9 Oct 2016

October 2016. “When shall we three meet again?”

Macbeth? Or an unfulfilled bucket list?

The Halloween connection with October had me considering making “October Oak”, the penultimate painting in my series of twelve, a more sinister, "witchy" piece. But it wouldn’t have matched the rest of the series that way, and so I settled instead for the season’s autumn shades, leaves falling, and the darker nights advancing.

There will be lengthening shadows, Goose Fair doughnuts to be eaten, pavement leaves to be kicked and conkers to be picked. And just one more painting to be painted to complete the series.

 You can watch a work in progress video of October Oak on THIS LINK.

16 Sep 2016

September 2016. The days grow short.

There is a famous song lyric: “The leaves of brown came tumbling down, September, that September in the rain”. Great song, but it’s not actually true, or least in the U.K. it’s not. Here I am a couple of weeks into the month, and the leaves on the trees are both abundant and decidedly green. So, whilst still adding a little sienna to the mix to take the brightness out of that green, how best to represent September in this the tenth painting of my series of twelve oaks?

My painting depicts one of those days when the sky is evenly overcast and the air is still and a little humid as the warm days of sunshine give way to a slightly cooler feel, maybe after the occasional passing shower. Colours are a little more sombre. One of those days where one now knows for sure that, if the hot sun does make its presence felt again this year, it will probably be only a fleeting visit.

There is a possibly even more famous song lyric:

“Oh, it's a long, long while
From May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September”.

“September in the Rain” Harry Warren and Al Dubin.
“September Song” Kurt Weill lyrics Maxwell Anderson.

You can watch a work in progress video of September Oak on THIS LINK.

Art copyright Ian G Craig.

16 Aug 2016

August 2016. Reap what you sow.

August Oak. (31 x 41cm / 12” x 16”).

Regardless of whatever the final painting might be, I do like to study my trees early in the year, taking both sketchbook and camera into Sherwood Forest. Understanding a tree's basic structure helps me capture their character and know how best to place the foliage later on. But how best to express the month of August?

It’s still summer, the leaves are still lush and green, but gone are the blooms and blossoms of June and July, and out in the fields the harvesters are busy at work. So I decided my “August Oak”, the ninth in a series of one-per-month themed acrylic paintings, would be about the sun setting at the close of a warm summer evening. The holiday season may not yet be over, but the anticipation is there.

You can watch a work in progress video of August Oak on THIS LINK.

Artwork copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

19 Jul 2016

For Talking Out Loud.

13th July, 2016.

“They look like a comfy pair of shoes”.
“Yes, and so clean”.
“And shiny”.
“I bet they’re new”.
“Do you know you can buy a pair just like those down the market for about ten pounds? It’s the brand you pay for you know”.

I am seated in a cave two or three “floors” below street level, in one of Nottingham’s most noted pubs for performing arts, and I haven’t yet spoken one word. The cave itself, carved out of the sandstone, is a characteristic underground feature of many buildings in the city centre. Above me is the one time Victorian Music Hall the Malt Cross, a venue I’ve variously written, dated, and drunk in, often watching local musicians perform as I did so. Somewhere in this pub’s files they have, at their request, copies of sketches I’ve made here. But I’ve never performed here. Indeed, I can’t remember the precise date I was last on a public stage of any kind. Tonight, that’s about to change. A couple of weeks ago I saw a poster announcing the venue’s Spoken Word Open Mic Night and thought, “Why not?” So I’m here, to both test my mettle and the worth of the words I write.

Painting is very different. I send the paintings out beyond my walls to be judged by others within their walls. In return I get a slip of paper which simply reads either “rejection” or “acceptance”. No further explanation than that. Tonight I am presenting my words to strangers for the first time, face to face. I put my name down at the door, number 14 on the list of tonight’s performers. If my words prove to be no good at least my shoes have been a big hit.

When I was a student in Liverpool, poets like Adrian Henri and Roger McGough were not yet widely known across the U.K. The Merseybeat groups of the sixties had all followed the Beatles south, to be replaced in the seventies by the Mersey Scene, predominantly one of poetry and improvised music. So it was not uncommon to both sit alongside and experience such talent in the local pubs. I certainly cannot pretend I was ever a member of that in-crowd, but it was an inspiring atmosphere for a young student to witness. Tonight reminds me a little of those days. The sandstone benches along the walls are rock hard, but the people are supportive, in good spirits, and raring to get started. Importantly, they are all listening attentively to each other’s works.

I’ve spent much of the day rehearsing out loud in my studio. I reckon of the dozen or so acts which precede me I must be on a par with a good percentage of them. One notable exception being number 13, a youthful, passionate performance in rapid contemporary rhyme and without notes. Not an act I would have chosen to follow. Nevertheless, one pint into the evening, number 14 “Ian” is called to the front…

I am expected to read two poems. I'm happy to say both go down really well. The audience laugh with me at my brief introduction to “The Gift”, how my 30+ years as a teacher was rewarded with a simple book token, before they then become totally involved with the poem’s pathos, catching them off guard. Similarly, the “four and twenty seagulls” and “balding braided doorman” of “Skeggie Day” elicit giggles of appreciation, before the poem’s sombre conclusion makes its mark. I like this well established literary device, mixing opposing emotions in the same piece. (“It’s getting better all the time. – It can’t get no worse”). I shall be using it again. Probably in this venue.

Read “The Gift” on THIS LINK.
Read “Skeggie Day” below OR the video on THIS LINK.
See my Malt Cross artworks on THIS LINK.

 Skeggie day.

Railcard trip to a Lincs coastline,
“Which way are we facing?” Going back in time.
A day beside the seaside, the rain did not stop play
On Skeggie day.

Snakes and ladder fingers
On the backseat of the train,
Slipping her the whiskey,
She slips it back again.
Her kite strings got in the way
On Skeggie day.

Under the Boardwalk, Up On the Roof,
Identity crisis, asking for proof.
Photographing footprints
All along the beach,
So close to the salty edge,
But always out of reach.
Walking away
On Skeggie day.

Shakin Stevens ashtrays, the bandstand had no band,
Just Betty Boop mementos for a Jolly Fisherman.
He thinks he’s on a promise, a saucy postcard date,
But Betty left too early, and the Clock Tower’s always late.
Shakey fades
On Skeggie day.

A penny for the arcade
Soon comes to push and shove,
As four and twenty seagulls
Abstained from making love,
Swoop down on deep fried chickens,
Their favoured fast-food prey.
Don’t Take-Away
My Skeggie day.

The tin skinned street art lady, trapped in her pantomime,
Waves secret hand-sign signals, that passion is no crime.
She pays for rusting tea breaks
With small change from her jar.
Her day job is a statue, by night she works the bar.
She has no time to play
On my Skeggie day.

The cinema on High Street is showing “G.I. Blues”.
They haven’t changed the program there since 1962.
A balding breathless doorman,
In braided uniform,
Has a look of recognition,
Thinks he’s seen me there before.
Checks the tickets at the kiosk,
Checks himself out in the glass.
Checks the sidewalk for a certain girl
Who’s way outside his class.
Perhaps a lack of judgement?
It’s not for me to say.
I leave him to his fate.
On Skeggie day.

Returning to the station, the train is running late.
The driver’s in his swimwear, been on a heavy date.
I take my seat inside the carriage,
Take a moment to reflect,
Take a selfie of the station sign
Not finished with me yet.
In the pages of my sketchbook
The sketches from my trips
All draw upon the good times,
Plus all the empty bits.
I’ve said too much already
There’s nothing left to say
About Skeggie day.

Now plastic Disney figures
In fairgrounds long shut down,
All chat about the Summers
When I still came around.
There’s no-one left to heed now
Their wind metallic voice,
They stand there for no reason,
They do it out of choice.
Before a wintry snowman took them all away
On Skeggie Day.

All text copyright Ian G Craig.

1 Jul 2016

July 2016. Make hay while the sun shines.

“It’s 8.45…”

I have a built-in body clock. No need to set the alarm on the 1990’s style minutes-and-hands face so close to my own each morning. I now sleep and paint in the smallest room in the house. Everything is close-up. I roll up the blinds, open the window, drink the remains of the overnight water and check my phone, all without leaving the duvet. Yesterday’s jeans and t-shirt are within arm’s length on the floor beside. I only change work clothes between paintings. It helps preserve the mood. The closeness is working for me. Hashtag prolific.

Juice; porridge, not soused overnight (sorry grandpa); coffee; Sky news; second coffee. Back up to the bedroom studio. I stand and survey yesterday’s artwork. The year is half over. Am I on course?

“July Oak”, the eighth of a series, sees my painting target for the year well ahead of schedule. Anticipating little change in what has been a particularly rainy season so far, I decided to base July’s painting on my fleeting visits to Sherwood Forest in June and get started. For future exhibition purposes it is more important the work depicts a more typical account of the British weather than the climatic shortcomings of one particular year. I am pleased with the outcome, the dense green foliage almost obliterating all shape and form in the forest, yet failing to completely disguise the fact these ancient oaks are ageing and fading. My energy for art has not faded. Indeed, keeping this pace has produced better results than those landscapes I exhibited and had published in 2013. I haven’t faded, it’s just that the activity has become more solitary.

Walks away from easel. Third coffee; Sky news update; resumes train of thought.

I can see now my personal target for the year’s work was too ambitious. All twelve oak paintings will meet my deadline of December 31st. Substituting paint on canvas with Photoshop, drawn illustrations for my intended novel (see THIS LINK), will be more or less on course, it being an unquantifiable number until more chapters are written. Therein lies the rub. I am not writing enough. The oak paintings, intended as a side project, have taken over.

Solution: Make hay while the sun shines. Whilst the daylight is good in my tine south facing bedroom studio, press on and complete the oaks ahead of schedule and save the writing for the darker months to come. Sorted.

You can watch a work-in-progress video of July Oak on THIS LINK.

25 Jun 2016

My intended novel #3. Chapter 2: "Billy Gordon".

The following are two brief excerpts from chapter two of my intended novel.

Excerpt 1:

He had been awakened by the shrill vibrations of the water pipes in the cupboard just beyond his bedroom door, as they struggled to cope with the clattering demands of the kitchen sink below, demands made all the more formidable by the customary weekend visit of Grandpa Craig, instructing daughter-in-law Mavis as to exactly how he liked his porridge. “Soused overnight, and don’t spare the salt”. The sweet aroma of grandpa’s pipe tobacco was just now reaching Billy Gordon’s door. A veritable giant of a man, with an insatiable breakfast appetite, his Scottish grandpa proved a source of much fascination to the small boy, who was nevertheless most careful to make his observations from a discrete distance during those occasions when adults conversed and children only listened. Grandpa Craig always stood with a perfectly straight back, legs braced, swaying very slightly as might a soldier at ease. But unlike the soldiers that occasionally marched through the village from their nearby camp in the woods, the old man’s cheeks were a constant shade of bright red. All year round. And Billy Gordon hadn’t seen a soldier quite like that. Not even in his toy box. He’d checked.

Excerpt 2:

“Where’s the boy?”  Billy Gordon stepped carefully between a gap in the carnations and joined the already assembled group on the lawn. “Come on Gordon,” that name again, “You stand in front of me”. His grandfather placed a large Scottish hand on each of his young namesake’s shoulders, whilst Big Sister snapped to attention on his left, her gabardine creases glinting under the cloudless sky.

“Now everyone, say Cheeeeeeeeeeese!” And everyone dutifully smiled as his father peered through the little silver square viewfinder and pressed the little silver button on the front of the shiny black box. Small fragments of tobacco ash floated down onto Billy Gordon’s shoulders from his grandfather’s pipe above. Not that he noticed. His mind was elsewhere. He was thinking about the chrysalis.

Artwork & text copyright Ian G Craig.

8 Jun 2016

June 2016. More loon than bloom.

I completed my “June Oak” painting within the first week of the month, not pausing for breath after producing the first two illustrations for “my intended novel”. I don’t say this as a good thing. Such pieces normally take two or three weeks, working reasonable hours. I think the result is a good one, but one has to ask how much of said activity is passion and how much a search for distraction. However, I shall keep such thoughts for my private long-hand journal.

After a particularly cold and dark May, June did indeed come “busting out all over”, necessitating further visits to the ancient forest of Sherwood. My resources for this series of twelve paintings were mostly gathered in the winter months, and didn’t address the problem of depicting the fresh leaves and foliage now before me; a pictorial challenge I find quite daunting. However, I am really happy with the solution I came up with and look forward to July and August presenting more of the same. Further insight into my technique can be seen on the video below.

June Oak, Sherwood Forest, work in progress video on THIS LINK.

This month I also took great pleasure in presenting my Big Sister with “The Night Me and Christine Watched the Barn Owls”. (Above). It depicts us both in our childhood, and is indeed based on an actual event, living as we did amidst woodlands. I like all my paintings to have their “day in the sun”, and this one was once accepted for exhibition in Nottingham Castle, as well as a more recent on-line publication. So it’s now time to pass it on.

The first Art I can distinctly remember seeing and really trying to analyse was when, at the age of only four years old, I discovered the water colours of my Great (Great Great?) Grandfather William Catto of Aberdeen. (Above). During those weeks whilst my pregnant mother was in bed preparing for the home birth of my brother, I would sit at the foot of her bed in a blue wicker chair, staring up at those paintings of the Aberdeen shoreline, convinced the artist had tried to suggest the shape of a human figure in the rocks. (I remain convinced). I like to think now that as the decades or maybe a century goes by, my Big Sister’s descendants will find themselves looking up at my painting in a similar manner, and wondering...

6 Jun 2016

My intended novel #2. Chapter 1: "Hey Ginger!"

The following are two brief excerpts from chapter one of my intended novel.

Excerpt 1:

“Hey Ginger, I want you!” may not have been the most subtle of pick-up lines a normally shy Private 14246464 could have chosen to call out as he strode past Fourth Avenue’s corner chip shop in the modest English village of Hedgby, no doubt emboldened by the consumption of a few light ales earlier in the evening. But for this nineteen year old wartime conscript, fresh down from the Highlands and a long way from home, the cheers and encouragement it drew from his equally merry army buddies who knew him simply as “Jock”, would alone have made for the perfect ending to the night’s high spirited shenanigans before returning to camp. Little could he have imagined the journey he was about to embark upon as that small khaki clan paused on the street corner, swaying slightly, chattering quietly, in anticipation of a response from the girl within.

Excerpt 2:

His services no longer required, Mr Churchill took the nation’s once great sense of ambition with him when making it official that “Our finest hour” lay behind us. Young marrieds who had spent their late teenage years in battlefields and bomb factories, could now stop watching the skies, confident in the knowledge that bluebirds and not Messerschmidts now flew over the white cliffs of Dover, and look instead towards settling into a new life in a new home. Jitterbugging G.I.s heeding the call to “Yankee go home” became an almost comical memory, their jazzy mannerisms surely never again to influence the more reserved tastes of English towns and villages like Hedgby. Blitzed Sheffield factories that had turned the skies incendiary red now cleverly produced a penny sized steel disc to fill the penny sized hole in Jock’s head, over which his shock of thick black hair would continue to thrive for the rest of his days.

Artwork & text copyright Ian G Craig.

1 Jun 2016

My Intended Novel #1: The illustrations.

Above: Illustrations for the first two chapter of my intended novel.

I’m typing this on a rather cold, dark, breezy, first day of June. But I’m in good spirits, having just completed the first two illustrations for my intended novel. I shall refer to them as illustrations, although they don’t literally depict exact events in the story as much as accompany it. And I shall keep referring to the book as “my intended novel” as a means of taking off the pressure. Above are the colour variations which I can exhibit as prints. The black and white versions, more suitable for Kindle, are slightly different and I shall post them in due course with excerpts from the book.

The “work-in-progress” video below will explain my thought processes in making these works after abandoning the initial idea of producing them as paintings.

Watch work-in-progress video on THIS LINK.

Artwork copyright Ian G Craig.

14 May 2016

May 2016. The modest buds of.

The oak tree I selected for my sixth painting of a series has a rather auspicious presence about him. He’s probably the oldest of the twelve I have chosen to depict, and bears many scars. Nevertheless, come the month of May, he still rises to the challenge of the new season ahead, producing fresh buds, stimulating new ideas. I like to think I can identify with that.

As one might expect from such a cantankerous old character, set deep in his roots and his ways, his “portrait” didn’t come easy. Oak trees would seem to show their foliage later than most, and extra visits to Sherwood Forest were necessary to see how far to go when depicting the leaves. Also, in reality his bark is so deep in its texture that the marks I first made were a distraction to the overall picture. However, in the end our relationship was one of compromise and it’s safe to say we were both very happy with the outcome.

You can watch a video of “May Oak” in progress on THIS LINK.
Copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

23 Apr 2016

April 2016. It looks like showers.

April Oak is the 5th in a series of 12 planned acrylic paintings featuring  a selection of oak trees from along the path which leads to Robin Hood’s tree (the Major Oak), Edwinstowe. These were intended as a side project, whilst working on a series of larger, more “contemporary” autobiographical paintings. However, the latter didn’t work out (see below), and I shall be returning to them in due course.

But I am pleased with the oaks, and the idea of making 12 paintings all adhering to a common theme, composition, size, and materials. I like having defined parameters to work within. If I knew maybe 8 or 10 people it would be interesting to repeat the exercise. It would need a theme though. Maybe 7 deadly sins?

April Oak proved tricky. My resources were gathered at the start of the year, so I was relying very much on imagination. It is too early in the month to see any significant foliage on the trees, but look close and you can see blue bells amidst the bracken. I wanted to capture that moment on an otherwise sunny afternoon when one anticipates April showers. No stranger to the rain falling on my parade, I think I pulled it off.

You can watch a video of April Oak in progress on THIS LINK.

Above: The abandoned painting based on the first chapters of my intended book. I doesn’t work, but I shall return to the idea in a more suitable medium.

April Oak is an acrylic painting, 16” x 12” (41cm x 31cm), copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

29 Mar 2016

Artist Lady Manvers, my dad, and Coquette.

Those familiar with my Dukeries blog, or the piece I wrote for Nottingham University Art History Department, (see this link), will be aware of my respect and admiration for artist Lady Manvers. I accept my opinions are in part due to sentiment, having spent my early life on Thoresby Estate, but I do like to think my 30+ years teaching Art, whilst developing my own painting skills, give my opinion about the best of her canvases some credence.

I refer in particular to those which depict the interiors and grounds of Thoresby Hall. Her outdoor studies are excellent in their own right, mostly water colour sketches documenting the seasons as they pass through the estate, its employees, and, perhaps most importantly from a historic perspective, the military presence of the war years. But it is the interior canvases for which she has been able to leave her easel undisturbed at various locations within the hall, returning to them at will over a period of days, which exhibit her true skills and understanding of the colourful palette she acquired in France. That said, I should set my story here within a little biographical context.

In 1947 my father, William Craig, had recovered from the head wound received in the Battle of Arnhem, and the tuberculosis he subsequently contracted in P.o.W. Camp Stalag 9c. Having then begun his married life in nearby Edwinstowe, his skills as a carpenter and joiner soon found him gainfully employed by Thoresby Estate. A sequence of dwellings therein coincided with five additions to his family: My elder sister at Cockglode; myself at Rose Cottage; my younger brother at Radleys Lane; and my two younger sisters at Three Gables. This latter house being a result of his promotion to Foreman at the Woodyard.

The Woodyard was essentially the place which processed the timber from the forestry department, turning out everything from telegraph poles and fence posts, to items needed by the pre-PVC building trade. Thoresby workers were also responsible for the maintenance of the estate, and in this respect my father was frequently involved in repairs to Thoresby Hall and its contents. For example, he hung the original blue wallpaper in the Blue Drawing Room, and items of antique furniture would often find themselves transported to our kitchen whilst dad tended to their upholstery. Such work of course had to meet Lady Manvers’ standards and, although a lady of sweet disposition, she could be rather fastidious in her demands. For example, all the firewood for her bedroom, sitting room, and dining room, had to be billet wood, 9” (23cm) long and 3” (8cm) diameter, and totally free from knots. Nothing short of these specifications would do. Happily, dad’s skills and general work ethic soon won the Ladyship’s approval. During their encounters she would always enquire about his family’s welfare, and in 1962 she would even ask him to pose for one of her water colours, (shown on this link).

Sometime in the late 1950s dad came home from Thoresby Hall with a broken figurine in his pocket. Smashed might be a more appropriate description. (I count ten pieces). Quite possibly it was a favourite ornament with Lady Manvers and so, rather than relegate it straight to the bin, dad was asked if it could be fixed. Not surprisingly the outcome was rather unsatisfactory. One elbow was missing, and lines of Evostik adhesive were unavoidably visible. As a consequence, the “Coquette” figurine remained on our family sideboard, often commented on through the decades, though its origins all but forgotten. Until now.

In March 2016, Thoresby Courtyard Gallery exhibited a selection of Lady Manvers’ still-life paintings, the majority of which had quite possibly not been seen anywhere since Thoresby Hall closed to the public in 1979 (this link). So you can imagine my surprise and delight upon seeing the painting above. It is probably an unfinished piece, or perhaps abandoned; the leaves are somewhat heavy handed and the background left rather unresolved. But there in the corner sits “Coquette”. The very same one.

Last thoughts on Lady Manvers.

In 1963 the estate’s management of the time decided our family should move out of Three Gables and back to a smaller house on Perlethorpe Village Green. One afternoon before that move took place, the news of which had only just reached Lady Manvers, her chauffeur driven limousine pulled up outside. She expressed much concern at what had happened, and even offered the flats in Thoresby Courtyard as accommodation for our family of seven. It was a sincere gesture, and typical of her character. But it was time to move on.

I was born into Thoresby Estate, and left there aged thirteen. Everyone I’ve spoken to who once lived there says the same thing: When they left, they left a little piece of them behind. It’s true. Just like Coquette’s little elbow, as she now resides on my shelf.

Top painting copyright Thoresby Estate. Text copyright Ian G Craig.

22 Mar 2016

March 2016. Not yet the greens of Spring.

I have no Umbers or Siennas in my palette. I binned them long ago in an effort to improve and liven up my colours. Nevertheless, I thought the colours for “March Oak” (below) should address those more subdued shades as the month sees the green hues of Winter tree trunks take on a browner aspect. My chosen oak tree for this month, shaped in part by the strong winds of March, continues to reflect the demise of Sherwood Forest. There are no fresh buds on the branches anticipating the coming Spring.

Later: A bit of a shock and a sadness today. I took a drive over to a particular gallery in the Dukeries area, one which has rather sentimental links for me, it being a short walk from the primary school where I first had a painting go up on the wall as a child, and the one in which I first managed to get a piece exhibited after leaving teaching c.2006. Nothing on their website or Twitter page prepared me for what I encountered as I stepped through the door. An empty, bare stone-walled room. The art gallery as I knew it, and the people I once met there, all gone.

Video documenting this painting in progress can be seen on THIS LINK.

Copyright Ian G Craig.

February 2016. Expecting rain.

From resource photos and sketches made during my walks through Sherwood Forest, I selected the ten oak trees needed for the rest of the planned series, which means I can draw out a basic composition on the boards at any time, engaging in the painting process as each month arrives. This will help me keep pace, but not pre-empt whatever the coming year may bring. Apart from Valentine’s Day, February seems something of a forgotten month. One expects the frosts and snows of winter will have passed, but not yet see the winds of March or the light showers and buds of April. Me and February have much in common, and we’re both expecting rain.

February's oak got off to a bad start (above). Too much thinking and not enough looking. So I took time to sit and watch what the skies actually do in February. The sun is still low, but the yellow hues it makes along the horizon are more “lemon” than cadmium. The high clouds vary from silver grey to slightly lilac. The low clouds which bring the rain are fast moving, and much darker, almost silhouettes. I’ve also been shooting some video of the 12 oaks selected for this project, with the intention of making short videos explaining my thoughts and processes.

"February Oak" (above). I chose this particular oak for February because of its character; its form distorted from straining to reach the sunlight between the surrounding birches. It’s quite a dark painting. I was even tempted use black, something I hardly ever do. It did prove a bit of a struggle, and it’s not quite the painting I envisaged, but it’s the painting which emerged from that struggle. I think I’m always a little disappointed when my landscape paintings don’t look like “everybody else's” in the arts & craft gallery shops, but then again, if they did, I’d bin them.

Video documenting this painting in progress can be seen on THIS LINK.

17 Jan 2016

David Bowie and my Unisex lilac velvet jacket, R.I.P.

The date is 10th June, 1973. I am an art student in Liverpool. I have long since owned a worn-out ex-juke box copy of “Space Oddity”, and the hit single “Starman” saw me purchase the Ziggy Stardust album. We all like “Walk on the Wildside”, but neither myself nor anyone I know of in this city, or my hometown of Nottingham, is listening to the Velvet Underground, let alone aware of what an Iggy Pop might be. I know a little about German Expressionist cinema, but never even heard of Japanese Kabuki, Bertol Brecht, or William Burroughs’s cut-ups.

Within 24 hours all this and more will change. Forever.

Our curiosity peeked by a couple of hit singles, and the stories in the media, my flat mates and I are deciding what to wear for tonight’s David Bowie gig at the Liverpool Empire. Tickets were quite easy to obtain. “I’m going to wear all brown”, I joke with a camp wave of the hand, “I don’t want to appear to be competing with David!” And brown it was, although my platform boots were already about two building bricks high by that stage. We assumed that the night’s concert would be more of an entertaining spectacle for the teens, rather than second year art college students like us. How wrong we were.

As we approach the theatre we are swept aside by a youthful crowd emerging from Lime Street railway station, their eyelids painted like rainbows, silver tinsel circles glued to their cheeks. Stopping for no-one they charge through the theatre doors with scant regard for ticket collectors, rush to the front of the stage, and go into their chant: “David! David!” I am twenty-two years old, and the only teen adoration I’ve witnessed prior to this is my younger sister crying over The Osmonds. I clearly have no idea what is about to happen.

Let’s be honest, detailed accounts of most concerts one sees fade from the mind over time. They become a tick-box list of those bands one has seen and those still on the bucket list. But I can still replay that night’s performance in my mind: The swirling Japanese cape as the curtains opened on Jean Genie (complete with Love Me Do harmonica riff); the single spotlight on a solitary mirror ball which turned the theatre into a Space Oddity galaxy; Bowie shouting at the audience for screaming and not listening; the slick on-stage costume changes, the occasional instrumental-break mime, and hearing Lou Reed’s song “Waiting for the Man” for the very first time. Most of all the moment Bowie went “down” on Mick Ronson, seemingly biting at his guitarist’s strings, Ronson’s thigh mere inches away. I can tell you that three very straight art students emerged from the theatre that night wanting to be Mick Ronson.

After witnessing this Aladdin Sane stage show a lot of things I’d previously encountered became joined-up in my mind: “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari”, “Metropolis”, Scott Walker’s take on Jacques Brel, “Clockwork Orange”, Andy Warhol, “1984”, and more. The undoubted genius of The Beatles had tapped into largely British roots, marrying American pop with Music Hall, Irish limerick, the surreal humour of the Goon Show, the fantasy of Lewis Carrol. That well had been bled dry three years previous. Bowie was embarking on a whole new direction, merging European and Eastern art forms with the sound of Jeff Beck’s Yardbirds and the glitzy attitude of Andy Warhol’s factory. Put simply, it was the second coming of Elvis. Everything began anew, and he’d only just begun.

 Everybody uses that tired old cliché about “it changed my life”. But in some small measure, for me, that night did. Being a stranger in a strange land at that time became an easier mind-set to accept. It still is, when “everybody’s going out and having fun”, and I want to stay home and paint. In fact, so empowered did this fresh out of the countryside young man begin to feel, that a lilac velvet jacket and mullet hairdo seemed to be in order. Of course nobody told me the jacket, which buttoned to the left, was obviously intended for a girl. Never mind. I couldn’t get into it these days anyway. But I am still listening to David Bowie. I never stopped.

Above: Posing for a fellow student c.1973.

15 Jan 2016

January 2016. Back into the forest.

 I wonder what normal folk do on New Year's Day? I spent mine painting, making a start on the second of my series of Sherwood Forest oaks. This one has no particular personal message, I simply wanted to have a go at painting snow. The secret would appear to be not in the colour but in the rhythmic patterns it defines on the branches. Although I love painting, it's always really hard work for me. It's like I'm always struggling to find a graphic solution for what's in front of me, rather than simply picking up a brush and doing it like most artists seem to do.

I visit Sherwood Forest often. At this time of year it is an even more enchanting spectacle than usual. The snow highlights every small detail, whilst turning the sound-scape to an eerie mixture of silent and still. “January Oak” (above) is the second in my ongoing series of acrylic paintings.

Video documenting this painting in progress can be seen on THIS LINK.

29 Dec 2015

December 2015. Making a list, checking it twice.

In my long-hand journal entry for June of this year I set myself two objectives: First, to move house by the end of the year; second, to put all serious artwork on hold until that had been fulfilled. However, after four months of paperwork chasing the bungalow of my choice, here I am still inside number 35, and, apart from some small sketches on Twitter (above), this has been the most inactive year of my entire life. So this month, amidst the packing case contents of my current life style, I decided to break the lethargic spell I’ve been under for far too long, and embark on the next project.
“Dukeries Boy” is intended as a three part project: A book, a series of “contemporary” paintings relating to that book, and a supplementary series of smaller paintings (one per month) based on the oaks of Sherwood Forest.

The reason the dark evenings of late 2015 failed to have their usual depressing effect on my mood can only be because the entire year has already felt that way from the start. However, this December my spirits lifted, bringing about a much more positive change in attitude. Why this should be I have no idea. It was hardly a “good news” month considering my failed attempt to move house, the sad news about two former friends, and the stress of Christmas obligations. Nevertheless, even though my personal space is quite empty, the lights came back on, and in that way “December Oak” (below) is about me.

"December Oak". Acrylics on 31cm x 41cm board. I’m really pleased the result. It combines my natural drawing style with the painting technique. I'm also liking acrylic paint. They dry so fast they allow one to work without pause.

Video documenting this painting in progress can be seen on THIS LINK.

24 Mar 2015

Nightclubbing in the 70s. Part 2.

Tim would like nothing better in the whole world than for his life to go back to the way it was just one week ago. But instead, he’s stood beside us in a club he’s unfamiliar with, whilst some booze-for-brains lout is shouting in his face “Are you looking at me?”

Bringing him here was a dumb idea from the start. Three guys are never going to pull. We should have simply taken him to the pub, there to let him alternately drown his sorrows and pour his heart out over the fact his fiancé has said goodbye. Instead of which we brought him here, suited-up and stood like an out-of-place Top Shop dummy beside a noisy dance floor, his face vacant as someone whose thoughts are miles away in another city.

“Are you looking at me?!”

Tim wasn’t looking at anybody. But in late night Nottingham, “Looking At” is regarded as a serious offense. One punishable by Fists.

“Are you looking at me?!!”

Tim is now frozen on the spot, and now he really is looking. He can’t do anything else. In fact, he’s staring like a rabbit caught in the bulging red-faced glare of his drunken accuser. He wants to look away, he really does. But he can’t. He’s scared stiff fixated.

We take an arm each, almost lifting his rigid body away from the scene, offering abundant “Sorry mate” apologies as we go. We’ve both been in similar situations before and know the ropes. Tim hasn’t. I doubt he went to an all-boys school. I know for sure he can’t ever have lived in Liverpool where I myself developed a sixth sense knowledge of how and when to avert one’s eyes; how to walk home in the centre of the road because it offers an extra pavement width of sprinting distance away from the shadows in doorways.

Now the bouncers have turned up, but not to take sides. As far as they’re concerned, if there’s a fight then everybody goes down. So now we’re apologizing to them also, edging backwards towards the exit, Tim’s frozen body between us.

Tim wasn’t looking at anybody. He’s not even focusing. He didn’t even want to be here. Tim just wanted everything to be as it was one week ago. He wanted to be at home and able to watch a favourite movie, or order pizza, or listen to his records, without always thinking of her.

Copyright Ian G Craig.

23 Mar 2015

Nightclubbing in the 70's. Part 1.

He’s late. Again. He’s always late. I think it’s just his little game of one-upmanship. Middle class parents and all that. Assume the higher ground. True enough he has the wheels for this evening’s entertainment, but we both know when it comes to pulling the girls, I’m the one expected to go in first.

I use the time to go over my choice of wardrobe for the night, Roxy Music playing in the background. I’m so vain I actually make small sketches of my outfits for every time I visit a club, each dated with the name of the club underneath. This way I’m never seen in any establishment wearing the same combination twice. I check what I’m wearing now against the chart: Light double breasted Paul Smith jacket; two-tone platform shoes; dark brown Oxford bags; broad tie (it is a Sunday after all). Check. I’m looking good. If we don’t pull at least we can pass for Robert Redford and Paul Newman in “The Sting”.

We show our membership cards at the door. We have ALL the membership cards necessary across two counties and even some as far afield as Leeds and Liverpool. We check our hair in the Gents. We sip our Dry Martinis and check out the crowd. They’ve noticed us but don’t yet know us. The dance floor is small and tight. The music is bliss. Stax soul, with a side dish of Brian Ferry for seasoning. I love to dance. I’m actually good at it. Not many guys in here can say that.

Two girls are stood on the other side of the small dance floor, all summer dresses and blonde. Surely out of our class? He doesn’t think so. He wants to give it a go. I have reservations. If we do pull them, the evening is likely to be one of polite conversation only, and expensive drinks before Goodnight Vienna. They look too classy. Conversely, if they turn us down, then every other girl in the place will do the same for fear of appearing second choice. Or third. Or even fourth. Fourth choice is not an unusual scenario. We’ve gone down the scale a lot lower than that. Many times. No pride in the heat of the night.

He’s still keen. Okay, I go in. Polite, attentive, charming. Leave no awkward silences. Style is more important than content. And separate them as soon as possible, break their line of contact. As it turns out, no worries. This pair are way ahead of us. They’ve already decided who’s going with who before I even reach them. Refreshing. We’ve clearly met our well-matched match.

After a few Marvin Gaye’s, her polka-dot mini dress flirting in all the right places, she asks the usual: “What do you do?” That old line. I never use it. But I’ve known the words “art student” to loosen miners’ daughters’ knicker elastic at a hundred paces. And some of their wives. “You don’t look like an art student”. She’s right. These truly are my schizoid years. Mild mannered art student by day, dance hall dandy by night. She tells me she’s a secretary. Later in the relationship she will tell me her boss chases her around the office. Such fantasies are a turn-on for some boyfriends. It’s all Benny Hill to me.

The four of us have a great evening. We really do. I will even write a dumb song about it when I get home. Come closing time we walk them out to the car park, splitting into couples, hopeful of that goodnight kiss. There’s even a full moon. She kisses great (even more refreshing), and suggests I sit in her car for a while. Hey, no problem. Polka-dot mini-dress inside a mini-cooper is my favourite decor.

My hand settles above her knee. A little too soon? Maybe so. But I don’t necessarily always go through all the bases in numerical order. The tips of my fingers slip just inside the very rim of her knickers. She kisses back harder, settling into her seat, ready to enjoy herself, knees slightly parting. I take my time. Some things are better not rushed. She doesn’t touch me in return. Classy.

Copyright Ian G Craig.

22 Mar 2015

Nottingham Howling (after the Allen Ginsberg).

Nottingham Howling.

Nottingham, have you given your all and now become nothing?

Nottingham, I have traced the footsteps of your patron saint outlaw,
Laid a 21st century poppy on a Will Scarlet grave,
Praying for an amnesty if not a full pardon.
Nottingham, the Normans never broke your spirit,
Is your spirit broken now?

Nottingham, were you the undiagnosed tumour in the Greenwood,
Causing the cancerous death of the Sherwood?
Nottingham, I forgive you.
The ghost shells of your factories are every bit as beautiful
As the hollow husks of ancient oaks to me.
But Nottingham, did you pave over our park bench market place
For the price of a hospital?
Nottingham, I cannot forgive you.
Its bleak Red Square style offends me.
The drunk and homeless have no grass on which to laze.
The cool kids on the Council steps have been expelled and moved away.
The flowers have no beds to rest their heads.
Could you find No Room at the Top?

Nottingham, your Boots Were Made for Walkin’,
And that’s just what they did.
All the way to central European tax havens.
But don’t lose any sleep over Players.
It was a good idea at the time.
Kept the employment figures up
And the population down.

Nottingham, Mansfield was not Bitter during our four year separation.
I missed you. Did you miss me?
I only came back to teach your children.
I can’t teach them anymore,
And Home Ales are never home when I knock.

Nottingham, will your eight Caffé Nero’s fiddle if your ten Gregg’s burn?
Did Holland take your bicycles?
I went to the factory but found only Sainsbury specials,
And they won’t get me very far.
And where can I buy a book?
I went to the shop but found only mini-mart snack bars,
Two for one lunch time deals.
There wasn’t much to read on the packet
And anyway, the print was too small.

Nottingham, are you Lonely as a Long Distance Runner?
Meet me tonight by the Left Lion.
Wear something red.
But don’t mention Liverpool.
I did, but I think I got away with it.

Nottingham, your musicians are made to play for free.
If they Unite and form a picket line
Will any of them cross it in four-four time?
Alan-A-Dale hangs his head in shame.
Jake escapes.

Nottingham, will Lady Chatterley’s daughters never again
Take me down your red brick alleys,
Eager to explore the content of my jeans,
Slipping me into first gear?
Nottingham, when will you take off your Lace?

Nottingham, your Saturday Night and Sunday Morning sounds excite me.
After hours’ streams of acrid piss, 40% proof,
Trickle to converge where intoxicated pigeons dance the Bolero
Across static slab water features.

Nottingham, the skeletal hooves of abandoned pit ponies
Still roam the haunted mine shafts below,
Looking for a way out.

Nottingham, I am here for life.

Copyright Ian G Craig.

31 Dec 2014

David Hockney: “Hockney” documentary DVD & Live from LA event. Review.

“What do you think of it?”

The voice came from the woman in the otherwise empty row behind. The one I’d been chatting to in the foyer whist waiting for the Savoy’s Screen 3 projection room to be relieved of a mass of hyperactive children more than a little excited by an afternoon of “Annie”. Mercifully, the cinema’s air con dispelled the stale odour of pop and popcorn with equal efficiency.

I pondered her question: What did I think of it? Asking me what I thought of Hockney’s remarkable artworks would have been easier to answer. But the Randall Wright documentary, and subsequent Live from LA interview we’d just watched? Not so sure.

“I thought it was okay. I expected a bit more. But I’m not sure of what”. She felt the same, and we both tried to formulate and express our opinions as the sparse audience around us listened in, attempting to do the same. It was a discussion with more space than statements. Later reviews in the press would be similarly challenged in their critiques.

David Hockney was and is something of both icon and idol to former art students of my generation. His media savvy predates and anticipates the later Britart activities of Emin and Hirst. It ensured his work reached the attention of the public eye, and not simply for a fashion sense which rapidly escalated from bowler hat and brolly to blond bespectacled beach boy. With few obvious exceptions, to have art books published about oneself in the early 1970s one usually had to have been dead since the end of the 19th century. So in 1971 Hockney’s own “72 Drawings” found little competition from his contemporaries, and soon found itself onto every self-respecting student’s bookshelf, whilst miniature first editions of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales he illustrated, protruded from Levi pockets as a symbol of cool.

This ready access to his work beyond the gallery walls of London helped establish him as a kind of saviour to those of us who felt the possibilities of a previous generation’s Abstract Expressionism had been exhausted, and the ready-made imagery of Pop Art of limited substance. Hockney’s work was at one and the same time contemporary and traditional. It put observational drawing back in centre stage. It still does. So, sat there looking up at the now blank cinema screen, why my lukewarm response to this documentary? Why my difficulty in answering that woman’s question? What did I think of it?

We live in an age when the works and lives of artists, musicians, writers, can grow in estimation in direct proportion to either the tragedy or excesses of the lives they live. An early death via car or plane crash is seen as a particularly good career move. Failing that a serious drug habit can prove a marketable alternative. Nothing quite like a cocaine confession to give a teenage pop star a little credibility. Never mind the quality, feel the notoriety.

Paul Simon once said, with a commendable honesty not usually associated with the entertainment industry, that after one achieves a certain level of success it is no longer appropriate or convincing to write angst ridden songs about “sitting in a railway station with a ticket for my destination”. His solution, responsible for the longevity of his success, has been to explore the technical aspects of the medium itself (in his case music) as the motivation. The African rhythms of “Graceland”, not typical of a Jewish rock star from New York, would be one such example.

David Hockney can be said to have pursued a similar course of action. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art, leaving his solitary student tea breaks behind, he has been a hugely successful, famous artist. He’s done this by exploring his chosen medium via a series of technical challenges: Depicting water in the pools and sprinklers of California; the photographic collages and composite Polaroids; stage set designs; and the changing seasons of the Yorkshire landscape depicted across multiple canvases, to name just a few, and not to mention his theories on the use of mirrors and projections in classical art. At the time of writing (and the documentary mentioned herein), his latest fixation is “reverse perspective”. It won’t be his last.

“Hockney” showed the majority of these projects in chronological order, with an impressive digital clarity not experienced on the printed page. Home movies and photographs punctuated the proceedings with appropriate biographical detail. But that’s it. And why should we expect more? Hockney’s life hasn’t involved any greater tragedy or notoriety than most people reading this post. Accordingly, it is simply his passion for and exploration of the painting / printing medium, and the  possibilities by which it can depict his mostly contented environment, which fuels his quite remarkable work. The paintings resist any political or social context. There is strong personal style, but not necessarily personal statement.

So that’s what I thought of it: A perfectly fine journey across the surface of an impressive range of beautiful canvases. The hero of the piece is not going to cut off his ear, choke on his own vomit in the back of an ambulance, or shoot himself in a drug fazed game of Russian roulette. In short, Ken Russell would never have made a film about David Hockney. The skilfully applied surface colours and textures are dazzling, but there is no revelation regarding deeper waters, if indeed deeper waters exist. That’s not what "Hockney" does. But what he will do, at age 77, is appear briefly “live” at the end of a documentary about his life, totally (and exclusively) excited about what he’s doing in this moment, “reverse perspective”, and attempt to convey to us what this latest artistic challenge he’s set himself is all about.

Copyright Ian G Craig. All opinions expressed are the authors own.

30 Aug 2014

The Selfie.

10th January, 1963. “Love Me Do” moves up to number 17 from last week’s 24. Elvis Presley’s “Return to Sender” at number two has already made me a music fan. The Beatles ensure it will remain a lifelong passion. My art teacher has set me the only worthwhile homework he manages to dream up in the seven years I will know him. His problem is he doesn’t dream. Maybe two years National Service took that away. I am a grammar school boy, identified as an arty type, but only ever directed to copy from books, add some lettering, and contemplate the painting of roses on tea trays at the nearby Metal Box factory as a better career option than the mines. I don’t know why. It pays far less. But for this one Thursday evening at least, studying my face in the mirror, it felt like I was doing Art. Assessment rating: Seven out of ten. Very fair.

So why do artists’ make self-portraits? Certainly not for money. The general public are not keen to purchase the portrait of a complete stranger for their home. One answer to the question can be found in the work of the two greatest masters on the subject. Rembrandt and Van Gogh both used the painted selfie to document their respective journeys through life. Rembrandt ageing with dignity, tinted by sadness; Van Gogh striving against mental instability.

For infinitely lesser mortals like myself the motives are usually much simpler. As long as one has a mirror one has a model; a challenging subject on which to develop the skill of recording from observation. However, no matter how simple the intent, can capturing a likeness ever be the sole outcome of a self-portrait? Or is some other aspect always destined to show through the surface image and disclose more about the person inside? Recently, as I use my own life experiences to inform a book I am working on, I looked back through my sketchbook selfies and was surprised at how much they reveal.

July 1972. I am living below street level in a basement flat. Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral is so close its shadow merges with those of the feet passing by my window. The feet are all I can see and, as I’ve developed the fatal art student practice of “staying at home to do some work”, life is decidedly subterranean. This month nineteen bombs will explode across Belfast in eighty minutes, Garry Glitter will begin his abuse of the pop music charts, and I am on a poorly tutored graphic design course rapidly losing all enthusiasm for art let alone the ability to draw. It was all foretold in Revelations somewhere.

August 1979. The Yorkshire Ripper is afoot. The Trade Unions refuse to listen to their own Labour Party Prime Minister and make the ensuing Thatcher Years inevitable. Former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe is cleared in court of allegations of attempted murder, whilst Syd Vicious dies in his prison cell before reaching trial. I am living under a pitched roof high above it all. It is a time of much after hours drinking and introvert music. Ironically I teach myself more about art and its history whilst working as a full time teacher in Nottingham than I ever learned as a student. After a couple of years in the profession I feel confident enough to devote more time to my own painting. To my amazement my first serious artworks gain a one man showcase in Nottingham Castle. I may have peaked too soon.

For obvious and understandable reasons a full time teacher adopts a kind of alter ego, and I see now in retrospect a clear division between self-portrait sketches made during classroom lunch hours and the more expressive, perhaps more personal studies produced at home. This was also the time when rejection slips started coming thick and fast, as the political landscape turned art galleries which once took risks into formulaic commercial craft shops.

1990. Glasgow is awarded Culture Capital of Europe whilst London streets are beset with poll tax riots. I am the son of a carpenter. Our relationship is not close, and I can’t walk on water. But I can modify my approach to self-portraiture. Less raw, hopefully no less expressive, the result is exhibited in the Bonnington Gallery, Nottingham.

January 2006. James Blunt and Coldplay win Brit Awards. Thinking this must surely herald the “end of times” I resign from full time employment and, as a bonus for never buying their records, award myself a five year playtime. There will be no self-portraits. Self-portraits are like diaries; happy times fill the least number of pages.

2013. The ghost of Mrs B returns to tell me playtime was long since over. I must not have heard the bell, having been accepted by ten Open Exhibitions, published twice, and awarded a truck full of sketchbooks which still spill from the loft. She leads the way back to class.

2014. Twitter becomes a good place for feedback and further experimental self-portraits. According to Rembrandt, “Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses.” If that’s the case I really should smile more.

23 Jun 2014

Nottingham Musician paintings.

During recent years the depiction of musicians performing live in various Nottingham venues was a recurring theme in my work. This post is about that artwork, not a critique of their music. Suffice to say I didn’t paint any subject whose performance I didn’t enjoy. However, a few personal opinions about the Nottingham music scene might be of interest.

Spending the early 70’s in Liverpool it was commonplace for me to see rock bands and “beat” poets sharing the same billing as the preceding decade’s Mersey Beat morphed into the Liverpool Scene. It was a city where the Arts informed everyone’s way of thinking, assisted in no small measure by its Irish and West Indian links. Simultaneous to this the steel works of Birmingham were forging sixties beat music into Heavy Metal whilst, before decade’s end, disillusioned youth in London gave vent to Punk.

By stark contrast, whenever I came home to Nottingham during that time frame, one’s social life was very much about Night Clubs. No wonder then that our greatest claim to musical fame became Paper Lace of “Billy, Don’t be a Hero”. Such show bands thrived and made a good living on the chicken-in-a-basket circuit of Tiffany’s and Working Men’s Clubs across the Midlands. If you need an idea of what this was like, watch a 1979 edition of Top of the Pops. Bands like the Rezillos or the Undertones were all happening elsewhere. We got the ones still in flared trousers with feather cut hair and co-ordinated dance steps. Somewhere along the line the continuity of youth inspired music trends had been severed.

Happily today one can see any number of fine musicians in Nottingham, often in pubs utilising their (unpaid?) talents as a prop against the recession’s diminishing customer count. The variety is exemplified by the soulful Natalie Duncan and the “folky” Jake Bugg, both of whom rose from the ranks. And if whilst listening to Nottingham bands today one is more conscious of the probable content of their individual record collections than any communally shared musical agenda, then that is more a comment on the city than the artist themselves. “Madchester” was never going to happen here. 

Johnny Johnston Quartet at the Bell Inn.

I can’t pretend Trad was ever my favourite form of jazz, but the Johnny Johnston Quartet at the Bell Inn were never less than superb entertainment. The first band I ever thought of painting, it established at the outset how I would proceed with future similar subjects. To paint anything one really has to experience it first-hand. Simply copying photographs will only produce lifeless results, just as flash photography will eradicate all sense of “atmosphere”. But even though sketchbooks in the dark were almost impractical, I could watch closely to memorize typical poses and expressions, and take small cell phone type snapshots (always without flash) to cut up, arrange, and work from back in the studio. The background here is an impression of sound rather than a slavish imitation of the interior. Pictured are Johnny Johnston, sadly now deceased (left), and Brian Bocel. The band were amused and excited to see the final piece, and I enjoyed sharing it with them. The manager of the Bell Inn asked if he might put a copy on display. Fine. But I hadn’t envisaged it would be reduced to sepia tones and pinned next to the gent’s toilet. The painting was more successfully exhibited in the Thoresby Open Exhibition of 2012. 

Stuck in 2nd at the Jam Café.

The Jam Café functions as both coffee bar with alcohol, and live music venue. Pictured here are reggae band Stuck In 2nd. I remember the lighting on that occasion was particularly dark, so more than ever I relied on a liberal use of shadows to disguise my lack of information, and think some of the final painting a little too static. But I was happy with the way I captured the movement of the conga player on the left, his entire body swaying and playing the instrument. If you can play an instrument yourself (I can manage about four chords), it helps when trying to convey rhythm pictorially, or having to make up small details in the final piece.

Will Jeffries at the Malt Cross Inn.

As readers will know from previous posts, the Malt Cross Inn was a music hall in eras gone by, and the small stage is still used today to present live entertainers. What obviously caught my attention in this scene was the very dramatic lighting from the small close spotlights, making pools of light on the stage and casting large shadows on the wall behind. Whilst Will Jeffries is certainly not a rockabilly act, I am a fan of such, and so the opportunity to paint an upright bass in such a setting was not to be missed. Never successfully exhibited publicly, this one remains my personal favourite.

Jonathan Beckett at the Guitar Bar, Hotel Deux.

When Jonathan Becket performed a retrospective of his songs at the Guitar Bar I was especially taken by one called “The Midlands”. (My interest in all things Dukeries is well documented HERE). Once again I returned to my studio with some very hazy snapshots from which I could just about produce a “likeness” of the two musicians involved, working from blow ups on the computer screen as if they were  seated before me. But this time I contrived a background based on images associated with the Midlands. One can see references to miners (with a symbolically dead pit pony), oak trees from Sherwood, and factory building skylines. The painting was successfully exhibited in the Patchings Open Exhibition of 2012. (There is a video of the painting in progress on THIS LINK).

Rosie Abbott, singer songwriter.

Unlike the other musicians here I actually know Rosie Abbott, and the best artwork I produced between 2006 and 2010 were not in fact my paintings but rather a series of music promos I made in response to her songs. This portrait came from an image made during one of those video shoots. Rather than depict a public performance, I wanted here to convey more of the creative spirit of the songwriter, especially as I was given to listening to more of her avant-garde works than have been generally available. The painting was successfully exhibited in the Patchings Open Exhibition of 2011.

Thee Eviltones at The Maze.

My last musician painting to date. The Maze is an especially dark venue, and certainly one of Nottingham’s most popular. Once again it was a matter of crawling about below audience eye level, not distracting their entertainment with an intrusive flash, taking small snapshots. Back in the studio I chose and arranged what seemed like a typical “pose” for each band member. The background suggested itself as the painting proceeded. I knew I wanted a dynamic setting for such a high energy band. The solution was inspired quite simply by the band’s striped t-shirts. If it was such an important motif to them that they each wore one, then it was important enough to incorporate in the painting.

Click on pictures to view larger image.

16 Jun 2014

Skegness Day Tripping part 2.

There was a time when every working class family across the UK Midlands visited the seaside resort Skegness.

Arriving perhaps by steam train, with ciggie stain wood window frames,
In clattering carriages, industrial families, that all looked the same,
Shook, rattle, and rolled their way into glorious "Skeggie".

Brit culture candy floss, saucy postcard flask tea,
Tin bucket spade sandals cast lengthening shadows,
Across Seagull screech beaches at Skegness by the sea.

Holiday camp for the nation,
Billy Butlin's first site,
Red Coated persuasion.

"Skegness Is So Bracing" rang the motto, and it was true.
Donkey ride magic, sticky candy floss chew,
Rock 'n' roll in the bunk beds, Caravans just for two,
Radio Luxembourg soundtrack, 208 filtered through.

After my day trip of 2006 (see previous post), I returned to Skegness every year until the end of 2013. I remember in particular the bright blue paintwork of 2010 (above), kite flying on the beach and secretive shared whiskeys on the train home. Nevertheless, sketchbook in hand, I was still looking for resource materials for my art even as my observations in verse became more than a little cynical:

They’re selling postcards of Elvis all across new Skegness,
Alongside Betty Boop trinkets in a state of undress.
And where "Kiss Me Quick" hats were the sauciest fad,
Now hang day-glow beach towels reading "Fancy a shag?”
Whilst cheap Cherokee Injuns cast in plaster and brass,
(Were their tee pees pitched here in long ages past?)
Replace Fisherman statues and lifeboat appeals,
Southern fried chicken menus but no jellied eels.

And did those blue suede feet in ancient times,
Walk upon beaches along England's coastline?
Was the unrivalled King of shake rock and roll
Along Skegness Pier seen taking a stroll?

I’m not hear for Jerusalem, just the England I know,
Stick rock candy and chips, not USA Tupelo.

Much though I like Americana, it really has no place in my work, and I was a little saddened by its dominant presence in the souvenir shops of this small English town. The painting at the top of this post depicts the Tower Cinema, Skegness, the setting sun intended as a metaphor for the idea that this holiday resort’s best days are probably now in the past. It exhibited successfully in Nottinghamshire, and could well have been my final comment on the subject. But my original idea, posing someone amongst the rock pools and breakers as described in my previous post, still lingered.

In the end my final painting about Skegness didn’t actually take place in Skegness at all. Wanting to at least lay to rest the idea that had lingered so long I drove my model out to Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, had her stand on a fence post for two minutes, and took a photograph. Back in the studio my imagination filled in the gaps. It turned out quite well. At the time of typing it has been chosen and hung in the Patchings Open Competition / Exhibition, 2014. But I know it fails to fulfil the potential of my first sketches on the subject.

In 2013 I made my final day trip alone to Skegness, knowing before I got there it would prove to be my last. It turned out to be less of a day trip than a quick sketch in an empty pub (above), and an early train home. But for a while there between 2006 and 2012, even though I didn’t find what I was looking for, the town’s familiar advertising slogan was certainly true. Skegness was so “bracing”.