Trixi and Dirk Mecky invited me to have a show at Salon Schmitz in Cologne in October 2009. When we discussed the exhibition, Trixi said she would like about 100 paintings in the show and that I should mix all the different sorts of work I do. With the help of my friend, the painter, Bolan Chen, who came over from Japan specially, we drove over to Cologne with over 250 drawings/paintings. Trixi and Dirk made an initial selection and the artist, Walter Dahn, advised on how the show should be hung. The main hanging space in Salon Schmitz is a long 20m x 5m high wall. Walter’s idea was to have a lot of space, with a few large oil paintings on the first half of the wall and a crowded hang on the second half. I was pleased with the result and hope to post some photographs taken of the show soon. The exhibition, which I called “Pics for Schmitz”, ran from 30 October 2009 to 15 January 2010.
The hang in Cologne meant I had quite a few paintings spare, which I brought back in October and hung in the Magdalen Arms in Oxford, which more about later.
On the way back from Cologne, after the Pics from Schmitz show ended, I left some of the paintings and dubbed photographs from the exhibition in Belgium with Galerie Hoge Bomen, Veurne, for my exhibition there in August.
My plan was to rehang the pictures in the Anchor & Hope with the work I had brought back from Cologne. The last hang I put up there looked very chic, a double row of elegant black and white box frames, closely spaced, holding a set of dubbed photographs of Istanbul that I painted for Gilles Blaize’s film “Dreaming Istanbul”.
This time around I wanted to change from showing work in a series to make it more of a visual mix and to fill the whole wall with a patchwork of different pictures, the theme being: “No Theme”. I had tried it in Cologne and I liked the idea, even though it disturbed a few artists there. I wanted more variety for the installation in the Anchor & Hope, so I motored over to Oxford and back to collect a few boxes of paintings that I had left there when I put up a display in the Magdalen Arms for Florence and Tony’s new venture there.
My friend Julian Krispel came over to the Anchor & Hope to help me hang. It took all night. This kind of “Petersburg” hang gets more tricky the more pictures you are trying to hang, to fit the next picture in with the others already on the wall. It is not only the different sizes that have to fit together but also getting a thematic, colour and compositional balance – dark and light, complex and simple. I knew which picture I wanted to start with: Pegasus, flying off in the top left hand corner, and also I knew what I wanted in the middle of the wall: a large oil painting of Stephanie. All the other pictures we laid out on the floor around the room and improvised the overall pattern and arrangement of the installation as we went along. The hang goes quite easily for the first few paintings but as the wall begins to fill with pictures it takes a few tries to find one what works next to the others. We very rarely took pictures down that we had already hung, so we did need a lot of choice – three or four pictures for every one hung. The effect looks as if the pictures have been randomly thrown together but in fact it takes a lot of work and planning. Although it is an instant decision whether a picture kills or sets off another once it is held up in its slot, it takes a long time to get there. If the paintings were just thrown up any old how, it is surprising how terrible it looks.
In the end, we chose a mixture of abstract and representational work – sea paintings from Mersea Island, drawings and watercolours from the countryside in Wales, studio watercolours, erotica, etc. I will try to post up some photographs, as it’s obviously better for you to see them than for me to describe them.
Florence and Tony used to work at the Anchor & Hope as front of house manager and head chef respectively. They found the Magdalen Arms in Oxford and turned a run-down pool and sport TV boozer into an attractive bistro/pub. It is a big space but with fairly low ceilings and no long walls on which to hang pictures. I hung an exhibition there the week before Christmas, again of different sorts of paintings – about 35 in all. Since my first visit with Jonathon Jones, one of the partners of the Anchor & Hope, I had been thinking about making a pub sign for them. As it stands, the one already there is bolted on to a boxed steel upright, a bit like an oversized bus stop. I toyed with the idea of a sculpture to sit on the stand but decided with Florence that I would make a traditional sign, which I have treated as a sculptural object. I routed out the design with a drill to engrave the drawing into the surface. Filled with black paint, it looks as if it has been burnt or branded into the surface. I drew the head of Mary Magdalen from Titian’s painting “Noli me Tangere” in the National Gallery, then scanned the sketch, first in Illustrator, and then Aethan converted all the curves manually on screen into tiny straight lines that the routing machine could read. As Aethan said, after it had been hacking away at the board all day long using up several drill bits on the way, we’d taken the technology to its limits. I took twice as long to paint the border around the drawing, trying to get a rich glowing feel around the image. The board is going to “float” inside a steel frame, which Aethan made for me and which I am now trying to rust to a perfect bright orange….
What I should be doing is getting on with new painting for my exhibition in August in Belgium, but my old friends at Sarastro’s Restaurant in Covent Garden told me that they were closing the restaurant for a couple of weeks to refurbish the kitchen and other parts. Would I be able to come in and restore the murals I had painted there 15 years ago, which now looked a little worn and battered? Richard Niazi, who sadly died recently, had a brilliant eye and a fantastic business sense. He transformed rather drab ordinary spaces into magical places, full of visual imagery and music and always packed with customers. He had an idiosyncratic way of designing the decor – he would employ artists and let them have their head to do whatever they dreamed up, whether it was painting or three dimensional – the more bizarre, ornate and fantastic, the better. Sometimes he would keep what they had done, more often he would have it reworked – this meant it was no good being a sensitive flower, over-attached to everything you have done. You had to be fairly robust but he was a wonderful person to work for. In the time I had known him he had had nine restaurants and I had never done anything for him. This time he insisted that I should and after doing some sculpture and other three dimensional pieces for the restaurant, which he spent over 15 months in getting ready, I painted erotic murals in the ladies and gents cloakrooms. Restoring them now was obviously not nearly so much fun as painting them in the first place, but I did add some new murals, particularly to the ceiling, and I was helped by Freddie Morris, a printmaker friend of mine, who advised and helped me with the repair and painting, pushing things along famously. I’m making a short film about the restaurant and hope to post this up when it’s done, so you can see the restored murals and the restaurant generally.
I’m also making a film about my teaching of drawing. We’ve done preliminary filming in the drawing studio, which all looked good, so hope to post that as well once it is finished. The filming is planned for June/July.
Trixi and Dirk have an annual mixed exhibition at Salon Schmitz to coincide with Art Cologne. This year the theme is “Von mir aus” and I’m taking an appropriate painting, which I still have to do, over to Cologne for the show on 22 April.
That’s all for now.