Art for free, or very nearly! [Plus a thought on Coronavirus]

In these trying times many people are told to stay indoors – I’m one of them. But while the human species is being sorely tested, nature carries on: following the seasons as it has since the beginning of time. The rain falls, the sun shines and the wind blows. With the weather hopefully getting better (in the UK at least) we can venture outside more – in our garden, if we’re lucky enough to have one, in the park – best early morning or lovely dusky time (‘dimpsey’ as we say in Devon), along the riverbank, or roaming moorland, woods, seashore, cliffs or farmland etc.

But, if we have physically to stay indoors, don’t forget the boundless bookshelf: doorway into a million other worlds. If you don’t have a bookshelf, there are lots of free books online… And in this ‘ill wind’ there are some glorious free breezes, and so thought to do my (tiny) bit:

Reading: an opportunity to read the old first edition of the adventure I wrote quite some years ago; it was then called ‘The Children Who Wouldn’t…’  and it is now available as a Kindle free introductory download or for a minimal £0.99p from Amazon. Please visit https://tinyurl.com/yd6onv64 to see it and some great reviews. Here are two examples:

Rob: “It has been a long time since I have read a book that I couldn’t put down. Once I had started this book I had to finish it. When is the next book coming out?”  (2014).

David Freedman, author of Artist Blacksmith Sculpture: “This book takes the reader on a fantastical journey. A genuine adventure story, carefully crafted and beautifully told. It is a highly original and imaginative tale that keeps you guessing. Would highly recommend to children and adults alike” (April 2014). 

Susan Hampshire: “Its a wee bit more challenging that most children’s books. Its the kind of book that I imagine best read aloud..a chapter a week and then discussed. Lovely and old fashioned in a sense. (2014).

So, this is the original version of a story which I’ve subsequently edited under the title ‘Trespassers in Their Own Land’. Having now finished two sequels, I’m looking for a publisher prepared to take on these as a trilogy: working title, A Wilderness of Secrets.

And please don’t forget, whatever the government pretends, the Badger cull still continues, and my book The Fate of the Badger http://www.fire-raven.co.uk is sadly as relevant today as ever. Sir Michael Morpurgo says, “Fate of the Badger is so important to the Fate of the Countryside. There is so much to unlearn. Then we may have to start paying attention.’

On Painting: my studio is sadly no more – having been converted into a dwelling (financial necessity) – so I literally have a shed-full of paintings which I’m ordered to declutter (Clutter!! What?!). Anyway, all those I have languishing in two sheds, see https://richardmeyer.co.uk are available at drastic knock-down prices…! Basically make me an offer, and I’d be unlikely to refuse!

Meantime, putting on my zoologist’s hat, I’ve noticed very little, if any, attention is being paid to Coronavirus from a zoological perspective. Believing that one should know one’s enemy, it’s important to understand how viruses work. Coronavirus is not a disease, that’s Covid-19, but an organism of the genus Betacoronavirus, and as such its aim is to multiply, and not cause disease – which is an unfortunate consequence from their ‘point of view’. It benefits no parasite (or pathological organism) to kill it’s host, which is why it is the vulnerable human who is most likely to succumb. Nature at work is not always humane but it might help if we try to understand and not always look at everything from an anthropocentric point of view.

This is just my view, so please make contact, and let’s have a virtual conversation.

Mono Standing Nude, Oil on board 71 x 58 cm

Standing nude in mono, Oil on canvas on board 70.5 x 57.5cm

This painting is at  the White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple from Thursday (4th) in a North Devon Arts group show.

A surprising example (for me at least) of an early stage in a painting which I decided to leave midstream under the theory that ‘less is more’ (advice I usually find hard to follow).  It is therefore mainly monochrome and ‘raw’.  Loving black & white photography, I felt it worked all right and liked the totemic monumental thrust.  Consequently it was submitted to The Royal Academy (for their ‘Raw’ summer show show a few years ago); needless to say rejected in preference to work much of which seemed to me to be trite, arch and not in the least raw.  Others twisted ‘raw’ to ‘roar’ and ‘war’ for example – literary games that left me cold.

I liked the work so much that it has a splendid expensive frame and is consequently quite heavy.

Empty Surfaces

Paul Cezanne wrote to his mother in September 1874, “I have to work all the time, not to reach that final perfection which earns the admiration of imbeciles. [T]his thing which is commonly appreciated so much is merely the effect of craftsmanship and renders all work resulting from it inartistic and common. I must strive after perfection only for the satisfaction of becoming truer and wiser. And believe me, the hour always comes when one breaks through and has admirers far more fervent and convinced than those who are only attracted by an empty surface.”

Two years later, at the end of a letter to Pissarro, he wrote, “I almost forgot to tell you that a certain letter of rejection has been sent to me. This is neither new nor astonishing.” Nothing much changes, does it?

In my recent wonder of Rembrandt’s portraits – surely his greatest triumph – I saw surfaces with barely an empty inch between them, and this includes swathes of canvas scrubbed in with huge cursory skill – no learnt craft that – the better to reveal truth and the perilous condition of humanity, so beautiful in its pathos and vulnerability.

We must distinguish between art and craft. The desire to display a high level of empty (taught) craftsmanship in painting (I can’t speak for any other art form) is often an attempt to deceive. To what end?  That you have something to say, that you have great skill, that people with money to spend will do so on you…?  I put ‘taught’ in parentheses because craftsmanship at its best and most meaningful is learnt on the hoof, empirically – then it is truly unique and genuine… bespoke craftsmanship. Andrés Segovia, the virtuoso Spanish guitarist said, “I had only one teacher, myself, and only one student, myself.” He also said, “If people have even a little understanding, it is better to move them than to amaze them.”

Much so-called art is therefore simply the display of craftsmanship. This can often be of jaw-dropping beauty, but if not used in the service of Art (with a capital ‘A’) it is as empty as a dumb blonde. [And I love the spectacle of a dumb blonde as much as the next man.] So, what are the empty surfaces Cezanne talked about? Don’t we see them everywhere? In every picture-shop gallery where art masquerades as a veneer of cleverness.

Fine Art is only revealed to those with the insight to see it. It is an insight that can be learnt, but how many bother, so beguiling is the cheap thrill of ooh-aah-art?  While I was being seduced and again educated by Rembrandt, he spoke, saying, “Look around, where else can you feel such breath of rare sincerity?”

Once you get your eye in, you can find sensual delight and phenomenal qualities of kindness and empathy. Here are a few artists who come quickly to mind and who reveal it in spades of differing sizes, (in no special order) Leonardo, Tiepolo, Francesco Guardi, late Titian, el Greco, Goya, Constable, Morandi, Daumier, Millet, Corot, Maurice Utrillo, Henri (le douanier) Rousseau, van Gogh, Pissarro, Berthe Morisot, Gwen John, Alfred Wallace and… please add your own.

Most of those names are well known, but there are others far less celebrated, whose paintings deserve to be recognised for their own sheer depth of humanity. The reason they are not is because they fall foul of the ‘imbecile’ rule. I’d mention, for example, Vassyl Khmeluk, Agnes Martin, Leon de Smet, Alvar Cawen, Philip Guston, and Sheila Fell. Friends also alert you; thank you Isabella Whitworth (who knows a thing or two) for Oswaldo Guayasamín.

Today, because of our capitalist and celebrity wracked idiocy, one must search diligently, and often forlornly, for equivalent humanity (wrack is Middle Dutch for shipwreck). It exists but may remain unseen forever.