Saturday, 23 October 2010

Only 63 Days to Christmas!

Each year I paint and print my own Christmas card. It costs a fortune as I send out almost 300. Many of my friends collect them so I feel I have to carry on. At the beginning of the year I thought I'd get ahead of myself and painted a stained-glass window design and invented a couple of side windows with glass snowflakes. But the final result looked too real - not like a painting at all.
Then in the late summer I worked out a design based on a nice snow-covered tree I'd seen by Marsh Lock in the winter. That took another 10 days - and I still wasn't sure. So last week I painted a couple of clowns I'd met at Debbie and Paul's party and by adding a red Christmas hat to one of them and a holly and berry design to the pointed white hat of the other. This card took all week to paint, but still I'm not 100% happy! So I'll probably end up by using my Carousel painting now as the time is drawing near to start printing them off.

Last Monday morning I'd booked a midday slot at the Tate Modern to see the new Gauguin exhibition. It was a lovely sunny morning as I emerged from the tube at Mansion House and made my way across the Millennium bridge to the Tate. Gauguin's desire to start a new life in the South Seas has always intrigued me. In fact I very nearly emulated him in the late sixties when I first visited Bali. There was just one hotel on the island then and because of the infrequency of flights, hardly ever more than 250 tourists were there at any one time. The whole ambience and real mystery of Bali overwhelmed me. I met the famous Dutch artist Han Snel and Ari Schmidt, but most of all an artist called Blanco. His work was superb and you approached his castle - yes castle, over a rope bridge spanning a deep ravine.
I was so intrigued with Bali - all the Balinese are artistic - painters, woodcarvers, dancers, musicians - I very nearly resigned my executive career in an international advertising agency to become a painter in that paradise! So I could so easily understand Paul Gauguin's infatuation with his tropical paradise. These are two of my favourite Gauguin paintings:

I wasn't overly impressed with the earlier drawings and paintings but just loved his use of colour and design in the Tahitian and Polynesian work.
Later that day I made my way to the Mall Galleries for the opening of the Royal Society of Miniature Painters annual exhibition. It was good to meet so many old friends there. Rupert Maas opened the exhibition at 3.30 and presented most of the prizes. (Among his many attributes Rupert is the picture expert on 'The Antiques Road Show'.) I was awarded the Bonhams prize by Jennifer Tonkin - Bonhams miniature expert.

The award reads in part - "Bonhams is delighted to judge and award this prize in recognition of an artist whose work best upholds the traditional values of miniature portrait painting"

I mentioned in a previous blog that I'd donated a miniature the other week at an auction on Temple Island at a lavish lunch in aid of Henley's Kenton Theatre. Well I finished the painting last week. It was of Barry Wood's 7 year-old granddaughter, and he loved it. Here she is (with his permission).

A couple of evenings ago Val and I went over to Wokingham to have dinner with Jill, my cousin, at her daughter Samantha's home. There's nothing I like better than a good home-cooked meal. No fancy names either. So Jill's lamb stew went down a treat. Mat, Samantha's young son joined us. Such a good looking and intelligent lad, he was talking about a recent school trip when they visited the battlefields in Europe. It's good to know that these periods in history are being covered in such a practical way. Mat was intrigued to learn about some of the battles of World War One while actually standing on the very site of the conflicts.

So Paul was voted out of Strictly Come Dancing last week. Shame. I think the judges just didn't understand the reason Paul and Ola injected humour into the Rumba. They thought that as Paul is so much older than Ola it would have appeared a bit unseemly for them to appear raunchy together as is so often portrayed in this dance.

A fantastic new book about miniature portrait painting has just been published. It's entitled 'The Arturi Phillips Collection' and illustrates the work of over 400 portrait miniature painters. Starting with Nicholas Hilliard in the 16th Century it is so brilliant in that each artist is illustrated on the left hand side of a double page spread with a write-up about the artist, the sitter and method of working. But best of all on the right hand page is a real close up of the face. This means that we can fully appreciate the different styles of working. Amongst the old masters illustrated I was delighted to find that of only three living artists one of my portraits was there. It's of an old friend of mine - Jimmy Kelso - a very fine artist and author.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

I Went to a Marvellous Party

Where’s Noel Coward when you want him? If the great man had been around last Sunday he would have found wonderfully rich pickings to write about at the most fabulous party I’ve ever been to. 

The occasion? Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee were celebrating their 22nd year of wedded bliss by renewing their marriage vows. The invitation called for colourful bow ties and party dresses. And boy, did the hundred or so guests oblige. Old friends, new friends, family, and show biz glitterati - everyone turned up in a sparkling array of vibrant colours. Greeted at Paul and Debbie’s riverside residence by Kevin Toomey, the white faced clown, and his colourful compatriot, Mick Read, the scene was set.

The circus had started. Amongst the glittering throng I saw lots of people I knew. There was Vince and Annie. And Rolf and Alwen in matching turquoise outfits. Couldn’t see ‘the Bruvvers’ but Joe Brown was there. As were Debbie’s mother, father and sister, and Paul’s 94 year old mother. The riparian contingent was much in evidence too, and who was the glamorous lady in red with an armful of tattoos (and more in hidden places, no doubt?) None other than Jodie Marsh - fresh from appearing with Debbie in the TV show ‘Celebrity Come Dine With Me’. One of the other celebrities on that show was the ex Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Lembit Öpik. He was at the party too.

We were in for a treat later I could see, as in a blaze of colour, some of the performers were mingling on the terrace in the afternoon sunshine.

Later we noticed a big erection on the lawn!  It was an enourmous marquee. Inside was a circus ring dotted with gold stars, and tea was ready at our tables.

Red-coated circus themed girls served hot scones, strawberries, meringues and all sorts of goodies. A jazz band had been playing in the garden, but here in the tent was a dance band. (Two of the band members had, in fact, played at Paul and Debbie’s wedding all those years ago.)  Later in the afternoon, bathed in pale green lighting in a lovely setting, Debbie and Paul renewed their vows. Enchanting and beautiful.

They then led the dancing that followed. I even took to the floor for a while (Thank you Court School of Dancing in Reading for the ballroom dancing lessons when, as a gawky teenager I was steered around the floor by a stately galleon in the guise of a Joyce Grenfell look-alike). Next came a plate-spinning act by Andrew Van Buren and Allyson.

This was followed by an incredible contortionist – Iona Luvsandori. She has to be seen to be believed.

We all mingled a bit, both in the marquee and outside by the river. With a forecast of heavy rain Debbie and Paul must have done something good because the sun was shining brightly. Sitting at the ‘showbiz’ table I spied Janette and Ian Tough – otherwise known as ‘The Krankies’. (What a hilarious couple they are - I saw them, together with Paul, the other week in the ‘Best of British’ show in Basingstoke.) Tiny Janette becomes schoolboy Wee Jimmy Krankie and Ian acts as her father. Later in the day Mick Read found his soul mate as he and ‘Wee Jimmy’ danced together.

When we returned to our table we found a complete colour change – it was now laid out for supper – and what a supper. At the end of the marquee Luscombe’s (one of Henley’s premier restaurants) were serving a lavish and absolutely delicious hot buffet. Then the drums rolled and a small circular stage appeared in the circus ring and the white-faced clown announced the final act of the evening.

The skating duo – Vittorio Arata and his extremely pretty (wife to be) Eugenia whirled on to the stage.

Here is a little video the finale of their act. What a way to end a marvellous party. Thank you Paul (see you tonight on Strictly Come Dancing) and Debbie.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The Henley Literary Festival

I'm a bit behind in writing my blog - mainly because there's been so much going on. Last week, for example, Henley held it's annual Literary Festival. Scores of famous authors, actors, broadcasters and other luminaries descended on the town to promote their latest books and to take part in the Festival. This year a whole variety of venues were selected, from the River and Rowing Museum and the Kings Arms Barn to the Kenton Theatre and the 'Hibernia' river boat.
I booked to go on the Hibernia on the Friday to listen to Rula Lenska, among others, reading poems under the banner ' Love and War'.

Under a sparkling blue sky sprinkled with a few scudding white clouds we cruised up to Marsh Lock then downstream to Temple Island, while on board as we sipped coffee and munched biscuits as we enjoyed a variety of beautiful poetry spanning a hundred years or so and read by talented professionals.

I'd bought tickets for about twelve events, amongst them the 90 year old Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire ( the last of the legendary Mitford sisters)
talking about her life under the heading of 'Debo's Dynasty' at the Kenton Theatre. Her stories about her family were highly entertaining. And when someone asked her if she'd preferred to have tea with Hitler or Elvis Presley she replied " Well, Elvis, of course! What an extraordinary question!"
Ron Moody spoke about his life, especially, of course, of his role of Fagin in "Oliver". I bought a copy of his book as a present for a friend, and not only did he autograph it, he drew a little portrait of himself in the corner - as Fagin of course.

Over a period of five days I heard, amongst many others, June Spencer talk about my favourite radio programme 'The Archers'. She's another 90 year old and has played Peggy Archer for 60 years and is the only remaining member of the original cast.
Two photographers gave wonderful talks about their work at the old Kings Arms Barn and the Town Hall - Charles Glover has photographed such personalities as Sir Cliff Richard, Bob Geldof, and our local hero, Sir Steve Redgrave. Clive Limpkin talked about India - his visits have resulted in a stunning book of photographs, and I bought a copy for one of my great nieces who has a real ambition to become a travel photographer.
I much admire Somerset Maugham' work so really enjoyed Selina Hasting reading extracts from her new book 'An Englishman Abroad'.
Suffice it to say I had a really interesting few days glistening to so many talented people Alexie Sayle was one and Melvyn Bragg another. Although as his talk was held in St. Mary's church packed with 400 people, I couldn't see anything as he was hidden behind one of the stone pillars.
But, to my mind, the most fascinating speaker of all was Fergal Keane. Not only is he one of the BBC's most distinguished foreign correspondents, he is also an acclaimed writer. His descriptions of excerpts from his book ' Road of Bones, the siege of Kohima 1944' was incredible. He recounted the story of the desperate fight of a garrison of 1,500 men in the Indian village of Kohima near Burma where they were outnumbered ten to one by Japanese soldiers. There were so many losses on both sides as thousands of Japanese starved on the retreat along the 'Road of Bones'.

It wasn't all culture that week as I managed to spend 40 hours painting - mainly to complete this miniature of Sir Stamford Raffles.

Next month the Henley Operatic Society (HAODS) will be presenting the musical ' Raffles of Singapore' at the Kenton and I agreed to donate the miniature as one of the main auction prizes at the Gala Evening. It's in aid of the Alzheimer's Society - a very good cause. A number of my friends, both past and present, suffer from this terrible disease.
I also finished my large watercolour 'The Carousel'. It's taken over 300 hours to paint, and is now at the framers where Ian has the difficult job of attaching a little device which I finally managed to locate. It will play 20 seconds of carousel music when you walk past the painting. (Which will, I'm sure, become very annoying!

We went to a performance of 'Veronica's Room' put on by the Wargrave Theatre Workshop at the Wyclyffe Hall on Friday. then play was written by Ira Levin, who's hailed as the king of the high concept thriller. We sat in the tiny little balcony (where the sporadic clicking noise coming from the workings of an ancient clock right behind us was a real distraction - till someone told us what was making the noise). I always enjoy a good play, but for the life of me, I couldn't understand this one. Each time I thought I knew what was going on it made another twist and turn, and I was lost once again!
Last night - Saturday - 'Strictly Come Dancing' reached the first live performance. Paul Daniels, together with his wonderful partner, Ola, danced the foxtrot. I thought he did really well, and I hope my votes will help keep him in the competition for a few more weeks. We'll know tonight.

Incidentally on Thursday evening I went to the opening of an exhibition at the River and Rowing Museum entitled 'The Art Royal'. It was a collection of original etchings, lithographs, watercolours and photographs by Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, Prince Charles and Lord Snowdon respectively. I must say I was extremely impressed by both Queen Victoria' and Prince Albert's work. And I was amazed how beautifully drawn were Queen Victoria's lithographs. Having had an apprenticeship in lithography I could really appreciate her skill - especially as lithography had only been invented about ten years prior to her first drawings - when you consider she not only drew these exquisite little figure sketches on lithographic stone, she drew them in reverse.

Stop press: Paul got through Come Dancing tonight so he'll be straining his muscles all this coming week with Ola.