Apologies if I appear at first to have slipped into early onset anectdotage but all will become clear(ish) by the end of the post.
I once had a job as an illustrator (all right 'community programme' scheme placement) with the local history/research project in Falmouth. As was the way of these things some of us were there because we had relevant skills and an interest in the subject, others because the Job Centre wanted them off the books and needed to put them somewhere. Anyway, having spent two days (yes, two whole days!) roughing out a very complex compostion to illustrate the famous 'Falmouth Mutiny of 1810' (Google it, Wikipedia etc, it may or may not be there, it certainly wasn't that famous by the mid 80's even in Falmouth). I was transferring the rough sketch to a piece of illustration board (by the time honoured method of covering the back with a thick layer of 6B pencil and then tracing from the front) when I heard, 'That's cheating, I thought you could draw!' coming from the very large and usually taciturn would-be child-minder who'd been parked with us for the last few weeks. No amount of arguing on my part could convince her, in spite of the fact that it was my initial drawing I was transferring, that I was not somehow 'cheating' and could not in fact draw. Therefore, I had obtained this highly valued government sponsored stipend through a deception and must be reported the Job Centre and dismissed immediately.
Setting aside the fact that the accuser in this particular case was thick as two short planks and delusional to boot, this is a surprisingly common attitude. One which I ascribe to the fact that nobody these days is taught how to draw. Don't get me wrong, I'm not on a rant about the decline of the life room in Art Schools or the apparent inability of those 'modern' artists to produce an acceptable likeness of anyone or anything (that's why they do those abstracts isn't it?). I mean that drawing has long since ceased to be seen as a desirable or useful accomplishment and therefore is no longer taught or valued as such. As a result the number of people who appreciate exactly, or even vaguely, how time consuming and downright difficult it can be has diminished to the point of almost non existence. Instead it has become something that one can either 'do' or not, the gift of that strange being known as talent who bestows her bounty on the chosen few and leaves the rest bereft. Therefore heaven help the artist who actually knows a thing or two about the craft and chooses to take the odd short cut (two days I spent on that sketch, did I tell you? Over thirty separate figures in authentic early nineteenth century costume and the buildings architecturally correct down to the drainpipes, all rendered from an aerial perspective). Why, well basically it destroys the 'talent' myth and shows that drawing is a craft like any other and can therefore be learned, which requires patience and concentration and hard work.
Unfortunately this is an attitude that also affects some 'experts' who should know better, a case in point being the reception given to David Hockney's book 'Secret Knowledge' http://amzn.to/jnM5aD which posited that artists had long used optical devices to aid them in the production of their work and that the use such devices (coupled with other innovations) crucially altered the 'look' of Western European art. The glee with which both some members of the 'art world' and some 'proper' scientists leapt on Hockney's thesis and proceeded, to their satisfaction at least, to 'debunk' it was not pretty to behold. The attacks seemd to be twofold, I won't bother detailing them here but the two 1 star reviews on Amazon seem to sum up the two camps quite succinctly http://amzn.to/kZBI1E Essentially, Hockney is a talentless hack who can't draw and is jealous of the old masters and must therefore denigrate them, or Hockney is not a scientist and makes claims that are not backed up by the research (setting aside the fact that 'the research' had not and was not being done before Hockney's book). I'm not particularly interested in the specific rebuttals of Hockney's claims or indeed in the specific claims themselves (he cites particular passages in particular pictures), that's for researchers with the requisite skills, time, equipment and funding. What bothers me more is the way the central ideas behind Hockney's book were and are being sidelined. Namely that artists have known about and used lenses and optical devices in the production of their work for centuries and secondly and most importantly. It doesn't fucking matter! The paintings are still the same and the artists made the marks that make the paintings. In other words, it's not cheating.
And finally, to the point of this post. Yes, I can draw (trust me, I've spent years doing it throughout my life and I have the mental and physical scars to prove it) and yes, I cheat. And as an exercise in loosening up my painting style (and making things quicker) I'm going to start cheating even more by eliminating drawing altogether for a week or two and painting directly onto a printed image. So here's the start of experiment number 1, a frame from 'Tawny Pipit' as put through an edge filter (and printed directly onto a textured 'canvas' paper which, traditionalist that I am, I will stretch before using).
I'm happy to say that I'm currently feeling a lot better than I was at the time of my last blog post, my face is my own once more and if the tinnitis is still a pain then at least my hearing seems to have improved as well. That's probably why I can hear the tinnitis so clearly. If you're intrigued by the title of this post don't worry I'm getting there.
Last Tuesday was a Plymouth Fringe meeting (Facebook group here http://on.fb.me/k1wu2U) and I went along to catch up on the progress other people have made and generally show my face. Among those attending I met Barry Sykes (whose residency at Plymouth Arts Centre I had managed to miss completely, my loss) http://www.barrysykes.info/HOME.htm and Felicity Shillingford of http://www.foundspace.co.uk/index.html who are planning a series of art 'thefts' during the fringe as part of their 'Heist' piece http://bit.ly/lxEi9F. I'm also tempted to trawl through my video archive (a grandiose name for 'those old tapes I've got stashed under the stairs') to come up with a contribution to the 'Video Takeaway shows being set up by 'Come to Ours' http://cto.independentplymouth.info/video-takeaway Who knows I might even get the camera out and make something new? Deadline for submissions via email is 24th June send a link to an uploaded video to firstname.lastname@example.org 4:3 format 30 seconds to 5 minutes in duration and silent and please keep it clean.
Which brings me to the titular aspect of this post as I also had an interesting conversation about studio/gallery space on the Barbican with an artist who introduced herself only as Thaïs. It wasn't until we exchanged business cards that I realised I'd been talking to Robert Lenkiewicz's daughter which, given the content of my previous blog post put me in something of a dilemma. Or possibly not as she didn't know me from Adam, either way, discretion being the better part of valour, I decided not to mention it. OK I'm a coward but in this instance I also happen to think it was the right thing to do. You can see Thaïs's work at http://www.thaislenkiewicz.com/#! and she is definitely the person to talk to in Plymouth if you're in the market for good quality bespoke canvases.
Which brings me to the next 'Demi Paradise' subject, the 'nightingales' scene from 'The Demi Paradise' itself is currently on hold while I figure out exactly how I'm going to tackle it (and whether it needs a bigger canvas). So instead I've decided to address the question of gender imbalance with the first female portrait in the series. This is Patricia Hayes from 'Went the Day Well?'
A lot of water seems to have been passed since my previous post in spite of the fact that it was only two weeks ago. Firstly, I had a birthday, a significant birthday, one that means I can no longer use my age as one of my lottery numbers, an age that can be expressed using a single Roman numeral. Looking on the bright side however, thanks to David Cameron I'm actually two years further away from collecting my pension than I would have been under Labour, which must mean that I'm actually younger than I thought I was, thank you Dr Spin, I feel much better about things now!
I celebrated this millstone (sic) by visiting Port Eliot for the first time http://www.porteliot.co.uk/ It's somewhere that I've been meaning to see for ages and on the whole it didn't disappoint. The weather was also fantastic which meant that as well as the house (and the quite astonishing Norman church) we were able to take full advantage of the gardens and parkland. There are a couple of phone pictures below of the railway viaduct and the boathouse. It's practically roofless and in need of some TLC but I found the boathouse to be beautifully simple and strangely touching (or maybe this is the age at which sentimentality kicks in big time?). The house itself is attractively scruffy inside in the kind of effortlessly upper class way that Sunday supplement 'shabby chic' can never replicate. It helps that it's loaded with first class pictures, a great many of them by Reynolds (these days part of the Plymouth City Museum and Art gallery collection, yep, 'death duties' again). And of course along with the Reynolds you also get the magnum opus of Plymouth's other most famous painter Robert Lenckiewicz. It is at this point that I should confess to a rather intense dislike of Lenkiewicz, both of his work and of his public image. I was however prepared to have my preconceptions challenged and my opinion altered. I genuinely approached the 'Round Room' willing to be impressed and open to persuasion, unfortunately it was not to be, so Lenkiewicz worshipping Plymouthians please look away now. Frankly, it's a mess. Conception, composition, execution, the whole shooting match, in short, it doesn't fucking work! Sorry folks but it simply confirmed my opinion of him as a one trick pony (and an imperfectly mastered trick at that). It just made me wish that one of the previous Port Eliot incumbents had got a Whistler in to do it (James or Rex, it wouldn't matter which). Anyway, to end on a brighter note, they do a cracking cream tea in the cafe in the old stables but they are currently missing a trick with the rest of the building. It would make ideal studio, workshop and gallery space for small artisan businesses.
A few days later it was also Diane's birthday (my lips are sealed concerning her age, I have no wish to die young) and we celebrated in the traditional manner by visiting a garden centre and getting lost on the way. Seriously how can one road, the A388 go through Launceston in three different directions?
Which brings me to the 'minor' operation part of the title. I am now the proud possessor of a pair of grommets inserted into my eardrums, thank you so much. Could anybody possibly tell me when they are going to start working? It's just that that was nearly a week ago now and so far all they've done is turn up the volume of the tinnitis from annoying to almost unbearable. I could also have done without the post nasal biopsy, I've spent the week pouring snot like Fungus the Bogeyman's bath taps and waiting for the swelling to subside. I think I now know what it's like to have someone try to kick your teeth out from the inside! Needless to say, not a lot in the way of painting has been achieved recently.
Marriages, hmm, oh yes, I remember, a couple of toffs got hitched in a Big Fat non-Gypsy Wedding somewhere in the capital of our once great empire (© BBC circa 1922) and those loyal subjects currently in paid employment got an extra day off.
Unfortunately both mine and Diane's birthdays also coincided with some less welcome news, in my case it was the death of Lis Sladen http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13137674 and on 25th that of Poly Styrene http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-13193968 "I know I'll probably be remembered for Oh Bondage Up Yours!" she told 6 Music last month. "I'd like to remembered for something a bit more spiritual." Trust me Poly, if you were my age in 1978 'Oh Bondage Up Yours' wasn't just spiritual, it was sublime.
Work in progress and other stuff that happens.