It’s rare I take to my bed these days, especially in the hours of daylight, it feels wrong, an inversion of all that is normal, a big fit lad like me languishing in bed when all around daytime pursuits are being pursued but here I am, tucked up beneath cosy covers sucking a menthol sweetie and snuffling. The occasional whimper is issued but with no-one to hear it’s a little wasted. A bad cold or dare I say flu has me in its grip, overnight I’ve become a coughing, sneezing, wheezing, spluttering wreck of a man, a definite isolation case, so here I am imprisoned in bed with Thursday’s picture’s for company. I think this is the first time I’ve written the blog whilst in repose and although not quite romantically seeing the world through a fug of opium and morphine, the old Night Nurse has kicked in and I might follow it with a Benylin chaser.
Thursday began with a heated debate about spectacles, on or off was the question. I was very much for the On Party with Roger vociferous in fighting the Off Cause. The argument seemed to sway towards a certain lack of purity in the unadorned form; the specs were an aberration, a betrayal of the ethos of life drawing. The On Party were quickly cast as the barbarians, savages willing to destroy all that is pure and good about the priesthood of life drawing, sullied acolytes in laying waste to all that is true. In a dramatic moment Roger held his charcoal aloft and with a strangled cry summoned the Gods of the Academy to inhabit his body with the spirit of Righteous Truth.
Quietly the On Party pursued their case, the spectacles would add structure, and they would create a series of pictorial opportunities otherwise unavailable in the soft undulating forms so characteristic of Fiona. So the argument raged until finally Fiona in a judgement worthy of Solomon sat down, posed and we all got on with it. I had one final argument to deploy but it became unnecessary but I would like to lay it before you here. The spectacles seemed to me to be symbolic of the act at the core of our activity, the act of looking. Life drawing if nothing else is an exercise in looking hard and for some of us spectacles are central to that activity so why not for once forefront the specs and celebrate their role in what we do, just a thought.
Sometimes we have too much time, hard to believe it but it’s true. Haydn’s lovely drawing was better at half time when the touches were tentative, searching with a fine delicacy for some kind of resolution. By the end he had found that resolution and gone beyond it making special lines ordinary. We all do it and I would argue it’s almost impossible not to do it, in making art there is an inescapable sense that the best is yet to come and so we carry on persuading ourselves that the next station will be better than the one we’ve just passed through. Steven’s drawings (sorry about the poor reproduction this week but you can look back at others), always run out of time and they are better for it, they promise more and suggest the best is yet to come I would argue this is also true of Cathy and Ivan. Completion can be the death knell unless you’re very good, very clever or very lucky. I always overwork things and suffocate them with love, a paint mark continues to live and have vibrancy when not tortured into submission, isn’t that why we all idolize John Singer Sargent. The Lady Agnew portrait in Edinburgh is in my mind one of the greatest paintings of the modern age, the Chinese silk of the chair alone deserves a long hard look.
I think sometimes we try too hard, we flagellate ourselves on the altar of worthiness, maybe if we trusted to intuition, enjoyed the marks we make and have confidence in those marks we might find the works stay lively and joyful even if not accurate. As I said to Russell on Saturday, once the model has gone, it doesn’t matter if it looks like her, what matters is if it works on its own terms. The portrait of Lady Agnew is not a great portrait (google photographs of her), but it is a great painting.
Paintings and drawings by Barry, Carol, Cathy, Chris, David, Hilary, Ivan (plus detail), Jane B, Jane, Patrick, Roger H, Roger, Steven, Sue, Tom, Tony and featured artist Hadyn.