Year Nineteen . . . Reflections and Emotions
First published Tuesday 19th January 2021
Early in 2018, I had been contacted by Charlotte Bowskill, who had worked at a gallery in Duke Street, London, before having her children. The Gallery had since closed, and she was establishing her own business with her clients in the Middle East, specifically with artworks of Arabian horses.
Charlotte asked me if I was interested in her representing me for this specific area of my genre, and in 2018 I had produced two paintings for her, ‘Silk and Gold’ and ‘Colours of Grey’. In 2019, one of my favourite paintings was a limited palette piece, ‘Reflection’, painted for Charlotte’s market, and which was promptly dispatched to a new home in Kuwait.
In March I met up with Charlotte at the Dubai International Arabian Horse Show, as I was again on a trip to visit my expat brother. I also met Kenna Al-Sayed and her family on her trade stand at the event. I had ‘known’ Kenna for a number of years through social media, and turned up on her stand unannounced to introduce myself say hello. To say she was startled (pleasantly so) was an understatement!
There was also a horse demonstration area at the event, and Team Z, a Spanish riding display displayed their horses several times over the course of the show, giving me ample opportunity to reference. Team Z also had part of their display where a Spanish dancer performed alongside the horse, which I had heard of, but not seen before.
One of the resulting paintings, ‘Duet’ is my favourite piece from 2019. This is partly because it achieves a fluency that I had been working towards, and partly because I have no idea how I painted it.
Remember the John Cage quote from 2013? I had literally left the studio, and the painting painted itself. For example, the horse was supposed to be grey, but he didn't want to be - I really had no say in the matter, the red and gold scarf? I have no idea where that came from. The vertical lines were, however, much discussed between Julie and myself, and probably took longer than the whole of the rest of the work. They relate to a musical stave, and while Duet is part of my 'Red Thread Series', it resides in a sub series titled 'Spanish Stave'. The Spanish Stave paintings are rooted in a childhood memory of a dance, The Tarantella, from my days in ballet class. The vibrant folk dance was supposed to eject the venom of the bite of the Wolf Spider from the body, and the name comes from the region in Italy where it originated (nothing to do with a tarantula spider).
Sadly, later in March, we lost David’s mother, Edith. She had become ill just before my trip to Dubai, though had been suffering from age-related dementia for a number of years. David’s sister, Miriam, was in the UK on a visit, and both David and Miriam were with her at her passing. Miriam was able to extend her stay to also attend the family funeral back in Newcastle, and to help with sorting through Edith’s possessions before we cleared her flat. The staff at Popplewell Springs, where Edith spent the last eight years of her life, were wonderful throughout the process, now looking after us too. We are truly grateful for the dedication and care they showed to Edith and to us.
In April, Artists Magazine, the monthly imprint which was part of TheArtistsNetwork in the USA, published a seven-page article: 'Five Approaches to Drawing For Beginners and Beyond', a smaller version of the Ten Approaches online article which I had written in 2018. I was also still writing and documenting stages of work for my ten-part series of articles on drawing and painting animals, which continued to be published through to the October issue of The Artist magazine.
'Ladies in Waiting', another favourite from this year, was referenced during the lambing season at Well Hill Farm (where our horses were kept) was sketched on location and painted in studio for the article on working from different source materials. While the subject is sheep, the painting is all about the light coming in the side of the barn.
At some point it occurred to me that I was actually writing a book, and with the blessing of the magazine’s editor, Dr Sally Bulgin, I started to make layouts similar to the magazine’s published page spreads with that in mind. I had some (incomplete) samples printed to gauge the reaction at Bramham Horse Trials, and my first book was published under the title ‘Hoof, Hide and HeART’ in late August.
After Bramham, artist Lesley Humphrey came over for a visit, and we had a lovely day at Julie Cross’s studio working with life model Linda Lawrence. Lesley, Julie and I had also been to Well Hill Farm in 2018 to paint a polo pony, then draw horses in the fields. Julie and I had also attended an Association of Animal Artists' organised workshop taught by Lesley at Bleakholt Animal Rescue in August of that year to raise fund for the resue centre. Julie and I had been attending Life Drawing with Andrés Jaroslavsky, and working more closely together in a co-mentoring partnership for a few years, and I was finally finding the support and interaction with other artists that I had craved.
My next show was The Art Show at The Great Yorkshire Show, now with new organiser, Lucy Fiona Morrison, and its new, larger, location in a conference suite at the entrance to the showground’s craft halls. As we were opposite the demonstration area for woodcraft, I sneaked out every so often to draw at the horse logging demonstrations. Steffi Schaffler of Teamwork Horse Logging noticed me sketching, and invited me back to meet the horse, giving me insight into the breed and the logging work. We discussed the possibility of a residential workshop at their base in Dumfries, Scotland, which I am hoping will go ahead one day.
As well as writing and painting, I somehow found time to make two websites in 2019: HorseDrawn.co.uk and ThumpoftheTale.com. HorseDrawn.co.uk replaced my published art e-commerce site, AtlasArt.co.uk (the AtlasArt.co.uk address will now take you to the new site). It was a hard decision, and a lot of work to learn how to make an on-line shop but, for over a year, the site hosts for the old AtlasArt site had ignored my requests for a SSL certificate to make the selling site secure and GDPR compliant. Earlier in the year, I had used a different site-builder to make ThumpoftheTale.com for an upcoming joint exhibition at Weston Park with Julie Cross, so my head was spinning!
'Thump of the Tale', my joint exhibition with Julie Cross, was held from the end of September to the end of October 2019 at The Granary Gallery, Weston Park, Shropshire, and my book, Hoof, Hide and HeArt: The Art of Drawing and Painting Animals was officially launched at the Preview on Sunday 29th September.
"The tales of childhood – mythology, parable, poem, rhyme, song and folk and fairy tales – become enmeshed in our memories and echo forward throughout our lives, transforming constantly, as we feel the reverberations of the Thump of the Tale.
Just as age-old stories have the power to resonate throughout the centuries, evolving and changing as we humans do ourselves, the remnants of stories and the compelling images they suggest in childhood can have an enormous emotional and psychological impact upon individuals. These figurative works, by two stylistically diverse artists, capitalise on this power of story to suggest new visual narratives, far removed from simple illustration, which are capable of affecting both the heart and the mind. Enjoy our new ‘stories’, and use them to create more of your own.”
At the Preview, Julie and I also gave a talk on the works, our motivations and the reason for the title. While Julie had started as an animal painter, she had moved to more figurative works, and had been exploring myths, parables fairy tales and the act of reading itself. Independently, I had been working on the series 'Innocence and Experience', and 'Red Thread' which were both inspired by tales and texts from my childhood. Both of our work series also explored the attachment of those tales to memories, and how the stories became interlinked in our minds. While we had been co-mentoring for a while, the series had been ideas from before we even met.
'Stitch' and 'Button' are part of my 'Red Thread Series', and utlise some of my Life Drawing in images that relate to the Red thread parable in Japanese folklaw. I turned this to a gold thread, healing connection between horses and humans. I have written about a visceral reaction to one of my paintings before (see 'Hawa My3a' in my fifteenth year), and although I was not there at the time, the volunteers in the gallery later told me of one lady's reaction to Stitch. While in the gallery with her friend, she stopped in front of the piece and started crying silently. Her frend later returned to buy Stitch, explaining that the lady had terminal cancer, and the drawing summed up her feelings, allowing her a much-needed release. That my work could touch someone at such a level is a truly humbling experience.
Julie and I spent a lot of time at Weston Park and also taught workshops at the weekends. We were taken on a private tour of the artworks in the National Trust House, and were looked after wonderfully by curator Gareth Williams, gallery manager, Katherine Dowd, and the volunteers who staff the gallery. I was also fortunate to be able to stay with a friend, Faye Medlycott, a Major in the army who was stationed at the nearby base. At the end of the exhibition, Julie and bought small thank you gifts for the gallery team and were amazed to find that in the ten years since the gallery had opened, we were the first artists to do so. Artist, take note. it is often the simple, little thoughtfulness that make a huge difference.
After the 'get-out' from Weston Park, I spent much of the rest of the month on post-exhibition administration, including shipping a painting to the USA (which promptly got stuck in customs for ten days), and disentangling the sales records. I then went to the Station Gallery in Richmond, North Yorkshire to help hang the Association of Animal Artists' Autumn Exhibition. All this left very little time for me to shop for an outfit. . .
While Miriam was in the UK for Edith's funeral, we had both (independently) sugested that David would find the first Christmas without Edith tough, and that we should go to stay with the family in the USA in December (and meet our great-nephew who was born in June). In July, David, my partner of 21 years had proposed by, rather romantically, saying "I suppose we should get married then". In fact, we had nearly married ten years before, but cancelled when word had got out, and our small planned wedding had spiraled out of control into a much larger affair. This time we kept the whole thing a secret. Miriam and her daughter, Eve, had been doing all the planning (they enjoy that sort of thing, while I most decidedly do not) for us to marry at a wedding chapel in Reno, Nevada - and before you ask, no it was not an Elvis officiating, you have to go to Las Vegas for that. However, I still had to find something to wear and we were flying out to the USA on the 18th December, so time was running short. In the end I gave up on finding something from a shop, not wanting a 'gown' and the only other options seemed either frumpy, floaty or just 'over the top'. Fortunately Jillian Welch in Harrogate came to the rescue, making me a beautiful three-quarter length silk coat in record time, and my good pal Yvonne Scales, helped me to sew some trousers to go under it. So David and I married on the 27th December with six guests, only two of whom (Miriam and Eve) knew about it until ten minutes before. There is more to the story as to how we achieved that, but I will not bore you with the whole tale!
Again the charcoal drawing was done without reference, and again, the design illicited an emotional response from many people, some of whom made the effort to contact me even though I was in America.