All these broken pieces

You can only take what you can carry (A4 collaged painted paper 2017)

I am fascinated by, and have enormous respect for, the art of collage. It seems to me that you need to develop a different sort of ‘eye’ than that used in drawing or painting, an ability – perhaps – to have a better sense of the end result when you start than is often the case with a drawing.

This one came together fairly fluently once I’d decided on the sort of shapes I wanted to use. Cut from one of the less successful paintings I competed on my recent Seawhite Studios course – a rather traditional still life with some interesting colour combinations and brushwork but otherwise a bit dull – the arrangement seemed to suggest itself from the painted marks within each shape.

I like to listen to music when I draw or paint, usually modern classical music of a certain type – Morton Feldman, Gavin Bryars, Valentin Silvestrov, John Luther Adams – or ambient jazz such as Eberhard Weber or Jon Hassell. Just lately I’ve tried having pop music in the background, which is where this piece’s evocative title comes from.

I have another – “All these broken pieces fit together to make a perfect picture of us” – which I’m looking forward to using when the image suggests. Well, it’s better than Untitled Collage # 4, isn’t it?

I’m very grateful to Jean Messner for nominating me for a Blogger Recognition Award. I’m always very touched by these awards from other bloggers as they suggest that what one is doing resonates with someone enough for them to want to tell others. Jean’s own blog is an inspiring piece of work that not only describes her own artistic journey but also turns a spotlight onto artists she admires. I’ve listed some favourite blogs fairly recently, so let me direct you there and to the list on the right hand side of this post. Thank you, Jean, your nomination is much appreciated.

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Darkness, Darkness

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Darkness Darkness (A4 ink and coloured pencil 2016)

Darkness, darkness, be my pillow
Take my head and let me sleep
In the coolness of your shadow
In the silence of your deep

Darkness, darkness, be my blanket
Cover me with the endless night
Take away, take away the pain of knowing
Fill the emptiness of right now

A song written by Jesse Colin Young for the Youngbloods and recorded by numerous others. The illustration was inspired by Chris Ware’s comic strip diaries,  as seen in Danny Gregory’s intriguing book An Illustrated Life.

There seems to be a great deal of darkness in the world at the moment. We mustn’t let it defeat us.

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The ignored Bach

Bach blog

W.T.F. Bach (A4, ink on Hahnemühle bamboo paper, 2015)

Nearly half a century ago, musical satirist Peter Schickele created the figure of P.D.Q. Bach and thereby launched a career performing the works of this ‘lost’ member of the Bach family.

I wouldn’t describe W.T.F. Bach as ‘lost’ – he never left Leipzig so he could hardly be lost – so much as ignored. His early form of 12-bar Delta blues simply wasn’t welcome in Prince Leopold’s eighteenth century court. It wasn’t really until the 1960s that his music began to be played, often falsely attributed to figures such as Mississippi Fred Macdowell or Elmore James or arranged by young rock bands without any attribution at all.

That, I’m afraid, is the downside of being ahead of your time.

This post demonstrates how much I miss Richard Thompson, cartoonist and illustrator, who died earlier this year. I never knew him, but the world was a better place for his presence. 

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Frankfurt in October

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Autumn Leaf (A4 ink and watercolour 2014)

Every year in October I travel to Frankfurt for the book fair. It’s an inspiring time to be in Germany. The days are often warm, as if the summer can’t bear to let go, but the trees are already starting to turn red, gold and brown.

How often have I picked up a particularly beautiful leaf and put it somewhere – intending to draw or paint it later – then forgetten about it, finding a brown and shrivelled thing weeks later. This time of year is transience made visible, when everything changes from day to day, nature drawing down the shutters for winter.

The book fair is an international expression of creativity. The world’s publishers set out their stalls in five or six halls, some with three floors per hall. Those of us who are mainly English-speaking can only feel humbled walking through, say, the Norwegian or Dutch sections, seeing books by writers largely unknown outside of their own languages. There is so much that we can never know.

On the theme of creativity, this morning I read an interview with the conductor, Simon Rattle, in the Sueddeutscher Zeitung magazine. He described how, when conducting, the music is felt in every part of the body. He mentioned a conversation between Leonard Bernstein and Andre Previn. “How are you, Andre?” asked Bernstein. “OK,” Previn replied, “But I have terrible backache.” “Really?” Bernstein gasped, “I had no idea you were so successful!”

 

“What Love Tells Me”

Mahler blog

Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony (A5 sketchbook page, ink and collage, 2016)

For my birthday last month I was given a turntable and can now revisit some of those old gramophone records in the attic. Amongst the survivors of several moves around three countries is a complete set of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies conducted by Bernard Haitink.

Completed in 1896 but years ahead of its time, Mahler’s Third Symphony would be my ultimate desert island disc. Composed in a modest hut overlooking an Austrian lake during his summer breaks from conducting at the Vienna Opera, its six movements were initially given programmatic titles, such as “What the flowers of the field tell me”, “What the angels tell me” and “What Love tells me” which Mahler later dropped, letting the music speak for itself. Yet the source of its inspiration remains apparent. When the conductor, Bruno Walter, arrived at Mahler’s summer retreat he was told, “Don’t bother admiring the landscape, it’s all in my music!”

Listening to the symphony again recently, I wondered how someone could compose something so monumentally beautiful: from the sometimes dissonant terrors of the opening movement to the exquisite Romanticism of the long finale, it seems too complex, too other-wordly, to have been written by one man in a shed. Mahler seems more like a conduit for the mystical power of Nature itself and hearing it is, to me, approaching a spiritual experience.

“Today I became horribly aware that the first movement will last half a hour, perhaps longer,” he wrote, “What are people going to say to that? They won’t leave a hair on my head. This work is truly concise, even brief, though it lasts two hours…It is though the torrent of creation has proved to be an irrisitable force, having been pent up for years; there is no escape!”

My drawing shows the composer sifting some of the elements that went into this mighty symphony. I wanted to do something to celebrate Mahler, and it would either have to be a drawing like this or some wall-high painting that would take about a year to complete. Until I have the time and ability to produce the latter, this will have to do.

Buddy Holly’s Mother

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Christmas 2015 (A4, acrylic, 2015) inspired by John W Shanabrook

Let me share with you a moving story about Buddy Holly’s mother, written by Spencer Leigh, which I read some time ago in the Independent:

On Valentine’s Day in 1959, just 11 days after the air crash that killed her son, Ella Holly wrote to the families of the other performers who had died, the Big Bopper and Richie Valens. They are beautifully composed letters, expressing her bewilderment and grief, and they reveal her conviction that they will be reunited in Heaven.

What makes the correspondence extraordinary is that she wrote a similar letter to the widow of the pilot, Roger Peterson. She did not cast any blame, although the accident occurred largely owing to his inexperience. She said: “We are crushed by this terrible tragedy and the loss of our son, and we know you are suffering the same…our hearts go out to you because we know what you are going through.”

More than fifty years on, this letter indicates how Buddy Holly had been raised and how his parents had shaped his personality. It is often said that rock ‘n’ roll was the music of rebellion, a response to the dull, conventional lives of the previous generation. There is none of that in the Buddy Holly story.

In these days when, after every news event, the media immediately look for someone to blame – that social worker with too many cases, a tired driver whose eyes closed for a second, the doctor faced with an emergency at the end of a long shift – how heart-warming to read about the forgiveness of Buddy Holly’s mother.

Have a very happy Christmas.

‘Above the sounds he made’

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The Folk Singer (for DC) (A4 ink 2012)

Recently, reading Don Paterson’s endlessly inventive 40 Sonnets, I came across his poem, ‘The Six (for John Abercrombie at 70)’, which starts like this:

You still sound like that man in early middle age

whose demolition firm went west and marriage south,

who was looking at his birthday through a fifth of Jack

when all his friends pitched in to buy him a guitar.

Two months it sat in silence. Then one day he found

that he could play whatever came into his head.

And such was his surprise each time he picked it up,

he couldn’t hear himself above the sounds he made…

It reminded me of this drawing, completed three years ago as a birthday gift for one of my dearest friends, someone who can also ‘play whatever came into his head’. The folk singer in the drawing refers to my friend’s early career in the smoke-filled folk clubs of the 1970s, and owes something to the famous photograph of John Sebastian at Woodstock (now used on his Life and Times compilation). As we’re both of that generation, and life has led us both down different paths from our hoped-for careers as Famous Artists, it seemed appropriate.

PS I cannot recommend 40 Sonnets highly enough. ‘Mercies’ is the most moving poem about a dog that you’ll ever read.