North Cornwall had crossed my horizon this week, not iconic St.Ives but a little way down the coast, Zennor. Childhood memories but my last visit was with my eldest, Hannah and the Frenchman. We took a pint at the legendary Tinners Arms and then made the long descent to the beach for a splash and a barbecue. I recall a lot of smoke and fish, could have been surreptitious sardines, tricky these Frenchmen. Zennor was home to Patrick Heron, but I won't linger as I find those colour fields quite impenetrable and fairly vacuous, ideal for Ibis interiors, move on.
As Zennor hung in the air I received from Hannah travel orders for Paris. It's time for Bartabas, the remarkable horse trainer and show choreographer. Every winter at Aubervilliers, in the north east of Paris, Bartabas puts on an incredible show. The show is held in a circular wooden theatre, complete with restaurant and stables. The community of fifty, riders, musicians and staff live in caravans around the site. In the spring and summer the shows goes on tour, but in the winter the 700 seat theatre is packed every night for a truly imaginative and pulse quickening two hour show.
Well if you have kept horses, been around horses then Bartabas is a real treat, but Zennor will ring all the bells for you too. The rock strewn rolling hills above Zennor form the backdrop for some of the very best of horse painting. Now I view Heron as mildly interesting wallpaper and I am aware of the problems that Munnings presents, very posh wallpaper, reactionary views, class stereotypes, nostalgia, sentimentality, and so on, but if you have a horse in you, and Bartabas claims we all have a horse in us, then you are pretty much screwed. Munnings can really do horses, and not in a genteel way, the paint flies off the brush, the control, the bravery, the consummate understanding of his subject and the medium, he's got it, no slouch at that Cornish landscape either.
I grew to know and like Karl during his Oakridge stays. He came up from Cape Cornwall to do blocks of visiting at Cheltenham and the West of England. Visiting paid around ninety a day at that time, and that could keep an artist afloat. Sea fare was deposited in the kitchen on arrival, dived for the same morning, and then the bathroom cabinet was checked for any new prescribed arrivals. He was a charismatic man, hugely entertaining, Cornish tanned and decked out in sun faded denim, a regular lady magnet. When larger blocks of teaching came up, Karl got the use of a lakeside cottage set in woodland near Cheltenham. We had a magic night there, Karl produced copious amounts of home brewed saki and a bucketful of bouillabaisse, suitably oiled we gravitated upstairs to view work in progress. Karl enjoyed talking about his work gauging responses, gathering reactions, the principal work reviewed that evening was a large tryptich, very much in Karl's sombre colour range and broad application, brilliant. I never saw this ambitious work again, it may well have been broken down into it's component parts.
A short time after the relationship began, Karl, not one to let the grass grow, roped me in to hire and drive a Bedford from Cheltenham to London, to get a stack of canvasses into Madeleine's place. I do recall an insurance fudge, it was a dodgy trip, Karl and Madeleine braced in the back of the Bedford keeping stretchers steady, we howled through the dark countryside. Madeleine's Arts and Crafts mews studio was all one knew it would be, large elegant windows, handmade, horsehair filled mattress gracing the huge mezzanine and two inch' bleu' steaks for the help. If you are a painter you have to get your paintings seen, and this was a cracking venue. My header painting 'Woman and Dog on the Beach' was on and off the Brown's walls more times than you can knock a nail in. I just loved the energy Karl could get into his work, he was also the real deal.
A truly nice guy, who one was always pleased to see and must have had an impact on a serious number of art students throughout his long teaching career. To his credit he did not spend the latter part of his life amending and polishing up his life story like so many of his contemporaries, he worked to the end and let his work do the talking.
The last couple of weeks have been dominated by joints. Not a joint you may well once have enjoyed in the back of a punt on the Cam! This is a joint you travel to Rennes to collect, courtesy of a very smart French surgeon, Professor Thomazeau. I must confess I was only the chauffeur and general factotum. Where would I go for a joint, well I would go first to Bernard Meadows.
Now Bernard doesn't do it for me, not that I have anything against the Geometry of Fear, like spots, scabby bronzes were part of my adolescence, Kenneth Armitage rates highly with me and I enjoyed my time at Lypiatt Park. Meadows spent his life in the shadow of Moore and there were worse places to be. I have the same problem with Meadows that I have with Ted Hughes, none of it sits right, the imagery is so predictable, and a little bit borrowed. But it's worse than that, it's unreasonably personal and petty, but then in my experience that makes for the best kind of opinion.
The endless charming small wax sculptures that Bridge modelled, when not being cast in Fulham were bronze poured in the department's basement foundry by Roy, the Morris Singer trained technician, brilliant times.
Bridge also gave the gift of the wax to a young sculptor, Phil Kelly, who became a master of the material. I assisted in an artistic ram raid with a very nervous Bridge and Phil Kelly at the wheel of his Landrover. We liberated one of Bridge's sculptures from a large suburban garden in Birmingham, an unpaid bill I believe. This involved the inexperienced driver, Phil, tearing across lawns, careering through box hedges, ripping up flowerbeds, lassoing a poolside sculpture and making a sharp exit. It was almost an adventure too far for gentle Bridge, he was so out of his comfort zone. A bruised Venus lived out her days at Ufton.
But back to Bernard. He was Professor of Sculpture forever at the Royal College of Art. On the day of my interview his piles were playing him up. Anyway it was going to be fine because I had the magic wax all over my portfolio. To be fair my wax offerings were slightly more gothic than the St. Martins fare the other applicants were offering up. I might still have survived if Bernard hadn't suggested I was born out of my time! He thought the sixteenth century was about the mark. He took umbridge when I enquired if he and the great Henry had felt particularly Florentine when they had poured their little lead sculptures in Henry's kitchen? It didn't go down well, like a little lead sculpture really, and that might have been the end of it but for Bob Clatworthy.
AGED AND AWKWARD