Saturday, 30 June 2007

It's raining, it's pouring...

The sky is grey, outside is wet and I'm probably going to spend most of this weekend indoors. Being indoors is making me feel all introspective and I've been reflecting on one of my reasons for making art which is to capture experiences I have had. I find it easier to do this when the experience is actually happening - like painting a view while looking at it - rather than trying to remember later on what the experience was like.

The rain has reminded me of the time we went to a music festival in Bethnal Green and it was lovely and sunny when we got there. I'd gone prepared to do some sketching and I had my travelling watercolour set with me and my little
camping stool. I set up camp in front of the sound stage and, ever conscious of opportunistic thieves ready to steal my belongings, I began to sketch what I could see.

Before long I attracted an audience of my own who were keen to watch me over my shoulder while I worked. I found this unsettling but was resigned to it since this often happens if I work outside where there are people around - you briefly become public property. What I wasn't prepared for was one man with his small daughter who took up a position slightly behind me and to my left and behaved as though he was my personal security guard and even directed other members of my 'audience' where to stand with an imperious wave of the hand. Since I wanted to get on with my task in hand I didn't bother to remonstrate with him; instead I hoped he would get bored and leave me alone. This did not happen but in this instance I was saved by a downpour which you can see made the paint run (sketch shown above) and made those of us caught in the rain head for the nearest tent. Although it's not possible to see it in my painting when I look at it I can remember the feelings of claustrophobia and the lack of freedom I felt when I was hemmed in by my group of onlookers.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

The day of the midsummer fair

Saturday dawned overcast and a bit drizzly in Hackney. Still, that was a lot better than the rest of the country has been putting up with during 'blazing' June with many places ankle deep in water. Saturday marked the day for the Victoria Park Traders Association summer fair and I was going to share a stall with a friend. This would be my first experience as a market trader and my stock-in-trade was my greetings cards that I've produced from sketches I made during the '90s; you can see a selection on the left. I undertook some market research last year and found out which were the favourite designs so I was happy with my selection of cards. By the time my co-stall-holder, who was planning to sell his wood cut engravings, had driven up from Sussex the sun was shining and there were patches of blue sky and we quickly set up our stall.

The area for the site of this fair is known these days as Victoria Park Village. This is a misnomer - there never has been, in the traditional sense, a village in this area of London. As far as I know there was one in Bethnal Green and there was one in Hackney in the centre of the present town. The place we now know as London is a collection of towns and villages plus the City of London and City of Westmister which over the centuries have merged into one enormous city. Many of these locations have retained some of their former atmosphere, architecture and street names and have a sense of history which can add charm to your visit or conversely they consist of miles and miles of identical houses, parades of shops, roads and tube stations which you feel you'll never find your way out of. Help!!

Anyway this modern day village of Victoria Park, which really means in, estate agent's shorthand, an area of affluence with rising house prices, is in the borough of Hackney and takes its name from Victoria Park which is in the borough of Tower Hamlets next door. I've always felt a bit cynical about this 'village' tag but I was to have the cynicism wiped off my face during the course of the day because there really does exist a feeling of community, warmth and general good will in the area and I, along with my fellow stall-holder, were beneficiaries of this bonhomie.

The stall on our left was run by a lady who used to run a flower shop around the corner until she started a family. She was selling rather elegant pots and plants and flowers. We didn't find out her name but did keep an eye on her stall several times during the day including the time when she went to sing with the band who were providing some of the entertainment. The stall to our right was run by two friends who'd studied fashion design together. They were selling children's clothes and accessories and when it rained on and off during the day we'd all help cover the stalls in plastic. We didn't find out their names either, or reveal ours for that matter but that didn't seem important at the time.

We treated the day as a holiday, sat in garden chairs, read the paper, drank coffee, chatted and watched the world go by. Occasionally someone would stop and scrutinise our work and even engage us in conversation but sales were thin on the ground. To be fair hardly any the other stall holders were making much money as far as we could see except, of course, the food stalls which were constantly busy. Everyone was hungry, including us. The best part of the day for me was meeting all my neighbours as they drifted past our pitch and who had no idea that I paint or design and were all very interested in what was on display. This included the local shop keepers and even my French teacher from evening class so while I didn't make any money to speak of I finished the day having made more acquaintances and feeling more at home in the place I call home.

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Midsummer Fair next weekend

This is a public service announcement. The Victoria Park Village is having its midsummer fair next weekend on Saturday, 23 June from 12 noon until 6pm and I will be sharing a stall with my friend David. We will be selling our artwork along with many other people selling food, drink and playing music and, so long as the weather holds up, it should be a good day. If you happen to live in London and fancy an afternoon out here is a map reference.

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Visit to the Royal Academy Summer Show

I am bent on visiting the Friday evening preview of the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition and remind myself all day, at work, that that is how I'm going to spend the evening. The claim is that the Summer Exhibition is traditionally the start of the Summer Season which is news to me. In previous centuries the exhibition was very fashionable and it was considered an honour for an artist to be able to exhibit there. In recent decades the exhibition fell into a decline and became a byword for mediocrity but now it has sharpened up its act. The show is the world's largest open submission art exhibition, which means anyone can submit work providing they fill in the forms and pay the fee, and I can say from my own experience there is a very strong chance that your work will then be rejected and you'll simply be out of pocket but you will have a nicely framed piece of work to admire.

The Royal Academy of Arts was established in 1768 and its original home was in Somerset House which is on the Strand but eventually it moved to its present home at Burlington House in Piccadilly. Burlington House has a very large and grand courtyard and I like to think of visitors in the past arriving by carriage, but this is 2007 and I arrived on foot having travelled most of the way from Holborn on the number 8 bus which terminates at Victoria Station. Burlington House was originally a private Palladian mansion that was greatly enlarged in the 19th century and the feeling I get when I enter the building is that I'm visiting a very grand, aristocratic family home - what with the big staircase opposite the entrance, the paintings on the ceilings and the marble here, there and everywhere - and I sense that it's time to kick back, relax and take it easy. This was nigh on impossible on Friday evening when the foyer was more like a crowded tube train during rush hour!

I deliberately avoided buying the list of works and their prices since I didn't plan to buy anything apart from a drink and made do with reading the panels with explanatory text that are near the entrance to each gallery. Sadly I found a lot of the text tediously pretentious so attended to the work on display instead which is after all what I was there for. The piece of work that I really wanted to see was David Hockney's 'Stand of Trees'. In fact it is one landscape painting made up of 50 separate paintings and occupies the end wall of the largest gallery. I'm never sure whether I actually like Hockney's work but I did find this one fascinating; I spent some time trying to see how he built up the layers of the painting and I did this while enjoying a sit down and a glass of pimms. This painting was all the more interesting because I'm trying to resolve a problem I'm having with a landscape of my own and I'm hoping that studying the Hockney will help me solve it (a detail from it is shown here).

As usual I can never look at all the exhibits in one visit because there are simply too many to see so I belted round the other galleries in my haste to find the exit and en route I paused in the gallery devoted to architecture which I always enjoy although don't always understand. While there I spied, on a ledge by an architectural display, a temporary installation of empty champagne flutes and discarded pimms glasses complete with swizzle sticks, bits of cucumber and mint leaves and I thought there's an opportunity for some pretentious witticisms but I just couldn't think of anything.