Well, the private view was lovely. Great to see so many friends. All of them loved the venue – Old Gala House, an ancient lairds house, added to over the centuries, and with impeccable taste too. The museum staff made us all feel welcome. And red dots appeared. Which, of course, was the point. The painting shown on the exhibition flier and other promotional material was the ‘Blue earing’. I’ve just heard that this has sold.
And I am just about to drive over to have a look at the ‘hang’.
With only one month to go before the one-man show of my botanical stuff, I’m getting the panics. Is there enough stuff? Will anyone buy it? Should stuff be simpler? More colour? Will the line be enough?
So much botanical illustration relies on the the sometimes ravishing, sometimes not, depiction of texture – leaves, bark, the glitter of glass vases, of linen, and so on… Then, of course, colour. Translucency. All those amazing transitions of tone and colour that can drive a painter to despair. And yet…
As others have discovered, notably the late Ellsworth Kelly, the vitality of plant life, the distinctiveness of a particular species, sometimes even subspecies and varieties, can be rendered by a line, an outline, of leaves and the way they relate to those nearby, or the placing of petals, or the fascination of fruit shapes.
Botanist refer to the ‘gestalt’ of plants, meaning, as I once understood it, the fast absorption of a multitude of characteristics, that enabled the instantaneous placing of plant X as, say, a Primula and, more than that, of such and such a sub-genus of Primula, and indeed of a group of species within that subgenus of Primula, called X.
But, drawn, the gestalt of a plant can be most simply expressed by, sometimes, a single swift line. A line can express, vividly, the energy and beauty of plant life, and can, in the end, say much more of the world than a perfect rendition of veins, bracts and anthers.
The corridor/studio fills up with cartons, cardboard boxes, soup cans (minus labels), sardine tins (minus sardines), and so on. James swirls through the mess, cross-patch, and demands their recycling. But that’s just it; this is their recycling. As rubbish objects to be painted onto rubbish, and, hopefully, to make something amusing, hopefully elegant, and hopefully new: boxscapes, tincanscapes, even sardinescapes.
And boxes and boxes and boxes… A side effect of buying stuff over the web, whether pieces of furniture or tubes of paint. A couple of whoppers recently seemed too nice to burn, and during their deconstruction, it seemed, with their light but rigid sides, and ideal material on which to paint. But then there were sides, innards, tape, ‘DO NOT BEND’ labels and so on… Perfect for starters.
So here are the first two. Boxscape drawn with marker pen, and painted/washed with some elderly white emulsion paint found in a cupboard. The second was a piece of nonsense with stencils, stamps, sponge and acrylics.
Corrugated board is a marvel; it varnishes wonderfully, takes paint well, can be cut, torn, scraped, especially to reveal its fascinating innards, and so on… Exciting.
It is easy enough, and not particularly stressful, to send off two jpegs to a public competition. It was slightly more stressing to send them off the the Royal Academy in London, especially at a cost of £15.00 for each submission. The RA were selling 15,000 of these. However, the real ride started once an email arrived, saying that one of the submissions had been short-listed for their Summer Show, so would I please hand the picture in to their Burlington Gardens reception centre. It was slightly awkward too because the painting in question was already at my local gallery. Retrieved, with apologies, reframed, mummified in bubblewrap, it was soon on the train (with me) to London.
There were mountains of bubblewrap, discarded packaging, assistants to clear it away (charming), provide scissors, even a tad of encouragement. Other ‘short listers’ arrived, all looking surprisingly anxious, peering neither right nor left, with creaking plastic mummies, some tiny, some the size of sailing ships, some flat, others bumpy.
And then the wait. Weeks. Days ticked off. What would happen if it got in? What if it didn’t? Fame? Fortune? Fiasco? Well, fortunately, Alec, who had shepherded me from Waterloo to the Royal Academy, has a friend who told him about Failure’s second fiddle. The Llewellyn Alexander Gallery has been running a sort of Salon des Refusés for the last twenty five years, and that folk with refused pictures jumped in taxis and took their bruised egos off to Waterloo.
The fateful email arrived. Refused. Ahhhh….
A few weeks later, another train trip south. This time a modest tube journey to Burlington Gardens, clutching a roll of now battered packing materials. Other folk gloomily repacking their pictures. No eyes met. I expected to see them all in half an hour at the L.A. gallery. Perhaps they hadn’t heard of it or were too disheartened to try somewhere else. After all, even of the refused, the gallery sometimes refused once again. I pressed the bell. And a little while later, left, with only empty wrappings, a slightly less favourable sales commission, and a pink paper receipt. I was in.
So, a London showing of three weeks. Perhaps a London sale. An extra line or two on my cv. And a few less dark hairs. It took a lot of energy away from actually painting. The travelling and other expenses will consume most of anything I make from a hoped-for sale. But should my ego, my finances and myself survive another year in the art, or any other world, then will I try again?