‘It’s 4 in the morning, the end of December’ – I always think of Leonard Cohen’s song at this time of year – ‘Music on Clinton street ‘ etc . Where I’m going it will be up to -18c and lots of snow. A number of friends of mine all have the same ‘4 in the morning’ experience – waking up at that hour . Birth/death ? Maybe , I’m not sure, but I can be wide awake with a hundred ideas flying around my head at that inhospitable hour. Just me and the cat ……
I would like to wish everyone who takes the time out to read this diary, a very happy Christmas and New Year. I shall soon be off on my travels again , seeking reference for a series of new works, travelling across Norway. I may not make it back due the promise of BAA strikes at the airport . Can’t wait.
First snow at the Italian house – sounds great . Friends say that they are huddled around a two foot radius of their wood burning stove, any distance outside of that and it’s freezing. The big difference between Brighton and there is that they still have four marked , distinct seasons.
Reading in the papers about James Murdoch taking the helm at Sky …. I was with James at the British School in Rome where I had a residency in 1992. At that time he wasn’t too sure of his future and seemed more interested in music than anything else . I remember him being my tennis partner in the somewhat chaotic matches that the artists had. Other memories had better stay with me, that is until I publish a book and he can pay me huge amounts of hard cash to keep quiet !
An exhausting couple of days in Amsterdam to go over things with my gallery there . This also coincided with my birthday on the 5th – and in a cliched way , I don’t remember much about finding my way back to my hotel on one of the canals . Then it was back on the plane to Brighton to find a new model literally waiting for me on the steps of the house. Talk about hitting the ground running but we got the work done I now have the start of some new ideas for several paintings for next year.
There are some interesting developments in line for 2008 , I will keep you posted ……..
I often think that the artworld has turned into one big art fair. Over the past few weeks I have had one International Art Fair segway into another – Amsterdam has just finished yesterday and now Abu Dhabi starts tonight. When I first started, art fairs were limited to Basle, FIAAC, Cologne and then London started initially at Olympia before moving to Islington. It meant that I didn’t really sell in this country for almost a decade and consequently most of my work is in collections abroad. It seems a strange time now with Frieze becoming known more as an art fair than a magazine and where an artists exhibiting map of the year is peppered with fairs across the globe. I can see it being easier for collectors who are time short but they can’t be the best way to show an artists work . Galleries will argue that they are vital showcases for their artists but really they are a way of banking major sales which might or might not be there in a solo exhibition . I often wonder if the bubble will burst…………
I’m getting reports from Italy on how the studio and the new well are getting on and I’m wishing I was there. It can get cold in the evenings though and the woodburning stove in the studio isn’t installed yet so maybe it’s just as well.
I’m working on ideas for my next project which could be a large, cinamatic one – in painting forms. It’s called ‘Four hours of daylight’ – that, at least is the working title. It involves a few train journeys across Norway which I will be doing in January – but more later.
My other project is called ‘Edge of the Shadows’ but early days yet, so again more on that later.
Reading this morning about Liverpool and the City of Culture events for next year. Many people from there all said the same thing, that they felt they had Liverpool running through them like a stick of rock. I have always felt the same despite being born and brought up over the water in Birkenhead, woollyback territory. It’s still very evident even today, and it is now 37 years since I left there to study in Bristol. Just outside my studio door is the original railway sign for Birkenhead North, I’m a fervent supporter of Liverpool Football Club and I always still check every week to see how Tranmere Rovers got on – they were my boyhood club, every other Friday night I went down to Prenton Park to see them play. In fact I was born almost opposite the ground.
More recently I remember staying at Roger McGoughs house and the phone started ringing at 4 in the morning and no one could be bothered to get up to answer it. Every half hour it would ring until Roger reluctantly got up a few hours later. It was Granada Television and they were trying to contact him to say that John Lennon had been shot in New York. These moments in your life haunt you.
The Merseyside character is a strong one that stays with you all through your life and I’m pleased that my son Finn has inherited the football tradition in our family and he’s now a more knowledgeable fan of the Reds than I am . I have only two elderley relatives left on Merseyside now so it will be a strange feeling to eventually have the connections go in years to come.
Just started a new series of works which are, from the start, looking strong. Sometimes the route into a new series can be tentative, unsure – feeling the way until something kicks in. This time I have hit the ground running but it will depend on finding the right models for the remaining paintings.
I did a gallery talk last week for a gathering of lawyers – don’t know what the collective noun is for such a group – a ‘sueme ‘ perhaps ? Seemed to go well . I have now started on some new paintings and they are suddenly coming along at a hell of a pace. It often happens like that – you can be sitting in the studio thinking that you never get an idea ever again and then the floodgates open and the works just seem to ooze out……
New York art fair is starting soon and then it’s the unknown territory of Abu Dhabi – no figurative work , and certainly nothing either sexual or religious . Well, there goes the whole history of Western Art ……
Almost hot on the terrace today, can’t believe this is late October. For some reason there are several robins around – I have noticed that the birds go very quiet when the hunters and their dogs come down the track. It’s as if they know. As soon as they are gone they start up again. I like the idea of the house being a refuge for the birds in hunting season.
Ah Bliss. I’m at the Umbrian house, sitting on the loggia with a prosecco in my hand looking over the fields. Perfect autumn weather – still, woodsmokey and it’s not the weekend yet so the hunters haven’t come down to go into the woods. It’s difficult to relate how quiet it is here. A heavy leaf fell onto the terrace this afternoon and we both turned around to see what the noise was.
I will go down to the studio soon and give the workmen a bottle or two of Moretti (my favourite beer ) – it looks like it could be pretty dusty down there. The studio is taking shape, two rooms and a bathroom with views down the valley. There is also a stone sink on the large terrace where I can get water. It’s quite small but should be big enough to to produce fairly sizable works if I want to.
Tonight we will visit Picolo mondo – our local restaurant in the hills above us. This was a great discovery. One of the drawbacks about buying a place in a land locked region was, I thought, the lack of fish restaurants, which I love. So, it was a surprise to say the least to find a fresh fish restaurant only 5 mins away by car. Our other local is Val Verde which is an entire estate and does a killer pizza. They have a delivery of Buffalo Mozzarella every day from south of Naples, where it comes from. I’m always surprised at the devotion to food and detail that the Italians have without making a song and dance about it. It seems to be just part of their character. Today I bought a a new oven from our main town which is 15 mins away. This was about 11.30 am . They delivered it, to our rural location, at about 4.30 pm and then the guy installed it, checked everything was working as it should be – including a spirit level to check it was level and then took the old one away. It was a pleasure to watch – no problemo.
I received a letter the other day from someone asking me why there was so much water in my work – I think they were referring to the subject matter rather than the technique ! I now live near the sea in Brighton – have done for 20 years – and in Umbria, Italy, our house is surrounded by an arc of water in the shape of a river. Very Zen. But I also think it has something to do with being born and brought up in a ship building port and an event that happened when I was young.
I was in my grandfathers house in Wallasey on Merseyside and I was five or six and playing in the garden . They had an open well in the garden and he must have been watering the plants as the cover was off. As you might guess I stepped right into it and as the top of my very blonde head came back up to the surface, my mother grabbed me by my hair and I’m here today but now with far less blonde hair . I remember reading that a similar thing happened to Bill Viola – hence a fixation with water in his video work.
I wonder if there are many artists who have fallen down wells.
Spent most of today ripping up paintings. I’m clearing the secondary studio room which is crammed full of paintings, plan chests , files , photos, books and other assorted reference bits and pieces. To be honest it’s a mess. So, with the help of Sophie who is an art student and promising painter here in Brighton, we have been attacking the paintings which I feel need to go. It’s a cathartic experience, definitely a cleansing one – sometimes I know I make a few wrong choices but once gone they are soon forgotten. We should be finished by Christmas !
Sophie is going to help me sorting out the web site and general administration – it’s a good time to make a spring or is that an autumnal clean.
The second private view of White Noise and it was a crowded gallery last night. I have spent a lot of time talking about these new paintings over the past week – very apt when the subject is noise. I will try and get some photos in this diary section very soon.
My first private view of ‘White Noise’ was yesterday morning at Waterhouse and Dodd – part of the Frieze/Cork Street breakfast. The weather was perfect so we had quite a number of visitors and collectors. I also had a large selection of new work at Zurich International art fair which had just opened.
London feels like one big art exhibition at the moment – Zoo was also down the road at the back of the R.A., and the papers are full of the Freize art fair. The main ‘White Noise’ opening will be on tuesday evening (16th).
Edinburgh Printmakers are publishing a book next month to celebrate their 40th anniversary. A few years ago I made several editions of prints with them and I really enjoyed the collaborative process. Again, it is no doubt, part of this feeling of getting out of the studio and into another work place – where real people are !
Like most artists of my vintage, I learnt printmaking – stone litho, silk-screen, etching etc whilst at art college. I then didn’t do any for quite a number of years once I left. So in the late seventies I expressed an interest to the gallery I was then with, to take it up again and make an edition of silk screen prints.
They set me up with an independent printmaker in London and I had an unexpected greeting when I turned up at his studio in Fulham. Laden with drawings, notes , and finished artwork I knocked at this door in a dingy back street. He eventually opened it looking very red eyed and not really in the mood to see me – and I had travelled down from Oxford.
I sat down next to the silk screen printing bed and he started to tell me that he was sorry but he just couldn’t face touching the thing. Apparently he had just found out that his wife was having an affair and they had been using the studio and in particular the printing ‘bed’ for their amorous adventures. The situation seemed very surreal – silk screen beds have air suckers in them to hold down the paper when printing – there’s always a distinctive noise when used – I had visions of his spreadeagled, naked wife being held down by the suckers, and then there was the issue of that noise ….. – it was difficult to suppress the giggles.
So that was the end of my efforts to rekindle printmaking , that is until years later Edinburgh Printmakers invited me up there.
Watched the South Bank Show last night which was about the Merseybeat poets. It was great or should I say ‘dead good’ to see old footage of them performing at the Everyman and O’Connors in Liverpool. I was a mere 15 year old schoolboy when I first went with my friends to these and other gigs – often there were only about 20 of us in the audience on a wet Mersey night. They must have had a big effect on helping me find a visual language, and I can see that in my early works such as Leo and Mona and Refugee from England. They really are paintings that came from that background.
Many years later, it was a great thrill for me to have Roger McGough visit me in my London studio and more so to hit it off and become friends. I then went on to do several books with Rog – mostly covers but a couple of fully illustrated ones as well. Adrian Henri was also very generous towards my work and even wrote a review of it once for the Liverpool Echo or Daily Post , can’t remember which. He used to go on about how we were both from Birkenhead – I suppose with the spotlight being always on Liverpool then the Birkenhead thing was a touchstone , but there wasn’t a mention of that last night, only Rhyl .
I should point out, in case this sounds like I only have famous friend that I don’t – it’s just one of those months when they are all in the news !
In a few weeks time there will be a memomorial service for Anita Roddick in central London. I guess it will be more of a celebration ‘-no black clothes, no mourning !’
I first met Anita way back in 1987, at the suggestion of Peter Gabriel ‘as I lived along the coast’ according to him. She was looking for ideas and ‘creative input’ as she was planning to set up a small film company and at that time she was not surrounded by too many ideas people. Her words, not mine.
The strange thing was that Peter forgot to tell her that I was an artist and only made short films as an extension. an off shoot to the paintings. Around that time in 1987 I was between galleries and so finances in the Dean household were a bit slim. Anita was due to come around on a Sunday morning and I remember us going over bank statements prior to her arrival, to see if we could last out another month or two.
So the doorbell rang and a small tornado breezed past me saying’ I have just flown in from South America and……. who did these paintings ?’ I followed, what looked like from the back, a mass of hair on tiny legs, up and down stairs, in and out of the studio, all the time hearing ‘ these are fantastic, did you really do them …… are they for sale ?’
Well, I was hardly going to say no . An hour later, sitting at the kitchen table after she had gone, I was holding a cheque for quite a few thousand in my hand wondering what had just happened or was it a strange dream?.
I went on to do posters and banners for the Body shop (Amnesty International, Global Warming amongst others) and Anita kept buying my work, mentioning me on Desert Island Discs (what a buzz), speaking at museum exhibitions of mine, but most of all becoming good friends with both her and Gordon. I never did tell her that story.
Anita was one of those people on this planet who shone brighter than others. But like those who had gone before her and burnt out before their time, she left one hell of a trail behind her.
Attended the private view of Art London last night engulfed by an endless supply of champagne – however, not too many artists around to appreciate the luxury . This is one of those rare times when you can escape the studio and actually meet some of the collectors who have bought your work. Most artists I know suffer at times from the cabin fever mentality of studio life. It’s a bit like being a sociable monk so when a few private views come along it feels good to take advantage of the hospitality.
This diary is a new venture and I would appreciate any feedback as to its contents. Any ideas or suggestions are more than welcome, I have no idea if it will be of interest to no one or many. I will try and keep an up to date account of all exhibitions and other related issues depending on my travels of course – it’s a busy period coming up.
The first show will be next week at Art London in a marquee in Chelsea, London. I will be exhibiting with Waterhouse and Dodd and I believe they are planning to show a few of the new ‘White Noise’ paintings. Also it will be the first outing of the ‘White Noise’ catalogue which I’m told is looking pretty good .
I’ve also heard this week that the planning permissions have now gone through for the new renovation of the studio at the house (Palombaro) in Umbria. I will keep you posted on this and try and get some photos next time we visit.