ANTONIA ROLLS ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE NEWS. An account of an Artist and Mother in Bognor Regis. Worthwhile, but exhausting, so pour the tea and make yourself comfortable...(this painting is a family portrait, about 2'x 3', oil on wood. It is the Ross Family, each family member with items that describe them best. And at the front, on the grass on the right hand side, is a photo of Grandma, sadly missed.)
We Are Coming To Terms With Our Pre Raphaelite Status
The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood of 1848 has inspired Bognor to new heights. We have become Pre Raphaelite Bognor. This includes our Sisters as well as our Brothers, and we feel very satisfied that our Movement this week keeps the original PRB tag intact, while including not only the ever evolving town of Bognor Regis, but Ladies as well as Men. The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood signed their names on their paintings as usual, adding the then mysterious letters PRB. We can do that. I will sign Rocking Rev Rachel Mann's portrait Antonia Rolls PRB when it is finished; it will be a new milestone in our crazy town full of Artists and Artistic Endeavour.
In 1848 a group of young artists and poets decided that they couldn't bear the corrupting influence that the Mannerist artists had on art after Michaelangelo and Raphael. They felt deeply miffed that painting after Raphael was wrong - elegant compositions, classical poses, dark dark colours and contrived sloppy painting. It gave them, they all agreed, a headache. Let Us, they all said, Go Back To The Wonder Of Fourteenth Century Italian And Flemish Art. Within that art, they said with conviction, there is extraordinary detail, strong bright colour and sophisticated composition. That, they all continued, is what we want.
And so they formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the PRB, and history was made. The founders of this movement were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. Outside they went, with their paints and folding stools, and painted every detail from life. No doing-it-later nonsense. Right there, right now, and what is more, the attention to detail- so vital to their RB ideals - was so very realistic that it made the public go cross-eyed and very angry. What is more, to capture the brilliant colours which are so very bright in their art, they painted directly onto a white canvas. Shocking.
We Pre-Raphealite Bognor artists understand the need to go out and paint directly from Nature. We had a bit of practice when we were Impressionists a few weeks ago. But what we have found more difficult to grasp is the love of the Medieval that the original Pre-Raffs found so vital. Bognor isn't very Medieval, and we don't have much to go on, but we do have Roman architectural remains in Chichester, so we use that and hope it won't cause too much of a fuss. The idea of painting everything directly from life gives us such a thrill, we paint pictures and then realise we need some chocolate in them, and some cream buns, so we have to go and find them. Then we say to each other, "In order to make this as real as possible, the character who is eating the cakes and chocolate has to actually eat them. And as it is my painting and only I know how it should look, you, my dear Artist companion, will have to paint me eating them and do it again and again till I say it is right."
Much of the Pre-Raff subjects were from poetry and literature, like the Shakespearian subject of Ophelia drowning. And Mariana, from Tennyson's poem of the same name. There were religious subjects painted with staggering detail. And lots of the legends of King Arthur. And some socially aware morality stuff.
Well. Bognor has some socially aware morality stuff. And a good few churches - Methodist, Catholic, C of E, and a nice Quakers Meeting House. Our Pre-Raff Bognor Artists need some obliging Quakers to pose in chain mail by the sea shore, while Bognor Locals see the Light (Religiously) and have some Epiphanies. We would paint that with Gusto, and get quite a lot of the Pre-Raff requirements in at one go. And to make it really amazing, someone dressed as Ophelia could drift by in the waves.
To our sophisticated modern eye, the original Pre-Raffs were indescribably sentimental. They were posey and naff. But gloriously well painted and clever, and I think they are wonderful. We have quite a few naff, sentimental models at our disposal in the pubs along the famous Bognor Promanade. They are a wonder to us modern Pre-Raffs. We can paint Sentimental Fishermen all the way through Maudlin Fishermen, stopping at last at Pie-Eyed Fishermen, all of which can be models for the grand painting one of us may do of Real Life along the shores of Biblical Galilee (Bognor).
Ophelia by John Everett Millais. Painted from life 1851-52. Let me explain. No models were drowned in the making of this.
The Shakepearian subject of the mad Ophelia drowning herself was pretty avant guard in 1851. Others went on to paint it, but Millais was the first. The abundant detail of the water and vegetation was painted in the Summer of 1851, and the very pretty pre Reff "stunner" and model Lizzie Siddal posed in a bath kept warm by lit lamps underneath it, in an antique dress over the winter of 1851-2. Apparantly Lizzie got pneumonia. These days, if we need someone to pose in the bath, we look in the Health and Safety Handbook, check with the Unions, and fly them out to Barbados to do it. But isn't this beautiful? For our grand Pre-Raff Bognor painting mentioned above, maybe we could get someone to float by a few times in a wetsuit, in the Summer when the sea is more inviting. We will see.
Sir John Everett Millais, knighted for his Art and thus made even more Medieval (as a Knight), and "Christ in the House of His Parents", 1850.
Oh Lord, said the Public. How common. What is with all these ghastly rough and ready folk, posing for the figures of Christ and his parents? We loath it for its ugliness and the insult to the Holy Family. What is more, Mary here is so ugly that she cannot be real. And so is Christ. Yuk. Foulness and Dreadfulness.
The nearest we could get as Bognor Re-Raffs to painting this theme, is to put our well known street busker and his life hardened pals into Robert Dyas and painting them all as the Holy Family there. But no one would really mind, nowadays. Yeah, the public would say, Whatever.
William Holman Hunt's "The Awakening Conscience" from 1853. Yes, you are right. She has the awakening conscience, he either hasn't got one, or it doesn't apply to men.
Oh I love this. I always have. Here, the long aubern-haired beautyis suddenly struck by how wrong she is. She, a kept woman, rises from her lover's knee and feels Remorse. He is unaware, and goes on playing. Remorse, he was probably told, is unmanly, and is mostly for the fairer sex, the silly billies. The detail of the room is fantastic, and I am sure that much of it is symbolic, like the cat under the table and the clock on the piano. She is reflected in the mirror, and that too may be symbolic of what is real and what is not. The thing I find amazing about all of Holman Hunt's paintings are the tiny teeth of the people he paints. Look at this man, look - no wonder she has remorse. Her teeth aren't so bad, but they are still small. This is a morality painting. The silly bissom (so the painting tells us) has been struck by how empty and awful she is, how she is wrong and shouldn't be canoodling with a tiny toothed man, no matter how rich he is. There is obviously some how's-your-father-going on too, which is utterly forbidden. And still, the tiny-tooth-man plays on, because he is not to blame and anyway, he has got probably fifteen other mistresses and is very busy.
Pre-Raphaelite Bognor has one large hurdle to overcome. In order to be fully Pre-Raff, we need to dispise and dissasociate with all our previous Bognor movements to date, except the Bognor Renaissance. The movement we are exploring this week considers everything from Raphael onwards (painting in earnest about 1550) to be tosh, which means that our foray into the Left Bank, Surrealism, Angst and Impressionism cannot be tolerated and we need to throw them over board with a resounding splash, into the sea of disdain. The Renaissance had peaked and was winding down by the time Raphael came on the scene, so that can stay. But all the others - Pah! So now, out to the seafront with our easles and our fascination with bright colour and detail. And we will dress all our Bognor Fishermen and Souvenir Shop ladies in Medieval costumes and paint fabulous morality paintings which will wow everyone. And for some reason, all the characters in the paintings will have big teeth. How mysterious.
The Artist Is Also A Person. And Therefore Rather Mundane Most Of The Time
I am sitting in between the exhibition starting in Manchester, and the exhibition closing in Manchester, and wondering that if I am not very busy, a) do I exist and b) am I worth anything?
After I paint something, I don't quite know what to do next. So I put on an exhibition, get really busy, feel alive, and have all the usual panic about Will The Public Understand Me. Then the Opening Night begins, and someone somewhere usually likes something; I get my fancy clothes on and apply the makeup (which I love. Got some fabulous twinkly green eyeshadow) and make sure I have my heels on so I am over 6' tall, and play the part. I love meeting people at these openings. It is a tough way to get feedback, because people will tell me what they think. However, if I sit alone in my studio with my paintings then I can fool myself that they are fine and that I don't need to worry about silly things like progress.
If the painting goes to a client then I send a photo of the finished work first via email to check if it is OK. Most of the time it is, and sometimes it is not. By the time it gets delivered to the person who commissioned it, it has been tweaked into perfection. Or thereabouts.
Developing and adding to the A Graceful Death exhibition takes much time and energy. Painting commissions, portraits or angels or still lifes or whatever it is that I am asked to do, takes time. Organising talks to schools and other bodies takes time and so you can see, the Artist is a Busy Bee. There is also the family side of life, which is like running a whole separate business alongside the art, except that it takes priority. I have three large independant kiddies who need lots of attention and time, whose lives are frantically busy and worthwhile and immediate and falling apart and very exciting and they need whatever they need now or they will die...and can they have some money please because they are impoverished and only have enough to buy more beer and go to the cinema and night club and it's important. I also have a nice house that needs some vague attentions from time to time (washing, shopping, tidying, hoovering, doors putting back on) so I am on the go and happy most of the time, and much of the time longing for a day off.
Well blow me down if I don't have a day off right now.
I have gone away into hiding from Monday night till Friday morning. I am at a secret address and though most people who need to know, know where I am, I have the feeling that I am truly Not Available, and it is good. I have slept, I have bathed. I have eaten and I have texted people. I have gazed into space and I have tried to read my book on Plato only to find that I can't really be bothered. This is the kind of thing I tell my busy friends to do if they are overwhelmed, and now I am doing it. It is not that easy, I arrived here and immediately wanted to check my emails, and phone people and write things up and plan extraordinary projects, which was all rather useless because I needed to stop. And I was becoming rather inefficient anyway, due to tiredness.
Now it is Friday morning. I am like the rest of the human race. I needed time off and had to be forced to have it. I was in danger of wittering myself into a silly number of ridiculous projects all of my own making, simply to keep busy. Not being busy had become a problem that meant that I probably didn't exist. Well tosh to all that. I am grateful to have been allowed this down time in someone elses house, in someone elses space. I am just as brilliant as I was before I arrived, only now I am clean and fresh and rested and normal. And I will be very busy again soon, but I can charge at all my Stuff that I am doing, with a fresh gleam in my eye and a louder and more sane cry of The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Artists (aaaahhh-ha -ha-aaaah).
I am just about to drive back up to Manchester to Rev Rachel Mann's, for the last day of the A Graceful Death exhibition. We have the Closing Night Party tonight, from 7-9pm and I need to be present and sane and normal. Which I am now. Dribble.
So what I say now is Bring It On. I am rested and ready. Life is too short to drive oneself into the ground being tired and madly busy with no real plans anymore except to keep going in case you fizzle out in a little puddle of nothingness. I have had my tea, I have had my sandwich, I have much to do. In a careful, measured and efficient way. I have a long drive to Manchester now, and a long drive back with all the paintings tomorrow. Via Oxford where I collect the 14 Year Old Son who is staying with cousins there. Someone told me that one of his cousins has given him a Mohecan haircut. Oh. Glad I am rested so I can say the right things when I see it.
The A Graceful Death Exhibition is now showing at St Nicholas Church in Burnage, Manchester. Please go to the www.agracefuldeath.blogspot.comlink for details, and an account of setting up and the Opening Night.
Art Has Got In A Car And Gone To Do Other Things Until Next Week
I, who seem to think that I am Bognor Regis Art, have gone away for ten days. I am proudly and nervously showing the A Graceful Death exhibition in Burnage in Manchester, and am giving that all my attention. I say Nervously, because the exhibition is so important, and it has all my heart in it. I want it to be received well. My friend the Rev Rachel Mann has offered her church in which to show the exhibition, and it is so important that her generosity and faith is rewarded. We have had the opening night, and we have hung the paintings so beautifully in Rachel's church, it is now up to you, the public to come and make of it what you will. The A Graceful Death exhibition has two smaller complimentary exhibitions running alongside it; I show a selection of Every Day Angels and a small Jesus on the Tube display. This is a good foil to the emotions that can be quite powerful when looking at the AGD paintings.
So I have got into a car and left the hub of Artistic Excellence that is Bognor Regis. All our Artistic Movements will have to run concurrently alongside each other without me. I wonder if we will have Surrealists clawing at the air with Angst, painting hat stands with flowery aprons, in open fields, with broad brushstrokes and living short hedonistic lives. That more or less covers all our Art Movements (Surrealism, Impressionism, Angst, the Left Bank) except the Bognor Regis Renaissance. That is too intellectual to worry itself about a ten day absence of its leader. I am not worried about coming back to Bognor and finding that all the Movements have merged and lost their focus. That is progress, a new Movement shall rise, if this is the case, from the ashes and we shall toddle along as we were before, being intense and a bit lazy and having a half day on Wednesday.
Being away from my studio has made me see how much I do get done. I am piling up the Angels commissions, (the little £65 6"x 4" angels painted to order to give love, strength, hope and so on to their owner) and I still have the glorious Rachel Mann's portrait to complete. I could not see her properly in my studio with the photos and drawings I have of her, and she is someone who needs to be seen properly, so Eileen Rafferty, photographer extraordinaire, has done a series of photos of her over the weekend for me. Eileen is photographing the A Graceful Death exhibition for a book she is writing on it. Her photos are very sensitive and perceptive. She is so empathetic that I never have to say why I want a particular painting or person photographed, Eileen just knows and always gets it just right. I will continue Rachel's portrait with excitement when I get back next week. To remind you, Rachel is being painted as the Rock Chick Angel of the North because that is what she is. A Rocking Musical Heavy Metal Vicar, and an Angel and living and working in the North. Absolutely.
Before I left for the long journey from Bognor to Burnage, I had to pack up for the 10 days and sort out the 14 Year Old Son. It is half term, which made it a bit easier. My stalwart, ever helpful, selfless and perfect cousins Maddy and Jules are having the darling gangly ravenous Boxing Boy for the half term. Maddy has three large ravenous gangly kiddies of her own, so Boxing Boy will gangle with them. Jules has the most exquisite little 6 year old daughter who so knows her mind that we are there simply to worship and do her bidding. Boxing Boy, like the rest of us, consider this an honour. The two days before the half term started, were covered by extremely busy Nursing Daughter Alexia, who studies by day at Brighton University, and works by night and over the weekend on the wards. I thought she may have a few moments unaccounted for during those two vital school days that I was in Manchester and The Boy had to go to school, so I gave her her brother to look after. He had to go from Brighton to Chichester to school and back, and stay in her teeny tiny weeny little fairy grotto with her. He is 6'2" and full of energy. He likes to kick footballs around while talking, he likes to box doors and throw cushions into the air and catch them with his feet, so not sure how it worked out, but both are still alive and I take comfort from that.
My team, the present A Graceful Death team for the Manchester exhibition are the following - the camera man, film maker and director Neill Blume and his camera man colleague Graham. Eileen Rafferty the Photographer, Costya my son who turned out to be a whizz flower arranger, and Alan who came to support and help and be magnificent on the opening night taking people around the exhibition. And Rachel, who gave us her church in which to exhibit and let all six of us stay in her home for three days while everyone was setting it up and sorting out the extraordinary amount of admin that this exhibition engenders. Rachel also gave us her time and showed endless patience and kindness to all of us as we raced around being busy, we are so busy we can't see the wood for the trees. Rachel is busy too, but graciously helped us whenever she could.
I did two interviews on BBC Radio Manchester that I will suggest you listen to to understand a bit more of what I am doing. The links are below
So now I am having a bit of a quiet few days before the Closing Night Party on Friday 25 February 7-9pm. Then, as before, I will become Artist Extraordinaire, and Do My Stuff. On the Saturday, I will pack up the three exhibitions - A Graceful Death, the Every Day Angels and the Jesus on the Tube, and fit them somehow into my car with my dear son Costya who is coming back up to help. Then, having made the church as it was before I arrived, I will go. On the way home I will stop off in Oxford to pick up the 14 Year Old Gangly Boy from Jules, stay the night with them and on Sunday morning drive back to Bognor where I will get the Gangly One ready for school again the next morning. I, Antonia Rolls, will then go back to bed and stay there until further notice.
This is a confessional bog. I expect that how I feel about Music is OK and Normal though probably a bit Odd.
Music. A wonderful thing, a language that needs no words, a way to reach the soul. How can it be that we humans can manipulate sound so splendidly so as to create Music? People go potty about music. There are different kinds of music, like pebbles on the seashore, or snow flakes, each one is unique and magical. Some music is of course, ghastly, and that is a matter of personal opinion. This business of finding comradeship, understanding and harmony within a music is truly a wonder. Singing together brings people together. And we really bond with those who share the same tastes in music as us. We are astonished at how clever and sophisticated they are.
All cultures have music. All peoples sing and have rhythm. All nations dance. Music is an indicator of how appropriate you are in a certain group. If you like opera and you go on an outing with Hell's Angels you are going to find the going a bit tough. If you are a shy Bob Dylan fan with two left feet and dandruff, you are going to be able to pass a reasonable hour or two with a gloriously extrovert chief executive who speaks four languages and wears Saville Row and adores Bob Dylan above all others.
I don't really like to listen to music.
I get scared of music. I need to prepare myself to deal with it. This is my guilty secret. I find music very hard to cope with. I do not dislike music, I have favourite types and artists but I need to be sure of the music I listen to in case it upsets me. Maybe that is the problem. I am afraid to listen to music in case it upsets me. It moves me to feel unsafe and full of emotions that I am unable to control. I am afraid then, of the power in it to move me beyond what I am comfortable with. Is this all then? No, there is more. Let me think.
I do not suffer from depression, and I am an optimist. I am chatty and sociable and like everything to be tickety boo. I like jolly colours and fun patterns. I love wit and admire those who can make me laugh, more than words can say. I love food, light, lovely smells and fresh air. Flowers, fun, happiness and satisfaction. And quite possibly I am afraid of anything that tilts this Doris Day world of mine into a different position. Moves it, then, from a major to a minor key. And music can and does do this. I feel, when a piece of music is played in my hearing by Daughter, or friend, or passer by, as if I have no control over how I will feel and what it will do to me. I can be uplifted by new music too, and that is fine. I am so relieved and grateful to it for making me feel OK that it becomes my new favourite, and all is well. But what if I am listening to some music and I can't turn it off or leave the room? And it is making me feel strangely maudlin? My shoulders start to droop, my eyes start to gaze with a sad longing into the middle distance and I sigh. "What happened to the jolly creature that was talking so elegantly about the price of eggs a minute ago?" say those to whom I was talking. "Why, she has become a fey whisp of a Sad Thing. Let us abandon her and find another to entertain us." And I watch them go, sunk into a reverie that cannot break until someone takes the music off and puts on the Jolly Boys singing a Calypso.
It is well known amongst my family and friends and anyone that comes into my kitchen, that I love reggae. An upbeat beat, so to speak, where any sorrowful words wouldn't get to me at all amidst the fun rhythms. At most, I would feel a bit sympathetic, but no more. And the music in reggae doesn't make me feel suddenly awash with unfamiliar feelings of wistfulness, gloom, longing, the pain of the human condition and so on.
I have favourites that I can listen to - if I want to and the point is, I most often don't want to; I have favourites to sing along to, dance to, and feel safe with. Funnily enough, Verdi's Requiem and Carl Orff's Carmina Burana are two of them. Fancy finding them a bit of a sing along. And I adore Jussi Bjeorling but never listen to his tapes I have somewhere in the house. I like African music possibly because it can't make me sad, and I like the theme tune to The Third Man. All these and more are safe for me. I know them, there are no surprises. New music unnerves me. I don't know what to do with it, I am going into unfamilar territory and I am not prepared.
So what I do listen to is the Human Voice speaking on Radio 4, or Silence. I like Silence. I can fill the silence with all the thoughts in my head, and it feels like Relief. Today I sat in my studio, the window open and the sun shining and found that I was listening to the birds singing. It was lovely. I felt very wise and elderly and felt an affinity with all those old folks I used to think were so stuuu-pid for being so predictable and liking boring little birdies singing. Yawn. But today I was one of those old folk, and it felt good. At last, time had passed and I was on my way to being elderly and liking the birdies singing in the garden and I think now those youngsters who don't like listening to birdies singing in the garden are stuuu-pid themselves.
So, to sumarise. I do like music, but I am not very interested in it. I like the pieces I already know, because I am a scardey cat and don't like feeling vulerable with new stuff that may and mostly does, make me feel too emotional to continue. I listen to new stuff when I have nothing to worry about, and I am strong and it won't bite me. I prefer, as I have confessed, silence or the spoken word on Radio 4.
Finally, I am surrounded by family who are consumed by music. I watch and listen to them and marvel. My daughter thinks by sitting at the piano and just playing. Beautifully, and for hours. One of my sons, like all youngsters, can't live without his ipod and the other is able to teach himself all manner of pieces by ear from You Tube tutorial videos. My brothers are musical, my nephews and niece play endlessly, and me - I used to play the piano but stopped. It petered out. The passion they seem to have, the pleasure and inspiration they get, from music is truly wonderful. I think I get that level of passion from the visual world, from colour, painting, and shape. Maybe I can only do one passionate art form, and have no space for others. I know many artists, many writers, I know poets and thinkers - but I don't know any musicians. How amazing.
Perhaps I will end by saying that I love music, but I am not so interested in it. By choice, I would not pass the time with it. But when I do hear music I like I am thrilled, and then want to turn it off. But colour - wow. Rembrandt - double wow. Canaletto, Degas, Renaissance paintings, all those give me a constant thrill. Gosh. Though I did find a passionate love for the Jolly Boys and went up to see them sing. And I would love to set my A Graceful Death exhibition to Verdi's Requiem.
And funilly enough, I have inspired a love of reggae in my children. Amazing. Shhhh. Silence now.
Bognor Regis Is Impressionist And Sighing Deep Sighs
Its the wrong weather for Bognor Regis to be truly Impressionist, it is raining outside and is grey and low key. We Bognor Impressionists don't feel like going out and painting in the Open Air. Our Impressionist tendencies are waiting for better weather.
In Paris in the mid nineteenth century, a small group of Artists formed a sort-of association, thinking more or less the same things. Their main thought was that they did not want to follow the old established rules of painting and produce what was sociably acceptable. No no no. But they didn't go at it hammer and tongs and produce a cow in formaldehyde, they did something that was really outrageous. They painted out of doors. (Nooooo). Academy Art, the established stuff, was painted in a studio and generally showed figurative historic scenes in tightly, smoothly applied paint with rather dull colours. In short, it was conservative, uncontroversial, satisfactory, safe, dull and rather yawn inducing to our young Impressionists. The compositions of the Established Stuff were carefully planned so that you didn't get any nasty surprises (a table that jutted out of the corner of the painting at an angle, someone strolling into the scene at the top of the painting which meant that they were not paying attention and mucking it all up). Nudes were modest and in context (classical Greek mythology, demure studies with no real girly bits or if there were men, no real boy bits). The paintings also tended to be very grand and large.
This is where we in Bognor have something in common with the Impressionists. There isn't much classical art here, and we don't like the idea of Nudes with No Bits. We don't want to spend ages on following the rules of composition and content. We like a bit of slap dash. We also, when it is not raining, quite like a jaunt outside to paint a tree or a field or a passing cow. But wait, there is more.
This group of rather daring youngsters could not get the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris to accept any of their works. The Academie des Beaux-Arts was the place to exhibit. It held yearly shows where reputations were established, commissions procurred and a sigh of relief heaved deep in the bosom of the accepted Artist. The answer to this lack of success for our outdoor painting, free brush stroke using, pure colour selecting mavericks, was to establish a Salon des Refuses and let the public decide what they thought. 1874 saw, eventually, the first official Impressionist exhibition which was held in the studio of the photographer Felix Nadar. This painting following -
Impression (NOTE THAT WORD - ARE YOU SEEING WHERE THIS IS GOING?) Soleil Levant (Impression sunrise) by Claude Monet 1872
this painting above, caused a critic to write a casutic review of the exhibition with a curl of his lip and a single raised eyebrow, and call them Impressionists! That'll teach them, he chortled. Ha! Let them try and live a normal life now, the dirty blackguards. Pah!
Are we so dynamic? Yes we are. My dear Artist Friend in Middleton - Anne Winterbotham - doesn't give a fig for convention. She does her own thing and is out there, painting in lay byes and fields, in her garden or up a tree, capturing her own vision of nature. Anne has been a very fine illustrator and knows the ropes, but tends to do her own thing in her own way now, and would probably be quite short with the Bognor Academie des Beaux-Arts if they annoyed her.
Impressionist paintings were gloriously freely painted. The paint was applied swiftly and thickly, capturing movement, a moment in time, and the feeling we get as we look at a scene. They didn't like to use black or grey, and painted the shadows on a hot Summer day in deep dark blues, making the feeling of the painting so real. They painted landscape (not a popular subject) and still life (not popular either) and painted people walking in and out of the composition as it really was. Oh marvellous. Look again at the Monet above. Look at the blues and the greens and the oranges. Look how the paint swirls in free and confident lines, and how the impression of the sun rising over the water, with the boats, the harbour and the reflections in the water all strike at our feelings and we know what the artist is seeing. We can almost hear the spash of the water and we know a new day is beginning on the water front as the sun is rising.
L'Absinthe by Edgar Dagas
Degas despised the term Impressionist. I love how artists despise things they don't like. I despise creme caramel and jaffa cakes. I despise untidy bedrooms. But Degas was loyal to the group of artists called the Impressionists and is considered a sort of one, though don't call him one it to his face because he hates, loathes and despises the term and may hit you. Here, in the painting above, a drab actress, living a bit on the wild side, sits slumped in a tavern with a man to her left who doesn't look like an Academie des Beaux-Arts gentleman, and she has her feet splayed. Dreadful hussy. What is she drinking? Absinthe? Oh lordy lordy the woman is crack head. And most absurd - what are those goddamn tables doing poking about all jumbled up in the bottom left of the painting? This is considered a wonderful painting now, full of character and real life. We love how the tables are placed, it feels as if we have just walked in through the door and this is what we see. A snapshot. It was considered scandalous to the conventional artistic community. (Degas? Dreadful compositions. Bit of a Lout)
Well, on this rainy Bognor February afternoon, we Bognor Impressionists mean well. We want to get out there and paint in the open, we want to use wide sweeping brush strokes to paint the Chavs in the Chip Shop (all of whom we know and are our best friends). We long to paint Bognor Seaside with the sun reflecting in bright yellow and blue daubs of paint, and the Bognor Bird Man flying off the end of the pier like Icarus, painted in the far left of the picture. We want to sit on little fold up seats on the A259 and wave at the cars flying by as we capture them in wonderful careless paintstrokes of red and blue. But it is raining. Instead we will have to paint wistful impressions of the raindrops falling down our windows, and still lifes of the PG Tips boxes that litter our kitchens. We really want to be Impressionists but perhaps this Movement is too much for Bognor Regis in February.
Woman with a Parasole by Claude Monet
I suspect this is not a very likely Bognor scene, even in the height of the Summer. This is so beautiful. It has the blue shadows reflecting the blue of the sky, and the blue in the lady's dress. We know that she is wearing white but it is painted in blue - we get the impression of her standing in the long grass, the sun beating down and lo - is that my little 14 Year Old Boxing Boy walking casually towards her? Is this lady Me then? Oh I like to think so. What lovely Impressionistic clouds they are, in the hot blue sky. So here I am in my Bognor field somewhere, twirling my parasole and feeling very tall as the artist lies sneezing, low in the grass, in order to get me at this angle, and my 14 Year Old Son, resplendant in his new white fashionable sun hat, saunters up to me to ask what I have done with his boxing gloves and can he have a Macdonalds.
This Bognor Regis Impressionist Movement is a wistful one this week. It can't happen. It is only a dream. We will all just have to continue to paint huge religious, mythical and dull paintings in browns and dark blues and continue to fight against the Establishment in the Bognor Regis Academie des Beaux-Arts. When the sun starts shining, we can rebel with a Whoop into the fields with our paint boxes and absinthe, and paint Real Life as it presents itself to us. Meanwhile the Bognor Establishment, unlike the Parisian Artistic Establishment, will all give up being so stuffy, and join us in the chip shops for double fry ups and Life As It Really Is.
Today we have recovered from our Angst. We are in a happier place, and it is possible that the Angst has pushed us ever so slightly over the edge, so that now we are living in an artistic world that revels in the strange juxtaposition of unrelated things and objects. Are we potty? Quite. We are doing Bognor Surrealism, which may explain a lot.
Surrealism was founded after the first world war by one Andre Breton. It was a philosophical movement dedicated to the expression of the unconscious through dreams, and inspired not only the visual arts but writing, film, music, thought and drama. Surrealism came out of and from the Dada Movement, an utterly splendid and furious nonsense reaction to the first world war. Too much rational thought and bourgeois values had caused the war, the Dadaists said, and so they produced Anti Art to make their point and to challenge the status quo. The Dadaist Artist, Marcel Duchamp, presented his work entitled "Fountain" in 1917 to the Society of Independent Artists and had it Rejected. Why? Because it was a urinal inscribed with the words"R. Mutt". Duchamp's most enigmatic and well known piece is a large glass Thing which he called "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Batchelors, Even" which probably meant an awful lot to Dadaists. I could never work it out - but I did once stand for Student Union elections in about 1980 as a Dadaist with my friend Eddie Fisher. He got loads more votes than I did because I didn't know what Dada was, and he did, but I had a wonderful hat called the Dada Hat which made me feel very memorable indeed. It was probably the Hat everyone (both of them) voted for. I was completely useless. All very Dada really.
So here we are in Bognor, being Surreal. During our Surrealist phase, we wake up every morning having dreamed strange and powerful things (like last night I dreamed the Seven Times Table was a real entity and was sitting at my kitchen table) and we put it all down on paper, canvas, chip it out of stone or make it into an unintelligible song, frowning with concentration as we do so, refusing to let any convention, reason or conscious control hamper our masterpieces. We phone each other up and say, "Just made a fish with a pineapple for a head." "Whassit mean?" comes the reply. "Dunno. Got no conscious thoughts. Could be anything. Bye."
Here in Bognor we are always free of the conscious control of convention and reason. We have the Bognor Birdman competition - a Dada inspired Surrealist piece of Performance Art if ever there was one. Every year men (and sometimes women) dress as birds or hamburgers or something, and prepare to fly from the end of Bognor Pier. There is a prize for the one who manages to fly - in their flying machines that they spend the whole year making, or without - the furthest. Mostly, everyone just falls, with a shriek and an explosion of feathers, glue and plastic, off the end of the pier into the water below; but it goes on for two whole days and the Japanese love it. They come to film it every year.
Sigmund Freud's work on the subconscious, dreams and their meanings were central to the Surrealist Movement. Think Salvador Dali - he is the most famous example.
Salvador Dali, Persistence of Memory from 1931. Floppy clocks, eh?
No-one had ever made a science and a study of the subconscious or dreams before, and it was quite literally, revolutionary. And those of us who are now Bognor Surrealists, we do not need to just paint our uninhibited interpretation of our dreams. We can Automatic Write too. Surrealists were encouraged to not only put unrelated things, ideas and thoughts together to create new meanings, they were told that Automatic Writing was even better. Cover the page with a stream of consciousness, and boy - you are a Surrealist! That is what us Bognor Folk do of an evening when we are between the End of Work and the Start of Supper. "Oy, Chantelle, write me a Surrealist poem will you, while I cook the sausages? Mind you keep it free of any control exercised by reason, and for God's sake keep it outside all of that aesthetic and moral preoccupation stuff." "Righto. Done a stream of conscious shopping list, will that do?"
I am very, very tired at the moment. I suspect the whole reason behind the current Bognor Regis Surrealism Movement is for me to go to bed a lot and stay there. "Don't bother me!" I cry to my poor hungry and lonely children, "I'm doing research." And as long as they can hear deep, healthy, dream laden snores coming from the darkened room, they will know that Mummy truly is an Artist.
I have always loved this one. Rene Magritte's "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." from the Treachery (or Treason) of Images 1928-9. It isn't a pipe, it's an image of a pipe. Ha ha ha.
"Ceci n'est pas une loony" Maddy Pook, my darling cousin, Christmas day 2010. It's an image of a loony.