I must admit to having been, maybe only on rare occasions, one of those men; sitting in a group and ogling women walking past. I do feel ashamed, and a sense of complicity. Perhaps that’s why the male gaze and the #metoo movement have become recurring themes in my recent work; maybe I’m seeking redemption. In my defence, I grew up when Miss World and Benny Hill were primetime family viewing.
I was particularly interested in painting something based on The Judgement of Paris, because it is such an outrageous anachronism in the present moral climate.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
War and Peace, 2021 (after Rubens)
In 1630, the artist Peter Paul Rubens presented King Charles I with the painting “Minerva Protects Pax from Mars – Peace and War”. Rubens had been sent to England as the peace envoy of Philip IV of Spain (England and Spain had been at war for five years), and his painting depicted Minerva protecting Pax from an assault by Mars, allowing the other figures in the painting to enjoy the spoils of peace. There was a clear message – peace brings prosperity. A peace treaty was signed later that year.
My own interpretation is not quite so optimistic.
So, what could you do in four years?
I was showing my brother this painting, “Men in Suits”, explaining how it had taken four years to complete, from troubled start to tortuously slow end. And then I said “Well, what else would I have done?”
“Well, you could have completed a degree course in less time” he suggested, which got me thinking. Damn! Four years is actually quite a long time.
It took just a little longer to build the Hindenburg, but it only took two years to complete the Titanic. The First World War only lasted four years; time enough to kill 8.5 million soldiers. The Trump presidency survived four long years, and look what he managed to do.
Okay, so none of them had to contend with models cancelling at the last minute; or with four studio moves. And then there was Covid… Well, Trump dealt with Covid, sort of.
Now, I must add that I haven’t been working on this painting everyday for four whole years. Most of the time it has been turned towards the wall. But it has been painted and repainted on numerous occasions in that time. And well, yes, now I think about it, it is a long time.
New Year’s Eve, 2020.
How will I look back on this year, I wonder?
It started in the spirit of hope, with a move to a new studio; “A fresh start” and all that. I was looking forward to working in a studio complex where artists actually used their studios, and said hello to their neighbours. Fast forward a few months, and we were all wearing face masks, awkwardly trying to keep our distance from each other.
Just days after I’d got myself set up in my new studio, with paints and easel where I wanted them, lockdown happened. Studios were closed down, and normal life ground to a halt. No longer welcome in the marina, where I had been living on my boat, I had to take refuge in my girlfriend’s flat in London. No paints, no canvases. Just some pencils and a pad of Strathmore toned paper.
Memory is a funny thing. I look back fondly to those lockdown months, where each day I would set myself a drawing challenge. In my fading memory, I imagine that I enjoyed searching my friend’s flat for suitable subjects. The truth was that I was desperately missing my studio.
But there is something special that happens when you spend long enough drawing a subject. After a time, it’s almost as if a veil has been lifted, and you start to see another level of detail in the subject, that somehow evaded you before. So, reluctant as I was, I am now thankful that I had the opportunity to spend those long hours drawing a raggedy teddy bear, kitchen utensils and all my empty wine bottles.
The past year has been a disaster for my art practice. Exhibitions have been cancelled – no sooner have I delivered my paintings to a gallery, another lockdown happens, and I’m asked to collect them before the show even opens. My commissioned work has been even more badly affected. Despite a healthy number of enquiries, potential clients are understandably nervous about posing for hours in a small studio, during these times of social distancing, and have delayed their commissions until next year.
A big thank you to the wonderful people who commissioned the above portrait for their friend. It felt so good to be drawing an actual real person, and not that raggedy teddy bear again.
The Covid pandemic has been so very disruptive to my art practice, with commissions postponed, exhibitions cancelled, and my studio closed down for months.
But this particular commission was the exception, as it came my way because of the pandemic. A group of friends struggled to think of an interesting birthday present for their housemate, when the usual “experience” gifts are somewhat limited with covid restrictions. So what better gift can you give someone than a commissioned portrait 🙂