July 7. 2017
This is my first blog – I’m wondering where to begin. I guess it isn’t easy to define the beginning or the end of any thing, especially Art and this London life, which seemingly has hardly any defined edges.
I love drama of any sort – in books, films, dance, t.v. and visuals, and I often give consideration to the notion, that the creator of a work that I like and respond to, has managed to create an engaging beginning and a believable end ( within the context of their story). Not an easy achievement but possibly an indication of a successful piece of work. This then begs the question – how is good art, as opposed to questionably less effective or less meaningful art, defined? I wouldn’t attempt to be too definitive about such a huge question, yet over many years I have formed my own view concerning this issue, arriving at the notion that ‘structure’ is of significant importance . This maxim I would apply to all art forms, whether visual, literary or otherwise. I understand structure, to be the underlying force of all successful undertakings in the everyday business of living in general, i.e. from child care, to brick laying.
Perhaps the word ‘structure’ is too nebulous a heading to cover art making, particularly visual art, yet I believe it to be essential. I suppose other terms, form, design, rhythm, planning could be used. When I was in my early years at Art College, students in my year were crammed into a huge room one day a week, to make what was called ‘composition’ and I guess that word fits the bill too. Structure, implies the space between shape, the balance of colour one to the other, tension between forms – line, material, texture, technique etc. Possibly, the better these qualities relate one to the other, (whether conceived consciously or unconsciously) the better the piece will read. The golden mean used in the Renaissance, is a formal technique, used to create an aesthetic both pleasing to the eye of the beholder, and means by which to proceed with the work in hand.
I attended a course last year which was advertised as being for ‘artistic practitioners’. As I enrolled, I suppose I thought myself one of those! We were asked to write a short piece on ‘What does being creative mean?’ This is what I wrote – which might illuminate the above to some extent, then – time to move on.
That which is unable to be put into words, perhaps. An attempt to connect with ‘the other (what ever that might be). An aim that does no harm, that might communicate anti destructiveness – goodness, beauty, love even. Therefore, possibly related to a religion without a creed, whereby hand, eye, body and mind converge to let a piece, task, work, etc magic itself. An ideal state, which could be described as ‘being in the zone’. This being a very rare occurrence for mere mortals such as myself – in the pursuit of connecting with that, which can hardly be defined. However, I understand this aim not to be simply confined to artistic endeavour’s but one that might be applied to all of life’s participation, from plumbing to running a geriatric ward, to a life lived creatively. The key to a successful endeavour, on a scale from 1 – 10, suggests the structure by which it is applied. And yet, there would seem to be a significant difference within the process of art making, that sets it apart. Being a mostly solitary activity, it can reveal the personal and inner world of the maker. This may or may not illuminate meaning, to those who choose to participate in its results.
Yesterday, I entered three pieces of work into the Jerwood Drawing Competition – the drop off site was Wimbledon Art College. On the map provided, the college looked almost on top of Wimbledon tube station, but true to form this was not what I found when arriving there. I had travelled to my Whitechapel studio to collect the work, then travelled to Wimbledon on the district line. Unfortunately I don’t drive, and I’m useless with the Google maps, and so every excursion like this tends to become something of a nightmare. I was lugging around these quite big and heavy framed drawings in a cardboard arrangement which hurt my hands. Not daunted, I asked a young man at the station who – was leaning over a flimsy stand that said INFORMATION above it, the way. He waved his arm vaguely to the right, hardly looking up or disengaging from his mobile phone. Leaving him with a short retort, I proceeded down the High Road and asked a gentleman wearing one of those orange jackets, if he could direct me. He was most helpful and went over to a cab driver who supplied him with the info. I followed these directions to the T but arrived at a ring road that had not been mentioned. I then consulted a policeman who was in the middle of interviewing a man about a traffic offence. I did apologise for the interruption, and he was fine about it but wasn’t much help. I proceeded further, and came across two men drilling and digging a hole in the pavement. They too were most helpful, and one went and fetched his satnav and told me that it would be best to go back the way that I had come!
All of this is not new to me, I seem to have a penchant or natural gift for getting lost and/or going around in circles – not every one can do it. I just couldn’t face retracting my steps, and so I walked up to the High Road and spotted with joy, a mini cab office. I also noted that I could see Wimbledon tube station just up the road. Ordering a cab, I realised that I had no cash and so I was directed to the nearest Sainsbury cash point by the manager – at least I could leave my drawings with him. Arriving back again, he told me that the cab driver had arrived but had left, as I wasn’t there, but would be back soon. I crossed the road with my drawings, and waited, and waited – eventually he did turn up, and took me to my destination. The route looked so confusing, that I asked him to wait for me to take me back. Honestly, it was quite an ordeal, but as I have mentioned – unfortunately a recurring pattern, and one I hope to avoid when I pick up my stuff next week, after the results of the competition.
Thereby lies another hurdle to grapple with, for I doubt very much that my drawings will be chosen. I have been making stuff for years, but I’m very lazy about attempting to put it out there; I thought that at least I should make an effort at last. Effort being the operative word – what with the entrance fee, the cost of the framing, the cab fare and all the hassle. The nice cab driver told me about a tram that goes in the direction of New Addington, which stops quite near the college!
This is one of the drawings that I submitted – ‘platter’ pencil, 2016.
Jerwood and beyond
Yesterday, I went to pick up my unsuccessful entries to the Jerwood Drawing Competition. As I had little hope of being accepted, I wasn’t too bothered and decided that rejection is all part of the artistic process. Yet I did curse the journey again, especially as I had decided to fork out for another cab both there and back to Wimbledon underground station – but found unbelievably, the mini cab place had shut down. It did seem in a state of flux last week, but, but… well, this is the way things go in London now, here today gone tomorrow. I jumped into a black cab in order to bring the whole sorry episode to an end, taking my stuff back to Aldgate East on the underground.
Recently I have been reading Fay Weldon’s books again. I say again, because over the years I have collected more or less all that she has written. Some books I have bought new, others I have picked up here and there from all over the place, second-hand. They have been a source of comfort and support somehow, and I have returned to them over and over. My brother told me that he found them silly and I suspect that this is due to him being male, or just my brother?
Fay’s writings are usually experienced as an easy read, and I do agree most of them as being able to be got through in a twinkling of an eye, yet this is Fay’s especial gift, which excludes nobody – yet belies the several layers of meaning below the surface. She has written in one of her non fiction books, that these hidden gems are not for every one, but possibly for those who really want to know and understand what her particular perceptions have to offer. I can usually tell when I am going through a bit of a sticky patch, when I find myself deciding which of her books to re read. My favourite is an early book, Leader of the Band – 1988. It’s a relatively short story where by the strumpet heroine Sandra, joins up with Jack, the mad trumpet – player, travelling with him to France, touring in a mini van full of band members, their partners and musical instruments. She leaves behind a prestigious job, as well as a prestigious but unattractive husband, in order to revel in an erotic and exciting life, lived on the road with Jack and co. Of course there’s a back story concerning Sandra, which is very complicated. These sub plots are part-and parcel of the Fay Weldon effect, which hold revelations both about the world and us as people, whilst retaining the comforting feel of a story being told.
Fay started life in a village outside of Birmingham in 1931, where her mother was staying with in-laws after returning from New Zealand pregnant with Fay. She was given the name Franklin, which seems rather eccentric, but her father’s first name was Frank and I think in a way this name stood her in good stead – all be it that it was adapted to Fay. I think unusual names give children a good send off – into what can only be an uncertain future. When Fay was five weeks old and her sister Jane, approximately two years older, her mother, who seems to have been rather a restless soul, returned them all to Christchurch in New Zealand, where Fay lived her early life. Her parents divorced and her father settled in Coromandel, a long way a way from his family. He was employed as a medical superintendent for the whole of the peninsular. Fay and Jane visited him in the summer holidays and they loved the area. There had been lots of to-ings and fro-ings between the parents, illness, upsets and a new wife for Fay’s father. Even so, Fay’s mother managed to write and publish enough to keep the three of them afloat for a time. This surely must have influenced Fay, the writer to be? She witnessed her mother beavering away, and there is no greater incentive to do so than the need for money. Sometimes the type writer wasn’t used, instead, there were reams of paper covered with words written by hand.
It was 1946 when her mother having received £900 from an inheritance, decided to return with her children and Nona (Fay’s grandmother who had joined them in New Zealand) to London – Fay was almost fifteen years old. London was a war-torn place in ‘the land of the long grey cloud’ ( Maori name for England) see Fay’s book Kehua a ghost story – 2010. It seems likely that Fay’s literary imagination, has called upon a life experienced in both New Zealand and the UK, – yet she has remained here. Somewhere in her many writings she says, that on her arrival to these bleak war-weary shores, she told herself that she ‘would make this place her own’.
Fay comes from a line of literati. Several of the people who were part of her mothers surrounding family and friends wrote in various guises, as did her mother, who refused to go to school. She grew up in Adelaide Road N.W.London, in an atmosphere of what appears to have been a bohemian take on attitudes to marriage, work, free love and general interpersonal relationships. These eccentric and often painful experiences, affected both her mother, Fay and sister by default, influencing a wide recognition of human frailty in the writings there of. Fay’s often overtly erotic and extreme plots include murder, incest, conflagration, betrayal and infidelity, to a breathtaking degree, yet somehow they manage to stay in the realm of believability. Their absolute cleverness holds the attention, and I for one cannot fathom how so many strands and subsequent threads can be held in place and worked successfully to – a mostly, triumphant conclusion. For a good example of what I mean read – Splitting 1996. In this book the female protagonist becomes split into four differing personalities. Angelica becomes Jelly, Angel and Angela, who all in their varying ways work the essential character though the trauma of her past, divorce and change, eventually exiting her from an unearthly experience, into the real world and her true self.