21 Dec 2016

Stopping Distance.


 
For those who don’t drive, the “stopping distance” is the space between the point one applies the brakes and the place one actually comes to a halt. If I hit the brakes at 30 m.p.h. on a dry surface my car will stop 75 feet (23 meters) down the road. Elsewhere in life I’ve always been convinced I can come to a dead stop. But I’m always proved wrong. Stopping is hard.The most effective way to apply the brakes is by applying, releasing, and applying them in short bursts. My 2016 was a little like that. Personal matters I thought had stopped preoccupying my mind long ago, lingered still. Dedicating myself to a strict regime of one-per-month paintings was like trying to apply the brakes on my thoughts in short bursts, hoping to bring them to a more effective halt.

 Today is the Winter Solstice. Tomorrow the daylight will last that little bit longer and the night that little bit shorter.

All text, pros, poetry, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

10 Nov 2016

November Oak.


 November Oak brings me to the end of my one-per-month series of twelve paintings. I’m really pleased with the result. A time honoured subject with a contemporary approach.

Importantly, I can lead you to any one of these trees and you would recognise it from the painting. Unlike the vague “one size fits all” tree paintings of the gallery shops, these function more as portraits, and I hope I’ve captured the character of tree and season alike in each case.


Above: Not the nicest of ways to end my one-painting-per-month year. A heavy cold. I reckon nature has a way of making one stop occasionally, creating a space in which to lie back on the duvet, rest up, and have a think.

All artwork & text copyright Ian G Craig.

1 Nov 2016

Rejected.


Rejected by the upcoming Nottingham Open Exhibition. They are nothing if not consistent. 
 
 All artwork & text copyright Ian G Craig.

21 Oct 2016

October Oak. “When shall we three meet again?”


 October is the Halloween month, a sinister, "witchy" time. It is also the season of autumn shades, leaves falling, and the darker nights advancing. There will be lengthening shadows, Nottingham Goose Fair doughnuts to be eaten, pavement leaves to be kicked and conkers to be picked.


All text, pros, poetry, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

1 Oct 2016

Of Cats and Trees

 Of Cats and Trees.

 Before the days of social media, stories would occasionally turn up in the main news about a fire brigade having to rescue a cat from a tree. Surely just an urban legend, a “feel good” item bringing the broadcast to an end. As far as cats are concerned, trees are about as desirable as the nearest river bed. But put aside the thought someone might be stupid enough to call the emergency services for a cat, and consider how it got there.

Maybe the cat gets itself tempted into that tree. He hears those birds high above him, catches a glimpse of them fluttering amidst the leaves and, before he knows it, he’s up there. The birds of course don’t altogether flee from the tree. Why should they? It’s their tree. Instead they skip and settle to where the branches can’t support the cat’s weight. It’s a tease.

So now the cat can’t go any further up, but neither can he come back down. He’s confused, that’s all. Those shapes and sounds so appealing in their clarity from the ground, are now all mixed up inside his head with the rustling movement of leaves and the sunlight flickering between. To make matters worse, just as he’s trying to get a grip on his situation, someone below starts banging a spoon against the edge of a plate of processed horse meat, whilst a guy in uniform with a ladder creeps ever closer, addressing him as Pussy.

No way is that cat coming down now. Couldn’t if he tried. What started out as a frisky morning prowl around the neighbourhood has turned into a ball of confusion. In that moment, if you could speak Cat, you’d know his cries are not for “Help” but for everyone to just “Back off”. Sure, it’s risky up there in such a mesmeric situation, but it’s maybe more exciting than the realities of paws on terra firma.

Text copyright ian g craig

25 Sept 2016

September Oak. The days grow short.



There is a famous song lyric: “The leaves of brown came tumbling down, September, that September in the rain”. Great song, but it’s not actually true, or least in the U.K. it’s not. Here I am a couple of weeks into the month, and the leaves on the trees are both abundant and decidedly green. So, whilst still adding a little sienna to the mix to take the brightness out of that green, how best to represent September in this the tenth painting of my series of twelve oaks?

My painting depicts one of those days when the sky is evenly overcast and the air is still and a little humid after the occasional passing shower. Colours are a little more sombre. One of those days where one now knows for sure that, if the hot sun does make its presence felt again this year, it will probably be only a fleeting visit.

“Oh, it's a long, long while
From May to December
But the days grow short
When you reach September”.


“September in the Rain” Harry Warren and Al Dubin.
“September Song” Kurt Weill lyrics Maxwell Anderson.




All text, pros, poetry, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.


16 Aug 2016

July and August Oak Trees, Sherwood Forest.

 

Above left: July. Right: August.

In July you should “make hay while the sun shines”.

“It’s 8.45…” I have a built-in body clock. No need to set the alarm. I now sleep and paint in the smallest room in the house with everything is close by. I roll up the blinds, open the window, drink the last drop of last night’s water and check my phone, all without leaving the duvet. Yesterday’s jeans and t-shirt are within arm’s length on the floor beside. I only change work clothes between paintings. It helps preserve the mood. Such closeness is working for me. Hashtag "prolific".
Breakfast is juice, porridge, coffee; Sky news, second coffee, then back upstairs to stand and survey yesterday’s artwork. The year is half over. Am I on course?

July Oak, the eighth of a series, sees my target for the year well ahead of schedule. Like the others, this oak has depended on fleeting visits into Sherwood Forest, avoiding the current rain for this want as I want to convey a more typical summer. I am pleased with the outcome, the dense green foliage almost obliterating all shape and form in the forest, yet failing to completely disguise the fact these ancient oaks are ageing and fading. My energy for art has not faded.

In August you “reap what you sow”.

It’s still summer, the leaves are still lush and green, but gone are the blooms and blossoms of June and July, and out in the fields the harvesters are busy at work. So, I decided my August Oak, the ninth in a series of one-per-month themed acrylic paintings, would be about the sun setting at the close of a warm summer evening. The holiday season may not yet be over, but the anticipation of its ending is there.


All text, pros, poetry, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

 


 


19 Jul 2016

For Talking Out Loud.

For Talking Out Loud.

“They look like a comfy pair of shoes”.
“Yes, and so clean”.
“And shiny”.
“I bet they’re new”.
“Do you know you can buy a pair just like those down the market for about ten pounds? It’s the brand you pay for you know”.

I am seated in a cave two or three floors below street level, in one of Nottingham’s most noted pubs for the performing arts, and I haven’t yet spoken one word. The cave itself, carved out of the sandstone, is a characteristic underground feature of many buildings in the city centre. Above me is the one-time Victorian Music Hall the Malt Cross, a venue I’ve variously sketched, dated, and drunk in, often watching local musicians perform. Somewhere in this pub’s files they have, at their request, copies of sketches I’ve made of the interior. But I’ve never performed here. I can’t remember the precise date I was last on a public stage anywhere, but I have done it, even going so far as to sing my own songs. Tonight, that’s about to change. A couple of weeks ago I saw a poster announcing the venue’s Spoken Word Open Mic Night and thought, “Why not?” So, I’m here to both test my mettle and the worth of the words I write.

I have always enjoyed writing, and taken it seriously. I have had some bits and pieces published in magazines. But I’ve never yet really put my words to the test. Painting is very different. I send the paintings out beyond my walls to be judged by others within their walls. In return I get a slip of paper which reads either “rejected” or “accepted”. No further explanation than that. Tonight, I am presenting my words to strangers for the first time, face to face. I put my name down at the door, number 14 on the list of tonight’s performers. If my words prove to be no good at least my shoes have been a big hit.

When I was a student in Liverpool, poets like Adrian Henri and Roger McGough were not yet widely known across the U.K. The Merseybeat groups of the sixties had all followed the Beatles south, to be replaced in the seventies by the Mersey Scene, predominantly one of poetry and improvised music. So, it was not uncommon to both sit alongside and experience such talent in the local pubs. I cannot pretend I was ever a member of that in-crowd, but it was an inspiring atmosphere for a young student to witness. Tonight reminds me a little of those days. The sandstone benches along these underground walls are rock hard, but the people are supportive, in good spirits, and raring to get started. Importantly, they are all listening attentively to each other’s works.

I’ve spent much of the day rehearsing out loud in my studio. I think, of the dozen or so acts which precede me, I must be on a par with a fair percentage of them. One notable exception being number 13, a youthful, passionate performance in rapid contemporary rhyme and without notes. Not an act I would have chosen to follow. Nevertheless, one pint into the evening, number 14 “Ian” is called to the front…

I am expected to read two poems. I'm happy to say both go down really well. The audience laugh with me at my brief introduction to “The Gift”, which relates how my 30+ years as a teacher was rewarded with a simple book token, before they then became totally involved with the poem’s pathos, catching them off guard.

 Similarly, the “four and twenty seagulls” and “balding braided doorman” of “Skeggie Day” elicit giggles of appreciation, before the poem’s sombre conclusion makes its mark. I like using this well-established literary device, mixing opposing emotions in the same piece. (“It’s getting better all the time. – It can’t get no worse”). I shall be using it again. Perhaps in this venue.

This night gave me the confidence to consider self-publishing a collection of my poems. Hence, I have refrained from posting them here. Yet.

 All text, pros, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

30 Jun 2016

June Oak. More loon than bloom.


The month started cold, dark and breezy. I’m in tune with the cold dark bit. Perhaps not the breezy. On days like that my motivation is low, as if painting wasn’t hard enough at the best of times.

I completed “June Oak” within the first week of the month, not pausing for breath after producing the first two illustrations for “my intended novel”. I don’t say this as a good thing. Such pieces normally take two or three weeks, working reasonable hours. I think the result is a good one, but one has to question the pressure and isolation caused by such self-imposed deadlines.

When June finally came “busting out all over” it necessitated further visits to the ancient forest of Sherwood. A lot of my resources for this series of paintings were gathered in the winter months, and didn’t address the problem of depicting foliage; a pictorial challenge I find quite daunting. However, I am happy with the solution I came up with and look forward to July and August presenting more of the same. 



All text, pros, poetry, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

1 Jun 2016

My Intended Novel: The illustrations.



Above: Illustrations for the first two chapters of my intended novel

I’m typing this on a rather cold, dark, breezy, first day of June. But I’m in good spirits, having just completed the first two illustrations for my intended novel. I shall refer to them as illustrations, although they don’t literally depict events in the story as much as accompany it. And I shall keep referring to the book as “my intended novel” as a means of taking off the pressure.

The “work-in-progress” video below will explain my thought processes in making these works after abandoning the initial idea of producing them as paintings.


All text, pros, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

28 May 2016

April and May Oak Trees Sherwood Forest.

 

Above left: April Oak. (It looks like showers).

April Oak is the 5th in a series of 12 planned acrylic paintings featuring a selection of oak trees from along the path which leads to Robin Hood’s tree (the Major Oak), Edwinstowe. I am pleased with progress and the idea of making 12 paintings all adhering to a common theme, composition, size, and materials. I like having defined parameters to work within.

It is too early in the month to see any significant foliage on the trees, but look closely and you can see blue bells amidst the bracken. I wanted to capture that moment on an otherwise sunny afternoon when one anticipates April showers. Being no stranger to the rain falling on my parade, I think I pulled it off.

Above right: May Oak. (The modest buds of).

The oak tree I selected for my 6th painting of the series has a rather auspicious presence about him. He’s probably the oldest of the twelve I have chosen to depict, and bears many scars. Nevertheless, come the month of May, he still rises to the challenge of the new season ahead, producing fresh buds, stimulating new ideas. I like to think I can identify with that.

As one might expect from such a cantankerous old character, set deep in his roots and his ways, his “portrait” didn’t come easy. Oak trees would seem to show their foliage later than most, and extra visits to Sherwood Forest were necessary to monitor that growth. However, in the end it’s safe to say we were both happy with the outcome.


All text, pros, poetry, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

29 Mar 2016

Artist Lady Manvers, my dad, and Coquette.


Those familiar with my Dukeries blog, or the piece I wrote for Nottingham University Art History Department, (see THIS LINK), will be aware of my respect and admiration for artist Lady Manvers. I accept that my opinions are in part due to sentiment, having spent my early life on Thoresby Estate, but I do like to think my years of teaching and lecturing in Art, give my opinion about her canvases some credence.

I refer in particular to those which depict the interiors and grounds of Thoresby Hall. Her outdoor studies are excellent in their own right, mostly water colour sketches documenting the seasons as they pass through the estate, its employees in peace time, and the military presence of the war years. But it is the interior canvases which she was able to leave undisturbed on her easel at various locations within the hall, returning to them at will over a period of days, which exhibit her true skills and understanding of the colourful palette she acquired in France. That said, I should set my story here within a little biographical context.

In 1947 my father, William Craig, had recovered from the head wound received in the Battle of Arnhem, and the tuberculosis he subsequently contracted in P.o.W. Camp Stalag 9c. Having then begun his married life in nearby Edwinstowe, his skill as a carpenter and joiner soon found him gainfully employed by Thoresby Estate.
 
The Woodyard was essentially the place which processed the timber from the forestry department, turning out everything from telegraph poles and fence posts, to items needed by the pre-PVC building trade. Thoresby workers were also responsible for the maintenance of the estate, and in this respect my father was frequently involved in repairs to Thoresby Hall and its contents. My father's team hung the  blue wallpaper in the Blue Drawing Room, and items of antique furniture would often find themselves transported to our kitchen whilst he tended to their upholstery. Such work of course had to meet Lady Manvers’ standards and, although a lady of sweet disposition, she could be rather fastidious in her demands. For example, all the firewood for her bedroom, sitting room, and dining room, had to be billet wood, 9” (23cm) long and 3” (8cm) diameter, and totally free from knots. Nothing short of these specifications would do. Happily, dad’s skills and general work ethic soon won the Ladyship’s approval. During their encounters she would always enquire about his family’s welfare, and in 1962 she would even ask him to pose for one of her water colours, (shown on this link).

Sometime in the late 1950s dad came home from Thoresby Hall with a broken figurine in his pocket. Smashed might be a more appropriate description. (I count ten pieces). Quite possibly it was a favourite ornament with Lady Manvers and so, rather than relegate it straight to the bin, dad was asked if it could be fixed. Not surprisingly the outcome was rather unsatisfactory. One elbow was missing, and lines of Evostik adhesive were unavoidably visible. As a consequence, the “Coquette” figurine remained on our family sideboard, often commented on through the decades, though its origins all but forgotten. Until now.

In March 2016, Thoresby Courtyard Gallery exhibited a selection of Lady Manvers’ still-life paintings, the majority of which had quite possibly not been seen anywhere since Thoresby Hall closed to the public in 1979 (this link). So you can imagine my surprise and delight upon seeing the painting above. It is probably an unfinished piece, or perhaps abandoned; the leaves are somewhat heavy handed and the background left rather unresolved. But there in the corner sits “Coquette”. The very same one.


Last thoughts on Lady Manvers.

In 1963 the estate’s management of the time decided our family of seven should move out of Three Gables and back to a much smaller house on Perlethorpe Village Green. One afternoon before that move took place, the news of which had only just reached Lady Manvers, her chauffeur driven limousine pulled up outside. She expressed much concern at what had happened, and even offered us the flats in Thoresby Courtyard as accommodation. It was a sincere gesture, and typical of her character. But it was time to move on.

I was born into Thoresby Estate, and left there aged thirteen. Everyone I’ve spoken to who once lived there says the same thing: When they left, they left a little piece of them behind. It’s true. Just like Coquette’s little elbow, as she now resides on my shelf.


Top painting copyright Thoresby Estate. Text copyright Ian G Craig.

2 Mar 2016

February and March Oak trees, Sherwood Forest.

 

Above left: February. Right: March.

Apart from Valentine’s Day, February is something of a forgotten month. The frosts and snows of winter might have passed, but the dramatic winds of March and the light showers and buds of April are yet to come. Me and February have much in common: We’re both expecting rain.

In February the sun is still low, but the yellow hues it makes along the horizon are more “lemon” than cadmium. The high clouds vary from silver grey to slightly lilac. The low clouds which bring the rain are fast moving, and much darker, almost silhouettes.

 I chose this particular oak for February because of its form, distorted from straining to reach the sunlight between the surrounding birches. It’s quite a dark painting, and proved a bit of a struggle, but it is the painting which emerged from that struggle. I’m always a little disappointed my landscape paintings don’t look like everybody else's in the arts and crafts gallery shops, but if they did, I’d bin them.

I binned my Umber and Sienna paints long ago in an effort to liven up my colours. Nevertheless, I thought the colours for March should address those more subdued shades as the month sees the green hues of Winter tree trunks take on a browner aspect. My chosen oak tree for this month, shaped by the strong winds of March, continues to reflect the demise of Sherwood Forest. There are no fresh buds on the branches anticipating the coming Spring. That’s true for me to.


 All text, pros, poetry, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

17 Jan 2016

David Bowie and my Unisex lilac velvet jacket, R.I.P.

 

The date is 10th June, 1973. I am an art student in Liverpool. I have long since owned a worn-out ex-juke box copy of “Space Oddity”, and the hit single “Starman” saw me purchase the Ziggy Stardust album. We all like “Walk on the Wildside”, but neither myself nor anyone I know of in this city, or my hometown of Nottingham, is listening to the Velvet Underground, let alone aware of what an Iggy Pop might be. I know a little about German Expressionist cinema, but never even heard of Japanese Kabuki, Bertol Brecht, or William Burroughs’s cut-ups. Within 24 hours all this and more will change. Forever.

Our curiosity peeked by a couple of hit singles, and the stories in the media, my flat mates and I are deciding what to wear for tonight’s David Bowie gig at the Liverpool Empire. Tickets were quite easy to obtain. “I’m going to wear all brown”, I joked with a camp wave of the hand. “I don’t want to appear to be competing with David!” And brown it was, although my platform boots were already about two building bricks high by that stage, and my lapels were wider than my shoulders. We assumed that the night’s concert would be more of an entertaining spectacle for the teens, rather than second year art college students like us. How wrong we were.

As we approach the theatre, we are swept aside by a youthful crowd emerging from Lime Street railway station, their eyelids painted like rainbows, silver tinsel circles glued to their cheeks. Stopping for no-one they charge through the theatre doors with scant regard for ticket collectors, rush to the front of the stage, and go into their chant: “David! David!” I am twenty-two years old, and the only teen adoration I’ve witnessed prior to this is my younger sister crying over The Osmonds. I clearly have no idea what is about to happen.

Let’s be honest, detailed accounts of most concerts one has seen fade from the mind over time. They become a tick-box list of those bands one has seen and those still on the bucket list. But I can still replay that night’s performance in my mind: The swirling Japanese cape as the curtains opened on Jean Genie (complete with Love Me Do harmonica riff); the single spotlight on a solitary mirror ball which turned the theatre into a Space Oddity galaxy; Bowie shouting at the audience for screaming and not listening; the slick on-stage costume changes; the occasional instrumental-break mime; and hearing Lou Reed’s song “Waiting for the Man” for the very first time. Most of all the moment Bowie went “down” on Mick Ronson, seemingly biting at his guitarist’s strings, Ronson’s thigh mere inches away. I can tell you that three very straight art students emerged from the theatre that night wanting to be Mick Ronson.

After witnessing this Aladdin Sane stage show a lot of things I’d previously encountered became joined-up in my mind: “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari”, “Metropolis”, Scott Walker’s take on Jacques Brel, “Clockwork Orange”, Andy Warhol, “1984”, and more. The undoubted genius of The Beatles had tapped into largely British roots, marrying American pop with Music Hall, Irish limericks, the surreal humour of the Goon Show, the fantasy of Lewis Carrol. That well had been bled dry three years previous. Bowie was embarking on a whole new direction, merging European and Eastern art forms with the sound of Jeff Beck’s Yardbirds and the glitzy attitude of Andy Warhol’s factory. Put simply, it was the second coming of Elvis. Everything began anew, and he’d only just begun.

 Everybody uses that tired old cliché about “it changed my life”. But in some small measure, for me, that night did. Being a stranger in a strange land at that time became an easier mind-set to accept. It still is, when “everybody’s going out and having fun”, and I want to stay home and paint. In fact, so empowered did this fresh out of the countryside young man begin to feel, that a lilac velvet jacket and mullet hairdo seemed to be in order. Of course nobody told me the jacket, which buttoned to the left, was obviously intended for a girl. Never mind. I couldn’t get into it these days anyway. But I am still listening to David Bowie. I never stopped.




Above: Posing for a fellow student c. 1973.

 All text, pros, & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.

16 Jan 2016

January Oak, last year’s snow.

 

I wonder what normal folk do on New Year's Day? I spent mine painting, making a start on the second of my series of Sherwood Forest oaks. This one has no particular personal message, I simply wanted to have a go at painting snow. The secret would appear to be not in the colour but in the rhythmic patterns it defines along the branches. Although I love painting, it's always really hard work for me. It's like I'm always struggling to find a graphic solution for what's in front of me, as if simple observation isn’t enough.

I visit Sherwood Forest often. At this time of year it is an even more enchanting spectacle than usual. The snow highlights every small detail, whilst turning the sound-scape to an eerie mixture of silent and still. But I have to confess, there was no snow this year, so I had to work from previous resources. “January Oak” is the second in my ongoing series of acrylic paintings.

 
 All text, pros, photos & artwork, copyright Ian Gordon Craig.