Pete Davies is somebody who has switched from oil to oils without being left on the canvas. As a former North Sea diver, this is a fellow who grew accustomed to making a deep impact in the energy industry.
However, following an unconventional career change, Pete is showcasing a record of his life offshore by exhibiting his paintings at next month’s Aberdeen Art Fair.
This event is now in its sixth year and is being staged for the first time at the city’s iconic Beach Ballroom.
His works offer a unique perspective on the often challenging conditions in which he and his colleagues used to operate. But they also depict the wild beauty of the coastal landscapes which he inhabited.
Pete originally studied art at Eastbourne College of Art in the 1970s, but hung up his brushes and palette to begin life as a diver.
Yet, last year, encouraged by his wife, Helen, he started painting again, with almost instantaneous success when his work was shortlisted for The Royal Society of Oil Painters, The Columbia Threadneedle Prize and The New English Art Club.
In advance of the AAF, which will be his first major exhibition, Pete Davies explained the reason for his initial decision to become an artisan and not an artist after his graduation.
He said: “When I started out all those years ago, I had a young family and I needed a steady well-paid job.
“Diving fitted the bill. I was young and keen and life offshore was very exciting. Like everyone else at the time, I assumed that I only needed to work for about five years, then I could retire rich!”
Predictably, it wasn’t as straightforward as that. But finally, a little matter of 33 years later and still in the North Sea sector, he adjudged the time was right to pick up the paint brush again and record the lives of his offshore confreres.
He added: “I want to ensure the story and personalities of the characters who work offshore aren’t forgotten and that their memory survives all of us. I’m very excited to be appearing at the Aberdeen Art Fair. No other place is more appropriate for showing my offshore paintings. You could say I’ve moved from oil to oils!”
The AAF has quickly established itself as a perfect event for both galleries and artists, with prices of original contemporary work ranging from £50 to £10,000.
Visitors to the festival can anticipate enjoying works by a variety of household names, celebrities, local, national and international talent, emerging artists and an abundance of award winners.
The Aberdeen Art Fair’s official charity partner is The ARCHIE Foundation with a silent auction and raffle being staged during the event and all proceeds going to the charity.
In which light, Pete will be offering a rare look into life under the water and raising funds in the process. You can follow Pete Davies’ progress by visiting www.petedaviesart.co.uk
Life, the world, the universe … What do we know about them? We humans tend to be planners. We look into the future and make decisions, not always based on solid experience but often on hunches, ideas or dreams. If it works out, we congratulate ourselves for being so smart, if it doesn’t, then we blame ourselves or often others for being so stupid as to ever think that scheme would work in the first place. Luck, attitude and confidence play a large part in our success, but then life comes along and interferes and we are back to square one. Looking back you can see where you went wrong, it’s obvious, isn’t it? So if you happened to own a time machine, would you go back and do it differently? This is what happened to me …
Art College was a kind of gap year while I got my band together ready to hit the big time. What could possibly go wrong? OK so the gap year was more like five months but I was in a hurry to head to London where fame and fortune awaited, or so I thought …
Leap forward 43 years. Well fame and fortune didn’t meet me in London or if it did, it was so different that I just didn’t recognise it. Life flew by, I got a job, grew up a bit and got older too. That’s when my hands got achy which in turn made guitar playing a bit more awkward. And that’s when I happened on some luck, I noticed 3 easels standing in an old corner of an out building where we live.
I produce some oil paintings of my wife Helen, a self-portrait and a couple more.
Helen seems genuinely surprised at how good my paintings are so brimming with confidence I pronounce myself a genius and spend any spare moment I have studying the glazing techniques of Vermeer and figuring out what scumbling and glazing are all about. Who needs a guitar when you are master of the paint brush?
Painting continues in between bouts of work in the North Sea. However I am not put off. I see this as an opportunity to draw and paint a record of the people and locations I know offshore.
And luck? Well I’m lucky that I didn’t start painting earlier. Paints, brushes and canvas are not cheap and I think I would have soon gone broke. Painting in a bedsit is OK at 21, but would I change it? Yes, I would! Now I’m older I appreciate more space. There are plenty of rooms in our house so obviously I choose the one nearest the kettle which also happens to be right near the kitchen table, perfect!
By the way, have you ever noticed how paint brushes roll around and make splodges when they hit the floor? Has no one invented a square sided paint brush? And another thing, how does paint get on walls, door handles and carpets? Surely this will always remain one of life’s mysteries. But the odd thing is, paint actually appears to be following my progress through the house! A bit weird, don’t you think? Anyway, after an enlightening chat with my wife I move from the kitchen to the Sun Room. That turns out to be a misnomer as it’s freezing so I move to a spare bedroom and set myself up there.
I submit a picture of three North Sea Oil workers to a maritime art exhibition. A nautical theme is requested and my picture is rejected. It might be because I didn’t include a boat, but I’m not sure.
I am asked if I do commissions. I’m flattered but explain that I am working on increasing my portfolio and don’t yet have the time.
The pipeline inspection work in the North Sea is complete and I return home to concentrate on painting full time for the whole of August.
Helen calls the Maritime Museum in Aberdeen and points them in the direction of my offshore paintings. The Curator rings back and says he would like to put them in an exhibition but it won’t be for a while.
I finish a landscape of the Sussex Downs which I’m very pleased with, I reckon it’s my best so far. It’s a large painting and I decide the best way to photograph it for my website is in daylight, so I take the painting and the easel into the garden.
I prop up my painting and stand back. There is a slight flutter as the wind catches the corner. As it lurches forward I dive towards it. Relief! I grab it and hold it firmly in both hands. Nice catch! What I haven’t noticed is that the easel is also hurtling towards me. There is a ripping sound and I look on in disbelief as the easel tears a 2 feet long horizontal gash in the canvas.
But surely I can turn this misfortune round? I decide this is my opportunity to take my painting to a local art gallery on the pretence that I need advice on getting it fixed. I twiddle the picture around in front of the gallery owner in an attempt to dazzle her, but she appears unaffected. I return home and hunt in the kitchen draw for the scissors.
I’m in luck again. A still-life painting of a dining table covered in glasses which I submitted to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters is pre-selected.
So I go to London. I’m cautious in case it gets damaged so I take it by train and taxi.
National Portrait and National Gallery
I drop my painting off and decide to spend the rest of the day at the National Portrait and National Gallery. I haven’t been for 40 years and it’s a bit of an eye opener. I now have a good idea of Holbein’s technique for painting material. It seems to me that the faint shadows are produced by glazing but the darker ones are added afterwards. I try to find the Vermeer but the gallery is closed due to industrial action. However the Impressionist gallery is open. It’s interesting looking at Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres as I didn’t realise that the whole picture is scumbled from top to bottom. I think I’ll try this myself when I get home.
I am offered another commission. I now have 27 paintings completed so after a bit of umming and ahhing and another gentle word from Helen, I decide to do it. The portrait is of Katherine in her wedding dress. The dress is a real challenge, and I paint it one layer at a time. It takes a few weeks to complete and after 6 different layers I am pleased with the results. I decide to advertise for more.
A last minute job puts me back in the North sea with limited internet or phone contact. It’s a bit of a set back but also an opportunity to catch up on my blogging. (To be continued).
A couple of days ago I started painting a picture from a photo of a friend’s miniature dachshund named Cocoa. Here’s a progress report.
First I copied the picture onto canvas in charcoal, highlighting the light and dark areas. With so many shapes and circles it’s beginning to remind me of painting by numbers!
Second day and I can’t decide where to start. At first Cocoa’s coat seems to be a variety of different browns, so I think it might be a good idea to paint it tonally using burnt umber and turpentine. So that’s what I do.
The under-painting isn’t working and I start to forget where I am. I realise that Cocoa’s coat is more blue than brown so I apply a mix of ultramarine and zinc white to see what effect this has.
I put down my brush stating that I can’t paint dogs! The voice of reason (wife) says, ‘You say that every time you start a painting.’ I think that she might just be right, but only just, and press on.
It’s getting late and I fancy a drink so with part of the coat complete I decide to have another go tomorrow.
Third day. Something odd happened during the night, the painting seems to have improved. I’ve noticed this effect before so, encouraged, I press on – despite the hangover.
I continue blocking in then move on to the background to see how different colours work with Cocoa.
The photo was taken on the beach. Cocoa is sitting on the sand and the background is a jetty wall. Painting in the stone mortar creates an impressionist feel which boosts my confidence, I think I can complete this!
It’s getting dark so I’m off to bed. I take the painting upstairs and show Helen. She likes it a lot, particularly the background trees. Still, even voices of reason get it wrong sometimes!
The weekend’s here and I have just discovered that I am completely on trend – in fact probably a trend-setter! My wife is teaching mindfulness at school, to help the over timetabled and stressed children to relax. Apparently mindfulness benefits those who suffer from depression and an over full mind.
Mindfulness is being in the present, now. All you have to do is think about what you are doing at this very moment. In this way you leave behind all the stresses and strains of the week and focus on the moment.
Your body relaxes, your pulse slows, endorphins flow. Quiet music, restful thoughts and detailed colouring books are all mindful materials readily available on the internet to purchase.
I have my own mindfulness paraphernalia; canvas, painting palette smudged with rich colours and an idea. How calm is that!
The Romans called it a memento mori, some object that reminds you life is short and one day we all die. It is a concept that is often explored by artists, it can be seen in the painting and sculpting of bones and skulls found in medieval and Victorian England and on Puritan tomb stones in the United States.
It can be expressed in the words, Tempus fugit, meaning, ‘time flies’ which even today are still written alongside clocks.
In Mexico, the Day of the Dead celebrates and reminds us of those who have already died.
Signs that life is short are everywhere in art, the often quoted Latin phrase, ‘ars long vita brevis,’ dates back to the Greek physician, Hippocrates; tells us that life is short, but art endures.
In an interview George Harrison once spoke about all those books he probably would never read.
‘Life is very short and there’s no time for fussing and fighting my friend,’ is a well known Beatles quote, the unintentional irony of which was later revealed through the many legal wrangles that hounded the Beatles right up until the present day. What a waste.
So perhaps today is the best time to start completing all those things we keep putting off.
Time is short, and as Shakespeare said: ‘our little life, is rounded with a sleep.’ A sleep at the beginning and a sleep at the end. The time to do things is now. And if you haven’t had enough already, here’s another quote:
The happy days are here and now.
Now is the time to laugh and live, drink all the wine,
Sing all the songs that live can give.
Our yesterdays are dead and gone,
Tomorrow lives so far away,
So be alive and think of now as the happy days.
(The Happy Days – Charles Aznavour)
And finally, one more:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
Years ago I went to the local library to ask if they had any books by Joseph Addison. ‘You mean Addison and Steele?’ the librarian said. ‘I don’t know,’ I shrugged.
‘You haven’t heard of Addison and Steele?’ She paused. I hadn’t, but realised that I was about to get a lecture. For those of you who like me, didn’t know, Joseph Addison was an 18th century essayist, playwright and poet who together with Richard Steele, founded the Spectator. The title of this blog, is Joseph Addison’s.
The idea that education sculptures the human soul is an attractive conceit and reminds me of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s painting of Pygmalion and Galatea in which the figure is emerging from the block of white marble and kisses her creator.
For an artist however education is often thought to be a stumbling block to human creativity. The cliched idea of the primitive noble savage creating art instinctively is contrary to Addison’s thoughts on the soul needing to develop through teaching and instruction. Picasso, whose father was an art teacher and had a traditional art education said, ‘every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’
Some children seem to be naturally gifted in aspects of the arts and have a nack or ability that others will never attain. Likewise in the world of music, musicians are sometimes described as having a ‘ good feel,’ an ability to play their instrument well regardless of what type of music they are performing. The same goes for art, some children are said to be ‘really good at drawing,’ they are born naturals without the help of education.
Does it matter whether you are educated in art or not? I personally think that a basic understanding of perspective is one of the vital building blocks on which to build a firm foundation in art, but I would say that. Others won’t agree.
But in the end whether you aspire to clamber up and be the next Jean-Léon Gérôme or are just content to once be the winner of the school prize for drawing, everyone meets the same end. As Borg said in Star Trek, ‘resistance is futile’.
Addison summed it up best of all in his Reflections in Westminster Abbey:
‘When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves,
I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow. When I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together’.
1. Caravaggio – a bit of a swaggering brawler by all accounts, but also a master of chiaroscuro.
Not only was he reputed to have killed a man but he himself also died under mysterious circumstances. A big influence in later years on Rembrandt and the like.
2. Carl André – famous for selling a collection of fire bricks to the Tate Gallery, he was tried and acquitted of his wife Ana Mendieta’s death in 1979. He is still living today, some say that examples of his work would be better served at the local builder’s merchants.
Lewd sexual acts
3. Cellini – Banished from Florence aged 16 for taking part in a fracas with others, he was later imprisoned for allegedly stealing jewels from the Pope. Accused of a variety of ‘lewd’ sexual acts he spent 4 year under house arrest. His passing in 1571 was celebrated with a splendid funeral.
4. Daniel Ballantyne – Here I am researching my new blog on Google when up popped Daniel Ballantyne. After 10 minutes considerable research I rejected my initial idea that this was the famous gym owner, but didn’t twig until well into my first para that Daniel Ballantyne was a figment of the imagination of playwright, Philip Palmer – a forgery himself! (Daniel not Philip). So it looks like I can’t include him in my list! Unless of course I fake it …
Condoms, knickers and empty cigarette packets
5. Tracey Emin – not so much a bad boy more an angst girl personified. Raised in Margate (home of Dreamland so she can’t be all bad) she is well-known for her exhibit, ‘My bed’ – presented with used condoms, knickers, empty cigarette packets, sound familiar? She is now a Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy.
6. Egon Schiele – a student of Gustav Klimt, who when arrested had over 100 drawings seized for being pornographic.
He died during a Spanish ‘flu epidemic spending his last hours sketching his wife who had died 3 days before him.
7. Gauguin – in an attempt to throw of the trappings of a conventional life Gauguin set sail for Tahiti. Returning to France 2 years later he started an affair with a teenaged girl and dressed in Polynesian clothing. Disillusioned with Paris society he returned again to Tahiti, where he experienced a period of great productivity. However ill health and pain dogged him until he died 8 years later possibly from a morphine overdose.
8. Damien Hurst – famous for preserving dead things he was later challenged in court for plagiarism. When I was at Eastbourne Art College I went to the butchers and made an eyeball sandwich, am I too late of does that still count?
9. Andy Warhol – an exponent of pop art, Warhol was famous for turning iconic American objects into art. His studio, the Factory, was renowned for its parties and filled to the brim with hip, bohemian artists of the time. Looking at today’s fame obsessed society, his statement that ‘in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,’ seems to have come true.
Chasing the nurses
10. Vincent Van Gogh – the son of a minister, Van Gogh once worked as a supply teacher in Ramsgate. His personal life was fraught with emotional turmoil, Margo Begemann, who he had intended to marry tried to kill herself with strychnine when both their families disapproved.
Troubled by psychosis, he cut off his ear leaving it as a memento for Gauguin. When committed to an asylum Gauguin wrote, ‘he wants to sleep with the patients, chase the nurses and wash himself in the coal bucket’. The 113 year old Jeanne Calment, who met him when she was 13, described him as , ‘dirty, badly dressed … very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick.’ What’s not to like?