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Nick’s Guitar  oil on canvas . 60 x80 cm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1  My son Nick said to me “I’d love a cubist painting of my guitar ” I always wanted to do a cubist guitar picture, I thought – (at one time I saw myself myself as a sort of cubist). “Why not?” I said, “send me pictures of your guitars.”  I was a bit stuck at the time: doing something entirely different might get me going again – which it did.

2  Nick spends a lot of his time in Benalmadena, near Malaga, in a block of flats which makes homage to adobe. The outside is rough earth colour, the floors are red-tiled, and the balcony interior walls, from which you look out to the sea, are painted bright yellow.

DP Braque Guitars penci

3  A paradoxical reflection: Cubism seeks to reconcile three dimensional objects with a two dimensional surface, But unlike the sensuous curving surfaces of an acoustic guitar, this particular one of Nick’s is electric, and flat! “2D, meet 2D”.

dp picasso guitar pencil

 

4  The advantage of a commission is that the end-product is determined. You know roughly speaking what sort of thing should emerge. Un-commissioned, in spite of attempts to pin things down, I don’t know what I’ll end up with. Ok, I can do all sorts of roughs, then preliminary drawings which try to preserve the energy and parsimony of the roughs, then more careful drawings – or more roughs. By the time I start painting, anyhow, I should know my way round the shapes, know what I’m setting out to do – but I can’t be sure: drastic changes may happen, the idea may turn out to be mistaken, muddled or weak, and the work abandoned. Terry Frost said the number of failures didn’t get lower with age: I’m with him there.

Guit folded rough

5  Cubism: I think of a project called “Translation and Transcription,” we used to set students on the Communication Design Degree Course (at what was then called the North East London Polytechnic). Its aim was to sensitise students to the way in which all communication systems are rule-bound. They were required to re-write a Nursery Rhyme as a Daily Mirror front page article (headlines and all), and to rejig Botticelli’s ‘Venus Rising from the Waves’ as a pop art poster. (obviously doing this in reverse would need much higher skills). Then at the crit. we would read, and look at, the works, to see if really convincing transitions had taken place. Does it look & sound like a real Daily Mirror article? Does it look like a convincing Pop art poster? The crucial question was: have you identified the rules?

Scan

6  Synthetic cubism rejects linear perspectival pictorial space: Braque condemned it with scornful phrases like ‘eye-fooling devices’. In a cubist work an object, or any constituent part of it can be presented in any version or distortion, but cumulatively stand for the totality. Like “All hands on deck!” where the hands stand for the whole seaman. The surface of a cubist work must always remain the picture plane, the two dimensions it actually consists of.

No object is allowed to create an illusion of space: each establishes its position on its own plane, parallel to, and not far behind the picture plane itself; devices like counterchange and pattern (visual rhyme) mitigate against intrusions of space…..

 

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Well, that’s a start on the rules, but there could be pages of them. In the early days of computing it took a long set of instructions to the computer to tell it how to draw a table in perspective: it had to be told where lines weren’t to be drawn because you could not see through the table-top. Then the computer took about half an hour to draw the table, using small ink pens, on a piece of paper! Not long ago: only the ‘seventies. Normally we intuit these multitudinous rules, but when we aren’t getting the right sort of result we have to dig them out, examine them, and re-programme.

 

7   Braqueian cubism never uses perspectival space, except ironically – as in a nail casting a shadow or the like. Picasso is less purist: if a bit of aerial perspective might help, he’s willing to drag it in, with a bit of a crunch. But the space remains shallow. Those extraordinary bathers sit or run across the beach but the horizon is a line on a backdrop, the whole a cabinet event in memory of the Diaghilev stage. But once Picasso tries to harness an even flatter version of this representational system to outside objectives, it fails him. Icarus, in his Unesco mural, can only slither down the plane of sea/sky, like jam being tested on a saucer. Icarus cannot fall, through pride, through that immensity of space, into the depths of the ocean, because Picasso’s pictorial system cannot represent it. It’s not just suffering that the old masters were never wrong about.

Braque deploys his cubist representation system marvellously for his still lives. It is much less successful at dealing with landscape. Somehow Giorgio Morandi’s simpler system works far better – but hey, come to that, so did Cezanne’s rule-breaks and ambiguities. The stronger the system, it seems, the more is shut out.

 

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8  What did I get from doing the commission? Some energy. Because the job had to be finished before I could move on. Satisfaction from closure. Another look at counterchange.  Some more understanding,  But no revelations, just as making a same-size copy of a Matisse didn’t blow my mind when I tried that exercise. All you can do is follow the beardy master, ‘en suivant son petit sensation.’  The man the Gods loved for not drawing straight. We don’t do what we would; we only do what we can.

26 10 2017

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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

Moonlight in the bathroom in the SunlightThis is my painting Moonlight in the Bathroom hanging in the living room, where Nature has decided to improve it –  in so many ways. Can’t win

 

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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!

Dear John Humphries,

I heard you recently belabouring a spokesperson for the Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the Falklands War. Well, that was thirty-five years ago, and we might have modified our views or our language in the meantime. But I was also opposed to the Falklands War at that time – as was Tam Dalyell, so it was hardly a lefty knee-jerk reaction. or one which ought to be used to score sound-bite points out of context.

An immediate cause of that war was the decision by the British Government to withdraw the Royal Naval Ice Patrol Vessel ‘Endurance’ – our only naval presence in those waters at that time. The Argentinians took that as a further signal that the British were not overly concerned with the future of the Falklands. Margaret Thatcher made a small saving in Defence to lose the Falklands, and made a war and paid a fortune to retrieve them. But once you start a war you start killing and injuring people: the financial cost was less important than the human cost, and the effect on the world.

In that Falklands War 907 people were killed (649 Argentinian, 255 British and three Falklanders). Of course many were also injured. The population of the Falkland Islands at that time was 2932. Dalyell’s objection (also mine) was that the official Opposition immediately endorsed whatever warlike action the Government might take. With a great deal of hindsight we now know that the then Argentinian rulers were unwilling to negotiate, and too stupid to see what might happen next (in spite of warnings from the Americans), though this does not justify our inadequate pressure for a negotiated settlement. The crucial factor was generous support for Britain from the US, without which the British strike might well have failed.

Thatcher was determined to have a military solution. Sir John Nott (who was then Defence Secretary) said he would have preferred a diplomatic solution, but added “Mrs Thatcher was of the view, which in retrospect proved correct, that unless we actually landed on the Falkland Islands and defeated the Argentinians, that the national humiliation which we ‘d suffered would not be retrieved.” (see report in the Independent, 21 April 1989). Thatcher does not seem to have considered the national humiliation which would have occurred if we had failed, and presumably took the projected loss of lives as a given.

By her action she backed big-nation power over principle and international law, and war war over jaw jaw. The principle which needed, and still needs, to be reinforced (often ignored in the past) was that sovereignty always rightly belongs to the people who live there. This is the only point on which I disagree with Tam Dalyell. Australia was not terra nullius, nobody’s land, and Palestine was not Balfour’s to give away. By once again discounting this principle rather than insisting on it, Thatcher made the world less safe. Furthermore, we took on a moral obligation to the US which did not stand us (or them) in good stead later on.

It may be that Corbyn’s reaction thirty-five years ago was a bit strident, in yer face Dave Spart-speak. But basically it was right. And now we would be safer, not less safe, with someone for whom war is not a solution until the last resort, and who does not believe in a first strike, or a last strike, ensured destruction of people and poisoning of the planet.

The greatest political step in my life-time has been the creation of the European Union. Through the foresight and good faith of the likes of Adenauer and Monet, and for the first time in centuries, the tribes of Europe inside this new entity have stopped killing one another: this greatest of achievements went almost unmentioned during our silly Referendum. But the biblical adage remains true, “They that live by the sword shall perish by the sword.”

This poem was written to celebrate the first named Storm Lady, about a year ago, so perhaps it is still appropriate now.

 

Storm Ladies

 

 

Storm Lady Immogen hammers our doors and our windows

it’s the fault of Aeolus for letting her out of his bag

and our fault as well, for tattooing a name on her

innocent shoulder.

 

Is she tempted to blow as when all Suffolk’s windmills

indignantly groaned into flame, with their arms madly whirling,

ripped oaks out like sprout stems, demolishing church-towers and drowning

some eight thousand sailors?

 

‘A once-in-five-hundred-year tempest,’ could blow up again, any minute.

because Gaia’s provoked, or a force generated at random ?

Either way we can’t see, cannot draw, this fierce air that we picture as sinister

isobars, sliding and clenching.

 

“But I love wind” you say, and we know what you mean is

the scent on spring breezes and bracing brown gusts in the autumn

that whirl leaves round our heads and throw rooks like old rags round the sky

But beware what you love, for

 

the Wind-God has ungentle daughters, his feline avengers:

watch out for a day which is still, with the grass hardly moving,

when we peer through the pane, and we ask ourselves

‘What is that roaring?’

 

 

 

 

02 2016

 

 

 

 

We were going to a wedding near Plymouth, so we booked through train tickets well in advance, and first class for more room and comfort, on the 10.17 from Diss in Norfolk – one and a half hours to London Liverpool Street. Once we were nicely installed and comfortable the pleasant voice of a lady conductor told us that we were to be ‘re-trained’ at Colchester because torrential rain the preceding night had affected the main line. So we scrambled, with our luggage, up and over to the other platform, where we slid randomly into uncomfortable seats amid everyone’s piled up luggage. This local train set off at a leisurely trundle, including an unscheduled stop, round Marks Tey and other stations towards Shenfield (whence, hopefully, to Liverpool Street). The comfortable one hour’s transfer time to get from Liverpool Street to Paddington gradually eroded. It was a relief from tension when we reached the time at which catching our connection was now entirely impossible.

 

Our train had eventually got onto the main line to Liverpool Street and seemed to be running normally when it stopped suddenly. The driver told us we had a red light: when someone told him what it was about, he would tell us. A few minutes later he said “There’s a problem with the points, and they are sending someone to check them.” A bit later he said ” They know what is wrong with the points, and they are sending for a man with a spanner” More minutes passed. “They’ve now told me to reverse the train back to Manor Park, then they’ll decide what to do next, so you’ll see me walking through the train to the back cab.”. So he passed through, after which we reversed in stately fashion back down the line to the station.

 

“I’m going to open the doors to let some fresh air in, but they may fix the points any time so that we can go forward, so don’t get out here, unless you want to.” A longer pause.

 

“After all that, it’s probably better for the completion of your journeys, and for my sanity, if you leave the train now, cross the platform, and take the tube – I’ve checked with Transport for London – will you honour their tickets? – Yes.” So we gathered our rucksack, luggage and wedding present and humped up and over again. We got into Liverpool Street at 14.10. Whether the train we left at Manor Park ever made it to London I don’t know.

 

We crossed by tube to Paddington where there can a long walk to the platforms, depending on which tube line you cross by. In the old days there were porters: nowadays an increasingly elderly population has to carry and trudge. The walks get longer. We can do this now, but in a few years? Fortunately, though we missed our booked connection, Great Western waved us through, and we slid into comfortable seats on the 15. 15 to Penzance. And settled down for an uneventful journey

 

Except that there were non-scheduled stops at Dawlish and Dawlish Warren. And then. just before Plymouth, the train stops. The impeccably voiced train conductor informs us that there is a cow on the line – : “Actually, cows.” Armed with a flag, he descends to shoo them off, and when he gets back in we proceed towards Plymouth, being told en route that passengers for the Looe line are to descend here, and take provided road transport, because they will by now have missed the connection from Liskeard.

 

“A collision with a cow could have serious consequences,” the conductor continues, “including possible derailment, so we will have to run slowly for a bit, until we know that we are well clear. Please don’t lean out of the windows here, you can easily catch a branch or something on the way, and endanger your eyes. I have had a number of injuries on this train, so do please be sensible.”

 

At last we get out at Plymouth Station, to find that we are penned in a long queue shuffling out through only one turn-style (while several station operatives lean on rails and watch impassively as if it is nothing to do with them). Our tickets have already been checked, several times – why is this happening to us? We’re very late, and tired, and we want to get out!

 

Most of the railway workers we encountered on this trip were diligent, helpful and friendly. They wanted to do a good job, they wanted to be proud of their enterprise. But the overall organisation let them (and us) down endlessly, just as it does in the NHS, of which more in a later blog.

 

Emergency has to be planned for. Rainstorms happen, just like snow, and leaves on the line; track and machinery need maintenance, as does trackside fencing, trees and hedges. All this means labour, labour means wages, more wages means reduced profits for railway companies, but better service and therefore greater profit (or lower losses) for citizens of this nation. I imagine most of us would prefer the railway system to be a national treasure, run by staff who are not only properly paid, but proud of their institution and anxious for it to give a sterling service to the person and the nation. Esprit de corps during the Olympics was wonderful to watch – but it shouldn’t be only for athletes..

 

 

Choices

‘No black!’ I heard my father say
‘Mourners in the East wear white’
his mourners tried to get it right –
everyone turned up wearing grey.

‘A barrow and a wooden tray
will do to wheel my body there:
leave the live flowers to bloom in air –
cut flowers will shrivel in a day.’

The coffin paused, my mother ran
and threw red roses on the lid
we didn’t know she had them hid,
it wasn’t anybody’s plan;

whatever it was the vicar said
I knew my father didn’t mind –
mourning is for the left behind
you get no choices when you’re dead.

 

Dear Penny,

 

You asked me where I stood on the referendum. I haven’t forgotten: I have been thinking about it. I did at first think it was an enormous red herring, and obscured the fact that Casino Capitalism (ie the City of London) was the main enemy, but I now think it has been useful. if only because people who aren’t obsessed by, or much interested in, politics begin to see that there are very few ‘facts’ and that most economic or political predictions or projections are (and always have been) guesses. Economics is still the dismal science. People do keep complaining they are not being given “The Facts” This is because there aren’t any. There is no clear “What is going to happen,” and policy remains the best honesty. Not “Where will we be in five years?” but “Where do we want to be in five years,” which is a better indicator of where we should be aiming, and which nobody seems daring enough to pronounce.

 

Where are we? For centuries up to 1945 Europeans in various nation-states have been killing one another. The European Community was an attempt to stop that happening, and has been an outstanding success: seventy two years ago it was still happening, but since then Europeans within the EC have stopped killing one another. This is not trivial. Some people will tell us that peace is due to Nato, which underlines how hypocritical the debate is. By belonging to Nato we give away some of this sovereignty which is so much talked about, to a supra-national body, led by America. (cf Article 13 of the Nato treaty which makes it clear that this is America’s outfit).

 

The fact is that no nation can have absolute sovereignty. We can’t go back to” Making our own decisions.” We give some sovereignty away by accepting the United Nations Organisation, the Geneva Convention, the International Court at the Hague, the Law of the Sea for territorial waters, and so on. We may or may not agree with EC Fisheries policy, but clearly some organisation has to sort out competing claims and sustainability unless we are to go back to the Cod Wars. There are many other cases like this.

 

There are also many issues which can only be sorted out by a supra-national organisation which has clout. We can’t face down trans-national companies unless we can deprive them of a substantial proportion of their customers by way of persuading them to get into line. We can’t cope with migration on our own. There are millions of people outside Europe who want to get in. Our borders are the borders of Europe: if we can’t control those (and at the moment we can’t), we certainly can’t control the coastline of these off-shore islands with two boats, a few coast-guards, and a bit of Dad’s Army. (Some enterprising East Anglians have been demonstrating that we can people-smuggle with the best of them). King Canute went down to the shore to show his people that you can’t stop the tide from coming in: he wasn’t trying to deal with a tsunami.

 

If you say “Well, the EC fails to cope with immigration at the moment,” then I agree. But the organisation exists, the means is there. Where is the British Government’s great plan, with our partners, to deal with European borders and immigration? The British have been lousy team-players in the EC. If the alternative, Little Britain, policy is not to let foreigners in, you have to ask, how do they propose to keep foreigners out?

 

What we have is an inadequate European Community with many faults. But it is broadly benevolent and democratic. Here please note another of the hypocrisies. In the UK we have an electoral system which does not represent votes cast, and a revising House of Lords packed with entirely unelected old fogies. And we should complain about democracy in the EC? The answer is reform. Reform the UK, decide what you want the EC to be and reform that as well. Those who want to get out might well ask themselves: did we ever, really, get in?

 

I haven’t talked about economics and trade, because they are ephemeral issues on which hundreds of politicians and experts are fantasising. As I said before, there are no hard facts. That discussion has become unreal and boring, though I have no doubt that Brexit will be economically dire, the Brexiters, and I suspect the Government and the Civil Service, having no plans for that eventuality. Reminds me of a Head of Faculty of ours who memorably said “How can we have a contingency plan when we don’t know what is going to happen?”

 

Me, I want to belong to the group of nations who have created the culture I live in, and live by. I’m on the side of Bach and Beethoven, Dante and Verdi, Cervantes and Goya, Monet and Manet, Tolstoi and Turgenev (my Europe will definitely include Russia, when that country becomes a democracy again), and I want it to be wedded to ideals of liberty, equality, fraternity and sorority, and the proper use of a small planet. So I shall vote to stay in, with reservations, as a start. And I don’t believe they can legally deprive me of my European Citizenship.

P1000044

 

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.