Most of my favourite work is that which I have laboured over longest. To create a really good painting requires a great and prolonged effort. Leonardo da Vinci, towards the end of his life would spend no less than three years on a painting. It is for this reason that the Mona Lisa is now in France rather than in Italy where it was begun, for in the intervening period, Leonardo moved to Paris as the guest of the King, and there he died.
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The painting that took the longest for me to complete was Magicland. I began it in Ely, continued it after we had moved to Norwich, and only completed it on our return to Ely, over a year later. I particularly like this one because the place is an ideal. The buildings shine in the sun, the river is a glorious transparent blue, and the train, waiting at the station, is happy to wait in such a paradise. We peer through an opening in the flowers (192 of them) only to catch a fleeting glimpse of Eden, as the boat wends slowly homeward. What is the boater regarding behind? And why would anyone want to get on the train and leave this magical place?
The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah
This is my largest painting so far, a copy of John Martin's original, which hangs in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne. John Martin was a Victorian painter who painted such majestic biblical scenes. His was much larger. Mine is 20x30 inches. His final three works all hang in the Tate Art Gallery in London and depict the final days, the day of judgement and the ascension to paradise. I may tackle them one day, but need a larger wall first. Each is about 15 feet across. At the turn of the last century (19th to 20th that is), John Martin had fallen from favour, and his works were changing hands for as little as £2.
All of my calligraphy begins as a piece of text or poem in need of a good design. Some designs, you would think, are obvious. I had wanted to paint a huge rainbow for some time, but couldn't find a setting for it. I also had this piece of text, which is a heartbreaking message from the beginning of the chapter entitled First Love in The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence, when Ursula Brangwen begins her coming of age. Reading Lawrence is mighty hard work, but to come across such a gem, I think it was worth it.
Another piece of calligraphy. The swirls were inspired by a pattern on my daughter's Barbie car. I needed something bold and captivating for the poem Leisure by WH Davies. Davies was a hobo who travelled across the US, losing his foot in an accident when jumping train in Canada. Leisure was written around the time of his return to Wales and his marriage.
Hoa Qui Harbour
There is something about these pacific paradises that appeals greatly to those of us living in a climate defined by slight changes in the quality of drizzle. When some sun comes along, especially after a bleak fen winter, it puts a gleam in the eye of all. In this painting, I tried to capture a little of that summer sun and save it on canvas. I have no idea where Hoa Qui is exactly, or whether it was the name of the photographer who took the picture that ended up on the postcard which provided the inspiration.
Islamic art is defined by its floral and geometric shapes. Some believe no animal or human forms should be painted (no graven images!) and that on the day of judgement we artists and sculptors must breathe life into the lifeless works we have created. Judgement is not a day I am looking forward to. This painting was one of my last on paper. I found out shortly afterwards that the oils in oil paint attack and destroy paper unless it is coated with Gesso. One day all of my paintings on paper will simply fall off. There is hope though, I read an account of a painting Whistler did on a wall in his house, and as the plaster was crumbling, preservation workers removed the painting from the wall, scraping the plaster off the back of it, and reassembling the scraps into a painting.