Wednesday, 18 January 2012

All Booked Up

An image from my recent 'The Power of Ten' edition.

I intend to use it with my entry in the catalogue for the upcoming 15th International Contemporary Artists' Book Fair in Leeds.
Event taking place on the Friday 9th & Saturday 10th March, 2012.

Venue is The Parkinson Building, University of Leeds
11am - 6pm on Friday & 10am til 5pm Saturday

Do drop by and sample my wares.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

People I like very much No. 15: Ian Hay

Ian Wood Hay is one of the voices to be listened to in my life.

I treasure each – generally unexpected – phone call:

“Hello, Mike. You lovely old thing. . .”

His gravelly tones would put Valentine Dyall to shame, but not only that – there’s just so much sheer good sense and insight in what this man has to say (with or without a glass of Shiraz to hand).

His proclamations can bring a room to silence, or send it crashing into laughter, as the latest local or global events are filtered through his own distinctive lens.

Some of the funniest bar-room material I have ever heard, and I’ve heard quite a bit.

Ian would truly grace any stage – indeed I’ve seen him hold an audience or two in the palm of his hand – and, given his lifetime passion for comedy, this seems entirely appropriate.

(His annual 'speech to the nation' on Christmas Day, meanwhile – though I think occurring only in his imagination – is an acknowledged cornerstone of British Life.)

We worked nearby one another at the Colchester Art School, though typically Ian got the naked ladies as part of the job (his life models during fascinating studio days).

Essex born and bred, Ian had first stepped up to the artistic coalface in that very town (the old art school on the hill) then up to London (to the Royal College of Art itself as a contemporary of the likes of Mister Hockney and, later, teaching at my old school, St. Martins) and back again to build a life with lovely Teresa. Later the father of two lads, and lately a grandfather.

They named a gallery at the art school after him before he left, in fact, and he continues to exhibit his deft landscapes – often of his beloved county – widely.

A well-deserved retrospective (‘A Life Drawing’) at Colchester’s Minories Gallery in 2010 brought together the true scope of his work, including beautiful studies of abandoned cars from the early 1970s, portraiture and gorgeous black and white studies of town & country & coastline.

He was touched at all the fuss, I think (beyond the bluster he is a modest and gentle man, too), and deeply chuffed.

Since his retirement – and my cessation of work at the school – we maintain a brisk paper correspondence (he once briefly flirted with electronic mail before deciding it ‘wasn’t for him’) and still meet with regularity – most often on licensed premises it has to be said; whether out across that fine eastern county on Jolly Boy’s Outings with the other fellows, or in the strange twilight world of the North Countryman’s Club (at least in the Smoker’s Area outside).

A Rennaissance Man? A Doctor of Life, certainly (and the recipient of an honorary doctorate from Essex University in 2009).

A Man of The Old School, unashamedly.

My dear friend, the good doctor Hay.

A New Day Beginning

Amidst a long week of assessment in relation to my university post, starting the day can be a grind.

This image from my Ensixteen Editions publication 'A Month Of Sundays', from March 2011.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

People I like very much No.37: Mick Smee

Michael (‘Mick’) Smee is one of the select band that proved so inspirational to me – at work and play – during my early teaching years in Colchester, Essex.

His easy human touch, so vital to the studio nurture of young art students, made a lasting impression when visiting his sessions alongside a certain Mister Hay (see elsewhere on this blog).

He did what he did with great generosity and care.

Outside of the teaching I drew great creative inspiration from Mick’s delicious, atmospheric paintings of public house interiors, hinting at a love of a good pint and the daftness of shared blather and laughter.

In fact I’m inside one of these works, now hanging on some unknown wall (it was purchased before I could ever see it).

It commits my own past local, The Shakespeare pub in London, N16 to posterity, from a lost afternoon shared years ago.

No small honour, that.

Alongside his talented wife, Nicola (an illustrator/writer of many beautiful children’s books) – Mick lives near the salt flats of Maldon, in a gem of a village called Tolleshunt D’Arcy (once home to the esteemed author Margery Allingham, creator of detective Albert Campion).

My times as their guest – sitting in splendid company in the garden amidst summer breezes, sampling Mick’s sublime home-made pies after rounds of dark beers over the road at The Queen’s Head – remain some of my happiest memories of that much-misunderstood county.

Mick’s is a reflective sort of approach to pub conversation. After keeping his powder dry he’ll drop in a nicely-timed word-grenade of his own, having gauged the flow – and he can pull off a textbook deadpan expression, before the arrival of with a huge smile.

While it’s also rumoured that he is a practising warlock, I have no corroborative proof of this.

Virgin Territory?

What do you do on a train between London and Oxenholme (for the Lake District)?
Well – I did this.
Click to make it larger, the better for reading.

Friday, 13 January 2012

People I like very much No.20: Phil Davis

The very man who, in January 1990 – at the meeting points of Fate and Chance that nudge us through our lives – ushered me into a brave new world of teaching; the parallel career track that has offered me many challenges, and continues to do so.

At the Colchester Institute I enjoyed around 7 years of leadership from Phil, pushing the message of creativity (and passion for language and imagery beyond the subject) that underpinned his approach to the disciplines of Graphic Design. It formed – alongside the deft skills of others in the building in those years – an elegant, daily masterclass in the role of the tutor/lecturer/teacher.

More important still, in that strange, bustling Essex town – and in nearby Wivenhoe – (where here the lad himself can be seen outside The Rose & Crown, down by the river on a late afternoon of buttery light and deep beers), I learned the value of new mid-life friendships that sustain me still.

Phil, now happily retired from the fray, it seems to me has an enviable life, mapped out between points of significance; his inspiring local landscape, a passion for books, cinema, music and good company, and a touching loyalty to those whose friendship he relishes.

Long may he seek A Sense of Glory while walking those wind-blustered Colne estuary flatlands.

“Hold onto this. . . “

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

For my viewing pleasure

One of my recent forays into my stupidly large DVD collection – within which I tend to build little connected sections (by theme, or perhaps director or writer or actor) that I might watch successively – allowed me to relish three TV plays directed and written by Stephen Poliakoff:

'Friends and Crocodiles' (2005), 'Joe's Palace' (2007) and 'Capturing Mary' (2007)

What are his driving themes? What does Mister P concern himself with. . ?

Well. . . the plays return to certain issues again and again; identity and the back-story of cultural history behind all of our shoulders; the tides of time and how they shift our sands; the influences of power and privilege – or the lack of it – on our fate as individuals.

How new spheres of experience can change us – for good or bad – if we step inside them.

There's strangely dream-like, fairy tale quality to much of it.
Beneath the beautifully-realized recreation of historical periods, for instance, the characters slowly assume almost emblematic, symbolic roles that are bigger than reality.
The prelude to World War 2, the war years themselves, the bleak ravenous desires afoot in the Thatcher era – all these are inspected through the distinctive lens of the writer/director.

Dialogue – the exchanges between characters – can feel somehow timeless, possessing a secondary significance beyond the scene at hand should you care to play Poliakoff's game of meaning.
Yet these are also extremely British pieces, in many ways, populated by the finest actors of several generations – as well as instances where Poliakoff has used completely fresh talent.

For me the most affecting piece was 'Capturing Mary', with a memorably sinister turn by David Walliams as Greville White. In fact I was astonished at how quickly his performance wiped the slate clean of the familiarity one has for him in other comedic roles.

The story slips from what feels like reality – the happenstance of Life's chance encounters and how they alter us at a profound level – into unsettling places where time and space are toyed with to unsettling effect. It has the creeping discomfort of a nightmare in places.

It's marvellously disorientating stuff, crafted with care and immensely, immersively watchable.
And highly recommended by your author for the remaining Winter nights yet ahead.