Rubbish!

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An amusing byproduct (at least it tickled me) of our adventures in Scalloway has been my ‘body series). Occasioned initially by the ominous floating glove that had attached itself to a clump of weed that – because of the good weather – didn’t move from beneath our window above the harbour. It then became obligatory wherever we went to spot gloves and the odd boot that had fetched up in the water or along the shoreline and take a picture.

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These were then doctored to add the body that was attached. Over time fifteen of these pictures emerged and were we to have gone searching I don’t doubt more would have done so. Of course around a working harbour like Scalloway its inevitable that a few go missing occasionally. But there’s a more serious side to it as the locations tended to be those where the general flotsam and jetsam gathered. So take a look at what’s there and you see just what is filling up our oceans… Every one of the seemingly pristine beaches has its pile of detritus washed up from the sea (that is collected up to keep them looking that way) and its becoming a major global problem. So much so that my nonsense could in time to come turn out to have been prophetic…unless the upbeat elements of this Telegraph report are right.

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Painting in Schaldewage

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Our Studio Open Day…painting by Sarah R. Key (left) two of mine on the right

Imagine its around 1420 and a ship is sailing north, away from the leading Hanseatic League port of Bergen, having left Bremen or Hamburg some time ago, and making for Hillswick, its destination to trade goods for salted fish, lamb and skins.  Although on the last leg of its long journey it espies rough weather from the west and puts into the natural harbour of Schaldewage or Scalloway as we now know it. At that time the place is part of the Norse rule of the Islands, in fact it is only a couple miles south of Tingaholm, the Thing, where laws are debated and enforced.  Until a century and a half later when Earl Robert Stewart moves it to the town, where twenty or so years on his son Patrick Stewart (presumably before becoming ‘Professor Charles Xavier’ or Jean Luc Picard – ha ha) builds his spanking new castle in the ‘town’ and the ‘ancient capital’ of the Islands.  The town sits on the bottom end of the Nesting Fault, a splay of the Walls Boundary Fault, itself possibly connected to the great Glen Fault.

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So The Booth is situated in an immensely rich and interesting location.  Literally on the edge of the fault, the Castle a few yards away, the water of the harbour right below our window. Do learning about any of these things influence the production of abstract paintings I wonder? I’m just one of many artists who occasionally talk airily about ‘a sense of place’…but what does it actually mean?  I’m ploughing my way, painfully slowly, through Mary Jacobus’s Reading Cy Twombly (its a very rich and rewarding book but requires a great deal of contextual understandings!) and she quotes from Shelley “Naught may endure but mutability” in regard to Twombly’s Letter of Resignation.  The line has resonances for me every time I look up and out into the harbour and the ocean road beyond it…the sea and its ever changing moods and cadences.  And perhaps its that, more than anything, that creates ‘a sense of place’.

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Things Have Changed..

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Thurcaston – Playground Of The Midlands, Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 cm.  2017

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

So his Royal Bobness fetched up in Nottingham for the first time (I think) since 1966…opening up his set with these particularly pertinent lyrics – at least for yours truly. Maybe (mostly) its a consequence of my age but they seem to sum up our ridiculous and crazy world. How we can be sleep walking towards totalitarianism across the western world I really don’t know – just shows how seventy plus years of stability makes people (or rather a lot of them) complacent I guess. We can only hope that once things start getting seriously askew they may wake up.

And Bob has also changed everything, not least the tempo, tone and even the melodies of some of his best known songs alongside those many more recent and less well known ditties (a solid bunch off the Tempest album). But it was a decent show, house lights down on the dot of eight pm. and an hour and forty minutes of non-stop boogie, hard rock and some alarming crooning! But Bob always goes his own way and as one of these standards said ‘Why Try To Change Me Now’? So I kind of appreciate this bobbing and weaving to keep the audiences guessing.

I’m flitting between bodies of work in my painting too. As is by now well known to any followers of these ramblings I don’t do a ‘signature’ style but address each set of pictures in whatever manner seems to me to suit the occasion. Its especially messy right now. In one corner sits the canvas pieces for the Lavanderia series, in another the lumps and bumps of my Paintings Standing Up. Over on one wall another in the extending series of Very Like Jazz whilst right here is another of the twenty five or so small oils in the Charnwood series Playground Of The Midlands. Up on the balcony are the Water paintings (the second part of the Wood, Water & Rock pictures that take their cue from Schama’s Landscape & Memory). And somewhere at the back a small panel collection provisionally titled The Rigged Deck. Of course there’s also the painting of maps, the Wonky Geometries and the RagBags that just chug along forever. So who am I to call the world crazy!

The effects of travel…

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on one can be a wee bit disorientating.  One evening you may find yourself wandering along a track across a field in Northern France…less than a few hours since racing through the Alps (excepting the queue for the San Gotthard/Gottardo tunnel).

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In his Anatomy of Melancholy Robert Burton writes that travel is one cure of it “for peregrination charmes our senses with such unspeakable and sweet variety, that some count him unhappy that never traveled, a kinde of prisoner”.  Whether or not one subscribes to that rather extreme view it is undeniable that different perspectives emerge from moving about a bit.  For example setting off from a small village in Pas De Calais this morning (the first round of the French Presidential Election) I was struck by the relative calm of it all.  My straw poll of one elicited a response that it was “tres important” but it would have been easy to miss that fact of it at all.  There was a single billboard in the town centre with a single poster for each of the eleven candidates and only one location in town where someone had fly posted three posters for Francois Asselineau (a hard line Frexiteer).  Even those newspapers that I saw were treating the event with restraint, and though most TV channels at one point or another on Saturday night had coverage it certainly didn’t dominate the schedules as it does here. Indeed there isn’t a sense of hysteria but a sober responsible process at work.  For what its worth though my sense of it is that Le Pen may well do better than expected in Round One and might just do enough overall to cause an upset.

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She’ll certainly pick up Asselineau’s supporters with their very direct secondary slogan (above in yellow…’Frexit – Protection des Salaries’).  And I guess that may well be a significant part of the reason that the Tories will romp home here with a stonking majority.  I was going to follow up this observation with something incredibly rude and partisan about my fellow countrymen and women but I’ll let it be…I try not to do politics here! So instead some nice pictures of locations on our holidays instead!

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Avenue de Lacs, Ardres, France
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View towards Barisello, Lunigiana, Italy
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Vines above Verpiana, Lunigiana, Italy
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Champagne Country, France is a big open landscape!

Black Dog rescued by Duccio…

Should there be any regular observers of my social media presence they might have been forgiven recently for wondering what was going on with me.

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The Black Dog descended following the triumph of Trump and hasn’t lifted with the Brexit vote in parliament. I’ve been utterly defeated by the US/UK spiral towards nasty xenophobic totalitarianism…that it seems the majority  ‘rabble’ have fully signed up to – but that’s democracy I guess.  Personally I doubt we’ll see the tide turned back towards common decency in my lifetime.  Still…

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off on another of our occasional jaunts this time to Kingston upon Hull; where my pal found himself labouring for much of lunchtime on the task of persuading me out of this Stygian gloom I’d fallen into.  An ‘orrible task for anyone but his combination of extreme patience, historical knowledge and sound political grasp made a great deal of sense (not that, naturally, I was willing to concede as much at the time).  He (and another friend more recently) assure me that I’m wrong to which I can only say I bloody well hope so!

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In the Ferens I had an epiphany; not only that I don’t feel – nor think – I’ve got beyond Duccio in my understanding of painting…but more importantly that I don’t want to!  I’m often given to thinking that  (and I’m pretty sure my pals from that time would agree) as a young man I was pretty sure I knew it all and now forty five years later I know nothing…where did it all go wrong? The Duccio in question is one of the sensational small panels that usually reside in the National Gallery and one of the very few things I am still reasonably sure of is that his work is amongst the greatest ever triumphs of painting. The panel in question still stands as sophisticated an exploration of pictorial colour and space as any I’ve seen in recent years!

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The UK City of Culture 2017 is still winding up but it struck me as pretty chipper and as a bonus I got to tick off the Humber bridge from my bucket list. It was my first visit there and The Blade arching over Queen Victoria Square certainly makes a statement, not least about scale…who’d have guessed that those offshore turbines were that big (the one blade 75 metres in length). Though of course once you think about it…after all my pal Louise Garland and myself did a project a few years back encouraging passers by in Sutton-on-Sea to make seascapes and as you can see in this example most of them punched up the whirligigs in their creations.

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A Kind of Bliss…

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Nine Lives Of Fives, Acrylic on aluminium, 72 x 48 cm., 2017

no…not the painting you fool!  Even I’m not delusional enough to think it’s that spectacular (though I’m not unhappy with it). You can’t quite see it in the photo but the interference red over the mucky blue does pull it together reasonably well.  No I’m thinking how fortunate I am to be in the position to be dabbling with these pictures this morning rather than (as my wife is) stuck in traffic on my way to paid work.  And though that’s pretty gruelling she’s fortunate to have reasonably decent paid work so what about all those without that? We often forget that for many people decent living conditions, regular food & water, healthcare and so on are a permanent struggle and thats just in the so-called ‘first world’…let’s not even go on to ponder the ‘bottom forty percent‘, over a billion people living on less than a pound a day.

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Confused Fives, Acrylic on aluminium, 48 x 98 cm., 2017

So today I’m focussing on my good fortune to be in the ‘top ten’ percent of wealth across the globe (and before you run away with the idea I’m rolling in it to qualify only requires assets in excess of a couple thousand pounds).  Indeed this morning its blissful here…I’ve got some of my favourite music playing, I’m tinkering with the pictures, the dog is relaxing and I’ve just made a good coffee (with a smidgen of brandy in it)  And to top it off I’m sorting my recent work out for selection by Lucy Cox and Freya Purdue for their upcoming show – Colour: A Kind Of Bliss – at The Crypt in Marylebone Parish Church where its my good fortune to be exhibiting in a few months time.  They are showing their work with mine, and with three others.  Its a privilege to have been asked to exhibit alongside the two of them and the also really talented trio of Julian Brown, Andy Parkinson and, well bless my soul, Jeff Dellow (with whom I was a ‘Cheltenham Fellow’ way way back in time).  Of course like everyone else I’m trying not to think too hard about what’s happening in the news but, right here, right now, I’m a happie chappie.

Well now…

imageI’ve rarely, if ever, ventured into politics on this blog. Not because Art & Politics don’t have an interesting and turbulent relationship down the ages nor that I don’t have opinions (ha ha say my chums who know just how ‘opinionated’ I am!). But simply that I’ve tried to keep it pretty solidly in the ‘core’ area of painting. However today has turned out to be so momentous it’s hard to ignore what’s happening in the UK – although it doesn’t seem quite as seismic here on a terrace in Northern Tuscany where we had an actual earth tremor just yesterday afternoon!

What’s to say – well two initial responses first. It hurts whenever you’re on the wrong side of a result about anything and it’s easy to lash out at anything and anybody to vent ones frustrations and anger…often completely missing the intended target. More of that later. Secondly in this situation there’s a feeling of shame on our side of the argument where it impacts on our personal friendships…for me I want to say sorry and I still love you to Anibal, to Johannes, to Miltos, to Torbjorn, and their families and all my other chums inside the EU and my pals elsewhere who share similar sentiments (Stephen, Robert etc,) who, I feel, my country (of which I’m still, despite all, immensely proud) has let them down by voting to leave the EU.

Having got that out the way I want to try and frame my thoughts in a temperate way without resorting to the media’s binary black & white frenzy that I’m pretty sure, for the most part – bearing in mind my own strictures – hasn’t helped present the arguments to best advantage.

It has already become clear how much of a miscalculation and reckless gamble the Prime Minister took in committing a majority Tory government to a referendum. As my pal Simon has said repeatedly one can only assume he simply didn’t expect that outcome from the last General Election. Well he’s fallen on his sword (how could he do anything less?) but in such haste that it makes a far right takeover of the Tory party all the more likely.

The outcome shows how easily electorates in democracies can be manipulated. As I’ve said before not a single person I canvassed in my neck of the woods in the last General Election mentioned the EU once. And yet our area voted solidly to leave. Something was obviously stirred and in my view that something is the fear of the ‘other’…and if that is the case then all the rational arguments (on both sides) go out the window for an awful lot of people. It comes down to a simple ‘gut’ instinct and they rarely make for moderate and considered reflection!  It is part of the reason why so much venom has been vent and why, anyone seeking a sensible, rational debate weighing up the pros and cons as dispassionately as possible has been sidelined. As an aside the sneering antipathy of the BBC towards Jeremy Corbyn for suggesting (quite reasonably and consistent with his long term beliefs) that he was only 70/30 in support for staying seems to sum up contemporary media requirements for simple binary statements of right and wrong, good and evil (that as we saw with the migrant crisis) can turn through 180 degrees inside a day.

Already, of course, we are inevitably seeing rowing back on positions taken as the recalculations of the smarter, dare one say possibly more oleaginous (oops my slip is showing already!) politicos on both sides are forming. Another thing (like history, economics and security etc.) that some 33% of ‘us’ have learnt nothing from it seems.

This figure I’ve just quoted is likely to be a tad inaccurate…I have simply taken my rough estimate of the U.K. Population and divided it in my head by 17 million…but hopefully my point is reasonably well made. When anyone says “the country has decided” this is linguistic sophistry…my four grandchildren, all under 5, had no say at all whilst many of my fellow pensioners, a goodly number of whom will have (sadly) shuffled off this mortal coil before any of those kids reach the age of majority, have possibly cooked their goose in ways we cannot imagine.

Or not of course as despite all that’s been said on both sides we none of us have the faintest idea what will happen next. Indeed I suspect that’s shared right across the globe pretty much as the magnitude of this decision sinks in across the world. Although our history of engagement with the rest of the planet is chequered (to say the least) generally we have been perceived in the past hundred years as energetically and enthusiastically ‘open for business’ (to borrow a very ‘tory’ phrase). That, if the reaction here in Italy is anything to go by today, is a reputation that is very much a busted flush.

So where it goes next goodness knows. What I do know is that recriminations amongst those of us on the ‘wrong’ side of the outcome is to be avoided at all costs…though I’ve an uneasy feeling that it will happen. For example, I’m a male, white, pensioner living in the East Midlands…exactly the demographic that a lot of other Remainers are loathing on social media…and seeing me walking down the street I imagine that a lot of them would be seething at me as much as I am at the Leavers. Don’t judge anyone without being damn sure that you are lashing out at the right target…better still don’t lash out at all.

My final thoughts echo what I’ve just said really. I’m staring at the Apuane Alps right now (it helps my karma)…they care nothing for Brexit, the EU or any of the workings of the human race…and I suspect we’ll work through this despite all the negative (and to be fair, some positive) ramifications of what has happened. As the great Kurt Vonnegut was oft wont to say “so it goes”. Hey ho!