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13 November 2015


On Monday's wet and blustery afternoon I took a train to Cardiff to attend the opening of STORYLINE, the exhibition organised and curated by Bill Garnett in aid of Shelter, the Welsh charity. I recently posted about this here and on FaceBook.

I've only been to Cardiff briefly once before and on both occasions weather, time of day (dim, then dark) plus my deficient sense of direction conspired to make it difficult to locate my destination which, this time, was the Norwegian Church  - no longer a church but an Arts Centre, including the Dahl Gallery - on the waterfront.

Norwegian Church, Arts Centre

No doubt the population of Cardiff is huge but, while the few individuals I came across on my way to the gallery were cheerfully helpful in the endearing Welsh manner, the population itself must have been hanging out elsewhere. Three or four persons on the bus to Cardiff Bay, half dozen or so in the vast Millenium Centre where I wandered in to ask directions, and not a single human or animal on the long and winding windy waterfront.

I had miscalculated and was too early for the gallery opening, too late to go back into the city centre (couldn't find it anyway) and no cafe in sight where I could catch my breath. Finally a sudden glimmer of light around a deserted corner revealed a pub - allelulia! Also deserted, apart from the cheerful owner, his wife and one customer. Perfect. All I wanted was to sit somewhere warm until the Norwegian Church, standing whitely spired at the far end of the pier, would be open. Indeed, at the appointed hour, Bill Garnett was there to welcome me.

Dahl Gallery in Norwegian Church

Storyline Exhibition

Enough preamble, I'll get to the point: the exhibition at the Dahl Gallery is full - overflowing - with truly exceptional examples of artwork by over 20 exceptional artists. Some of them are household names: Elizabeth Frink, John Piper, Paula Rego, Ceri Richards, Michael Rothenstein, Philip Sutton etc. and some are known in fewer households. But never mind names: if it's wonderful, original, distinctive artwork you love, then you must make your way this week (it's only on for a week) to Cardiff Bay - you can't miss the Norwegian Church, it's a landmark.

Most of the work is for sale, at absurdly reasonable prices, and the very worthwhile Shelter charity will benefit. Cardiff is only two and a bit hours by train from London Paddington and who knows how many hours from wherever you are but it's well worth the trip. If you really truly can't get there in person then you can contact Bill Garnett at Pomegranate Fine Art to get a full PDF catalogue of all the artists.

You already know that this blog is usually (not always) about me so I won't apologise that the photos below are of some of my works in this exhibition (around 20 of my prints and a couple of my artists' books are included.)

Colour proof, Trans-Sib

Angel, colour print from 'The Creation'

Colour proof, Blaise - Trans-Sib

Colour proof, Jeanne-Trans-Sib

For A  Song, artist's book

The bottom photo is of my artist's book For A Song (7 poems and 7 etchings). Full details are here and all the pages from this version are shown here.

6 November 2015


Since the last time I blog-posted I've been back to Tavira, Portugal, where five years ago I was artist in residence at Casa 5 (documented starting here). This time I went with London friends to visit my brother who is living there at present. It was a wonderful mind, body and vision-refreshing break which I'm very happy to share some visual proofs of. I realise that my photos are probably cliché postcardy things but I don't care. There's nothing cliché about actually being immersed in moments of splendour like these and if I've only got superficial records of the live experience, well, so be it. I'm not going to write about the history of Tavira or describe the place verbally - you can look up the former and I'm sure there are good travel writers who have done the latter.

Spectacular sunset on Gilao River, Tavira
tavira sunset, Roman bridge

Roman bridge, Tavira
Tavira, Roman bridge

The small hotel where we stayed, facing the Gilao River.
Tvira hotel, Residencial Mares

Crossing bridge, Tavira
Crossing a bridge, Tavira

Orange stucco house, Tavira
Orange stucco, Tavira

Yellow front of demolished house, Tavira
Yello facade, Tavira

House waiting to be restored, Tavira
Red facade Tavira

Cloudy day, Tavira environs
Cloudy sky, Tavira environs

Meanwhile, back home, I've made a photobook/catalogue of 109 of my old drawings, some of which were posted below. The printed copy (of which there's only one at present) will be sent to me soon and I'm going to look into having more copies printed for anyone who'd like to buy one. The drawings themselves are for sale individually - if interested let me know.The online version of the photobook can be viewed here (put it on full screen and click the arrow on the right to turn the pages).

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15 October 2015


Reading Lucy and Tom's vivid and idiosyncratic impressions of their recent trip to the Netherlands I was motivated to look for some sketches I'd done during a trip to Amsterdam in the 1980s. In the same sketchbook there were also many quick drawings of poets, artists and other talking heads at various events I attended during those years.The ideal ambiance for sketching people is at a conference or concert where speakers/performers stay relatively still for long periods and you can be sitting quietly drawing, unobserved and undisturbed while still being part of the scene.

Amsterdam 1986: it was raining, the hotel was cheap and the mattress had lived, as they say.
My hotel room, Amsterdam

Wet raincoat, Amsterdam hotel room.
Raincoat and washbasin, Amsterdam

Of course Van Gogh was on my mind. He shared my room and I angled the mirror so as to echo one of his subjects.
Myself with Van Gogh print, Amsterdam

Dick Higgins was one of the speakers at a Bookworks conference I attended in Philadelphia in 1982.
Dick Higgins, two sketches

Leon Cych and Peter Baines at the National Poetry Centre, London 1982. Peter Baines (AKA Street Talkin' Pete) was a friend and together with Marilyn, his wife at the time, we went on protest marches, including to the Greenham Common women's peace camp in 1983.
Leon Cych & Peter Baines, 1982

John Rety was a friend but there must be hundreds of people around the world who can claim that privilege, certainly many in my part of North London where he and his partner Susan Johns ran the Torriano Meeting House. Shortly before he died in 2010 I bumped into him (literally) in Camden Town and he said Let's do a comic strip, I'll provide the text, you draw the cartoons. He was like that, as if life was an ongoing conversation with time an irrelevant interruption. I said Fine, let's do it. We were going to meet and work it out. Then he died. Everyone in the above sketches is dead, apart from me. And Leon Cych who I drew but never met (just Googled him and am glad to see he's alive and doing well).

John Rety and Gilbert Adair at a poetry event in London 1986.
John Rety and Gilbert Adair

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14 October 2015

NE ME QUITTE PAS  (click the title to go to YouTube)

I wonder if this song could ever be written, much less sung, at the present time? The last few lines especially - would any self-respecting woman or man nowadays dare to say:

Let me become 
The shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand
The shadow of your dog

Nevertheless these are emotions which many people still feel, whether expressed or not. Nobody ever did it better than Jacques Brel in his terrific original version. A few minutes ago I recorded myself sort of singing it and below is my translation, by no means perfect but better than the awful ones provided via Google.

Ne Me Quitte Pas (Jacques Brel and Jacques Roman)

Don't leave me
Let's forget
Forget everything
That's already vanishing
Forget the time of misunderstanding
And the time wasted
Who knows how
Forget those hours
Which sometimes killed
With blows of why 
The heart of bliss.
Don't leave me (r)
I'll offer you
Pearls of rain
From countries where it never rains
I'll dig the earth
Even after my death
To clothe your body
With gold and light
I'll build a kingdom
Where love is king
Where love is law
Where you'll be queen.
Don't leave me (r)
I'll invent
Nonsense words
Which you'll understand
I'll tell you about
Those lovers
Who saw their love's fire
Twice rekindled
I'll tell you the story
Of that king
Who died because
He could not meet you.
Don't leave me (r)
An ancient volcano
Believed extinct
Often reawakens
And there are burnt lands
Which yield more wheat
Than the kindest April
And when night falls
When the sky is blazing
Doesn't the red
Marry the black?
Don't leave me (r)
I won't cry anymore
I won't talk anymore
I'll just hide here
And watch you
Dance and smile
And listen to you
Sing and laugh
Let me become
The shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand
The shadow of your dog
Don't leave me (r) 

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12 October 2015


A few pages selected from sketchbooks to conclude the posting of some of my old drawings. They were all drawn quickly from life, although those of the Falklands debate were done while watching TV programmes. The process which sometimes moves brain, eye, hand, pencil (or pen, brush etc.) to work harmoniously together in response to a visual/emotional stimulus is something of a mystery. Skill acquired by long training and regular practice doesn't necessarily account for it and it can't be willed - it either happens or it doesn't.

If anyone recognises the face of that famous musician whose name I can't remember, please let me know - he was a violinist and somewhat hunchbacked. I met Shyam Singha only once during a talk he gave at a centre in Hampstead where I was working. Bob Cobbing was a friend and a well-known performer and writer of Concrete poetry.

Two famous faces sketched

Bob Cobbing, concrete poet

Falklands debate

Falklands faces 1982

Dartington conference 1977

Young man, model

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2 October 2015


Ay Weiwei exhibition

The name itself sounds like a cry of anguish...Ay! Way! Way! He has every reason for anguish but he's not crying, at least not in public. In public he exhibits two perspectives: on one hand, a calm defiance of the monolithic, arthritic, despotic regime hidden behind his country's mask of modern progress. And on the other, a display of meticulously crafted objets d'art, mixing the materials of venerable ancient Chinese artefacts with irreverent attitudes of surrealism and conceptualism - shades of Duchamp, Magritte, Carl Andre and all.

The most valuable and moving piece in the exhibition, for me, is not an art object but a video: an effective and affecting piece of investigative journalism. It was filmed in the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and documents the discovery, due to stubborn and painstaking examination of the ruins by Ai Weiwei and others, that the instant collapse of several schools in which hundreds of children died, was due to local authorities' corruption leading to lax building regulations and shoddy construction. Weiwei's response to the scandal was to buy tons of the mangled rebar, the "'useless bones of all those schools that collapsed". In his studio, workers pounded hundreds of the twisted metal bars straight and kept hammering even when he was imprisoned by the government for several months.

Still from Weiwei video

After his release Wewei created, with 38 tons of those rusted rods, a respectful and defiant memorial to those lost children, titled Straight, of which he has said:

The tragic reality of today is reflected in the true plight of our spiritual existence. We are spineless and cannot stand straight.
"Straight" by Ai Wewei

The problem I had when looking at this...installation...yes, that was exactly the problem. It had become an 'Installation' because of where it is shown: in a prestigious art institution. So the whole point of the memorial- its history, its meaning - has become merely a caption for an art object and its viewers are the people who go to art exhibitions. Does this make sense? Not to me. What would make sense would be if Straight was laid out in a public place in Sechuan where the children died, for example, or in front of government buildings in Beijing. But of course the Chinese authorities would never permit this. So the next best locations for exhibiting it would be...Well, you can see what I'm getting at.

I like Ai Wewei, I respect his integrity, his courage, patience and humour, his defiant stoicism in the face of the mental and physical hardships, injustice and repression he (and thousands of his unseen, unsung compatriots) have suffered, are suffering. I just wish he was as bold, unconventional and resourceful in his choice of venues for the display of his protest-works as he is in protesting.

Peering down into the several mini-tableaux which reproduce, half life-size, the actual cell in which Wewei was detained, along with the Chinese guards who watched his every moment, I couldn't help wondering, again, if this was the relevant place to show them. In the art gallery context they were reduced to rather ironic toy-scapes, even when you had read the explanation.

Weiwei prison cell

Caption at Royal Academy, Wewei's imprisonment

As for Ai Wewei's objets d'art in the exhibition, I must admit to being underwhelmed. The joke in this one is that the object lifting its legs at tradition is made from a traditional Qing Dynasty table. Get it?

Table legs on wall  table with 2 legs on the wall

Below, I think it's the caption which is the conceptual artwork rather than the cute paint-streaked vases. Those private collectors, did they buy because their vase was a Weiwei or because it was Han Dynasty or Neolithic? And did the price reflect one or the other? And who is taking the mickey of whom?

Caption, coloured vases

Ancient vases, painted

The bicycle chandelier is rather beautiful, in the way that a twenty layer birthday cake made of sugar cobwebs would be beautiful but even the Chinese bicycle symbolism doesn't save it from being instantly forgotten (by me) once I've seen/eaten it.

Bicycle chandelier

Before I end this grumpy review, I want to apologise for it to Ai Wewei even though he surely won't be reading it. I'm truly glad that the Royal Academy is exhibiting his work, he deserves encouragement and support from every quarter, public and private. I sincerely wish him well and I hope that his country's leaders will come to their senses, in his lifetime, and recognize what he, and all the other exceptional individuals they have been tormenting and repressing, could do for China if they would only be given the freedom which is every human's right.

To comment please go to my Mirror Blog

21 September 2015


Vaguely chronological, a few examples chosen from a lot of work from different periods of youthfulness. During and after the Art Students' League, thick felt marker pens and also thin line drawings in pen or brush seem to predominate, the latter mostly made during a period when I was privileged to be one of Jack Tworkov's students at his studio in lower Manhattan (next door to his friend and fellow abstract-expressionist Willem de Kooning). Jack was an insightful, inspirational teacher, never imposing his own style but encouraging me to discover and develop my own path.

I've had only three significant teachers in my art-life and they were very fine painters as well as brilliant teachers: Jack Tworkov, Henry Hensche and Pierre Bressoud (the Beaux Arts professor). I can't find any photos of Bressoud but my memory of him, permanent Gauloise on lip and black beret on head, appears (pp.16-17) in My Life Unfolds.

My teachers   Page 16, My Life Unfolds

NdA   Study from model. Oil on paper. 48 x 60cm (18" x 24")
Colour study, at Tworkov studio

NdA  Drawing bare self. Pen & ink. 30 x 36cm (12" x 14")
Drawing self in mirror

NdA  Nude and chair. Pen & ink. 45cm x 30cm (18" x 12")
Nude and chair

NdA  Seated nude, profile. Pen & ink. 30 x 45cm (12" x 18")
Seated nude, profile

NdA  Man leaning down. Pen & ink. 46 x 30cm (18" x 12")
Man leaning over

NdA  Long-necked man. Pen & ink. 30 x 45cm ((12" x 18)
Long-necked man

NdA  Woman, elbow on table. Brush & ink. 23 x 28cm (9" x 11")
Woman, elbow on table

NdA  Blanche asleep on sofa. Marker pen. 22 x 30cm (8.5" x 12")
Blanche asleep on sofa

NdA  Sacha & Blanche on sofa. Marker pen. 22 x 30cm (8.5" x 12")
Sacha, Blanche on sofa

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20 September 2015


Old Masters can't have all the attention and who says I won't be up there with the great old mistresses (single or double entendre) when I'm no longer here?

But let's go back to youth. I know I was sixteen when I did the drawing below because it's of my baby brother in the first year of his life.

NdA  Sleeping baby brother. Ink. 45cm x 61cm (18" x 24")
Sleeping baby brother

I was in Rio de Janeiro, under protest, when I drew the next self-portrait. I had wanted to stay in Paris and continue lessons with my adored Professeur but my father said no, I must go with the family to Brazil, I was too young to be alone in Paris. There was a big argument. I lost.

NdA  Young self in mirror. Charcoal. 15cm x 22cm (6" x 8.5")
Young me in mirror

After Brazil there was New York and I enrolled in the legendary Art Students' League, the most unorthodox art school in town. A roster of well-known artists were part-time tutors and there was a whole menu of other classes which you could attend if you wanted to. It was a free-wheeling, stimulating, heady atmosphere and my first experience of belonging in a community of people who took art very seriously and wanted to make it their life's work. I was thrilled, fired up, not least because of the competitive challenge. I wanted to show off, prove I was better, bolder than the other, mostly male students, some much older than I was. They gave me a nickname (Nippy) and I got lots of attention.There was no formal teaching as such - nothing like my Paris teacher's admonitions, vigilance and discussions. The tutor would come in once in a while, say a few words, suggest an exercise, but mostly we were left to our own devices. The art-mood of the period was towards expressionism, stylisation, abstraction and I was certainly influenced by this trend but what I'd absorbed in Paris about intense observation of the model never left me. Below are a few of the many life-drawings I did at the time.

NdA  Fierce female.  Charcoal. 35cm x 42cm (14" x 16.5")
Fierce Female

NdA  Intense head. Charcoal. 48cm x 59cm (19" x 23")
Intense Expression

NdA  Three-quarter profile. Charcoal. 47cm x 60cm (18.5" x 24")
Three-quarter profile

NdA  Big nude.Charcoal. 47cm x 60cm (18.5" x 24")
Big Bold Nude

NdA  Nude with stool. Charcoal. 43cm x 58cm (17" x 23")
Nude midel with stool

NdA  Thin nude. Charcoal. 48cm x 60cm (19" x 23.5")
Thin nude

NdA  Small nude on black. Ink & pencil. 13cm x 21cm (5" x 8")
Nude on black

Much more to come.

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15 September 2015


I don't know why it's become so hard to write a blog post or to write anything at all, even a letter. You could say I'm blocked - writer's block, artist's block, blogger's block. Do blockers (those who are talented at blocking other people) ever suffer from blocks? Rhetorical questions aside, putting one word in front of another in some vaguely interesting manner has become a chore to be avoided by any means and there are always plenty of avoidance means at hand. Yet I still have a sense of duty (how vain!) to turn up and remind anyone who happens to be passing by that I'm still here. Or maybe to remind myself that I'm still here.

So: I've been looking through portfolios of my old..very old..drawings and will pin some of them up on this blank wall. It's both annoying and challenging to re-visit these youthful works and conclude that many are better than anything I've done in recent times. I don't believe the theory that artists' best work is created in their youth and anyway I can't speak for anyone else. But I want to look into possible reasons why some  - I've picked out around 100 drawings - of my early works seem to achieve something (I'm not going to try and define that something) which I'm not achieving now.

I can easily teleport myself back to those years (17-18-19 years old) and remember clearly what I felt when I was drawing then. I believed in Art, I was romantically in love with Art, it was my mission. I wasn't hesitant or doubtful but confident in my ability to take on anything Art could throw at me. The first five large drawings below were done from sculptures in the Louvre where my tutor, an école des Beaux Arts professor, would meet me every day and teach me to draw in the classical manner, with plumb line and pencil held out at arm's length to measure proportions: "Aplomb! Proportion!" he would repeat like a mantra. I can still hear it now. Each drawing took weeks and he was wonderfully severe but after a while, when he saw that I was making real progress, we became friends. He said we were now equals and that I could draw "like a man". Yes, this was before feminist consciousness-raising but my joy at this verdict was boundless.

More old drawings to come.

NdA Charcoal. Roman bas-relief, Louvre. 42cm x 47cm  (16.5" x 18.5")
male bits in the facing warrior were missing. Not my doing!)
lLouvre, drawin from plaster cast 1

NdA Charcoal. Roman portrait, Louvre. 48cm x 63cm (19" x 25")
Charcoal drawing from Roman bust, Louvre

NdA Charcoal. Roman head, Louvre. 48cm x 62cm (19" x23.5")
 Charcoal drawing, Roman head, Louvre

NdA Charcoal. Old Roman Senator, Louvre. 48cm x 63cm (19" x 25")
Charcoal drawing, bust of Roman, Louvre

NdA  Charcoal. Roman bas-relief. 48cm x 62cm (19" x 23.5")
Charcoal drawing, bas-relief of head, Louvre

NdA Charcoal. After El Greco "The Holy Trinity" (19" x 25")
After El Greco

NdA Young self, Paris. Charcoal and wash on oiled paper. (12.5" x 17")
young Natalie, Paris

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