Three solo shows, 50 odd paintings (very odd!), from 5 Jan-29 March, was hard going. Meeting people and talking art was fine, but the driving, caravan pitching, delivering, hanging, unhanging, upping steadies, hitting the road again, with Tenerife in the middle of the third show which overlapped the second, got to me. I left my hatchback shelf outside the Torch in Milford and never saw it again. Why are galleries always up flights of stairs?
Not quite true. Few steps to negotiate at MOMA where I was well looked after by the Machynlleth team. Peter Roberts showed me there’s more to hanging 20 paintings in a room than meets the eye: the room's contours, spacing, sequencing, keeping a uniform top line or centring, all requires thought. But what a thrill to see your work up in one space! It beats holding a book of poems in your hands. A friend, John Henry Davies, took photos.
The turn-out for MOMA’s opening was good, thanks to the late Clyde Holmes whose landscapes had blown me away twelve years earlier in that same upstairs room. I was humbled to find myself on his bill. David Woodford spoke about him and sent me a copy of his talk. The next week I read poems linked to my paintings and tested their interaction. Some felt the poems could have been mounted on the gallery walls next to the paintings (not put in folders), which I resolved to do henceforth. No more pussyfooting.
In Shrewsbury’s well named Bear Steps gallery above Grope Lane I set up in the half light of a 16th century attic (no photos here). Home to a historical society, Bear Steps was exhibiting shots of the town and its Dutch twin on the ground floor. The mayor visited and, like some rare bird, flew up to my loft unburdened by his chain of office. Fellow painters offered tips. One or two read the poems. Others stroked their feathers: ‘I see you like Monet’, or ‘Mmmph, Dali...' [like dahling] 'not my cup of tea, I’m afraid.' Straight questions were best: 'Where's that?', 'What are elephants doing on the rocks?’ (Starlings over the Pier), 'How come the stones don't touch?’ (Pentre Ifan), 'Who chopped her arms off?’ (Life Class), 'Where's she flying?' Better to provoke a question than be told you’re imitating an Impressionist.
On to Milford in its oil-blighted harbour, which I can identify with. You see the haven from Torch Theatre café where I hung paintings on vertical wires then down the passage into the Joanna Field Gallery, poems on foam-board close by. Lighting was again an issue, but two shots from my box camera give some idea. Questions got tougher: 'Why's the perspective crap?' (Counting Waves), 'Is she on acid?' (Tapu Teha'amana), 'Is that the moon?' ['No, it's a ball']. Hard work, but I’d do it all again, next year maybe.
The room was all angles, clefts, bric-a-brac
furniture that wouldn’t fit, too small even
for you, though big enough to be lonely
in, with draughts you couldn’t see, space where none
was needed and none where it was, edges
that scagged your knee as you stood up nonplussed
looking for the kettle, all the time that view
with its lines of waves like knitting you could
do nothing with but count or unravel one
after the other into the pearled night.
I came across the idea of 'bad' perspective in El Greco (who was trained in icon painting in Crete but had little idea of Renaissance theory when he went to Italy). When he got his angles wrong (as in some versions of 'Christ cleansing the temple'), it seemed to me only to add to the message and appeal of the painting.
I hope that makes sense.