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.
I was a virgin until last Saturday........ a Portrait Day virgin that is. I have attended many 2-3 hour life drawing sessions but never a whole day! Like many a virgin I was nervous, apprehensive but a bit excited too. I was concerned about the day on 2 counts: 1) that my performance would be adequate and that I wouldn't disgrace myself and 2) that I would be able to 'sustain' the performance and not peak too early. In fact, if truth be told, my main concern around the whole day was 'would I be able to adequately pace myself?' (We are talking here about the woman who normally has difficulty in sustaining an entire life drawing over two and a half hours on a Thursday evening, let alone a head and shoulders over 6 hours!)
Sandra gave me a helpful tip - "take oils" she said "they'll slow you down". So I did, and they did! A wise woman is Sandra. But as it happens I was not the only one struggling to 'pace' themselves on Saturday. Tom had (voluntarily!) arisen from his slumbers that morning at 5am! Consequently he 'peaked' rather too early and by lunchtime was looking distinctly 'peaky'. Hadyn on the other hand had arrived fresh faced and ready for a 2 day workshop and upon being told it was only a one day session had to readjust his mental clock and accelerate his pace somewhat.
As for yours truly, well, by mid-morning coffee break I had to resort to slow deep breathing and a spot of meditation in order to slow my pace. I realised that my usual 'slap it on and watch it drip' approach to painting would not sustain me for 6 hours - a modicum of restraint was obviously going to be required, an element of 'holding back' to enable me, with a flourish of my brush, to climax at the appropriate moment....4.15pm would be good. But how was a Portrait Day virgin to achieve such a feat of self control? Well, basically by using my eyes more and treating the oil paint with more respect. Once I had realised that 'slap and drip' would not cut the mustard for 6 hours and had meditated my way into 'the zone', then time slowed and amazingly my portrait painting performance peaked pretty much at 4.15! Or was it just the artistic version of Murphy's law? Either way I was mighty glad that I had been able to 'stay the course' and had not shown myself up as a 'lightweight' ("never mind the quality, feel the length of time it took me!!")
At least 2 more of the assembled group also struggled with pacing during the day and left before 4.30. As for Tom, well I think he probably drove home on auto-pilot and hit the sack by 5.30pm. Whilst Hadyn was raring to go and all set for a day of DIY on Sunday.
So, despite my initial misgivings, I enjoyed the experience immensely and, like many virgins, I expect/hope to repeat the experience sometime soon - it seemed like a whole lot of fun. Whether my fellow artists felt the same I'm not sure. Throughout the day there were various disgruntlement's and mutterings of "I'm out of practice" or "I'm not very good at this" and "I'm really struggling this morning". But when viewed as a whole the group performance is pretty impressive I'd say and, as usual, fascinatingly diverse - from Sue's big head (not her's you understand but her portrait's!) - go for it Sue! I think you should work on a large scale more often - to the delicate and detailed portraits by Chris, Anne and Tony, the soft brush work of Hadyn's piece and the wonderful textured marriage of portrait and background by Tom.
All in all I haven't enjoyed myself so much on a dull grey, damp and foggy November day since.....well since the last time I lost my virginity! But that's another story - and not one for this blog!!!
by Catherine Morris
Paintings and drawings by Anne, Catherine, Cathy, Chris, David, Haydn, Jean, Mati, Sue, Tom and Tony
Sometimes a change really is as good as a rest. Sue has used drawing as a tonic from her recent immersion in oil. As you know I'm drowning in the stuff, day in, day out it's oil paint, I'm up to my knees in this gloopy coloured mud and yet like the proverbial pig I thought I was happy until Sue came along, tambourine a-banging, a song in her heart, the wide smile of only those who have been saved writ large across her face. Brandishing her sharpened pencil like the Lance of Truth, her eraser held aloft like the the righteous Shield of Correction she strode forward to her easel whereupon lay the white papery field of battle and there she sought to conquer all before her. With an assured edge and delicate shading the image of Kay emerged, an image of rare accuracy these days as we errant knights and ladies find our battles elsewhere, some on the Flat Fields of Colour, others hacking through the Thickets of Realism whilst the despairing souls of oil sink ever so slowly into the Mire of Despair. Like a light in the darkness, Sue held aloft the Beacon of Hope. Maybe that is the way forward, a tactical re-grouping around the point of the pencil. The Pencil has a Point.
Paintings and drawings by Catherine, Dick, Ivan, Jane, Martyn, Roger, Sandra, Tom, Tony and featured artist Sue.
It occurs to me that writing this blog bears many similarities to our prime activity of life drawing and painting, notwithstanding that the former would be unnecessary without the latter. But the two creative functions can exist separately, and the output may be enjoyed individually, or together, here on this website. Attendance at the life session, an obvious prerequisite of writing the blog, also promotes a particular, conspiratorial reading, whilst remote readers are able to combine gallery and blog to create a more complete record of the event; a veritable graphic novel. It is interesting to consider the relationship between the two in this context.
Just as the artist arrives in the Life Room with a general awareness of the artistic requirements and possibilities, if not a clear plan, selection to write the blog, usually signalled by the dread weight of Tom’s oil-encrusted hand on your tea-break shoulder, poses a similar problem. Unless you are desperate to unburden yourself of some enormous artistic truth which may have escaped the notice of your colleagues, or to confess that it was you who ate the last slice of Dundee cake, then you have to react to whatever is occurring. As with painting and drawing, experience widens the options beyond a straightforward commentary on the model, your fellow artists and their respective efforts, although, even here, the minefield of peer criticism is not for the fainthearted. A carefully considered line drawing or a simple narrative will often trump a bravado painting or a complex theoretical essay; ask Barry or Ivan, but don’t request a written answer.
So, the blogger must decide whether to write a simple account of the life session, choose a related topic, invent a proposition to argue, or, like me, to begin and see what happens. That is also my default painting strategy, although I am not certain that the absence of a plan can be called strategic? I realise immediately that this claim is disingenuous, as there is no-one at Redbrick who likes a plan more than me, and, though I might begin a painting with gay abandon, it will be whipped into very organised shape by completion. I am clearly following that path right now; having begun with a meandering observation, here I am developing a bloggers’ instruction manual.
I blame “Rupert” Watson, my sixth form English master, who could not simply enjoy the sound of Shakespeare’s prose and the drama of his narrative, but insisted on interminable dissection and analysis of the words to establish whether the Bard had used more “f”s per page in King Lear or Loves Labours. I suppose that this is the way of all seasoned practitioners, and we painters do seem too easily to pass over the raw, emotional immediacy of work, to begin the process of dissection. The same urge regularly causes me to pursue detail prematurely, when making paintings, and to lose sight of the broad shape of a blog when writing. Now, what was I banging on about?
In written English, the liberal use of our vast lexicon, the correct grammar and appropriate punctuation, is not an outdated affectation, but a means by which the intended information is best and most accurately communicated. The same may be ascribed to the widely accepted vocabulary of lines, tones, textures and painted marks with which an artist attempts to convey his or her thoughts, but it is certainly not true that the quality of either writing or painting is exclusively tied to a command of the technical components of language or art. Every week at Redbrick, we see work produced where the magnetic attraction defies conventional analysis. And so it is with writing; we are all prepared to draw and paint “in public” recognising the value of peer support through constructive criticism, but few are prepared to even comment on the blog, let alone write one. Yet, on the occasions when we do hear a new voice (hello Ian), there is always considerable pleasure to be had, and the chance of a literary gem (hello again Ian). A more varied cast of bloggers, encouraging a livelier comment section, would be an appropriate reflection of the Group’s diversity around a common pursuit.
And the studio was awash with diversity for Saturday’s session with model David. OK, the usual suspects were instantly identified by their respective trademark strategies and techniques, but they are quite distinct and therefore resist comparison. However, the unusual female dominance appeared to be something more than coincidence; possibly the result of a positive selection policy or, more likely, Tony’s advance publicity for model David, who did not disappoint. The pose seemed straightforward, but was obviously quite demanding, resulting in several short “stretch breaks”. Any discontent was more than balanced, however, by David’s classically-proportioned and well-defined physique, topped by a theatrical head and face. For the second time I was unable to resist modifying his left ear, to create “The Young Spock”, as a companion piece to my previous “Puck”.
Stephen, having watched “Mr Turner” the previous evening, spurned his favoured pencils and conjured a precisely-modelled David in a variety of 18th century sepia washes. He did not, though, allow his general deportment and speech to become so coarse as Timothy Spall’s portrayal of the great man. At the opposite side of the studio, Anne H. was making a mirror image painting, placing David in a stylish, dining room, flooded with sunlight through diaphanous drapes. Deserted by his fellow draftsman, Ivan’s head could not be similarly Turnered, and he laboured all day, using only those pencil lines with a story to tell; spare but full of information. Perhaps Ivan writes like he draws?
Prodigal daughters, Emma and Teresa, both hugely-talented artists, returned to shake up the mix with their distinctive approach; Emma showing yet again how to make a thrilling image from an unpromising viewpoint; soft, pastel texture and subtle tones, reflected in Teresa’s beautifully composed and drawn monoprints. These qualities are quite different from our regular output and both must be encouraged to remain with the Group.
There was a number of identifiable sub-groups; Jackie, Sue, Jane and Cathy producing muscular, confident paintings with no hint of supposed female delicacy, whilst Sue D-Y, Anne and Kwan made similarly big, strong drawings. Not a minute was wasted, maintaining fierce concentration and effort beyond the afternoon break, when fatigue and the diminishing light ( no criticism here of electrician Tony’s valiant, but failed, effort to replace the spent halogen lamp which had conferred such powerful side-lighting on our model) had their effect on model and artists alike. Only Sandra was fresh at the end, having stayed in bed all morning, eating chocolate and sipping Turkish coffee, and it paid dividends. Her David is a sprite, half-seen in a fleeting moment, and gone before the image could be overworked.
Old lags Tom and Tony gave us their signature pieces. Tony, all rational sifting of the evidence to present a distilled statement of fact, and Tom, still asking questions at the end; unwilling to accept any answer, and reserving his right to revisit the cold case at some future date.
by Russell Lumb
Paintings and drawings by Anne H, Anne, Cathy, Emma, Ivan, Jackie, Jane, Kwan, Russell, Sandra, Steven, Sue D-Y, Sue, Teresa, Tom and Tony.
On Thursday evenings at Redbrick, we have a nominal two and a half hours for our session of Life Drawing – it always seems to be referred to as Life Drawing, whether we paint or, in rare cases, sculpt. Reality, with a tea/coffee break and an urge (for some) to start clearing ‘in good time’, means that we have about two hours.
We are very fortunate to have the models we do. The modelling role is taken seriously and leads to a high level of professionalism – I don’t know how Tony manages to find them and to keep the bookings filled so well in advance.
Which brings me to something that has dogged me all my life, nowadays discussed as a ‘question of pace.’ In short. I take a long time to do stuff. As a result I always had to put in more time than most other people doing the same job. In fairness to myself, that was usually preparation time and might be seen as the nine tenths of the iceberg below the surface.
In 1899, Cezanne’s dealer Ambroise Vollard, sat for his portrait. It took a very long time and was never finished. According to Vollard, after 115 sittings, Cezanne expressed himself ‘not dissatisfied with the shirtfront’. Matisse is supposed to have been irritated by those who thought drawing and painting came easily to him, when the reality was that he destroyed a great deal of work until he satisfied his own high standards.
Like the rest of the human race, artists vary enormously in character and come in all shapes and sizes, Some are totally fearless, attacking their work without hesitation in the excitement of ‘risking all’ in the experiment. Others consider every mark with enormous care and it is not always possible to discern between the intellectual process and fence sitting anxiety. Having said that, no-one is immune to apprehension, even fear, in front of a blank canvas.
Confidence is a wonderful attribute, treasured the more by those who do not have it, looking on at those who do. But lets not forget that we can, and do, change places from time to time .In Redbrick we are extremely lucky to have a group of individuals who learn, encourage and take pleasure in the success of each other and, as I believe is becoming apparent, the Group itself. Personally, I value the informal atmosphere of Redbrick with its underlying sense of serious creative enquiry, followed and expressed according to the individual’s muse of the moment.
I have been enjoying Redbrick for over two years now, but I am writing my first full blog. It seemed a good opportunity to say thank you to everyone in the Group for your stimulating company, and friendship in that time. I believe we have all helped to create something valuable and, dare I add, important. My biggest thank you is for Mr Catalyst himself – Tom
by Ian Stamp
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Catherine, Hadyn, Martyn, Patrick, Roger, Sandra, Sue D-Y, Sue, Tom, Tony, Will and featured artist Ian.
My life drawings are going to pot and I think I know why. Over the last year or so I've tried to incorporate the results of Thursday evening into my broader practice, to make my time with the model the springboard for further development. On the whole this strategy has worked, not perfectly but sufficient to encourage me to continue, however I have started to realize there is a glitch in my plan and it's summed up in one word, Process. My work has started to rely on a process and that process requires a vigorous, nonchalant beginning to then be rescued by layers of texture and what I flatter myself, is a series of sensitive and subtle interventions. What this means is that success at stage one snookers stage two and three. Luckily success at stage one is rare but if I am to continue it should become rarer still, so I have to plan for failure, hope for success by creating something that is respectable but clearly requires and offers up further development.
Now you might think this is a cunning plan, a barely believable excuse for second rate work, the slippery protestations of a weasel but I hold my hands up and say honestly I would love to do cracking, first class work but you know how it is, I'm not allowed to boss, it's the system you see,without that honest, boss I'd be right onto it. It's yer process, mate, yer can't get past the process and so it is, here I am stuck with it. In my own little warped world I'm sort of fascinated to see where this method of working will lead me, but for the moment I'm just going to continue to inflict horrible stuff that begs to be painted over. Sadly without any effort whatsover I managed to fill my brief and produce a wonderful second rate work that will certainly be submerged beneath further layers.
I say sadly becaused last night was Jannine's Swansong and I'm sure like me, you will be sad to see her go. My tube of vibrant Mars Red will have to find another use. Jannine's hair was for me the one time I would break out, all guns blazing, the rich coppery red of Mars Red with burnished highlights of umberous Orange and Magenta Pink, Matisse would have loved Jannine's hair. Thank you Jannine for being such a charming and inspiring model.
Paintings and drawings by Anne, Haydn, Martyn, Mati, Patrick, Roger, Russell, Sandra, Sue, Tom, Tony, Will and featured artist Frank.
Joseph by Sandra ‘Jeunesse Doree’ by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, photo by Ian
I had the unmistakable feeling that my doleful, evening disposition and the prevailing ambience in Thursday’s life drawing session were somewhat out of kilter.
Our model was Joseph who is always excellent, so good to draw and stays perfectly calm and still no matter how demanding the pose might become. However, in order to find a pose which suited everyone, various instructions were issued for Joseph to ‘put your left arm in’, ‘move it back’, ‘put your right arm in’, ‘lean forward’, ’this way’, ‘that way’, ‘put your right arm in again’, until I was tempted to join in with a chorus of ‘knees bend, arms stretch, bow wow wow!’
After some time Joseph was settled into a beautiful seated pose, arms crossed, upper torso leaning slightly forward onto his knees and with head a little inclined. Yet this pose, fine as it was, did not relay its magic on to my sketchbook. There seemed to be a break in transmission, a hitch in the proceedings, a temporal disconnection and then I developed Russell’s complaint of the disobedient eye. Not that Russell or myself have each developed a subversive uncontrollable wink but rather that the competence of draughting the relevant eye, presenting on the face before us, had temporarily gone absent. Although Russell’s painting, of which he complains, appears perfectly sound to me, I can understand his difficulty as he was trying to pair the dissident eye with its visible partner eye but I only had one eye to deal with and did not have to match it with its counterpart which was out of view on the other non visible side of Joseph’s face.
Consequently my eraser was in constant use repeatedly ridding the paper of the offending eye, which resurrected its completely inaccurate self time and time again. In exasperation I obliterated the whole drawing using my now overheated eraser thus resulting in a splodge containing a sludgy congealed mess of black conte and white pastel.
At this point, so harassed was I, the overworked eraser leapt out of my hand on to the floor, bounced on and on uncontrollably across the planks then disappeared under the boards supporting Joseph’s feet and remained in hiding there until coffee time.
Notwithstanding the angst I was experiencing I developed an alternative plan. I turned the page and began drawing with my non dominant left hand in a desperate attempt to join the disparate dots in my brain. But the force was not with me, in a quiet moment there was a ‘pop’ and the light illuminating Joseph and providing some inspiration in terms of light and shade went out. Tony replaced it but it was all to no avail, some days if at first you don’t succeed – give up! (Not for ever though just until Jupiter is no longer aligned with Mars, as you will see)
The previous day we had all been to the Lady Lever Gallery at Port Sunlight and seen the wonderful collection there including the quite enigmatic portrait ‘Jeunesse Doree’ by Gerald Leslie Brockhurst .I was totally entranced by the superlative skill of the renowned Mr Brockhurst who painted such famous people as Merle Oberon, Marlene Dietrich and the Duchess of Windsor. However, while searching on line some of his many portraits, I did discover that not all were of the same high standard and was quite consoled to see that even the mighty can have ‘off days’ and produce a piece of work in which unforeseen forces conspire to block the flow of their natural talent and skills.
Strangely I discovered the cause of my disconnection whilst driving on my way home later that evening when my way was brilliantly lit by the full moon and I might hazard a guess that this is what probably affected Gerald Leslie Brockhurst also. That was it, thought I. If the moon has such power that from on high and so far away it can pull the mighty seas and tides and as old farmers and shepherds would have us believe it can determine how successful crops and herds can be depending on what part of the moon cycle they begin life then of course, quite obviously, it can disrupt my life drawing and that is why it all went wrong, that will do me, end of.
Not quite, I am now struggling with the question as to why it did not affect others as adversely but have come up with a plausible answer. We are all born under different astrological influences and some are not as moonstruck as others. End of again.
by Sandra Cowper
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Ian, Jane, Mati, Roger S, Roger H, Steven, Sue D-Y. Sue, Tony and featured artist Sandra