New portraits for BABE #BABE2015
I’d like to thank all of youse what has been and ‘viewed’ my blArts in the past 2 years and we have now racked up 6,060 ‘views’ as we speak. That’s a goodly number despite my making it difficult sometimes with the ‘altered spellins’ and ‘the wingeings’ (which is not an age ting, not a grumpy old fella ting, no cos I always been a grumpy clod. Then I go out and do tai chi or ashtanga or swim or gym and then am too knackered to be an old curmudgeon am just little old me-myself-I. The next phew blArts are going to be in prep fer BABE www.arnolfini.org.uk/whatson/babe-2015-bristol-artists-book-event the book fest at Bristol run by UWE which is such an exciting prospec and I must tank Sarah Bodman and the team for giving me the opportunity to make a bigger fool of myself than I already do in this blArt! It’s funny really, I don’t like bigging misen up, I like to come in over the horizon quietly and take the place by storm before anyone realises it’s happened. However, I realise there is a need to flag certain intentions of mine up, to give folk a chance to decide for themselves if they’d like to see and hear what I am up to. Little do the visitors know that the doors will be locked (not really) at 4pm on the Sunday and everyone will be led into the meeting room to see me do my ting! Well no not really, I get scared in crowds, I get agrippafobia, so I have akesd that the meeting be curtailed at several hundred guests, well in fact not hundreds just tens, actually to be truthful (to tell the tooth) up to ten, well I do know there’ll be at least 4 people there cos they told me, that is unless of course they get ill or have an important dental appoinkment.
Now am going to go back, right back to a time when I sat drawing Mr Dobson a bit of a strange old English teacher in 1966. I was about 15 and just starting to be a artisbloke and ‘doing portraits’ was my ting.
OK so I am a portraitist. It began in earnest, (actually it was in Brunlea), back in 1968 when I was learning how to paint by going to night classes with David Wild (DWi), Slade Prix de Rome winner. He was brought up on the William Coldstream technique at Slade and became influenced big time by Cezanne whose technique is like a natural progression from Coldstream (even tho he pre-dates Sir William!). Also when Alan Aldridge invited every artist on the planet to illustrate the Beatles lyrics and gave each a page he gave David 5 pages for his drawings of the men who made up the group. Sadly (for David but luckily for moi) DWi returned to live his days in the northern town thru which the River Brun runs (where I wuz dragged up). So off the beaten track that his career in ‘art’ was effectively curtailed but he became my most important teacher who gave me the method and the confidence to get started and never prevented me going off an experimenting with the techniques I found in big shows I had hitchhiked to visit down in London by Matisse, and later de Kooning. I used to suck in the influences voraciously.
Self Portrait c. 1968
David never said ‘no, stick with Cezanne’ he just encouraged me to experiment. After ten years playing with my techniques I did one painting of my wife which opened the floodgates for me onto a wilder style of work.
[Actually this portrait was done in 1989 cos i can’t find an image of the 1979 one but there’s still that ‘Kennedy’ touch. I entered this for an RA summer show rejection, one of many. Even when my work sneaked thru the first phase of judges in 2005 and TWO portraits of Ken Campbell were ‘accepted not hung’ apparently an accolade, but not for me, nobody saw the works! I stopped entering after that, got better tings to expend on. In a way it was good to stop wasting energy adding money to the established gallerys’ coffers and moving over to the artist’s books world where there seems to be a much more open attitude. So, when you keep coming up against a brick wall what do you do? Change tack, come at it from a different direction. If your work is good and contains that special someting, you’ll get round the wall somehow. I realise now that I had been doing lots of work in the ‘book’ zone but I had not realised my book was art! Idjet.]
My ‘style’ had opened up and I was now happy with what I produced. It was me and it held the qualities of all my influences which after I had devoured (Soutine soon became Munch and the German Expressionists I first discovered in an art history book by Werner Haftmann).
By the 1980’s I was producing work which the keeper of the modern collection at Tate referred to as ‘Very German’. I have always done portraits, probably cos am interested in ‘character’. In the late 60’s many were self portraits. Then I did loads of my wife which usually ended up making her look like a scary witch with blackened eyes. I always had a go at doing ‘famous folks’ and when I met DWi in the 1980s he only encouraged this saying keep doing them. I once bumped into Richard Harris outside the Nat Port Gal (which has several photos of my portraits in their archive collection, I’m in lots of archives, is that cos folk like to hide my work?) and gave him my card and said if he ever needed a portrait artist to get in touch but he was too busy rehearsing MacArthur’s Park to contact me. Here’s a ‘live’ version- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amzJDSsC2IA and the studio version- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2po8Iw2iMA which has loads of images of the great Oirish man who called me ‘Pete’.
I painted Feliks Topolski several times. Also Lord Bath and Josef Herman. BUT I gave up trying to gain a living or reputation as a portraitist as none of my work ever sold. Lord Bath said he liked one of my portraits of him but could not be seen buying it as then folk would maybe perceive him as ‘vain’ (sic). There’s only so long you can pee into the wind before you get sick of it. However I did continue drawing people and when I did my MA and wanted to do etchings of my six featured artists & writers I already had working drawings of most of them. Their faces are all full of character and my penchant for creating unique takes on faces enabled me to produce a series of etchings for my artist’s books on the Clay Jug theme. I wrote about it in G Batch. Then I created Inside This Earthen Vessel which only has one picture in it at the back of all six men with the writings about them being set in typography which takes up the shape of a pot. The pot shaped typo becomes the portraits.
Joseph Beuys, one of the six men mentioned below.
Now I have produced a new concertina book, Inside This Great Jug for BABE 2015 at Arnolfini with 6 illustrations in of the six men in fabulous colour because nowadays I can do that. With modern printing technology it’s possible to produce full colour images at prices which can be afforded. That was not the case in the first 20 -30 years of my output so much of my work was never seen in print.
At BABE I have been allotted the final spot on the Sunday afternoon to do a ‘talk’ about my recent work which is in ‘books’ of various forms. When I told a friend that I was to be the final speaker he said, ‘They saved the best til last then’. A nice idea but it’s not a competition, just a talk, well not just a talk actually. It’ll be a reading of and a couple of recitations of some poems plus one or two surprises. I never do ‘normal’, do I? There was just going to be one recitation of a poem by Kabir until my mate Dave said, ‘I think you shouldn’t read your poem, you should learn it and recite it’. With friends like that who needs enemies? On top of that I will be ‘just reading’ one of my poems from the collaboration I did with David Jury last summer, well I say ‘just reading’, because it is two poems morphed together so a ‘reading’ becomes someting else. Like I say I never do normal.
My old friend Ian Woollard sent this comment today, ‘that it is a lovely portrait of your wife’. This was further commented on by Sonia Palaver who said “I love the portrait of your wife, masterly!”
Their appreciations are much appreciated. So are the 54 ‘views’ today done by 30 visitors. I picked up my new book today and it’s really tiny and gently understated.
new book in foreground with a photo of my wife at the time I did the portrait featured at the top o this blArt.