Stephen Paints a Picture: Part Twelve

November 6, 2013

22 August 2013

“Jesus, Stephen, I’ve just been reading about art fairs. You know like Toronto and Art Basel. Scares the hell out of me,” I said, “What do you think?” “A lot of horse shit, if you ask me. More about hype than art. Dealers flogging their fashionable artists to people who are clueless,” he said. “Clueless, but with money,” I said. Stephen Scott had been painting my portrait now for over a month and we were into our twelfth setting. We had been kicking around conversation about art both during and between sitting at dinner, lunches and countless cups of coffee. Both of us have put a lot of time into the art game and, if nothing more, we had our opinions.

1VH22AUG“I’ve decided to draw today. I can get a lot of information for the paintings from drawing,” he said. “Before photography, that’s what painters had to rely on. A lot of their subjects didn’t have the time to sit while they completed a picture,” I said, “Let me show you a drawing by van Eyck that he did for a portrait of a Cardinal Albergati.” I went downstairs to my office and returned with a book. “Take a look at this. It’s a silverpoint and here is the painting that resulted,” I said. “Bloody amazing, but that’s not the kind of drawing I do,” he said. “Eyck is sort of in a class by himself. Proves my point that progress in art is bunk,” I replied. Stephen started a pencil drawing in a sketchbook. “I’ll do a couple smaller drawings first and move to something larger in a bit,” he said.

“Back to the subject of art fairs. It’s a whole new way of marketing art and it’s leaving a lot’s of people out,” I said.

“Like me. You know there’s is no middle. It’s all high end or crap,” he said.

“The middle class is down the tubes and with it a whole art market. I read where high-end auction houses are starting their own art galleries in New York and London,” I said.

“No shit! That should leave the high end galleries quaking in their boots.”

“Ya, a lot of big galleries are following the small galleries and going out of business. It’s all about big, and I do mean big, money. The bubble’s got to burst,” I said.

“It can’t be too soon. Perhaps the hyper-rich should go back to collecting tulip bulbs,” he said.

“No kidding, I just saw an auction estimate for a Jeff Koons’s balloon dog sculpture from Christie’s for 35 to 55 million bucks,” I said.


“Well at least it’s orange and ten foot long,” I added.

“Somehow I doubt that people four hundred years hence will be looking at the Koons with the same reverence that we have today for Michelangelo’s David,” he said.

“Only if we have a new religion that worships dachshunds,” I said.

Stephen had started a larger drawing mounted on a board. “In the end, I’ll likely transfer a drawing to a larger painting by either tracing or bouncing,” he said. “That’s a rather old fashioned way to go isn’t it?” I said. “Sure, but I’ve got more control that way. Drawing is a prelude to painting,” he said.

We talked a lot about drawing over the summer. Drawing is somehow the key to everything; it is a way of visually talking. Sometimes during our conversations we would doodle or make small sketches to emphasize a point and that’s just a way that artists talk to one another. I would crudely draw something for Stephen, sometimes upside down for me and right side up for him, if he was sitting across the table from me, and exclaim, see! and usually he did.

“Drawing is a love affair to the painting,” he said.

“Affairs are sometimes very messy,” I said.

“Where is life without love?”

“Pretty much nowhere,” I said.

“Making art is very close to sex and that’s the great thing about being a painter. There are very few jobs that have that direct sensual experience,” he said.

2VH22AUG“It’s pretty impossible to explain to someone who has not had the experience themselves, how it feels to paint, to make art of any kind, to have the words come, to realise the music in your head. It’s the opening of the door to the cosmos.” I said.

“It was Graham Sutherland who really got me interested in drawing. I remember seeing his stuff at the Beaverbrook when I was a kid,” Stephen said. “Yes, they have some great drawings of his, particularly the Churchill studies. The hand drawings are really nice,” I said. We continued to talk about the importance of drawing and that somehow the craft has been largely lost. “It’s about the hand,” I said, “ There are a lot of good forgeries of paintings from all ages around, but not so much of drawings. It’s just so damn hard to capture the artist’s hand.” “I noted that too. Perhaps it’s just not as profitable as forging painting. The big money is in painting and a passable forgery of a painting is easier to do than an old master drawing,” he said. “It can be done if you have the right old paper, the right drawing materials and fake an anonymous artist, but it seems like a lot work for little return,” I said.

“I am not really interested in sculpture, but I like Henry Moore’s drawings. He did some really nice ones during World War II,” he said.

“I can deal with sculpture. I like Moore’s classical pieces, but sculpture does tend to get in your way when you are trying to look at paintings,” I said

“It’s because sculpture deals with actual space while painting’s space is an illusion,” he said.

“Some, including Plato, would say that was a bad thing,” I said.

“But they would be wrong. Illusion is a wonderful thing,” he countered.

“I’m more often delusional and I’m not sure how wonderful that is, but I can put that off to old age and creeping senility,” I said. “Well, I can certainly agree with the senility part. The good thing about senility is that there are lots of things that are best forgotten,” he said.

3VH22AUGThe afternoon, along with the light, was drawing to a close. Stephen was trying to finish as much as he could before it became too dark to draw. “Drawing is the rehearsal and painting is the performance,” he said. “Ah, the play’s the thing wherein we’ll catch the conscience of the viewer,” I said, loosely misquoting Hamlet. “You know, I am not getting any younger and there is a lot more art I want to do before I pack it in,” he said. “I wouldn’t worry about that, you have got a lot of juice left in you,” I said. “There is never enough time to do what you have to do,” he said. “Look at this way, when you’re dead, you’re past worrying. Your art is going to be around a lot longer than either of us,” I said. “I want to paint tomorrow. Are you up to it?” “Certainly,” I said.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB Canada, Tuesday, November 5, 2013.

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