ALLEZ OOP by Russell Lumb
It was impossible to avoid the build-up to the big cycle race this week; notices of road closures and anticipated delays are everywhere, and the landscape is peppered with bright points of primary colour signalling the nation’s worrying adoption of this selective Gallic attitude to hue. I must tread carefully here, as a disinterested, although tolerant bystander, for there may indeed be a brown jersey for the first to make a comfort stop, an olive drab cardigan for the shyest rider and a sequinned voile tank top for the Queen of the Baby Lotion, but the need for identification in a blurred mass of sinew and carbon fibre brings the shouty primaries to the top.
I must also confess at this point, to a near sixty year grudge which I have nursed since entry into my Leeds Grammar School to find that I had been assigned to Brown House; not red, blue or green, but brown! Why not yellow or even pink? Perhaps yellow, the missing primary, was considered to be too frivolous or feminine for an all-boys school, but it is possible that this inexplicably cruel turn of fate did more to form my character than any amount of cross-country running, Latin grammar or lumpy custard, and I have remained that bolshie, mud-coloured underdog to this day. Or, I had, until Tom Wood lured me into his cave of many colours and introduced me to the pleasures of slippery, buttery paint and to his pushers – Jackson, Cass and Wilcox. Now I can’t get enough of it, and my work when hung for a show, races around the walls like a peleton of cubist cycles, with the primary highlights demanding attention. Printing inks offer even higher hits of almost 100% purity, and will be receiving a lot of my attention as I continue to leave my brown past behind.
We could, as a Tour-related annual feature, introduce a system of coloured jerseys for the life room, although objective classification of work is rather more difficult than the definitive breasting of the tape or the stopwatch. However, we already have a ”Featured Artist“ slot with the weekly gallery to claim the green jersey for the stage sprint winner, whilst Tom would have to determine the overall leader across the period of the race for the yellow. The entrance staircase provides the opportunity for King of the Mountains – anyone who can speak within five minutes of arriving can have a polka-dot jersey- whilst the most coveted BROWN jersey must surely go to the donor of the best cake (to be assessed by a small but experienced sub-committee, for which, nominations have already closed).
On closer inspection, there is a number of similarities across the two disciplines. And that is the first, for life drawing requires serious concentration; there is no time to sit high on the saddle, admiring the view. Head down and eyes on the wheel in front until the point is reached where a break for the line is opportune. As in team cycling, we artists operate as a loose entity, taking the lead in turn to pull our colleagues along, and we are similarly besotted with our equipment, constantly trying something new to gain a small advantage. The strongest similarity, however, is this love of bright colour. We both long to squeeze that life-enhancing yellow magic from the tube, smear it over our canvas or shirt, and hold onto it until the light fades. A certain amount of leg shaving is also common to both groups, although I had promised Dick not to mention it.
A day has passed since the previous paragraph, and Mark Cavendish has already taken a bad tumble in the final sprint to the first finish line, equivalent to Tom accidentally throwing a bucket of black paint over his near-finished work. Or was he tripped? This is clearly a poor analogy, as Tom is quite likely to do this intentionally and still take the green jersey, whilst Mark Cavendish will need help getting into his Lycra for some considerable time. Get well soon Mark.
At Redbrick, at least everyone got across the finish line on Thursday, and, with the return of a number of old faces (most of them much younger than the crusty regulars) there was an appropriately cosmopolitan feel to the eve of the big race, although tradition was maintained by the upright presence of model Steve, features as familiar as an old armchair, in the kindest sense. Surprisingly, the first impression of the gallery is one of limited colour, with drawing showing strongly and the paintings mostly retaining a clean background. I made use of some relatively muted colour, as did Roger and Jack, but the rainbow jersey goes to Patrick for his “out–of-the-tube” kaleidoscope head, a timely prologue to his upcoming show on 12 and 13 July. Contrasting hugely with Patrick’s expressive intensity, the seven or eight draftsmen form the solid, reliable peleton which drives every life session along, providing the springboard for the extroverts’ forays into less common materials and techniques. It is unusual to see Sandra taking a breather from the breakaway to gather her academic breath in the bunch, but here is a sample of her lovely, unselfconscious line drawing.
The most useful lesson, for me, is to be reminded that the regular group horizon is limited; we are so familiar with each other’s techniques that the injection of fresh approaches is both interesting and a valuable spur to the experimentation which Tom promotes. Lydia’s “ Man taking a Shower, in the style of Graham Sutherland” is so very different to our usual output, raising the aggregate standard along with Jack’s equally accomplished , academic oil portrait. It’s not that we are unaware of the rest of the artworld, far from it, but we should be grateful for the occasional live demonstration, just as the old pros on the Tour will be invigorated by the childlike enthusiasm of their Yorkshire hosts.
Paintings and drawings by Chris, Freya, Hadyn, Ivan, Jack, Jane, Lydia, Patrick, Roger H, Roger S, Russell, Sandra, Steven, Tom and Tony.