On My Travels Again (part 1)


It was terrific getting the Happy Little Fat Man project on the go and I really enjoyed pretty much the whole experience but it has monopolised a huge amount of time over the few months especially in the run up to the launch just last Friday.  So it has been something of a relief to be able to return to a (slightly) more relaxed way of life.  On Monday I ought to have been teaching in Lincoln but I had a fairly bad cold that coupled with a degree of exhaustion from the week just passed suggested a 100 mile round trip and talking all day might not be a wise course of action – for me or for the students.  So I cancelled and took some R&R that has served me well since.

On Wednesday I found myself back on the road, but mercifully in the passenger seat, going north to Newcastle.  My pal was keen to see Jonathan Yeo’s touring exhibition of portraiture at the Laing and I was intrigued to see it as, though its hardly my bag, the phenomenon of the ‘society portrait’ in the 21st century is worth some attention.  Yeo is pretty much the go to guy for these ever since he burst onto the scene in the late 90’s and its easy to see why.  First off he captures a good likeness, (that isn’t as often the case as one might imagine it ought to be) and he can, as occasion (and I suspect) sitter demands, sit the likeness into an interesting visual context.  These are sometimes quite elaborated, as in his recent picture of his friend Damien Hirst.  Hirst sits, as my mate suggested, like a latterday Henry VIII decked out in a frogman’s full kit in a curious spaceframe that has a whiff of Francis Bacon about it.  Is this deliberate given Hirst’s admiration for FB or is it a nod to the vitrines that Damien so beloves?..maybe a bit of both…but either way or not at all it seemed a bit contrived to my eye and added little to the painting in terms of facture or form.

In others Yeo is fond of leaving the scaffolding in place with plenty of scumble and dribbles and then rendering the visage…usually it seems of his more glamorous sitters…in a rather glossy, slick photorealist manner.  For me these were his least successful pictures (though I imagine the subjects loved them) and I found myself drawn more to those works painted in a more rugged tradition way, often of prominent men.  Behind his society portraits of the great and good, or notorious and celebrated in many cases, I suspect the more interesting artist is trying to break out.

The show was excellent, not too overblown nor too worthy but with detail and interest…and with a couple of tantalising glimpses into what Yeo the artist (rather than ‘society artist/business man) might be with more focus.  His collages (utilising torn fragments from pornographic magazines) were represented here by literally portraying George W Bush as an arsehole (or rather a selection of arseholes and other selected bits of genitalia)and the others in the catalogue are witty and irreverent whilst a series of portraits of those undergoing plastic surgery give real substance to the manner in which they are rendered giving purpose to the stylistic devices. For me these were the directions in which I’d be intrigued by Yeo in the future.

In a large gallery between the two parts of the Yeo exhibition is Claire Morgan‘s rather beautiful and extraordinary Gone With The Wind.  This is a striking visual tour de force as a kittiwake ploughs through a blizzard of wildflower seeds constrained within an enormous cube. The delicacy of the material plays out very sensitively contrasted with the visual solidity of the overall form achieved by rigorous and meticulous structural strength coupled to effective controlled lighting. An object lesson in what poetry can be wrought from a relatively modest material source.

With rooms devoted to other quality displays including a well considered display of their 18th&19th c. holdings (they had a fine Clausen on display as well as a good Breton Gauguin and of course some stonking John Martin’s) and a good cafe, shop and friendly informed and helpful staff this is one of our finest regional gallery’s. One is fearful that, coincidentally, the lead story in The Guardian that very morning was a warning by Newcastle’s political leader that further budget cuts from London might make the city bankrupt. Something like the Laing may well come under severe budgetary restraints as a result…something my pal and myself have already observed elsewhere in our travels.  Let’s hope not.

A short walk across the city brought us to the University’s Hatton Gallery.  This is the equal of many a municipal institution in other cities and Newcastle is fortunate to have it alongside the Laing.  Entering the building and going through to the small informal cafe you are hit in the corridors by a strong whiff of oil paint…something I haven’t experienced in any of the half dozen HE Art & Design environments I’ve ventured into in the past few years!  A chat to the friendly keeper of the well stocked art materials shop in the lobby suggests that around 50 % or more of the students are painting – again in my limited recent experience a high strike rate.

I’d suggested our visit so as to see a show entitled Basic Design:A Revolution in Art Education but our first encounter was with Screaming Steel: Art, War & Trauma.  This is an excellent and impeccably researched exhibition setting out to reflect aspects of the visual and in part literary responses to the First World War.  Within the limitations of the University’s reach (especially as regards loans I suspect) the breadth and depth of the material was exceptional…alongside Nash, Nevinson, Bomberg, Sasson, Owen etc. I was particularly struck by a couple Otto Dix etchings that besides depicting the horrors from the other side of the conflict did so with Goyaesque intensity.  Alongside the content the show is most instructive in terms of a wide ranging display of drawing and printmaking techniques though of course its fundamental intention is to help ensure we will never forget.  It certainly succeeds in this.

In all honesty I was a tad disappointed in the other show.  Though there was no denying that much of the material was of historical interest (to at least those of with an interest in Art Education) I felt there was relatively little contextual explanation of the circumstances by which Basic Design came to occupy a position of centrality at Newcastle in the 1950’s nor to set out its tenets and presumptions fully enough.  Maybe given its location those involved expected a higher degree of insider knowledge…or perhaps there was a view that the material ought to speak for itself.  There were some superb works on show – a strong Terry Frost with much subtler colour modulations than are sometimes the case, a large William Johnstone, a small fierce and intense Ian Stephenson and solid representative works by Victor Pasmore and Rita Donagh.  Although he often cropped up in the photographs  (including one amusing shot of him standing behind Paolozzi fag in hand and looking on somewhat incredulously) Richard Hamilton, one of the central players, was strangely rather absent.  Harry Thubron (who with his wife Elma had generously provided a fair bit of the archive material) was represented by one of his wonderful collaged works but again I’d have loved to seen more of these vastly underrated works.  There were things I was previously unaware of…I intend seeking out more works by Wendy Pasmore whose Oval Motif in Grey and Ochre was a sensitive, rather gorgeous, nod towards Paul Klee…but overall this felt to me at least to be a chapter ( a solid and interesting one nonetheless ) from a bigger (and very important )story yet to be properly told.  One that an institution like the Tate…or even somewhere like the Hepworth could and should get done in full.

Before leaving Hatton we had to take another look at the Merz Barn wall.  That the University managed to salvage this and keep it on display in the intervening fifty plus years is something of a miracle.  That the Tate of 1962 was so shortsighted is not far short of criminal…but the capital’s loss is Newcastle’s gain.  All those involved in the original project, including an old acquaintance of mine – Fred Brookes (who was central to the task of lifting, relocating and restoring it from Ulswater) deserve our gratitude.  Hatton is in full swing with a fundraising campaign at present to transform and update itself…and strengthen its capacities for the future.  I’d urge you to do what I’m doing right now – go online and donate!

Conversation about Conversations…

2014-10-09 12.53.02 HDR

I’m sitting in on Carnival of Monsters today (18 Oct.) from Noon till 3pm and tomorrow from 4:30 till 6:30pm. if you’ve time to pop along and have a chat about the Conversation series (showing alongside HMS colleagues).  When I’m not there I’ll be working on the catalogue for Happy Little Fat Man – Art by Kevin Coyne on at various locations around Derby in November, December & January – more details to follow shortly!


Moving along…


So despite all the patronising blather the Westminster elite can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to their core business of placating and sustaining the international financiers and no doubt ignore the Scots and the rest of us… Moving right along I’m looking forward to being a part of Salon 6 in a couple weeks time…and although I know a fair few of the artists showing there will be new pieces that will surprise and delight.  Coincidently the selection of works that Rachael made of mine comprised the Full Metal Jacket series…though we both acknowledged that she couldn’t show all eight…and it is one of the images from that series that I took my detail for (detail) that opens tonight at Transition Gallery in London.


I’d have been there but for the really nasty cold that has settled on my chest and, since my heart bypass seven years back, I tend to take these things quite carefully nowadays.  So at home for me I’m afraid.  It’s a triple blow really as I had hoped that my wife and myself could have taken in Late Turner and also showed up if only for a few minutes at the last ever Lion + Lamb opening.



The loss of any gallery is sad of course but for us painters the Lion + Lamb is particularly devastating…it has been a beacon of light for painting over the past two years and the curation (and I use the term advisedly unlike as is often the case nowadays) has been of the highest order.  It will be very sorely missed.

So…moving on again…with Salon 6 and (detail) my wife Sarah R Key and myself will have shown together twice recently.  Now its Sarah’s turn to have another solo show – at the New Court Gallery at Repton.


This opens in October so we are full on with preparations for this now.  The New Court is a smashing space so it should prove to be quite a show. Also coming up fast is Beeston’s Carnival of Monsters…where I’m hoping to show several of the large Conversation pieces…though I haven’t as yet managed to resolve all of them (note to self best get my finger out!). And of course following on not so far ahead from all this will be the Happy Little Fat Man show featuring the work of Kevin Coyne.  As I type this I’m also thinking that I’m feeling a little better today…and when I think of all the foregoing its probably just as well!





Danger, Danger – Kevin Coyne, 1992

can sometimes overtake the best laid plans.  The initial Crowdfunder pitch for our upcoming Kevin Coyne exhibition in Derby, ‘Happy Little Fat Man’ didn’t make its target so we are having to go again.  Instead of being in the studio my day is being devoted to online activities to try and raise the £1250 that was pledged last time around…and maybe find a little more!

This is my first time in fund raising through social networking and its proving quite tough! The initial target was a little ambitious so we’ve scaled it back and are going again…if you pledged first time can you ‘go again’ and if you are coming to it new then please consider doing so. There’s a new link and we have ten days to raise the figure…or we get nothing!

The project details are all here:


If you are coming to this new here’s the basic info from the Deda brochure for the autumn.


Happy Little Fat Man

Mr. Fish's fishhouse, 2003, 30x40cm

I am busy working on our Crowdfunding pitch for ‘Happy Little Fat Man – The Art of Kevin Coyne’.  The idea is to generate pledges of cash in return for rewards so we can achieve all our ambitions for this project.  we have (just) about enough to get the work here to Derby from Nurnberg in Germany but to do the project justice we need to raise a tidy sum.

I got involved in this a few months back when my friend (and until recently, fellow studio holder) Paul Warren, a long time friend of Kevin’s asked me if I’d help out as the idea of the show, to mark the 10th anniversary of Kevin’s death in 2004, had run into difficulties.  We now have it back on track and with help from Kevin’s supporters we may yet do him the justice of proper recognition in the city of his birth this November.  Below is the detail on the project…and if you want to help…seek out ‘Happy Little Fat Man’ on Crowdfunder from tomorrow!

KEVIN frame grab

HAPPY LITTLE FAT MAN – Art from Kevin Coyne

 In Nov 2014 we are opening an exhibition of Kevin Coyne’s art in Derby. Be part of this project and help make the show a massive success!

 An exhibition of over 50 paintings and drawings by Kevin Coyne will open from 21st November 2014 and run until 7th February 2015 at Déda, the Dance and Arts Centre in Kevin’s home city of Derby.   And an accompanying exhibition of further work by, and associated with, Kevin will run at the University of Derby’s Markeaton Campus in the city from 21st November until 19th December.

Kevin Coyne (1944 – 2004) was an important player in the contemporary music scene in the late 1960’s and 70’s and became a cult figure thereafter. Alongside his prodigious musical output (over 40 albums in his lifetime) he continued to paint, draw and write throughout his life and the exhibition will cover all facets of an amazingly fertile creative force. Alongside the display at Déda the University of Derby’s College of Arts will host more work including rarely seen and unseen footage of Kevin in performance and discussing his work. This is the first ever exhibition of Kevin’s artwork covering his whole career and we want to make it a really positive experience.

This celebration of one of the city’s most creative and widely recognized forces in the 20th century is the idea of a group of enthusiasts and supporters in the place of his birth. They came together with the idea of mounting this large display in recognition of his importance on the anniversary of his death at the age of 60 in 2004. We are three local to Derby arts people and passionate enthusiasts for Kevin Coyne, his music, his writing and his art. We have one of Kevin’s oldest friends on board, with the other two of us with years of experience of putting together arts events and the venues are fully committed. There is support from Kevin’s family, in the UK and in Germany where Kevin was based for the latter part of his life. We already have enough backing from our key venues for the show to go ahead but with your help we can make the project bigger and better. Amongst our ambitions that your support will allow us to achieve is a catalogue to accompany the show, we plan a weekend celebration with the exhibition opening, films, readings and live music over two days.

Our passion has been recognized and supported by Déda’s Director, Stephen Munn and Professor Huw Davies, Dean of the College of Arts at the University of Derby who have offered the venues for the event. Professor Davies says “it is fitting that Kevin should be celebrated here, as he was a student at the Derby School of Art for four years in the 1960’s”. And Stephen Munn commented “it is a fitting exhibition to show off the newly expanded and renovated Centre that will be sure to attract national and international attention”.

In return for your support you will receive ahead of the event a priority VIP invitation to the exhibition launch with drinks and delicious nibbles. Further pledges of support include a limited edition of post cards of some of Kevin’s paintings, a tee shirt, catalogue, free admission to our celebration weekend of performances, a limited edition framed print and for our top level pledgers a special Kevin ‘Teddy bears ‘pack (teddy bear, tee shirt, limited edition print) all to be ready for you at the exhibition launch and the special celebration weekend event.