Archives for the month of: March, 2012

If you’re a ‘visual artist’, the received wisdom is that you should ‘keep’ a sketchbook (that’s what they say). Not just keep – use. And that’s where the hating starts. You hate the purveyors of that wisdom, and you hate yourself. It’s the guilt: you’ve bought an expensive sketchbook (that you loved when you saw it in the art shop) and you can’t wait to use it. Except that it’s too gorgeous to use: the white textured weave of the Moleskine is too intimidating – its pristine surface has a force field that repels all but the most confident user (and you can’t easily tear pages out). And so you keep it… ‘Can’t wait to use that Moleskine I bought!’ In the meantime, you’re keeping a sketchbook, and not ‘keeping’ a sketchbook.

So – buy cheap sketchbooks, and be uninhibited about what you put in them. Because a sketchbook is an essential tool: it’s a resource, and if it’s used regularly, you’re putting down your reactions to your surroundings, your life experiences, your ideas, to draw on, in both ways. It’s a great way of filling boring situations. It makes you really observe your surroundings, and it is its own moment. And, as the received wisdom goes, it’s a primary resource, and what you do in it sometimes transcends the more finished piece. And if you can get over the fear of an expensive surface, it’s a sensual joy to drag your pen pencil brush across that ridged thick white page.

Look, this is just me working out some issue here. Don’t let me make you feel guilty.

The cold of the grave creeping into my buttocks, a pigeon calling, a blackbird singing: I’m in the shade of a solid dark yew in the All Saints churchyard, drawing the sunlit gravestones in front of me. Many of the inscriptions have disappeared, they’re so old, and they’ve become an installation that is more sculptural than commemorative. That’s appropriate, too: the church of All Saints (first mentioned in 1148) has been an arts centre since 1980. And I declare an interest: over the years I’ve played in bands on this stage, had a birthday party here, helped set up the Lewes Junior Film Club adventures here, watched films from its utilitarian seats, drawn it, photographed it, and swept up in it many many times. I love the place.

Inside it’s plain, except for the ornate memorials to the benefactors of the Parish, the great and the good of their times. Iohn and Iane (where I=J) Stansfield – ‘of the Cliffe nere Lewis’ – face each other, kneeling, and separated by their plaque; painted face cracked and dark with age, Iane regards her husband suspiciously, eyebrows raised over divergent eyes. He’s a Gent., though, who ‘hopefvlly ended his mortall life’ in 1626. Iane ‘his deere wife’ died 24 years later.

The sound of the organ drifts through the empty place – above the stage, in an orange glow, a bowed figure playing is half obscured by the deep dark drapes. In the back hall, the mirrors reflect the sinister looping trapeze ropes hoisted up into the high ceiling.

In All Saints there’s salsa, can-can, ska, capoeira, film, drumming, the Oyster café, blues, comedy courses, zumba, art workshops, a toy library, theatre, Nature’s Rhythms… Iohn and Iane had no idea that the All Saints church would become such a lively and creative place. And ‘hopefvlly’ – that’s how we should live.

Brighton in the sunshine! Glare on the dome of the Dome, and a huge snaking purple shadow of a tree fanning across the paths and grass of the Pavilion Gardens. There’s the hypnotic pattern of the mbira played by the Zimbabwean busker, his back to the Pavilion fence. I’ve been watching the BHWAC flash-mob’s reading of a Maya Angelou poem outside the Library to mark International Women’s Day, and now I’m heading for a favourite place.

I love the main hall of Brighton Museum, the 20th-Century gallery. Through the ogee-shaped entrance, to your right there’s the display of chairs, curves in plywood, metal, cardboard – extraordinary radical designs, then a huge A-rack of classic designs – leather, steel, bright orange. On the left there’s the ‘baseball-glove’ chair in brown leather, and, of course, Salvador Dali’s ‘Mae West’s Lips’ sofa in red velvet. Henri Navarre’s translucent bust of Beethoven from 1930, its gold plinth atop a Lalique glass and metal table, is bright against a dark lacquered screen. Further down, two naked men eye each other in David Paynter’s L’Après-Midi. It’s the sexiest image in the gallery – with the possible exception of Dali’s sofa.

The ‘Oriental’ style building, beautiful art, craft and design objects everywhere, the Mods&Rockers display, ancient Egypt, the Dirty Weekend – and coffee and cake. Excellent.

A dark canopy above me spider-like: it’ s the first time I’ve slept in a four-poster bed. It’s an Indian four-poster: ruched fabric with a pattern of elephant and rider, carved headboard, and little elephant tables round the huge room. Through the tall windows the lawns spread around, and below is the curved glass canopy stretching the depth of the house. The Old Rectory in Dorset, built in 1730, with the wings added in 1814, was reputed to be the largest and one of the most beautiful rectories in England.

This is a Country House Weekend (but without servants – it’s all upstairs). An elegant wooden staircase spirals up the middle of the house, and the landings lead off to rooms beyond rooms – eleven bedrooms, bathrooms with roll-top baths (and all modern conveniences). In the 80’s – 1980’s – it was run by its owner as a small art school and an artists’ and writers’ retreat, and there are paintings and scuptures everywhere.

The house is a real character: exquisite and rather precious on the website, it feels lived in, and comfortable. Through the front door, through another door, now, left/right? past the Elizabeth Frink print, the waist-high metal jar, a limbless plaster torso, left into the huge living room with a grand piano, big fireplace: it’s an achievement to have found this room. Friends arriving late wouldn’t know the house was inhabited save for the piles of boots in the hall.

The treasure hunt: there’s scurrying up and down the stairs, people bumping into each other, or trailing through the rooms, lost and suspicious. As the organiser, I’m enjoying watching, and I think I’m pretty smart with my clues. Not that smart, though: it’s won by a team who jumped ten clues and found the treasure – a golden box of Bonne Bouche truffles – nestling on the bottom A strings of the piano (clue: ‘How Grand A Bottom Sounds!’) by chance.

After a hugely muddy walk to the sea, I lie in the big bath on the top floor: light off, I watch the silhouette of Colmers Hill’s pines against the darkening sky. I’m sure Thomas Hardy did, too.