‘All about BGD’ is the label my father put on a photo album. The initials BGD stand for Basil, George Dedman. Whilst clearing their home, I found photographs assembled during the early part of Basil Dedman’s life, before he married and ‘settled down’.

The album covers a period from the mid 1920s to the early 1950s and shows how he grew up and met Rita, who became his wife. All the photos are black and white, taken with a Kodak Box Brownie or something like that.

Loose, hammy and monochrome

I decided to make a portrait painting based on a snap when Basil holidayed on the Norfolk Broads. He strikes an innocent, heroic pose against the bright East Anglian skies, which became home to the Dedman family in the 1960s/70s. The shock of black hair forming a quiff, was fashionable then; something myself and his grandson inherited – though not as dark. I often think there must be Jewish or Greek blood on my grandmother’s (Dorothy Baker) side of the family, because of the hair colour. Basil looks through spectacles (with eyes that were eventually to become blind), in youthful optimism and exuberance.

atelier dedman bgd alan dedman
Atelier Dedman

When I was an Art student I asked him to sit for me, but he never made time. Since he died, I have been preoccupied with my parent’s estate and mother’s dementia care. I haven’t given much thought to what Basil meant.

My father and me might have had a good relationship but for the arrival of my younger sister. Basil was besotted with her, he could see himself and his mother in Claire and seemed to forget about me. Claire had Basil’s tacit approval at all times. If Claire couldn’t get her way, she would feign hurt and call in the big guns – Basil.

On Weston pier, 1963

Deceived by his daughter, he would either shout at or hit me (usually for something I hadn’t done), and my conniving sister would get away with it, like they do. I lived in flinching fear of Basil’s wrath. The last time Basil hit me in the face for ‘upsetting dear Claire’, was when I was trying to make sense of myself at St. Martins, age 21 yrs. I didn’t do anything wrong, just resisted her attempts to control me. Filled with rage, I returned to our leaky flat in South London and vowed never to live with my parents again. NB: this was an act of domestic violence by proxy, in which the true perp is female.

The consequent axis of power in the family drove a wedge between me and Basil across our lifetimes. I grew to dislike authority and developed an abiding hatred of bullies and bullying, including the feminine and white-collar versions.

Close up of painting of BGD by alan dedman
Close up of All abot BGD

Tracy Emin once said she would go to her studio ‘expecting to make something nice or beautiful’ (she’d do well in haberdashery). It belies a kind of naivete for any serious artist to think that. When I go to my studio I never expect anything, but I do want something – the experience of breaking new ground. ‘All about BGD’ satisfies the main criterium I ask of myself from painting, metamorphosis. I was happily surprised with the result.  

I started a loose, monochrome version of the photo mentioned supra, then subjected the whole (large) canvas to centrifugal force as a spin painting. After which I floated line drawings made onto clear polythene, over the image. It was good to chat with Robin from GYCAD at this stage. His feedback helped. Once I had an idea of where the artwork was going, I used a projector to refine the size and quality of drawing before putting it into the painting.

The result is a graphic artwork, echoing the 1970 Theobald poster inspired by the film Easy Rider or the Cuban poster from 1969 celebrating Heroic Guerrilla Day, featuring Che Guevara. Genteel spectacles give Basil a Lennon-esque appearance. I have created a vision of my father as a hero (which is probably how every little boy wants to see their dad), effecting some kind of healing.

pic of painting of BGD by alan dedman, colourful

Simultaneously, it allows me to inflict the sort of violence upon Basil, he once did me. Colours explode across and from his head. I made a conscious decision to leave the distressed white paint depicting his jaw. Tonal contrast between it and the Deep Purple of his neck upsets conventional reading, there is something skull like and macabre there; I like the cheapness and fragility.

Ironically, red, white and blue (colours of the Union Jack) shatter into fragments. Shards of BGD’s ideals whizz off into space. His books on Enoch Powell, cricket, the RAF and Churchill have been redistributed along with his hopes and dreams. Though I look back in anger, I console myself knowing (hopefully) I’ve done a better job with our son, than Basil did with me.

‘All about BGD’ is a painting in emulsion and acrylic on canvas, 60 inches x 36 inches, by Alan Dedman.

Thanks to: Richard, Robin, Alex and Vicky