They say, 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks', well I did. I taught our old dog to jump onto a foot stool and then onto the sofa. I know it's not quite Cirque d' Soleil but believe me for him it's mightily impressive. He's a stubborn old dog, one might even say he views the world with a somewhat jaundiced eye, I've even noticed a slight cynical tilt of the head when confronted with a new trick. So the foot stool episode marks a small victory in a long war of attrition. But in the old dog I see something of myself and what I see is a certain cynicism towards the tricks of art.
Many years ago one of my tutors, David Smith (not the sculptor, I'm not that old), revealed a simple truth that still haunts me to this day and the truth was this. All art is smoke and mirrors, it's all an illusion, a conjuring trick and the qualities we choose to accept today are not eternal truths merely accepted prejudices, taste in other words. The pictorial devices we employ today may well turn out to be the cliches of tomorrow. The hierarchy of values we construct, discuss and generally abide by may well be seen to be wholly wrong. As I get older I seem to find it all too easy to categorize art into already well established boxes and with that comes the cynicism of the old dog. I kind of understand why the critics love outsider art where rules are happily broken and new and unusual forms emerge and clash with abandon, in other words when taste is subverted.
But it's a tough call to step outside of the taste of your times especially when your times are forgiving, inclusive and accepting of transgression. The thing is almost anything and everything is possible (provided it doesn't involve Prophets), and yet on the whole we conform. I wonder why that is? I have no answers but that tutorial forty years ago still resonates with me today and at the core of most of the art I do lies one word, freedom and I think David Smith gave me that.
Anyway thank you to our new model, Roger who without knowing transgressed one of the cardinal rules normally employed. He kept his glasses on and ne'er a word was spoken, in fact I heard a few murmurings of approval whereas when such an act was mooted and then carried out by the brave Fiona, there was an outcry. It just shows how easy it is to break the rules when you don't know there are rules.
Paintings and drawings by Chris, Hadyn, Ivan, Patrick, Sandra, Steven, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom, Tony and featured artist Russell.
How good does it feel to be back in the studio, renewing the pleasurable struggle with paint, light and model. Little visible evidence of New Year resolution at the off, but jaded palettes were soon refreshed, actually and metaphorically, by our very own Fiona, who appeared not to have even looked at a mince pie over the festive season. On my side of the easel, a good long walk felt more appropriate, but, by the end of the day I was every bit as tired as having walked to Redbrick from home in North Yorkshire. Fortunately, I didn’t have to walk back as my wife remembered to collect me, and we scurried over the Vale of York to a waiting casserole and our plump armchairs in front of woodstove and television. And that was the moment when the day really took off.
Fiona, would have had to have eaten all of, and I do mean all of the pies to have been considered for the part of seventeenth cherub in any of Peter Paul Rubens’ colossal kaleidoscopes of allegorical excess. Waldemar Januszczak’s BBC2 profile of the great Flemish artist and his work was itself a minor masterpiece; an example to the world of how to engage the masses in art and to hold their attention forever (unfortunately, they were all watching “Britain’s got the Apprentice Factor”). I cannot remember laughing, crying, snorting and cheering more at a factual television programme since Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street.
Of course, I have a particular interest in painting naked ladies (and gentlemen), and had spent the day doing exactly that, but nothing can prepare you for the avalanche of humanity which is Rubens’ work; the scale, the prodigious output, the power, the colour and, particularly, the inventiveness. He clearly used models, as his several wives’ presence in many paintings testifies, but no model could adopt and hold the poses required for his cast of tortured thousands, all of whom are executed in the most complete and accurate detail. These paintings have a sense of continuity, despite their outrageous camp; they feel like stopped frames from an epic movie, and you long to see what happened next.
The camera crew and directors bring the work into your home in the most thorough and natural manner, and yet you are enabled to see detail which would be physically impossible in the flesh, given the vast scale. However, my greatest thanks go to Waldemar Januszczak; all the justification required for Polish immigration, to my mind. Here is a man who looks and speaks like us plebs, appears to be totally unaware of the arts presentation conventions, and is infectiously enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his subject. He was happy to confess that he would easily have got a part in one of Rubens’ epics, and you can picture him, in leather and silk, swashing his buckle through a sea of wobbly flesh, before necking six pints and a kebab on the way home. Great stuff Waldemar; keep it coming son.
I can’t imagine what W.J. would make of our efforts on Saturday. Looking back now, through the filter of Rubens’ work, even making all of the appropriate allowances, it is difficult not to feel ineffectual, but I suspect that he has long since mastered the art of historical perspective, and would be commensurately supportive. It seems to me, however, that Tom has more than a foothold on the upper slopes of artistic achievement, but the rest of us are gazing at a mountain which we will not climb. There is no shame in this, and we should enjoy our occasional minor successes. The making of very large, complex figurative paintings, in the manner of Rubens, is way out of fashion, but perhaps we could jointly tackle ”Nicholas Clegg in the Wilderness”, with Tom as Maestro and we, his trusty assistants; bags I the severed balls.
The gallery is now posted, and I am able to test my memory against the actuality. The first thing that strikes me is the general confidence; there are no tentative efforts amongst a majority of strongly- painted portraits and figures. I see nothing to change my earlier, sweeping judgement but have to applaud everyone for attacking that mountain. I particularly like Jean’s simple statement, rendered intriguing by the diminishing proportions, and the two mysterious heads from Jackie and Eva. The optimistic yellow in Dick and Sue’s pieces is very welcome in the depths of winter but both are trumped by the full palette of sunshine colours in Rita’s delightful little painting. I was able to observe the development of this piece throughout the day, and congratulate Rita on recognising the point to stop; it lacks nothing, in its own terms and is, at the very least, one of our minor successes.
Paintings and drawings by Catherine, Dick, Eva, Fiona, Gerry, Hadyn, Jackie, Jean, Russell, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Sue G, Sue, Tom (1 & 2) and selected artist Rita.
....and indeed, last Thursday night we did (and most of the preceding afternoon!). As the playwright Sean Shakespeare (brother of the more famous William) once said: "if cake be the food of art, eat on".
Somehow, over the last few months the ceremonial presentation and devouring of homemade confectionary seems to have become intergral to the functioning of the RA (thats the Redbrick Academy as opposed to the less famous southern institution sporting those initials). This got me thinking - is/ was this a common phenomenon amongst art groups past and present? Or are we just a particularly sweet-toothed bunch? And what role has food played in the production of great art? (Could be a PHD thesis in this, though it almost certainly has already been done).
Undaunted though, like a blood hound on the trail of a fresh doughnut, I set off to see if any connection could be found between the production of of good art and the consumption of cake (note the underlining). I did indeed find a connection between food and art but all of it was centred on the painting of food rather than the artistic consumption of it. In 2012 for instance one could have attended an 'Art and Food Symposium' at the Dunedin School of Art in Otago and listened to lectures on topics as fascinating as:
"Art, food and the aesthetics of death and beauty" or
"Art and Haute Cuisine: a fruitful marriage? An Italian Chef's perspective" or
"Dining at the interface of art and gastronomy: back to the Futurist?"
Alternatively one could have gone to view the 'Art and Appetite' exhibition earlier this year at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art which, apparently, explored the theory that "....the topic of food allowed American artists to both celebrate and critique their society, expressing ideas relating to politics, race, class, gender, commerce and how these categories define American identity."
Phew! Who'd have thought a piece of cake could say so much?! Maybe we should start to incorporate items of food into the model's poses? But then again...that could lead us into the dangerous territory of dripping watermelon juice, bunches of grapes and ripe, round and luscious peaches etc and I'd hate to get Tom's blood pressure up again.....
So, back to safer ground- the consumption of cake last Thursday does not seem to have impaired life drawing performance, with two very strong depictions from Dick, a superb back portrait from Ian, some lovely drawing from Sue, Sandra and Tony and a positively gestapo-like rendering from Tom ("Nein! You cannot haf another piece of ze cake until you confess ze recipe") with some thrilling colours and mark-making.
Anyway, I must dash now as there is soooooo much Christmas cake to eat. So I will just leave you with a quotation from Dione Lucas (who is she?):
"The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilised living"................... And so say all of us!
A very merry, cake-full Christmas to you all!
by Catherine Morris
Paintings and drawings by Catherine, Dick (One & Two), Haydn, Jane, Roger S, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom, Tony and featured artist Ian.
The other day, as I often do, I walked along the river from Bolton Abbey to Cavendish Pavilion where I had a coffee. At the table next to me was an infant in a high chair being tended by grandparents. While Gran went to get the food Grandpa engaged the baby - making strange noises and thrusting his face forward into the baby's face. The baby shrinking back in wide-eyed and open-mouthed wonder.
How does this small child with unconditioned perception come to terms with such apparitions? What does he actually see in his world of sensations?
In the making-art process I can occasionally, however briefly, recover something of that innocent perception in a confrontation with a subject - landscape or figure. How it impacts before it can be fully grasped or processed. I don't suggest I would want to make naive infantile images of such encounters - but it would be nice to retain just something of that innocence in response before the art-making takes over- to bring to bear and sustain the un-mediated perception possessed by artists such a Bomberg in his last self-portrait, or Auerbach in his full-faced portrait heads.
The life room gives a special opportunity to perceive just how strange an object is the human face - an entity withdrawn into its own private consciousness - the centre of attention but occupying its own secret world. At the risk of becoming confessional the nearest thing to the child's vision that I have experienced was the one and only time I was 'high' when someone spiked my drink at a weekend conference. For twenty four hours I was besieged by lurid, phantasmagorical faces looming up at me. I was totally disorientated and confused. Tom's portraits of his "Corpus" period in the 90's had this powerful hallucinatory quality - I'm not suggesting for one moment that he….. well just watch out for the strong coffee he has taken to offering around recently. The elephant is definitely centre stage.
Steve is a super model - but a familiar subject - we have all done him more than once. How difficult it is to see him anew let alone represent him anew. That is not to say it is a boring experience but we do have preconceived perceptions that have to be overcome if the process is to have life. So how did we do?
Despite the familiarity of the challenge the small band of attenders made a concerted effort each in there own way to make something different of Steve's offering. Tony and Ivan successfully exercised straightforward and objective approaches whilst the rest of us employed a more subjective and expressive process in quite different styles. Bren in particular gives us a powerful theatrical commentary on Steve rather than a literal portrait which reflects the opening comments. Russell, with typically elaborate technique, opened up a complex conceptual dialogue between the light and dark personas of Steve. Jackie's image - again not a literal portrait - took a long time to materialise but finally found its expressive form as did Sandra's painterly gestural calligraphy. Sue unfortunately had to leave at half-time so was not able to fully develop what would have been a very sensitive study. I can't speak for myself as by the end of this demanding session I couldn't make much sense of anything - rather like the baby in the cafe - but as Tony quotes in his comment to the last blog - "…Try again. Fail again. Fail better… "
by David Mace
Paintings and drawings by David, Ivan, Jackie, Russell, Sandra (1&2), Sue D-Y, Tony and featured artist Bren
The truth is, and I'm not being arrogant, but failure in my past professional, academic and long, long ago sporting life was not something to be contemplated positively. Now, in endeavours artistic, it is a frequent reality that can no longer be ignored. This a fairly recent decision. Late last night actually- in my garage as I was turpentining away my feeble effort to make an image from Fiona's challenging pose.
Edison famously said: "I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that will not work".
Well, when it comes to inappropriately placing the wrong paint in the wrong place in the wrong way with neither wit nor guile, I am fast closing in on our Thomas. Yesterday was a case in point: a litany of errors of bad painting and even worse judgement in danger of eclipsing the minor successes enjoyed the week before. They didn't, as neither success nor failure is an end point in itself, merely events on a continuing journey. It is rather difficult to treat success and failure quite as Kipling suggested because they are opposing influences, but a more considered approach to failures, rather than just moving on might yield dividends.
So, yes, I now regret obliterating last night's poor effort without due study and consideration. It is just human nature to try to forget the bad, but I for one will now attempt a more considered analysis of failure. Crikey, I might even make some notes! I also appreciate the critique from other Redbrickers, but possibly we are too polite? Perhaps a deeper dissection would facilitate insight and speed progress? Something for the tea-time debating society?
Churchill (always a shoe-in for a good quote) said success is "stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm". See, I knew I was successful!
Anyone for a stumble?
by Dick Fowler
Paintings and drawings by Hadyn, Patrick, Russell, Sandra, Steven, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tony and selected artist Dick
If there's an elephant in the room, I would like to be the mahout sat astride it's broad leathery neck. Not a nasty mahout with a sharp stick prodding and threatening but a kind mahout who persuades his friend with whispers and treats. Whilst I was once a skinny, dusky lad, probably my dhoti wearing days are over. Now I suspect I would be mistaken for a fat man in a nappy rather than the lithe Mowgli, but I would still like to wake up next to an elephant. ( I know, I know and neither I nor Mrs Wood thinks that's funny). Why an elephant I hear you ask, most boys were happy with a rabbit, a few lucky ones wangled a puppy but for me it had to be an elephant.
I think nowadays art is my elephant, I ride it a little gingerly but proud, sometimes it takes me places I didn't expect and sometimes it just stands still, stubbornly distracted by a distant scent. It will follow my path if gently coaxed but reacts badly to threats and oaths. With my elephant any journey takes time, it's slow and ponderous but at least I have the advantage of a view. When not obscured I can see where the path is leading. I sleep soundly knowing I have my elephant with me.
It's re-assuring, sensing there is this big thing in your life, this guiding obsession, it gives your days structure and purpose. Many times I often think how bizarre it is to have given up so many hours to organizing colours and shapes on a bit of cloth and yet without this activity, for me life might have been fairly pointless. The making of art is a test, a burden and a challenge. We all know, to do it well is not easy but like the elephant in the room, once you know it's there, it's hard to ignore it. I'm glad I have my own elephant, I feel a responsibility to ensure it thrives, I nurture it and feed it, in return, on a good day it allows me to climb up high where I can sniff the clear air, enjoy some spectacular views and most importantly, just remember how good it feels to be alive with a purpose.
Paintings and drawings by Cathy, Hadyn, Jane, Mati, Patrick, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom, Tony and featured artists Roger H and Roger S.
In the confessional spirit of a recent posting I was once more reminded of that day many, many years ago when I became a man. It seems so long ago now, back in the days when I was ploughing my way up and down the sweltering, mosquito-ridden coast of the faraway Philippines. I was a lowly deckhand aboard a rackety old tramp steamer, called 'The Bastos Batang Babae', a big name for a small boat. The Captain, a grizzled old salt called Henri One Eye, swore blind it meant 'Cheeky Girl', but his monocular oaths were unreliable at best. There certainly wasn't anything cheeky or girlish about this rusty old bucket. We carried contraband from one illegal port to the next, no questions were asked and no prying eyes saw us as we slipped into each filthy harbour at the dead of night only to skulk away before dawn and the scorching sun that would betray our shameful trade.
I decided to jump ship at Tacloban, it was the kind of port where a callow young deckhand might find a little relief, he might also find his thoughts wandering and wondering if the willing arms of Consuela della Maria d' Glorioso Handfullio might be his tonight. This vision, this goddess, this siren of the rocks, haunted my every waking hour. I only glimpsed her once, in the shadows her eyes burned like fiery coals, her angelic face spoiled or was it improved by full lips that looked like they were capable of what a boy dreamt of only at the dead of night. I had decided, I had to have her. I had the money, each precious pesos, hard earned was slipped into the folds of my grubby, sweat stained vest.
She would be hard to find in the filthy alleys and crumbling havela's of downtown Tacloban. It was the kind of port where a boy sailor might just melt away, vanish, only to re-appear the following morning, yawning with dark eyes and a shy smile, nothing needed to be said, his aching limbs, shadowy bruises and empty pockets, were words enough. Rumours suggested that Consuelo was to be found in a room down an ink black alley off the Ria Santa d'Angelo del Popocorko. After much stumbling and cursing, reeking of cheap rum and Dutch courage, I finally found Consuelo's lair. Before me stood an old dark door, stained and scratched just like any other, it gave no clues as to the luxuriant delights that lay within. Gathering myself up, a tremor running through my chest, my eager heart pounding like a hammer on an anvil, I gasped, raised my trembling hand and prepared to enter paradise. First one weak rather hesitant knock, then another this time a little louder, finally a third, bold, desperate and urgent thump. In the darkness wet rats paused from feasting on fat clogged drains and a sour smell permeated my feverish brain. As though in a trance I heard distant footsteps, soft but insistent, surely these must be the footsteps of my angel, my dark-eyed, full lipped angel sent to deliver me to my own private heaven, transcendent at last, the curtain of virginity would finally be ripped aside to reveal the sun soaked uplands of glorious manhood...........
Talking of Joseph, you would be hard pushed to find a finer specimen of manhood, he's a lovely model who brings the best out in all of us. Patrick has gone down the Grayson Perry route and decided on a trans gender narrative, very contemporary and I wouldn't expect anything less from Patrick although it might prompt a few more gym visits for Joseph. Steven meanwhile has re-dressed the balance with a lovely pencil drawing of a man's man, all bulging biceps and taut calves, in our own magic mirrors every man looks like this. Barry, Mati and Haydn have toned down the muscles for a more poetic, lyrical view of Joseph. Jane has gone for introspection, Roger leads the charge with Sandra not far behind in the Head Emerging Stakes, it is just about neck and neck at the tape. Catherine is all colour in a kind of Tahitian / Gauginesque combo with Sue eschewing such excesses and joining the Monochrome Gang alongside Roger, Tony and Ivan, they are the ascetics of the life room frisking one another should an errant pastel slip through. I am embarking on a project so this format will be all I will do for a long time, sorry to be so boring but I'm hoping a tedious means will be justified by a worthwhile end but we shall wait and see, May 2015 is my deadline.
Oh, yes and we had a birthday on Thursday, Sandra was the Birthday girl and we all drank champagne and ate cake. The wonderful exact replica of Sandra's allotment shed was fashioned with loving care by our resident cake sculptor, Sue. Bravo Sue and Joyeux Anniversaire, Sandra! I wonder what she's like at sweaty vests and ruffled beds Sue not Sandra!
by Tom Wood
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Catherine, Haydn, Ivan, Jane, Mati, Patrick, Roger H, Roger S, Sandra, Steven, Sue Tom and Tony.