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If anyone wants to know about my Alma Mater, I had two: one was the University of Oxford. The other was Ethel.

It came about this way: I was in some lunch-tume eatery in Oxford when I bumped into Jonathan Wordsworth (whom I knew vaguely at that time), and told him I was looking for a room. “In that case” he said “you had better come round to my place – I think my land-lady has a room spare. She does a good breakfast, and you could stay alive on that and her Sunday lunch.” The breakfast was indeed very good – fruit-juice, corn-flakes, an egg, bacon or the like, toast and marmelade, and tea or coffee. Sunday lunch was as good as my mother made, a full-scale meal. It was an optional extra, and cost as I remember seven shillings and sixpence. Jonathan had his own reason for introducing me: reinforcements, because we two were studying in the English School, and at that time the other students there – all of us post-graduate- were scientists. Breakfast and Sunday lunch took place in the lower ground level, strictly speaking this was Ethel and Wilf’s dining room; there was a long table, and I think, normally six of us sitting round it, with Ethel’s kitchen off the side. After breakfast Ethel would have to do the rooms, with a cleaning lady who came in for two hours, and do the shopping. But she was always available if you wanted to talk to her.

3 St. John Street was at the beginning of a long street of terrace houses, just round the corner from the Ashmolean Museum, and stretching up to Wellington Square; basically they comprised three floors, basement and mansard, and many, maybe most of them then, were landlady-run student houses or B&Bs. You went up steps to the door of No 3; on the wall, inside to the left was, or had been, a notice from the past which read ‘Dogs and bicycles not allowed in the Gentlemen’s rooms,’

There was another small kitchen at the end of the entrance corridor, a  few steps down, with a cooker, a sink and a fridge, for use by residents. I must have complained to Ethel about the poor quality of food available in town: she replied “Get yourself some pans and I’ll teach you to cook.” So I did, and she did teach me – how to make a roux, fricassee of veal, and so on. To all our benefits, she was taking a course in Cordon Bleu Cookery at the time, with a particularly ferocious Chef. “He said ‘When I say fry these onions golden-brown, I DON’T MEAN GOLDEN-BLACK!’ ”

This was at the time when the first non-stick pans came onto the market: Ethel came home giggling from a public demonstration by Philip Harben of the new wonder non-stick pan, where the omelette had inevitably stuck (though I went on using Harben’s Penguin cookery book, one of the early no-nonsense cook-books, without losing faith). What you should do, Ethel said, was never wash your frying-pan, but always wipe it clean with salt & newspaper, reaching a fine patina, and never sticking your omelette. My usual objective was to make a stew large enough to portion out during the week, alarming Spon, a biologist, because of the rate of reproduction of bacteria. (He came home from a lecture one day, delighted to have discovered that the fungi which preyed on timber were officially designated White Rotters and Brown Rotters).

The household met for breakfast, and then we went of to our rooms, our work, and to our individual circles of people in the University. On Sundays, however, we would often go to the pub (usually the Walton Arms), together with Wilfred to drink bitter & play darts before lunch. Wilfred was Ethel’s husband, a commercial travellor for Chunky Marmelade at that time. Occasionally, and that must have meant as passengers in Wilfred’s car, we went for a walk in Bagley Woods with Arnold, who was Forestry, or to the Bear and Ragged Staff at Cumnor. We were allowed to be both a community and very distinct individuals.

The house had a garden behind, with a small one-story flat, at the end of it. A large garden door gave onto the lane behind. Ethel and Wilfred had lived in the flat post-war when accommodation was hard to find. Wilf’s father had been Manciple of St John’s so the house was a college servant’s tenancy, the student rooms let out by his wife. The alley itself was a convenient tryst-place for three tarts who operated in the centre of Oxford, known as Freeman, Hardy and Willis after the shop they paraded in front of. Wilf said: “The door would go rattle rattle rattle, and you’d hear her say “You’ll have to hurry up – i’ve got another gentleman coming in ten minutes.”

Ethel had at one time been a dental nurse. I think (she mentioned parties at which laughing gas was sniffed). During the war she had worked for the Civilian Repair Organisation in a team based in Magdalen College, to recover parts from crashed aircraft, which were quickly used to bring other planes up to scratch (79,000 aircraft were restored to the flight-line by the time it was wound up in 1945). Parts in transit were leaned against college buildings. It must have been a sight worthy of Paul Nash (who was a War Artist, and did once have a small private exhibition in 3 St John’s St.) The elderly dons who were left behind in college, younger dons having gone off to the War, grumbled about this desecration: “There they sat” said Ethel “Eating their strawberries and cream, as if there wasn’t any rationing!” But in the War one did what one could, of course. One of Ethels close friends then, she related, was very good-looking, and traded on her looks to get coupon-less meals in restaurants and so on. One of her admirers pestered her to the point that she eventually said “Oh all right then” and took him back to her bedroom. But then , when he got it out, “Ethel”, she said, “I’ve never been so insulted in all my life! It was just like a little white propelling pencil! I told him to leave on the spot.” As to Ethel’s war-time work with aircraft, it was rumoured in the house that she had been offered a gong , but had turned it down. Ethel and Wilf were living in the flat at the end of the garden when Wilf’s mother announced that she was giving it up, so Ethel decided to take it on – she had her son’s education to think about.

Apart from dogs and bicycles, there didn’t seem to be any formal rules; everything was on trust. It was informally understood that women were to be out of the house by an elastic 10 pm. I was standing in the hall talking to Ethel when one girl danced past and out. “She looks like the cat that got the cream,” Ethel said. There was a serious temporary blip in Jonathan’s love-life when he caught the mumps – clearly also a threat to the whole house. We teetered at his scarcely open door and shouted “How do you feel?” He shouted back “Like half a superman!” Ethel was dispatched to buy an outsize jock-strap and a roll of cotton-wool. As things returned to normal Jonathan asked the Doctor about his condition “How will I know if I’m still fertile? ‘The Doctor shrugged; “Trial and error” Jonathan said “I’ll take care of the trials if you take care of the errors.”

When there were celebrations in the house, everyone joined in. I remember one party of mine when Derek, a welcomed visiting friend, and I, drew large murals on brown wrapping paper to decorate the walls: among other dishes Paul Banham brought a large bowl of Chile con Carne which I had not eaten before, and we all drank and made merry, Ethel and Wilf included. In the years after we left, former students, and their friends, and former girl-friends were regular visitors to 3 St John’s St.

I suppose that we were lucky to be at the apogee of 3 St John Street. Though Etherl and Wilf were told their tenancy would not be withdrawn, at the same time the Burser of St John’s gradually increased the rent until it was no longer possible to continue, because normal students in turn could not afford the rents. No doubt a combination of forces would have put paid to the Oxford landlady/digs system, but it was pushed on its way by the unthinking greed of St Johns – a classic case of the part acting against the interest of the whole. Landladies skimped, dipped into their savings, and gave up parts of their own accomodation to make ends meet, but eventually couldn’t and so a whole ecology in parts of Oxford became unviable. Worse than that, the job was no longer enjoyable – there was no fun left. Ethel and Wilf gave up the tenancy in 1963.

The following years were very hectic ones for me: somehow or other I lost touch with Ethel. When I sent her a copy of a children’s book of mine which had been published, hoping she would have enjoyed it, I got no reply. Probably there was no forwarding address and it never reached her.

She’s on that lengthening list of people I loved. who would have understood, and are no longer around.


 
blog, more pix & poems at:
davidpageartist.wordpress.com
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I should have asked him: he’d have known

she says, years after I am dead

he’d so much stuff there, crammed inside his head

but all that’s left of memory is bone

When I was young

I’d go into a field and draw

small boys would come to twitch and say ‘Are you a real

artist Mister?’ – if I knew I’d tell

I’d pull my bike

out of the hedge, re-pack my box,

& dawdle to the edge of town

past oak and dancing counterpoint of elm

the natural language of that place and time.

My student and my wander years behind

back in the city, on my bike again

I ride to Greengate House from Hanley Road

through Stratford’s acrid air, return

over the railway bump,

past the Precision Screw

Co Ltd and then

the Balls Pond Road to swing into Green Lanes

riding the traffic with a boatman’s skill

and wondering if ugliness can kill.

There’s pride in action; I am not aware

that trees are dying as I ride

the city gapes, a concrete trap

with me inside

while in some country lanes I once knew well

trees wither, get cut down, or fall

the country dwellers pick their sockets clean

there is no way to tell where they have been

– nobody sets a tombstone for a tree.

And was it you who forced me to discover

a tree-shaped absence in my mind?

to tell the truth, I really don’t recall

how the elms looked at all.

Why did it take me so long to remember

what I had so efficiently forgot?

It took me till I hit my head to know

the elms had gone.

I did not see them go

Hornsey Please Avoid copy

The basic story is this: students held a teach-in at Hornsey College of Art, and once everyone got talking about Art Education, rather than their subjects, they found the whole set-up profoundly unsatisfactory, so they refused to leave (and stayed in place for six weeks), reviewing the situation and issuing discussion documents. Staff who agreed with the students joined them; Guildford College came out too, after which there was action at most of the English Schools of Art & Design. The intellectual and creative worlds were sympathetic or enthusiastic; delegations were sent out; a book was written and published by Penguin Education; Pat Holland made a film.

Most of the people whose hands were allegedly on the levers of power said we should address the next lever above, or alongside; the Local Authority (whose Councillors had just been elected in an unexpected Conservative landslide) had no idea what to do; the Education Minister, Shirley Williams, said that the Government had just received a black eye for intervening in an educational dispute, so there was nothing she could do, tho’ she did give us a cup of tea and a biscuit. In this power vacuum the creative debate flourished. Even those, Sir William Coldstream and Sir John Summerson, who had set up the new system in Art & Design Education, the new Diploma in Art and Design, (supposed to be, but not actually, degree-level – ie if you went out & got a job as a teacher you weren’t paid the same rate as a graduate -) joined the debate in a friendly way. This was an intellectual revolution, not street-fighting: the only violent act was the sending-in of Alsation dogs and dog-handlers by the local Aldermen to keep students out, quickly neutralised by student dog-lovers (biscuits again). As in Paris, where students were usurping the role of the working class, (according to Revolution Pundits), the Hornsey mob were not making things, drawing, photographing, designing: they were usurping the role of the universities by using their brains rather than their manual skills.

Horn,pow..crush copy 2

Students and staff at Hornsey were doing what William Morris would have wished them to do: that is, they were examining their role in society, and examining the sort of society they might wish to have a role in. Their specific concerns, at a practical level, were summarized as follows by P-BD in The Hornsey Affair: The Educational Debate:

“.first of all, the conditions of entry into our sphere of higher education; secondly, the problem of beginning studies (and by implication, of art education in schools); thirdly, the question of specialisation(the old structure was largely ruled by rigid specialisation); fourth, the out-dated distinction between ‘diploma’ and ‘vocational’ courses in art education; and fifth, the concept of an ‘open-ended’ type of education, with more freedom and flexibility built into it than the old one we were rejecting.”

Honsey Overthrow copy

The Hornsey Affair, p.106

To repeat a most important point, the Hornsey Sit-In debates and documents are simultaneously about the nature of the State and our part in it, about some issues which were current at the time, and some existing structures which needed to be examined and reformed. We did not fight with the Police in the streets as they did in Paris, because here the State was not directly repressive: the local Police were happy to come in and use the canteen, which had been taken over and successfully run by the students.

Some idea of the feeling of the time can be experienced in the Hornsey Film:

 http://player.bfi.org.uk/film/watch-the-hornsey-film-1970

The Hornsey Affair, Penguin Education Special, 1969 was written by many of those who took part in the Sit-In, but has been out of print for some decades. More recently, using material which later became available, Hornsey 1968 by Lisa Tickner, Frances Lincoln, 2008 is a substantial account. And then of course there is the Student Unrest ’68 show at the Tate to look forward to.

Hornsey Parasites copy

 

TO Litho Vine Ladder copyHere are some pictures by Edwin (Tony) Oldfield. To put them in a context I should say that I have been reading the recent Eric Ravilious biography*, which in turn sent me to Tirzah Garwood’s autobiography* I very much enjoyed this last – sometimes a bit naïve, but perceptive, warm and brave, always a real person speaking. Tirzah was married to Eric Ravilious, who had studied at the Royal College of Art under Paul Nash, along with Edward Bawden, Enid Marx and others.The RCA seems to have dwindled into a rather fusty fine art college so William Rothenstein was sent in 1920 to revitalise it, especially in traniing designers. But William Morris’ generous concept of a community of makers was abandoned for a hierarchy in which ‘design’ was distinctly inferior to fine art. It is worth here quoting Morris’ rousing advocacy of a continuum of art and design

Now as to the scope and nature of these Arts I have to say, that though when I come more into the details of my subject, I shall not meddle much with the great art of Architecture, and less still with the great arts commonly called Painting and Sculpture, yet I cannot in my own mind quite sever them from those lesser so-called Decorative Arts, which I have to speak about. It is only in latter times,and under the most intricate conditions of life that they have fallen apart from one another; and I hold that, when they are so parted, it is ill for the Arts altogether:the lesser ones become trivial, mechanical, unintelligent, incapable of resisting the changes pressed on them by fashion or dishonesty; while the greater, however they may be practiced for a while by men of great minds and wonder-working-hands, unhelped by the lesser, unhelped by each other, are sure to lose their dignity of popular arts, and become nothing but dull adjuncts to unmeaning pomp, or ingenious toys for a few rich and idle men.

William Morris: The Lesser Arts, 1877

Back at the RCA, in 1922. Enid Marx, who was a very gifted student, was ‘denied her painting diploma by teachers who disapproved of her “Fauvist inclinations”’ [ Friend p.57]. Her work was said to be ‘vulgar’ (Wikipedia). She left the RCA in 1925 and became a very successful fabric designer thereafter. Tirzah writes that after the RCA ‘Eric had an inferiority complex because he was a designer, and it took years to get rid of this feeling.’ [Ullmann p.167], and later, more bitterly ‘Eric aimed modestly at being a good second rate painter and engraver’. [Ullmann p.168].

In a later generation of RCA students, Tony Oldfield was failed at the end of his course (1932) by Rothenstein, for being ‘artistically insincere and too much influenced by the French,’ (which might easily have been said about Rothenstein himself in the ’90s). Fortunately his local authority (the West Riding of Yorkshire) paid for him to do another year, after which, having produced his quota of fake Rothensteins, he was given his Diploma. ‘They made me a liar!’ he said.

He emerged from the RCA in the deepest trough of the recession: his wife, Nora, said that she married him to cheer him up, and they used a curtain-ring at the wedding. Tony never really recovered his self confidence (or alternatively, did not have a very great ego anyway), though his critical eye was sharp, and sharpened as he aged.

 

 

 

Tony Oldfield was a fine, but little known, artist, an impressive draughtsman and a great teacher. He also designed and built furniture and made ceramic pieces. As far as I can see there is at present only one image of his work available on the Internet, which is a shame, so here are four more for anyone who might be interested.

*Ravilious and Co, the Pattern of Friendship, Andy Friend, Thames and Hudson, 2017

*Long Live Great Bardfield, the Autobiography of Tirzah Garwood. ed Anne Ullmann, Persephone Books, London, 2016

He Sees Her Break Her Arm

Again I see you trip, again your fall
freezes into a still –
there must have been a sound –
I can’t recall.

Spun from the wall,
there you are lying on the ground

“My arm is broken”
that is what you cry,
I know the words, but I
can’t bring your voice alive

Somebody holds your hand
the pavement’s hard
the ambulance has thirty miles to ride
your face is white with pain.

And now, though I retain
these fragments, which would make a moving picture
I could assemble, if I wanted to,
yet all these memories are stills –

it’s only later that I’m moved by you.

 

 

Together in the Shower

The shower turns me on, and yes
I never felt a hand cupping my breast
or felt a nipple tugged by what I held.
What do I know then? only this
that growing-up gives way to growing-down.

An intimacy we had not expected
binds us together in the cubicle.
What I’d have given, thirty years ago,
to slide myself against you, flesh to flesh!
now it’s because you need to wash you hair
and I must be your naked canephore

Dressing again, you say “I can’t quite reach,”
a wounded arm folded like card behind
“Can you do up my bra?” Hold hard,
The trick was meant to be
(when I was young) a sly
flick of the fingers on a silken back
no fuss, and cornucopia unleashed

But on this day I hold your bra-straps taut,
and slip the hook firmly into its eye
in memory of what I could not reach
and never may.

 

 

Little Priapic Ode

Stop these nocturnal visits, please
at inconvenient hours. It’s some dark corner of the night
when through the gate of horn,
your lewd mosquito trumpets in my ear,
calls action stations,

and soon as I’m awakening you play
your boring mime ‘Haephastos and His Limp’
and fade to grey.
Not funny, and no way
to earn libations.

This isn’t how you were when I was young:
nose stuck in my affairs,
you’d stick around all afternoon:
my flesh would crawl with honey and with bees,
my brain would freeze,

when I was young you had me on my knees.
It’s such a fall,
a mighty tyrant dwindling to a tease.

So summon up your ichor, little god,
and if you please,
either come hot and strong
or not at all

It looks as though we may be neglecting one lever at the moment: even discounting UKIP we have a substantial number of MEPs, who remain in place until we leave.The UK apparently has 73 MEPs – even discounting the UKIP group this is a sizeable wedge   Maybe there are alliances we could make, and maybe we need to explore filibustering/ blocking tactics in case we need that in our negotiation armoury .

Macron wants to reform the EC. As members of the EC until we actually leave, (which may be many years) we would be missing a trick if we did not seriously try to make the EC more like the organisation UK citizens would like it to be, given that it is in any case on the turn;  There are potential allies. And what have we got to lose ? The trouble with the British and the EU is that we never really joined it in the first place.We ignored European politics. Consequently I have never seen a blue-print for our ideal EC.

The arguments for leaving in a hurry look increasingly shaky. The most salient was: “We pay enormous amounts to the EC, and our ability to trade with other countries is restricted. When we get out of the EC and its restrictions we shall be [much] better off.” Both these linked propositions seem to be fading fast. Who believes that now? Actually we are spending vast sums on the bureaucracy of leaving the EC and neglecting other things in consequence.

A second main argument expressed itself as “ We shall regain sovereignty when we leave/ we will get back control over our laws.” No doubt there was a time when a nation-state could make its laws, ignoring all other states, and impose them absolutely in its own territory. We no longer live in that time. Part of our law is dependent on supra-national bodies or conventions (eg the UN Charter or the Geneva Convention, or the1999 Gothebrg Protocol). For instance, we are members of NATO, and under the Nato treaty, if a member state is attacked, we are obliged by treaty to declare war to defend it, Many British people would be shocked to find that this covers not only most Western and central European countries, but also the USA, Canada, Iceland and Turkey. If North Korea attacks the US, we are automatically at war with North Korea, and if Iran or Russia attack Turkey, then we are at war with Iran or Russia. It isn’t a choice: the decision is already made. The implications are rarely discussed. At the same time Britain is covered with US air bases,  vaguely disguised as RAF, but not in fact under our control. Funny that none of the Brexiteers talked about retrieving our military sovereignty from the USA: Wedgie Benn always did. 

Much more of our law depends indirectly on treaties and conventions agreed with other states. At the moment 44% of our trade is with the EU, which means that this part of our industrial export will have to conform to EC regulations if we wish to trade with EC countries. However, whereas at the moment we can influence the shape of EC reg as members by internal political pressure, leaving the EU strips us of ability to influence the making of the law we shall be constrained by.

There is a Left suggestion that EC Law as it stands makes it difficult to extend the role of the individual state (for instance, to nationalise industries or facilities), but this is disputed. What is indisputable is that EC law, like any law, can be changed. However that may be, it looks unlikely that there will be an increase in our freedom, personal or national, as a result of leaving the EU: more likely there will be a decrease.

The third main reason for seeking to leave the EC could be expressed as follows: “We will have full control over immigration and our borders/this is a small nation/we shall control who gets in, and stop our culture being swamped.”

It would be perfectly possible, in theory, to control our population by doing two things: firstly, requiring everyone to own, and carry, an identity card, and secondly, controlling our borders rigorously. The first of these actions would take some years to complete, but once done it would be possible to identify ‘illegals’, and the likelihood of being caught and the impossibility of obtaining social benefits would greatly reduce their number. Naturally this move would spawn a black industry of counterfeiting, and would have to be sophisticated enough to make that industry costly and difficult, which means that the identity cards would themselves have to be sophisticated and therefore expensive. Getting in and out of the country would take more time, and there would need to be an increase in the number of immigration officers. By the same token there would have to be a very great increase of border control officers, aircraft, ships and surveillance systems etc.

There are good reasons to suppose that this sort of increase of control would be resisted or rejected by both Public and MPs. We have already had a debate on identity cards. People don’t much like carrying identification, or being asked for it, and believe correctly that Government (aka Big Brother) will try to intrude further into private life by squeezing more surveillance info out of an identity card, which will inevitably be used for all sorts of reasons other than what it was invented for. If the cards were sophisticated enough to deter low-level counterfeiting they would be be expensive to make and to activate. Who would pay for them?

The issue of cost also looms large in relation to the control of our borders. One serious figure gives the coastal borders of the British Isles as 7,000 miles. We appear to have (according to the Independent) all of three Border Force cutter vessels to patrol it (Italy has 600 vessels and Holland 16). Again (according to the Guardian) “Nearly half of the unmanned seaports on the east coast of Britain were left without a visit from border enforcement officers for more than a year” There are about 8,000 personel in the border force, which looks equally light – leaving out clerical staff it might run to one officer per mile of coastline! As we know from Poldark, (where we rather admire it), the British are as good at people-smuggling as anyone else when we put our minds to it. After all, there is effectively no-one to stop us.

Most of our defence against mass migration, currently surging from the South, is the existence of Europe between us and the Mediterranean. If that cushion, resisting and absorbing the in-flow, fails, then we don’t appear to have much defence to fall back on. In other words, British immigration policy absolutely depends on EU countries

It ought to seem silly to say that a large block like the EU, if it had wise policies, could have some effect on the real causes of mass migration which threaten us all in Europe:  in the long run the remedy will require a sort of Marshall Plan for devastated or impoverished areas. operating over a long period. Move in the investment, and turn refugee camps into NewTowns. The UK on its own can’t and wont achieve this. The May Strategy – make the UK so unpleasant that no-one will want to come here – may be the only practical one left to us.

As to the swamping of our culture, what you might call The Return of Empire – West Indian and Asian immigration – has already had an enormously greater effect on British culture than any European input, though the major Empire surge is past. The Polish inflow has had little effect on our culture, rather than making it a bit easier to buy sauerkraut. There are apparently 270,000 French citizens living in London: point me to London boroughs which are being swamped by French culture?

While the current incompetent government dithers us away from the EU,imaybe MEPs could try to become more forceful and vocal. Anything for focussed political activity.  [Yes, I’m back]

P1000885 2

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…..

 

P1000837

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.

 

P1000872

 

 

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

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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