Sunday 26 September 2004

Back in 5 mins...

In Chania Harbour (oil on board 12 x 12 ins) Posted by Hello

...or so it will seem, I expect.

Tomorrow we're off to London. Tuesday, we fly to Chania on Crete. I'll try very hard to have a good time. Please do the same until I get back.

Friday 24 September 2004

Steppin' Out

Posted by Hello
"They're still very white," said Patsy123 last night. She was referring to my new trainers.

The planta fasciitis continues to give me trouble and I desperately needed something I could wear on holiday that would give my foot support. Especially if we decide to do the Samaria Gorge while we're on Crete.

So I found myself in John Lewis's trying on running shoes. The talk all round was of the forthcoming Great North Run and how exciting it was to attempt it. I thought how exciting it will be to attempt the Samaria Gorge with a bad foot, but said nowt.

Designers of trainers must be on acid most of the time. They seem to come up with the most ghastly confections of multicoloured cross webbing imaginable and have now taken to introducing springs in the heels. Most of them I wouldn't be seen dead in.

I finally settled on a pair of Adidas Rush running shoes in relatively tasteful black, white and grey. They were made in Indonesia where people must have small feet because although I take size 8, these are 9s and not at all excessively roomy.

I've been wearing them ever since to break them in, but have failed to find something to wear that will make the shoes look anything other than brilliant white. (The white bits, that is. Clearly the black and grey bits are not in any sense brilliant.)

I'm beginning to feel like the old gadgies who get on the late night bus at the Bluebell on the High Street. Always in their best grey suits, they nevertheless fail the sartorial test by wearing trainers which glare from under their trouser cuffs.

I did see an advert recently for prestressed trainers, complete with scuffed suede trim, but you have to pay for all that prestressing and it only helps them to fall apart quicker.

No, what we need is a can of instant scuff-and-shabby to spray on new trainers. It's amazing I wasn't offered one at the shop. Last time I bought a pair of shoes I was asked if I also wanted to buy a can of protector and a pair of socks!

Thursday 23 September 2004


The Gateshead Herald & Post is a fine example of the free newspaper.

In addition to a great deal of general advertising, it also incorporates Homemaker Plus, a solid collection of estate agents' pages.

This is the section you turn to when you want to know how your house is doing in the rocketing house market, by comparing with Mrs Cannybody's house when you notice she's just put up a FOR SALE notice.

But it is a newspaper as well. Primarily, it's a purveyor of non-news. All the news that no-one else thinks fit to print.

Last week there was a non-story about a double-decker bus that took a wrong turning and crunched part of the upper deck under a railway bridge.

No-one was hurt.

Nevertheless, the paper devoted quite a few column inches to interviews with passengers who happily speculated on what might have happened had any of them been sitting at the front upstairs (pretending to be the driver).

Occasionally they do come up with some interesting little items, however. Things that are worth following up elsewhere. This week, they carry this report:

Arts summit a coup
A global summit is to be held on Tyneside.
Hundreds of delegates will be in the region for the World Summit on Arts and Culture in June 2006.
Held against the backdrop of the Sage Gateshead, Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and Millennium Bridge, it's a massive coup.
It is organised by Arts Council England, North East, and supported by NewcastleGateshead Initiative, the Culture10 scheme.

Not bad for J.B.Priestley's "dirty backlane leading into Newcastle"

Given equal prominence this week is an important story, complete with dreadful puns, about another upcoming cultural event:

Nailing an ambition
Madcap Paul Usher is hoping toe make it big at the Baltic - by donating his personal collection of nail clippings.
As we reported last week, Uruguayan artist Carlos Capelan is to feature his own cuttings as part of his new exhibition when it opens next month at the flagship centre for contemporary art in Gateshead.
Paul has been keeping his own nail trimmings in a plastic box after embarking on a mission to discover how many he could gather in 12 months.
Now two-and-a-half years after starting out, the 30-year-old, from Gosforth, says he has been inspired by Carlos' work and has now offered to donate all his clippings to the artworld.
"I just decided one day to start saving them," he proudly reveals. "I wanted to see how many I could build up but I've never really known what to do with them until now.
"I've been inspired and think giving them to Carlos would ensure they go to a good home. I thought straight away about getting in touch with the Baltic."
Paul, an accounts assistant for a print company, regularly tops up his collection by trimming his toes every 10 days.

The phrase "Get a life" comes instantly to mind, coupled with similar thoughts about the alleged artworks. But I'll hold judgement on that one until I've seen them.

Wednesday 22 September 2004

Sunday in the Park with Patsy123

Patsy123 and I took a stroll through the renovated Saltwell Park on Sunday. I've wanted to see what kind of a job the Heritage Lottery Fund had paid for and this seemed like a good opportunity.

It's late in the season now, of course, and the wind was pretty fierce at times, so the general public weren't greatly in evidence, but there were sufficient to show how much the Park is still appreciated.

We cut through the Grove and admired the freshly decorated Bandstand. This isn't the one I remember as a child, evidently, but is a little 1920s number they picked up from
Beamish Open Air Museum and is nicely Art Deco. Brass band concerts still happening there, apparently.

The work isn't completely finished, but enough has been accomplished in the grounds to show how well the money has been spent. They've rebuilt the Almond Pavilion (burnt down by vandals a few years ago) and removed the intrusive pathway in front of it. From the Pavilion you can now see the view that Edward Kemp, the original landscaper achieved - an uninterrupted view across the lawns to the Lake, then on over the valley to the countryside beyond.

The Lake was drained and cleaned before refilling and the island in the middle reduced to it's original size. It's still big enough to provide a home for Canada geese, at least until they start their honking skeins over my house later in the year. And there were eight swans a-swimming, as well as coots, mallards and tufted ducks.

Unusually, there were three small Hassidic boys taking a rowing boat out (how times must have changed in the Gateshead Orthodox community!) and a Jewish woman who seemed to think that feeding the already overfed ducks should be achieved by heaving the contents of three loaves into the water in one go.

The big hit in the Park is the renovated
Saltwell Towers. Originally built as the home of William Wailes, a local stained glass manufacturer, it's a wonderful fairytale structure of towers and turrets, all done out in decorative brickwork.

When I was a kid, there was nowhere more fascinating than Saltwell Towers Museum. From the whale's jawbone at the entrance to the stuffed birds and giant dollshouse, I loved it.

It eventually fell victim to various forms of rot, the roof collapsed and for a long time there was talk of tearing it down.

Now, however, the exterior has been splendidly restored and inside there's the inevitable Visitor's Centre done in a sympathetic contemporary styling. There's a cafe, a small gallery space, some interactive displays, a nicely integrated ramp for wheelchairs which seems to be part of the design rather than something that simply had to be there and some stained glass decorating the spiral staircase.

It's perhaps a little churlish to criticise Bridget Jones's stained glass, but it did come across as rather insipid, unlike her usual work. And I do wonder why she had to find her inspiration in the rose bay willowherb she saw in Germany, when there must be a wealth of other imagery in the Park itself (including willowherb, I'm sure).

All in all, though, a really good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, even if the wind had us chilled to the bone by the end of it.

Tuesday 21 September 2004

Books Before Bedtime

Having finished Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, I really don't understand all the hoohah. It's not a very good book.

Oh sure, it's crammed to the gills with information, but it's so poorly written that the lumps of information sit on the page like rocks in a river, slowing the flow.

For instance, in an early part of the book, the protagonists are racing through the Tuileries in Paris. Despite the fact that the Tuileries play no part in the workings of the plot, Brown feels it important enough to stop the action and leadenly dump into his prose an explanation of the name "Tuileries".

It's like that all the way through. People suddenly find themselves, even in the most dangerous moments, being "reminded" of yet another irrelevant fact or other.

I thought at first that it was quite a page-turner, but eventually I found myself yearning for the end to come. I really need to shake off this feeling of having to finish a book, just because I've started it. Life's too short and there are more than enough good books to read.

If you want to read about the Merovingians, the Knights Templar and the conspiracies surrounding Mary Magdalene and the Jesus bloodline, look out a copy of Henry Lincoln's Holy Blood - Holy Grail.

Although not an especially good book, I got more out of an hour reading Rhino Ritz: An America Mystery by Keith Abbot, which contains the following:
F. Scott Fitzgerald was trying to put his arm back on. It had fallen off in the street and he was trying to put it back on so he could drink some more. It was his right arm and he needed his right hand to drink with.

A bizarre concoction written by someone I've never heard of, it's strangely reminiscent of William Kotzwinkle or more nearly, Richard Brautigan.

And whatever became of Richard Brautigan?

Apart from being dead, that is.

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break

Chania Harbour (sketchbook, pen and ink) Posted by Hello

I haven't been abroad since August 2001. That was a disastrous trip and left me with bad memories of an island I love - Crete.

And I've reached a point where I'm desperately in need of battery-recharging.

So it's definitely time to lay the ghosts and re-establish Crete as one of my favourite destinations.

Patsy123 and I spent some time
online at the weekend, arranging a flight to Chania and a hotel there. We fly next week, cameras and sketchbook at the ready.

I can hardly wait.

Friday 17 September 2004

... and down again

I happened to be in the bathroom washing my hands, when I noticed there was water flowing down the outside of the shower hose.

Funny, I thought. Shouldn't be doing that.

In an attempt to stop it, I figured I'd just turn on the shower to release the pressure or whatever.

There was an almighty clank inside the mixer unit and boiling hot water started spurting out the sides and over the edge of the bath onto the floor.

The stopcock and boiler are two floors below in the cellar. By the time I raced through the kitchen, water was running through the ceiling. It stopped within about fifteen minutes of my turning off the water and the boiler, having filled up various pans, plastic containers and mixing bowls.

I have some insurance to cover this sort of mishap. Or had some insurance... I pay the guy who installed the central heating system to deal with emergencies. I trust him and he knows the water and heating convolutions of the house inside out. However, when I phoned him last year to do a small repair he said, "Oh we don't do plumbing now, just central heating."

Although I'd been toying with switching to insurance which covers all eventualities, I foolishly let sentiment get the better of me and stayed with him.

Now, of course, I had no plumber to call on.

There are hundreds of plumbers in Yellow Pages. Do they answer the phone? No they do not. Or if they do, they turn out to be a national firm of locksmiths moonlighting in the plumbing trade who don't have any plumbers in my area.

To cut the story of a most miserable night short, I did get a guy out who cheerily informed me that the shower was wellfucked (a plumbing term, I gather) and that when I get to replace it, all the expensive tiles will have to come off the wall.

Meanwhile, the shower is disconnected so I can have hot water. But I do find myself recalling childhood memories of a quick rub down with a rough flannel and Friday night baths.

At least I no longer have to hump the zinc bath in from the backyard.

Thursday 16 September 2004

Up to the top of the hill.....

Yesterday was one of mixed blessings.

Last Wednesday, on an ad hoc trip into the Hexhamshire countryside with Will Barrow, we called into a gallery that Will had visited once before. Set on the brow of a hill, it has a beautiful view out over rolling fields and woodland.

I got talking to the gallery's director and finally edged in a query as to whether she might be interested in showing my work. Turned out she was quite amenable, so I gave her a website where she could check some things out.

By the time I got home, there was an email letting me know which of the works on display she liked, and suggesting I follow up with some actual work.

Which is what Will and I did yesterday. In another day of glorious sunshine, we loaded up the car with pictures of varying sizes and headed off to the gallery.

While Will sat and looked at the collection of tractor seats, I showed my wares, and after an hour or so, we were able to leave with five pictures going on display there.

It's days like that, which make things seem about to go right. Except that more was waiting at home to shake me out of any complacency.

Tuesday 14 September 2004

Back on the Circuit

I've been feeling worded out. Although I've been like this for a few weeks now, I think maybe the current malaise is simply too much input clogging up the word works.

Things are always a little flat in Galleryland during the Summer but we're definitely into the Autumn/Winter Preview Season now.

Last Thursday's preview was the first of the Season. A good turnout at the Scottish gallery, lots of very decent wine and some good pictures. Nice young artist who was able to talk intelligently about the work and didn't obfuscate.

Even when The Groundling, much the worse for wine, insisted on telling him what she thought his work was about and how she just knew her theory was a load of rubbish, but she just had to tell him anyway, he was able to run with the line that it's always interesting to hear what other people think your work is about and thank you for sharing your theory with me.

Friday was my own show at the Factory. I say "my own show" but despite there being only three of us on the invitations, there were, of course, lots more artists' work on display. It's a BIG gallery.

I got there early with Patsy123 and hung about looking approachable, glass of champagne in hand. Somehow, however, I failed to meet up with the woman with the camera who was taking pictures for a magazine which is distributed free to "the better class of people" (Mrs Sums and the Architect get it stuffed through their door and think it's a lot of bollocks).

The champagne flowed very freely and by and large I had a good time, though the Man With The Talent was rather more of an irritant than normal, hanging on my shoulder like a bloody Cap'n Flint.

Will Barrow kindly introduced me to the Chief Coonslor who was delighted with the work and couldn't understand how he'd never heard of me before.

"Aa make no promises, mind, but ye might hear from us again," was his parting shot. Well, who knows....

Friday 10 September 2004

Says Who?

I took some time to browse through "Have Your Say" today. Issued by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, this is a brochure giving some background to the forthcoming Referendum on An Elected Assembly for the North East.

I don't intend, at this stage, to dwell on the merits or otherwise of a North East Assembly, except to say that anything which has the support of Sir John Hall fills me with distrust.

What I found interesting about the brochure was the choice of photo-illustrations. There are six individuals pictured, each giving a "thumbs up" or a "thumbs down".

In the "thumbs up" camp are
  • a well-dressed young white woman, with fair hair, smiling confidently
  • a young white man in a suit and tie, with fair hair, grinning broadly
  • a tall young white man, with blond hair, in an "I Heart NY" t-shirt, beaming

In the "thumbs down camp are

  • a well-dressed young Afro-Caribbean woman, looking cautious
  • an old man with a flat cap and a walking stick, looking grim
  • a short young Asian man in a pullover with no shirt, smiling, but trying to edge the taller lad in the t-shirt out of the picture

What this seems to say to me is that only old farts and the reactionary, even pushy, ethnic community would consider voting against such a great idea as a Regional Assembly.

Young white folk, who constitute a very large proportion of the area's populace, will naturally be forward-looking enough to see the obvious benefits of such a plan.

Or is it just me being cynical again?

Tuesday 7 September 2004

Return from Planet Mum

Mum was not quite herself today. A little on the strange side.

"They're telling me I have to marry the King of Spain's son, now," she said.

"Why might that be, Mum?"

"Oh, any excuse to give me my final discharge from this place!"

I was under the impression that her "final discharge" from the nursing home was the thing most dear to her heart, but evidently not at the expense of marrying someone, not even the King of Spain's son.

I thought I'd tell her that Patsy123 had returned from China. "You remember, she came to see you?" She gave me a fixed stare then looked at her watch and said,"Twenty-five past five."

"Are Stone and Abie still living with you?" she suddenly asked.

"There's no-one living with me," I said. "And who are Stone and Abie, anyway?"

"Stone's your half-brother and Abie's a black man."

"I didn't know I had a half-brother. Stone's a funny name."

She smiled her most secretive and engaging smile and said nothing.


"I thought you were driving your wife Pamela to school today?"

Before I could say again that I'm no longer married (and never to Pamela), she said,"Very active imagination."

"You have, don't you?" I said.

"Not me! The person who keeps telling me these stories!!"

Sunday 5 September 2004

A Return is Foretold

ZipMedia is pleased to announce the arrival of a final report from Patsy123, our Roving Correspondent:
This is our last day & guess what? I have come down with a cold. suppose thats what happens when you share train compartments with folks for long periods of time. Spent yesterday spending money, no good bringing any back is there? Got one or two things for you.

I will try to give you a call from Heathrow tomorrow, just to check if you will be at the airport. This has been such a great trip, I've some philosophy ideas to share with you, but I am also looking forward to returning to you and my Tynemouth flat.

Woohoo! Patsy123 is coming home, bearing gifts, philosophy and a cold, all for me!

(Note to self: Make sure it's not one of those chicken colds.)

Saturday 4 September 2004

Imitation Limestone

Sketchbook page (w/c, pencil & collage) Posted by Hello

I have lots of sketchbooks. I went through a long period of collecting them. Most of them are empty, or at best only partly filled.

At University I'd buy two new ones at the beginning of each year, even if the previous ones weren't filled (which they weren't). It felt right, somehow, to divide up the periods of creativity. But I'd also buy others that seemed to offer that special size or shape for some other project I had in mind.

I like the idea of sketchbooks. I suppose that's to do with my love of books as objects. But somehow I've never got in the habit of using them regularly. I think it's because I find loose bits of paper more easily organised into projects. Maybe that's because I always seem to have an interest in several idea-threads at one time.

Curiously, having talked to other artists about this, I find I'm not alone.

In an attempt to try to get some sense into this state of affairs, I've been going through these old sketchbooks - the partially completed ones - to see if I might begin to use them again and also to see if they might conveniently continue with their respective themes (assuming they have any).

There are problems with this. One dates from a trip I made to Malta and is concerned mainly with the remnants of Tigne Barracks. I think that may have to remain discrete. There's another devoted to drawings done inside the Hancock Museum. As such, I regard that as an ongoing project, or at least one to which I'll return sometime in the future.

But the rest are somewhat haphazard, and probably the best that I can do is simply pick up one and fill it, going on to the next.

Going through them, however, has proven supremely beneficial. Tucked inside one of them, evidently marking the place, was a slip of folded paper. And on it was the legend: "Imitation Limestone."

I have found the Recipe for All-Bran Cement!

Of course, as I've long suspected, it has nothing whatsoever to do with All-Bran. But for those of you whose work may have been tottering on the brink, needing only the recipe to continue, here it is:
  • 2 parts coir
  • 2 parts sharp sand
  • 1 part fresh cement
  • cement colourant

Something of an anticlimax after all this time.

And the page it was marking? That's it at the top of the post. What was I thinking?

Friday 3 September 2004

Taking a Line for a Walk in the Park

Saltwell Park (pencil, 8 x 10.5 ins) Posted by Hello

They tell me we're to have an Indian Summer. After the disaster that was August, that can only be a good thing.

Today gave the appearance that they might be right. It was a beautiful day with just a touch of a breeze to irritate me but keep the rest of the folks happy.

I went for a walk in the Park. It's over a year since I was there last, because of the work they've been doing with Lottery/Heritage Money to put it back to it's former Victorian splendour.

I'd intended to walk right through, taking in the refurbished Saltwell Towers and the Lake with its swans, geese and ducks, but I knew there'd be lots of mothers and kids and screaming and I wasn't really in the mood.

On a whim, I'd taken a sketchbook so I decided to pick a quiet part of the Dene and do a bit of drawing.

Close to the bridge over the stream there's a good view of one of what I guess should be called Turrets. As a boy I was told they were called The Frying Pans and only in recent years did I come to question whether that might be true. Too late to ask my dad whether he was having me on

I made the right choice. With the exception of a lone jogger and a child who ran past screaming "Ice-cream-ice-cream-ice-cream!" I was undisturbed

There's something remarkably calming about drawing from the subject. I really ought to do it more often

Thursday 2 September 2004

O for a Muse of Fire!

I think I'm still basking in the warm glow of having nothing that must be done. My mind seems empty of anything worth putting in words.

I suspect, in fact, that this is as a consequence of having spent so much time recently thinking visually. I've got out of the habit of verbalising. Normally I find myself writing things in my head and can't wait to get them down on the screen.

All I have at the moment are images - images of streets, images of figures, images of more abstract elements derived from buildings and rust and brick and pipework.

In an attempt to reconfigure my brain, I'm reading. I recently finished Chris Petit's Robinson - a fascinating book which manages to transpose some of the qualities of Neo-Romanticism (did I mention that Graham Sutherland was the subject of my Dissertation?) from the landscape to an urban setting.

In the dark underworld of seedy London, the narrator is seduced and manipulated into Robinson's schemes. Dragged down by alcoholism and drugs, he finds himself involved, first of all, in the shady side of the second-hand book business.

But Robinson - a Harry Lime for today - continues his corruption by drawing him into pornographic film-making and finally into collusion in torture and murder.

Petit, a film-maker himself, paints an unforgettable picture of the city's underbelly, full of cardboard-box townships and riots, with an apocalyptic storm as the ultimate backdrop. JG Ballard, out of Iain Sinclair.

And now for something completely different, and certainly less demanding. I've just started Dan Brown's
The Da Vinci Code., which, despite the hype, comes well recommended. I'd have preferred it to be called The Leonardo Code, though.

Wednesday 1 September 2004

Free at last!

Posted by Hello
Courtesy of the Frootbat and his motor, I delivered my eight pictures to the Gallery on Monday. I can relax. The weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Tuesday, I sat around the house all day and basked in the warm glow of having nothing that must be done.

Today, of course, I have to think about dealing with the pile of post which accumulated during the paintfest, mowing the lawn and sundry other mundane duties.

So if producing those pictures was such a chore, why'd I do it? And as both
Anna and Marja-Leena have suggested, was it sensible to try to create eight pictures from scratch?

A couple of months ago, I went to see the Gallery's Director and showed him a CD of Interesting Work. "Bit dark," and "Anything newer?" and "Nothing like what we sold before?" were his initial reactions. Working on his lack of enthusiasm, I volunteered, if he'd give me a show, to come up with the goods. In other words, a set of urban subjects , like what you sold before, Guv.

Two days later, I got a phone call from the Gallery Manager offering me a "Booth" which could take six to eight of my pictures. "I understand from the Director that you'd be prepared to do a new set of work for this show," she said. My heart sank a little. Not entirely at the prospect of getting new work done, but at the thought of the old work getting older and not getting an airing. After a while, such work starts to look stale and I begin to question whether I might not reasonably paint over it.

Anyway, I agreed to have the work ready for the opening of the Autumn Show in September. The rest you know (assuming you bothered to read the possibly tedious progress of the work's construction).

I work from photographs. Sometimes they're very successful photographs. For instance, I held a show in 1995 in which the entire collection of 15 pictures came from one roll of film shot from the Tyne Bridge on a cold but sunny Sunday in November.

At other times, I have to be a bit more creative with the photographs and computer techniques have been playing an increasing part in that. Before I quit office work, I relied on the good old office photocopier. Now it's computer technology.

My working methods involve cropping, increasing the contrast, collaging (both onscreen and actual paste-up), cranking up the saturation and altering the hue.

And after all of that, I very often make drawings in charcoal, compressed charcoal and coloured Conte, using the printed results of onscreen manipulations as subject matter.

I make the paintings by working from the drawings, the printouts and the photographs, and whatever the painting says to me during the process.

Sometimes this preparatory stage is intensive. Sometimes it happens over a long period, as and when I feel like it. So it was that when I needed subject matter for eight pictures, I already had preparatory studies done for most of them (and two of the eight were, in fact, already complete)

But that doesn't mean it wasn't hard work. I'd rather not have to do it again, though I'm sure I will at some point in the future.

I'm pretty pleased with the results. Two, maybe three, of the pictures are, I think, a good step forward; probably as a result of looking again at the paintings of
Andrew Gifford, whose work during his training at Newcastle influenced me quite considerably while I was taking advantage of the OCA course there.

It might be argued that I sold out in agreeing to do specific work for the Gallery, but I don't think this is the case. My main interest is in urban subject matter. I like paintings streets. So it's no hardship to have to concentrate on them again.

And the Autumn Show is a good opportunity. I've been given pride of place, with two other artists, on the invitations. The Opening will bring in, on the evidence of previous Openings, around a thousand punters, many of whom will not come simply for the champagne. Who knows, I might make some money out of this. "Everybody needs money, that's why it's called money!" as Danny De Vito so convincingly put it in David Mamet's Heist.

My figure work is a long-term project, I think, and no doubt will go through innumerable phases before it gets where it's going (if it ever does).

For instance, I was sitting last night doodling on a little panel cut from an old painting. What appeared was this, which I might very well carry through to completion, just for the fun of it.

Posted by Hello

Further news from Abroad

Patsy123, ZipMedia's Roving Reporter, breaks cover again:

Hi all,Now in Ulaan Baator after two days at the ger camp. Can't describe it in few words. Most amazing place, never seen so much open space. Warm gers, good food, went horseriding (loved it) tried archery (was useless). Journey from Siberia to Mongolia was an experience not to be missed. Tell you about it on my return. With a great group of people, all eating out this evening.. Tomorrow am. train to Beiijing. This will be last message I expect. We are both well & hope you all are.

Which made me rush to Google to find out what a ger is. Turns out to be the proper Mongolian term for a yurt.