Thursday, 28 July 2011

Wanted ...and Found

Found this old card when it fell out of a library book. Wonder if Tessa ever got her donkey?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

In Praise of the Sketchbook

The cloud drawing in the last post is not there because I thought it so great that I must share it - it’s there because that was what I happened to draw at that moment watching those clouds. It’s a sequence of scribbles, almost doodles based only on shapes I could see. But even as I’m looking and drawing, there’s a kind of editing and selecting going on. Decisions to slightly emphasise that particular curve, to perhaps omit that piece of ragged vapour or stretch this bit to make it more elegant and proportionally pleasing. Whenever we’re looking we’re also filtering and editing. In a way the drawing itself is merely the receipt of that mental transaction.

In the days when I was a student at Camberwell the venerable old school regarded itself as the last proper ‘drawing’ college. Ie. it still placed a premium on drawing from observation when other schools were adopting a freer, more laissez-faire approach. Art teaching seemed to be having a crisis at that point. No-one seemed to know what they were supposed to teach or indeed whether art could actually be taught at all.

But at Camberwell, the traditionalists were still just about clinging on. In the old Wilson Road annexe the ancient charcoal and graphite stained floorboards would creak under the weight of life-size plaster statues. To be honest by this time most of them were pushed into corners under cobwebbed dustsheets and I don’t remember drawing from them myself but we were required to be in the life-room at least once a week and to carry sketchbooks at all times. Coming from my background of comics and ‘imaginative’ drawing it took a while to get used to this new regimen. But oh, what a marvellous discipline it proved to be.

Sketchbooks are totally addictive and even now I’m never without one. I’ve amassed hundreds of them. Large under-the-arm ones; tiny pocket-sized ones. A small ‘Moleskine’ always in the car. An old ‘Silvine’ pad by the telly. I have ‘lucky’ ones and favourite ones. Some of them for observing; some for inventing; most a mixture of the two. They also function as unofficial diaries. Most pages take me back so precisely to where and when I was as I made the drawing.... priceless to me.

In truth I probably enjoy prying into most artists’ sketchbooks more than their finished work. The finished piece is the final polished performance if you like, but the sketchbooks take you behind the scenes, let you peek into the rehearsal room as ideas develop, thought processes begin to ravel. Mistakes, wrong turnings, naivety. All fascinating stuff because it’s a place you’re not really supposed to see.

Like a diary, a ‘proper’ sketchbook ought to be a private, secluded place to try things and to fail. To record fleeting errant thoughts and notions that may grow into something substantial or just as likely remain as stunted, feeble seedlings that deserve to be thinned away.

The only downside is that when you have amassed too many they are pretty much useless as a reference archive. Last week I went rooting through looking for a drawing, a study, of rain and puddles that I KNEW I’d made in the past few years. After an hour I just gave up. Flicking quickly through hundreds of images induces a sort of car-sick type nausea.

And talking of the good old days here’s a couple of shots of my student self enjoying a hearty breakfast (tea and Bensons by the look of things) and here’s a record that never seemed to be not playing on the student bar jukebox during my first year....

(photo: Joelle Depont)

Monday, 11 July 2011

Alone In A Cloud

I’m a big fan of clouds. Very cheap entertainment. Going about my business in the yard today I couldn’t help but admire the huge banked up cumulus bee-ships unfurling and rolling out from horizon to horizon. Dark white and light black. East Anglia is good for skies they say. It’s known for the breadth and depth of them and the luminescent light that diffuses from them.

I suppose the most famous painter from this region is John Constable. Known for biscuit tins and calendars nowadays, in his time he was actually a bit of a revolutionary. He looked long and hard at nature, didn’t make any assumptions about what it was - he just looked until he saw. Skies and clouds were among his specialities. He was quite a student of them.

This marks the grave of two of the Constable family. John himself isn’t here but this is where he grew up - it was the place he came from. I think this is the grave of his aunt and uncle. It’s in a wonderfully tranquil little churchyard to be found after a gently undulating walk across a couple of meadows and through a herd of softly lowing cattle. The grave of John Nash is also here, war artist and brother of Paul Nash. There are worse places to end up.

For fellow lovers of Clouds: The Cloud Appreciation Society;
A Day With John Constable on Hampstead Heath (thanks Jeremy).

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Ghost Milk

I’ve mentioned Iain Sinclair on here before I think. He’s a fine writer and his painstaking documentation of the complex layers and strands of London history and culture is something of great interest to me. The parts of London he most often writes about are the parts where I have my roots. The places I came from and frequently return to. I have a slightly uneasy love/hate relationship with the capital and it’s something that crops up in my work now and then if you look out for it.

Sinclair's latest book - Ghost Milk : Calling Time on the Grand Project - focuses on the River Lea Valley and the 2012 Olympic site. A " scorching 400 page diatribe...a literary polemic, full of dazzling phrases and angry denunciation". The site of the Olympic project is a place I knew very well. Marshgate Lane, Pudding Mill Lane, The Promenade and the toxic canals that dissected them. This is where I once rode my bike and climbed along the sewage pipes just as my father had done years before me. As an adult I frequently went back just to walk and draw and take photographs. It was perhaps the last real inner city wilderness and it was a place I felt very close to. Now it has been literally ring-fenced as the old fabric is swept away to make room for the shining gewgaw of the 2012 Olympic Games.

I could go on at length but better to read Sinclair.

"We are all suckling on this new chemical, this ghost milk, this substance that buffers between the old dream of London that I have and the computer generated, perfected, hard edged dream where nothing is what it looks like".

Ghost Milk will be available from 07/07/2011.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Return of Git Boy

I’ve recently enrolled on a short course in children’s book illustration with the brilliant and inspirational Rebecca Elliott. Illustrating a book for kids has been at the back of my mind ever since I first thought of going to art college. When I was growing up some of my strongest visual impressions of the outside world were from the books and pictures of artists like Edward Ardizzone, Charles Keeping, Thomas Henry and Pauline Baynes. Even as a young artist my idealised old age was as an elderly illustrator of slightly subversive children’s books pottering about his cottage garden like Ernest Shephard or Alfred Bestall.

I think there’s an impression that writing and drawing for children is somehow ‘easy’. That makes me think of the kind of people that used to say to my brother Matt: “why don’t you just write a hit record?” as though it were something that you could just knock off in an afternoon whenever you felt like it. There is a scrupulous art to writing and designing a good children’s book. Whether it is too exact a science for me remains to be seen...

But the search for stories has prompted me to prise open the old ‘pending’ drawer in my plan-chest, blow off the dust and revisit some older projects that never made it into the sunlight.

Here’s one from the early 1990's called ‘Git-Boy’. I was inspired, I think, by tabloid reports of some feral child up north called ‘Rat-boy’ who had compiled a jaw-dropping list of minor offences in a very short life. I re-imagined him as a sort of ‘Baby Crockett’ figure. In fact his first working name was ‘Baby Fukett’ (yes I know but this was then and it seemed the apogee of ‘dark & edgy’ wit to be sweary). For a while he became ‘Naughty Boy - the Little Pudding of Hatred’. Then someone I knew, otherwise very reputable, bought a car with a numberplate that went GT 8OY or something so obviously he became known (to us) as ‘Git Boy’ (to much hilarity) and I also thought it a perfect fit for my nascent character.

These are obviously just rough first layouts but they show the way I had begun to work - and still do - producing lots of small drawings (doodles often) and collaging them together to create some sort of narrative.

The stories - as far as they went (and they didn’t go far) - involved Gitsy (sometimes he was a small boy, other times a baby in a nappy) variously drinking, drug dealing, fighting and stealing, trying to have relationships with older women and generally feeling very fed up with his lot. I’d recently been enormously impressed by Jim Cartwright and Alan Clarke’s film Road and I think you can see the influence of that here. The male figures are generally feckless, depressed alcoholics. the women tearful and hard done by. It was determinedly violent and antisocial, urban (the back streets and wastelands of Bethnal Green I think were my model) and despondent. Perhaps it wouldn’t have made a very suitable children’s book.

By way of a theme tune I think only this man comes close to a musical equivalent of what I wanted to do with Git-Boy. I love this song (and it might interest you to know that the dark-haired girl on keyboards is now the pain medicine consultant at my local hospital. Lord, how time does fly!)