Thursday, 31 March 2011

'This Is Your Life...'

I had a slightly surreal evening before the March. I found myself on a cramped and sweaty stage in West Bromwich paying tribute to local poet and performer, Alfie Smith, alongside local WM DJ Ed Doolan, former Mayor of Sandwell, Martin Prestige and an old school chum who I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Sweating and addressing a packed Charlement Bowling Club all that I could think was… how did this happen…?

A few weeks before, the school friend, Stu Smith, got in touch asking whether I would be willing to enlarge and frame a photograph of a portrait of his Dad, Alfie that he posed for when I was doing my ‘Seek My Face’ project. He was organising a secret ‘This Is Your Life’ evening for his Dad’s 70th birthday, and wanted to present the portrait as a gift. ‘Would you be happy to come along and hand it over, mate?’ he asked. ‘Why, sure.’ ‘And say a few words?’ ‘No problem.’

So I turned up at his house on the evening, portrait framed under my arm. Cries of ‘Here it is- the famous portrait!’ greeted me as I entered to find a small group of very well-turned out and odd mix of strangers, including the former Mayor and Ed Doolan. I felt a bit underdressed in my jeans and shuffled awkwardly from foot to foot. A man who introduced himself as the compere, handed me a fairly hefty script and I started to feel a little uneasy.

I felt uneasier still as we then found ourselves marching to the nearby bowling club, realizing that this was a bigger event than I had imagined. As we all sat in the cramped backstage ‘Artistes’ dressing room, I was thankful I had had the foresight to write a short few paragraphs the night before about my experience of drawing Alfie, as like the others with me there, I soon found myself climbing a short flight of stairs to the blare of the ‘This Is Your Life’ tune, stumbling through a tinsel curtain into the bright stage lights to be greeted by a slightly perplexed Alfie sat on a throne, beer in hand. Climbing those stairs I had felt like Robespierre as he faced the guillotine.

‘I thought this was going to be in your living room, mate’, I half-joked to Stu after being introduced as a 'famous artist' and a microphone was pushed in my hand and I faced the packed room and walked to the edge of the stage. I gave my short speech and sat rigid beside the others on the stage until the end.

At the end of the event, I made my way to the bar and ordered a pint of mild. A slight panic swept over me as I realized then that I only had £2.50’s worth of change in my pocket, having not visited the cashpoint previously, thinking I was just going to a house party. The pint cost £2.40. I’d have to leave the dry roasted nuts tonight.

As I left one pint later, I was thinking back to a speech he had made at the Seek My Face private view at West Bromwich Town Hall in 2008, ‘I don’t think Alfie ever really liked that portrait either…’

'Alfie', oil on canvas, 120 x 180cms, 2007

The March For The Alternative- a visual record

As a follow on from the last entry, I'd like to share some of these pictures as a better visual record of my own personal experience of the March. They were taken by good friend and colleague, Chris Cowdrill, who has appeared in the blog a few times with his wonderful illustrations. We went on the March together. He's great with a camera, and whenever we travel together I often turn around and find him climbing up some wall or shinning up some lamp post taking some shot of some odd bit of graffiti or mark on the wall, or an interesting bit of type or flyposter.

It was an inspiring day as I'm sure these pictures testify. It will be so important to build upon this experience if we are to fight this hideous government's cuts.

Thanks once again to Chris

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The March For The Alternative, Sat March 26th

I was one of the 500,000 (yes that’s right 500,000, not the reported 250,000!) peaceful protesters that took part in the March for the Alternative TUC demonstration on Saturday. I, like everyone marching on the day, feel so angry and appalled by the actions of this Coalition government against the Public Sector, and their attempts to dismantle the Welfare State and privatize our health and education amongst the countless other things malicious and ideologically driven cuts they are making in the guise of cutting the deficit.
It was great to be a part of it and stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone across the nation, who has felt driven to protesting. I went as part of the Birmingham NUT, which took four coaches to London. We were fronted by a wonderful Samba Band that pounded out a powerful tribal rhythm that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up with excitement and exhilaration as we joined the feeder march down to Embankment and then slowly (and I mean slowly, it was very arduous walking at such a slow pace) up to Hyde Park. There were some immensely creative banners that were proudly held aloft, and the sense of solidarity created through the chanting and music was very moving. There was a palpable sense of anger directed into this peaceful demonstration about this government’s actions that rippled through throughout the crowd. Typically the coalition was quick to shrug it off when interviewed on the news, presenting themselves as immovable on their policies. But I think the March on Saturday and the sheer volume of ordinary, decent working people prepared to travel from all over the nation will be ignored at their peril. There was a lot of discussion on the day about a forthcoming General Strike to follow on from this. People will be rejoining their workplaces this week feeling galvanized and encouraging their colleagues to join them in direct action.

The NUT website explains why this was the biggest march in recent British history and why it was called the 'March for the Alternative'. It says, ' New figures show that more and more wealth is being concentrated in the hands of the already very wealthy. Britain's top 10% have a personal fortune of £4,000 BILLION! A one off 20% tax on these would ensure that the deficit was paid off without a single cut being made. The plans to privatise services, from the NHS to Education, will see more more being hoovered up by the incredibly wealthy. This is the Tories having an ideological attack on our services.

Their mantra is simple... private profit good, public services bad'.

It was a shame and yet typical that the media coverage that followed focused on the riots that occurred that evening after the March (what was also very sinister and disturbing was the lack of coverage by the Murdoch owned Times on Sunday. A sign of things to come with this BSkyB takeover- another thing to oppose!). It seemed to overshadow events. I witnessed the UK Uncut protest at Fortnum and Mason, and wholeheartedly support their peaceful sit-in demonstrations at stores owned by the odious Tax Dodger (and government adviser) Philip Green to raise awareness of this issue. I think the more violent action on the streets by the anarchist groups represent not the mindless violence so lazily portrayed in the media, but a generation of young people who are getting increasingly politicized and angry at the terrible cards being dealt them in this society that the current Government is trying to radically and viciously re-shape. We used to have a society where we thought the young were the future. Now they face miserable debt-ridden lifetimes having to pay for often a second-rate education. I think the violence dealt out by the Government to ordinary communities and people through their programme of cuts is far more sinister and destructive than a few rioters.

But there is an alternative. It’s up to us all to continue to stand up and fight for it…

Coming Down...

I found myself in the studio at 7am with my breakfast the other morning looking at a painting I’d made late the previous evening. It was drying on the floor. I’m pretty excited by it, and feel it marks a slight shift in my thinking away from some of the more recent landscape paintings. These have been concerned with more formal issues centred on colour and mark to express atmosphere and certain feelings, whereas this new one takes some of that but tries to also deal with a particular sense of place.

I’m keen to narrow my focus to deal more with particular, and perhaps more unusual locations. The edges of our urban landscape; places unseen that we may pass each day without really noticing. This painting is based on an oil study I made of a scrappy little traffic island that is always surrounded by teeming traffic that I view everyday from my classroom window. It had some trees that caught my eye with their alignment, colour and narrow shapes.

Yesterday I spent a day whizzing around different places in a transit van around West Bromwich dropping off my ‘Seek My Face’ portrait paintings to various organisations and centres who have been keen to take one permanently. Multistory have helped me once again with contacting the various people and venues involved. The places I went to yesterday included Sandwell Council House, The Public, Charlemont Community Centre, Phoenix Collegiate School (my old school, formerly Menzies High), Friar Park Community Centre (whose choice of painting then sadly proved too big for their space), and Stoney Lane Day Centre. So it was a busy day, but I mainly just dropped off the work. Next week I’m going back to install them, so that will be fun.

I did install the one above though,‘Sara’, at Stoney Lane Day Centre for people with Learning Disabilities. Sara is one of the service users and chose the spot to hang the painting, which is appropriately just outside the art room. Watch this space as the others find a permanent home next week.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Authentic Jane Freilicher

‘To strain after innovation, to worry about being ‘on the cutting edge’ – a phrase I hate- reflects concern for a place in history or for one’s career rather than for the authenticity of one’s painting.’ Jane Freilicher

This is an good quote by the celebrated American painter that I found personally interesting in relation to alot of my own concerns as an artist. It calls to mind a crit I once had with painter David Hepher, then Head of Painting at the Slade, at the end of my MA in Norwich years ago. We talked at length on these questions in relation to my own painting. One tutor had described it as too ‘Eighties’, which made me laugh, but also revealed how we were poles apart in our thinking and attitudes. I think the language, or languages, one uses is all about an authenticity of intention. I’m aware of many failings in my painting, but a lack of authenticity is hopefully not one of them. In my most despairing moments in the studio it is one of the few things I think can still cling to. Anyway, I really love Frielicher’s own painting and her attitude to making art. I recently read a monograph on the artist I received as a Christmas present. It was a good read, but also contained some really high quality illustrations of the paintings that showed the artist’s deft brushwork and almost off-hand painting manner. She manages this difficult thing really well- a casualness in the handling combined with tight, but not too tight, control. The colour and light in the paintings are superb too, and I think that is almost what the paintings are about. I believe if you can get the light right it can open the doors to much more profound readings of the work. It is something I try for all the while in my own paintings, but feel I too often fall a bit short. It’s a bit frustrating .