I'm going to start this post with something that I usually save for the end, another artist's death. In this case John Hoyland's. And the quote that titles this post is from Barnett Newman via this Guardian obituary of Hoyland http://bit.ly/oafTU3. I can't say that I was ever a huge fan of Hoyland (or Newman come to that) but inadvertantly he had a profound influence on my development as an artist. The reason for this was a BBC 'Arena' programme called '6 Days in September', it aired in 1979 not long after I started my Foundation course and it was while watching it that I realised I was never going to be the kind of artist Hoyland was. Not that I had any particular beef with him, his work or his working method. I came to the conclusion that what he was doing was not what I wanted to do, that both the process he went through and the outcome he was looking for were of no great relevance to me. In other words I had no desire to be a Painter with a capital P or indeed an Artist with a capital A. I was an image maker, rather than an existential seeker after truth. And, truth be told, I found the whole business of Painterliness rather tiresomely narcissistic. Ironically narcissism was a charge that was frequently levelled at me during my time as a BA student. This was during what you might call my 'Cindy Sherman' phase when I was using myself as a model for photographic work (see the picture at the top of the 'Biography & FAQs' page for a rather obvious example). The 'accusers' were invariably Painters with a capital P, some of whom had obviously also seen the Arena film about Hoyland and had come to the opposite conclusion about the kind of Artist with a capital A that they aspired to be. There was, of course, more than a touch of 'pot and kettle' about the argument and lets face it, whatever kind of work you produce, a Fine Art degree course is absolutely to best place to practise narcissism, in fact it's pretty much a prerequisite for acceptance in the first place!
Which brings me to the second point of this post, the issue of nostalgia, particularly as it affects what I choose to depict and how I choose to depict it. This is something I was intending to write about anyway, the Newman quote appearing in the Hoyland piece just put the serendipitous icing on the cake (and it provides a much better title than 'Nostalgia isn't wasn't it used to be' or some such variation). So, am I an artist that deals in nostalgia, am I a pedlar of cosy visions of a past that never was? To the wider world I honestly don't kow. I can't dictate anyone else's reaction to what I produce, nor would I want to. Like every other artist once the work is made public it becomes something other than what it was conceived as or originally envisaged, part of a wider meta narrative of individual reponses and cultural pigeonholing that I have no control over. Personally, yes nostalgia is a part of the images I produce but perhaps not for the reasons others may assume. I am in no way homesick for the war years, nor do I deplore the fact that 'they don't make them like that anymore'. I'm profoundly grateful to have missed out on the fear, deprivation and sheer grind of those times. I'm a child of the Cold War, when the world might end tomorrow but it was considerably less likely to drop incendiaries on me night after night while I slept.
Any nostalgia I feel for the source material I choose to translate into paint is linked not to the time of its creation but to time I first saw it and the reaction I had at the time. It's prompted by the profound disconnect I experienced when I switched on the TV halfway through 'Tawny Pipit' and watched the 'Internationale' being sung around an English village green. It's the erudition, compassion and playfulness of Leslie Howard as a swashbuckling, Nazi hating archaeologist, the Smith that predated Indiana Jones. They may have been artefacts from a past era but their impact was fresh. It's worth remembering that the films of Powell and Pressburger were only just being rediscovered by a wide audience after years of neglect (for which Martin Scorsese deserves a knighthood). I believe 'I Know Where I'm Going' and ' ... Colonel Blimp' had never been broadcast on British television before the early 80s and neither had 'Tawny Pipit' and 'Went the Day Well'. I'd seen 'First of the Few' several times as a child but never 'Pimpernel Smith', 'In Which We Serve' but never 'Western Approaches'. This was pretty much all new material to me (and to my comtemporaries) and it showed that we didn't know the past nearly as well as we thought we did, it added layers and complications to the simplistic narrative that we'd previously absorbed. It was comparable to the shock of my mum telling me that as a teenager she'd preferred Joe Loss to Glenn Miller because his band 'swung harder'.
So, there you go, I hope that all made sense. Don't forget Tavistock Artists Market on Saturday Aug 20th. I'll be there, pretty much all the stuff you can see on the site will be for sale (at lower than website prices!). And here's a taster of one the new pictures I'll be showing, just a phone snap at the moment, I'll post high res pictures of new work in the next few days.
Work in progress and other stuff that happens.