Several years ago I set out to do a series of small gouache paintings recording some childhood memories. Tomorrow is 75 years since VE day and one of the paintings depicts a vivid memory of the celebratory bonfire on our street complete with an improptu Bitannia with dustbin lid shield and toasting fork trident. Bonfires were not allowed during the war years so as a just turned five child it was magic.
We lived in an end of terrace house and one of the two communal air raid shelters was againt the end wall so it was literally next door. The shelter had a dog legged entrance to stop any light escaping and making us a target for bombers. When the siren sounded an ARP warden stood by the door with a doward facing dim torch and helped people in. For some reason I was frightened of this man and I vividly remember him shouting to a man running full tilt across the cobbles in the street, “Hurry up! The Jerrys are coming.” I had no idea who ‘the Jerrys’ were and no real concept of the danger we were in but the panicked atmosphere coming off the adults communicated real menace.
The shelter had wooden benches running along both sides and was dimly lit by a single light bulb suspended from the ceiling. We sat by the entrance and our neighbour, Mrs Freeman who lived across the Terrace, sat on the opposite bench with her faithful little companion dog, Judy. I remember my Mum muttering that she was not supposed to bring a dog into the shelter but I as very glad she was there as she held my attention while the antiaircraft gun pounded away from the nearby Park.
We had a small canary finch cross which sat in a cage hung in the window of our kitchen living room. I didn’t know much about the bird except that because it wasn’t a pure canary it didn’t sing, Sadly we returned from the shelter one night to find poor Joey dead in the bottom of his cage. Perhaps all the crashing and banging was too much for him or he was just an old bird. The other possibility was that gas got to him. We all had gas masks and I remember mine having a Mickey Mouse shape.
There was no street lighting because of the blackout but one night I stood in the back yard with my Grandad who pointed out strange lights beaming upwards.To me these were just pretty lights but I now know they were searchlights trying to spot enemy planes in order to shoot them down.
I really meant to post more on this blog but somehow what with trying to source groceries online, worrying about my very vulnerable spouse, getting a raised bed up and running for the first and time tidying the rest of the garden after a very wet winter I didn’t manage to get anything finished in my studio. It has been a difficult time for everybody but for me at last I have managed to clear the back log and got into my studio to finish off this triptych started in response to the Australian fires which seem a long time ago now.
Today I’ve added one or two more collaged bit of paper and covered the picture with a a glaze of Indian Yellow which gives it a more orange appearance and unifies it as a whole. I think its finished though I may add one or two thinner lines in the background but at the moment I am leaning towards leaving it as it is. This not a very good photo as its too wet and windy to take a canvas outside to photograph.
I am still mentally reeling from the the images of the devastating Australian bush fires and here is another picture started in the firestorm series this time collaged paper and acrylic on canvas. In progress. 50x70cm
Yesterday I posted some digital sketches on the theme of the Australian bush fires. This painting in oils is called ‘After the fire’. It is 80x80cm on coarse Jute canvas. I used black oil stick to create the tree lines which worked well on the jute though used the stick up rather quickly.
As some one who believes passionately that we need to take the issue of climate change much more seriously than we are doing I was filled with anguish and horror at both the burning Amazon and the terrible bush fires caused by drought in Australia. As an individual there is very little I can do but as an artist I can try to put some of this distress into my work, This probably achieves nothing but at least it gives me some relief.
I have been using my new iPad to produce sketches which I will turn into much larger paintings and here are a few examples.
A while ago I shared my work on a painting called Sea Kale which had languished in my studio for a couple of years. Having just registered for the 2020 Chichester Art trail I decided I had better get on with finishing it. Its always hard stopping and starting a painting with long gaps between work and as I began I realised just why it was the painting got pushed to the back of the pile in the first place. As I started I wondered what fit of madness had made me attempt the thing in the first place but I have a thing about finishing things so gritted my teeth and got on with it. After a while I began to feel chilly as I did not have the heat on though I did warm the studio, a log cabin in the garden, before I began. Oil paints make fumes so its not a good idea having a heater going whilst working with them. Before you get your violins out, its long way from the starving artist in a garret and I do retreat to the warm house when I get cold. Any way the painting progressed though its not finished and there are many hours of frustration left in it!
I was so distressed at the sight of the burning Amazon forest and all that means for the animals trees and humanity that I got a large, 100×120 canvas on my easel to express what I feel. In the end I settled for covering the canvas with red, orange and yellow alkyd oil paint diluted with thinners. I allowed the paint to drop from the top edge rather like tears then took a cloth to wipe out the shapes of trees using photos of the forests as shape guides to make them appears negative images, like ghosts. Alkyd oils are quick drying and can reworked again after six hours especially when thin. The next step was to turn the painting upside-down and dribble black paint down the canvas wiping the trees clean again after. I’ve added some grey and one or two white bits. This makes no difference to the forest but helped me with the grief I feel.
This painting in oils which is 70×70 cm on box canvas started as a wild sketch but as I worked on it in my studio I was afraid of losing the wildness. I find most paintings end up as a compromise between what one sets out to do and what one is able to do. I’m sure I could go on working on it but feel to do so would end up with what I call knitting where all freedom has been lost, not that I have anything against kitting, just not in a painting. No doubt I will see things that need tweaking as it hangs around my studio though.