A current article in Hyperallergic on the marvellous Joe Overstreet, reminded me a little of the paintings I was making late in 1971 and into 72…where I was exploring the possibilities of unstretched form and colour having been dissuaded from the proscenium arch paintings that had preceded them. Tracerie, above, was not the largest of them but is the only one I have a decent image of. Below are details of the biggest, Pinky Free, an over thirty feet expanse of 12 oz. cotton duck the width of the bolt (I guess 78 inches) – Let us pause to give thanks for free higher education where a poor working class Devonian lad could explore his most ridiculous creative impulses wherever he wanted to take them!
The whole contraption was propped up on an assortment of photo light and music stands ‘borrowed’ from the relevant departments for a few days (at least until the lecturers responsible realised). Pinky was the last of this run of loose canvas pieces that I then began pulling back into more formal arrangements, pushing and pressing oil paint into the canvas weave to give it a little more structure and solidity.
Here I’m installing one of these Oilcloth pieces in the studios for the second year interim exhibition. I’d also abandoned the riot of colour in favour of more muted earthy tones, even then I was already heavily into the idea of pushing work far out in one direction only to wrench it back wildly in the other. It may seem implausible in the world of instant information via social media but back then most of those few who saw this work were completely mystified by it and thought it pretty crazy. It was quite some years before I began realise that, contrary to what everyone thought, on the other side of the Atlantic, in the lower Eastside of Manhattan and down in Washington DC (and I guess quite a few other places, including one or two in the East End of London) others were exploring similar ideas of how far painting could be pushed. At the time I felt quite isolated and exposed in the far west of Cornwall!
I watched Picasso’s Last Stand the other evening…he never got up in the mornings they said. Me I don’t sleep so well nowadays so now the days are longer I rather enjoy the early start. As it happens too I’m now using a wall that gets the early morning sun. Add in listening to A Rainbow In Curved Air (on my original vinyl copy) and it doesn’t get much better. And it helps with the productivity – in the past two days I finished up three more of the L’Histoire De L’Eau gang. Here’s Ditties For Her Majesty…referencing the first Elizabeth rather than the current one…
I’m occasionally rude about ‘stuffism’ – you know it…the bits and bobs artfully arranged, the texts, video, sound, etc. with ‘socially engaged’, ‘environmental’ and ‘action research’ labels. Very much what you expect from a pig ignorant dauber such as me. But – just like paintings, drawings and sculpture actually – there’s good, bad and so so in ‘stuffism’ so today I’m pointing you to something called art that could just as easily be historical research or – gawd help us – museum ‘interpretation’ but isn’t it is art…of – imho – the very highest quality.
I just came across it through the excellent Hyperallergic online journal and am now an avid consumer of The Memory Palace…with a lot of catching up to do. So try out this one that I’m sure is as close to great art as can be…and yes I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Met…but I’m pretty sure I never visited this room – but I’m also damn sure if I can get there again I will.
Given that it has been raining cats & dogs for over eighteen hours now there’s plenty of opportunity to get on with the work! So I have at last finished at least one piece to my satisfaction. It derives its title from both the context in which it has been produced (on the waterfront here in Scalloway) and a poem by the late Peter Redgrove entitled On Losing One’s Black Dog. The view from our French Windows reminds me a little of the time when, albeit briefly, I knew Peter as a student at Falmouth where he was, luckily for us, the Complementary Studies tutor. He was very finely attuned to the Cornish environment and spoke eloquently and imaginatively about the ‘Black Dog’ in its several senses, one of which (not the one referred to directly in the poem) concerned the melancholia that descends on all things Cornish in the winter months. After today’s performance here (see photo below) during August one can only imagine what mid-winter brings to the folk here on Shetland!
Its fascinating when you find yourself doing something you never imagined you would…and very rewarding too. When Mindy came into my life less than three months back I was mildly fearful. I never was one for pets…and the idea of a dog in my life was definitely not on my agenda. But she has turned out to be a joy – I couldn’t face the idea of a yapping, jumpy dog in the house – but she’s so relaxed and well behaved that its a pleasure to have her around in the studio. But its the lunchtime walk thats invaluable, not only because it means I get some decent additional physical exercise (though goodness knows I need it), but also because of the thinking space in the painting process. Of course there’s plenty of that in front of the work too. After all I doubt few studio based artists spend more than a fraction of their practice actually wielding the pencil, brush or chisel or whatever but far more gawping at the work and pondering the big question – what next?
But the time away from the work is precious too. Its the churn that counts. On our trips around the village I get to ponder the important questions about the really tricky aspects of the process…the choice of colour for the shape, the texture of the colour – will it be a glaze or solid, the brush size…or is it all damned and am I going to scrub, tear or sand it out completely (or just partially). All this is stewed in the old grey matter and sometimes decisions emerge – or if they don’t then the brain exercise at least helps when the fateful moment comes when you are back in front of it and have to act.
Yesterday was good, really good actually, beautiful weather – sunny and warm but with that slight cooling autumnal breeze – the makes England, especially that rural part of England that is the Playground of the Midlands such a good place to be stirring the creative juices. If you want (and why not?) some good images of our travels head over to the site of my pal and partner in crime. I’ve long since given up on slogging it out with him on the photo front – my images are simply fodder for the paintings, not least as I bastardise them extensively before using them as the equally loose basis for the paintings themselves (see below!).
Though my pal’s blog points up a particular problem with the project – that villages like Swithland present rather few points of incident for novel creative interventions. Indeed I was reduced in that location to snapping planning applications appended to the telegraph poles…
And this got me to thinking today. I, with most of my family, was overjoyed that, despite the awful, nasty vilification from Labour MPs, the whole UK media and a loud but mercifully modest (and utterly misguided) section of the membership, got our Leader re-elected. This after a poisonous and wholly unnecessary contest that did nothing but deflect us from the vital task of defeating the awful, corrosive and divisive Tory government hellbent in taking us back to Victorian times.
As we strolled along the road, passing the homes that (entry level 500k plus) lined these leafy glades, it is easy to think that the Tory way is set in England forever (and some of my Labour friends think our decision to elect a genuinely left Leader seals the deal). But these places are ‘true blue’ and of course will never elect a decent fair-minded and compassionate government. Greedy, selfish and narrow-minded bigotry seeps out of a fair few driveways (apologies to those thereabouts that don’t see it that way, I’ve met quite a number over the years!). But nonetheless the fight for a properly fair and decent society has always been fought on a thin sliver of the electorate (usually no more than 500k) whose interest in politics is marginal at best and most of whom take little or no interest in the day to day knockabout of the political process. Their votes are always up for grabs and more often than not go to the party that seems least likely to upset the applecart (and its usually the case that one side loses rather than that the appeal of the others wins).
And so (with my first stab at the likely image for Shepshed from my project as my headline image) I’m thinking: why have so many of us decided to back a properly left of centre leader for our party (now apparently the biggest left of centre political party in Western Europe)?? Maybe, just maybe, the really radical and constructive alternative to a Tory government (whose sole purpose is to protect the interests of the few over the many) can succeed if it sticks together and keeps true to its principles. Not least as whole swathes of middle England (the Shepshed’s rather than the Swithland’s) sink deeper into despair to shore up the super wealthy and the penny begins to drop that it just ain’t working for them. We can only hope.