a few hundred pounds worth which I could sell off.  I did an inventory and came up with over £11,000 worth, so I figured I can afford to have a bit of a sale - all this stuff is doing no good lying around in my studio, and I need to get get rid of it to make room for new work.  So - all the work at Pam's (1-2 Park Street, Newtown, Powys, SY16 1EE) is pretty much half price, as is much of the work on the website (  I've also reduced the abstract work on the 'unlikely realms' website.  The main website will be redesigned soon as a showcase for new paintings, and more or less replaced by this blog, so now is the time to order prints!

"I'm for the Hare that Runs by Night" : Digital Painting, 36" x 24" : Copyright © 2003 by Martin Herbert
Full sized framed print for sale at the PH Salon & Gallery, Newtown
On the subject of private views, despite the evening at Pam's  being a success, both myself and my wife Vivi-Mari (go look at her art at have had opening evenings for exhibitions since setting up home again here  in Wales last year, and the experience has not generally been good. We've ended up spending time and money on wine and food etc. for a lot of people who just don't turn up - I figure there is no money about and people are embarrassed to come along knowing they aren't going to purchase anything. Actually we'd rather have the people there having a good time - at least it makes it look worthwhile!  However, we've pretty much decided not to do it any more - we need to find other ways of selling.  I read a piece by someone recently who was lecturing at Berkeley and was asked "what is the secret of selling your art?". His answer (paraphrased) was "You only have to do two things: do some great art, and get it in front of people".  All suggestions on how to get art in front of people will be gratefully received!

Martin Herbert: Retrospective continues at the PH Salon & Gallery, 1-2 Park Street, Newtown, Powys, SY16 1EE, UK for the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Artist Statement

This is the artist statement I prepared for the Great Britons competition entry (more details coming soon).  Can you believe I did this entirely without  the aid of the Arty Bollocks Generator!?

martin herbert

artist statement

i am an artist
i receive impressions.
i mirror them back, sometimes simplified, sometimes quite the opposite
i mix them
i synthesize
i argue my case, quietly
i expect no one to be impressed, but i suffer from a compulsion to make my mark
as all artists do - we make marks - it is our job to make the marks that make people think

as humans, when we see images, we think - we can’t help it - our brains are hard-wired to receive visual impressions and integrate them into our personal space - into the entire sphere of our lives’ experience
the way in which we integrate the images we see inescapably alters our thinking
the way in which artists construct the images we see alters the impressions we receive
the way in which artists construct the images we see therefore alters our thinking

all art makes us think - highbrow or lowbrow, profound or trivial, disney or degas
the difference lies in what it makes us think
the craft of the artist reaches its highest form when it makes us think profoundly
this is my goal
i am an artist
i receive impressions
i mirror them back

Last month in the arts ... dragons at the Oak

Well – a lot going on in June, and continuing into July – two exhibitions opening, submissions to be made for others – trying to find time for some grant applications, and in between all the marketing stuff, trying to actually do some art!

June's first exhibition started at the Great Oak café in our home town of Llanidloes, at the beginning of the month, and is under way there until the end of July.

In 2008 I was commissioned by LLANI Ltd. and the Town Council to design a set of 10 plaques to form a “town trail” around Llanidloes.  Ten of the drawings on show at the café are the original designs for the plaques, which were then made by local sculptor Sue Thornton and can now be seen on various buildings around the town centre.

The trail is meant to be followed by solving the riddle poems written in Welsh by children from Llanidloes High School, and these are displayed next to the pictures. Don't panic – there are English translations there as well! A leaflet containing all of them can be obtained from the Visitor Centre on Longbridge Street.  The names of the 10 dragons were also chosen by local schoolchildren

One of the original designs was never used and there is therefore an elusive eleventh dragon.  Visitors to the café can suggest a name - the winner will receive a signed fine-art print of the original eleventh dragon drawing.

"The 11th dragon" : Sanguine pencil on prepared paper : Copyright © 2011 by Martin Herbert

The drawings are done using some of the oldest drawing techniques used by masters such as Da Vinci and Rafael.   The paper is prepared using a diluted wash of red egg-tempera which I make by hand, by grinding red iron oxide pigment with a medium composed of Dammar varnish, beaten egg and water.  The drawing is done with red and sepia earth-colour based pencil and highlighted with white chalk pencil and white egg-tempera or gouache.  Sepia ink is also used on some of the drawings.

All the original drawings are for sale, and open edition fine-art prints are available to order at £75 (unframed).

At least our local news photographer was there to record the occasion...

A private view was held on the 11th of June and unfortunately coincided with someone's birthday party, which is a sure recipe for disaster in a town with only 2,500 people.  It's at times like this that you find out who your firends are - well, apparently I don't have many, that's for sure.  A grand total of several people attended - no sales.  Not the most uplifting start to the month, but we soldier on ....

The exhibition, “Dragons at the Oak” continues at the Great Oak café, 12 Great Oak Street, Llanidloes, Powys, until the end of July –  I hope you'll find time to visit.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Distraction-free blogging

OK - well, time to start finding time, so to speak.  I really need to write some entries, as I would like these pages to become my 'main' website, while I remodel to be more of a showcase for the oil paintings. So i've decided to try writing entries using DarkRoom (from  It's a bare-bones word processor - the idea being that all you have is a blank screen with your writing on - no bells and whistles to distract you - no worrying about format ting or how pretty it looks.  By default it comes up full screen with a black background and green type similar to an old ASCII terminal - the sort of thing I used for writing 'C' code twenty years ago.  I've changed my settings to a nice amber colour text with a clear proportional font, similar to my beloved DEC VT220 terminal from so long ago!  From what I can tell so far (this being the first thing I've typed on it), it works just fine.  Just me and the text... maybe all aspiring writers whould get a copy.  I tried changing the screen background to something a little lighter and found even that was a bit of a distraction.

The psychology is interesting - maybe if we are presented with a whole lot of choices about how our working environment looks and feels, we have some pre-programming which means we are constantly checking that everything is OK.  As soon as the choices are limited, we are more able to focus on the task in hand.  A case in point - my dear wife is doing a lot of blogging at the moment ( and when making entries dfirectly into blogger, seems to get sidetracked into worrying about whether the header looks good enough, whether the colours are right, etc.  I am sure (previous experience) that I am exactly the same - we're artists - we can't help getting stressed about how things look all the time!  Remove the distractions and the choices and it's not a problem any more.  Well... it's a theory - I'm planning to carry on using Dark Room to edit texts and add the bells and whistles later... we'll see how it goes - maybe an update in a couple of months?