I’ve been painting and drawing since I was about five, initially rather badly!
I recall actually buying pictures of dinosaurs off my friend Derek for two pence or so each, because he had advanced dimensionally, let us say and had learn’t a trick to draw dinosaurs mouths that had three dimensions, something that at the time I couldn’t do.
My first exhibition was in Thorpe-le-Soken, Essex, thanks to the teacher of my O level night classes in art at the age of about 18, whose name escapes me, while the recollection of her encouragement remains. My only issue with that experience was that I had done a picture of a hot air balloon, its crew a motley collection of animals, like something out of Wind in the Willows. She displayed it on the stairs, something that caused problems because the detail of the painting caused people to stop and examine it closely, thus blocking the stairs for other viewers.
My first encounter with the conservative, so called ‘community’ exhibitions was when I lived in Folkestone some three years later. A hotel on the seafront proposed an exhibition of art by local artists, which I obviously saw myself as at the time. Back then, I was painting in oils and acrylics, and profoundly inspired by the writing of Mervyn Peake. My paintings were dark and had a brooding quality, four of which I delivered to the gallery, naively optimistic that they would see them as worthy of viewing. I collected the four, which I found hidden behind a pile of chairs a week later, finding that none had been accepted. I received a letter a week after that asking for £10 for viewing the pictures. I ignored it!
I encountered a similar issue with my artwork in A level art at Colchester Institute in my late twenties. My art teacher there was of the stoic traditional type and looked upon my fondness for fantasy art as something akin to childish scribbling and not ‘proper’ art in any shape or form. Her opinion of me and my art was further tainted when I declared my opinion that Jackson Pollock’s artwork would make good wrapping paper. She loathed me from then on. I got an F in A Level art. As a postscript on this experience, years later I purchased several poster sized Pollock prints and preceded to wrap a number of boxes with them. I was right, they looked wonderful, and to this day, wonder why no one has come up with this idea, wrapping paper in general being so terribly dull.
Recently, some twenty eight years after my first exhibition, I applied to a local gallery in Colchester to have an exhibition. I had visited the place beforehand and wasn’t encouraged, but went for it anyway. My response was that my proposal was a little ‘out of the ordinary’. I submitted some of my black and white pencil drawings, which remained so out of the ordinary that like back in Folkestone, they had to be put before the galleries committee, which decided that they didn’t have space for the exhibition but I could send one or two pictures to a shared exhibition and dependent on the curators decision, they might show one. I was half tempted to send in some pictures just to see if a week later I would find them behind a stack of chairs.
I remain of the opinion that provincial galleries and exhibition spaces are so eager to retain their conservatism, and not actually offend anyone, that they continue to only display art that looks like the wall of an art block at any college in the country, or the type of art you might find on the walls of residential homes. Oh, of course there are exceptions and thank goodness for that, but generally, as I tend to think, having followed a professional career as a psychiatric nurse, art in the provinces is depressed, when it should be bipolar!
Art in any form that promotes an ‘ahh that’s nice.’ from its viewers sullies the very reason for art in the first place, as a legitimate form of creation and expression, and is about as far from what art should be as chalk is from the cheese of your choice. Art should promote something emotive, a gasp, disgust, awe, inspiration, a profound feeling that someone somewhere has created something that they invested a piece of their soul in. Not a photograph on canvas, there are companies that can do that for you, they can even put it on a mug if you would prefer. But it should still retain the essence of the creators skill in his chosen medium. Half a sheep suspended in a tank of formaldehyde is not art, its gaudy commercialism. There is no art in it, unless the artist was directly responsible for the sheep, which obviously he is not unless he is also responsible for evolution. True art takes nothing and creates something through inspiration and the utilization of a given medium. Before the artist can create, there was be nothing, a void, a vacuum, which they populate from their imagination. This is the reason for the steady decline of art over the centuries to the position of hobby. We live in a world where the default cultural state is that of the consumer. People only value something if you’re making money from it and its purpose is to sell, the art itself or another product. I don’t want to sell my art, it is part of me. If I’m going to sell the artistic equivalent of a kidney, I’m going to make it worth my while and so I put a ridiculous price on it, daring someone to be stupid enough to pay that much for it.
Once art held a different position, something worthy of appreciation and above all, love.
This is why I don’t really value digital or computer generated art. Because it is primarily used in commercialism and so as an artist lubricant for selling something else, as the advertising industry has demonstrated. I discovered this piece of enlightenment while in Madrid looking at an exhibition of Raphael’s work. Even after almost five hundred years, with obvious care shown to it, I had never seen such colours, such textures, such sheer glory in a painting, and often a very, very big painting at that! Because they are cherished as pieces of art, they will no doubt continue to be so for maybe another five hundred years, while all it takes is a power cut and your computer art is lost. It is as temporary as the commercial reasons for making it. Without electricity, there would be no computer art. Without the need to sell and consume, there would be no need for commercial art. It is distinctly discardable despite the ingenuity that can go into it, while a well prepared and cared for canvas can last for centuries. It is created in the purist sense and so deserves to remain so. It’s a physical reality, not something reliant on something else to exist. True art is creation, as shown by the definition of the word itself, ‘The action or process of bringing something into existence.’ But I will add to that. ‘The action or process of bringing something into physical and emotional existence.’
The aim behind the exhibition of any of my artwork is to hit people in the face, metaphorically of course, but to let them react, and above all, think. My art is obvious, lacking subtly in many respects, the messages likewise can also be obvious, though I aim to ask the question, are things as obvious as they seem? Is there more going on, that by looking, coupled with thinking, the viewer might realize?
My next step is simply to paint. Get a few good paintings done and then approach a local pub in Colchester, where during my college days I spent most of my time, and have them exhibit them, advertising the showing as ‘Art that no one else will display!’
Even if they cause abject consternation in the viewing public, the pub will sell a few pints so I will feel alright about the venture.