“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.

Goethe and the fishing man

Fishing blog

Fishing (A5 sketchbook page, mixed media and Swedish stamp, 2015)

I don’t have much to say about this. It has an Ellis Nadler sort of feel and the Swedish stamp is rather splendid. So, as I’m about to leave for the Frankfurt Book Fair, here’s a bit of Goethe for you:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back – concerning all acts of…creation, there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no-one could have dreamed would have come their way.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.

A very happy Tuesday to you.

A Good Idea

Good Idea blog

A Good Idea (A5 sketchbook page collage & mixed media 2014-15)

I started this in December last year and finished it last Sunday afternoon with the addition of the Dutch stamp, a cartoon symbol of someone having an idea. Until then it had simply been a slightly odd looking collage but that simple addition seemed to pull it all together.

I do admire those who can put together collages that rise above surrealist juxtaposition, and even more those who can collage in 3D.

Don’t you love the word Knallteufel? German is a wonderful language, I think.


In the Fen Country blog

In the Fen Country (collaged watercolour squares 2012 A4)

A few years ago I attended another of Annie Rice’s inspiring workshops, this time on watercolour landscape painting. After a few warm-up exercises, we were sent off into the Norfolk countryside to paint. There were water-filled ditches, banks covered in wildflowers, wind-twisted trees that were hundreds of years old, clumps of bulrushes, a derelict barn…but I chose a level field with a distant line of conifers. The resulting painting was the dullest thing you could imagine. When I got it home I was about to throw it in the recycling when I noticed some of the details were quite appealing, so I covered it in a grid of squares and started cutting it up. The more evocative bits were pasted onto a piece of thin brown card to make the image above, far more interesting in its semi-abstraction than the amateurish source painting.

Inside Conducting

Seaman 1 Seaman 2 Seaman 3

Unused illustrations to Inside Conducting (ink and collage 2012-13 various sizes)

Illustrating Inside Conducting in 2012-13 was an enormous pleasure and a steep learning curve for me: you don’t, I realised, produce finished drawings to show to an author, even one as good-natured as Christopher Seaman. The outcome is that I have two or three versions of many of the drawings – some with minor variations. The drawings here were not included in the actual book and are presented as ‘out-takes’, so to speak.

The one with all the eyes was to illustrate how conductors feel nervous before a concert, but we had two drawings for that section and this was dropped; the one with the different conducting objects was thought to be too frivolous, although it is my daughter’s favourite and mine too; finally the Beethoven did appear in the book but was topped and tailed, cutting out the announcement and, tragically, LvB’s thrombosis socks, of which I was very proud. It illustrates a rather baffling quote by Tom Stoppard about how the course of western classical music would have changed had Beethoven perished in an air accident…yeah, right, Tom.

Apologies for the (c) Michael Richards legends on each image. I’ve had some slightly suspicious visits to this page and there are those who would use others’ pictures without credit and for their own gain. Yes, really!

For ‘Style’ read ‘Spirit’

Self Portrait with Gerald

Self Portrait [with Gerald] in the Style Spirit of David Hughes (mixed media 2010 2xA5 Moleskine sketchbook pages)

David Hughes is an artist, illustrator, caricaturist and writer who lived near my home town of Manchester. This picture – in the spirit rather than the style of David Hughes, on reflection – was inspired by his book, Walking the Dog, which had particular resonance for me as we’d recently taken in Gerald from the Dogs’ Trust. I enjoyed our early morning walks when I’d try to engage him in conversation but, being a dog and a greyhound at that, he rarely responded.  One day, I’ll drive over to where David Hughes lives, knock on his door and ask him to teach me something.

A clutch of Dugdales

Dugdale x 8

Eight Dugdales (collage and mixed media 2015 30cms x30cms)

Poor old William Dugdale (1605-1686), he’s done nothing to deserve the gentle mockery to which I subject him. I suppose it’s his solemn, Puritan facial expression that makes me do it. ‘It’ being replacing his sensible black Puritan hat for a series of anachronistic bonnets, titfers and head-dresses. I once drew an entire Tower of Babel on one Dugdale, another time it was a model pirate ship. These, by comparison, are relatively modest.

By the way, the Santa’s Little Helper was inspired by (i.e. stolen from) the great Richard Thompson. The Art of Richard Thompson is an essential purchase.