Saturday 21 March 2009

The Agony and.......

Life can sometimes be a bed of pain and believe me, dear reader, I’m no stranger to a bad back or lady's 'trouble down there', necessitating a couple of days staying warm in bed.

I flatter myself I'm in good company with other, more famous, artists who’ve carried on creating regardless of their circumstances. And my own paltry complaints are diminished by their bravery.

Auguste Renoir, crippled with arthritis, chooses to stay in his wheelchair rather than use up his limited energy in walking- energy which he can then use for his paintings.

The painter Henri Matisse is diagnosed with cancer , but after an operation he finds renewed energies and the beautiful Russian-born assistant, Lydia Delectorskaya, to keep him company. Delectable! He turns to ‘cutouts’- cut paper collages he calls 'gouaches decoupes'. These are lush in colour and are among the most admired and influential works of Matisse's entire career.

"You see as I am obliged to remain often in bed because of the state of my health, I have made a little garden all around me where I can walk... There are leaves, fruits, a bird."

The list goes on...

Michelangelo exists on a diet of bread and wine, drinks the latter from lead containers, builds up uric acid in his kidneys and paints the Sistine chapel racked with gout. You can see his swollen knee- should you wish! in Raphael’s ‘School of Athens' ;

Van Gogh has epilepsy,... and, oh my, that ear really must sting- but this doesn't stop him!

Monet in his garden at Giverney struggles to see with his cataracts-a condition suffered by other Impressionists.

Hang on a minute...misty, sight-blurring cataracts. Aha! This, then, in a chicken-egg way, now begs the question ‘Does the disease produce the art? Or?’ . Such a vast subject, and we haven't even touched on Mental Problems... one to return to, I think!

Reflect now, if you will, on young art student Ronald Searle, called up in world War Two, and taken prisoner by the Japanese. Starving and diseased himself he draws the appalling scenes around him- on pain of death if his work’s discovered . Searle hides his drawings under prisoners in the last stages of cholera, knowing that the guards won’t come near. In a much later TV documentary a fellow inmate of Changi jail describes how he and others carried the dying artist outside to spend his last moments in the sunshine …..Searle demanded his pen and paper and continued to draw. And survived.

I've heard a thousand and one reasons why aspiring painters can't manage to even do a few quick studies in a sketchbook between classes. I've used some excuses myself- too busy, no time, not the right time, not the right weather, need a new book, pen, pencil, will do more when I retire/divorce/ finish this project/ kids get older. Someone once said to me, brutally, "If you're interested, you make time!".

And with that thought, and the examples above, I leave you.

Pictures: August 07, my Vertigo; Henri Matisse in his Studio; Ronald Searle sketch; view from my bed 20/03/09.

Thursday 12 March 2009

Faster than Fairies, Faster than Witches....

Travelling can be seriously boring, so there's every excuse to bring out the sketchbook to while away the time.
Rapid sketches are de rigueur and greatly increase the power of observation- that child on the bus just won't stay still, we're only in this train station for a few minutes, the traffic queue's starting to move up ahead, and the boat's about to weigh anchor- whatever that means!

It's good to draw the landmarks as they flash by- don't try this when driving... all that passes is 'a glimpse and gone forever'. No time here to be tight or precious about one's drawing, but just to furiously draw and damn the result! A page crammed with small, even incomplete studies can look most charming..
Case study: I'm waiting on the platform at the gare de Rennes and I'm irritated already by the incessant loud chatter of two ladies close by. Dear God, I pray, please don't let them be in the same carriage! They are, and they're just behind me, and like yours truly they're going all the way to Paris. With my allocated seat I'm trapped for the two-hour duration. I turn this to my advantage and amuse myself by sketching the passing scenery, but also I write down choice phrases of their conversation- neatly turning a negative experience into a positive and
live-enriching episode- or something along those lines.

It might be, I recall, unlawful to depict airports, stations and ports- national security and all that. But -What The Hell! Live dangerously say I, taking out my threatening sketchbook and pen, and feeling Matahari-esque as I do so.... while remaining out of bed and fully clothed.

From a Railway Carriage

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows, the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away on the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

Robert Louis Stevenson.

Sunday 1 March 2009

On the Road Again.. With a Charming Man

I've been away, and for the best of reasons- we won a pair of tickets, courtesy of Radio 2, to see Morrissey at the BBC's Radio Theatre...
February 11th at around 8pm sees us on the second row from the front for this bijou and intimate gig, hosted by an amiable Mark Radcliffe, with the rich and famous hiding themselves in the dark of the balcony. We have the better view with Moz only a few feet away.
Which gives Al the opportunity to pass him my postcard of Salford Lads club. See photo above- that's it in his hand! Honest!
It's good to be in London again and we have a great day as tourists with our friend Rhedd, who shows us Peckham Rye, Southwark, The Globe, and the Tate Modern. The sun's shining on the river and bathing the opposite bank in a magical glow. We have one of the Tate's frugal lunches (they're the same in Liverpool) and the serveur even warns me that the portion of tart will be rather small, and would I like a side order of potatoes? No, I would not, and certainly not at £3 a portion!
Lots of photos taken, and some sketchbook work. These are mainly done in cafes and on the cross-channel ferries, and when we're up North I'm especially happy to sit and draw in the mirrored and ornate Brucciani's cafe in Preston- almost unchanged since 1932... the ghosts of my student days linger here... where are you now, Chris, Doreen, Anna, Roger, Nesbitt, Melling, Steve and Viv- and who nicked my paintbrushes?!
Images: Rain at Le Havre; waiting for the ferry at Portsmouth; on board The Norman Voyager; Brucciani's, Preston.