The Art of My Life

I was asked by someone recently “what are are your favourite artworks, the ones that really affected you” There was an obvious expectation that I would bounce back with a list that emulated the great and good picks of those in the know, but truth be told my list is never one that would sit comfortably in a connoisseurs world, the art of my life is entwined with chaos of my everyday living, it is that association with those moments of chaos and revelation that makes it important to me.

Art for me is not precocious consideration of technique or composition, it is not who made it or who supported it, it is not how much it cost or how it increases in value, it is not what is in vogue or its importance, it is plainly and simply how it makes me feel, how it makes my guts churn and my heart pump. So in answering the question the art of my life begins with work that never graced a gallery wall but has endured with me and still makes me smile, the illustrations of Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone from the Deans Book of Nursery Rhymes.

Even as a tiny child I lost myself in the prettiness of the illustrations, it was loveliness in a hardcover filled with whimsical waifs and romantic heroes. When I look through the pages as an adult its hard not to feel 4 years old again.

The second great artwork of my life is one familiar to the post war generation, gracing the walls of suburbia from country end to tip. The Chinese Girl or better known as the Green Lady by Vladimir Tretchikoff. It hung on my grandmother’s wall and filled me with fascination not just because she was green but because it was so weirdly enticing, her ruby red lips against her turquoise skin. Now the ultimate kitsch but also completely enduring.

Strangely my next taker was not a work that I love but a work that I hate, but it is that negativity that places it in my list because try as I might to get past the feeling it is still a work that fills me with chills. A small reproduction of The Arnolfini Marriage (Portrait of Arnolfini and his wife) hung on the wall in our hallway. My mother loved it, I think because it engaged her want to love the arts, but the sight of the two alien like individuals had a deep seated affect on me and my childlike brain never understood how such a cold painting could bring such joy. To this day I dislike it but its detail stays with me always.

My next impact was one that could be found in the postcard section of every Woolworths store across the country. The work of Margaret Keane. The Big Eyed children. I remember buying a small poster of one and it took pride of place on my bedroom wall, a cherished masterpiece for about 50pence.

It is not often that the horror of war brings about the love of art but for me there have been 2 great artists and works that have grown from an abhorrence of the images of war. Firstly as a child one of the most dramatic influences on my future views was the photograph of the Napalm Girl taken by Nick Ut, it so deeply affected me that to this day I consider it to be one of the greatest photographic works that we have seen, mans inhumanity to man encapsulated in a single act and a single image. Even though I was young I saw myself in that girl and wondered how anyone could do that, I still wonder to this very day.

My second war candidate is the work of photographer Lee Miller. When I was young my mother rightly so insisted that I watched every episode of the World At War, in order that I gained some sort of understanding of both the history and the horror of war, whilst it was not something I enjoyed the purpose was achieved but in doing so I also became familiar with the work of Lee Miller and was struck by the rawness of her photography, and the diabolical beauty of her work.

At fourteen I came across the work that to this day is my most loved. On a school trip to the Tate I was introduced to the “Lady of Shallot” by John William Waterhouse.  I remember walking into the room and being overwhelmed by its immenseness and its beauty, pictures and prints never can show the incredible detail that this work contains, or convey the power that sits in every brush stroke. It was a glorious moment and one that I will never feel again because I will never be fourteen and overwhelmed by beauty.

I have no doubt that the work of David Hockney would be on most peoples list as he sits as one of the greats in contemporary art, but for me the reason I hold dear one of his works is not based on its place as a contemporary great but more on the fact that it was the first portrait that I ever felt a real affinity with because of its curious sterility coupled with a strange comfort. I saw it when I was 15 years old and it reminded me of my parents. Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy for me makes me think of the complexities of marriage two people looking out of their lives each with their own take on where they are sharing a space but each needing isolation from the other. I love that it is different and intriguing and I even love that it is a little cold.

So I move forward and my last offering is a work that sits with me because it has a wonderful darkness to it and reminds me of all the secret things we keep inside. Not a famous work, not a masterpiece but a little gem by the artist Janet Crosby.  There is not a day goes by that I do not look at it and smile because in my mind I think that everyone carries something in their suitcase that  their mother would hate.