Friday, 8 September 2017

Cynical Nostalgia

General Dealer WIP
(acrylic on board, 10 x 10 in)

Paintings of nostalgia sell well in the North East; raggy kids playing football in the back lane, men in caps and mufflers going to the match, smoky chimneys, that sort of thing. There are several artists round here who have made a very good living out of pandering to the public desire for things they think they remember fondly. 

Me, I've always avoided painting pictures like that. I paint what I want to paint and mostly that doesn't include the Tyne Bridge or Memories of Old Gateshead or even Flat Caps and Whippets. I've often threatened to produce a series of Flat Cap & Whippet Pictures just to see how they'd do, but the will wasn't really there. Learning recently that one of the most successful painters of nostalgia is seriously depressed because he doesn't want to paint Men Going to the Match or Smoky Chimneys by the Docks ever again but can't stop because he needs to make the sales, definitely strengthened my resolve.

Until today. Gateshead Art Society has a programme (that I have a hand in deciding) to give members a prod in creative thinking should they need it. Quite often, unless it's a talk or a video, I go my own way and just get on with whatever I'm currently painting. This week, however, I noticed that the suggested activity was "PAINTING FOR POSTER COMPETITION". This is to remind members that someone's painting will eventually be chosen to appear on the poster for the club's Annual Exhibition at Xmas, so making a start on something suitable might be a good idea.

Now I've never been on the poster, so it suddenly came to me that I might as well have a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But what to paint? Recently I've been storing photographs of old bits of Gateshead, mostly now demolished. This is the sort of subject matter the great Norman Cornish specialised in, though in his case it was his home town of Spennymoor. While I hate the painters of nostalgia who aren't even old enough to remember anything of the things they paint, Cornish lived that life and I respected his right to paint what he knew. Well, I thought, I was born and brought up in the Gateshead that no longer survives and I have clear memories of it, so maybe I have the right to paint a little of what I remember too.

And so today I started this Work in Progress, using an old monochrome photograph of a shop on Tower Street. Colour added from memory, and yes, that blurred shape was the figure of a woman carrying a shopping bag. She turned out to be in slightly the wrong position, so had to be scrubbed out. She'll go back in once I've made more of the building and the snow (added to the scene because it's Xmas).

During the coffee break, someone asked me about the painting and all I could think of was to say it was "cynical nostalgia". It seems I haven't forgiven myself yet.


ian said...

Cynical would be painting it, then selling 100s of copies as 'Fine Art Prints'.

harry bell said...

Oh, I'd never do that. But I might make it into a greetings card :)