The effects of travel…


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!

Avenue de Lacs, Ardres, France
View towards Barisello, Lunigiana, Italy
Vines above Verpiana, Lunigiana, Italy
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.


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.



A Kind of Bliss…

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.

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!

Back but banging on about politics?


This blog rarely departs from discussion around painting. But there are some events that seem to be just too momentous to ignore. Today the people of Scotland are deciding whether to remain part of the United Kingdom or cede from it and go their own way. In the immortal words of Renton in Trainspotting they have finally got the opportunity to vote to change the “shite state of affairs” of being ruled by “an effete bunch of arseholes” from London!

Actually the effete bunch have pretty much distinguished themselves as such in their cackhanded botch of the whole process…after all as little as a couple weeks ago a solid ‘no’ vote seemed assured and their interventions only served to send the media into a frenzy of speculation that ‘yes’ might just be a possibility. Myself I suspect this was all a put up job to seed fear into the waverers and I’ll be surprised if yes get closer than half a dozen percentage points. What is certain is that the caravan of politicos, media hacks and celebs will, if I’m right, have moved onto the East Coast of England by next Monday morning (to Clacton methinks) and Scotland will be but a distant memory.

All the talk of ‘further powers’ will melt like snow in a furnace (several of the Tory headbangers ‘down south’ have already called ‘foul‘ on the very idea) and the Scots who wanted independence will fulminate in an eerie Westminster silence…until the next time that will surely come again and probably sooner than we all might imagine. The real losers in all this are the people of the United Kingdom, wherever they reside, who will continue to view all the mainstream politicians as the self serving, venal and oleaginous crew they have undoubtedly become and will find it harder and harder to bring themselves to vote for ‘any of the above’. No wonder the UKippers are having a field day.

The wholesale reneging on the ‘promises’ of further devolution that will surely happen (why is it that Gordon was deputed to ‘sell’ this message?!) once its ‘business as usual’ will be just another clear indicator that no one can be trusted to keep their word and cement the widespread view that they are all as bad as each other.

Somehow and somewhere down the road something has to give if the UK is to both keep its economic head above water and to maintain itself as a decent civilised society. What that is, a realignment of the liberal centrist consensus?, remains to be seen but something has to give for the sake of our grandchildren.