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Reflections on a Lost Exhibition: I’ve always believed – when younger, without really understanding why – that paintings breathe. Sculpture too. They are the only art forms where there is a tangible link between maker and beholder. Believe me, paintings talk to you! There is nothing in between: no translator, no intermediary, no signer, in short, no interpreter.

 

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Bottles and brushes, Oil on plywood 49 x 73.5cm

 

You confront a real painting (I don’t mean on-line reproductions, postcards or even high quality book illustrations) pretty much exactly as the artist did – at the same distance – as he or she did at the moment when (s)he contemplated the finished work and felt content with it. The visual experience is the same: you breathe on it in the same way and it responds. This is demonstrably not the case with music, film or writing for any medium – all of which require an intermediary and very often several or even a team. You are only reading this because it’s been through several machines.

This is all fine but an exhibition of paintings is a two-way thing. A meaningless exercise if one half of the equation is missing. It is unbalanced, there is no conversation. Paintings without people, talk to themselves or merely stare bleakly at each other across the void.

 

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A corner of the gallery

 

The painter provides the paintings, the gallery provides the space, and both parties promote it as best they can. That’s how it works; the only way it can work. If a painter spends years in oblivion wrestling work out of heart, soul and mind, he can legitimately feel disappointed if the gallery falls short.

This is the second year running I’ve been let down by a gallery. Not tuppeny-ha’penny galleries but pukka ones. The exhibition with ceramicist Eilean Eland suffered from poor gallery publicity before and during the event. As artists, we did all we could: half-page illustrated articles in quality regional and local journals but both galleries did very little. Why that should be must be the subject for another time.  Nevertheless, those visitors who did attend were enthusiastic; words like “stunning”, “vibrant” and “expressive” cropping up in the Visitors’ Book but during most of my attendances, the gallery was often empty. Stairs from the busy shop and café one floor down appeared to be an obstacle too far. To be fair, there was little incentive from the Arts Centre – not the box office, shop or counter – to encourage movement beyond the caffe lattes.

 

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Wedding carnations, Oil on MDF 46x61cm

 

This was particularly depressing because we were in an Arts Centre and not a café. I felt sorry for my paintings and for Eilean’s terrific sculptures in having little or no human company. They felt neglected. Most artists need interaction with their audience. Imagine live theatre or an orchestra playing to an empty auditorium, or an important football game before no spectators. You cannot expect anyone to be at their best.  In a previous life, I’ve been a cinema projectionist several times, and occasionally had to show films – usually in matinees – to literally one or two aged people. Even though technically it made no difference to putting on a good ‘performance’, it always felt a tad futile.

 

Sweetpeas in a blue jug, Oil on canvas 35.5 x 46 cms.jpg

Sweetpeas in a blue jug, Oil on canvas 35.5 x 46 cms

 

At its most elemental level, art – painting and sculpture – is as much a part of show-business as anything else. People look at paintings to be uplifted, thrilled, enthralled, perplexed, surprised or, if they are of a more educated mind, perhaps technically intrigued. [I will not use the word ‘challenged’ in this context.]

 

Study of anemones after Khmeluk Oil on canvas paper mounted on board 36 x 25.5cm 2

 

Above is one version of two of a Study of anemones after Vassyl Khmeluk. I fell in love with the original of this painting from a tiny reproduction in a newspaper. Khmeluk (1903-86) was a Russian painter who has for me become a favourite (see previous post That loving feeling.  Copying this got me back into painting after my Blighty Girls experience last year (see previous post My dear blighty girls). The anemones remain favourite paintings despite or perhaps because of that difficult time. It was, technically, an intriguing exercise which I hoped might rub off on visitors. Two people did indeed tell me (unsolicited) that they were their favourite paintings but otherwise I noticed little engagement with the more ‘challenging’ paintings throughout September at The Plough Arts Centre in North Devon.

 

Daffodils in blue glass - horizontal, Oil on cardboard 55 x 76.5cm.JPG

Daffodils in blue glass – horizontal, Oil on cardboard 55 x 76.5cm

 

Since very few people reading this will have got to the show, I'll include some photos to give an idea of the venue and exhibition. It was an opportunity for me to show some of my 'still-life' studies. In my naivety I thought it the most 'commercial' of the three exhibitions I've had at The Plough Arts Centre, but it's difficult to sell if no-one much comes.

 

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The Daffodil corner of the gallery

 

Are we down-hearted?  Yes, I suppose we are a bit, but no doubt something will happen to buck up the spirits: Carry on regardless (now that's a film I probably showed once!). Actually, something has come along because I've just sold my third painting in 12 months to America without any opportunity of them being breathed upon by any of the buyers. Why Americans seem to like my paintings more than the British is a mystery to me.  A gallery owner in Cornwall last week said that perhaps it was because they felt French (or was it because of my beret?). I love France inordinately but think I have only two paintings there, and I always feel they are more German than French, but maybe not the still-lifes. Any thoughts? If so please add a Comment.

 

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Apple triptych, Oil on cherry wood panel 16.5 x 30 cm

 

[Ends]


Comments
Isabella
- 25 October 2016 at 13:26

I do know the feeling, although in my case the equivalent was to be bypassed at a fair or show while visitors flocked to buy things I didn't always rate very highly at a nearby stand.
Hard to deal with when you believe so passionately in what you do, and it can make you feel isolated.
We just keep doing what we do because it's what we are, I suppose.
I would agree that your still-lives are very 'purchaseable' (I won't use the word commercial!) but you have to have the audience first.
Look forward to seeing you and M soon
I (and G)
RM
- 26 October 2016 at 10:14

Thanks for those thoughts Isabella. I do concur of course. Sometimes it feels like pushing a boulder up a steep hill, pause or let your attention drift for a moment and the thing rolls back and crushes you.
Janette
- 27 October 2016 at 16:27

Richard....your art looks wonderful.
I looked at the exhibition space and read your comments.

I have to say it is the same here in Peebles. On the top floor of the Library there is an Exhibition on and off all year. Hardly anyone is there to see the really good art, the publicity is weak. Never staff to encourage people to go up and have a look.

Artists are confident at entering galleries, joe public not so brave. If it is not common place to look at art then how about art teachers in school taking them to see what we do.

The Eastgate art centre/ theatre here also puts on show...in a room used for dance or whatever. You cannot see the work most of the time. The door closes even although the room is free for viewing. No big sign , weak weak weak.

What to do?

All that work, all that time in hanging, framing , painting....

I have no answer Richard just sharing with your frustration.
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