Here's a pretty fundamental question: why do we do what we do - if it's not a job I mean – and Bill Roseberry (Smithsonian Institute) says, “Art is either a career or a vocation, it cannot be both.” I agree, so what drives passion? Naïve? Maybe, but I challenge you for an answer and, sorry, “Because I enjoy it.” is not good enough!
I ask because I've been struggling through mud. Post 'Blighty Girls', blues settled on me like a cold shroud. To some extent it was chucked over me by the extraordinary attitude of a gallery (which must remain nameless). It is something to spend years producing a baker's dozen of, I think, exciting paintings and to give them away free gratis to a damn good cause, and then have a gallery i) not even give you a name check; ii) to produce a poster advertising the show while leaving your name off it; iii) not to mention you on their website but to refer them as “our” paintings; and iv) on social media to thank everyone (even down to local traders) except the poor sodding artist who did the things and whose idea it was! To add insult to injury, when this was pointed out to them by a puzzled purchaser, the gallery responded by saying “If we omitted...”. IF!!! The evidence is plainly there. So that was pretty lame. And just to top it off, when I published a letter of thanks from the charity, I had a furious call from the gallery objecting in the strongest terms to me for doing so. I was and remain flabbergasted. Incidentally, no-one, least of all the charity, can explain it either.
So how does one dig oneself out of a hole without just going deeper into it? For me I try to re-find the passion that drives me to work day-in-day-out for no money, and to deny myself and my family some of the good things which others apparently take for granted. It's what artists (an over-used and demeaned word, another is 'genius') do, because they are driven by a passion that fights vulgarity and work to see money tossed into a bottomless pit.
Survival is sufficient, and even that is threatened at times. From mystified depression not helped by an evil mix of ouzo and whisky (not to be recommended), I came to consciousness lying on the grass outside my studio drenched in beautiful summer rain and thinking, “This is rather nice.” Isn't drowning supposed to be comforting? As an Aquarian who carries water but doesn't go near it unless he has to, I'll never knowingly go for that option. Hypothermia is also, I'm told, a rather nice exodus though I haven't tried that one yet. Ah, but winter is here!
Back in my 'hole', the obvious way out was, Get back to work you idiot. This is what I've been trying to do, but I was unable to find a lifeline. Where was it? What is it? There was no-one about to chuck it down for me. How could they, if they didn't know where it was or even what it was either.
Eventually I found it in an unlikely place: a very small painting by a little known Ukranian painter, Vasyl Khmeluk (1903-1986), whom I very much admire. I have returned to it again and again over the years, wondering why it moved me so much. Maybe one way of finding out was to replicate it. So I'm currently doing two versions and in the process hopefully re-finding a passion.
This is one of his works, not THE one - I'll keep that up my sleeve for now if I may – but it gives an idea of his work.
Philosophically, this puzzled me. Copying is usually a technical exercise, like a pianist practising scales but this was different. For me, meaningful work requires love in some sense. Whatever catches my eye or mind must contain within it a quotient of love, be it a woman, a plant, a landscape or an assemblage of objects such as the still-lifes currently occupying my mind due to an exhibition (in partnership with the ceramicist Eilean Eland) scheduled for next year.
In music, they talk of the 'tingle factor', in which hairs stand up due to some emotional response. Often we don't know why that should be, and it cannot always be predicted. For me it's the same with visual phenomena. In the absence of an emotional response, I might as well go back to science – which eschews all emotion. Certain visual arrangements arouse in me a frisson of excitement that cannot be denied. This is what I was searching for after the mid-summer hiatus.
Maybe this is naïve of me; I don't know. All I can say is that as a painter (or indeed a writer) the work is a form of love making. It might be at one or two steps removed but the engagement is the same. And at the end of it all, I don't want anyone quoting The Righteous Brothers at me: “Poor you, 'You've lost that loving feeling.'