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A little about me

 

Stories from my past

Intermittent thoughts on a variety of subjects, mostly science and art. A journey through my relation to fine art, figurative painting, conceptual art, sculpture, a bit of interior design and some childhood memories.

Feel free to browse or choose from the list of memories below...

Elizabeth David

Sculpture at Camberwell 1

Sculpture at Camberwell 2

The Lucas Tooth

Sometimes I'm a bit vague

The Goodge Street lift

Dick Lee

Daydreaming train ride

The Art market

Photography and two Marcels

Looking Glass

Fog and Gunpowder

Clement Greenburg

Looking with Ad Reinhardt

Measurement

Karn Holly

Bleeding Heart Yard

The Periodic table

Shakespeare in stacks

A Lion Hunt

Museums

IPATIEV

Peacock Yard

Gold leaf and electricity

Back of the queue face

The Guildford Forty

Sam and Vivi's clock

Angela Swann

Barrington Court and a Potter

Jellyfish eyeworks

Art Triangles

God's Socks


Elizabeth David

I'm not sure where but I once read "... the prime steak is cooked between two lesser ones which are then discarded...) Umm well worth thinking about.

Elizabeth David Portrait

Many years ago I wrote to Elizabeth David asking if she would sign the picture I had cut out from a Vogue magazine. After a while she replied and I have had the picture hanging in my kitchen ever since. If you look very carefully you can still see the faded signature; the letter she wrote is wrapped and attached to the back of the frame.

Elizabeth David letter

Ms David had been to art school in her early years and if you were not academic they were the places, if you were lucky enough to get into one, where you might discover things about looking that would change your life.

She would have learned that this illustration from one of her books is quite brilliant and that whoever drew it had been taught to look; what it isn't however is a work of art.

Elizabeth David Chair

The word artist is sometimes used when we have been thrilled by performance. "The lad's an artist", used to describe a footballer's brilliance is completely understandable but still wrong. As we are confronted with art these days we often embellish our responses with outbursts of rage; I sat on a London bus recently pretending to read but really entranced by the elegance of my co seater's "... yes three blank rectangles with a note saying imagine what you like pictured here...". There were 'Scoffing Queues' at the Tate Gallery to view Carl Andre's "BRICKS' in the 1960s but I don't recall, "He's not an artist" rather "... that's not art". A poor footballer would probably not be called 'a poor artist' but rather "... fucking useless", which balances well with 'The lad's an artist' to express an emotional response.

The best years I had when working in art schools were when I taught drawing and tried to refresh each year's course with differing programmes. As a teacher one has the responsibility of putting students into places where they can discover how to manage what they are looking at; one of those places is, what I may well be wrong in calling, somewhere to find 'a dialectical response'. I am referring to our intellectual and emotional responses, which I feel has to be present in all works of art.

We might well hear 'what we think about a thing' alongside 'what we feel about a thing'; I'd get into a fearful muddle if I tried to present here these different responses in relation to looking but they have to be there, simultaneously and clear in great works of art. I would not have audibly gasped in galleries a few times had I not been introduced by those who taught me to, what my friend Jane Graves once called, "An intellectual debate delivered emotionally". Tricky stuff but none the less important when we try to 'line up our grids' to presentations in art galleries.

When Plato said, "there are two cities in Athens one for the rich and one for the poor" he could have named any city at any time. I'm not entirely sure we should reward artists with wealth any more that I think they ought to be poor or try not to work for one group rather than the other.

Elizabeth David's books are beautifully written and though, from what I have read about her she was not a saint she changed my life along I imagine with many others; it was well worth going to Folkington in Sussex to stand by her grave in the church yard; perhaps to think of art, science, food and that all are needed.

Elizabeth David Tombestone


IPATIEV

David Troostwyk Coat Hanger

I have looked after most of this work for close on thirty years having it all apart from the metal hook. The whole thing was made for David Troostwyk at Cathedra, a carpentry workshop in Greenwich. The last time the work was seen in completeness was the early 1990s in the very sail loft where it was made. Troto, as I called him, titled his work 'October' and painted it red and black making it easy to spot the 'revolution' association: when the robes of one ruler are removed the next one might well use the same hanger.

As time passes the 'meanings' of a work may change; a beautifully crafted work may become 'a treasure' and be loved because of what it used to be. Some works 'hold on' and continue to relate their mystery over hundreds of years, across cultures even.

There have been since about the 1850s art critics, writers and historians who have approached the complete Linnaeus model but seem to disagree about their categories (Carl Linnaeus is often described as the father of taxonomy). The period, from the 1960s/70s through to 2000 or so, of post modernism seems to have made many critics angry with works that frequently seemed shallow, easily made and were often ugly. There's a fair amount of beauty to see around us; many people in the 'audience' wanted to see more of it, as well as skilful manufacture, in our galleries.

It's all very difficult. When Brunelleschi impressed the judges with his bronze door panel he still lost to Ghiberti and, according to Michael Podro my Art history teacher at Camberwell school of art, became very angry and left Florence for Rome. Luckily for Florence he came back and spent many years making the dome for the Cathedral.

Michael Podro told us that in their hey day, back in Florence, the Medici family commissioned the house style of the time to enjoy and exhibit their wealth. Wealth is still very tricky and doesn't help the 'audience' at all; in those days the public had access to religious art in churches giving depictions purpose. These days the rich seek uniqueness and the residue of that form in galleries has scant connection with a majority of public lives; this doesn't mean that it's bad art just inaccessible to many people, consequently hard to judge. We have to trust the educated critics who disagree quite a lot, tending to leave us having to both trust and value their opinions.

On the up side of things 'Street Art' has been popular since the dark days of Post Modernism, though no one really knows what to call it. From the upmarket end we have works like 'Bean' in Chicago or Robert Montgomery texts and a favourite of mine Julie Brook; ordinary people are enjoying what they see in these and other artists seeming to realise who art belongs to. Public Galleries are popular making it hard to understand there are difficulties with say the Turner prize. It's just as much fun to ridicule something as to do the work and get the message.

Cartoon

I imagine this caused as much mirth in the late 1800s...

Turner Prize

as this from recent years and there's nothing wrong with the fun of art as long as you don't then slobber over much loved work from the past.

My friendship with David Troostwyk meant a great deal to us both. He and I talked through many of these issues as we drank coffee or strolled back and forth in the embankment gardens. David was quite bitter about the art world that kept him on its fringe; one needs strategy to deal with the mafias.

I was lucky to see his late work of pierced negatives but I doubt many others will. There would be little point in a description of these works that won't be seen but I can say that they made the leap from the art world we communicate in to the place where we have to be alone with looking.

Another of David's friends was Euan Uglow; he and David, though very different artists collaborated over a couple of works. One of David's works called 'Diagonal" refers to one by Euan with the same name.

Davids Diagonal

Euans Diagonal

I know they both respected each others work while thinking along very different lines and wonder what they would make of my thoughts about painted art where I often refer to uncertainty as a principal. One of the reasons for this is because of art's relation to time, which we thought was a constant, and yet turns out to be variable. I think this is one of the reasons why art changes its meaning in differing ages. In science I have noticed that we read things about the past masters rather than the work itself whereas we still queue for the Sistine Chappell.

As well as their works on diagonals David and Euan both used toothbrushes for a work; Euan called his 'The Three Graces'; it refers to antiquity and perhaps the Judgement of Paris.

The three Graces toothbrush

David Troostwyk Toothbrush

David's toothbrush is an unfinished work of which, like the coat hanger, I own part, mine being at the stage prior to casting. Had their lives continued they might have come across a unified theory of art but I doubt it ... no one else has.


God's Socks

Unable to knit I once had a large pair of socks made for me.

Gods Socks - Extra large

As a child I had imagined God to be really tall and because I had such awful eyesight I would only see his feet end if he let me approach. What I asked the knitter for was a diamond pattern of 'black and red' and a mistake on one leg (up the revolution)

Another memory from those early days was of a tall teacher telling us small children to "Tell the truth and shame the Devil". These and other memories make me think that these days I might have been content in the Epicurus Garden attempting to 'live unseen'. Conscious so many years after Epicurus makes me think he might, these days, have different thoughts about the Gods as though there are still lots of them they and we are squabbling still.

One of the Deities, who may have made the Big Bang, also made the whole of time and must be outside it; this Deity may simultaneously know and not know that we are inside of their Universe at differing times with different things known to us. This time factor seems to me to complicate our belief systems. We are here for but a tiny fragment of 'Now' so might like to have a rethink about what each of our Deities is up to and perhaps rethink how humanity relates to what his/her Universe is made of and from.

Three Matter Generation chart

This table is from the physicists, many of whom have no beliefs outside of their quest to find out how things were/are made. Here we have the tiny particles humans have named as the basic ingredients from which the whole universe is made. If you were busy with the functions of these and decisions like whether to make 'space-time continuous or granular and discrete' you might seem not to inhabit the same agenda as most of us but prefer to hop onto the Epicurus bus bound for the place 'where not to attract attention'.

In that Garden of Epicureans, the then Greek gods were far away on Mount Olympus being immortal and had little time for humanity, getting very cross for example with Prometheus for giving us fire. These days I cannot begin to imagine what a deity would be like or whether they would have anything in common with the inside and outside of time. I, of course, may be wrong but can't see how humanity could have an identity outside of time where there is no past or future or space to be in and look at.

In my own childhood as I dreamed of god's socks at the church on the left I had no notion that it would be knocked down and rebuilt.

St Georges Church - Old and New

St Georges 1950 (left) and St Georges 2010 (right).

Visual Art along with other things changes rapidly; we would do well to remember it is to be shared as well as owned and made to look at as well as be talked about.


Looking Glass

Laundrette Lettering

My painting 'Reflection' came about after memory of a moment in a launderette; I was standing in one very soon after I left art school. It was dusk and as well as seeing through the window into the street the reflection of the shop began to appear. My then girl friend, who was walking past, suddenly saw me and stopped inside the reflection of myself; something clicked and I knew I would always remember the moment.

There is plenty to think about in relation to reflections and there are paintings that have used their magical qualities. As a child I wondered if the mirror itself was reflected, if I would be able to see me from that other, reflected side.
In Camden Town, at the library I think, I saw a mirrored box dug in the ground with grass on the bottom; this wonder made another layer of grass beneath the one I was standing on. I was transfixed and tried to use the notion in my periodic table film; here the thought was that after 'the table' had burned the ashes would be collected and put back into the earth to spread out by reflection, alas this part of my work was a technical failure.

Yesterday I went to see the Royal Academy show called 'Abstract Expressionism' and while there 'reflected' on where and for how long the paintings have been around. I have to say that these days I can just about stand for long enough to begin to engage with a painting and this show's works are special to the lifetime I have spent looking; these paintings were, still are, at least half of my 'starting block'. The older I get the longer it takes to begin looking deeply so I walk round until I choose the pictures I will try to look at for longer; I can only manage two or three works for a long look but still love my initial wander to begin the trance that hopefully will come. This particular show is going to be difficult, as it so often is with a 'short show, because there are so many wonderful pictures and I will only be here for two or three hours. I choose and begin my gaze: "Art is art, everything else is everything else." This Ad Reinhardt quotation means I have to leave words behind; I try to but it takes a while because we have allowed them such dominance.
If there is a flow from the work then I shall be away for a while; the gibberish is a bit like this: -

Belle Époque with due thanks to Alice I'm late as my mother sang in a better mood but she was mad hatter and all the time so many blanks fired there's the two slits and I'm the screen please send me the right drips from my brush and death is easy for Paddy Dignam or as he himself put it the other one
"bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!"
 

Twin Split Experiment

Ad Reignhart Photo

but where we are ultramarine no cobalt mix no oh no Prussian and my mother begins her madness with a claim to rocking chair she saved but blazes did over and over with hand on shears get that out of mind. Stop talking reading and look you fool all that time where have they all been before you were there and walk through into...

While all these musings, 'gibberish' is not anything like what's in my mind, and quotes from Finnegan's Wake flow about, I am in what we call a world of my own and I have no way to convey what these paintings are making me aware of. I adore my time with art and truly think that it is all that might save us, lift us up to where we dream. My brother in law was a scientist who once told me that he thought science would one day explain the arts. I think it might well be their fusion that helps us. Reflecting on the past, wondering where things are in space-time and not really knowing where I was when in front of these abstract expressionist works helps me think of the past and its relation to memory. I feel fairly sure the distance between yesterday and my being in a launderette in 1969 are more or less the same because memory is outside of time.

As I look back now I am so glad that I was introduced to looking and thinking about what I see and am also delighted with the unveiling of a quantum world alongside the vastness of the universe, of the large and small fully amplified. Visual art, more than anything, has fueled my imagination. If I put myself into another sort of trance I can lose objects and begin to glimpse all as atoms in which mine float only separated by density. Well, I say I can but as I'm a member of the ethereal Richard Feynman fan club I hover around and alight on the term he uses ... "screwy".

I know that the things I look at are just 'tweaks' in my brain, a transition around the "screwy", a dream of large and small, of science imagination not versus art imagination but hopefully more like an atom. Atoms are, as Richard Feynman tells us, the best thing we could tell other creatures we have found out a little about.
I'm up for uncertainty and its reflection.

Reflections - Andrew Wallace Painting

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Museums

museum photo

There must be many collectors whose objects of desire remain private but Mr. Horniman of tea and teabag fame gave his freely for education and wonder. A long time ago I briefly worked in Horniman's Museum; it was a joy to be there where, as a child, I had pushed my nose against many sheets of glass. I remember asking Elisabeth Goodhew, the then curator, about some of the things I remembered from my childhood especially the 'Spanish Inquisition Chair'. The chair, one of the many objects amassed for collection was removed during a time of doubt but is now on show again with a tweak of explanation.

As children we collected stamps and autographs where quantity at times seemed as valid as quality. My elder brother acquired an Australian stamp put it on a self addressed envelope and sent it with a paper sheet folded into four to 'the great cricketer'. A while later the envelope was returned with four Don Bradman signatures that were cut up to use for 'swaps'; quantity v quality being unrealized but still, at least for a short while, alive as a memory. He had of course kept one in his scrapbook of

signature

 

signature

 

signature signature

signatures and newspaper cut out prints; one for cricketers, one for footballers and one for stars of stage and radio.

Private collections can be surprising; a favourite of mine is/was Robert Opie's that became so interesting that it moved from the private to the public domain. Mr. Opie appears in the 'Cultures of Collecting' a book that wanders through many collections and includes the wonderful Kurt Schwitters.

"I could see no reason why used tram tickets, bits of driftwood, buttons and old junk from attics and rubbish heaps should not serve well as materials for paintings; they suited the purpose just as well as factory-made paints… It is possible to cry out using bits of old rubbish, and that's what I did, gluing and nailing them together."

I don't think of my painting paraphernalia as a collection any more than the torn paper I used to make collages many years ago but Mr. Schwitters and other artists like him collected with passion and an eye that might take us by surprise when reassembled. The image of Robert Rauschenberg's Goat has remained in my memories and hopefully I shall see it again soon for real, rather than pretend I can see it. Here I perhaps ought to say that although images are really useful sometimes unless you are there the photographs in our memories are like shut filing cabinets.

Here for example is an image of a rock I own which is from the Outer Hebrides; this 'free' sample was collected and given to me and may be around three billion years old. When I first held it I trembled a little; it is in my left hand now as I manage my two finger typing and it still gives me something or other.

art rock photo

During my mother's final year we made a trip to a museum; I had just given her the lewisian gneiss sample collected from the Isle of Lewis. When I told my mum the age, she held it tightly and immediately, as many others have, demanded, "How do you know"? The conversation went on and I told her there was some Moon rock in The Natural History Museum. A few days later we were in front of the moon rock. Part of the adventure had been a pause to stand on the earthquake simulator where she held on tightly as we shook a little.

My mother often held a hand up to her mouth when deep in thought; she took this stance for some time staring at the tiny fragment from our moon. On the way out from the museum she still seemed deep in thought but even so managed, "Very, very interesting dear but before we go can I have another go on that shaker thing?".

As we wobbled my rambling thoughts took me to Shaker Chairs and the ring of stones on Orkney.

Shaker Chairs stone circle

My mother died quite soon after our trip and I remembered the woman who had given me my life in a couple of my paintings this is one .

andrew wallace painting - shaker

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Art Triangles

Many years ago Jasper Johns remarked, "I can imagine a world without art and it's not a bad place"; like Donald Donahue in his 1980s Reith Lecture I too wonder what Mr Johns meant because I think we would be a lot less well off without it as I like to know it is there even when I am not looking. Mr Johns may have meant that as what he and other artists did was so inaccessible for most people it didn't matter much if they saw it or not or we don't need to see the stuff itself to feel the benefit. Donald Donahue talks about this and lots more besides, his lecture is possibly as difficult to understand or follow as what he is describing but as he says himself judgements are tricky.

Post Marcel Duchamp we have had to become thoughtful about how we look at visual art what with reproductions and one thing or another. But long before that there were paintings like this one and I have no idea how they were perceived in depth, perhaps it was the overlap between beautiful depiction and belief in a deity.

Madonna

 

 

Madonnas triangle

I remember, when a student, gazing at this and being told, among other things, that this Bellini painting depicted a classic triangle composition and it is easy to see a separation between the Madonna and the background. I can imagine drawings of this work that did not include the background, focusing perhaps on arresting the ideal. In our life drawing classes we students were taught not to do this but to look and record everything in relation to the dynamic of the rectangle.

One of our tutors, Euan Uglow, among many other things emphasised the notion of tension between separate objects. Euan was a hard-nosed teacher who I got to know a little when I visited his studio in South London to do a couple of electrical jobs. More than any of the other teachers he made me see spaces as ambiguous; this is a bit tricky to explain but I'll have a wander and try to. Painting and drawing is a flat process coming from looking at a three dimensional one and very different in procedure post Cézanne; I recall Euan talking about Cézanne a lot, about 'painted space' being a shallow illusion. Euan's paintings seem in one way to be an action in a shallow arena and though not separated like the Bellini separate none the less.

If I focus onto flatness this painting makes another 'model triangle' with the tension between the head and feet as an imagined line.

Euan Uglow painting

 

 

Euan Uglow painting with triangle

The dignity of this woman rests within art; within art her depiction is made manifest by Euan's striving towards the way we see. What he gives us is a context for seeing things around us when we are thinking rather than functioning; one has to do some work oneself to connect with his thoughts. We can, if we wish to, play with the space by allowing ourselves to 'dream' the event. The 'event horizon' of a black hole is well worth finding out about as are the edges of Euan's rectangle because as with the black hole the rules change inside it. I freely admit we do not have to know how things work in order to use them; we can all enjoy looking at art for different reasons but as Richard Feynman points out in one of his talks we can also enjoy a deeper look.

The Ambassadors Holbein Triangle theory

 

 

The Ambassadors Holbein Triangle theory 2

This strange work conceals many possible adventures; when I see crouched lookers I know they can see the skull in a different way from me and that this painting perhaps gave me an entrance to the 'art triangle' becoming more abstract; that as they saw their triangle I could begin to see another

Along with many others I share the joy of looking when I'm in front of 'Manet's bar' and in my early looks soon saw the triangle between the three pink bottles.

Manet bar triangle theory

 

 

Manet bar triangle theory 2

There is another triangle to be made between three people, the man with a top hat, the barmaid and oneself but as with the Ambassadors one has to stand in the correct place. I once had a rather tatty collapsible top hat that I took to the gallery to wear for a moment in front of the painting; what a thrill that was. I also began to connect this picture with Vermeer's 'The Music Lesson' where among other things the mirror, like Wallace Stevens's Blue Guitar dose not reveal things as they are or at least appear to be. Mirrors can be a real world of our dreams especially when like Alice we wander through the looking glass.

Vemeer Triangle

 

 

Vemeer Triangle

In my quest to understand art more deeply I even imagined the triangles Julian Barbour speaks of in his science lectures when he discusses what we see and exist in as being an illusion.

Jasper Johns was around during what I think of as the heyday of Abstract Expression, when the school was split enough to have paintings like this one painted by Jackson Pollock alongside, but very different from, the one painted by Mark Rothco.

Jackson Pollock trianglr

Mark Rothko triangle

The two New York schools knew each other well but approached work differently and these days I am happy I was at art school during those vibrant years. If you can imagine triangles made between yourself, another person and one of these paintings you can dream yourself into the layers of paint.

Mark Rothko gallery

When I was sitting in a Marc Rothco exhibition once I watched as people in different coloured clothes walked between the painting and me. It took a while to tune in to a new way of looking but a crowd is sometimes as good as a look on ones own.

Mark Rothko colour field in gallery.

 

 

Mark Rothko colour change example.

Colours change in relation to one another as Joseph Albers points out in one of his books and Art gives meaning to our lives; without it we might as well be asleep without dreams.

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Photography and two Marcels

The complex story of his grandma, love and a photographic image is laid bare by Proust in his novel 'A la Recherche du Temps Perdue'.

Here is the only photograph I have that shows an image of my grandmother with me, alongside my mother and my brother. As I look now I suddenly realise this was almost certainly the only time I saw my grandmother's knee. As I write this I see how easily I am diverted from the relation of the door in the background to the shelter entrance and my elder brother's shirt with a reciprocal diagonal of door, chair and trench travelling from left to right.

Marcels photo 1

I was taught to look at art school and, consequently, need time to take things in. As well as the process of analyzing picture planes for example there is the quality of an image's surface; whereas daguerreotypes and some silver nitrate reproductions had interesting surfaces many of the images we see today do not. Cropping images as well as streams of reproductions completely changes the way that we see things and even though there was/is a long history of printing it was photography that pioneered new clues to moments past. Images as well as documents of ordinary people could now be seen by their descendents. I suppose that remembering 'the time' of my grandmother and remembering what she looked like are entwined; but memory is tucked away inside our heads in compartments that are not always in agreement.

If I stay with the thoughts of my Grandmother I can try to picture her though it is not her face that I can conjure up but more her movements and the things that I recall her saying. The whole business of looking was, as I often say, altered for me via the long process of learning figurative drawing and painting.
The Proust approach is contained in the literature he rated most highly but this quotation from the other Marcel, that's M.Duchamps made me react in a quite different way

"In the 'Nude Descending a Staircase,' I wanted to create a static image of movement: movement is an abstraction, a deduction articulated within the painting, without our knowing if a real person is or isn't descending an equally real staircase".

Repetition of an image within the composition of 'Nude descending a staircase' made me want to take a risk too; this is what I did.
I was living in a house that had three apartments and I was living in the lowest. I climbed the stairs until I was outside the door to the uppermost, turned and slowly descended until I was back inside my bedroom where I got dressed. I made twenty-seven drawings of a staircase and hung them all the way up or down our collective stairs without the other residents ever knowing that I had walked up then slowly down sans clothes.

Marcels 2

I chose steps from a spiral staircase and like the ones shown, looking down; all of the drawings had a letter in them but nowhere in the work was there anything like a photograph. This work happened while I was recovering from a shock that changed the way I thought about what art might be.

Marcels 3

If I return to my own 1942 family snap I can these days copy and crop it without scissors like this; now plenty is lost but ... what I

Marcels 4

find curious is my interest in the loss of "June1942" ; I have no idea who wrote it but it evokes plenty of things within me and causes me to take a new look at the image. Marcel Duchamp may well have disagreed with his namesake on some issues but I imagine that with Man Ray there the three would have had many interesting exchanges. All art needs time to engage; I was once in too much of a hurry but nowadays find myself transfixed once connected with a work.
When students leave art school and try to engage with the art world [human] engagement with so many other things begins. For those who are sucked into the world of business, with their works selling for high prices, there is more of a pursuit of uniqueness than finding where art might be. I know this is difficult territory but I am grateful rich people haven't yet bought theatrical performance and so some current thinking is freed from a desire to possess, to own.
One of my friends, a good deal younger than I am, paints figurative images that many of us might well and often do take snaps of. When I sit and look at his paintings I am changed; he is, [along with a few others I don't know of,] preserving an aspect of looking and recording it would be sad to lose, perhaps even a disaster.
Humans always live in dangerous times; we are mostly quite wonderful but this doesn't allow for or can't prevent even, a few of us from behaving in ghastly ways to alter our dream of Utopia, umm ... I often muse as I read 'how good that would be' so I leave the last words to Marcel Proust who for me invented The Tardis.

"Real life, life which has at last been uncovered and illuminated, the only life in consequence fully lived, is literature. This life in a sense inhabits all people not just artists, at every moment, but they do not see it because they do not attempt to illuminate it, and so their past is littered with innumerable photographs, which are useless to them because their intelligence has not developed them. Our life and also the lives of others, since style for the writer just as colour for the painter is a question not of technique, but of vision. It is the revelation, which would be impossible by direct or conscious means, of the qualitative difference in the way we see the world; a difference which, if art did not exist, would remain each persons internal secret. Only through art are we able to escape from ourselves; to know what another sees of a universe, which is not the same as ours, whose landscape would have remained as unknown to us as those that may exist on the moon"

Thanks to minds like Marcels and his generosity of spirit we are less doomed.

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Eleven A, Peacock Yard.

N.B. before you start Pop this into google
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRltMej-hSQ

lute photo

There are still a few workshops around London city where health and safety in the wrong form is kept at bay. Outside this shrunken domain our responses to the world around us are slowly but surely being eroded. My 'adopted' granddaughter rebukes my wailing as 'moaning' but I am shedding tears of sadness that so many of the children I once taught were taken away from the joy they were finding in making things to be put into grown up Legoland. T-mor, my granddaughter tucks her skirt up and climbs a tree in our garden; my urging her to ascend is an aspect of Meccano, were I to request her descent to 'safety' I would be imprisoning her in Legoland.

When I look at some constructs from the wonders of our day there are echoes of Meccano but mostly Lego dominates our thinking. As a child I played with Meccano sets, back then there was no Lego; one difference between these two important toys is to do with space; Meccano made space with ease and so I was lucky.

Part of a lute is about the space where the music is hidden; on completion we see inside this part with difficulty where one of the joys of a beautiful lute is its possibility of holding another. Around the area of the Elephant and Castle in London are many memories from my childhood that are pleasures too deep for me to explain; to pop into Peacock Yard where the artist Frank Bowling has a studio has become one more. I have only looked through his window to see his racked works but maybe one day I'll be lucky and meet him there then jog his memories of Camberwell School of Art where he taught us in the 1960s.

Next door but one to Frank is Eleven A and up a staircase is one of those places 'Health and Safety' would love to close, unless the two who work there gave up Meccano and took to Lego. Inside this workshop Steve Barber and Sandi Harris work long hours and there is a simpatico between them as they change one thing into another.

Lute detail 1

lute detail 2

Inside their workroom I imagine the Arc de Triomph from where there are so many roads I might wander or glance along but always return to the circle from where the journeys might begin.
One of the meandered trips I imagined, when last in their workroom, hides in 'jars of memory'. Sandi and Steve have saved, in jars, many of their wood shavings, which are all different yet all the same; they are there in stacks for visitors to gaze at and dream. Wood shavings from a hand held plane are different from those that are left from a planer thicknesser; they hold the secret link between a tree and the lutes that travel out from Peacock Yard and into concert halls up and down the land.

Jars of memory

These shavings, collected in jars, are neither a tree nor a lute; they are a bond like the space in the lute's body. In order to hear music we need the past because music relates to time differently from paintings or hand made objects in art. When I asked Steve and Sandi if they were artists they replied as one that they were artisans; I feel a need to get closer to understanding their distinction. This is such a tricky place to think and if they are correct then the relation between beauty and art needs the thoughts of brighter minds than mine. All I have to say is that beauty is in the present and art is in the past; I know it's an incomplete thought but I'm struggling. I cannot make or play a lute and wonder about both the time it takes to make one and the time it takes when played. Language can bring safety to a thought and those of us who struggle with precision often give up. Like my art/craft dilemma of not being able to connect a maker, a player and composer I give up the struggle. I shall just have to live with my frustrations, with my longing to understand in words what it means to make things and how we choose to grade the differences.

Sports, where I am a spectator, means I live in constant fear of a final result, so I confuse memory with outcome. This difference took me a long time to spot and even so I do not know what it means, like my longing to see art completely I wait hopefully until time departs and I am immersed outside of the passing hour.

I held a baroque lute I could neither make nor play but as Steve and Sandi worked I watched feeling closer to humanity than I had for a long time. What they do for us all is like their collected shavings - a link, a bond, between one thing and another; a mystery but beautiful, quite, quite beautiful.

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A lion hunt

Along with other visitors I love to sit and gaze in wonder at the 'The Assyrian Lion Hunt'. This British Museum wonder has become for me a kind of time machine. My life changed dramatically in 1961/2 when I worked on the roof of the museum with no knowledge of this treasure beneath.

British Museum

During the final year of my apprenticeship I was given small jobs with more responsibility. On one occasion I was left to finish off a few loose ends before rejoining my engineer Ken Scullard at our next location. I was given the address, followed by, "But only when you've finished ...and make sure you do a good job lad"; along with "... get to the main gate of the museum and show this chitty, walk towards the main entrance, don't attempt to go in but turn left at the bottom of the steps. Walk round the building until you get to an iron ladder attached to the wall, climb up it till you are on the roof. Follow the footprints in the snow until you get to a blue door marked 'Duveen', it's painted on in green; we'll be in there".

A while later I arrived, climbed the cold metal ladder and there I was on the roof of the British Museum following footprints in the snow up to 'Duveen'; Ken and Bill Fry from the office were behind the door pouring over drawings. I joined them as they discussed the layout and thought to myself it's the same as the one we had just completed for Coutts Bank in Lombard Street. Large fans would be intermittently turned off and on to suck in the London air then passed at pressure through a field of water jetted sideways across a metal box. On then through a shield of vertically stretched wires at high but differing voltages, dust and dirt collected on these in a similar way to the layers on our radios and television sets; intermittently the current would be turned off then the wires washed, dried and turned back on. Heating and ventilation engineers installed this into a walk through metal duct; our task was to install the control system.

When Mr. Fry left Ken and I began the installation by laying out all the controls on the floor until Ken was content with the look. He was what these days might well be called a fussy bugger but I admired his determination to make our installations look good, as well as work effectively, even though they would seldom be seen.

During the installation we walked about the roof space and Ken was mesmerized by a run of ten or so conduits that were beautifully arranged. The concentric bends and curves had been engineered by a master craftsman and praised by Ken with many expletives. At the end of the job I suggested to Ken that we go and have a look around down in the museum. "You can if you like, them posh sods down there won't be up to see our work or that beautiful pipe work so I'll be in the café, don't take long".

All I can recall of my first ever walk through the museum was that I had to ask the way and that when I got to the enormous Duveen Gallery thinking to myself... "Christ they're all broken".

Assyrian Lion Hunt

Strangely, a year or two later, when I had become an art student, the first art history lecture was given by Michael Podro , "Here we see the beautiful Birth of Athena from the Parthenon ... left to right virgin, nymph and crone..." It's hard for me to imagine the differences of looking between being an apprentice electrician and an art student but even harder to think that they might ever happen the other way round.

Whenever I go to the Cornelissen art shop I take the opportunity to visit the British Museum nearby, to look and marvel at the Assyrian Lion Hunt. The Duveen Gallery next door has always included my personal encounter with memory; I look up to the glass ceiling and recall the time there before my life changed completely. I wrote to the museum on two occasions to request a visit to the roof where I wondered if our installation was still working or 'Ken's conduits' were still looking beautiful; sadly for me my letters were ignored and there was no reply.

Elgin Marbles Room

I muse through these memories as I gaze at The Lion Hunt, alabaster reliefs that once adorned a corridor; we are lucky enough to be able to walk along in wonder as a few Assyrians did more than two and a half thousand years ago. What is it about this relief that enthralls me? Well to begin with they are the correct height which may well sound trivial but, if I remember from the history taught to us by Michael Podro, what we see is influenced by how we engage. What he didn't point out was that in a way the 'Duveen arrangement' has turned the Parthenon inside out, whereas the Lion Hunt is as it was, though no longer with their colour.

In my last year at Camberwell Art School Michael bought a house in Chalk Farm and asked me, as other lecturers had, if I would rewire it for him. This was to be a complete rewire rather than tweaking studio lighting so I spent a lot of time there over one of the holidays as well as the odd day off from the college. I was lucky to get this job because it meant spending time with Michael; once or twice we sauntered down to Marine Ices for a cornet and Michael always chose chocolate and strawberry, strange the things we remember.

One knew immediately that Michael was 'learned' and different from other teachers at Camberwell. It's hard to be complete in a description of this difference; both he and they introduced students to visual art being entwined with something that reached outside of a gallery. One always went home from college thinking about what had gone on that day but the thoughts were different after an evening class of Michael's. One might be thinking about depiction for most of the time in and out of the studios and perhaps Michael made me more aware of my vanity than the others; what ever it was he certainly tweaked our thinking.

As students of those times, alongside the strong tradition of drawing and painting from looking at models, still lives and occasional landscapes, we encountered 'American' painting of both 'Field' and 'Abstract Expression'; I felt we were in safe hands as we responded to what we saw on our own with 'Barnet Newman'. Michael, had he had more time with us, would have helped our understanding and desires to be modern but being called 'an art historian' perhaps, meant we students didn't value his head rather than hand contribution; how wrong we were.

Imitation alone sometimes leaves little else but muddy footprints; the history of painting and the history of art are very different and Michael was onto this; sadly at that time I was only kicking off my thinking and was more than a little naive.

As a student beginning to try and fathom things my way of looking at the 'Lion Hunt' hadn't deepened and I knew virtually nothing of the separations between human responses. Michael was one of the academics who bridged across to the visual world and did lots and lots of explaining only, unlike many of the others, he did it with 'would be artists'. Thinking back now, perhaps selfishly, he would have been an asset to art students in Camberwell rather than art history ones in Essex. One of the things I liked about him was his hesitation, as he described great works for us to look at one could imagine his re-seeing the works alongside his notes as he looked again 'with' us, his seminar groups; pitched and joined in our thoughts as well as adding his own which he never presented as highfaluting notions.

I made a mistake with Michael that I still regret; I was so a feared of my status that after leaving art school I stopped going to see him. Years later as I stare at the Lion Hunt and remember I realise that we might both have benefited from a few more visits; I hope that it's not presumptions to think he liked me not as the chap who wired his home in a thoughtful way but one who wanted to find out what art, as well as what a well painted picture, was. We need to know about the works done by others, not just to seek personal position but as contributions to something we are all part of and not separate from; this was something Michael kicked into our student arena.

As I stare at the lion hunt and see the chariot as well as the arrows whizzing past I think of Manet's Railway with Victorine looking out and her younger neighbour looking at other things also whizzing past; these are visual thoughts and I struggle to write about what I can see. Michael seemed to know that painting needed a better language of exchange than the one we often hear elegantly telling us what we can easily see for ourselves. It's taken me years to see the Railway and Victorine; I hope that art schools now have 'Looking at the Past' right alongside the act of painting; Michael in the studio as it were as well as in the library.

Like the semiconscious dreams of early mornings all of this races around as I sit starring at the Lion Hunt then up pops a notion of 'art triangle'. I remember Pyewacket from the film Bewitched and that a witch needs three things to cast a spell. In the chariot is the King, present but unpainted, also the lion (cat), dead and alive at the same time and me only separated by time from when the carvings were being made. It is a time of joy as I sit alone with my thoughts ... "virgin, nymph and crone" ... on the roof above where I once walked in the snow ... of my time spent dreaming ... now reflecting. What a shame we never made it onto the roof, there we could have chatted a while. Either way, 'Thank you Michael Podro, I think you were great.'

Michael Podro

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Shakespeare in stacks.

A while ago I made a work with Shakespeare's sonnets that ended up as fourteen stacks. I typed the first word of each of the 154 poems in a grid onto my first page, then the second onto the next page in the same grid formation and so on until I reached the end of the first line. As the lines have a different number of words, gaps appeared as words ran out and that made the first stack.

I continued with 154 words on the first page of the second grid/stack and gaps appeared again as I got towards the last word of the second line. This process gave me the said fourteen stacks. What I didn't do was finish the work because the way I envisaged it would have been expensive and what would I do with it anyway I wondered.

Here is/was the plan; I imagined the pages printed onto see through plastic then layered flat and vertically. They would have to be hung in a large space where they could be walked through or under perhaps and looked at so a viewer could see they were separated sheets and read the words. I might well have inverted them all but again when these sorts of works come into your thoughts limitations also appear. Another work derived from my stacks in 2001; I imagined pages nine and eleven of my work projected into the spaces where the 'twin towers' had been.

Works like this are frustrating because they are hard to realize; there is also the public/private domain to be thought about. ?? The Lion Hunt of Ancient Syria warms me because I love looking at the work and because I do not know the names of the artists who made it. Being anonymous strikes me as a difficulty for so many of us and I have had to learn to be anonymous which I now quite enjoy.

A good thing about my old age is how much I still love making art and knowing that almost no one will see what I do gives me a freedom I relish. I am still tempted by being told how good I am rather than how good the work is and yet there is a glimmer that this will pass as I get to be even older and anything I make will belong to us and not to me.

Not that long ago 'The Madonna of the Pinks' was spotted by Sir Nicholas Penny, then of the National Gallery; painted by John Smith it was nice enough but painted by Raphael it was a masterpiece. There have been a few Rembrandt's that have caused controversy in the art market because the money value changes with verification of authenticity; umm. If one thinks of tax evasion and tax avoidance in the same way as this, or fiddling expenses even, we might shift the art market back into the culture rather than it being the sole domain of the rich.

As art follows the mores of the times it has become difficult to be imitated and though works like those of Doug Aitken for example (View on youtube) are quite, quite wonderful they are far beyond most of our possibilities. Levels of art are tricky but if you are really into it and feel the thrill of making something appear the value belongs to you until work stops then hopefully it's for us all.

Having no notion from where my love of stacks comes makes some of my dreams an entertainment so when I heard details of Brane Theory in science I was attracted even more to the thinking than I was already.

Brane Theory

These days, like many aspects of art, science is impossible for most of us to engage with other than through popular books, television documentaries, science cafes or the Internet. I have thought about works related to science and dreamed of Marcel Proust's books arranged in visible stacks of pages. In my dream 'Brane' theory of how a multiverse might be arranged is fused with Proust's pages. Repeated words would light up making strings through the pages then fade and allow others to appear. Were I to become involved with trying to explain this dreamed of and longed for work stack I'd become sad because of my inability to see a future for it. What luck that I have my paintings, they are such a comfort; in the multiverse my imagined works are real, they would not be seen as dreams or random events although they would be that too.

Kirk Douglas in the role of Spartacus declared, "I know nothing, I don't even know how to read." He then goes on to wonder why the moon changes shape. I looked up his speech from the 1960 movie because I remembered only a 'frustrated fragment' from the first time I saw the film. In the art world, an equivalent of this imagined depiction, everyone is Rembrandt and only the audience knows what the truth is.

N.B.
Here is a link that explains Brane Theory

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brane

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Jellyfish Eyeworks

I wonder what a jellyfish or a peahen for that matter actually sees; how different from our own interpretations I wonder.

Jelly fish Photo

When we see, there is a moment of change, from what's out there to how our thoughts organize the photons. We tend to accept as truth, science's thoughts and ideas about this process as, to all intents and purposes, these work well.

Richard Gregory, who wrote books about how we see, seems to have been a pleasant and curious scientist interested in optical illusion. 'The rotating mask' illusion was one of his favourites, clearly showing that our brains change what's out there into what we need to see.

The process of how an eye evolved is understood and even though there might be some debate about chance or deity we still share the joys of looking. Whenever I read books or listen to talks about how our eyes and brains work together I am fascinated; the complexity of visual perception and the fact that the illusion works is thought provoking.

I enjoy my time spent with the few scientists I have come across late in my life and though I know very little of the way that they respond to their world I like to think that, at the very least, we share a curiosity. One of the differences in the way scientists and artists relate to the past is their use of history. Scientists tend to adjust past thinking whereas visual artists just add more works for us all to share and look at; so, we all need "The shoulders of giants" but in different ways.

I may well be wrong but I feel Paul Cezanne might never have had the thoughts he left for us had Manet not found a new painting process. I am not entirely sure that all the Impressionists favoured the need to look back as well as forward but believe Manet had realized early on that he was adding and responding to a whole, rather that a current vogue.

I was recently in the wonderful Courtauld Gallery to sit and stare at the bar of the Folies Bergère painting by Manet and remembered The Hoerengracht by Ed and Nancy Kienholz.

Manet Folies Painting   Hoeren gracht

The Hoerengracht installation includes a view that evoked in me a thought not dissimilar to one brought about by the reflection in 'Manet's mirror'; that you are in the same space as the illusion. Sometimes, if I get myself into the right frame of mind for this to happen, as I stand where the artist did, a 'click moment' might happen for me; that's when I lose my sense of time and space and seem at one with art. St Augustine said, "If I ask myself what time is I know but if others ask me I do not"; for me it is the same with art.

When I look at Vermeer's paintings I am sure that both time and art are different from the way I perceive them and that may, in one of my 'click moments', be an arrested memory as Proust describes for us. Time and visual thought unite in Vermeer's depictions in a way that grasps/holds 'now' in a completely different way from a photograph. There are many deep feelings to be shared when looking at paintings but not all of them have the status or grandeur of being still as in a Vermeer. In the Courtauld Gallery hung quite close to Manet's wonderful painting of the Folies Bergère is Paul Cezanne's Card Players. In the gallery I try to see a woman putting on her necklace, painted by Vermeer, between them and on the occasions my mind allows am thrilled to imagine the three united.

Manet Folies Painting   Vemeer painting   Card Players painting

"Imagine Pousssin redone entirely from nature; that's classicism as I understand it. What I will not admit is that it is classicism that limits you. I want visiting a master to take me back to myself; every time that I leave Poussin, I have a better knowledge of who I am"
Paul Cezanne

I am still learning how to look at paintings and though it's a mundane thing to say I am so grateful for the time artists have taken to think in more ways than one and for the 'illusion' they have left for us all.

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Karn Holly

Karn Holly photo 1

Way back in the 1970s through to the mid 1980s there were some pleasant and interesting days at Farnham art school when on Thursdays the whole foundation department's students shared a drawing day. Some artists traveled down from London and joined others to teach drawing for a day. I'm not sure what happens when teaching drawing but I know you can try to put students into places where they find out how to. There is also the chance to learn, through conversation and explanation, what you the teacher have discovered that may assist students begin the pleasure of becoming utterly absorbed.

Sharing, demonstrating even, the skill and joy of drawing helps many people enrich their lives by the introduction it gives them to seeing the world differently. Among those of us who worked there was Karn Holly who sadly died a year or so ago: I hope that we shared a mutual respect for the way the two of us went about the day's work within the team.

Recording what's flat from what's three-dimensional is hard to unravel and needs time but that's what drawing is so it remains, to my mind, the best way into painting and an understanding of art. Karn knew how to do this and her students seemed content in her classes. I remember seeing, when I had popped into her room one day, a way of seeing far and near that was bold and exciting. How accurate my memory is of this moment is tricky to access but what I think was there were bunches of keys that could be positioned at different distances from the looker. I think that the students were being asked to draw the same thing at different distances onto the same rectangle. This would have been an aspect of the drawing process that focused on seeing the space as something that you are in as well as in front of. There are different ways to bring this to a student's attention but it is one of the fundamental things that needs to be addressed and introduced within the order.

One of the things about drawing in our early years is composition and I knew that Karn engaged with this aspect of the art in a different way from myself because I remember our discussion about it and how best to establish its significance.

I was hopeless at marking and have always struggled with grading others. I remember at the end of the course walking round end of year shows with Karn and trying our utmost to be fair in our assessments. I am still thankful to have done this with her because of my deep respect for her judgement but also because it was a time when we talked about art and I think shared the thought that neither of us had an answer as to what it might be.

When, in the mid 1980s, the college decided it was time for a change of staff many of the then 'teacher group' lost touch. The ways that we bump into contacts and then out again is a complex part of being human and among the year groups I taught at Farnham must be many threads still remaining.

Karn Holly photo 2

If you pop this (click here) into the Internet you can listen to some reflections from a thoughtful woman.

When I watched as Karn talked about her life in art I wished I had been able to say goodbye

Drawing above all else remains for me the time when there is no sense of it; I find a hint of this in ambient music but I always thought silence was one of the needs when learning to draw; this might have been our only difference,I don't know; what I do know is that her classes would have been times and places where the joy of learning was ever present.

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Measurement

Louise, a mathematician pal, popped round to take me through the fractal way of thinking; it was fascinating to see the repetitions change as they grow and grow and yet remain the same. As a child I found mathematics difficult and seem to remember 'BODMAS' being a tipping point. I am uncertain as to why log tables along with those of trigonometry became so very difficult but they did. If I summon up the simple equations we learned I have no memory of ever being told what they were for. These days Lorentz and Maxwell's work, if only I understood it, would give me access to the transition between electricity and magnetism and the beginning of thoughts on time. Now this may seem an unnecessary thing to concern someone who paints pictures but what I learned as an apprentice electrician and later as an art student seem locked together.

I am constantly measuring as I paint; I also make adjustments to the rooms where I live though possibly these measurements are less abstract than the painted ones. I don't think of maths as I work but enjoy reflecting so wonder about the connection between the two different kinds of measurement. A shape of sheet material needed to be cut accurately is easy to understand but needs a degree of skill to carry out; it is equally so with the appearance of coloured shapes on a blank rectangle until we compare thoughts on the outcomes. There are different ways to respond; some people for example analysis Vermeer's painting via the camera obscura. This response seemed more interested in the process of making than the process of looking and there is nothing wrong with that. Other responses seem more interested in the finished work; put together they raise the debate of beauty. The great physicist Richard Feynman debated with a friend about the beauty of a flower; Walt Whitman in his poem 'The Astronomer' aired a preference for 'perfect wonder'. The mathematician Roger Penrose seemed to have come out more evenly with Maurits Escher. We may well know, sometime in the future within the relation of abstractions, what beauty tweaks in our minds, meanwhile speculations abound.

Back with Vermeer after his death another painter adjusted some of his pictures; I know of an arm that had its edge hardened and two gold lines that were painted out; these later alterations have been changed back. What kind of measurement and skill would be needed to retouch a Vermeer I wonder? A
hint of audacity perhaps? I have no idea if a later mathematician might feel it necessary to tweak an earlier equation but doubt it would be done in secret rather than acclaimed as closer to a truth. Ironically Vermeer's 'Woman with a Balance" was secretly adjusted almost certainly because of fashion, muted colours being favoured at the time

I have no doubt that equations are beautiful; Paul Dirac's

Pauls formula

when read changes my responses, I remember hearing other equations read when I was making a work that proposed a link between four men from the early part of the 20th century. Trying to link things fascinates me and my elusive understanding of maths has changed because Louise told me it was better to include it rather than try to understand its meaning. I hope I am beginning to include its abstraction.

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My student year in the sculpture school at Camberwell (part one)

bluetile

 

My second year as a Camberwell art student was mostly spent in the sculpture school.

 

This plaster relief was originally white but I quite like the blue.

I remember making this with the help of Mr. Oulds a technician there, who had once worked for Jacob Epstein, and was a highly skilled caster.

Soon the teachers found that I was a qualified electrician and as well as learning about art I began to install the lighting in many of these artist/teachers' studios so took a day or so off during the week; no one seemed to mind and I got to see inside their workrooms which was interesting and informative. Making non-figurative works seemed a lot less 'naughty' (Camberwell favoured figurative depictions) in three dimensions and that is mostly what I did while learning about sculpture.

I liked it in the sculpture department and remember eating lots of toffees.
There was a buzz about contemporary British sculpture back then (the infamous1960s) with artists like Phillip King, Mark Bolis, William Tucker and the well known Anthony Caro, who taught with them at St Martins.

We had Garth Evans teaching at our college and he was one of 'the group'. A show of their work at the Whitechappel Gallery, called I seem to remember 'New Generation Artists', featured Phillip King's 'Quarter Past' but I could only find 'Tra la la'; he was close to Tony Caro the elder statesman of the group.

Tony Caro - Sculpture

Phillip King's 'Tra la la'

 

Farm

Garth Evan's 'Frame'

Tony Caro was a really nice man who bought me dinner one evening but that's a story for later.

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My student year in the sculpture school at Camberwell (part two)

During the changes from art diploma to degree courses that began in the 1960s the sculpture school at Camberwell failed at the first hurdle. There were some staff changes and Paul de Monchaux took over as leader with the challenge of an upgrade; he borrowed some students from the painting department and off we went and, among other things, I made the above arch. I had a great time. Making three-dimensional work certainly added to the changes in the way I was learning to see the world.

Camberwell photo

When I began writing this I looked up the spelling of de Monchaux and found out that Paul still lives and works in the home he had back then. I got a bit of a jolt when he replied to my email remembering almost immediately the distinctive sound of his voice even though I couldn't hear it. I recalled the occasion when we students first went into his department and were given a talk about - here I am a little vague but seem to remember the word – 'concept'. What I can remember is that whatever word it was it meant we were free from figuration.

My year in the sculpture school at Camberwell helped me to understand drawing without my doing very much of it on paper. So again 'Marquette is to sculpture' seems not the same as 'drawing is to painting'; drawing for me these days is essential but very different from what it was then. Sculptural drawing seems to me to be more like 'thought experiments' than diagrammatic representation, isometric projections even but certainly not like life drawing and life painting.

Apart from a couple of attempts at figurative clay modeling during my foundation year I have only made abstract sculpture and the few things I made were drawn first as if they were one of these 'thought experiments', dreamed of but not dreamed up. Dreaming is a way to draw in thought that is common to many activities; we accept that Albert Einstein imagined his 'thought experiments', that to my mind could as well be known as his drawings; his more tangible ones were almost certainly his equations. So, without drawing onto paper I dreamed sculptures, the pictures of which were embedded into what I ended up making.

As an electrician I had been trained to bend metal conduit and so, as we often do when offered a choice, came up with something that referred back and used this ability, here it is and if you look carefully you can see the internal conduit frame the first thing I made in his, Paul's new department.

Wallace Sculpture

The flat aluminum bars, black, white and orange are pop riveted onto this frame. The arch at the top also used a frame of conduit and wood that had cotton duck stretched over keeping the whole structure light and easy to manoeuver.

We knew Paul would be facing the 'Inquisition Committee' soon and I suppose he spent a lot of time in his office cooking up a document of useless necessity as well as nudging us into places where we might find some art. He kindly sent me a catalogue of a recent show he had had rather late in life and there they were, pictures and images of the things he continues to make. It was wonderful to exchange a few emails and look through the catalogue; reading the notes revealed a truth about teaching and the drain it had been on his work.

When I became a student I had no idea that it would take quite so long to discover a place where I would begin to unveil the wonder of making art. I still think that students need a range of teachers from different age groups and classes, as we were lucky enough to have. Art has a long tradition and students tend to favour the new; better to leave art school knowing there is still lots to learn than thinking your career has begun.

The time just after leaving education is tricky; some turn out to become what we call successful artists, others less so; I'm one of those. It would be very hard to alter the way things work in any category; in the hurry, chance and luck scramble some artists may sadly be lost.

We end up with some excellent artists though who love humanity and make art for us all to enjoy and learn from. There are also a few scallywags but they seem to me to be even bigger losers than those they have hoodwinked. I may well have been vain at the time I left college but am glad to be in the place I am now. I can think of no greater joy of life than the time I spend in my workroom.

Back then one of the things that our degree course managed was a 'Crit'. At the beginning of most terms we were given a title/subject that led to a work done/made at home, these were brought into college and shown collectively; while we sat a teacher would talk about his or her responses to our work and we all, possibly secretly, loved these occasions.

Camberwell Wallace Sculpture

During the sculpture year the topic given for our 'Crit' was 'Syncopation'; I can remember during my 'dream up' thinking of trying to combine two things into one work and came up with this.

Via jazz I thought I knew about syncopation as two things combined to make a whole, the second of which connects but is unexpected to the first. As I liked jazz I thought that if the yellow was the Mississippi then the top could be the paddle of a riverboat. Here I might say that that kind of 'satisfying' explanation is a literary one and nothing at all to do with the truth. I have no recollection of what I was thinking about back then but find it interesting that the explanation works. What it also does is terminate the visual thought; once you know the 'story' you think you have the meaning. This happens with lots of our looking at visual art and I see little solution to the difficulty. We all love stories and if the 'story' helps what can be wrong with that; nothing, but there is more to be thought about.

Soon after the 'Crit' I came into the sculpture school one morning and Mr. De Monchaux told me some students from the printing department of the college had vandalized my work. I seem to remember not being upset but thinking that it was a response of one sort or another.

As I was writing this my beloved adopted daughter looked over my shoulder and I told her about the 'smash' from all those years ago. After out chat she gave me the notion that I could tweak the event into a crime scene.

Syncopation Sculpture Andrew Wallace

The only way I'll manage this is to call on Richard Photoshp skills, so I shall. Meanwhile I think that I might send this to Paul and hope that he enjoys someone else's memories of his first year at Camberwell.

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07/02/2016

The Guildford Forty.

The first year after I left art school I began teaching at Guildford School of Art; I tried to be a reasonable teacher but knew very little about the practice. Teaching is not easy and now I am looking back through the events of my life, like many others I would love to change many things that worry me about the way I ran my classes.

The early events of this first teaching job and my desire to help students learn to draw and make art were soon overtaken by a 'sit in'. The Paris riots of that academic year and other protests across Europe spread and somehow or other, by the chances in life, included a 'sit in' at Guildford. There is no nutshell or nub of the Guildford protest, it jogged along with many facets and now there must be lots of different memories of its 'truths'. I wonder what the outcome would be of a collection of these memories and see there are things afoot on the Internet so wait in anticipation.

I was one of 'The Guildford Forty' but alas there was also a 'Guildford Four' so hope there will be no confusion. Our sacking was in 1968; the 'Bombings' were later in 1974.

I remember getting the letter telling me I had been dismissed after the haze of events that, along with lots of other teachers, I had been through. One of the odd outcomes was an exhibition of teachers' work at 'the something or other Gallery' in London. It was a motley collection of work I seem to remember with my exhibit being described in the Guardian as "The anti perspective sculpture of Andrew Wallace"; umm ... it was a square of twenty five boxes rising from the floor, the tops were cut at an angle of related heights that made a diamond top. The work was coloured and I wish I had taken a photograph of it or even a snap, lots of people tell me "colour is your thing Andrew."

After the 'outcome' was resolved some reinstatements and compensation payments were made; my back of the queue face meant I got virtually no money but was asked, as the least likely to behave badly, to pioneer a return to work. I did so and although the memory is vague seem to recall teaching, even in that climate of tight-lipped encounter, being preferable to the politics of a 'sit in'.

Art school education, like others I imagine, has changed from way back then and now seems more formal, more concerned with commerce. I hope I am wrong; being curious about what we see and how we can make responses to the wonder of looking is a joy of life. Drawing, that strange activity that links looking painting and art, seems to me to be the thing students should learn before all else so I hope they are lucky as we were.

One of the shouted comments I recall from the 1968 kafuffle was, "And don't forget Mr. Brett education is very different from training"; I agree and having been trained as an electrical engineer and educated as an artist know which suited me best but am grateful to have experienced both.

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The Lucas Tooth Gymnasium and Adrian Berg

A few years before I went to evening classes at Camberwell School of Art I attended The Lucas Tooth Gymnasium; an old school building just off Tooley Street and a short walk from London Bridge station.

Lucas Tooth photo

This was way back in the 1950s when Mr. Offard and a few other 'naval chaps' ran a thriving venue on five nights of the week. Young men from various backgrounds met to learn how to keep themselves in 'tip top condition' as one of the instructors was wont to remark. It was a three-year course and in the third year we did some displays when we would turn up in neat attire to vault or do a little of what I seem to remember was called 'floor/mat work?' It was inexpensive hence the motley crowd who turned out for an evening of non-competitive exercise. We were all very keen to look good as we performed and though some were better gymnasts than others I think we were a motivated team. One lad was really able and could turn a 'flip-flap'; many of the things he did looked great but he was not an 'artist'.

As teenagers our small group of friends imagined our future, thought of morality and dreamed of sex, hence the desire to look fit and healthy. Morality was mostly taught to us through 'the church' and the cinema. Church was not just the building at the end of the road but Sunday parades in the Boys Brigade, School assemblies, Sunday school and our parents. The cinema, it being a communal activity, helped us begin to place our thoughts in the society; providing us with a cultural base. These days I think that none of these routes have left a deeper impression on me than the movies from Hollywood; apart of course from my ending up in art school, which was truly a wonder.

I was, despite all of these healthy influences, in something of a mess certainly unhappy then along came my years in art school. Camberwell was a haven where we learned how to draw, paint and respond to the visual world around us. One or two might have been able to turn visual flip flaps as it were but I'm not sure any as yet were artists.

Barnet Newman was insistent that artists need a subject; then if they find their voice they must find a way to put it into the air. I am almost certain that an artist needs their work to be seen in order to complete it; when you stop painting and look at what you have done in a different way you may encounter this phenomenon. Chattering at art school laid foundations of my thinking and was like the Lucas Tooth filled with a motley crowd of students. The teachers too varied both in class and attitude; Adrian Berg, for example, introduced us to Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
"The whole world is all that is the case"

"Of that which we cannot speak we must pass over in silence"
But between these first and last lines remains a mystery few can comprehend; I'm one of those. Art may be like that; a tasty sandwich with a mysterious filling the liking and understanding of which varies from person to person and changes as we age. Adrian seemed to know about 'the lofty things' and was one of the artists whose studio lighting got a revamp from me. He lived in the Regent Park Nash Terraces, which was one of the poshest houses I had ever been inside. Having worked since school on building sites I had learned a little of how the places where we live and work were constructed; as I lifted and refitted Nash floorboards I discovered at least one detail of what a wonderful building it was.

As well as his thoughtful reflections on how we students should respond to what we saw Adrian often held forth on other aspects of life. In his kitchen, the like of which I'd never encountered, he declared, "There are three cuisines Andrew, Chinese, French and Portuguese." Living with a view of Regents Park, knowing how to cook, being educated in that Oxbridge way, being thoughtful and kind made him perhaps my first enigma.

As I look at his pictures now all these years later I remember the things I saw against his workroom walls and how some were very different from what's on the Internet view. He clearly loved looking and the trees, parks and reflections of water, like those of Stourhead, are left behind for us all to see and learn from. Just one of the 'other' works he showed me in his apartment was 'Beaks'; this revealed a different, more daring way of looking at the world.

We were taught many things to strive for but among the taboos of "Umm decorative"; " that colour looks a bit dirty", one we had to avoid like the plague was "No, no that's far too illustrative", this was considered a ghastly fault. There are though many beautiful illustrations but I'm not going to stray off into definitions of difference here.

Adrian dared things where others might well have backed off; caring deeply for art and not the current vogues or fashions; he managed works that experimented with looking; 'Beaks' was one of these.

This is a standard, ornithological illustration of beaks taken from the Internet and nothing at all like my memory of Adrian's depiction, which I would love to see again.

Darwins Finches

As a visual representation it has many connotations and remains a memory of how to think about what subjects for art may be. (by the by this quote from Barnett Newman seems to connect up nicely "Art critiques are to artists as ornithologists are to the birds")

As I walked round Stourhead Garden recently I found a spot where I could imagine Adrian drawing rather than painting; at the same moment of remembering him I thought of our 'Lucas Tooth' movements through the air. One of the 'other' works that leant against his wall was a study of figures that took my breath away. They were coloured outlines of models and at the time I blatantly used the notion for this painting (Leviathan) of which all I have left is a rather poor photograph.

Leviathen Photo

Adrian's teaching perhaps made a link for me between movement and being still; being able to see our own weaknesses and to laugh at them. As I walk about the city or do anything among others I try to look with a hint of his gift; it has led to a different way of drawing from a static model that I still think is the best way to begin, to observing the moving form and capturing a static memory with a drawing.

I was mystified by him and would have loved to have been taught by him for longer than a couple of years. He would walk round galleries with students and once, he had a deep vibration, let out a peel of laughter as we looked at a surrealist twist. Surrealism ... now that really must be an appraisal for later.

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04/01/2016

Sometimes I'm a bit vague.

"Far too vague" at the bottom of something I had written when, as a schoolboy, I slowly crumpled beneath 'the red pen'. I think that I liked school or would have had I had one of these machines; thankfully for me it underlines, reminiscently in red , but without, "It's easy, just look it up". I did try looking for words in dictionaries and liked some of the things I found there though it was seldom the spelling that told me how many c's or s's are in necessacery nesacery necessary (there, there at last)

There were other things that went wrong even though I clearly loved English lessons. To the delight of Mrs. French I separated and displayed parts of speech from the early years of subject and predicate through to adjectival and adverbial clause analyses. Poor Mrs. French could not understand why my essays might have incomprehensible aspects and intermittent incorrect spellings.

I began to truant, hid at home with the radio, played with my Meccano set and remember once venturing out to a wasteland rivulet where I built dams.

What is worth thinking about is correctness; I was told that my spellings were incorrect and I can see that it is important to be agreed about them. What I can also see is that certain things we see are 'wrong'. I used to be lured into saying they were incorrect to make my point; I was cross and hadn't thought it through.

The easiest example of this is to do with colour. Many people paint their houses the wrong colour rather than the incorrect one. Spellings of words must at some time have been decided and agreed upon; there were other possible spellings, which existed but were rejected. It is clear that as time passes we tend to accept that the chosen spellings are now what we call the 'correct' ones. There has never been an agreement about colour juxtaposition and yet if one has been educated to respond to 'looking' many choices jar. I have to put up with many of the things I see painted with wrong colours even though I feel we might well be more content if the things we looked at were agreeable to see.

When Paul Cezanne painted he analyzed 'the visual world' with a degree of visual thinking that used no words. I still enjoy looking at his work and trying to comprehend the depth of his study. Quite soon after his death visual art changed from looking and responding to 'something else' made possible because his work seems to be almost conclusive. The 'something else' can cause many heated disagreements and has added to the whole package of struggle about what visual art might be.

I do not know what art is but do not feel vague about it because I have certainly felt it as an inexplicable sensation. There is plenty of bad art around but sadly when there is money to be made lots of artists are content to elbow their way towards a bank balance; they'll never know what a red pen looks like.

Fleeting thoughts and vagueness may well not have a status of grandeur but we all experience both on occasion during our lives. Our agreement of spelling being correct seems to me in a way to be connected; how can this be? Well, after a while many of the things we have experienced, even though they may have broken our hearts at the time they happened, we eventually see as correct.

All the arts have the possibility to reveal truths we might encounter. Proust for example points out that memory and time are seldom synchronized that one of the joys of life is being able to say "... all that sorrow for some one who was not even my type"; even though Odette and Swann caused each other such pain I feel for them both in memory and completely outside of time.

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Back of the queue face

When I was first introduced to the 'route mean square value' I was thrilled; I'll try to explain how it works. It's a simple calculation that reveals the average value of something that goes up and down.

Sinewave illustration

Here the curvy line goes up and down, above and then below the Y line; without going into how the calculation is made (I don't want to put you off) the dotted line is the curvy ones average value, now isn't that lovely and all because two multiplied negatives make a positive. What has it got to do with anything other than electricity is trickier to explain yet here I go.

The sign wave above lines up with all sorts of things around us and gives a rhythm of things. There are easy to spot things like 'life has it's ups and downs' or the 'harvest is good one year and bad the next' to slightly harder to fathom ones like the traffic on the M6; what's more I reckon, is that everything within and around us operates like these waves. They may be hard to spot, vary in height even be in and out of sync but there they are just like rococo to minimalism and back.

Gavin Bryars and Michael Nymen

In the second half of the 1970s I had a season ticket for Queens Park Rangers Football Club and sat between two well-known composer musicians Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars; they were a lot less well known in those days. Along with other musical minimalists we can hear their music a lot, sadly often without knowing it to be theirs. At that time Minimalism was not preferred, generally in fact not liked.

Staying back in the 1970s there was a magazine called 'The Listener' and Michael wrote a weekly column in it. One of his articles was titled 'Back of the queue face'; in it was his complaint that minimalist music was not being given a fair hearing; he began the piece with 'The other day a friend of mine said he had a back of the queue face; I didn't believe him but later that same evening he went on to prove it with out even trying....'. Michael was writing about his own 'back of the queue position' but the illustrating friend he used was me; it's taken a lifetime to realize its constancy and value.

I first heard minimalist/experimental music via art schools; back then these were frequently the places with early access to the complete 'art world'. I listened to Steve Reich and Phillip Glass who are now well known but then works like 'It's gonna rain' were hard to locate. Michael taught at two art schools benefiting from their being oases of 'off beat thinking' so no surprise that I met him at Goldsmiths College where he had an evening class when his music was in an early stage. He was an interesting teacher but even so ran a small class; one evening he played one hundred and sixty eight repetitions of eight bars that comes at the end of an Eric Satie work; Satie was one of the early experimentalists. Michael and I became friends and I learned lots about minimalist music from him. One of the things he thought of back then was to lift phrases from the 'classics' and repeat them with minimal variation. His 'take' from Mozart's Don Giovanni was one of my favourits and I think led to a form that carried him along for quite a while.

My love of repetition began when drawing or painting and I learned to concentrate; being 'outside of time' is a desire when the pencil or brush is close to Scheherazade. Minimalism may well be on the other end of a see saw from something like rococo; this is the point of the route mean square value many of us prefer; sometimes though it is far more exciting to go up and down with the 'reality' of the sine wave which is what happened to me when after a long journey in the year 2000 I got to Marfa in Texas and on a Thursday morning walked into this room.

room illustration

My knees nearly gave way and I took refuge against a wall; the effect upon me of Donald Judd's minimalist work was easy at first because I was overwhelmed. My wife and I looked at other works around the Foundation for the morning but in the afternoon while I stayed she went to the 'Giant' hotel. On what might well have been my exit walk the young Scotsman who worked there said, "You were really moved by Donald's work this morning would you like another look". He gave me the key to the building, "Lock up when you leave, lock up and pop the key back into the office; I'll be there for an hour or so". I have no translation for the time I spent with 'one hundred aluminum boxes'. I may well have a back of the queue face but here I was at the apogee of my sine wave.

Post script.
In the early Michael Nyman years he was playing in public his version of 'On the beautiful Blue Danube'; a passing listener stopped her journey and asked him to "Please stop". Soon after he recorded his score for 'A walk through H' and 'The Draughtsman's Contract' but that is a story for later.

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20/12/2015

The Art Market.

Many fine art students seem to stop working once they leave college when other things in life get in the way. Sometimes they return after a while away but some hang on through thick and thin. All of them though see the world differently because of their education.

During my student years we learned drawing as a basis of all the various things we were introduced to and tried. I'm not entirely sure how courses are run these days but certainly notice that generally there are fewer things around to feel good about looking at. There are though still wonders that artists introduce into our lives so perhaps it's the layers of things that have altered; quite how this works is tricky because, like rock formations, the order of layers is shifty and in need of history to reason out an explanation.

Money issues seem to dominate much of our lives and might well be the cause of the way our art markets are organized; this seems to me to be unfortunate. The monetary value of art is frequently an early thing that's mentioned when critics, historians and newsreaders are broadcasting. Money may well not be the only thing talked about but there is, and always has been, a difficulty in talking about what art is, naming a particular value is a real nuisance and helps little. Rich people have tempted artists to overprice their work and those 'layers' underneath are troubled by how much to sell works for. If you have lots of money and want an investment then you may be advised to seek out art that is unique, thus tempting the artists to make for and exhibit in, the market of obscurity.

It is easy to understand why many people refer back to the Impressionists or the Pre-Raphaelites as benchmarks. During these times artists/genres were more clearly layered, although not all the works are art. The money boys have their 'owned' works as valuable possessions and may like them or not; they often buy by 'name' unconcerned about anything other than the money value of the work. This doesn't help us to see very well. Manet on a bad day, kicking a work into no man's land rather than destroying it, leaves 'an investment' rather than a bad work of art.

When being taught to draw we were put into a 'place' where we learned/were taught to be alone and still; that place has been a retreat all through my life and I am lucky to have been introduced. Art, when one sees it, is a rarity and one of life's highest achievements; like the quantum it is tricky to follow but it definitely flows. What triggers that flow is not dissimilar from the twin slit experiment where looking at or away from affects the outcome. With art you can look at the same work on different days and either deeply connect or not; there are though always layers. Being still is quite a good opening gambit for looking. The art world is separate from most of us and like many things in life has a Mafia, assumed positions and addicts, meanwhile as you learn how to look the elusive art may float towards you and make you catch your breath at its wonder.

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29/11/2015

Daydreaming train ride to London

Lena Garnade died before she became herself and is buried in the vagueness of Brookwood cemetery. Traveling past her I gaze at the memory I have for this delightful young woman; in my daydream I am always allowed to give her some of that memory. Lena is a student at the art school I work in and we share a good exchange especially during the evening class I manage on sounds. She is interested in tape loops; this leads her to making a short work that is concerned with a continuous ending. She gives me a loop made on her Revox; we run it and talk about possibility, with three tape machines we feed two loops into the third machine that completes her work. Soon after listening to the results she is taken to hospital with a pancreatic fault; she dies. All the things we do at such times happen and Lena's ending leaves an annual prize and two of her works embedded into the courtyard wall at the art school.

After Lena's death her mother gave me Lena's tape recorder, which I still have; she also gave the art school an investment for the annual prize, The Lena Garnade Memorial Award.

How I would love it if there were an emotional language but there is none. Art is what it is and nothing else, something like that says Ad Reinhardt; close to emotion there is nothing else but emotion; I long to be there. When working with my paints I sometimes feel myself to be inside painting; then I am the closest I can get to our visual language; visual thoughts are so hard to translate. There seems to be one of those complex knots mathematicians know of that tie my emotion to my depictions. My time is running out, my fingers are stiffening as the love I feel for humanity deepens and I keep trying to approach visual art more closely.

I went back to Farnham Art School after many years; there was no sign of Lena, there her memory is gone.

"The next station is your final stop, Waterloo".

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Dick Lee

Dick Lee was the person who ran the first year of the degree course for fine art painting at Camberwell School of Art. I loved this yearlong part of my education, not only as an afterwards memory but in the reality of that time; I longed to be there working in the building to the exclusion of all else. In the art school then were many who, like me, hadn't functioned well with academic education; how we loved learning now. Dick Lee steered his oddballs through the year with a generosity of human spirit and love of art that seemed to circle and entwine us with a need to learn how to draw what we looked towards before all else. His 'set ups' were so imaginative that when en route to the drawing days I imagine we all dreamed of what he would have prepared ready to challenge us.

There is such a range of things to look at these days that I feel sure many struggle with what art might be; how lucky was I and others who sat for days drawing from a Dick Lee 'set up'. There were many dedicated teachers at the college and we learned many things from our conversations with them but Dick Lee's 'set ups' made conversation that was about a tradition in a context.

If you enter any life drawing room there is first the model on the same floor as yourself; then the horseshoe of chairs or donkeys placed around him or her. At Camberwell, and most other art schools back then, there might well be an antique cast nearby but there is always something. Dick Lee was able to turn that something into what you could not fail to see and draw with the model.

Derek Lee photo 1

I'm not sure that I ever got to draw in relation to the whole rectangle but it was a constant attempt; relating the top and bottom of pictures is the struggle with the horizontal picture plane, more difficult to my mind than the vertical one. Even if there is a wondrous depiction the rectangle will seldom flash into life unless all rises from the lower edge. Looking at a Dick Lee set up made you aware that one of the things to find was that elusive 'bottom line'.

Visual artists often struggle with translating what they do into words and as we humans mostly use words to communicate it's always worth a try. Art teachers along with their students have to forefront an exchange; Dick Lee had seen many pictures from the past and held that with what was happening around him in the art world all in his head at once; by sitting us around 'a whole scene' he initiated the possibility that as well as recording what we saw as a respectable drawing we might open the door and creep inside a work of art as we looked at it.

One cannot say all the things one has thought and learned in one lump and artists often seem to have a ball of knots in mind as they try to explain a depiction. It is not always helpful to say that the depiction is the explanation; I needed 'spoken' help when as a student I looked at an Arshile Gorky for example and only saw one of his works deeply after many years of looking. There are many works I have looked at and partially enjoyed but perhaps will never see deeply. We see many very ordinary works arranged in galleries alongside the great ones and I began to learn about this in my conversations with my teachers but especially Mr. Lee.

Derek Lee photo 2

I painted this during that year and it's not a bad painting for a student but had it not been for the teachers it would not exist and I'll always remember the conversation I had about the bottom right hand corner; no need to tell you with whom.

Dick Lee went to France during the summer vacation and I was one of the lucky few who got to mind his cat while he was away working. The Barnes house was an oasis in my troubled life; he even bought a painting of mine which I saw hanging there among many others. What a lovely man he was.
Oh and as I painted the still life with apples above I was sitting alongside Sid Barret, or Roger as we called him, but that's a story for later.

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31/10/2015

Angela Swann

A long while ago I was fortunate to have worked at the London School of Needlework, where I managed a drawing class, and lucky enough to have worked on the day that the students were given a series of history of textile lectures in the evenings. Some were technical and glanced in brief at weaving methods around the world; others, on the whole history of textiles, toured the globe in a different way. Only once did a lecturer complain about the treatment of women in the textile domain and I imagine there is still plenty to put right.

Among the fascinating talks some aspects of early Egyptian weaving were revealed and we learned about 'flat and wavy' cloth. Men's kilts were woven to be flat while women's dresses could be made to fall in curves. The weavers managed this by the arrangement of their warp threads. Spinning of threads can be either clock or anti clockwise and these are know as S and Zs. If you imagine arrows in the ends of these two letters you will get the picture. When setting the warp threads up tensions can be regularized to make the cloth flat or tend to fall in curves; it's quite easy to imagine.

As I dreamed of Artisan Egyptians weaving textiles I also thought of their wonderful interiors and began to wonder about the differences dividing arts and crafts. Egyptian works on walls and ceilings inside tombs had purpose. They were and still are beautiful to look at but are they crafts or works of art? Any looker can see the dresses and kilts of this ancient race clearly depicted as images and in the London Museum we can also look at one of the dresses inside a glass case.

I once tried to explain to a child that 'grown ups' could make a dress and sell it then paint a picture of the same dress and sell it for more. I then found my self in deep water. Tanya had just made a nice pocket to sew onto her pajamas and asked, "What is art Mr. Wallace? Is design first and art afterwards?" Alas there is so much child bluff around and I knew I would soon see her laughing, which was often my way out of working harder on these difficult thoughts that need an explanation.

'Where is art?' sometimes seems to me to like 'Where is the past?' or for the religious among us 'Where is the soul?'perhaps living in time is less fair than hereditary titles, being poor or having a talent.

Degas who 'Liked to draw' made a small figure called 'Ballet Dancer' she resides inside a glass case at our Tate Gallery. His figure is wearing a dress and has a ribbon in her hair; a few years ago the ribbon had clearly worn out and conservationists were asked to preserve it; after some debate the ribbon was replaced with another. The old one is now in a specially made case and housed in the gallery archive, possibly there for a future television programme but certainly not for looking at as part of 'general viewing'. On the figure I wonder if the new ribbon is now part of what sometimes flows between an artwork and a looker and whether in the long shut case there is an Egyptian Fayum painting equivalent.

I have never heard a really good explanation of what art is and I don't have one either. There are people out there though who are quite brilliant at putting you in a 'place' where you might be more tuned in. Tanya's questions are for me the target; an explanation for her might mean I understood my self and as I have to admit to myself each day I mix and apply repeat 'I do not'... 'I do not'... 'I do not'.

Before I muddle myself more than I am already what has all this got to do with Angela Swann? Well many years ago Angela lived and worked in Warwick Square where I was painting a mural for the woman who owned the flat. While she weaved Russian weft into her textile in a nearby room I tried to fit my depiction onto a wall; it's very different from making one work in a rectangle but I got on with it and finished. Here I might add that Angela Swann was beautiful both in name and gesture; the rhythm of a weaver can be a visual treat and she had a hint of sadness in her eyes that makes me happy to remember her.

I left my work and Angela in Warwick Square and have not seen either since until she appeared as a judge on a Monty Don Television programme about reviving crafts. As I watched the television I wondered had she been a little 'rounder' I might have thought, "a stout woman came and stood beside me". If she ever reads this I hope she will forgive the Proust reference. I'd like to talk with her about 'Times Arrow', which by coincidence connects with the flat we worked in; the owner was Pru Arrow I seem to remember.

I find judgments really difficult but we need them and Angela Swann took the lead on the Monty Don Show. Sadly though Monty Don's, like so many other 'entertainments' ended with a winner; how unlike our lives.

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Clement Greenberg

In the 1960s there was a show at the Tate Gallery called 'The Guelbenkian Five Hundred'. It was extensive and had American artists' post-painterly abstractions, a term coined by the then well known art critique Clement Greenberg, along with some other 'slots' of that time. 'Op and Pop Art' were emergent and 'Girl with a Ball' on show in that exhibition remains one of the most memorable pictures I have seen, it was quite, quite ecstatic. I have looked at many Roy Lichtenstein paintings since that time but never 'Girl with a Ball' even though he painted other versions. This show was one of my life markers and no doubt I shall mention it again as I ramble through my history notes.

From that time I have a personal story about Clement Greenberg. When I was in my last year at Camberwell School of Art he was a judge at the Liverpool John Moores Show in 1967 and had selected one of my paintings (here is the rather awful snap I took of it back then) I still have the picture and could ask Richard to photograph it for me but somehow I think this one is better for the story.

Show Painting

I was quite surprised to get the picture into the show, as were the teachers and students of my 'year' at the art school. I think that at that time I was still on the fulcrum of change and made many personal mistakes as I expect many of us do; it's a bugger and in some cases spoils people's lives. One of the good things for me though was that I met Clement Greenberg. While up in Liverpool I had acquired his temporary London phone number; he had taken a flat on the Chelsea Embankment. I rang and rang the number but it seemed he was never there, until one day there was a reply, I was stunned. What to say? What to say? "Er, Hello Mr. Greenberg?" "Speaking", "Er, I'm a student at Camberwell School of Art and er, wondered if you'd come and give a talk/lecture at the school?" "I don't give lectures." "Er, Oh Dear that's a shame", (I remember a pause) "I'll come and answer Questions", " Er crikey, sorry - er - er when could you do that?". The great man gave a date; I have no memory of or how we made arrangements but we did.

My dear friend Tim rented a basement room in one of the teachers houses and that teacher kindly lent us his Renault 4L to bring him, Clement Greenberg, to the Art School. I had mentioned to the Staff that I had done this but in all honesty remember very little of what happened before 'the event'. What I do recall was opening the door to Room 26 and finding that it was packed; Tim and I stood just inside the door as Mr. Greenberg stepped carefully through and across the entwined limbs of students to the empty chair at the front. Once more, and in all honesty, I cannot remember a single question or answer; what I can recall is that every teacher was seated right in front of him and that they dominated the proceedings.
After 'the event' Mr. Greenberg was taken to the Principal, Leonard Daniel's room along with the then head of fine art Phillip Mathews. I was wandering around dazed when someone told me I had to go to the Principal's room. I had no idea where it was but eventually turned up and hovered nervously.

Phillip Mathews drove Mr. Greenberg back to Chelsea while I along with other students went back to the studios and carried on painting.

Looking back now I think that it must have been quite a coup for me as well as the Art School but I made nothing of it. I put this down to my then naivety and other things I'll talk about later.

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01/10/2015

Looking with AD Reinhardt

At the beginning of his Reith Lectures in 1982 Dennis Donahue quoted Jasper Johns; "I can imagine a society without art and it is not a bad place", AD Reinhardt said, "Art is Art. Everything else is everything else. I tried to oppose the academic in the marketplace. Only a bad artist thinks he has had a good idea. A good artist does not need anything"

After thinking about these two quotes I can imagine myself wondering if I am an artist at all and that luckily it doesn't matter anyway; phew. What I do care about is that I have seen works by both of these artists and that when I last looked at an AD Reinhardt I had tears in my eyes. Years ago I would not have seen the painting very well and the one I saw recently took a while to tune into. I have to add that with works like these it is useless looking when not in front of the actual work. You could say that about any picture, and you would be right, but there is more of the sense of a figurative work in reproduction because it has an image, with AD Reinhardt there is none.

I might digress here a little and mention a change in the Reith Lectures. After listening again to the 1982 Dennis Donahue I listened to the more recent Grayson Perry ones, how very different they are. During his lectures Grayson Perry was firm in his statement that his television programes are not art and yet my deeply thoughtful adopted daughter and myself (she is also a 'phew that was close' artist) were moved greatly by his television performance of 'Julie's House' especially the 'Cycle ride of the Julies'; I have not seen the house though most of us are or know a Julie.

My digression is that the lecturer now has a live audience with whom they interact; Dennis Donahue sat in a studio reading his notes. I have been told at times to stick to the point but one of the joys of dyslexia is that you can wander around bumping into these differences.

Back with the looking notion we mostly see pictures in galleries and if someone walks into 'the frame' I try to include them in the looking; I had this simple notion a while ago when looking at an enormous Marc Rothko painting. Later when looking at Vermeer's tiny 'Lace maker', while among a huge crowd peering, I ventured to include the remarks I heard because quantum theory has made us rethink the position, direction and route of tiny particles. Now this may seem a dyslectic leap too far into 'a theory of everything' but bear with me. Feelings we have are somehow tied into the science model so why isn't there a 'quantum looking' diagnosis? The much loved twin slit experiment does not say quantum notions cannot be used because they are not fully explained or understood so perhaps when we truly or deeply connect with art through looking at it we just might be the recipient of 'entanglement' or 'spooky action at a distance'. I do not feel alone when I am transfixed by art; a thoughtful look at an AD Reinhardt painting takes time but when a 'vision' arrives in your thoughts it seems to me quite still, outside of time perhaps.

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23/08/2015

"Bleeding Heart Yard".

“Cotton thread danced across her hand and through the needle’s eye; the stitcher turned to her daughter, “We cannot have magic without cost” pointing to blood on the tip of a finger.” I remember this fragment or something like it from many years ago when reading ‘The Corn King and the Spring Queen’ by Naomi Mitchison. Virago Press published some of her books when they still had an office at 105, Great Russell Street not far from the British Museum. The address now houses the art shop Cornelissen, well worth going into and finding something or other to buy even if you don’t paint pictures. 

As a student I remember finding the shop daunting but started to use it more as I switched from packaged paint to making my own from pigments. There were other art suppliers I recall from student days like Spectrum paints, Bird and Davies who, along with Russell and Chappell, were and still are important though both have moved from their original addresses. 

There must be many stories associated with these suppliers but I imagine the shop with most would be Lawrence Art Supplies at the wondrous location, Bleeding Heart Yard. In our day it was run by the lugubrious Stanley and there is a book ‘Tales from Bleeding heart Yard’ which as a limited edition is expensive so I only know this quote from the internet:’

(Stanley said) "What do you want?",
I said "I'd like to buy some blocks".
He said, "I don't sell to new people".

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Barrington Court and a potter.

Barrington Court Somerset Image

Emptiness has a special quality; Barrington Court, a Tudor Manor House in Somerset is empty, well almost empty, and as a consequence is a wonder for our imaginations.

There are a few workshops near the 'Big House' one of which has two potters; I chatted with Paul. During the talk I began to remember my brief encounter with pottery when I was on my foundation year at Camberwell School of Art. In those days foundation was a busy time and the school tried to cram in a few crafts as well as figurative drawing, held up as the basis of all our looking. Thursdays was pottery day, we were shown how to throw, glaze, make and decorate tiles and use slip.
One Thursday there was a special treat; back then I had less notion of its magnitude than I realize now. We arrived for the craft day and found the small throwing room converted; it had I think five wheels but on this day in the rearranged room we saw only one. All of the potter/teachers were there, all of the students proper and we of the foundation stood, I seem to remember, to watch the great Shoji Hamada.
Bernard Leach was there to translate and explain; he began with curved bottomed jugs I seem to recall and gradually made us aware of our privilege on this special day. I had no idea of the status of the quiet man in the black Kimono who stood back during the longish introduction. Then Shoji Hamada pushed his thumb into a row of carefully prepared clay bodies and chose. He ascended a raised platform sat crossed legged, sideways on to a kick wheel; one of our teachers skillfully kicked for him as in Japan he used a four holed wheel that he spun using a stick.


He placed the clay stump onto the slowly turning wheel not so much with precision but a sense of a tradition I knew nothing of. Bernard Leach stood close by and as he watched his head moved in accord with his friend, sharing a special bond.


Mr. Hamada worked his way down the stump and there was for me, for us all I expect, a special moment when he took the clay back in and enclosed an empty space. How could this be? But then he put his hand into the black kimono and withdrew what looked to me like a fine toothpick; he pushed it into the spheroid with the briefest of movements and moments to make a lid.


This gentle potter showed, no made, what philosophers call a union of mind and body. Bernard Leach translated the little he spoke; the only phrase I remember was, "Shoji says making pottery is not like climbing a mountain but more like walking downhill into the breeze". At Barrington Court I watched as Paul raised a bat with four or five just turned pots; they were a set, all the same but different and as yet quite empty.

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23/08/2015

The Goodge Street Lift

Between 1940 something and the year 2000 I occasionally stood on a corner in Stanstead Road where on the side of a house a huge V had been painted. Sometimes on visits to my mother who'd spent most of her life living in the same nearby house, I would make a point of walking past the V for those looks that take us back to childhood memories. Gradually I watched as the V disappeared and, once I knew it was going, took pleasure in knowing what it used to be and why it had been put there.
In 2000 if you knew it had been there you could still detect specs of paint that gave a feeling of some sort or another.

In 1950 something I traveled to Goodge Street Station for the first time and in the lift quite clearly heard, "Stand clear of the opening/closing gates". I traveled on and off in the same lift over perhaps forty years; there must have been regular lift users and I wonder what they noticed? On my intermittent journeys my hearings of "stand clear ........" gradually changed as the instruction became less distinct and finally inaudible.
In the year 2000 the rumble, prior to the lifts ups and downs, would mean nothing to a newcomer but old hands might well remember what the message had once been.

In 1960 something I went to see West Side Story with a girlfriend; it was on at Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket, we were entranced.
In 2000 and something I saw the same 'girlfriend' one afternoon in a café that I walked to from Goodge Street Station; I had thought of her off and on through my life wondering what she had done, what she had come across and noticed as the years rolled by. After many years she was different, had gained a self-assured certainty; we haven't spoken since our 'second' meeting which I find rather sad; perhaps she found my vagueness difficult.

In 1970 something I walked from Goodge Street Station to London University to hear a talk given by Phillip Glass; he had recently begun a work called 'Music in Twelve Parts'; I'm listening to it as I write. There were only a few people there and two left part way through, we remaining enthusiasts heard a tape recording of parts one and two.

In 2000 and something I sat in the back row of the packed Barbican Concert Hall to listen to new Phillip Glass compositions. At the end of his first piece the audience rose as one with rapturous applause and cheer. The extent to which his music is now used as background amazes me but then I like it; as it seems do lots of others.

'Spooky action at a distance', as Albert Einstein called it, is well worth trying to grasp, as are the whole quantum estates.

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28/07/2015

The Periodic table

Paul Strathem reveals in his book 'Mendeleyev's Dream' the trials and tribulations of the route to the periodic table, a most revealing and exciting story of quest. My own road to 'The Table' began with a chemist called Stanley sadly no longer alive; Stanley slowly laid out the cards bearing the names, symbols and atomic numbers of the elements into the iconic form many of us are lucky enough to have seen pinned up in our schools. As he took us through the horizontal periods and vertical groups he managed to engender inside me an ember almost out. Peter, another chemist, explained the shell structure of atoms and Sylvia the different strengths of carbon; both managed this with penciled diagrams and what a picture they revealed. I would not have understood any of this renewed revelation without my ability to see; this experience changed my whole way of thinking on what art might be.

It was Stanley though who made an indelible impression; he was old and frail as he laid out his hand written cards and yet forced himself to his feet after completion. He paused, engendering a powerful atmosphere among our small group, and with reverence from a lifetimes study declared, "Isn't it beautiful." We did not see the same beauty as he but saw him, which for me was one of my life's most beautiful moments.

Mendeleyev's mother left her son these words, "Refrain from illusions, insist on work and not on words. Patiently seek divine and scientific truth." I have spent my life making art, much of it as paintings, a different kind of illusion from the one I think she meant. There is something else in painted depiction that is not the illusion we see first when the subject is, like Stanley's vision, a deeper thinking of what our views of the world are made from.

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Gold leaf and Electricity

During the 1950s, as an apprentice electrician, I worked in the City of London's post war reconstruction and so saw inside many of its buildings where I would not be allowed today. One I can easily pop into however is the ground floor of 40/45 Fenchurch Street, a Sainsbury 'Shop Local'; when we worked there it was a bank. We also worked on the rebuilding of the Clothworker's Hall, an adjacent building in Dunster Court. I recently visited the hall after an exchange with the Guild's archivist; who kindly gave me copies of the electrical plans; here is the corner of one so you can see I was apprenticed to Grierson Ltd of 140, Cromwell Road London. The drawing was completed on the 6th of March 1959.

Grierson Photo

As well as other aspects of the electrical installation much of my time was spent in basements working on boiler house control panels or intake rooms where, among other things, we soldered lugs and wiped a few armored cable joints. Ken Scullard, a quite brilliant engineer, took great pride in the appearance of control panels first laying them out on the floor where I moved things around while he instructed from the top of a pair of steps; only when satisfied with 'the look' did we attach the starters, timers, switches etc to the wall. I can remember Ken meticulously measuring the diameter of pyrotenax cable coils attached to a row of pump motors; "Pride in your work' was a way of life for him and most other electricians I worked with.

The last part of an installation was lighter work fixing switch plates, socket outlets and light fittings, often installed after, or while, the rooms up stairs were being decorated. It was during one of these times at the Cloth Workers' Hall that I watched the application of gold leaf to cornices.

gold leaf photo

A picked out cornice is one of the ways one can give a room status, this was my first encounter with decoration on a level I had never witnessed; I climbed up the trestles to watch for a while, quite entranced by the process. The relation between visual art and decoration interests me and these early times of watching skilled people engage with deeper human responses to life was, and still is, more than what we often refer to as being, 'clever with his hands'.

Later on at art school we students were warned against the perils of allowing 'being decorative' within our studies. I carried out suggested procedures without truly knowing the depth of these differences; differences that, at the thrilling edge of making things, are the key and locked doorway between the possibility of art and imitation of work that exists already. Great art seems to me to begin its possibility when an artist makes something on the boundary of time and space; in this place we have the chance of changing ourselves.

Perhaps the beauty of decoration is a respite from some of our hostile exchanges but I know that's not quite correct. There are though clues around to the difference; one from the Shaker movement where a carpenter would be allowed tiny adornments to functional joints, another can be seen in non-functional adornments to early pottery; so we know the desire to adorn is an ancient human response to making things. I must admit to being stumped to explain to myself a truth in this but keep trying because therein lies the possibility of a deeper response and understanding of art. I try to avoid being casual about the use of the 'art' word; its being banded around too glibly robs us all of being closer to a truth of our human spirit.

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Sam and Vivi's clock: 28/06/2015

I gave my adopted son and his wife a carriage clock; they like it but never wind up the spring. As a child we had a mantle piece clock that was wound up every day as a kind of ritual. I thought it rather sad that they never wind my present but now realize that it is me who is out of touch; there are so many ways to know the time that there is little need for a mechanical device on a mantelshelf other than decoration.

When I lived in Camberwell I acquired a clock made by Mr. Harvey; it has his name on it with 'Camberwell' inscribed below. As a local he apparently cycled round on Mondays to wind all of his timepieces personally; that way I suppose he could keep an eye on their performance. My clock's distinctive tick tock has been heard by me for over forty years and overlaps the childhood one I heard, off and on as an adult until my mother died, as it ticked on her mantelshelf.

In the days of Mr. Harvey and his fellow makers there was a code that repairs would be recorded and kept inside the case, others could then refer to these handwritten sets of notes.

If you listen to Julian Barbour on you tube, here's a link to one of his videos or indeed read his book 'The End of Time' you'll join in the confusion. Time in science has plenty to say and it's fascinating but unresolved. If we turn to Marcel Proust however we learn, through his wonderful book, that memory because it is in the past is outside of time. This is true even in terms of duration; remembering a past pleasure, say in a theatre, never takes the same duration as when we saw the actual event. We can also turn to James Joyce writing Ulysses and see the bubble of time we travel in. Perhaps, because I cannot think of myself out side of time, what I might be, is unimaginable.

I doubt I shall ever be in eternity where there is no change, movement or limit to the language so I wouldn't be able to thank Mr. Harvey for making the timepiece that may stop being wound or ticking soon after my ticker conks out

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Fog and gunpowder.

As children, like many others of that time I imagine, we played fog hide and seek; along came smog, the extra 's' adding density to our game. Freddie Homburg, what a great name for a childhood friend, had an inventive mind and began to win on a regular basis; his best hiding place was up a lamppost. The realization that we mostly look horizontally also led to a wonderful tram game; from the top deck you could ping the pavement people with peashooters, only our laughter giving us away.

I shared a noisier 'game' with Peter Bellamy, a slightly older neighbour who could mix gunpowder with ingredients bought from a corner shop; those were the days. His potions even had different strengths. Down in the coalhole, where he made a few guns, I watched as he nailed gas pipe to blocks of wood, one end blocked with a hammered wedge and the other free to emit, at speed, a small bolt. Once constructed he/we prepared to fire. A hatpin, heated by a 'meths' flame, was plunged into a tiny hole, painstakingly drilled by hand into the top back end of the barrel; as the heat hit the powder the bolt fired into the heap of coal a tiny way off in the gloom. I had my foot on the block to steady the process; then a whoop of delight and off we went again. I find it hard to believe now what we went on to do, me acting as a kind of Igor; the experiments moved into a garden shed and we slowly acquired the knack of aiming.
A few years before our frolics different guns had been aimed in a war intended to end the extremist thoughts of fascists, at the same time as Victor Passmore painted 'The Quiet River', a foggy view of the Thames.

Victor Passmore Painting

 

I saw and fell in love with this picture in the early 1960s. Laurie Glover, who lived in the next room to me, took me to the Tate Gallery for my introduction to the world of visual art. Soon aware that I had fallen for 'colouring' Laurie suggested I go to evening classes and learn how to draw.

"What's an art school, Where is it?" were my naïve responses.

I went to Camberwell School of Art and drew, for free, four evenings a week and all day Saturday, there was even a sculpture class on Wednesdays.

I was, and remain, ignorant of so many things; only recently beginning to see that the order we remember, the order we long for, cannot be lied about or even mistakenly made up. Our belief systems fail to tell us that even though our memories might be disguised as truth for the most part the past is a kind of fiction and not a single soul knows where it is.

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David Wallace: 20/06/2015

Dear Madam / Sir,

I am the Prime Minister of Greece and I write you a politically correct letter in which "Dear Madam" precedes "Dear Sir." Thank you for noticing.

We here in Athens, cradle of Western civilization (apart from the bits the Arabs translated) send you the greetings of Dionysus and other well-known drunkards. May the blessings of Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle be upon you, unless you prefer those of Euclid, who, we feel bound to point out, is from Alexandria.

Anyway, the point is that we appear to be in a little trouble; a negligable matter of $several trillion and we wonder if you, as well-known lovers of the classical arts (excluding nude wrestling, which anyway is Spartan rather than Athenian), would care to take part in our time-share offer on the few remaining artifices we possess, since Lord Elgin. - Have a browse through just five of our amazing summer offers:

1. Own the Parthenon for a day: Yes, for the ridiculously low sum of $1m, you can be sole owners of the Parthenon for the 24 hours of your choice, unless that date has been bagged by another.

2. Ouzo for life: Yes, at just $500 a day, you can be guaranteed a continual supply of Ouzo, through your own kitchen taps.* until you go the way of Socrates.
*Ouzo supplied via bathroom taps would set you back $700 per day, but we are relying on you not to read the small print.

3. A seat on Mt Olympus: Who would not covet a deck-chair in season on the misty top of Mt Olympus, home of the Gods, launching site of Zeus thunderbolts and love-pad of Pallas-Athene? Hurry now for this summer's sit-in, including afternoon ouzo with one of our most popular gods, Mars, God of War.

4. Own your own trireme; Tired of landscape? Longing for sea horizons through every porthole? Why not invest in a trireme of your very own? Each one comes with a fully whipped group of slaves, with a waterproof laurel-wreath for your chosen captain, according to Greek democratic rules. A trireme offers the best opportunity to get away from the heat and city dust. Don't rely on the kindness of friends! Get your own trireme today!

5. Buy Corinth: This once in a debt-life offer comes with all the attendant benefits you might expect from purchase of this ancient Greek Province: a formidable navy, a crap army, traditional noisy neighbours in Corcyra and as many olives as you can eat. For one measly trillion dollars, you can help keep Angela Merkl at bay, not to mention that old French dragon, Christine Lagarde. And! - You'll own Corinth.

Here in Athens, we have an old saying: Democracy is for those who can afford it. So why not lay claim to your democratic pedigree by donating generously? I, my fellow communists and the starving Greek masses will be for ever in your debt. .... Er.... you know what I mean. ........... "in your spiritual debt."

Yours democratically

Alexandero Popokopodopolus

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