The Mayor of Sutton recently hosted a reception to bring together local artists and representatives from Sutton’s twin towns. The four towns that Sutton is twinned with are: Gagny, a suburb of Paris in France; Gladsaxe, a suburb of Copenhagen in Denmark; Minden in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany; and Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf in Berlin. Sutton town centre has a permanent artistic celebration of these twin town relationships, in the form of a mural.
I was fortunate to be invited to the reception, it was a lovely evening full of friendship and cooperation. As a way of strengthening the important cultural bonds between our towns, I offered to share some art prints with our guests, which they have kindly agreed to take back home and hide in their towns. Two copies of ‘Moon Over Telegraph Track’, and two copies of ‘Good Fortune’ will soon be making their way overseas. Both of the designs are connected to our local area, the first represents the river Wandle, and the second is a track which goes over some local smallholdings.
I’m very grateful to everyone for agreeing to take part in this European extension of the free art project, and if I receive any photographs and/or notes about the art works from their new locations, I’ll be sure to update this post.
I recently agreed to donate a piece of art to a fundraising event for Wallington Animal Rescue (WAR), an excellent local good cause, run tirelessly by Neil and Amanda. As the event drew nearer, I got more nervous. A painting of a cat had been requested, a subject I’ve only tackled once before now, and on that occasion I took a rather unconventional approach.
I didn’t want to repeat the previous cat portrait, I needed to find something different. A few days ago, after a few failed attempts at cat painting using ink on paper, with uncertainty levels rising I found myself turning a small box over and over in my hands. The box was a gift from Simon Heath, containing some sketching charcoals. Simon gave me this gift several years ago, it’s a lovely little box with a sliding lid, containing six different coloured sticks. Over the years I have opened and closed the box many times, reluctant to disturb its miniature perfection by using it. On this occasion I broke the spell, took the sticks from the box and began to work. A vaguely cat-like shape began to emerge, and I pressed on. I ended up with a rather relaxed looking feline, and decided to title the art work, ‘Peace’. Uncertainty overcome, the good people at WAR appreciated the donation and Peace now has a new home.
I told Simon I had finally got round to using his gift, and he kindly replied with a lovely short story, which I’d like to share with you here.
“My favourite teacher at school was, perhaps unsurprisingly, my art teacher. He was not your conventional idea of an art teacher. He had served in the merchant navy during the Second World War. He was torpedoed and his ship sunk during the Malta convoys.
He was an evocative storyteller. He did not spare us the hardships and horrors of his service. He had a wealth of tales of all kinds and liked to set us drawing and painting projects provoked by different types of music. He used to jokingly threaten us with “The Persuader”. A table leg studded with nails and drawing pins akin to Captain Caveman’s club. He had a favourite scary story called Skull Island. It was terrifying and accompanied by grotesque sound effects.
He brought in plaster replicas of works of the great classical sculptors like Michelangelo. He liked to think that the figure already existed within the marble. The sculptor’s art was releasing that figure. I’ve always cherished that idea. And so, thank you for patiently reading this story and understanding why I love the idea that your cat was sleeping within the charcoal this whole time. And you’ve now released it into a wider consciousness. My teacher’s name was Peter Clay. He died some years ago but his stories didn’t. He was brilliant.”
I love the idea that sometimes our work is already there, it just needs releasing. That’s a notion I shall seek out again, next time a goal is proving elusive.
I hope you enjoyed this piece of writing as much as I enjoyed handing the finished artwork over, and seeing Simon’s story. If the idea of working with uncertainty interests you, come to the next Working With Uncertainty workshop in London on October 16th, and explore new ways to do things differently, in a safe, encouraging environment. See you there.
I’ve been working on the next free art drop, and I can’t seem to shake the excellent song ‘Pressure Drop’ while I’m painting. Originally by Toots and The Maytals, I’m aware the song has also been covered by The Specials and The Clash, and doubtless many more bands too. The version I hold in my head is the performance by The Clash (and/or a live version by Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros).
The song got into my head this week during a period of mindlessness. I’ve had a busy, productive week and as a way of release/relief from a busy schedule I’d been seeking to do something which didn’t require thought, something I could just…do. That something arrived in the form of a run yesterday morning. I’d not run since April 2017 and I knew that doing so would quickly utilise my resources and take me to a place of no thinking, just doing. The run started and so did the beat. I huffed and puffed my way home and at every step along the 2.67 mile jog, Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Topper Headon and Paul Simonon accompanied me.
Back in the studio, I couldn’t shift the song, so I decided to abstract it out of my head, onto paper.
Part of this work harks back to my earlier Elemental Art series, something I thought I’d left behind, but it turns out I am enjoying letting it sneak back into my thinking and making again. This piece will be hidden soon.