A very happy Christmas to you all . Next year looks like it could be a difficult fiscal one for many. Let’s hope the financial managers, dealers and traders who have created a powerful and abundantly rewarded position for themselves over the past decade show they do have a moral compass after all and perhaps life isn’t just about the chase for more and more wealth .
My Aunt, who I have mentioned before sadly died on the eve of my birthday . She was nearly 101 – gave up smoking when she was 96 and continued to avidly paint her nails until she died . As an epitaph I cannot think of a better tribute than the story my mother has told me on how in fact she did die . She was in the ‘home’ which she had living in for the last number of years and she asked one of the helpers if she could have a brandy . She was fond of the odd glass and my last present to her was a bottle of good cognac . The helper couldn’t find any brandy as my Aunt had obviously finished her supply a while ago so she gave her a straight gin instead . She soon downed that , believing it was brandy and asked for another which she partook of quite swiftly . After the third gin she said what she really wanted was a brandy . They managed to find a bottle in their office and brought a glass back for my Aunt . After finishing it she announced ‘she was now going to have a nap’ and put her head on the pillow and promptly died . What a way to go ………..
It’s my birthday so I’m celebrating ……….
Had a rare privilege last night to see Leonard Cohen at the Royal Albert Hall . It will rank amongst the best concerts I have seen – truly outstanding . You could feel a need in the audience for something of this quality and depth – as someone said ; ‘an outbreak of good taste has broken out’ . Spoke on the mobile with Peter Gabriel who was also there and he said that Cohen must be be the greatest lyricist in rock music – ever . A good testament that I’m sure Cohen himself would like to hear . I would add that I think he is the greatest living poet right now .
For the past week I have had films being projected in my head – these are of films that don’t exist , I’m making up shots , creating scenes, trying to nail down some potent images for the new work . At present I’m just working on small, quite evocative paintings to see which ones can stand up and be countered for larger pieces. It has been enjoyable – it’s good to start a new series when they seem to take off . If I wrote this two weeks ago then it would have been different -a blank page – not an idea in my head – and then one small thing can unlock something I didn’t think was there and bingo .
Important news ; My apologies to anyone who has travelled to Hilversum to see my exhibition over the past few days . We had to close the show early due to very unforeseen circumstances . If anyone who has tried to visit would like to contact me on email@example.com then I will respond personally . This was a very unusual situation, again I’m sorry for any inconvenience .
Stayed up until the early hours watching the USA election results – I found it gripping, almost impossible to switch off but I waited until Ohio was confirmed and then gave up and went to bed . I then got up at 7am , switched on the radio and started a small painting – one of the prayer ones- in my workbook . I recorded this on film, it seemed an appropriate thing to do at such a historical time . Another day that I will remember for the rest of my life ……….
Cold weather hitting Brighton, such a contrast to Italy last week where we were eating outside, evening in the evening . I got an e mail last week from a BBC radio producer who is making a programme on the Carl Andre ‘Bricks’ sculpture that the Tate bought in 1976. At the time I was in my gallery (who had a notorious reputation) and the Daily Mail rang up and wanted a young contemporary artist to help with a piece they were doing on the ‘Bricks’ scandall . I was led to believe it was a fairly serious art piece but in reality it turned out to be a typical Mail set up – in fact a double page spread in the paper and I had the main photo . They had me positioned as if I was building a wall outside the Tate and then attributed qoutes to me that I’d never said . I was a very young, naive to the journalistic world, artist at that time and quickly I learnt a lesson to be more aware of the ways of the papers or certain types of papers. It has also dawned on me that in this internet , multi channel media world, there is no escaping from the past – best to own up and get on with it .
Back from late summer type weather in Umbria . The flight back was the usual social occasion – meeting friends and also some who I hadn’t seen since my time in Rome. As there only a few flights out of Perugia each week it’s great to see who is on your flight – it is the only airport where they always seem to remember you from last time.
The Holland show is going very well and I’m now back in the studio working on new ideas via the work books . There seems to be hardly a break nowadays from finishing one show and then starting another and this is now the case with first ‘footsteps’ towards my next London exhibition . I have no plans to rush this one so we have provisionally booked in early 2010. More later ……
Back from the Hilversum opening and a great few days in Amsterdam – the weather was superb . The show looks good , I was again surprised by the size of the space and it was alarming to see which works could handle this and which didn’t . The Bird Boat series looked lost so we ended up just hanging one of them but I think in this case all they need was a frame to contain the imagery . With a large figure work the size of the figure countered the size of the space . One of the most successful hangs was a lone figure on one of the pillars – it just worked really well . I filmed the show and will include it in the final edit .
Took a long walk across Amsterdam to the Jordan area where we stopped for coffee . As it was so pleasant we decided to take an outdoor table by the canal . I only then realised it was directly in view of one of those old fashioned ‘pissoir’ pissing stations which I had only seen before in Paris . I had no idea they were in Amsterdam . So for the next twenty minutes we had a succession of men pissing in front of us and readjusting their clothing whilst we had our coffee . It was slightly bizarre.
Still lying on the sofa under the weight of this cold – hope it goes soon , I’m in Amsterdam in a few days . I have been reading an extract from Cosmo Landesmans new book on his parents – Jay and Fran Landesman . I lived in their house in Islington in the mid seventies, renting a top floor studio space in return for a few paintings to help out the rent . It was a crazy, boho house, exactly how Cosmo describes it . I painted upstairs, Fran wrote poetry in the middle room and Miles’s band (with Phil Daniels) practised in the basement . There were constant coming and goings of people who were famous or about to become famous . The list is too long to relate but I remember meeting Tom Waits on his first visit to London . He arrived with his manager and wanted to speak to Fran about Kerouac who Jay and Fran knew . Cosmo and I didn’t know what to make of him as he was our age but acted like an old hobo – odd . He liked my work though . He gave us tickets to Ronnie Scotts and we were all blown away – just knew he was going to be huge . That first album still brings back memories of that time . When I write a book (!) I will talk at length about some of these episodes ……
Just been reading an article about men suffering from ‘man-flu’ whilst lying on the sofa suffering the very same thing . We are given a bad press here – don’t women realise how ill and near to death we can get ? I did laugh when the journalist said that ‘ it can come on all of a sudden – one minute fine and the next minute a full on flu attack, totally unconnected with the number of beers he might have had the night before ‘ . This is true. I was watching Liverpool play in the pub enjoying a few beers and feeling a little hot and the next morning I was completelty knocked out with death defying flu – odd that .
I’m now starting to really look forward to the Holland exhibition and this will be first time I will meet some of the collectors of my work who have been buying me at the various art fairs in Holland over the past few years . I will also be filming it for inclusion in the new film which is now in production . ‘Fragile Lessons’ will be a large showing of the paintings ranging from the small ‘Footprints’ and even smaller ‘Fingerprints’, which are in the special catalogues, to the very large ‘Bird Boat’ paintings and works like’ Hold 2′ . One week to go ………
A sample of the proof pages from the ‘Fragile Lessons’ catalogue has just come through – they look really good . The designers have done a great job in combining drawings from my work books with quotes from my journal – unusual for a catalogue, but it works very well . It was a filip to the end of a very trauma driven week with the economic world turning itself inside out . My spirits rose when I looked at the proofs helped along with a fine bottle of red wine, of course. I am now impatient to see the rest of it . I am starting to think that this could turn out to be one of my more interesting exhibitions and I might change the feel of the film to include footage of the show .
Plans for the Hilversum show are coming along at a pace . The place is quite industrial – an ex garage and 90% of the works will be unframed so there should be quite a raw feel to the show . Looking at the size of the space, I reckon that it will be the largest showing of my work since my last museum exhibition almost a decade ago .
Just been reading about the Francis Bacon exhibition coming up at Tate Britain . He had a big impact on my work , especially early on, but I remember many arguments that I had with critics and even artists who just didn’t rate him the way I did . I saw him as a European painter in the grand manner but honed into an existential frame – no wonder the French took to him before we did . Most of English art was very parochial at the time when he was coming out with these extraordinary angst ridden images that at the same time could be quite beautiful . I never saw them as ugly – the quality of the paintwork was just too good .
I only met him once, around about 1976 or 7 . I was taken to the Colony Club in Soho, London by Jay Landesman – ‘Francis, I want to introduce you to a hot new painter, Graham Dean’ That was Jays style . I must have been about 25 and Bacon looked at me not in the least bit interested in art but wether I was worth chatting up . The conversation didn’t last long, I was obviously not his taste !
There are plans for a special collectors limited edition of the catalogue for ‘Fragile Lessons’ . This would be in addition to the normal catalogue to accompany the exhibition in Hilversum, Holland . The collectors edition would be a specially packaged catalogue, an edition of 50 and each one would include a small ‘Fingerprint’ – an original watercolour on Arches paper . This would be priced at 200 euro . I don’t think I have had a work of mine at that price for over twenty years but this is an unusual, one off event . Each ‘Fingerprint’ measures 13.5 x 8.5 cms approx, I don’t think I have painted anything so small before – almost like minatures . Each one will also include a real fingerprint from myself !
It is hoped that there will be a separate sheet made available of all 50 of the ‘Fingerprints’ so that collectors can choose the one they want . For pre-orders and enquiries please contact Kimberly Giese -Timmer at the Frans Jacobs Gallery ; firstname.lastname@example.org
I am still working on these so the sheet won’t be available for another few weeks . There will also be a wall of new ‘Footprints’ in the exhibition . It is hoped that I will have a considerable showing of work , including several new major, large works . Most will be unframed which will be in keeping with the space which was once industrial . There will also be three of the new large ‘Bird Boat’ paintings .
Umbria – I’m working in the studio and really enjoying it, it feels good here . The large chapel like doors are wide open allowing the breeze to cool the furnace outside . It feels strange to work on very small paintings with so much space around me , I almost feel the work should combat the space – at least in scale . As I don’t drive I’m literally trapped here but is a comfortable prison . I’m also reading a new book – a proof copy which will be published in October. It is called ‘Seven Days in the Artworld’ by Sarah Thornton . This is an excellent book and I recommend it to all artists/ future aspiring artists and anyone else interested in how the artworld runs . I have read a few other books like this and none have got it bang on – but she does, no doubt down to her extensive research . One phrase I liked was the implication of being an artist was ‘ constantly driving against the traffic ‘ . .
The book is quite American centric but International at the same time which is probably a reflection of the artworld though the rise of London of late shouldn’t be overlooked. The only thing missing from it was a closer examination of the role of the artists’ dealer and their relationship which after all is at the core of the whole affair . She has detailed the work of Takashi Murakami who is like a comic boy geek – American obsessed and ‘kidadult’ approach to the world which is quite universal right now . But he is a one off artist /buisnessman , God help us if things go full tilt that way .
Reading this journal of late you might have assumed that I have slipped into ‘grumpy old man’ mode . I feel this could be true, I blame it on Radio 4 , so I’m taking myself off to the Umbrian house to work on new paintings in the studio and to feel happy. I think I have caught the morose mood of the country right now – we seem to be a reflection of our calvinistic leader , dour, pragmatic and prudent. Listening to the radio or reading the papers gives off a ‘battering down the hatches’ vibe to everything. Are we going to look back at the Blair years as the happy, sunny, feel good ones and the Brown years as the new puritanical age ? German friends in Palermo, Sicily, call the UK ‘that dark, cold ,northerly island’ . Its interesting to see how others see us .
So in full contrast I’m off to a 38% furnace . That’s if I make it past customs as my hand luggage comprises of a mini cd system with speakers, tubes of paint, brushes and loads of paper . It must look very odd on x ray.
My application for an Arts Council grant to help me make my new short film has been rejected. I’m not too sure if I can continue with it now – this is a body blow as it was starting to look good and I was asking for such a pitiful amount of money that it was almost laughable that I could make a film on such a tight budget. But I guess I don’t fit the Arts Council criteria . Under the Labour Government the Arts have become a branch of Social Services . My heart sank when I read the lengthy application forms – it suddenly looked like it wasn’t a good idea to be an individual artist . As a friend said to me, if I were making costumes for a community carnival or arts project for the unemployed then I would get a grant , no problem . This is tick box culture . The forms took me weeks of work and worry . Worry that if I didn’t use the pc correct buzz words I would fail in the application . Apparently they operate some points system – I must have come pretty low . The irony is that a number of younger artist have come to me this year and asked me to help them them with grant forms, introductions or references . I have done so and they have all been successful . I apply and I get rejected !
My worst experience of this was back in the mid seventies when I had a large Museum show organised by the very supportive Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead. We had the idea to tour the exhibition but they were turned down by everyone apart from Brighton Museum . The mid nineties were not a good time to be a painter – this was when critics were talking about the death of painting . What a waste of space. Due to the lack of success the Museum was having in finding venues, I rashly decided to ring up a few curators to help the process along . Or so I thought, not my best idea . Several let out thinly disguised snorts of derision , others were openly patronising , and most disapproved of actually speaking with ‘the artist’ – apparently ‘I had not gone down the right channels ‘ . My worst experience was a provincial museum in south Wales . I rang up and asked to speak to the curator . Her reply was a gem – ….. ” Well, the problem is, you are a male , middle-aged , figurative or semi-figurative painter and I’m afraid that is unacceptable to both myself and my committee ”
So from a very unacceptable artist, this will be the last time I apply to the Arts Council or any other institution of that nature .
I have been asked by the the Dutch PR company who are working on my show, to write a short piece about exhibiting in Holland . They have already lined up a few interviews for me when I’m next over and I will be intrigued to see what the questions will be . Call me cynical, and many would, but I will be inwardly timing them to see how long it will be before I get the ‘ And do any famous people buy your work ?’ question.
This is always the stock question that most non art journalists ask – and I have to say it is always female journalists. It’s as if they are at a loss as to what to ask you – ‘Art ?’ urrgh .. or that you are of so little interest the only way people will read about you if you know someone famous. This is the age of celebrity . My last encounter along these lines was a short time ago when a young female journalist rang up and her opening line was ‘Can you tell me which famous people have bought your work ?’ . She had hardly said hello . So, I gave up and put the phone down on her …. harsh , maybe, but I’m not as bad as Anita Roddick who used to to hang up halfway through a conversation if she got bored ! Life’s too short, she used to say .
Anyway here is the piece I wrote : ‘ I have always had a gravitational pull towards Europe, even when I was young, growing up in Birkenhead. I looked different and thought differently . It only seemed natural that when I did start exhibiting my work, it was going to be outside of England.
If I remember rightly, the very first painting I sold with a gallery was at one of the earliest Basle Art Fairs in 1974. Germany followed and Holland was one of the initial countries who took me seriously. Again my memory is being put to the test (this was 30 odd years ago ), but I think the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation bought a large painting – then on canvas – around about 1976/7 and a few years later the ING Bank bought probably the best painting of that period , ‘Compartments 2’ . This is in the ‘early works’ section on this site. I was told I was the only non Dutch artist in their collection at that time, which I thought was unusual . A few years ago I paid a visit to the ING headquarters to see the painting for the first time since I painted it in Oxford in 1979. It was a surprising experience, a part of me felt like it was by another Graham Dean, one who existed in the seventies but equally I felt really proud as it looked strong, still relevant and fresh as a daisy. I wasn’t expecting that at all .
More recently , the Scheringa Museum have bought one of the large ‘Boat’ paintings for their collection and it appears I have now quite a few new private collectors in Holland via the Frans Jacobs Galleries in Amsterdam . So now it almost feels like my third home, after Brighton and Umbria . I definitely feel an empathy with the Netherlands and I think, or hope it may be reciprocal .
The ‘Fragile Lessons’ exhibition will be at ‘Cube White ‘ gallery in Hilversum, near Amsterdam from 11th October to the 9th November. Hilversum is where the TV studios are about 30 k from Amsterdam.
Sometimes, images drop into your head like slides projected onto a screen . This happened with the Bird Boat series for reasons I can’t explain . Perhaps I was thinking of caged birds – the ribs of the boat resembling a cage . I ‘d already made several Boat paintings based around a small book my father gave me as a child ‘ How to draw Boats’ . Birkenhead, where I was born was built around shipbuilding .
Recently , at the Umbrian house, a strange thing happened . I like to get up very early and go down to the large terrace by the studio and watch the sun come up over the hill .I have had a very long seat built into the terrace wall and one morning I was lying down and I must have fallen asleep for a short while. I remember opening my eyes , looking up and there were about 50 to 100 birds – swifts, I think – perched on the telephone wires directly above . The sky was deep blue , the birds black – it looked like one of my paintings . I was transfixed . I went back at the same time every morning for the rest of the week to capture it on film . They didn’t return .
Preparations are underway for the Amsterdam exhibition in a new venue for Frans Jacobs . I’m looking forward to it as it’s a chance to show several new large, unframed works . Some are very different such as the Boat Bird series , 1 to 3. For more details on the exhibition please refer to the Frans Jacobs web site or if you are interested in attending the show or would like more information then contact Kimberly Giese-Timmer at email@example.com . There will also be a catalogue for the exhibition now entitled ‘Fragile Lessons’ .
NEWS….. as in the news section, a painting of mine is in the new NIKE advert for the Olympic Games . However you will need a slow mo to see it as its an extremely fast cut film, but with a great song by the Killers. You can check it out already on You tube – a prize for anyone who can spot mine !
Back in Italy. It’s dawn and I’m in the studio in Umbria, up very early as I’m making a new short film – a self portrait without the artist. It’s still half light, the sun has yet to appear over the hill in the valley and I can hear the tractor in the distance just starting work for the day, a dog barking in the house up the hill- they leave them out all night here, and the bells on the sheep in the top field behind the house. It looks like another hot day.
I’m thinking of my next show coming up in Amsterdam in October and mulling over a possible title in ‘Fragile Lessons’ . This title could sum up my life and work – the lessons I have learnt over the years to do with both success and failure. ‘Imposter’s, both not to be trusted’, wasn’t that said somewhere far better, before ? There does seem to be an absence of middle ground in what I do – feast or famine, good or bad, passion or despair – an endless list . Paintings can appear fragile when in fact they are strong, and robust when they mask confidence and can be born of caution and indecision. Other times they seem to go off on their own with gusto and with me just guiding them on their way . Making them can seem like walking a tightrope between success and failure – one extra mark, one more layer of colour , another brushstroke that shouldn’t have been made.
There is no going back in what I do , no erasing, no overpainting or correction .This is it – this is as good as it gets . Fragile Lessons.
Returned from the studio in Italy , working on a few things . the fireflies were out on the terrace under a full moon – magical . Could be interesting news in next journal entry but don’t want to tempt fate ……
The other day I was asked by someone to tell them more about meeting Robert Rauschenberg (a journal entry last month) . It appears everyone loves a good anecdote especially in this fame obsessed world – even the artworld, something I thought I would never see, So, not being a man to disappoint , here we go ; We , that is the other artists in Japan at the exhibition, first saw Bob as he became known, with his two assistants . One was a film cameraman, though it was rumoured he had also other ‘duties’, and the other was a proper artists’ assistant who cut an impressive figure . He was a native American with a long black plat down his back on which he permanently wore a long white coat. He also carried a small silver suitcase with him wherever he went. We plucked up courage one day to ask him what was in the case and he willingly opened it to reveal rows of neatly stacked notes of different dominations and different currencies . They were on a world tour and this seemed the best way of holding the finances . We struggling younger artists thought this was the very pinnacle of being an important, International artist, – to have your own assistant with a silver suitcase of money. One day this could be us !
Anyway back to Bob . I saw Bob drinking water all day – that’s what I thought until I saw him getting Saki out of the vending machines that where everywhere in Japan . It was well known that he liked a drink . Later we heard that he was stopped at customs on the way out when one of his other suitcases was found to be full of bottles of liquor . But the man had style . The interview we did together was at the end of a long day – some of it taken up with drinking so I think we had both had a few at the time . I remember the film in the camera running out but we kept on talking and I think the funniest parts were on that tape . I would love to hear them again someday. Apparently the clip was shown on Lufthansa planes as part of their news footage for some time. They found it funny , apparently . I have a feeling I was a bit rude to him , but there we go, no change there . He was good with stories – living with old people in Florida, and generous tales of Jasper Johns . Being a young artist at the time, this is what you wanted to hear from such a totemic figure . Other memories were of us dancing in line imitating, in a drunken way , some Japanese dancers that we had seen when we left a restaurant after a very boozy meal . Now that would have been good on film ……….. The artworld needs these figures , I’m pleased I met him.
Just a few updates on work and ideas ; At present I’m working on several new ‘Boat’ paintings , some of which feature birds in negative form. This may seem odd at first glance but they do work , I’m quite pleased with them but I don’t know where or when these will be shown , but watch this space as they say.
Also plans are underway for a new short film starting this summer in Italy. It will be my first film for over 10 years and I follow up to one I made 18 years ago . A long time for a sequel – paintings are quick, films are long . The new one will be very different though still in a ‘self-portrait’ mode. No brilliant musical soundtrack this time, I’m afraid – at this stage I’m thinking of natural sounds, though slightly unusual . More to follow as I don’t want to talk myself into something that might not happen .
Other developments under being planned but it looks like these will be next year – exhibiting wise this is my fallow year.
After writing a brief item on Robert Rauschenberg a week ago, I have just heard that, sadly ,he died yesterday aged 82. A great , big, premier league artist – I’m sure the testimonials will bear this out over the next few days
A short film that I made centering around my work called ‘Paintings 1987-90’ is now available in two parts on YouTube. It’s an older work and I look very different but it still holds up today – I think .
It will also soon be available on davidrhodes.org He did the soundtrack to it and I think that’s probably better than my direction !
I see Robert Rauschenberg is in the art press again . In 1987 , way back then, I was invited by the Goethe Institute in Japan to contribute to a large International show concerning Art kites. A long list of artists were sent washi paper and encouraged to paint an art kite which would then be made up by master craftsmen in Japan . Flattered, I painted mine, sent it off and didn’t hear anything else . Then a note came through which was a little cryptic saying they loved mine and are looking forward to the opening festival and if I can make it , these are the dates.. I wrote back, after checking the cost of flights to Japan, and said ‘great, I will be thinking of you and I hope mine takes off ‘ What I didn’t realise , in my English way, was that they were inviting me to go and business class tickets were in the post.
Well, it was a hell of an occasion which turned into a 25 year old world tour of most the Worlds museums. Back in Japan , we were in a group of artists who included Rauschenberg . As the only other native English speakers we gravitated together and ended up doing a joint interview I think the film of which is still available – Google it ….
Bob , as he became known , was on fine form and very Texan in his manner . I remember the kites going up one by one – in some cases multi thousand pounds pieces of artwork subject to the elements. Suddenly Bob shouts out ‘ That’s Franks’ ! FRANK IS UP – I gotta ring him and tell him he’s up !’ That was Stella, Frank Stella, he was talking about – it was like a history of contemporary art in the sky. Bobs came crashing down at one point and he just shrugged his shoulders and said they would mend it – and they did .
For my part , I started off as one of the rookies and within a short time became one of the more prominent figures in the show, featuring on posters and in the press – so it was a great time to be flung in and compared to people who were way above me in the art world, whilst I was still on the nursery slopes ..
I have just noticed that my Dutch gallery, Frans Jacobs, have put part of this journal on their web site . So if you are reading this over there then ‘Dag. Hoe gaat het met u ? Ik wil graageen fiets huren’ . The last bit reads that I want to hire a bicycle, sorry about that but I have a limited phrase book . …. As the weather is better here in Brighton I have been experimenting with my watering can on some new paintings . At some point I would like to get this on film as its a fascinating but a dangerous practise ! I don’t know many other artists who will completely paint over a perfectly fine painting – either with thick white paint or even dark blue and then slowly retrieve the image by eroding the paint with water . I do sometimes get it hideously wrong – either by washing too much off or just getting the colour balances wrong . Then you have to start again . Who said watercolour was an effete medium ? You need nerves of steel with this stuff .
I got asked the other day what are my paintings like ? They said They had heard I was a watercolour artist . I couldn’t think of a worse description of myself – in fact in answer to this question I very rarely mention the medium as people always get a mental picture in their heads which couldn’t be nearer everything I don’t represent. I have now had over twenty years trying to reinvent this medium and I’m still dealing with its dubious status .
No news at present , just working in the studio on new paintings . There is a strong female subject line starting to develop with these, could be interesting.
On my travels again – sorting everything out with the new studio in Italy . It was cold but fine in the studio with the wood burning stove at full volume. I am so pleased with the work of the builders – it’s a smaller space but the high ceilings and arches give it the feel of a small chapel . Its one of the most serene studios I have ever had , I’m intrigued to see if it changes what I do . There is a huge window and door with views straight down the valley past the river and the large terracotta terrace . Not a building or sole in sight. The house is surrounded by a river , it’s on a rock promontory – very zen like, if I did yoga it would feel perfect . I also bought a new wood burning stove for the main house . This thing was called ‘Monte Bianco’ for very good reason , it was massive . It should pump out so much heat that I hope will go on to warm the whole house . These are very basic subjects to mention but life becomes that when you are there . The idea of keeping warm dominates your day along with trying to get the new well fixed . We rely on spring water at present – showering in ‘Evian’ or the Italian equivalent.
I have just returned from a trip from India hence no updates. A great time apart from a 19 to 20 hour delay on the way back , I’ve heard about these but never been involved in one. All night in a hot Indian air terminal is no fun. There was one tea bar which served tea and coffee always with sugar even if you asked for no sugar . You ask if its got sugar in it and you always get the shake of the head which could mean yes or no . You get the feeling they will tell you what they think you want to hear, so if you want sugar then the tea has sugar and if you don’t then the tea has no sugar – even if it does have . More to follow when I sort out the studio .
Just returned from a bitterly cold Liverpool , with the wind coming off the Mersey . It felt strange being there again – a sense of the familiar mixed in with new developments, odd buildings that I didn’t recognise, usual landmarks highlighted by backgrounds that looked like they had come from another city. I had some art business to do and then on the Sunday we had a small family celebration of my Aunts 100th birthday. I say small because the family is small – not many of us at all and in one or two cases the people are small (short).
I belong to the taller side which is a relief. My Aunt took everything in, you could see the brain working behind the eyes but as she hadn’t seen some of us for many years it was difficult for her to comprehend . She also told me she didn’t like the fuss. It was great to see how she still had pride in her brightly painted nails which looked in fine shape for someone who is a hundred.
It’s been head down in the studio over the past few weeks – long hours, very intense , but today I really made some headway .Pleased with the results. At time like this, it feels as if you are living inside the paintings – you go to bed thinking about them , wake up in the night trying to work them out and the same again when you wake up . Its strange but rewarding when it they come together – but its almost as if the process is an essential part of the work . I can’t understand these artists who ‘order’ their work up by computer or over the phone – ‘the idea is everything’ philosophy . They miss out on a hell of a lot of hand to eye – and I think the work shows it .
Attending the pv of the London Art Fair I realised it is now 34 years since my first ever art fair which was Basel . I had just left art college and Basel was grand but not as grand as now . There were only a handful of English galleries who participated in international art fairs – they were seen as a new development and rather looked down upon by some snooty galleries – perhaps too sales oriented. Of course every gallery is sales oriented, they just don’t like saying it. Nowadays art fairs dominate – there are probably way too many of them, but there you go, we are in a sales driven world where the profits of supermarkets are headline news -‘oh my god, they are down a point on predictions, the world is going to collapse ‘. I’m beginning to think we have too much news . I remember saying this a number of years ago to someone I know who is a BBC foreign correspondent . It felt like heresy. But when you have 24 hour news and then hundreds of digital channels, minor stories will become major ones .
My reference trans came back from the lab and for a second I had to check that they were in colour. I have never seen so little colour on sheets of transparencies. If you live in a landscape devoid of colour then it must really jar when bright colours are used . I wonder if they have the colour balance turned down on their TV sets. My father used to turn his up on the premise that if you are paying for a colour television and license then you should get your moneys worth.
Oslo after a great nights sleep.
I have just experience one of those rare magical moments when you feel all is well in the world. I took a long walk in the thick snow to the Munch Museum , which is a superb place and somewhere I have wanted to visit for decades. However it could be a lot bigger and I know they have vast archives of his work and can only show a fraction at a time. But it was still good. On the way back I put Sigur Ross on my i pod and walked slowly back through the park – the light was fantastic and it was one of those times when it was good to be alive. Sometimes the combo of Art and other sensory experiences gives me a better high than any drug. This has just been one.
I then took an even longer walk right across Oslo – the boots just kept on walking – all the way to the other major park and the Vigelandsparken . This is the work of Gustav Vigeland, essentially an open air sculpture park. I have always felt that Figurative art, both painting and sculpure, has been given the short straw in the history of Art. The lineage has always taken the Abstract to Conceptual route , both critically acceptable. There is an alternative, yet to be documented, alas, take on this which links Rodin, Munch , Scheille, Matisse through to Hopper, Keinholz, Segal, Hanson , Bacon , Hamilton and the present day of Gormley and others. I have left many out but you get the jist . After seeing the Vigelandsparken I wish Gormley would be given a free hand to create something like it in the UK. This is a work that almost works . In the smaller friezes it does, but these are generally ignored for the sake of the larger set pieces which entertain the tourists. There is just something to folksy and populist about this. As much as I enjoyed parts of it on one level, I found I was getting irritated by it on another – it just could have been so much better. Maybe this sounds harsh but I yearn to see some great public sculpture. The thick snow on the works certainly gave them a slightly surreal appeal – I wonder what it looks like in the summer ?
I have a hatred of 90% of public art which usually means bad sculpture. Its been dumped on city centre, shopping malls etc all over the UK and its crap. These councils suddenly think they know about art and commission god knows what from people no one has heard of . I have long suspected they are jumped up designers and faux architects – this stuff has little or no merit. That’s my rant over for the day ……
On the train to Oslo very early. Dreadful night in the hotel as it was a sales peoples annual get together – drunken loud Norges banging on doors, moving furniture, shouting for girls names – at least I think they were , and generally acting like marauding Vikings. They finished at 6am and I got up at 6.30 am to get this train . And to cap it all I had asked for a quiet room !
So its a bleary eyed start to the journey but the train has now stopped at Voss and they have announced that there is an avalanche ahead and we are turning back to delightful Bergen and the Vikings…..
Just been talking to the crew on board and they are going to put us in taxis for the airport and from there we can get a flight to Oslo. Unbelievable as they are paying . Would you get this in the UK ? No way .
7th January 2008
Just back from my reference/ideas trip to Norway – here are some of my random thoughts on the hoof, in the snow ……
Oslo, Wednesday the 3rd
Went to sleep last night with the sound of trams in the snow , so much better than cars. Very European, I always think of Le Carre novels. This morning I’m off to Bergen by train, hoping to get the reference I need. It’s a long journey – about 7 hours which I will be repeating on Saturday. Todays’ sunrise is about 9.30 am so daylight won’t be for another hour after that and then it starts getting darker about 2.30pm. So I have about 4 hours to get the work done.
I’m now in Komfort class on the train which means komfortable free coffee and Komfortable free Norge newspapers. There is one interesting area which has two lounge type seats and a picture window – looks promising. We have been going an hour and it’s still dark, no wonder they drink a lot.
It’s strange how the landscape is drained of colour – it reminds me of their fair-isle jumpers, they could camouflage into the background. We are now nearing the highest point – apparently the highest railway track in northern Europe and its white-out outside. There are a few skiers with sail planes but no one else, this looks tough territory.Who lives here , why ?
Bergen , Friday.
Bergen is a beautiful city, an ex capital of culture . Took the cable car up to a hilll station and then a wonderful walk through the woods , lakes, frozen rivers etc. Maybe an idea or two on the way up. Felt good to get fresh air into my lungs – less good when middle aged Nordic women briskly strode past me in a purposefully manner. More to follow ….