Apologies in advance for this nostalgic and slightly self-indulgent post. I hope you’ll allow me to explain?

Blasts from the past

Follow the passing of my mum back in April I’ve been gradually working on the arrangements for mum’s estate. Her bungalow will shortly be put on the market and, last weekend, I spent some time there to collect items that family members would like to keep, removing any photos and personal items on display and doing some tidying up in the garden.

It was a strange few days. Lots of reminiscences and lots of tears too. In my tidying, I came across some of my sketchbooks and art projects from when I was at school and from my Foundation Year.

It’s amazing to think that some of these were from about 40 years ago. That’s a whole heap of dust to gather! To somehow make this accidental hoarding seem worthwhile, I thought I’d post a brief selection of my formative works here. This is mainly so that I could legitimately dispose of them as I don’t have the luxury of space to hold onto them.

I’ve shown them in as best chronological order as I can remember but they start from around 1979/1980.

Most of these pieces were all quite large and have all now gone to the gallery in the sky. A box of A4 sketchbooks traveled back with me to Brighton but I’m sure they’ll be heading in a similar direction soon. It’s amazing how going through them totally transported me back to my school days.

There were also a few moments when I wondered what had happened during the intervening 40 years? I couldn’t help but wonder what might have become of me had I really stuck with my art instead of abandoning it for most of that time.

Back to the present

With everything that I had going on, I didn’t really have the time nor the inclination to paint. I’d already scrolled through my reference photos, all of which had left me completely cold and I really didn’t feel like painting at all.

Tidying up my old bedroom I came across an enormous pile of old copies of The Artist magazine. These had been given to me as a present from one of my brothers. I’ve sometimes leafed through them on previous visits and have often found items of interest contained in their pages – such as when I found an original advert for my beloved Frazer Price Palette Box.

On this occasion, as I was rather aimlessly leafing through them, the cover of the issue from June 1966 caught my eye, mainly because I thought is was such a brilliant photo:

I was born in 1966 (I’ll let you do the maths!) so already there seemed this seemed to be more than pure co-incidence. In this edition, there was a feature on landscape painting by the great Edward Wesson.

Here’s the article as it appeared.

The article ended with a description of how he painted the final colour plate:

Suddenly, I had some very low level stirrings of a desire to paint. I know it’s not original, but sometimes you have to take your inspiration and motivation from wherever you find it. My plan, such as had one, was to paint this scene but not necessarily to copy the Wesson style. The difficulty I found however was that it was hard to stop myself! Here then is my decidedly – although not purposefully – Wesson-esque effort:

Winter water, after Edward Wesson

This seemed like a fitting way to also say farewell to this pile of magazines. Also, I’d already decided to keep hold of my old copies of the groundbreaking culture and style magazine The Face from the early 80s and really didn’t have space for anything else!

As much as it felt important to experience all of this, and to acknowledge that this is all part of my grieving, I’m not one naturally inclined to nostalgia. Hopefully I’ll be right back in the here and now by this time next next week!

31 thoughts on “A trip down memory lane

  1. This rings a few bells – a few years ago we moved Dad from his house to a care home and recently had to sort through his remaining possessions. Now decided to go through the house and are staring in wonderment at the 30 years of absolute crap we have hoarded. There must be a psychological reason for hanging on to old stuff and feeling guilty about ditching it, but I really wish I had your structured approach. You have now inspired me in my decluttering work. Also wish that I could paint like you!

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    1. Thanks so much for this. I suppose the fact that I don’t have any space to accommodate much forces me to be a bit more ruthless than I might otherwise be! The funny thing is what you sometimes decide to hold on to – there’s little of much financial value, but lots of sentimental value like glazed terracotta serving bowls and dishes accumulated from long past family holidays in Spain and Portugal – they’ll always remind me of mum! Good luck with your de-cluttering and many thanks for your kind words about my painting – very kind of you.

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  2. I loved seeing your previous work! I especially liked the snow view from the window – your use of the white of the page was SO effective!
    Still thinking of you w.r.t your mum. x

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  3. I love your honesty of lacking inspiration at times. I love watercolour painting, but sometimes lack enthusiasm. I can easily persuade myself not to start, convincing myself that the proposed project will not work out. As you say its the enjoyment of doing not the final achievement.

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    1. Hi David and thanks for this. I think the lack of motivation and enthusiasm is an inevitable part of anything that one tries to do consistently. I’m getting better at recognising it and developing strategies to help me through those times. Usually this involves changing from my usual paintings to spending more time just working in a sketchbook. It’s also when I’m most liklely to take refuge in copying work of other artists that I admire. At least this is a way of keeping the brushes going and to keep on learning and observing until my own personal muse wanders back into range! Many thanks David

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  4. I really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    When I cleared my parents house I found so many things…which Brough up a thousand memories.

    By the way my son was born on Sept 10 1966….and so I know that year very well:)

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  5. Dear John, another Wednesday morning when I get your delightful emails here in the US to read as I eat breakfast. A BIG disappointment when yours was missing BUT luckily it came along later for my great pleasure! It’s always a great joy when I can see the early years in an artist’s background and yours was a special treat, but it absolutely breaks my heart to hear that you already destroyed your past like that! That’s such an important part of who a person IS! Such a variety of things as you ‘grew’ through your years, each impressive in its own way.
    All along, I have assumed that you are much older than you really are! Ye gods, my GRANDKIDS are nearly as old as you! (I’m 89 with my 90th coming in Nov!)
    Considerng what you did in art school, I am surprised even more that you have chosen to ‘live’ so much in the past today!? That you have given up the neat Colour that you once handled so well in favor of dismal greys? Perhaps that reveals the life you lead today? It doesn’t express a ‘joi de vivre’!
    Anyway, I can understand your sadness having to deal with your current situation and you have my sympathy, I’ve been through all those problems myself, including the loss of my dear husband nearly 20 years ago.
    I love your latest ‘Flowers’ though and that bodes a new interest/style I hope? I agree with one of your followers that the ‘plith’ as you he called it, ‘too much’ and today I cropped the photo so the painting is basically square and REALLY loved it! For some reason I don’t understand, I have been doing my best work lately IN a square format and find it really pleasing. Long enough for now.. Marge

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    1. Hi Margery and thanks so much for this. It’s a rare treat these days that I confound anyone with the relative tenderness of my years! I may well try a square crop on that flower painting, just for size. I can’t help but wonder whether the juggernaut that is instagram is partly behind an increasing move towards the square format! Thanks Margery, take care

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  6. You’ve got a better collection than me, John. I don’t think I did any art after the 11-plus, though I do remember doodling things rather reminiscent of your skulls thing – arms growing out of cliffs with clawed fingers…. (Must be a teenage boy thing!) I’m afraid it all goes to show that you are a pretty competent drawer on the quiet. I don’t know why you don’t just do a neat drawing and fill in the colours with a nice pointy brush.

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    1. I definitely relate to the teenage boy thing. I had lots of pseudo surrealist drawings amongst my school works, many comprised of elements lifted out of Hieronymus Bosch’s back catalogue! Thanks for kind words about my drawing capabilities I’m hoping that one day my drawing abilities and working with a big brush will find a happy place to meet!

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  7. I would have kept The Artist and thrown The Face, but, hey, each to their own! Looking at your early art, you had talent right from the start – but as you suggest, life takes a strange path sometimes. I’d have loved to go to Art School, but my school abandoned art after O level, so it was years after that I picked up again, but still didn’t keep at it well enough. Ah well, you’ve certainly used your innate talent well more recently as we can all see from this blog. I hope I can emulate your success eventually too.

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  8. Great seeing your ‘early works’ John! If you’re going to dispatch to the bonfire, maybe photograph them and make. Photobook of them for the record? Won’t take up much space and nice for Flora x

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  9. Love it. Thank you so much for sending that. I have been dragging around my very first framed oil painting I did at school when I was about 14 or 15 years old. Didn’t do another for 50 years. Recently have joined an Atelier and trying to keep up. Not very successfully. Getting too old I guess. Anyway things are improving. Sorry to hear about your mum… I miss mine… it is always a difficult time. Best Aeriol

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    1. Hi Aeriol and thanks so much for this. I reckon if you’ve only got one oil painting it may be worth hanging onto it – nice to have it as an ‘early benchmark’! I just has way too much and couldn’t really weed out the wheat from the chaff. Great to hear that you’re back painting again and making progress. I think painting really exemplifies the old adage that ‘it’s about the journey, not the arriving’! Many thanks Aeriol

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