Sunday, 31 January 2010

Still in love with Vincent

It is a fact I try not to share, but just between you and me, I don’t attend as many exhibitions as I should. Of course I attend the private views of those I am in (shameless self promotion), and I try to attend those of people I know fairly well (mutually supportive promotion), but as for the myriad of private view invites that turn up on my door mat… Let’s just say that if it’s a choice between ‘Mixed media works based around decay and loss’ or the latest Johnny Depp movie, you will find me in the cinema. What is it about artists and ‘loss’ anyhow. What have they ‘lost’? Their paints? sanity? husband? (careless.)

However, I have been tempted, and not by Johnny, by Vincent. Just before Christmas, my Student S (who has private tuition with me as well as classes) asked me if I would like to go to the Van Gogh Exhibition at the Royal Academy. There are not many artists who I cannot resist, but Vincent is one. I have seen very little of his work in ‘real life’ and am really excited about this opportunity. My favourite paintings of his are the ‘Starry night’ paintings. There are very few artists who paint without artifice, just straight from the soul, and this is the quality his paintings have for me.

So the tickets are booked, and we are going in April, on a Sunday. ‘Of course London is on severe alert for terrorist attacks, said S’ And she is right, the ‘Alert level’ has been raised recently to its highest: “We really are very scared some nutter will blow themselves up on the tube” level.

But I cannot be afraid in London, I grew up there, and unlike my rural raised boyfriend and daughter, who feel overwhelmed and ill at ease, I just love to go back. It feels so alive. Besides it’s not as if this terror alert business is new. As a 16 year old I had a job in Oxford Street, in a big department store. I was part of the YTS scheme the government ran. They will tell you YTS stands for Youth Training Scheme, but anyone who took part knows it really meant Youngsters Tortured by Sadists. Long hours, low pay, rubbish conditions, and not a hope of a job at the end. Anyhow I digress; we regularly had hoax calls from people claiming to be from the IRA, assuring us there was a bomb in the store. ‘Will Mr B please come to customer services’ the announcement would sound, which was code to the staff to start looking for suspicious packages. Did they evacuate the store? Nope, never. Besides statistically it is more probable that I will crash my car on the way to the station than be bothered by extremists blowing themselves up. And more likely if you know how I drive. And I will take the risk, for Vincent.

As for the present, the lighthouse painting is finished… see photo!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Natural Greens

My Saturday art class has now started back for spring, fully booked and with a waiting list for the first time ever. This is excellent obviously. The subject of the second weeks class is ‘Water in the landscape’ and I intend to provide photos of said landscapes so we can spend a couple of weeks looking at painting, you guessed it – water in the landscape; streams, puddles, rivers etc.

Determined not to be caught out last minute I started printing photos from my computer. It had been warning me for weeks that the ink was running out. However as you can only buy these particular cartridges online, and they cost more than tyres for my car, whilst being quite clearly made in China for about 3 quid, I have been putting the purchase off. I have tried previously to trick the printer with other brands but it refuses to recognise their presence and sulks for days. Today however my landscape photos emerged from the printer a lurid shade of lime green, as the red pigment had run out. As someone who frequently implores their students to mix ‘natural greens’ the irony of this did not escape me (green cows anyone?)

So on to the internet to part with large amounts of money in return for small pots of printer ink; fine until the payment part. One of those boxes opened, asking for extra bank verification (date of birth, number on back of card, that sort of thing,) filled in the required information. ‘Your details do not match our records for this card’ the box told me angrily, in red text just to make it quite clear that I was obviously a time-wasting cretin. Well since that is my date of birth, and that is the number on the card, I was not sure where to go from here (other than to the cupboard for a big glass of wine.)

Remembering my New Year diet, and the calorie levels in wine I persevered. Closed the box and pressed ‘confirm order’. Ha, success, until I got the email. ‘Thank you for your order, we will send it as soon as your bank authorise payment.’ I could see where this was going (or not going) so decided to email the cartridge manufacturer straight away. A helpful email form was supplied for customer services. The email would only send if I inserted my customer number. A helpful sub-box opened to tell me where to find my customer number: ‘your customer number will be emailed to you after your bank has authorised payment’. Genius: customer services that are designed to be un-reachable by customers.

Cue the rest of the afternoon spent in telephone queuing systems and conversation with my bank. It is odd that when I pay money into my bank they put no barriers in my way. However when I wish to pay an extortionate amount for a couple of printer cartridges, with a card I have had for a year, from an account that is in credit, they put every effort into stopping me.

In the end it seems to have been sorted out, meantime the pile of paperwork on my desk, and emails in my inbox has seemingly doubled. Plus it is obvious to me that I need to buy a different printer. Browsing the internet I notice they are for sale for less than the price of the ink cartridges I just bought.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Studio Musings

Finally I managed to escape to my friend’s studio to paint! The visit was delayed by the snow last week. As you can see from the photo, my current arrangement of painting in my dining room is more necessity than convenience.

D and I met last year on a business trip to France to see if we wanted to teach painting holidays in the South of the country. We stayed in touch and every couple of weeks paint together. Despite the fact that D paints oil paintings with palette knife, and I paint detailed watercolours it is still very useful to paint with another artist. D gives me constructive criticism, a salad for lunch and the generous use of a corner of the studio. I am not entirely sure what I contribute, but he is good enough to put up with me on a regular basis. D is far more successful than me and has a stunning studio, complete with under floor heating and fabulous light. Whereas I have a drafty upstairs office and painting has to be done downstairs on the table. The facilities in the afore-mentioned dining room include bad light, biscuit crumbs on the table and not enough room, which frequently leads to spilled water jars, frantic scrubbing of carpet and worries about what the landlord will say.

Of course the best thing about painting with D is the fact that no one knows I am there. My mother doesn’t phone up to chat about the dog, the teen can’t ring from school and ask me to bring her lunch/books/brain or other item she has forgotten to school, nor do random people knock on the door and ask for donations to dubious causes. As the studio is out into the countryside my mobile phone doesn’t even work over there. Fantastic, I get so much painting done. And of course it is company, as an artist’s life can be lonely, and the pleasure of a day with D (a man who if you cut him would bleed charm) is only slightly marred by his occasional desire to listen to the cricket whilst we paint. Luckily the weather saved me this time and rain stopped play, but not painting. And the Southwold lighthouse is just about finished (photo shortly.)

Off to bed and so to dream: optimistically about the studio I will have one day, hopefully soon. It may not be as spacious as D’s and sadly under floor heating will probably not be an option. But it will at least be better than the dining room.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Snow Report

I had several plans for the second part of this week, including: return to my swimming routine on Thursday morning, paint with my good friend and fellow artist D at his studio Friday, and above all finish my painting of Southwold Lighthouse.

There it was, week planned; at least until the weather took over. Wednesday afternoon they kicked the kids out of school due to the two inches of snow that covered southern England. A business forum I participate in online gets me in touch with people in other countries, particularly America and Canada. A nice lady from Newfoundland tells me they don’t even consider it to have snowed unless it gets over two feet high. She posted a photo of an eight foot snow drift outside her back door to demonstrate.

Since I live in the next street from the school the teen has no trouble getting in. But the buses from outlying villages will not run, and therein lays the problem apparently. ‘Don’t worry,’ the teen tells me, ‘you can go out all day and I will be fine’ Ha. The teen is not a bad teen, and generally behaves well, but she has an unfortunate addiction to screens. If I go out she will place herself in front of the TV and stay there. She will not drink, eat, use the bathroom, move or notice if the phone rings, the house burns down around her or war is declared against somewhere in the middle east. ‘You should install cctv she’ she says brightly, ‘then you can see what I am doing’. ‘I don’t want to watch you doing nothing all day’ I reply exasperated.

So Thursday and Friday were instead spent fighting the usual battle. The teen wants to watch TV/play DS or wii all day and I wish to limit these activities to two or 3 hours a day. I am not a fan of lazy parenting, mainly because I suspect you pay for it further down the road with grown up kids who won’t get a job and live at home until they are 38, complaining regularly that you don’t iron their clothes quite as they would wish. So in revenge for not being allowed to watch screens all days the teen does everything she can to stop me working via constant interruptions, whinging and playing rubbish music on her mobile phone (so it sounds extra tinny). She can’t go out with her friends as the buses aren’t running and they all live out of town. After ensuring I can’t earn any money she then of course hassles me to give her spending money. Today is Sunday, the teen is with her dad, and I am offering a silent prayer that they open the school tomorrow…

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Gym Class Zero

Over Christmas whilst my teen was away visiting a variety of relatives, I took a couple of weeks break from the gym. I am not a morning person, and when reverting to living alone I end up more or less nocturnal. The purpose of the break from the gym was so I could: get up late, work on the computer ‘til 2am and live on chocolate and microwave curry. In just two short weeks I managed to put on about 4lb in weight and reduce my fitness to the level of an asthmatic 70yr old.

So today I bit the bullet. Back to the gym; time to pay for all the chocolates I stuffed. As I left the house the teen leant over the stair rail and innocently enquired ‘How long will you be?’ As all parents know this is a trick question which actually means ‘How much time do I have to raid the fridge/phone my friends/go on that internet game site you banned me from.’ I tried the usual: ‘Hard to say, might forget something, could pop back at anytime really’ ‘Right’ she said with a self-satisfied expression that made it clear she wasn’t falling for that old line.

Once in the gym I discovered they had replaced all the equipment with new stuff. Since the machines now get more channels than my TV (including Sky), the hot water is free and the yearly fee is less than a months rent on my house, I am seriously considering moving in… at least until the weather warms up. Whilst trying to block the pain of exercising I took to reading the warning signs on the rower. ‘Abuse of the chain can cause injury’. That’s a picture in my head I really didn’t need.

When not obsessing about my fitness levels I am currently painting a picture of Southwold lighthouse. It’s going rather well, but it's strange painting sunny Southwold when snow is forecast. I find it really hard to paint in winter, I have to force myself, a ridiculous notion since it’s my favourite thing, not to mention job. But there are only about 3 hours a day of reasonable (not good) light at this time of year, and once I sit still I feel cold not matter how high the thermostat is. Which is why I suspect the lighthouse itself took less time to paint than my piece of work. Will try to get it done by the end of the week. Watch this space.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Party Politics

Recently I attended a party, held by my close friend G. The party was entitled ‘Christmas Leftovers’, but could more accurately be named ‘Crap Presents Swap.’ Each guest was asked to bring (re-wrapped) something they had received that had disappointed them. Each gift was then given a number, and guests picked corresponding numbers from a hat.

Once each person had their allocated new gift, the opening commenced one at a time. One or two people actually liked their new gifts, but either way the results were amusing. Teenager O got a pair of slippers with ‘Old Fart’ emblazoned on the top. The hostess received a far too heavy for the Christmas tree hanging ornament, and the foul mouthed swearing turtle toy amused everyone with its inappropriate comments. Someone got lucky with a Harrods perfume gift set, although it was agreed by all it smelt like toilet cleaner. At least the box was pretty.

I am hoping it will be a regular event and was the perfect antidote to the after Christmas ‘eaten too many chocolates’ slump.

At the party I bumped into an artist couple I know. The wife is lovely and the husband is quite eccentric. We had all exhibited at a Christmas exhibition, as members of a local art society. Innocently I mentioned that it was horrible weather on the day we had to collect our work, talking about the horrors of the snow on the notoriously bumpy track leading to the venue. The wife then said dreamily ‘Oh dear, were we supposed to pick up already?’ I assured her the date was several days past, whereupon Mr Artist swore volubly and said ‘for god’s sake, how are we supposed to remember this stuff?’ I tried to arrange my face into an expression that inferred vague sympathy that he should be expected to remember to collect his own work.

For the uninitiated: Pick up days/times for exhibitions are non-negotiable. Try telling the organisers it’s your kid’s sports day; you have a dentist appointment, whatever. They are not interested; you will have to make arrangements. And to be fair, with so many artists and artworks to organise, you can’t blame them. Failure to collect on time can result in charges for storage or even destruction or sale of your work. Yet many artists risk this, when all that’s needed is a note on a calendar.

It reminds me of my teenage daughter, whose current excuse for everything is ‘I forgot’. ‘No,’ I tell her, ‘you chose not to bother to remember.’ But that sort of remark just gets me the Look, the one that says ‘Die evil witch.’