Richmond railway bridge (with houseboats), Oil on Canvas, 32 x 39 inches
I was painting on the foreshore in Hammersmith, facing west, when I heard: “Oy mate!” from the bridge above and behind me.
This is the kind of thing artists who work outside dread to hear: people who want attention. As any plein air painter will tell you, for every normal, polite member of the public respectfully interested in what you’re doing, there are at least two dozen crazy people who want to talk about themselves.
On this occasion, I ignored the calls from the bridge, because I thought I was far enough away to pretend I couldn’t hear. The “Oy, mate!” was repeated several times, each louder and more insistent, and it reminded me that ignoring people can be a risky tactic.
Once, when painting on the Chelsea embankment, a recent graduate of Her Majesty’s prisons (I know this because he told me), complimented my painting. I quietly thanked him but because I didn’t immediately turn round and engage in conversation he became angry and threatening. I was on a ledge with a big drop down to the shingle below, so I had no choice but to placate him.
When I started this painting in Richmond, I wondered what sort of visitors I would get.
The first one arrived on a bicycle.
“You’re like me,” he said.
Succinct, I thought, people don’t usually reveal their narcissism so quickly.
It’s always the same dilemma : do you rudely and blatantly ignore people, in which case you risk getting pushed into the river, or do you engage with them, in which case you waste a lot of time. I tried to have it both ways. I glanced at him, but carried on working.
“You’re like me,” he repeated. “You work for yourself.”
I carried on painting. I wasn’t going to take the bait.
“I make cellos,” he said.
Unfortunately, at this point, he had me. It actually sounded interesting, and before I knew it, I was asking him questions about his job.
“But, isn’t a new cello, made today, always going to be inferior to a Guarnieri or an Amati or a Stradivari?” I asked.
“No, absolutely not!” he said and his tone shifted. Soon he became more and more worked up. There was a conspiracy, he explained, on the part of the classical music establishment to make you believe that new cellos were inferior. But in fact, this was a lie.
“Fair enough,” I said, seeing the deep frown in his forehead.
“No, no, I believe you,” I said, as the blood rose to his face.
“You obviously know a lot more about this than I do,” I said noticing an alarming change in his eyes.
Eventually, still frowning and out of temper, he looked at his watch and said: “I really must be going,” as though he was annoyed that I had detained him for so long.
My next visitor arrived about half an hour later. At first I didn’t really notice anything except a persistent clicking sound behind me.
When I turned around I saw a tall man dressed in a black cloak, wearing a turban pinned at his forehead with a large diadem.
“I am a magician,” he announced, and resumed taking photographs of me with his expensive-looking SLR camera.
“Good, yes, like that…” he said, directing me.
I tried very hard to ignore him, but after a few more minutes of clicking he came and thrust the camera in front of me.
“Here, look, pretty good I think…” he said, scrolling through his photos.
“These ones are particularly good,” he continued. “Look at this one – look at the way I did the composition… Look at those diagonals meeting in the centre. Wow!” Then, still gazing at his own photo and shaking his head in wonderment,”Wow, that’s brilliant!”
“Aha,” I said, and tried desperately to carry on working and get him to see that I wasn’t interested and that he was disturbing me.
He stood and played with the knobs on his camera for a while, and I thought he might be about to leave, but he came up to me again, this time shoving the camera against my mouth.
“Say something about colour,” he said.
“I-You-What?” I stuttered.
“Say something about colour,” he repeated, “I want to record a sound file to go with this photograph.”
I finally cracked. “Please go away and leave me alone!” I said.
I expected outrage, fury, abuse, but instead he just nodded. “Okay”, he said, and wandered off.
That was so easy, I thought. Like magic.
The sun was going down, the tide was beginning to creep on to the bank. I had done enough painting for the day and thought I better pack up. Then I had my final visitor: a beautiful sleek water rat that scurried across my feet, perhaps to let me know I’d outstayed my welcome.
Dorset sheep, Oil on Canvas 12 x 12 inches
Sheep always sound like they’re complaining. Is it the lambs saying to the mothers: “Not milk again. We had milk yesterday!”
“Go on – drink up.”
“But I HATE milk!”
“Do as you’re told.”
Or have we profoundly underestimated them. Perhaps they are saying:
“Life – it’s so meaningless! Trudging up and down these hills, chewing the same old grass…”
“Without a God, there is no meaning – but sheep can create their own meaning.”
“Oh please! You’ve been reading Sartre again.”
“It’s great stuff – you should try it.”
“You know I don’t read continental philosophy…”
“Bah! I’ve never met such a narrow-minded sheep!”
Red Barn, Oil on Canvas, 16 x 20 inches
I went to Dorset a few weeks ago on a painting trip with my friends and neighbours Jan and David, and their dog Bridge (see previous post ‘Love Story’). We stayed in the house to which this barn is attached. There is a worn out sign above the main entrance that no one has bothered to remove . It says: ‘Poachers will be shot on sight’.
My room was at the haunted end of the house, where a small group of nuns had lived and died. There was a small door in the wall through which food was passed to them so that they could have as little contact with the outside world as possible.
This was already a little unnerving, but to crank things up a bit we read ghost stories to each other by the fire in the evening.
David Walser reading M.R. James, iPhone drawing
Bridge by the fire, iPhone drawing
View from the House, Oil on Canvas, 13 x 8 inches
Barnes View, Oil on Canvas, approx. 60 x 30 inches
There’s one week left to see a group show in which I have a few recent landscapes, including this one painted from my bedroom window. I don’t usually spend so long on a landscape or paint a landscape in such detail because of the logistics of going to the same place and setting things up each time, but given that this set-up was only 3 feet from by bed, I really had no excuse. I started it in early spring, in sunshine. It then rained non-stop for a month, which made it hard to work on, so in the end it’s a mixture of early and late spring. The little black dog, confusingly, is called ‘Bridge’, not Bridget, and belongs to my neighbours Jan Pieńkowski and David Walser. Bridge, a streetwise mongrel from Battersea, and my dog, Woody, a pampered high pedigree beagle from the Home Counties, who sadly died in 2009, fell in love at first sight. Although they couldn’t have children, they had a strong and enduring platonic relationship, and were ‘ever the best of friends’.
To to see the original painting, do go along to Gabriel Fine Art in Waterloo. The exhibition runs until June 8th. Here is the flyer:
Hawthorn, Oil on Canvas, 20 x 24 inches
Painted on Hampstead Heath last Sunday, with the City in the background.
Country Lane, Suffolk, Oil on Canvas, 19 x 12 inches
I have a vague memory of reading a story in which the narrator stays in a guest house or at a friend’s country home and sees a picture on the wall. The picture fascinates him because it has a path in it, and he imagines walking down that path – and so the story kicks off… What happens afterwards, I don’t remember – and I don’t remember anything else about the story – neither the author, nor the title. So that’s not very helpful…
However, I’ve always thought a path was a useful thing to have in a landscape. Monet, Pisarro, Sisley, they’re all very keen on them. It draws the viewer in imaginatively. It’s also nice to have a mysterious figure in the middle distance.
Orford Quay (Suffolk), Oil on Canvas, 14 x 23 inches
Terracotta figures, Oil on Canvas, 31 x 40 inches
For some time now I’ve been going to a sculpture class every Wednesday evening at Heatherley’s School of Art (tutored by Gil Whyman). I’ve done so many of these terracotta figures that they’re taking over my house. The terracotta is bright orange when fired, which bothers me a bit, but I thought it might work in a painting. I like their bored/bemused expressions and the languid poses. I placed the water bottles under the counter to complement the orange colour. They were empty, and I had to fill them up to get the right blue.
Lucy, Oil on Canvas, 52 x 40 inches
There is often an assumption that paintings are the result of preparatory sketches. I can see the logic, but it’s never worked that way for me. Drawing has always been an end in itself. Drawing does however sometimes lead coincidentally to painting, as in this case. First, I did the drawing below. When the model had a break she put on this colourful dressing-gown and that’s how I got the idea for the painting.
I did the drawing below. When the model had a break she put on this colourful dressing-gown and that’s how I got the idea for the painting.
I like these contemplative poses especially of women, looking down. Not sure why.
Lucy, Charcoal on Paper, 39 x 44 inches