Art is Easy, But There Are 3 Things You will Definitely Need …

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 …

September 1972

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 …

February 2015

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.

Painting begins

March

I produce some oil paintings of my wife Helen, a self-portrait and a couple more.

Helen Reading
Helen Reading

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?

April

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.

Setback

May

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.

Pete Davies North Sea Oil Portraits
Pete Davies North Sea Oil Portraits.

June

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.

July

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.

Disaster!

September

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.

West Sussex Downs before the accident
West Sussex Downs before the accident

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.

Good News!

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.

My Royal Institute of Oil Painters submission
My Royal Institute of Oil Painters submission

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.

First Commission!

October

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).

Is it Good to be Bad? 10 Bad Boys (and one Girl) of the Art World

1. Caravaggio – a bit of a swaggering brawler by all accounts, but also a master of chiaroscuro.

Maria Maddalena by Caravaggio
Maria Maddalena by Caravaggio

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.

Pornographic

6. Egon Schiele – a student of Gustav Klimt, who when arrested had over 100 drawings seized for being pornographic.

Frau mit grünen Strümpfen by Egon Schiele
Frau mit grünen Strümpfen by Egon Schiele

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.

Le  Moulin de blute fin by Vincent van Gogh
Le Moulin de blute fin by Vincent van Gogh

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?