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Meander Ploughing final copy

Meander Ploughing oil painting

Here’s a little story, a little story.

Towards the end of July I reveived an email from someone in America. It said her outfit (I’ll call her A) were interested in using pictures of mine as set decoration in a new Netflix series, tentatively titled ‘Ronald’. I thought this might be a joke, or a scam, but I asked for more info. Well, A replied, it’s a ten-episode series, with Emma Stone & Jonah Hill, directed by Cary Fukanaga (none of them known to me). My pictures would be used as set decoration in the ‘NATO offices in Iceland’. Checking on-line the series sounded plausible and the actors and director involved did exist. I had been to Reykjavik not so long ago, so it was also intriguing. They were interested in three paintings, A said: they would need hi-res digital scans; fee to be negotiated.

I thought that all this could sooner or later prove to be moon-dust. However, meantime I had two immediate problems. Firstly, I had no experience of negotiating a fee for repro rights, and would need some professional advice or representation. Secondly, I had not done a hi-res digital scan on any of my pictures. So I had to run around and find a scanner (not too difficult), and then find someone in the world of repro rights. I had a look at DACS (Design and Artist’s Copyright Society). and found that they do represent artists in this world. There was a difficult few days when A was pressing for immediate responses while I was busy filling in forms and getting myself represented by DACS. I was grateful to hand over to P at DACS.

At this point the location changed again, because the negotiation, given that it originated in the USA, was to be taken over by DACS’ sister organisation in the States, and the baton passed from P to F at ARS (Artist’s Rights Society). P told me F advised that they would look to collect a licensing fee of 1500 to 2000 dollars for the use, so a total of three and a half to four and a half thousand pounds total. That sounded serious stuff: after all, the total sale list-price for my paintings was about five and a half thousand pounds, whereas this would give me fees and leave me with the goods: only their ghosts gone. The only nuisance was that I would have to re register myself as a self-employed artist, having just agreed with HMRC that I could scarcely be regarded as commercially viable.

Bringing in the Hay lite

62 Bringing in the Hay. Oil on canvas 11.13

So far as negotiation was concerned, I said, I was more interested in my pictures being used than in the level of profit. As it happens I had a picture in a prestigious American gallery, and it would be nice to tell them that my work was moving around in Netflixville. What would all that add up to ?

So here comes the denoument (and we haven’t yet even had a nou): I got an email on 25 August from P to say that, after all, they had decided not to use my pictures as part of their set design. This was an editorial decision, he said. There you are, moondust again after one little month.

Somehow this all happened out of a clear blue sky: at least it means that the net is searched for material. I remain intrigued. Why might pictures of mine of the Norfolk landscape turn up on a NATO office wall in Iceland? Meantime, Ladies and Gents All, here are the said paintings before your very eyes: no new attempt has been made to extract their souls. Onwards and sideways.

Byre & Bird, Early Morning  small

Byre and Bird, Early Morning oil painting

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The Studio

Clearing out is the beginning of Open  Studios. Necessary, and useful because you have mentally to audit all that stuff, materials, tools, odds and bits, you have accumulated, So I move things around in circles and hop from one part of the floor to the next clear area, repainting with a lighter grey floor paint.  Result: cleaner, clearer, with more light. (The floor is chipboard, on top of polystyrene insulation, on top of the original plank floor of this off-the-peg shed). At the same time I put round a skirting, against the vertical lining boards. I do this mainly to inhibit mouse activity, but I must say the result looks very neat.

Mice are a permanent problem. They get into drawers and chew up my drawings; a mouse has even chewed away the fibres on the back of a canvas in one place, leaving small holes showing in the front paint surface which I will have to repair.  Why would they do that?  Aha, a visitor says: in the basement of the RA Schools they stored linseed, which turned out to be a food store for rats and mice. The little bastards have also chewed the spines off some of my books, for the starch glue. They chew off the best bits of drawings to make a nest in the drawer. Could be worse: I reused an ancient stretcher, and a wood-worm ate its way through the wood making marginal holes in my canvas. Thank God woodworm aren’t as nippy as mice.

Anyway, once the walls are toshed out white again the whole studio converted to an amazingly clear, clean place ( it’s never like that when I am actually working)  So it is actually a fraud on the public – like the Iraq war or Brexit. Never mind.  It’s the illusion which counts.  It reminds me of the time we used to pop round to have coffee in Terry Frost’s studio – pictures everywhere at all stages, hanging, leaning against the wall, ready for ‘the old one-two’; paint, brushes, stand oil, confusion, stove, warm Nescafe and chat in a creative clutter. Years later I saw his paintings hanging on the sterilised walls of Tate St Ives, & thought how changed they were as chaste icons. Should the product be exhibited quite clear of the warmth of its generation? Or contrariwise, why do we want to know how Hokusai produced his works: isn’t it enough to have the prints and drawings?

 

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Living Room

Visitors are generally very friendly. I feel an absurd need to chat them up.  Not to try for sales, but because my chatter seems to be required as part of the entertainment. As if I am the product, not the work. I know that most of them won’t buy anything – many can’t – and they know that I know, and so ad infinitum.  Some people don’t like what they see: too ‘trad’ or too ‘modern’. I am always one of Tom Lehrer’s children, as I go sliding down the razor-blade of life.  One woman complains that these aren’t textiles – she has been misled by a road-sign. Actually, Madam, they are textiles – but I know what you mean.

It’s an odd business, coming up with an answer to nobody’s question, and then putting it up for sale. Of course, the opposite has its drawbacks – I mean producing something commissioned, to someone else’s criteria, with all the frustrations of not quite fulfilling he brief, regrets the client etc. Though at least then you can hate the client, and not exclusively yourself,  sole composer and performer of inadequate tunes for an empty street.

Was it worth it? Yes. I cleaned out the studio.  The talk was good; the visitors were warm. I sold a print and three pictures to good friends. Does that count? I reminded my good friends that I am still here doing whatever ‘it’ is And two cards. – enough to buy the next batch of materials; my pictures cheered me up/my pictures depressed me. Shall I do it again?  I don’t think so.  Shut, Sesame!

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Here it is again – my friendly fieldmark. Most years the field next door (Claypit Hill rising to Dicky Hill- the two fields were merged in the years after the War, part of a general amalgamation of fields, and tearing out of hedgerows here), is ploughed up, harrowed, raked and sown, and then a final fieldmark is embossed on it like a watermark by a heavy tractor. It will sit here now for the next three seasons, accentuated by the growth as it comes, modified by the nature of the crop. It’s a natural  symbol – a bit like a Greek alpha or a rune, but very much itself. Next years fieldmark will probably look similar – but not the same – and will stare up at the changing moon, currently an orange sickle in the West at dusk, who presides over this sort of variability. It will certainly creep into some future picture of mine, as it has so many times in the past.

Loo card grab

It’s as easy to wreck a small town as it is to wreck a small planet, and in both cases it is done bit by bit.

I live in a small village on the edge of Harleston, one of a string of small market towns along the Suffolk/Norfolk border, industrious, fun to live in centres for the hinterland they serve, and in parts quite beautiful. These towns have had their share of pressure, from the economy, but also from unsympathetic expansion, bad planning, and administrative cock-ups. But they have in the past fought back. For instance, an attempt to impose parking charges on Harleston, which would have had a dire effect on trade, was repulsed by the townspeople.

But Harleston has been caught out by the latest insult, the closure of the town’s only public toilets, and their replacement by new automated loos you have to pay for, as on a railway terminus The former loos (locked up) are in a small redbrick, pantiled building next to the large redbrick, pantiled Budgens supermarket, in a square above the Thoroughfare used for parking. They are a bit rustic, but perfectly serviceable, (when open) as far as I can see, though they are unfortunately rather too distant from the market and the main street. The population is ageing, and none of our bladders are getting more expansive, so what was needed was more available loos in more places, not an inferior replacement of what we already have. But wait a minute; there was some years ago another set of loos next to the Cornhall, excellently placed for the Market wasn’t there? Yes BUT, through some form of benign neglect, these were allowed to dwindle and be converted to a dwelling. Meantime Harleston is growing. There isn’t a dwindling need for loos.

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New loos could have been placed in the town’s other car park where they would in principle have been useful, and where they would at least not have clashed with other buildings. In fact the new block not only looks temporary, it looks silly. Anyone with one eye could have told the planners that it was going to look silly, but apparently there was a shortage of one-eyed people at the time. The block has been carefully oriented to make an alley-way between its front and the old toilet block, so that those who might wish to vandalize it are carefully screened from view – we know from past experience that things placed there are likely to be vandalized
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Adding injury to insult, this new block requires us to pay, though it is sited in middle of the free parking area which the town fought for. Didn’t anybody think that was a contradiction? What we now have is a bit of bad French basic design, in a metal box, dumped alongside the vernacular red brick. It doesn’t even sit happily on the tarmac. The only consolation is that as its complicated systems break down they will provide employment for the town’s plumbers, electricians and engineers.

The joy of using them will not add to the pleasure of the Harleston experience.

The worst part of it all is that the new loo-block must have been studied by a mort of people – planners, architects, councillors, and so on in the planning stages. Put your hand up if you voted for it. And what horrors are you planning next?

Morning at the Cross copy

Syleham Morning Looking North; Brian at his workshop oil on canvas 4 x 6 feet

Back in the ‘seventies, when I lived part & then full-time in a cottage at the Cross, Syleham, Suffolk, I decided to paint these 6 x 4 foot pictures of the view from the cottage upstairs windows, looking North in the morning, down to the Waveney & Brockdish village, and South in the evening at the humpback hills and the road leading up to Wingfield. At that time Brian lived next door (there was a kind of flying freehold). Queenie Harper lived a bit further along, in the lodge of Monk’s Hall, with her husband, the Estate gamekeeper at that time. Queenie had known the urban life, having been a barmaid at the Maid’s Head hotel in Norwich in her time.

Her husband had served in the war: he told me that after a fierce battle to establish the army in Italy his detachment were called out by the commanding officer, who said: “Now you men. You all come from a farming background, and as you can see, there are no able-bodied men hereabouts, and it’s harvest time. So you are going to get the harvest in.” They were fallen out, into this country of women, children and old men. And when the harvest was duly gathered, they were fallen in again, and continued fighting their way up Italy. There’s a film-script in that.

Looking South the road up the hill on the right led I believe to the house where Margo Mellis had lived with Frances Davidson. (Earlier Margo had lived in Cornwall, and befriended Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth when they fled London & came to an unknown St Ives). That was before my time, but the area obviously attracted artists.

The Old King’s Head in Brockdish is being reopened by Vicky Townley (a member of the Harleston & Waveney Art Trail) and her husband. Great news for the village, which used to have two pubs, a post office/shop and a restaurant. Good news for artists too, as paintings etc will be on show in the new Old King’s Head.

The opening is on Thursday the 19th Feb at twelve o’clock. All welcome.

Evening at the Cross

Syleham Evening Looking South; Queenie Harper Riding By. oil on canvas 4 x 6 feet