Title: 16 Seconds, made in 2016 in France, composite of 16 canvases

Sometimes the beginnings of a picture are obscure. There’s always a few lines of enquiry going on in my head. 16 seconds is a good example.

For a while I’ve thought I should work in a smaller format. Large format canvases are very expensive here; I have a small studio; the general opinion is that smaller pictures are easier to sell. So I bought a few packs of modest size canvases.

I was reading about the British/german painter Walter Sickert (1860-1942).  I like the pictures he did of music hall performers and seedy, psychologically charged interiors with one or two figures.

In his painting academy, Sickert taught a technique of underpainting in en camaieu- a tonal rendering of the picture in one or two colours.

I have for a long time now been looking at cctv images on the internet. I like the painterly, degraded quality of the images. The camera is usually placed at a height, so you see lots of surface: street, station platform, supermarket floor - this limits the depth you have to deal with and gives scope for ‘emptiness’ (a useful quality in a painting).

There was a correspondence in my mind between ‘en camaieu’ and ‘on camera’.

Sickert is known for his series of paintings titled The Camden Town Murders.  No murder is shown. In one, a man sits on a bed next to a female nude, his head in his hands. The work was originally titled Conversation Piece. Sickert changed the title when the sordid details of the Camden Town murders were sensationally reported in the press.  He thought it would help sell the pictures.

The images I was looking at on the internet have a similar tension.  A suggestion of violence, even in what might be an innocent scene.

I chose some of these images and started making small paintings in limited colour.

Early on it was clear that the paintings all went to make up a single work. They did not stand up as single images. The composite format was necessary to deliver the full impact of the work.

So much for my ambition to avoid large format work.

I made the 9 winter roads pictures at the same time as working on 16 seconds.

Maybe it is a kind of antidote. Where 16 seconds is urban, edgy and illustrates human behaviours and relationships, 9 winter roads is meditative, pastoral, devoid of human presence.

Another contrast is the strong (though not realistic) colour in one and the deliberately low-key near monochrome of the other.

But for me the telling difference comes back to the nature of photography. In the street scenes the camera is a fixed point and impersonal, in the landscapes the camera is moving through the space and I am there behind the viewfinder.

We arrive then at two different paradigms of the same artistic enquiry:

What does the world look like?