A Special Builder's Notes


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22 May 2012

A Painter Writes.

We seldom get the chance to cogitate for an extended period. Become a painter and arrange to usher your own exhibition in a small market town. Interruptions to your musings will be few.

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I had high hopes that during the week I’d learn something about what people expect from a painting. I don’t present as an artist, so I was able to tail (‘mingle with’ would be an exaggeration) visitors and make note of their comments. My visitors were diverse in their requirements. Some came to pass the time of day; some to be entertained. Some, as painters, came to get ideas and examine my technique and style. Still others had lost their way to the Abbey refectory where more earthly nourishment awaited.

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In all of the 6 days of my exhibition, only two olympian bores accosted me. The first announced that he was donating his collection of 2000 slides to the RIBA archive. ‘Playground equipment takes up a lot of room’, I ventured (I’m pretty sharp in the mornings). The second, another lonely man, affected an interest in a painting which he saw as an introduction to his chosen specialist subject – femininity. Warming to his theme, an inversely proportional cooling to his presence overcame me. Then there was Mr. Wolfinstein. It emerged that he’d neglected to buy a wedding gift for his, I suspect, estranged son whose marriage he was attending later that day. He picked out three paintings all having a degree of nudity in them and settled on the most outwardly pornographic. ‘This is very nice. My son would like this. Is there a reduction? For a special occasion?’ ‘20%, but I keep the frame’ I watched the glint in his eye flicker to and fro as he divided this and carried that. ‘I bring my son later’. He did as well. The son shook his head angrily and strode from the gallery, Mr. Wolfinstein scurried after him. Bad timing Papa.

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‘We’ve just bought a frightfully nice painting’. Think bubble – good-for-you-bugger-off.

This was the first time I had seen my paintings. Odd thing to say? No. Like a sheet of glass is just a sheet of glass until it becomes, say, a window pane, so a painting is just a painting until it’s framed. Further attributes are appended the work when hung in a gallery. Now it’s no longer a decoration, as it would be if hanging in a home or office. As a consequence of context, now it’s an object inviting examination, analysis and judgment; the work being scrutinised has been assigned a value in the eyes of the scrutineer. Then, when removed from the context of the gallery and hung in the new owner’s home it reverts to its function as a decoration.

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‘We’ve just been to Chartwell to see Churchill’s paintings; very nice.’ Think bubble – good-for-you-bugger-off.

Colour, content, attention to detail, narrative, sub-plot. From my week-long researches, I hazard a guess that this is the order of unconscious critique when a painting is first seen. Many, following a short interview, admitted to being drawn in by the colourful nature of the exhibition. Then, intrigued, they investigated the content, enjoyed the detail and finally drew their conclusions on the narrative.

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‘And who is the lady artist?’ Well, well, well; how fascinating. I have never in my life looked around a gallery and pondered on the sex of the artist. Even if I’ve ignored the blurb, it’s never entered my head to assess the work in terms of gender. I wonder if it matters and I wonder if I might be missing something. I’ll give it a go next time I visit a gallery. This chap, after the initial ‘ho, ho, ho, it’s you is it?’ was most complimentary and had admired the brushwork and treatment of the subjects. This surely could have come only from the hand of a lady. No.

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I am handed a cheque for the painting entitled ‘The Principles of Flight’. It’s to be drawn on the account of one ‘J Van Dyk’.

I'll decide on a career when I retire.

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