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Showing posts from 2009

On 'Sentimental Education'

L-R: Flaubert, Monet, Manet, Pissarro

I’m reading Flaubert’s “Sentimental Education” for at least the third time, at the same time as I’m reading a book called “The Private Lives of the Impressionists”, which is a very readable and well-researched account of the relationships between Manet, Monet, Pissaro, et al. So my head is filled with the people and the material reality of Paris from the 1840s to the 1870s. Both books are so vivid in their recreation of a specific time and place that it has the effect of making mid-nineteenth century Paris seem at times more real than the time in which I actually live. The second book is a mild antidote to the first, too. Flaubert’s book is a mercilessly ironic dissection of a bourgeois society obsessed with accumulation, pleasure and power, the exaltation of the personal whim above altruism, and a restless desire for sensation which renders everything sour and dissatisfying as soon as it is achieved. The education of the emotions (“sentiments” in …

On approaching art galleries

One of the most difficult things as an artist is getting a commercial gallery to show your work. I remember when I was living in London, and sent my slides to a gallery in the west end somewhere. The gallery was in Kensington, or Chelsea, one of those very well-heeled areas of the city populated by rich people with lots of dosh to spare. Having my paintings available through that kind of gallery would be rather nice, I thought.

A few weeks after I sent the slides, I got a call from the gallery asking me to bring some paintings over for them to look at. The day arrived, and I put about four paintings, 30” by 20” in size, in the back of the car and drove across London. I arrived, carried the paintings in, said ‘hello’ to the person at the desk. I told him who I was, and he introduced himself as the person who had spoken to me on the phone. He said that he liked what he had seen in the slides, but he just needed to get his gallery partner in to look at the work.

I lined up the paintings a…

On looking at old work

I've been going back through folders, looking at older work, trying to discern the threads that connect it to my current work. I looked at the first set of etchings that I made in the late 1990s, about a year after I started learning the process:



It's from a set of 10 etchings called Circe, based on the Night-town section of James Joyce's Ulysses. This print illustrates the moment when Leopold Bloom fantasises that he is being ridden around the room by the madame of a brothel. It parallels the moment in Homer's myth where Ulysses' men are transformed into pigs by the sorceress Circe.

There are a number of influences that brought this print into being. The first was a suggestion from my etching teacher, a great German artist and printmaker called Thomas Gosebruch who lives in London. After taking classes with him for a while, he suggested I put what I had learned to use by working on a series based on my favourite book. Perhaps he had in mind a famous set of his own…

On things past

Praeterita was the title of the great English writer John Ruskin's reflections on his life. In a sense we are always looking backwards at things that are now past as soon as we try to describe our experience. Ruskin's choice of the Latin word, with its archaic and somewhat grandiose feeling, was well-suited to his manner of thought and his writing. I have chosen to echo it not just from philosophical principle, but because my work involves reflections on personal narrative - mostly a childhood growing up in an English mining town in the 1960s and 1970s.

Ruskin also said that he would write "frankly, garrulously, and at ease; speaking of what it gives me joy to remember at any length I like ... and passing in total silence things that I have no pleasure in reviewing." And Ruskin did indeed omit much of what would fascinate a modern audience (such as his unconsummated marriage to one of the Pre-Raphaelite's models). Although Ruskin would have been appalled at the c…