The trip to Gdansk was exceptional for many reasons. Chiefly perhaps that it was so unexpected and unplanned. The marvellous and enterprising Robert Priseman must take the credit for organising the Made In Britain show drawn from his (and Ally Seabrook‘s) collection that propelled the decision to take a visit to the city. Although I only have a very modest ‘walk on’ part in the event going over seemed like a no brainer.
The show itself looked very handsome. And hopefully my picture didn’t let the side down, settled on the wall, between Lucy Cox and Stephen Snoddy – so at the least it was in good quality company. The collection is full of excellent work, both figurative and abstract, with both a smattering of famous names (I doubt my work will ever be nestled so near to Alan Davie‘s, one of my teenage idols!) and good representation from many of us regionally based painters as well as, inevitably, many from the capital). There are many that I rate very highly and several I know well.
On the floor above there was a smaller grouping of artists from the collection, where a grouping of works allowed more in depth study. Robert was amongst them with a group of portrait studies that looked very handsome, their meticulous considered style suiting the juxtaposition with the Judith Tucker works opposite; both in black and white but showing how material, handling, and facture as well as subject matter can provide figuration with many moods and responses.
David Ainley, is a friend (disclaimer) but his fastidious and controlled abstractions build over time to something quite transcendental and luminous that I believe show immense quality. James Quin is an artist I’d not previously seen but I loved both his picture in the collection and his reflections on Las Meninas that made up his contribution to the upper floor show. A different approach to Ainley but an equally intense luminosity to the work. I’m guessing that – perhaps – James will be represented in the forthcoming Enough Is Definitely Enough if not he jolly well ought to be!
What of Gdansk itself? Well it was one of the worst hit places in WW2, indeed it was the location of the commencement of that ghastly conflict and is now home to the huge and monumental museum dedicated to it. As a consequence much of the centre of the city is rebuilt but contrary to what might be expected of somewhere that has spent much of its post war within the ‘Iron Curtain’ it has been (and as far as one could deduce continues to be) done with great sympathy for its longer term heritage – particularly its role in the Hanseatic League.
Of course driving out to the coast (Gdansk is the south side of the ‘Tri-City’ that also comprises Sopot and Gdynia) the soviet era concrete apartment blocks begin to appear but then they too are subsumed into a more vernacular architecture that in Sopot spoke to me at least of seaside grandeur across much of Europe (though here much less faded than to the west).
So Gdansk turns out to be quite an experience – the centre a thriving and bustling place with many interesting and lively tourist attractions and an excellent cuisine (our particular recommendation is Bowke) but of course Poland is still a relatively poor central European country. Perhaps it was that aspect that led me to choose to photograph it in B&W so here is the centre of Old Town in full colour that I imagine is how the tourist industry wants it to be seen!
“their judgement of artwork may be faulty”…Many, many moons ago I worked in an art gallery, and the Director (just returned from NYC) gave me a piece of paper. Its here now…
Although it was written (gawd help us) nearly forty years back much of it, despite the many changes in the art world, still stands. It was the dealer Ivan Karp who, having had enough of artists pestering him, wrote it to stem the flow. Goodness knows what he’d make of today’s art market. But its that last sentence that resonates with me right now. And what stands for dealers and gallerists and curators (what vulgar, squalid words they are!) equally stands for judges in competitions. I know many of them are artists too, but generally they are those whose primary objective is not making work but ‘networking’ and ‘brown nosing’ the aforementioned thus rendering their judgment equally faulty. Its in my mind as yet another competition has passed me by…or not (as I’ve observed of late, that many of these exercises in fleecing artists of their meagre funds, they often ‘extend’ deadlines to pull in yet more gullible punters) and I marvel at the plausibilty of all of us – I’m not immune as I, albeit occasionally, do it myself – in falling for the lure of bright lights and associated fame promised by the tiny odds of success.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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!
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).
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.
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!
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.
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…
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!
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!
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.