Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The exhibition - how grand that sounds, and how it sets the nerves twanging with fear - is a little less than three weeks away. We have been talking, my friends and I, about logistics. How shall I survive seven long hard days manning the store? How do we transport all those pictures safely from here to there? How are we going to arrange them - mix them up or group them according to styles, colours, themes? That sounds pretentious and not at all how the pictures were made in the first place - more likely higgledy piggledy. I have decided to mix subjects and styles so that visitors will find contrasts and maybe some surprises.

Will there be music? No, there won't. I have been troubled by music in public places so often that I don't wish to make visitors feel uncomfortable. Although I rather fancied Johnny Cash burbling in the background, or Meade "Lux" Lewis if I wanted people to shift into boogie mood. And Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" could have been appropriate should I have to slip away for a couple of minutes.

When I first started painting it was trial and error. I used oil paints, and the errors and over-paintings made pictures look muddy - it was quite depressing, and the techniques didn't suit my impatient nature. How-to books were full of Old Masters-type pictures, carefully built up in layers with days of drying time in-between, and presented at the end as beautiful examples of landscapes, pots, portraits and flowers. Mine were simply incompetent and oh-so-ordinary. As well, there was the problem of trying to paint pictures that the people around me liked, or at least tolerated. I didn't have the confidence to trust my own judgment, so I painted carefully and worriedly in a mist of turpentine.

Then I discovered acrylic paint. It dries quickly, keeps its brightness, the brushes wash out in water and, unlike watercolour, the paint is inert - when dry it doesn't come off unless it's sanded off. I soon swapped the Old Masters for Kandinsky, Picasso and Jackson Pollock (they dubbed him "Jack the Dripper") abandoned the inhibitions and started throwing paint around in splashes and dribbles. Instead of, or as well as, brushes I used bits of cardboard and rags and paper towels, chopsticks and straws and cotton buds. And I stopped worrying about what it was supposed to be and started enjoying myself.

About seven years ago an old friend gave me a large canvas and said, "go on, paint it!" That canvas stood behind the armchair in the spare bedroom while I listened to my friend, who died two years ago but continued to nag in my head after her death: "What are you waiting for?" A month ago I dragged the canvas out to the garage, picked up the largest house-painting brush I had, splurted a giant wodge of paint out of the tube ... and went for it. I think that's the picture which will be facing visitors as they walk through the door of the Cloisters Gallery at the Arts Centre between 16-22 March. You will be most welcome.

This picture is "Reeds" - it's not the one discussed above.

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