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Stephen Paints a Picture: Part Thirty-One

November 26, 2014

25 May 2014

It was, at last, Lord Beaverbrook Day at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. The gallery annually puts on an open house for the event and regularly draws its largest attendance of the year. Stephen Scott and I were scheduled to finish my portrait during the day. We had planned to work at the gallery from eleven in the morning until two in the afternoon, but we got to the gallery early and decided to work until the gallery closed at five, but, even then, we figured that we might need an extra day to finish.

As Terry Graff, the gallery’s director, promised the place was packed. The staff had roped off our work space so that it resembled an accident scene.

“I’m not sure I like this,” I told Stephen, “It cuts us off from the public and rather puts us on display like an exhibit.”

“Yeah, I agree, but let’s leave it be for the moment and see how it works.”

By the time we really started working the place was crawling with kids and their parents. The little girls outnumbered the boys by a wide margin, but that seems to be the way it is. The boys were likely out with their dads doing manly stuff leaving the culture to the girls.

beaverbrook basement

Speaking of girls, one who appeared to be seven or eight, and for some reason dressed in a tutu told me, “When I grow up, I want to be an artist,” which was a statement that we had heard a few times over the week and almost always from girls. “OK, it seems like a good idea to me. What do you think, mom?” I asked her mother.

“If that’s what she wants, it’s OK with me.”

“Well, keep her interested. We need all the artists we can get.”

Stephen May, another Fredericton artist, who had been visiting us several times over the week, showed up once again.

“What do you think about Lucian Freud, Stephen?” he asked.

“I like him a lot. What’s not to like. Virgil and I talk about him often. How about you?” Scott replied.

“I like him too. He so painterly. Throws the stuff around really well.”

“If I can get my ten cents in,” I said, “I think that he was one of the best painters of the last century.”

“He doesn’t over romanticize his subjects. He can be brutal,” Scott said.

“I agree, but despite that, I find him to be a romantic,” I replied.

“I think Freud’s Romanticism is in his attitude,” May said.

“He sure as hell knew how to live his life to the fullest,” Scott said.

“God save us from boring artists,” I added.

We had quite an audience by that time, all of whom were listening intently to our three way conversation, but I doubt if many of them had any idea who Lucian Freud was. The seriousness of our talk was broken by one little boy in a Boy Scout uniform, looking at one of Stephen’s nudes in the exhibition, who announced to his mother in a loud voice, “Look, mom, another naked woman.” That statement broke everybody up and brought an end to our talk about Freud. Truth does come out of the mouths of babes.

“What do you say we take these barriers down,” I suggested.

“They’re in the way. Why not? This way people can get behind me,” Stephen aid.

“Good, want to do it, Max?” I said. Max Ackerson, a young art student, who had been helping us over the last few days, had been with us since eleven in the morning. He pulled the ropes aside, sat down again and continued to draw the scene in his sketchbook. He turned out to be a big help with our project.

“You know we should start our art school in Sackville,” I suggested to Stephen.

“Yeah, we have talked about that, haven’t we?”

“Meredith has got the space. The carriage house on Rectory Lane. It would at least in the summer or when it’s warm,” I added.

“We could do painting, drawing, history, criticism, the whole nine yards,” he said.

“Yes, and the nice thing, it’s nearly right across the street from the new fine arts building.”

“I really like the idea, Virgil, of a really traditional programme. Something most art schools and departments aren’t doing.”

“No shit. There’s a lot of art students out there that can’t draw and fair number who would like to know how to.”

“The trick,” he said, “is how do we do it? There’s startup costs and figuring out what in the hell to charge much less where the students are going to come from.”

“We can have a good look at the space this summer. I know that Meredith would be interested.”

“How many students do you think the space, and we, could handle?” he asked.

“Somewhere around ten to dozen. Needs to be a pilot project.”

“Sounds like a good way to go broke, but still interesting. What do you think Max? Would you go?”

“Maybe,” Max replied, “but it wouldn’t be like a regular art school.”

“Ah, but that’s the point,” I said, “It could be like how artists learned in the Renaissance and before. Working with an established artist and working from the ground up. Learning by doing. Less bull shit and more work.”

“Sounds better and better,” Stephen said, “but it would be a lot of work to get it going.”

“Granted, but there is a market out there. People want to learn traditional skills. There is a school of figurative art in New York which charges a lot of money and they have all the students they can handle.

“First things first. I still have to finish this painting and then maybe we can save the art world.”

“Speaking of first things, I could use a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies, how about you? Let’s take a break.”

“Good plan.”

“I can go into the kitchen and get it,” Max said.

“An even better plan,” I said.

During the break, I was able to get up and take a look at the painting. “It’s going OK, if you ask me,” I told Stephen. “Who’s asking you?” he replied. Stephen is a hard man to please. He’s very critical of his work and I’m always worrying that he is going to wipe out the portrait and start again which would not be good because we were scheduled to finish the project today or tomorrow at the latest. The gallery was really packed by now and there was no shortage of rubberneckers, but that was the whole point of the day and they, and we, were actually having a good time. It was odd as it was rather like the act of painting as a concert and I was looking for applause to break out after a particularly good brush stroke by Stephen. Historically the only precedent that came to mind was Gustave Courbet’s The Studio, but then we would have to have a real naked woman standing next to Stephen as he painted at the Beaverbrook which might have raised a problem for family day at the gallery.

Courbet_LAtelier_du_peintre

Finishing our coffee, I sat down and Stephen resumed painting. We talked about another project that we could do after finishing the portrait that might be easier than starting our own art school.

“I do like the idea of us going to art galleries around the Maritimes and the northeast of the States and looking at pictures together,” I said.

“It does have legs,” I think he said, “Picking one painting from each collection and talking about it.

“We could video as well and put it on YouTube. It’s too bad that we didn’t video this project, but it’s too late now,” I replied.

“Well, let’s do it, but I’m not going to finish this picture by five. We’re going to have to come back tomorrow.”

“Suits me and the gallery will be closed to the public. Should make it easier.”

“I feel like lobster and fiddleheads. How about you?” Stephen told me and I couldn’t argue.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, Tuesday, November 25, 2014.

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