Saturday, 22 January 2011

Bognor. The New Left Bank.

www.antoniarolls.co.uk for my website
www.jesusonthetube.co.uk for the website on the Jesus on the Tube image and idea, Jesus sitting on a crowded tube train and being ignored.
www.agracefuldeath.blogspot.com for the A Graceful Death exhibition, paintings from the end of life


Bognor.  The New Left Bank.

Intellectuals, Painters, Photographers, Writers, Graphic Designers, Poets, Feminists, all living in (or near) my house.  Bognor is a hotbed of creativity and passion.  The tide has turned and suddenly anyone who is anyone is here (or near here), being Excited and Planning their next Move.  The Left Bank in Paris was the place to be if you were an artist and or bohemian from about 1870 to after the second world war.  It was home to painters, writers and creators, eccentrics and nutcases, artists both profound and bonkers.  It was where aspiring writers went to mingle with others of a like mind, where Art was the Passport and success was elusive and often unimportant.  Or irrelevant.  Many of the characters were so wonky-of-mind that they wouldn't have known what to do with it anyway, and continued to live in utter chaos, drinking themselves into an early grave.  Like Modigliani, who painted the most beautiful silent and elongated two dimensional portraits of people, considered terribly odd at the time, but what the heck he lived in the Parisian Left Bank, what do you expect - but now are collected and sold and exhibited as masterpieces, and worth an absolute fortune, thank you very much.  Modigliani drank and drugged himself into an early grave in abject poverty, which gave him quite a lot of kudos.  It makes him seem superbly talented in hindsight, and though I love his work, the reality of his life must have been terribly squalid and painful.  Chiam Soutine was another artist who's art spoke of his life and mental state amidst poverty and misery.  Astonishingly moving and difficult to like, I think.

Names such as Marc Chagall, the magical mysterious Jewish Refugee painter, Toulouse Lautrec, the dwarf from an aristocratic family who painted the working girls and cabaret performers with extraordinary skill and perception, writers and painters such as Nina Hamnett known as the Queen of Bohemia, Gertrude Stein the very tough and probably unlikeable but influential abstract writer and poet and her partner, the ever patient Alice B Toklas, Pablo Picasso who we all know and have an opinion about, all these and many many more lived and worked in the Left Bank in Paris.  Their Bohemian lifestyle was notorious, the mingling of so many minds exciting and productive - life there must have been intoxicating and addictive.

Which brings me onto Bognor Regis. Intoxicating and Inspiring.  Here, in and around my house, are gathered Photographers (the eminently sane and sober Eileen Rafferty), painters (Me, also sober but more of a show off than Eileen), Graphic Designers (Rhona Reedie, modest but brilliant, so very like Eileen, and a bit like me in that I am brilliant but not modest) , Film Makers (Neill Blume who is making the A Graceful Death film with me and is very wild and arty in his own way, in that he has a motorbike), Cup Cake Gurus (Annabel Church Smith who can make anything she really wants to but has surpassed herself in the cup cake stakes), Olivia Fane (classics scholar, theology scholar, writer of books that are deeply intelligent and controversial)...And then, as if that is not enough, there are more.  I know and am inspired by other artists, writers, poets, feminists some of whom are married to other feminists, thinkers, nutters, eccentrics and mavericks.  They have all visited here and we are in touch by email and phone.  There are those in my life too, and so in the Bognor Left Bank, who are capable of wonderful things, but whose lives are so deliciously complicated, and so wonderfully naughty, that that is creativity enough to be genius.

What makes Bognor so obviously the new Left Bank, is that while the Left Bank artists etc were living and creating and being artists, they had no clue that one day they would be world famous.  They just got on with things, and pawned each others clothes to buy enough paint for one more splurge, and got paralytic on absinthe for the price of a drawing in a table cloth, and got terribly cold when it was cold, and terribly ill when they hadn't eaten for a while because there was no money, or they forgot because they were drunk, or the Muse had kind of got them on a Roll.  They lived their Art as a day to day Thing, it wasn't something Other to them.  It wasn't a means to an end, it was simply a compulsion to create.  We, in Bognor are like that too, though not quite so disorganised.  But we are living our Art and making our mark as a matter of routine, whether we get paid or not.  Our Bognor Left Bank is a bit more orderly and middle class.  We have central heating, and many of us are teetotal, and we all have bills paid by direct debit.  Many of us are vegetarian, and so far, none of us have been sectioned.  But we know people who have.  The most unifying drink amongst us Bognor Left Bankers is Tea.  Pots of it, taken not with drugs or dry stale bread, but with Cake and Buttered Toast.  Possibly because we are a bit older now, in our 40s and 50s, we don't like discomfort so we have moved on a bit.  We all were hedonistic and disreputable once, in our youth, but we find now that that gets in the way of doing good work.  It becomes an end in itself.  So our flowering of Art,  Culture and Creativity is about being Inspired and Excited about Expression together.  The passion I mentioned in the beginning is not for each other, though we are all jolly good buddies and rather past all that kind of thing - it is about what we are doing; ideas for paintings, projects, books, films, poems.  It is about like minds inspiring each other, looking for ways to make all these things happen.  And because we are all a bit old now, and have sown all our wild oats, and have begun to experience the sweetness of success and interest from the World Out There, we are serious about doing what we do to the very best of our abilities. We all muddle along in a slightly less bohemian way than the real Paris Left Bank.  I have mentioned that we are all a bit older and more comfy.  I also think that Bognor, compared to Paris architecturally, probably comes off worse.  We don't have the Seine, but we do have the Sea.  We don't have many cafes, but we do have fish and chips.  Our Town Hall is not as grand as the Louvre but it is a nice big building. 

There is then, a flourishing of the arts in Bognor.  It is all quite gentle compared to the hundred or so years of the Paris Left bank, in that we have only been going a month or so.  Well, perhaps it has been building up for a year or so.  But we are on the way.  Watch this space.

Next blog, the Bognor Renaissance.

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