Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Homeward Bound...

Martin Parr

I was in West Bromwich today for a meeting with Multistory director, Emma Chetcuti. Multistory are a West Bromwich based community arts organization that works right across the six towns of Sandwell, commissioning and developing a range of innovative and challenging artwork. My ‘Seek My Face’ portrait project was supported and managed by them in 2007-08.

Anyway, I had a bit of time to kill beforehand, so I followed my usual routine; coffee and cake at ‘Perfect Moments’ in the middle of Kings Square, which is a great place to watch the world go by, and also a bit of space to write in my journal, followed by a mooch around the town. I visited the new community art spaces in the empty shops I exhibited in last summer. They were preparing an exhibition by a local arts and crafts group. It was good to see that the spaces were being accessed by organizations like this and perhaps my exhibition had played a small part in encouraging local artists to use them. I then visited The Public to view ‘Black Country Stories’ by Martin Parr again.

I’d previously blogged about my disappointment with Parr’s exhibition but today I found myself looking at the vast range of photographs with fresh and much more excited eyes. I’d previously seen them at the very busy Private View, which is never the place to look at artwork, and today in the quiet I had a chance to view them with more contemplation. Having also spent the last hour or so in the town also helped think more about their context, although I am very familiar with West Brom, as it is my hometown, I don’t spend much time there these days, so reconnecting a bit with the place made me look at Parr’s achievements differently. I also think there is a lot to be said about your expectations for an exhibition, and when it doesn’t meet those what a disappointment that can be. Those feelings can get in the way of looking at the work at face value.

Today, I’d got over that obstacle and felt much more engaged with the work and its richness and diversity, both in terms of subject, but also mood and feelings. I saw things I hadn’t noticed before, and was very moved by some of the images, particularly the ones of young people in schools and clubs. At the moment with all the nasty attacks on the young by the government with EMA cuts and hiking up tuition fees, one just had to wonder in such a socially deprived place like Sandwell, what would become of these kids. Things have really gone backwards so quickly in the last few months. It is very sad and frightening.

I then went on to Multistory to discuss plans that they are supporting me with to ‘return’ the ‘Seek My Face’ portraits to West Bromwich. With Multistory’s help I’m donating the paintings to a range of different individuals and organizations in the town, which may include Tom Watson MP, the Town Hall, Sandwell College and various community centres.

Martin Parr

Trying to even give these paintings away has been a bit of a game to say the least, but with the help of a councilor friend I’m finally close to realizing an ambition I’ve written about in my first blog entry in 2008 of finding a home for the paintings in West Bromwich. They are all portraits of people from the town, and I firmly believe that is where they belong. I’ve tried other ways to realize this, including trying to create a limited edition of etchings based on my archive of portrait drawings, with little success. When I agreed to show my paintings in the shops in summer it was with the agreement that there would be attempts to try and find a permanent home for them, but again this came to nothing despite attempts. So eventually I used my own connections in the town to try and get something happening and this time this has proved rewarding. The old adage applies ‘It’s not what you know…’, especially in the arts. I felt a bit like I was playing the game like Senator Clay Davis in The Wire but sometimes this is what you have to do.

oil on canvas, 120 x 90cms, 2007

I’m really excited about it, and over the next few months I’ll report through the blog as the paintings are installed in their new homes. We are aiming to have everything complete by the end of March. It will be weird saying goodbye to these paintings, like waving goodbye to your children, but I’m ready for them to permanently fly the roost of my studio at last. I will miss ‘Robert’ above though. This is my favourite portrait of all the ones I have done over the years. The values presented in it are almost like a manifesto for my ideas in portraiture.

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