Ant n Jed’s Big Night Out

In 1993 I Won 1st prize in the B.P Portrait Award. The prize includes  a commission to paint a portrait that will become part of the NPG’s permanent collection. After a little negotiation I painted the Royal Ballet’s former principal male dancer and at that time head-honcho Sir Anthony Dowell.

When the portrait was completed  and framed I received an invitation to the unveiling.

I had anticipated a low-key affair, I was mistaken.

The reception, meal and unveiling was perhaps the swankiest affair that I have ever been involved in.

At the reception I quickly realised that I was completely out of my depth.

The highlights included my cracking a particularly shit joke to Darcy Bussell, Asking principal dancer Jonathan Cope what he did, getting blanked by Andrew O Neil and spraying water all over the front of my trousers (The NPG restroom’s powerful faucets and shallow basin design having made this something of a cherished tradition).

The dining room was packed with the great, the good, apparently every member of the Royal Ballet and a number of people who were in my view of debatable merit. 

Perhaps 15 tables of 8. 

I don’t know who was paying.

To my delight I was seated with the great British artist Eduardo Paolozzi. After shaking his great sausagey hand I was keen to talk to him about all things art, he was keen to talk to me about ice cream, so we talked about ice cream.

At some stage he took a graphite stick out of his pocket and drew something with it to demosnstarte it’s merits, no idea what he drew as he carefully pocketed the no doubt valuable sketch. 

I did keep the graphite stick as a souvenir though.

At some stage it was decided that everyone was arse-holed enough to risk Jeremy Isaacs doing the unveiling. 

No one booed.

Feeling every bit as uncomfortable as I looked.

Sir Anthony Dowell looking perfectly comfortable. 

Portrait of Sir Anthony Dowell, 36” x 16”, Oil on Linen, 1994

NPG permanent collection.

The biggest highlight of the evening was accidentally turning down the opportunity to paint the portrait of Lady Diana, but that’s another Blog.


Repetition and Deviation

This is my painting ‘Figures at Ebb Tide’, It was finished in March 2000. 

It took 15 months to paint.

It is a large and complex painting. 

You don’t need to understand it to feel it but it might help.

It’s about the cycles of life, repetition, evolution and death.

The landscape is loosely based on an area called Sowley Marsh which lies on the New Forest coast. A wall once defended the area from seawater but was breached over half a century ago. Over
time the oaks, stranded in expanding brackish waters were reduced to dry
husks. As one ecology dwindled, another thrived. The inter-tidal plants multiplied, new patterns in the landscape emerged. 

Marsh grasses thrived. I painted them in repeating patterns. They repeat and then those repetitions fade and reform into new patterns.

In the evolving landscape Inter-tidal plants take hold as the dry surface soil peels away.

Oaks stranded in the Brackish waters die, fall and decay. 

Transitory figures pausing under a changing sky. 

The waking figure, a transitional state.

Here on show in the Forum at The ‘Reality’ show at The Walker Gallery in Liverpool, 2015.


Size Matters

Have you seen this painting before?

O.K but have you really seen it?

The vast majority of  people who have seen this painting will have viewed it on a screen or in a book at a maximum width of say 30cm. The real thing is ten times that size.

The way we experience something changes according to it’s size and whether we are in the actual space with it.

This painting was designed to be large and for the person viewing it to be in the same room as it exists.

Here it is again, We are standing in front of the painting and we want to see the whole thing so stand 15 feet or so away from the painting. At this distance we become aware that there is more going on in the painting than can be observed at that distance so we move physically closer.

This painting has a series of ‘frames’. A ‘frame is designed to hold the viewers eye within that space. In this case as we are drawn towards the image our gaze is held within that series of ‘frames’.

Closer now but there is still more to see as we are drawn into the subjects world. 

Our relationship with the subject begins to feel more intimate, we have spent time here now.

The ‘framing’ becomes more complex at this proximity and we start to feel an emotional connection with the subject.  

At this distance we are almost as close to the glass as the figure is. we are just the other side of the door. 

There is a lot to observe, we can create a narrative, we can study the patterns in the flesh or look at the technical details of the painting. Hopefully our quiet observational introspection starts to match the subjects.

The action of spending real physical time and space with the painting creates a moment of empathy with the subject.

I hope to write a few more pieces on how size effects different paintings in different ways.

 Watch this space.

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