A few weekends ago I went to Plas Teg. Back in the early 80's when it was still a ruin, I used to pass it on the coach every morning and evening to-ing and fro-ing to art college in Wrexham. I always loved the place, but this was the first time I got to see the interior and wonderful renovations carried out over the intervening years by it's marvelously eccentric owner Cornelia Bayley. The house, and everything in it, are fantastic and theatrical and I was particularly taken by all the grand old oil paintings hanging in every room... except they aren't "old" at all. It seems Cornelia commissioned some amazingly talented contemporary artists to copy works that are hanging in museums and galleries the world over (some I recognised, Reuben's for instance). Those artists did an amazing job and it got me thinking...
Back when I used to pass Plas Teg as a ruin, I was having my life-long (well, all of 17 years at that point) dream of becoming a portrait painter well and truly kicked out of me by some of my college tutors. One in particular (let's refer to him as Albert Bumface) attacked my work - plus my views, my character, my looks and just generally my very existence - to the point of bullying and it was because of him that I pretty much gave up painting and changed from Fine Art to Design. I certainly lost all the joy of painting that I had enjoyed since a small child and was filled with self-doubt whenever I picked up a paint brush after that. The odd part was that I was easily one of the better students in my year as far as natural talent went. That might sound egotistical but is just a fact. Other tutors praised and encouraged my draughtsmanship and my already quite well established painting style, but as I was young and really lacking in confidence back then, Bumface's loudly disparaging comments drowned out the weaker voices of encouragement for me. Now I just wonder how many of my fellow students went on to make their living day to day solely by using their artistic talents? I did, of course, but it was only because a strong streak of defiance rose up from somewhere a few years down the line.
The problem for Bumface (who wasn't all acidic malevolence, he had a lot of 'favourites' whom he showered with praise, and was very popular with a certain section of the student body... he spent a lot of time with them down the pub, anyway) seemed to boil down to the fact that I loved the old masters. I also failed to sneer when I saw the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and once bought a postcard of one of Joseph Farquharson's many snowy landscapes with sheep to give to my Grandma while we were on a college trip to The Walker Gallery in Liverpool. "Lowbrow" art was yet to have it's day and I guess to the likes of Bumface, an eclectic girl who could appreciate not just the work of Cy Twombly but also of the likes of Sir Frederick Leighton clearly had no place in HIS art college. Bumface and his little clique held very rigid, narrow-minded opinions what was ART and what was not - in short he was a Total D*ck! (I am not suggesting that he quacked there, in case you are wondering)
Anyhoo, my visit to Plas Teg set cogs whirring and I have begun sketching and even gotten out the oils for pretty much the first time in 40 years. I don't buy all of the Haunted House talk at Plas Teg but maybe the place has finally laid to rest the horrible specter of Albert Bumface for me. I have in mind a series of oils of fictional sitters with odd companions seated or standing in front of those lovely pastoral landscapes favoured by Gainsborough and the likes. So with all of that swirling around in my head I was pretty excited to discover the work of Stephen Mackey earlier today... my new favourite artist in fact. I can't believe I have never seen his work before, maybe he has been to Plas Teg too? Albert Bumface would absolutely hate Stephen Mackey's paintings, but then Albert Bumface's work isn't hanging in galleries and isn't collected the world over is it? So, who cares what he thinks anymore! ;o)