Wednesday, August 31, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 242

Today's doodle is a character I created for a strip in a magazine for Brunel University many, many moons ago. The strip only ran for about five weeks and I sadly don't have copies of any of them (though I remember them well enough to re-draw them I guess). I do have these sketchpad pages though. And at least one gag has been preserved! Say hello to Dirty Trunker.

365 Doodles - Day 241 - Update!

I don't know what mysterious or alchemical process he used but an old mucker of mine called Tony Evans has actually found the pet shop whose signage I did back in the late 1980s. Here it is, as it is now, in Windermere Road.

I say mysterious because even I couldn't remember what road it was on. The man must have sold his soul to the Devil. Or Tesco. (They're interchangeable these days.)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 241

Here's an old piece from around 1989. I got asked to paint a shop sign for a pet shop in Wembley (I lived there at the time) that specialised in aquaria. The limitations I faced were: (a) I had to use the existing board, (b) I had to paint over the name of the previous owner and cover an unsightly paint splash in the centre of the text, and (c) I had to include a whale (I have no idea why). What emerged was this very odd and unprofessional looking shop front.

Still, it's always nice to tackle a larger job. I love doing murals. I wish I got to do more.

Monday, August 29, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 240

Some sketches for a possible commission piece. I like the idea of the jockey having been thrown over the horse's head and now hanging by the reins. Ha!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 239

Some better photos of the Junk Owls today.

Plus here's a cartoon I did a few years ago to commemorate a friend's cat. Not my usual kind of piece but I quite enjoyed it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 238

A very strange self-portrait from 2007. Very strange.

No stunner at Stonor

I went to Stonor Park at Henley-on-Thames this morning to the annual Chilterns Crafts show. I go most years and quite enjoy mooching around the marquees (especially the food hall) and chatting to other artists. It's usually a good indicator of current trends in the arts and crafts community. And it often sparks my creativity and gets the juices flowing.

This year was strangely disappointing though. There's usually some new innovation or unusual new twist on an older craft to get excited about ... but not this year. It ws the same old jewellery, metal sculpture, pottery and paintings. The show was top heavy with clothing stalls including leather goods that clearly were not the work of the swarthy gentlemen selling them. I started to get a sinking feeling when I saw one lady painting landscapes with household emulsion that were all about technique over content and who was selling them signed and framed for £20-30. No passion. No soul. No story. What hope is there for us artists when this mass-produced stuff is so affordable?

That said, there was some exceptional artwork on display. There was glassware by Cornwall's own Jo Downs. I love her stuff and own several pieces. Visit her site here. Eli Ofir's House Portraits showed some exemplary pencil work and an interesting selling point in his signature skewed perspectives. You can see his work here. Lovely stuff but I wouldn't ask him to draw my three bedroomed semi even if I could afford him. He's strictly a posh house owning client kind of a guy. Also way out of my price league were Bruce Aitken's amazingly beautiful wooden clocks. Definitely my favourite thing at the show. Here's the website. Just how gorgeous are they? I also loved the sensuous curvy wooden lamps of Christian Wallis (see here). I'd have one in the house tomorrow if I had the pennies.

The Chilterns Craft Show has traditionally always catered for an audience that either has money or big gardens. Not everyone has the room for a life-sized metal warthog or the spare cash to buy a handcrafted £2000 clock. But this year the show featured a lot more affordable items and while many were genuinely lovely, there was a lot of obviously mass-produced stuff. That, to me, is not what a craft fair is about. It lowers it to little more than a car boot sale or a weekend market. So I'm hoping for better stuff next year. And better weather! The sun was gloriously hot at times but only in the gaps between the torrential rain squalls.

Oh and one more tiny niggle ... if you're going to charge the public £6.50 per head at least give them the little guide booklet for free. It may only have been an extra 20p for a single folded sheet but I found it hugely irksome to shell out further. Next time, charge me and £6.70 and say that the booklet is free. I'll still feel that the entrance fee is overpriced but at least I won't feel so ripped off.

Friday, August 26, 2011

365 Doodles - Day 237

Not so much a doodle today as a photo of a model I've been making. These are my Junk Owls. The sculpture is about 99% complete. I have a few more tweaks to make before I call it 'done'.

The two owls and their perch are made from assorted throwaway materials including household plumbing supplies, curtain rings, a light-pull, cassette tapes, combs, hair grips, biros, hand-soap dispensers, plastic balls and some off-cut pieces of coloured foam rubber. It's been a great fun way to dispose of lots of bits and pieces I've had lying around for a while. I'll post some better photos when it's completely complete but here's a clue as to how they were made:

Watch out for two similar pieces in due course; a dragon made of driftwood and a robot made from all of the technology I've bought and had go wrong on me this millennium! I call him Obsoletus Prime.

Here be witches, invisible bats and gourmet burgers

So, as you know, it's been a fairly exhausting fortnight. I had five days in Cornwall rushing around visiting family, artists and galleries, then drove to Plymouth to collect my two grandkids (aged 4 and 6) who then came to stay with me for 12 days. Twelve long days. Nothing reminds you of your age more than small noisy humans seemingly powered by atomic engines. Awww ... they're lovely and I miss them already. I took them back home on Wednesday and then, because I was cadging a lift with my son-in-law, I got to spend about half a day in Exeter too. So I thought I'd share some photos and a commentary about my day.

Having said bye bye to daughter and kids, I caught the train from Plymouth to Exeter. It's a lovely route. It takes about an hour and half the journey is spent thundering through lush Devon farmland while the rest runs along the coast at Teignmouth, Dawlish, Newton Abbot and Totnes. I've posted a few photographs here - I apologise for the quality. They were taken through dirty glass while twisting my lumpen body through 90 degrees. Plus I had to deal with window glare and reflections. But you get the idea. It was so nice to just sit in the sun and look out at the sea.

It also became something of a wildlife safari as well as I spotted endless rabbits, a fox and a huge buzzard perched near the tracks on a hay bale. Oh, and emus. Seriously, I passed a field with around 10 emus therein. A field belonging to a zoo perhaps? Or were they being farmed? I've eaten ostrich which is very yummy. Maybe we're eating emus now? I will explore the issue.

A dull morning had metamorphosed into a beautiful, warm, sunny day so I decided to walk from Exeter St Davids train station into the city. I was told it was about a 20 minute walk. I hadn't been told that most of it was up a 20% hill. It was a good cardio-vascular plod and no mistake. But it afforded me an unusual photographic opportunity. As you get to the top of St David's Hill and turn into Hele Road, the pavement drops below the level of the graveyard of St David's church and the tombstones come right out to the kerb. Consequently, you get a unique freshly-emerging zombie's eye view of the environs.

From here it was a short walk into the city itself. And, as I did in Truro just a few weeks ago, I found myself wondering about this whole city status business. It's all to do with cathedrals and diocese I know but Exeter feels oddly un-city like. I once described the incongruous placing of Truro cathedral in the middle of a small market town as looking like someone had dropped a piano stool upside-down on Legoland. Things are a little better in Exeter as the cathedral is set in lovely surroundings away from the bustle of the High Street. It's also not a big building for a cathedral; I've seen larger churches and abbeys. And Exeter itself isn't a big place either. When I think 'city' I think of places like London, Birmingham, New York, Manchester, Liverpool, Washington DC, Mumbai, Paris ... not quaint little tea rooms and cobbled streets.

Anyway, putting that aside, and no matter how you label it, it's a pretty little city. There's a glorious mishmash of architecture wherever you look; black-beamed Tudor nestles against ugly utilitarian 1960s concrete, curious Scandinavian-inspired folly nuzzles against the local signature red soil daub of Norman churches. There are churches everywhere you look but very few pubs, which I guess raises the bar on Exeter's ratings as a classy place. There were two bookshops as well. Two! There were hardly any of the signs of urban decay you see in some towns and cities such as a proliferation of Pound Shops or cash-converting pawn shops. Even the buskers were classy; one was playing a harp and another chap with a voice like velvet sang old crooning classics and soloed expertly on the trumpet.

There was a Gregg's and several fast food joints but I can forgive Exeter of that because there were also some very passable little bistros and restaurants. I took tea in one, the Chandos Deli, and had what was probably the best cup of loose-leaf Earl Grey I've had all year. I also had a great view of the Roman wall that brokenly encircles the city. In fact, everywhere you look, there are reminders of Exeter's past preserved in situ such as the 15th century almshouses (part paid for by William Wynard's involvement in piracy) and the tiny church of St Pancras, nestling uncomfortably inside the Guildhall shopping precinct. The planners must have hated that place. But there was no way it was ever being knocked down as it's the oldest place of Christian worship in the city and dates from 1191. Other interesting places to visit include the 14th century guildhall - the oldest municipal building in the UK, the ancient St Catherine's almshouses, the remains of a Roman villa, and the extraordinary 'House that moved' on Stepcote Hill; a 14th century 21 ton timber building that was strapped up and slowly dragged to its current location to accommodate the building of a new road in 1961. I also had fun with Parliament Street which, at only 1220mm at it's widest pount - that's just over four feet wide for you oldies - is said to be the world's narrowest designated street. Beergut challenge! The city museum was shut for renovation, which was a shame.

A short walk up yet another hill above the town took me to the remains of Rougemont Castle, a Norman fortress and the site of the last ever witch execution in the UK. I had a wander around the perimeter of the castle walls which afforded a splendid view over the city, Rougemont Gardens and Northernhay Gardens.

If I have any disappointment with Exeter it is the lack of really interesting public art. There are statues to various important historical people like Redvers Buller, Richard Hooker and Queen Victoria. There are monuments to things like the Boer War and the Livery Dole Martyrs. But there is a conspicuous lack of anything modern, save an uninspired pointy mirrored thing on the High Street called the Exeter Riddle Sculpture by Michael Fairfax. Many people may love it. It did nothing for me and didn't seem in any way to be sympathetic to its surroundings.

Much more interesting was the mechanical bird that sits above the entrance to the Phoenix Arts Centre at the end of Gandy Street. It was the first place in the city where I felt that there was some hint of Bohemia. The bird, by Paul Spooner, looks quite like the Iron Chicken in the 1970s Oliver Postgate series Clangers and, on the hour, stands up and spreads its stainless steel wings. I didn't catch the moment when it did but it's a fun piece. Just around the corner is a unicorn made from scrap materials by Simon Ruscoe. Then, a short walk takes you to Andrew Alleway's city mural in Musgrave Row depicting various events in the city's long history.

I had a nice lunch in the Phoenix. It was one of those tower-high gourmet burgers so despised by David Mitchell (see here) but it was very tasty once I'd figured out how to attack it without scaffolding. It came with 'chips' that were also very tasty but the four of them were essentially a quarter of a good sized potato each and very filling. I could hear my Weightwatchers counsellor screaming.

The Phoenix has a good programme of live music, drama and dance and various studios and out-buildings where music can be made and art classes taught. It's a very pleasant place to visit and a splendid resource for the city. It also hosts art exhibitions and the current show is called 'A collection of gaps' by local boy Darren Harvey-Regan. The exhibition notes state that Harvey-Regan aims to 'explore the interplay between image, object and meaning' and that his works 'investigate the representation and scientific classification of animals and their ability to expose human narratives'. I could kind of see what he was up to, using puns and visual gags to play on the labelling systems used to denote individual species classification. Therefore a red squirrel was really red - bright vermilion red - and Heidegger's Lizard became a photo of a small reptile crushed by a large rock; presumably a nod to the philosopher's theories about existentialism. There were also empty spot-lit spaces where non-existent bats roosted above their taxonmic labels; it reminded me of that old Zen joke that goes 'What's red and invisible? No tomatoes'. Arf. An interesting exhibition but it didn't float my boat I'm afraid. It all seemed a little too contrived and none of the pieces was especially pleasing. Judge for yourself:

All too soon, it was time to leave. I crammed a lot into four hours but still had so much more to see, such as the historic quay. I've been offered another trip down there soon. I like Exeter. I'd like to make it back there soon if I can.

Oh, and emu is now being farmed as a gourmet food item apparently. Who knew? Maybe the Phoenix will have it on the menu next time I visit?