Eleventh . . . drawing into my second decade
First posted Monday 11th January 2021
While the year had started cold and snowy again, it soon cleared and I was back in the studio painting for the upcoming shows. In April I accompanied David’s, increasingly frail, mother to the USA, where my sister-in-law, Miriam Allen, was rehearsing a recital of ‘Secret Garden’ for A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, along with her friend, choreographer and co-director of the Dance Company Director, Alex Van Alstyne. I was able to go back stage at the dress rehearsal to sketch and reference the dancers - corps and minor leads danced by older students from the Conservatory of Dance (including David’s niece, Eve) where Miriam is principal teacher, and lead role danced by Kate Crew-Linsley, a soloist with Ballet West (San Francisco). Again, the sketchbook came out, and I experienced a ‘Degas’ phase enjoying the behind-the-scenes (literally) stories .
On my return to England (no delays this time), I exhibited at Chatsworth in May. I’m afraid that I had seen declining returns at Chatsworth for a few years and it was not a good show for me at all this time. When I started exhibiting at Chatsworth I was the only artist there with my own trade stand. There was also an art dealer, and another artist in the rural crafts Pavilion. In 2011 there were ten artists and two art dealers, which is just too many for the size of the showground. Shows are costly – stand costs; set up costs; insurance; staff (including feeding them!); framing; print and card stock. Also, a four-day show takes two weeks from my studio time - preparation, the actual time at the show ground and lying down in a darkened room afterwards to recover - both physically and back to the mind-set I need to paint. So reluctantly, as it is the most beautiful setting, I made the decision not to return.
Giving up a show is always a difficult decision. While I need to exhibit and sell my work to make a living in order to keep painting, I had also come to appreciate, and look forward to, visits from people who come to my stand year after year, some of whom have become collectors and/or friends. Bramham is the show where I have exhibited for the longest, and at times my stand feels more like a social event! I don’t exactly remember when, but the organisers introduced ‘Late night shopping (4pm to 8pm on the Friday of the show and free entry from 4pm), and the in second year of this feature it coincided with my birthday, so we started to offer drinks and snacks. It was so popular (and while not intended as such, became one of our best sales promotions) that we have continued it to this day. The Pastel artwork ‘Caravaggio’ was sold at our ‘late night’ shopping evening in 2011.
I remember it well, because the buyer was transfixed when they first saw the artwork on the wall. Caravaggio is not the name of the horse, but of a late 16th/early17th century Italian painter, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. As well as being famous for a somewhat colourful and violent lifestyle, he is known for dramatic compositions and bold use of strong contrast lighting in his paintings. In artistic terms the latter is referred to as chiaroscuro, and I did consider, then reject, that as a title. In Caravaggio, I was playing with high contrast and ‘lost edges’. Images on black backgrounds have become a bit of a stylistic trope, especially in animal art, (seemingly influenced by a move toward that in photography). However, it was a subject I wanted to explore with a ‘black horse on a black background’, and the many colours involved in depicting that. The piece is drawn on a black substrate, but there are many nuances of the colour black*, and you can see from the image that by also adding pastel to the lower part of the background, it changes the appearance of the black paper in relation. I was increasingly becoming interested in colour and, though I had not started to study colour theory yet, with hindsight I can see the experiments and discoveries I was making were leading me toward that. Caravaggio was a bit of a ‘one off’ but I am still flattered and humbled by the buyer’s strong reaction to it, and pleased that the artwork continues to be so well loved.
In late May, David’s Mother had returned from the USA, and it quickly became apparent that she was not managing by herself at home. So the rest of my Summer was spent initially travelling three times a week to make sure she had what she needed, then finding her assisted living nearer to our home and arranging the move. With my ‘other half’, David, working away again over Spring and Summer, and Miriam in the USA, it was down to me to step up to help. Needless to say, I did not get a lot of painting done at that time, and turned more to my passion for drawing. Rather than a painter I started out as a draughtsman, and that underpins all my work. It is also easier for me to get into a mindset for drawing, in fact it is a form of mindfulness for me. Two favourite artworks from this year are the charcoal drawing ‘Squatters’ and ‘Chastened’. Both started as drawings from life of puppies who were being socialised (‘puppy-walked’) at the yard where our horses were stables. Squatters is so titled, because the hound pups had taken over the yard dog’s bed (I love to draw the way that hounds and other dogs lie piled on top of each other). Chastened is a drawing of (notoriously naughty) beagle pups. Pack walks, with others from the yard, their dogs, and the pups, involved spending half an hour looking for one who had disappeared, only to turn and find that the other had taken themselves off too. Telling them off was an exercise in futility as you gazed into their guileless eyes, so Chastened shows them finally resigned and restrained, as the rope under their bed suggests.
While I did not get much artwork done that Summer, my new website (an 'e-commerce' site where you can buy online), ‘went live’ in July. It was designed and run by a local web hosting company, but I did have to learn how to add prints and cards etc to it. Since starting my business, my website address had been AtlasArt.co.uk, though it was initially a non-selling site designed and hosted by a designer friend (Atlas Art Publishing was named after my horse). From the start I wanted to keep separate identities for my published work and for my work as an artist.
In mid-August, David’s mother moved to a lovely flat in the newly opened Popplewell Springs in Tadcaster, where care was on-site, should she need it. David had just returned from working away, and Miriam came over from the USA to help her settle in. I was fortunate for the timing, as in early September, I was back exhibiting at Burghley. It seems no good deed goes unpunished though, and my year continued to be ‘different’ as I was stung by a wasp while sleeping in the horsebox on the first night. I woke up and felt something on my upper arm, which I brushed off, but it stung me anyway. By morning my arm had swollen up, and black veins of venom were snaking out from the sting site. A trip to the St John’s ambulance medical station only resulted in the advice to go to hospital, but I needed to stay and work, and anyway we had no transport other than the horsebox. By the second day, I could not put clothing over the affected part, and we had used every bit of ice we could beg. I eventually found a solution at one of the tack stalls: buying bandages for horses legs after cross country, which came with a bottle of liquid that made the bandages cold. I spent the rest of the show with my arm wrapped and eventually the swelling went down, but as this was my second severe reaction to a wasp sting, I am careful to avoid them now. I apologise if you saw me at Burghley in 2011. While I usually operate just on the right side of the edge of hysteria at a show, I think the wasp sting pushed me over it that year.
My Christmas card in 2011 was ‘Tracks’. The previous year, snow had arrived and stayed with bitterly low temperatures. I had spent a lot of time at the yard unfreezing taps and getting water to the horses, who were confined to barracks for the duration, the tracks to the fields being dangerously iced over. Tracks was a scene looking up the path to the fields with my Jack Russell Terrier, Riley, running to me carrying a big stick. Well, more like a branch really. Riley was a dog who didn’t know he was small, and would always find the biggest stick to play with. The sketch became the little watercolour painting ‘Tracks’, a tribute to my irrepressible terrier finding fun and enjoyment in life even when dwarfed by events.
* footnote: Some people say that black and white are not colours. While that is true in physics, where black is the absence of colour (light) and white is the culmination of all colours in the spectrum, it is not true of pigments and dyes. In art, black and white are colours, but are termed achromatic - colours without a chroma. Chroma is a colour's divergence from true neutral (a grey mixed from black and white).