In the online clamour after the Paris attacks - amidst the blooming of tricolour flags across the internet - I've read a whole spectrum of responses. These range from the ultra-violet of those who exhort calm and peace and love, through the stars and stripes of Trump's assertion that the victims would have been safe if they had carried guns, to the infra-red rage of 'kill the f***g b***s'.
Among the peace-inspired, a good many shared the clip of someone playing 'Imagine' on the street. Others have shared Martin Luther King's statement about Love and among the quotations I've read, some Facebook posts from fellow artists, where people say that in response to evil and atrocity they will go away and immerse themselves in making art. In shock and in the face of our own overwhelming impotence to change what is happening or to feel safe, making art is what we can do.
It's a good plan.
Except is it enough to say 'Well the world's a horrible place and people have died in blood and pain so off I go to paint the sea....or some bluebells..." ? Will it change anything? Isn't it somehow self-indulgent? And what difference would it make, if I tried to convey the horror which others lived through but which I only saw on a TV screen.
Yet here's the thing. I can't help remembering that our right to create (to make whatever art we feel impelled to make), was hard-won and paid for on pain and blood by those who over the centuries have given their lives to keep us free. I think of German Expressionist, Emil Nolde, considered degenerate by the Nazis and forbidden to paint, who continued to paint using only water colour because he could hide the paints, paper and brushes under his floorboards and because, if the Gestapo battered his door down, there would be no smell to give him away. (The painting shown above was I think made during WW2) I think of those who wrote in prison cells and who smuggled printing presses across borders.
Not painting in response to violence and terror, seems somehow more twee and more disrespectful to the brave. Apart from writing this, the best way I can honour those who were censored and persecuted and the only way I can show my gratitude to those who fought for freedom of expression, is - perhaps - to go off and paint whatever I'm impelled to paint... even if it's only the sea or a jar of bluebells.
I had no idea this was even happening, until a friend posted the link on Facebook. But I got to thinking...
Just imagining the future if they'd been banned...
The year is 2017...
...production of cadmium paints has gone underground into illegal and secret paint factories which are occasionally raided and closed down by the Paints Squad police...
...pigment specialists are being dragged away in handcuffs...
...meanwhile in your local organic and wholefood cafe there's a shady middle aged woman in a kaftan with jangling ethnic jewellery and a home knitted pink balaclava... you sidle past her table and give a secret sign... the 2 inch hog's hair filbert sticking out of your top pocket is also a clue...
...a few minutes later in the loo cubicle and under the cover of several toilet flushes...
'Ok what've you got? Any sulphenamides?'
' 37gm tube of red - watercolour only. £20. If you want acrylic I've got yellow and orange but the price has gone up. 40 quid a tube.'
"Take 15 for the watercolour?"
"Listen I take risks. It's £20 or nothin. Take or leave."
" What about oils?'
"Nah. The source has dried up. Rumour has it a courier's on the way from Afghanistan. Anyone tries to sell you oils you can bet your life it's been adulterated with Azo."
"ok. I'll take the watercolour."
You empty the Cats' Protection collection box which you stole from an old lady in the street (you're desperate and you'll do anything now to feed your Cadmium habit) and count out £19-89 in change and two plastic buttons. "You could use these for collage?" you say hopefully.
The dealer scowls but allows you to tip the coins into her pockets.
'You can keep the buttons' she sneers.
The deal is done and you are by the basins clutching your illegal stash when...
Suddenly the door is flung open and big men in flak jackets yell 'POLICE! FREEZE'
The paint dealer tries to get out through the window but gets stuck halfway through. You notice she's wearing stilletto heeled Manolos under the kaftan.... in Cadmium Red...
Next instalment... Who is the mysterious artist in the black mask? And will he or she rescue you from jail so that you can stow away on a prawn boat and make a new life in Mexico where cadmium is mined and still legal...?
So here I am. The show at Poundbury went really well: kind people; a friendly atmosphere and enoughwork was sold to make me breathe a sigh of relief. I hope to be back there next year.
Before I left, David (gallery owner) asked, "What have you got coming up?"
I had to shrug and say 'Er... nothing really'.
This was because we were in the middle of the extended chaotic Bad Dream that is Moving House. All kinds of things happened. No I won't tell the whole sorry tale of confusion, lost chickens and time forcibly frittered on phone calls to call-centres (you are 5th in the queue thanks for holding your call is important to us so we are playing you some hideous muzak...) and solicitors and removal companies.
Yes I could have been sorting out other exhibition venues but to be honest I've sold most of the work I thought was ok and haven't much left that I'd want to show. I knew I couldn't get my head round painting for a while. And to be honest I now need to paint for myself and not for a show. I just need to get a body of work together that's just... well,,, ok. And without thinking about whether anyone would ever want to buy it.
And now that I have got some head space back there's another problem. A studio.
The photo above is of the back bedroom in the last house but just now there is no appropriate space in the new house and not much privacy either. There's a garage (clammy, dark and full of tools and car) and a shed (less dark and empty but still a bit clammy). In the warm days of June I thought I'd have time to paint there before winter set in but this morning was bloody cold. It brings home the truth that's been lurking in the back of my brain for a while.... I need to insulate it.
By the way, (and this is fascinating) on consulting You Tube about the matter, I was informed in the first video I watched, that one of the most frequently asked questions is actually not what you might imagine...i.e. 'What Is The Meaning of Life... the Universe... the appeal of those nasty Tunnocks tea cakes... or Boris Johnson's hair...?"
No. Apparently it's"How Can I Insulate My Shed?"
How indeed. It's a mystery. There are so many ways - all explained by men who (without too much disruption of the manly jaw and eyebrows) manage to look at you in a matey and mildly encouraging way but with perhaps a hint of pity. C'mon mate - you can do it - man up!
So I need to man up and start. Otherwise no painting for the winter. And then where will I be...?
Only a week to go before the Private View and already I've been waking up in the early morning in what I can only describe as a state of trepidation.
The painting I have uploaded here was made mostly while listening to Donna Tartt reading Secret History and took longer than the audio book took to play. Out of all the collection, it's probably the one I am happiest with to be honest.
My main problem is that I usually paint fast but then leave paintings for intervals - sometimes months - and then work on them some more. In fact, painting (when I have world enough and time) is a long process of vegetable love (slow growing) and cogitation. Quick work is invariably not finished. I've been known to wait over a year before being able to discover what that final colour is, which will somehow make the work complete.
But this year I've needed to work on lots of ideas all at once. There hasn't been time to cogitate and not much time for experiment or learning. No time to leave it all and rinse again - I've just had to paint n go. This may have been a good thing. Maybe the work is fresher for it. Yet now it's all at the framers and even that exposure has felt somehow raw. What if I see it framed and realise that actually it is all unfinished - all missing that final spark which is only usually earned by months of slow meditation? What if it needs another rinse?
If I haven't been blogging since January it's because I'm too busy painting!
In the end I made two Durdle Door paintings for the commission and to my delight - and relief - my nice client decided he would like to buy both.
Commissions are wonderful when you get them and then the initial joy disintegrates into an agony of self doubt and worry. It doesn't matter how much you enjoy making the painting, - you still agonise over whether the commissioner will like the finished work.
The commission agony has now been transferred to worry about my upcoming show. It's not a good way to paint because painting has to come from the heart and from a deep desire to do what you do no matter what the method or the end result. Producing work to order can be very inhibiting so I am having to keep telling myself that I must just immerse myself in whatever i am doing and enjoy the problem solving without thinking that it has to be framed and hung on May 15th.
At this time of year I usually put myself into a metaphorical padded cell. Dark and silent, with my fingers stuffed in my ears and my eyes shut in case anything intrudes. This is because for some reason I get very depressed and annoyed by the media Reviews of The Year (their choice of what they think the masses were interested in) or the Predictions for the Year Ahead (what's the point?).
But if you can't beat them (or block it all out) you might as well join them. So here's my review of The Year Just Gone By...
It started in a depressed way with seemingly no outlet for my work. It felt as though I were working in a vacuum. And an alien, friendless, isolated vacuum at that.
But if you have to paint, you have to paint. Even in a recession and in a town where it's not easy to sell art. So I revamped this website, got the proper name for it, started the blog (ok I know - I hardly ever post! But that's because I find it so hard to talk about my work...) and continued to investigate venues where I might be able to show my paintings.
It's not the Oscars but I'm going to use this space to thank those who have encouraged me, believed in me and given me hope during 2013.
Thanks and applause go to the lovely people at Ilminster Arts Centre - Sue Bishop and Ann Palmer - for their encouragement and for the wonderful show last September and for the friendly atmosphere of their gallery and cafe . Thanks also to David at the Cafe and Gallery on the Square Poundbury for taking my work and showing it so beautifully that it has sold. Thanks to Bryan and Christine at The Island Gallery Portland for their encouraging words and advice. Thanks goes to Weebly for hosting this website and enabling a rookie like me to build it and because I have sold through it. And thanks go to The Woodland Trust for having artists' tree paintings on their site.
Thanks go to all my friends who said nice things and were encouraging ... and lastly but not least to my family - who tolerate my extravagant painting addiction.
Predictions for 2014 - finish the Durdle Door paintings (see above the first one), start the backlog of new work which has piled up in my head, a show in May and June - during Dorset Arts Weeks. And hopefully some others... watch this space!
Some people have fear of flying and some fear the dark shape lurking in the shadows during a lonely walk home. My current bogeyman is The Commission.
I was so pleased to get it. It wasn't a massive lot of money really but - what could ever be better, than to actually be paid for doing something you love?
Not only that but it involved a trip to a beautiful place, with time spent drawing and photographing that beautiful place.
But that's when the trouble began...
What view to take of those fantastic coastal curves and tactile rocky textures? From down below or up above? From left or right? And do I use the earlier morning view - silhouette and dark/light contrast - or the later view with clearer textures and more vivid - possibly more brash - colouring?
And...how much to include?....the essence of the place - already photographed and painted to within an inch of its Jurassic life? Or a wider panorama?
And then one starts to think about the complexity of the actual task. The expense of time and paint in palette knife/impasto work (and the heart-stoppingly scary, risky, randomness of it - aaargh!) versus the flatter more controlled colourful style which uses less paint and takes less time and which I also enjoy making... but which isn't like the painting which the commissioner already bought? I want him to like it and enjoy looking at it.
So the worry builds and I keep trying to second guess what is wanted. I need to be free to take the risks but feel inhibited by the second-guessing and now find I've done one painting and started a second one and still nothing is right and I'm even considering a third.
Of course nothing is wasted. Even if I end up with three different paintings of Durdle Door they'll surely come in handy someday. I can store them and revisit and rework... and sometimes the time factor makes all the difference, because problems can often solve themselves in your head.
But that doesn't stop the Commission looming darkly in my subconscious telling me I'm useless and can't do it and I ought to give up and go and work for honest money on a checkout somewhere.
The image to the left partly illustrates the strange abnormality of the brain - which I have - called synaesthesia. I'll explain why later.
About one in twenty of us have this condition where doors in our heads (which the universal head master decrees ought to be closed) have been generously, if somewhat randomly, left open by some kindly passing subversive school caretaker.
The inner life of the synaesthesic is full of colour, texture, sound and other sensory experience which the non-synaesthesic would gawp at in non-comprehension. We are secret travellers along forgotten ways of the mind - roads invisible - and therefore inaccessible - to others. In past times we'd probably have been burnt as witches. Now we are an occasional scientific curiosity.
The most common manifestation is the perception of coloured graphemes; letters, numbers and even days of the week all have their own distinct colour. But there are other eccentricities. I remember distinctly (being about 6 years old and on a dull and routine car journey) surprising and amusing my parents by suddenly recognising - in the different shapes, colours and textures of the trees we passed - the attributes and characteristics of girls in my class at school. I think my parents assumed it was a precocious joke. But to me it was very real.
One possible explanation is that synapses which should have been 'pruned'
(Wikipedia's word) as we matured have been left in abundance, thus linking areas
of the brain which are not usually linked. Doors left open.
Hence the un-pruned tree in the image, outrageously and unashamedly orange, pink and purple - whose natural branching form is so archetypal in nature as a pattern of how organic matter often moves and behaves.