San Sebastian: Pintxos heaven!
A five-hour drive from the Dordogne brings you via Biarritz (not stopping there) to San Sebastian, a seaside city with a fantastic bay. And many bars! The bars compete with each other in their displays of pintxos (the Basque version of tapas). They are crowded with locals and tourists, queueing in an almost orderly way to buy these delights. Described as a ‘small snack’, they are each rather a large and elaborate snack: on a piece of toast, for instance, you might find a construction of salt cod and prawns on aubergine, or deep-fried artichoke with cheese and ham, squid pieces in garlic…
Eaten (carefully), standing up, with a glass of chilled red rioja, this is a gourmand’s delight. Amazingly, I find a seat – and start drawing…
I’m showing nine abstract paintings from the last 18 months in a group exhibition, with Liesha Yaz, Marion McConaghie, and Noura Hardy, at Pelham House Hotel, St Andrews Lane, Lewes, East Sussex, BN7 1UW. Here are some of them. They are all 45cm square, framed in white.
There are no stories here – no narratives to be looked for; these paintings are about shape, colour, line, texture, and sometimes another dimension.
I love contrast: hard/soft, sharp/blurred, controlled/random. I use observation and play, chance and accident, distress and decay.
Among my many influences over the years are William Scott, Ben Nicholson, Antoni Tapies, and Kurt Schwitters. But you probably spotted that.
The exhibition runs from 19 August to the 14 October. Private view on Sunday 21 August, 4-6pm.
And so, once more, unto the beach… on the hottest day of the year (so far) and our pebbly stage is crowded with barbecuing flesh and the smell of weed is strong in the air. Most of the sunbathers move reluctantly away; some assert their rights to their beach, and we have to work round and over their bags, dogs, shoes, legs… We finally perform Tall Tales!
Crunching implacably from four directions towards our allotted (but not yet empty) performance space, in our costumes: traditional pacamacs in five colours, our props held high, unfazed by the puzzlement all around us…
“…they’re prawns affected by the sea’s plastic bag pollution”
“…they’re different bits of Brighton”
“… something to do with Shakespeare”
Come ON! It’s the Brighton Festival!! It’s bloody ART!!!
After another three hours rehearsal at The Spire, we’re finally on the beach! And it’s a dress rehearsal, so we’re in costume with our props, and working on the big pebbles. In front of us, the huge shining pole that is the i360; behind us, the sea and the West Pier skeleton. Lea is whistling our changes, and we’re crunching from position to position…
oskar schlemmer triadic ballet
Freezing cold in the huge church! – our rehearsal space for this week. We’re watched by images of Jesus and saints from their bright stained glass windows. This is ‘The Oskar Schlemmer Re-Enactment Society’, (real title Tall Tales) and our carefully practised moves suddenly thrown by the introduction of our props.
Too cold for costumes in here, but it should be warm for Sunday’s performance on the pebbles by the West Pier. Pebbles?!!
Rehearsal of the whole group: An hour of warm-ups and stretches, followed by working through two of Jason’s exercise sequences. Fortunately in the (middle section of) the Corn Exchange, so plenty of room this time. While we’re doing these, Faith arrives with four big laundry bags: our costumes and props! We’re not allowed to see them just yet (nor are you); then Lea arrives in trademark black gaucho-style hat, and we’re into rehearsal. Groups 1&2 into formation for our ‘Dolly’ sequence, while the other groups remind themselves of theirs. Then 1&2 go through their ‘baby-smallnose-skewer-hand-bignose-kebab-headless’ sequence, and make adjustments. Meanwhile Lea is watching the other groups with Jason fine-tuning. Then the bags are opened…
Three Score Dance has been commissioned by the Brighton Festival to work with famous choreographer Lea Anderson (The Cholmondeleys, The Featherstonehaughs) to make a new piece, Tall Tales.The Founder’s Room at Brighton Dome is rather small for a rehearsal for 50 people. No collisions even though we’re all moving rather quickly in different directions (and that’s just the warm-up). Because the company is so large (yes, 50), we’re split into two groups to rehearse on alternate sessions, but we all do the exercises together. We’re looking forward to the finished piece in the Festival, though we don’t yet have an idea of the final shape of it. Working with Lea is really exciting, and her designer Tim Spooner has dropped some intriguing hints about possible costume designs (I’m not telling!)
The piece is based on paintings and designs by the Bauhaus artist/designer, Oskar Schlemmer.
Still life: for many years a favourite subject. From commissioned illustration way back in the 1970’s and ’80’s (often food) through to today’s paintings, I’ve loved the composition of the domestic. Initially those illustrations were supposed to suggest a concept (those were the days), but the ingredients – jars, bottles, glasses, bits and pieces from around the house – took on their own life. The shapes were enough to work with. The silhouettes became the material. No ‘meaning’. So working with, from, and through still life, came this series of paintings. All were painted over the last eighteen months, through the joy of shape; through observation, play, and accident. These have become progressively more abstract, yet underlying each is the nature of things.
This is an exhibition of a selection from the ongoing series: just ten paintings. Through still life.
Friday 17th to Sunday 19th July, 10am – 6pm. The Stable Gallery, Paddock Art Studios, Paddock Lane, Lewes BN7 1TW. http://paddockartstudios.co.uk/
pot with mannequin
still life – blue 2
small cup SOLD
still life with bass
orange square SOLD
orange square 2
Way back in the day, as they say, 1964 probably, I opened a door with some trepidation and saw my first naked woman. Or nude woman. I’m still not sure how to describe someone who is intentionally without clothes, for artistic reasons. And as a job. I enrolled in the Saturday morning life class at Goldsmith’s College, London, and loved it. The tutor was Sam Rabin, a painter (you can see his work in Tate Britain) and a champion wrestler. Fortunately, not with his students. He’d nudge you off your seat though (called a donkey – the seat, that is) and with a stubby black pencil he’d demonstrate how to look, how to transfer the naked/nude person in front of you into two dimensions. Totally inspiring.
One Saturday I walked into the life class and there sat a naked (near-naked in this case) and very elegant person with a purple rinse, rouge and eye make-up – the Naked Civil Servant himself, Quentin Crisp, earning every penny of his 7/6d (38p) an hour. Of course we boys sniggered quietly at the Stately Homo of England at the time – shame on us. Since then, on and off, I’ve been going to life classes. The quality comes and goes, and I remember being much better at life drawing than I am now, 50 years later. But I don’t have those drawings, so I don’t know.
It takes intense concentration, a juggle of measuring with flow, accuracy with spontaneity, precision with feel. But it’s all about looking. At naked people.
After I illustrated Grace Nichols’ and John Agard’s poems in the November issue of VivaLewes, the three of us decide to make a limited edition screen-print of their poems with a new image to accompany them. The last time I was struck by the poignancy of Grace’s mother closing the curtains on the Bonfire celebrations – is she Guido’s mother, the mother of a Protestant martyr (16th C!) or the innocent mother of a British jihadist? This time I try to incorporate something of the wry humour of John’s poem, but incorporating references to Lewes (the castle), subversion (the mask) and the real person behind the mask, plus a tiny amount of the debris left behind after the celebrations, that has always completely disappeared by the next morning…
The limited edition of 100 prints, signed and numbered, on 300gm watercolour paper, are on sale at readings and performances by John and Grace, and available at Skylark Books shop in the Needlemakers, Lewes, priced £20.
John Agard is the guest on Desert Island Discs tomorrow (Sunday 16 November, repeated Friday 21 November)