Monday, 17 May 2010

Making a Splash in Norfolk

It’s been a busy old time lately what with preparing for my exhibition at the Horizon Gallery in Henley and last weekend away in Norfolk. Originally we were intending to show about 20 large paintings and 19 miniatures – as it is quite a small gallery – but eventually found that we could hang 35 or so large pictures. (The walls of my flat are quite denuded now.) The first showing for invitees was on Tuesday evening and the next one will be on Saturday from 5 till 7 pm (make a note, RG9, if you are reading this, as you would be welcome to come along). The exhibition lasts until the 1st of June.

Last Monday my old friend Murray Livingstone Smith came to visit from New York. Murray used to be the International Managing Director for the US Advertising Agency I worked for way back in the sixties and seventies. He was instrumental in securing me a two-year ‘cushion’ with a nice salary when I resigned to start my career as a full-time artist. So for the first two years I carried on as Regional Director for Asia at the same time as I struggled to establish myself as a portrait painter and artist. We had a good lunch at Phyllis Court and then when Murray had a look around the garden we came across this bizarre sight in the river near my boat.

The strangest things come floating down the river – thank goodness this was only a doll.

On Friday I paid my annual visit to old friends Vic and Christine Granger in their tiny village in Norfolk. It’s always such a pleasure and we managed to cram in a variety of trips during the weekend. One of them was to spend half a day at Pensthorpe Country Park. There they have a tremendous variety of birdlife – in fact Pensthorpe is used as the setting for the popular TV programme Springwatch. I popped down the lane on Saturday to see old Joe – I don’t know why I call him ‘old’ Joe as he’s probably younger than me. I photographed him in a gamekeeper pose as a possible reference for a painting. Here he is

...and this is a corner of his barn.

Joe has about six heavy horses and can be seen sitting on his plough behind three of them most days as he works them in his fields. He also paints – always horses and straight from life. His studio is populated by three very excitable Labrador dogs who charged at me like demons when they were let out. The two geese in the farmyard were the most vicious of the many animals and birds around the place and let out ungodly squawks as they closed in to attack me. Scary! Joe says that when they get too close he grabs them by their necks and swirls them around to calm them down. I didn’t try that method, but merely backed away – very gingerly.

We visited Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. on Sunday. The workhouse was built in 1774 to accommodate the large numbers of people who were receiving Poor Law payments. Men, women and children were kept in different quarters with high walls separating them. Even brothers and sisters were kept apart. At one stage, when deceased workhouse inmates were required to be buried in their home parishes, rather than at Gressenhall, an enterprising Dereham undertaker adapted his Norton sidecar to transport the bodies back to their homes.

Vic and I had a nice morning bowling at his club. There we played on an indoor green, where I was pretty useless. Mainly because, and this is my excuse, an artificial surface is so much faster than on an outdoor green and the wood curls in at a much greater angle. (When I got home on Monday afternoon I played in the most glorious sunshine at my own club in glorious warm evening sunshine to the accompaniment of all the sounds of the river running past, and showed a marked improvement.)

During our travels around the countryside we came across this lovely little bridge straddling a small river.

We took a few photographs of the swans to help with a painting Vic is doing and I watched as a car made its way across the ford. As it got close to me I realised I was about to be drenched by the spray so leapt back pretty smartish. That part of the little video that follows has been deleted. If it doesn't play, try this direct link to YouTube:

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Art Exhibitions

Apart from working hard on a couple of pencil portraits and getting about thirty paintings ready for my little exhibition at the Horizon gallery on the 18th I’ve not done a great deal this past week. Here’s one of the pencil drawings – it’s of Sebastian, age three. I took a series of photographs of him and his sister, Emma, last Sunday to complete the 4-portrait commission.

Yesterday a young friend and I made a round of the local art exhibitions. Starting with the Lemongrove Gallery in Henley who had a very nicely balanced collection of artists’ work on display. I particularly liked some of the quirky paintings by Sarah-Jane Szikora – here is an example of her work. It’s called ‘Ladies Wot Lunch’.

We then went up the hill to wander round the Barn Galleries. About 50 artists and sculptors had work there – a lot of the sculpture dotted around the extensive grounds. The barns are pretty big and are great places to display the paintings, small carvings, pottery and other works of art.
But the best exhibition of the day was Rolf Harris’s exhibition at the Lemongrove Gallery in Reading - I had been invited to the private view. Rolf is celebrating 50 successful years at the forefront of art in the UK. The diversity of his work is quite amazing and as I frequently visit his studio (I popped over there this morning for a late breakfast with him and Alwen) I can attest to how prolific and dedicated he is. Yesterday’s show is part of a travelling exhibition being staged all over the country, culminating in a large and comprehensive exhibition in London at the end of June. This oil painting entitled ‘Into the Sun’ was just one of the many wildlife paintings on display at the Gallery.

Rolf’s subjects range from portraits to landscapes, street scenes to vibrant Australian rocky formations, and nudes to African wildlife. To celebrate this centenary a beautiful book illustrating hundreds of his paintings has just been published. Rolf was kept busy signing dozens of them well into the evening at the gallery. Many limited editions on both paper and canvas were on display – and have become real collectors items.

The bluebells have finally come out this year. Winter had so delayed them that they are about two weeks late, but now they’ve arrived I intend to make a bluebell painting sometime soon.

The little watercolour painting I mentioned a couple of blogs ago which I’d planned to be my next year’s Christmas card looks so unlike a painting that I’ve decided not to use it for that purpose – I’ll paint something else in the autumn when I feel Christmas approaching. But here it is anyway.

It’s now Sunday afternoon and it looks as if we are still in the realms of a hung parliament. (I wish the BBC wouldn’t keep referring to it as a ‘balanced’ parliament – it’s certainly wouldn’t be balanced as far as I can make out.) I just hope they’d get on with it and form a new parliament quickly. As far as I’m concerned the Conservative party has won the most seats, both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have lost seats, so hopefully by tomorrow we’ll have a new Government, without any significant compromises being made. And lets hope a halt is made of some of the more ridiculous ‘politically correct’ decisions, which seem to abound these days. As for the way the ‘Health and Safety’ laws are being carried out, just take a look at these examples.

Ten-year-old Jordon Lyon and his eight-year-old sister went for a dip into a water-filled pit near their home. Unfortunately the danger signs had been vandalised and not replaced. The little girl got into trouble, Jordan saved his sister but got into trouble himself. Two police community support officers arrived at the scene after answering an emergency call but decided they couldn’t enter the water because ‘they hadn’t been given the right training’ as far as health and safety rules were concerned. So what happened? Little Jordan drowned. The police insisted ‘ the correct procedure had been observed’.

When Kim Barrett saw a five-year-old boy stuck 20 feet up in a tree at a school in Wiltshire, she decided to help. The boy had been up there for over 45 minutes and was clearly very distressed. After Kim released him she was reported by watching teachers for ‘trespassing on school property’. She was then given an official police warning for her good deed!

At the age of 11 George Hall-Lambert was looking forward to starting ‘big school’ but he is allergic to nuts. So after his first few days he was excluded from the school because he needed an EpiPen. He was therefore deemed a ‘health and safety’ risk. A risk assessment took place and Government policy supported the school’s decision, as it was feared his teachers ‘might not have the necessary training’.

It goes on and on

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Floating in a Golden Gondola

I’ve been a bit busy painting and drawing lately, hence no blog for a couple of weeks. But last week, Pat Barton drove us to London to see the musical Oliver at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. I’ve always loved both the lyrics and the music of this show so was really looking forward to it. Arriving in the underground car-park in Park Lane I learned something I didn’t know before – if your ticket has been stamped by the theatre when you leave after the show the parking fee is halved. There is also a way to the car-park which avoids the congestion charge. And finally a great guy who calls himself ‘Eveready’ had a little 8- seater car to take us up to Oxford Street free of charge. As I’d suggested we have lunch at one of my favourite London restaurants – Sarastro - in Drury Lane, Eveready drove us all the way there for a small tip.

Based on a Venetian theme it’s got to be the most colourful restaurant in London. In the evenings opera singers wander around the tables. We sat in one of the many gondolas overlooking the main dining area - you almost feel you are floating.The food is great too – I had probably the best beef bourguignon I can ever remember eating. Here are a few more views inside the restaurant

And copper coins scattered over the stone floor

Then just a short walk down Drury Lane to the theatre. What a fantastic show it was.

From our balcony seats we had a great view. I’ve never seen such wonderful sets. Being a very large theatre – and I don’t know the correct term – there was as much space below the stage as there was above it, and then more. So the whole of Fagin’s underground den was revealed and later a really three-dimensional distant view of London streets.

The three miniatures I recently painted for the New York client were held up because of the recent closure of Heathrow Airport (the frames were made in England) but luckily arrived in time for the presentation. It seems that each grandchild was to present his or her own miniature to their grandfather on his 70th birthday. When I receive photographs of the miniatures in their frames, if I can get permission from the owner, I’ll publish them on my blog - you asked for this Mona. Talking about the Icelandic ash cloud and the chaos caused by the closure of Britain’s airspace, I was disturbed to read that it was almost definitely closed under false pretences.
Obviously safety was of paramount importance but the evidence now released shows that the cloud of ash dust was often so thin that it posed no risk. Satellite images indicated that the skies were largely clear. The Civil Aviation Authority’s head of airworthiness, strategy and policy admitted that “it’s obvious that at the start of the crisis there was a lack of definite data, and it’s also true that for some of the time the density of ash above the UK was close to undetectable.” The National Air Traffic Control Service decision to ban flights was based on Met Office computer models, which showed a cloud of ash being blown south from the volcano. But these models should have been tested by the Met Office’s research plane, a BAE jet, but at the time it was residing n a hangar waiting to be repainted and was only able to be sent airborne on the last day of the ban. Now evidence has emerged that the maximum density of the ash was only about one twentieth of the limit that the Government, scientists and aircraft engine manufacturers have now decided is safe. So almost definitely the shutdowns went much to far due to massive over-reaction. But then, what do I know – I’m only an artist.

Paul, Debbie, me, Jessica and Adam

Jessica, a lovely friend of mine who now lives in Bath with her new husband, Adam, visited today so, together with Paul and Debbie, we all had lunch at the Orangery in Phyllis Court. What a jolly time we had. Paul as usual demonstrating even more of his talents – I didn’t know he was a ventriloquist!
I was hoping to film the goslings yesterday as they all hatched out the day before, but they left the nest too soon. I’d seen on of the swans charging around the nest the other day so he probably frightened them away.

Finally, for the past few weeks I’ve been making a book about my brother Bob’s life to give to Val on what would have been their wedding anniversary next month. But I’m an impatient sort of person so when it was completed (all 56 pages) last week I decided to give it to her early. It’s worked out really well so I’ve ordered 4 more copies for Bob’s children. Val said it was her best present ever. Here’s the cover

and this is a double page spread of some of his early days.