Arty, stuck and artistic

  • Posted on May 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Original art by Aaron Holmes

Art, and reality, are beyond mere inspiration.

Brighton Festival in May includes the rich diversity of a month of Open Houses, when local artists and crafters somehow manage to lose furniture, personal treasures and general clutter into spare (or not) rooms, and present some wonderful collections of original art, jewelery, photography, sculpture and other crafts in more clear space than I seem to have. And there are so many of them! I could never dream of touring all that is on offer, and yes, it is tiring as well as inspiring. You can get art overload, however much you appreciate it. And I really like being able to talk with the artists. I’m always intrigued as to who is making a living, who is ticking along in spare time, and how they find their lives as artists. But also I like talking about what inspires them, why they do what they do, and how it drives them. I like understanding the link between inspiration and skill, deliberation and accident, and reflect on the similarity with wordsmithing.

I’ve often said, ‘put me in a studio with lots of gear and just leave me, and I’d think of something new to create every day’. I just feel such enormous creative drive, but I also know I would never survive as an artist. I see all this brilliant work in the Open Houses, the product of training and years of experience, and there is so much, it has too few places to go. I see stacks of canvasses that will go nowhere, and yes, a few successful artists who are going somehwere.

I’d like to contrast two artists we visited yesterday.

The first worked entirely by inspiration and accident. He was surrounded by canvases that had been there quite a long time, accumulating on a grand scale, leaving very little living space. There were some very happy accidents of light, I have to say, but I might have been tempted to treat the canvases as I would a photograph, and severely crop them! He reminded me of inspirational poets who will not rework their lines lest they become somehow humanised instead of divine! In fact he deliberately blanked all thought out as he worked, and so, as far as I could see, he wasn’t really learning at all. Someone asked a price for a smaller example of the canvases he wasn’t selling, and it was so inflated I knew it would still be there if I came back next year. But he was happy, so who am I to say?

The second artist was young, and similarly untrained. His house was impeccable, the presentation was professional, the lighting perfect and his orderly canvasses were amazing. They too were full of accidents, but deliberate – or at least guided – ones. He worked in layers, with some idea of how the end result might turn out. A large canvas, he said, took up to six weeks, working flat, very wet and using an airbrush to blow the paint around. His prices were similar to the first artist, but he was living from it, selling enough, and was every bit as inspired – but learning, constantly moving on. His theme last year was completely different, next will be different again. You can gaze into his paintings, just as abstract as the first artist, but perfectly controlled, and really get lost. Being in a position of both not earning and not having wall space, there was no way we could afford one of these magnificent scapes. But no way either I could walk out empty handed, so parting with more money than I should afford, comparing prices with a wig, a therapy session, a hairdresser bill, I bought my wife a small, mounted original – because its value for future reflection and enjoyment was worth more than the money in the bank.

We don’t really buy art, for all the above reasons, but we have pieces by three artists now, and in each case, following studio conversations with the artists. The pictures remind me of those exchanges and those studios, as much as being beautiful objects in their own right.

The first artist yesterday, I felt was really stuck. He thought he was free by emptying his mind and ‘letting it happen’, but in fact he looked very encumbered by the unsaleable products. The second was really working hard, thinking about everything he was doing, and it gave him his freedom. The reason he had far fewer canvasses (and so much more light and space) was that each piece had much more value, and so he produced less and sold more.

So I’m back to writing (it takes less space behind the sofa too, and dries remarkably quickly), and dreaming of freedom of expression with control and deliberation. We make our own reality (yes, I like to go along with that) and learning by watching and appreciating what comes out, makes it much more valuable. This year’s trip around Open Houses was my first revealing my authentic personal canvas, far less stuck, still arty and with much more artistic value than last year.


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