Sunday, 23 October 2011


The BBC’s recent excuse for a show ‘Show Me The Monet’ (if ever an idea was generated by the title arriving first, that’s it) was a sort of Dragon’s Den meet School of Saatchi. Artists showed their work to a panel of (supposed) experts, and looking directly into their cold dead eyes, named their price.

The Artdragon’s then said yes. Or – more usually, no. One candidate was still studying at the RCA. With a knowing sneer indicative of: “We’ve got a right one here,” the host introduced the first challenger, who had set his price at (wait for it…) £50,000!


Asked to justify this, he said unabashed words to the effect that he was an excellent artist, would one day be hugely famous, highly collectable, and art-lovers should snap him up. Then came the silence. The panel were aghast. They all said no, but you could sense that they admired his spirit, even as they spluttered a refusal.

I like that attitude. Pricing work is always so hard. I have been asked to put a price on my work several times, and never know what to say. How do you value art? The more beautiful it is, the more you can pay? And does size matter? Apparently, it does: larger pieces make more money, unless they are too big, in which case they might not sell at all.

Do you take into account the time taken to make a piece of work. If that was the case, then some of my text embroideries take months. So by that logic, I should sell for shed loads of money. It’s also hard to time how long something takes. My hand-tinted photomontages can actually take ages to make, as I layer the colour gradually, wait for ink to dry etc, but I suppose they do not look expensive (whatever that means.)

Funnily enough, I understand that some artists adopt gasp-inducing pre-emptive pricing as a ploy to avoid selling work, because emerging artists need the money, but do not have much work to sell. Tricky. And then you’ve got galleries taking a hefty slice - I’ve seen commissions of up to 40% being mentioned.

Artists must aim at their market level, that is, if nobody’s heard of you, they won’t pay loads of money for a small, rough sketch. Oil paints are really expensive, but if you cover a massive canvass, how can you cover your outlay?

When I had work in an exhibition, I had to settle on a price, just in case one of those desirable sticky dots might be placed on my work. What a nightmare: the medium was photomontage hand-tinted with ink, pastels and even felt pens. The paper was thin and exactly A4 size the frame was plain and basic. I grabbed a number from the air – no harm done as no offers were made. But what if someone actually wants to sell or buy my work?

I’m going to have to sort this out, ready for the day when my genius is recognised. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Recently, I had to embark on a great traumatic artistic life-choice. The stress was so great I swooned. It even brought on one of my heads. Oh, woe is me, whatever I shall I do? If I don’t make the best selection, people could actually die. The life of an artist is fraught with life-wrenching decisions. That’s right: I had to choose a frame.

My decision seemed to shock the framer: I didn’t want my sampler covered in glass, just a simple, rustic dark wood casing. Initially they looked at me as if I’d asked for colonic irrigation to be simultaneously administered, but nonetheless, once I explained my reasons, they did their best.

Once I had a summer job as a frame-maker, polishing glass for mass-produced prints. Nobody cared about the frame, not me, the manufacturer or the shop that sold them. All that mattered was the glass: it should shine like crystal in the sun. Frames were cheap, tawdry and plastic.

Hours of work goes into something as simple as a picture-frame. I never believed how much it would matter. Prints and paintings seemed to arrive complete and ready-made as if by magic and frames were simply what you stuck a hook on to hang your print on the wall.

My photomontage was due to appear in an exhibition. The colour is predominantly silver and yellow, and I asked for a simple metal frame. The framer was again shocked. The ruined the effect somewhat by presenting it creased, and then looked at me as I was asking for them to clip my toenails with their teeth when I asked for it to be repaired, saying that people want their work creased. Yeah. Sure. I’m new around here, but come on.

At my first exhibition opening, and conscious of that damn crease (and my long toenails – they refused clip them) I viewed my work, simply thrilled to be there. It was placed at exactly the right height, and hung expertly and precisely straight: I was amazed when I first saw perfectly aligned pictures measured out with tape measures and spirit levels.

There was just one problem. My piece was next to the best frame in the world. It had a mirrored edge: a vintage frame, chanced upon, and snapped up at a flea market/antiques fair, I’d imagine at flea market and snapped up. It fitted the work perfectly, and enhanced the drawing - my first experience of frame envy. I stood gazing not at that frame. The work was excellent (as you can see) but my thoughts were solely on that frame. Bring it to me!

Over the months, I’ve learned a lot. You need a relationship with a good framer. They must be consulted, as they know what’s right. And yes, when I showed my painfully honest friend my tiny one-sentence sampler, roughly framed in thick dark wood (my attempt at authenticity) she announced that it was clumsy, and damn her - she’s right.

That’s when it finally hit home: framing matters. Now I want double mounting set in antique silver for my next photomontage. Another new obsession, and more expensive shiny toys to buy.

Sunday, 9 October 2011


When did you last say fuck? I said it loudly yesterday; read on you’ll appreciate the irony. A few posts back, I said that I was controversial - well now I’ve actually been banned. At first it seemed sad, then I thought it was funny. After a while though, I became angry. I’ve been censored.

An open call for submissions went out, asking artists to depict their home town. I found some graffiti on a Glasgow wall (see above) and defied anyone to say it wasn’t the very epitome of Glasgow cheek, bolshy confrontationalism  and also - humour. Yes, it certainly contains liberal use of the word fuck, but so does daily life in Glasgow. The graffiti has been visible in public for at least two years.

I submitted the carefully sewn mini-sampler to the competition (there’s a £500 prize/commission.) I was thanked via twitter so things were looking good. A few weeks later, I was interviewed for the accompanying book and website, and my profile featuring the piece was put up online. The exhibition opened, but I couldn’t attend.

Good job really. I contacted the organisers (all artists themselves by the way) and asked for a picture of my work in the show. They emailed back a few days later, and said that – mindful of their audience – they couldn’t include my work in the exhibition, despite having said there were no restrictions. I think they were feeling doubly awkward as (only when the programme was announced) did I reveal that this was going to feature in an article I was writing, and would have been the happy ending to the quest I mentioned here for getting my work shown. Oops.

There were many ways around this for the organisers. First of all, make sure that any limits on what is permissible is shown clearly, as well as flagging upfront in the terms and conditions. Or they could stage the exhibition with the words: ‘Adult Content’ (we’ve all seen that). The show is being held in a town hall where the word fuck has been heard regularly, possibly for centuries.

I honestly thought that battle had been fought an won. I rue the day that people began to swear all the time simply because those carefully valued transgressive words lose their power if overused and now we need new ones, as fuck seems tame. But saying fuck out loud is one of life’s greatest joys, and most of us do it.

This blog is about my being an innocent artist, and I innocently thought that  art involved freedom of expression. But artists censoring, or allowing others to censor their fellow artists for something so trivial – is so wrong, misguided and reactionary as to be surreal. Those silly people took the gloss of what could have been some excellent news.

Having said that, trying to be positive, I have been banned from a gallery and have now arrived. I learned to describe myself as an artist. Perhaps now I have earned the desirable soubriquet ‘controversial’ whenever (if ever) my work and name is mentioned. Fuck yeah!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Painting In Public

One sunny day, I wandered outside to paint. I am not an expert and am practicing, or stumbling through basic watercolour use and abuse; not always pretty but always productive. I’m learning – usually daubing and making shapes, nothing more, but it’s great to see some sunlight while I mess around.

I settled down by seafront, where there was an inspiring sky: grey clouds shot with pinkish light and dotted with fluffy white baby clouds. Oblivious to much else, I started to paint and soon a small knot of people were openly staring at me and my work.

It didn’t occur to English-speakers that I am English, or to others that I speak several languages. Diligent readers might recall that one of the stated aims on starting this blog was to hear someone say of my work: “a bloody two-year old could do better than that.” Within minutes, I had achieved one of my ambitions, although that said, they were fine words from a man with breasts larger than my own wearing knee-length socks with open-toed sandals.

Everyone assumed I was painting for their entertainment, and that it was perfectly acceptable to peer over my shoulder and comment loudly, even tilting my sketch pad so they could see my painting. It’s also intriguing that my work was being assessed solely for how much it might be worth. Some observers made it clear that they believe all artists are paid Damien Hirst-amounts of money, when I want to shout that I make no money at all.

They discussed the art they show at home, which - intriguingly - was often acquired on holiday or while travelling. I thought: make me an offer, which I know is unlikely as I am playing with colour, experimenting with contrasts and combinations. ‘I like that one,’ smiled a German woman, hurried away by her husband with the word ‘bier’ pre-imminent in his destination.

Next I tried mixing colours, while some slightly more appreciative Dutch pensioners smiled politely. It was unnerving. I felt unable to play. I gathered my pots and stuff to sit elsewhere, but it was like art-busking. I ran out of water, and moved on the fill my cup under the beach shower, but someone followed me. I put some distance between myself and my ‘fans,’ settled down and started to paint again. Because people had to make an effort, and couldn’t just sticky-beak as they pass, I found some peace and quiet. When I looked up, however, three more passers-by were staring. They  obviously felt they had the right to watch, as if I should actually move round so they can see. Still, at least they were quiet.

And then at last, a Russian billionaire arrived. Well, I say billionaire, but I mean a daft bloke with a orange plastic blonde to impress. He asked how much to buy my paintings. I said he can’t afford it. He offered five hundred Euros. I said, come back with three hundred in cash and it’s yours. Off they went.

I never saw him again. I am sure you are as shocked as I was.

Life drawing again.

Life drawing again.

Life Drawing

Life Drawing
Almost human