Sunday, September 28, 2014

My new favourite artist

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)


C said...

Such an interesting post Yve... Plas Teg sounds fascinating, I looked it up after reading this too. I'm angered by your experiences with Albert Bumface. Grrr...tutors are supposed to be there to nurture and find the best in you, aren't they? I know that part of that can mean pushing students to try out new things and get outside the comfort zone etc but surely it also means honing in on what they already have and love? You want to feel motivated and inspired by a tutor not put down and discouraged. I'm just so glad you stayed defiant and have been working creatively ever since. Not many can say that. Great to hear you've been sketching and got the oils out, please keep at it (no pressure of course to show anything here but if you ever feel the urge, I'd love to see!) I'm sure it'll be really rewarding and you can stick two fingers up to Bumface while you're at it :-) (And will perhaps produce something for that blank canvas to go on your wall too?)

Yve said...

Thanks C, and reading your post on drawing for yourself added grist to the mill. It's way gone time to shrug off the old critical voices in my head and just create what I want to see.

You are right about tutors and I have wondered with hindsight if he thought that I needed to stand up to someone and develop some backbone because I was so meek and easily walked all over back then. You know, the old knock you down to build you up ethos? But I had to face someone even more critical at home every evening:my stepfather. Nothing I ever did or said was right as far as he was concerned and my later teens were really difficult because I was trying to find the courage to be myself in the face of this barrage of negativity. That wasn't a happy time for me.

When I went to London at 22 and trawled round all the art studios in the West End trying to find work I finally found acceptance. Not just that I was accepted by professional illustrators, designers and artists (who I have always found to be very encouraging and generous to others) but also I finally accepted myself. I always try to find a bit of time and some nurturing words for young hopefuls now as I remember that was very much what I needed back then. :o)