Ode to Basil is a large painting, eight by four feet in size, landscape format. It is one of a series of colourful rants. Some might call it therapy, but it’s more than that. Finding your voice within the strict parameters of drawing and painting, amongst the heritage of Western Art practice isn’t easy. Currently artists have turned their backs on the simplicity of drawing and painting, in favour of attention grabbing gimmicks.
Here, I take pleasure in a riot of expressive colour and furiously scribbled brush-work. ‘The brief’ – if it can be called that, was to make a painting about the death of my father. I thought Ode to Basil might help me move on from such a significant event.
The crazed aspect of my oeuvre contributes to power of expression. David Hockney writes for the Art Newspaper, ‘abstraction is now over’ – but considers it as a figurative artist – not in terms of markets, collectors or educators. ‘Meaningless‘ marks are like free jazz. Without extemporization, you are less able to utilize nuance, gesture and happy accidents. Then there is what an artist actually feels and senses during the process. Over time I have learned to leave my ‘good boy’ paintings – and just go beserk with a paint brush.
My relationship with my father wasn’t particularly great. He seemed to care until my younger sister was born, then dropped me like a hot potato. The sun shone out of my sister’s arse; from that point I was always in trouble. He disapproved. The sort of Edwardian disapproval effected with thunderous brows, harrumphing etc, eliciting a state of enduring, queasy guilt. Before my sister arrived he spent time teaching me to draw, supplying paper and pencils from an office where he worked.
For much of my childhood I played on my own. This often consisted of writing stories and drawing whilst in my bedroom. However, Art became a kind of prison, rebellion against the parental status quo was necessary. At the age of six, I shat in my dad’s wellies and painted mad dogs and bums on the inside of the packing shed doors, with a paste made from fertilizer and water – like you do when you are a child. If a paediatrician or psychiatrist witnessed the situation, I’ve no doubt they would have raised an eyebrow or two. If our little boy behaved similarly I’d want to know why.
Ode to Basil has four portraits of my father in it, at various stages of his life. The recumbent one – is from a sketch I made in the last few months prior to his death. The others show him as a father next to me, at Waterperry and as a publican (extreme left) and whilst serving in the RAF. Working with prints from a Kodak ‘Brownie’ and my own sketches, I felt no need to finish these portraits.
I started to include an image of our pet dog Sally, who used to guard me in my play-pen. But revisited the mad-dog theme; putting one of my child-hood glyphs for a bum in the sky above, next to my father’s dying visage. The painting looks good on screen and I think served it’s purpose. It was quite depressing to dwell upon my late father for the duration of the work. I like the colour – predominantly blue, coming from his RAF uniform and the September skies under which he was born. Complementary contrast is effected with oranges, yellows and reds. The violent, gestural brush-work expresses some of the anger I feel.
My parents were rubber fetishists, something which began for my father when hospitalized with Scarlet fever. Part of the treatment for this (back then) consisted in using rubber sheets. The fact my dad could have performed the opening rushes of ‘The Great Rock and Roll Swindle’ doesn’t really bother me. But keeping up appearances on my parents’ behalf did, because it took such an effort. Like being permanently stuck in a Harold Pinter play, neat side parting and good grades, always behaving myself – conforming. Maintaining the pretence everything was ‘tickety-boo’, wholesome and middle-class.
At times it is necessary to pretend but when pretence is mingled with arrogance, it becomes ugly. Pretence (and arrogance) abound amongst artists, Art students, Art college staff and the wider arts community. It seems down-to-earth pragmatism is never fashionable and honesty gets sneered at. To the peddlers of bullshit and all the young pseuds I say: ‘I fart in your general direction….. in fact I shit in your wellies and pray for rain’.