New drapery series7th July 2018
A new series of drapery paintings.
At the end of 1984 I suffered a tragedy that so traumatized me I was hardly able to function. Happily I had enough wit left to realize that I needed to go somewhere so different from anything I knew or had seen before that it would stimulate me out of the terrible state I was in and might even give me inspiration to paint. No country I had ever heard people talking about with awe to amazement and unbridled enthusiasm fitted the bill more than India, and so within a few days of having the idea I was on a ‘plane to Delhi. I arrived in India for the first time at about 2am on a January morning in 1985.
Instead of the socializing and meeting beautiful girls to paint as I might have expected, within a few days I landed in the middle of nowhere. Well actually at the estate of a Maharajah whom I had befriended soon after my arrival, a two thousand acre mustard field about sixty miles outside Jaipur, in Rajasthan. There were many workers on the property and it had been arranged by the owner that I would be able to paint any one of them I wished, or any of the scenes in the villages on the estate. I was indeed inspired beyond anything I had experienced before and painted like a madman for three months, before returning to my home in New York, where I was living at that time.
This experience was so enriching, I soon returned to that extraordinary country, once again to be inspired and paint non-stop. My only regret was that my painting was so slow in relation to my visions thoughts and inspirations. And so, endlessly inspired, I kept returning until finally, in 1993 I actually moved there, to South India with my three children so that they might attend the American school in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu. Living and painting in India has enabled me to paint many of the most amazing people and sights I have ever seen anywhere, and I don’t consider my various series, which have so far covered mostly Rajasthan and Chennai, complete yet.
This is a series of paintings of my wife, Fanny, sleeping. It is a natural progression from my well known Mannequin Series in which I concentrate on Drapery, one of my favourite subjects to paint. In that series, I draped the inanimate mannequins , giving them a sense of life and emotion. Here I have reversed that idea by taking a real person, the love of my life, and painting her in an objective manner concentrating once again on the fantastic drapery.
When I moved to New York in 1981, although I was completely unaware of it, it was at a very special moment in the City’s history. Also completely unaware of it having any special significance, the place I found to live was a loft in downtown Manhattan, in fact on its most southern street at the river’s edge called South Street. My loft was on the top floor, and I overlooked both the huge old galleon permanently moored there called The Peking, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge which fast became my favourite bridge and my favourite view in the world.
I loved the area I had found myself in as I even found many New Yorkers who, when they asked where I lived and I told them, would respond in surprise. “South Street? Never heard of it!” I loved having found somewhere even locals didn’t know about, especially as I also loved the oldness and crumbling quality of it all. Sadly, it was that very quality that had caused a huge development company to acquire the entire area with the intention of turning it into a modern tourist centre, pulling down where necessary, but at the very least giving facelifts to the point of unrecognizability, the very buildings that were amongst my favourites.
So much did I fall in love with this city, especially this tiny part of it, for the first time in my life I went out into the streets to paint it. I became a sort of New York Monet, and certainly hoped I might do for New York what Monet did for Paris. After quite a short while however, I realised the developers and demolition were moving ahead faster than I could paint, and so I went around taking a few photographs of my most treasured corners, thinking that if the worst came to the worst at least I would be able to finish off my series from those photographs. Some even included the Twin Towers, which had quickly become the first really modern building in the world I actually loved and, on one clear bright sunny day, I had been to its roof and over-looked this tiny island that had so totally captured my heart.
The life of an artist is rarely simple and straightforward, and mine has been perhaps even more wildly unpredictable than most, and so soon I did indeed have to stop work on my series of the City as I couldn’t stand the noise of the drilling or the sight of beloved buildings disappearing and I moved over to Staten Island, where at least I had a view of the Statue of Liberty from my top floor window. And perhaps during the move, or soon afterwards anyway, the photographs were lost, eventually more or less forgotten, and replaced by the various inspirations that caused me to switch back from citiscapes to still lifes, portraits and paintings of my two mannequins, over the next five or six years until I forsook what had become the most precious home I had ever known and moved to Asia.
Due to the twists and turns of life, after quite a long period of living on a mountain top in South India, all my worldly possessions ended up in storage in England in 2012. A few more twists and turns led to my conceiving the idea of how much I would love to put together a book of my love for and experiences in New York. During a visit to the warehouse two or three weeks after having had that idea, I was looking through a box containing a hundred or so packages of negatives and printed photos, when a small envelope seemed suddenly to drop into my hand. Looking inside, to my absolute amazement, I discovered about a dozen of those missing-presumed-dead photographs I had taken around South Street all those years ago, thirty five years to be precise, of that fabulous but now gone-forever tiny part of the world that meant everything to me. Feeling an almost overwhelming resurgence of my love for New York I set to work unquestioningly, not even doubting that the art gods had put those pictures into my hands with the instructions quite clear: “Paint these, child, it is meant to be.”
A reflection of Me & Susan in front of my drawing of her in London 1973
My life as a world traveler has given me the opportunity to be a photographer as well as a painter and draughtsman. My most prolific period of taking photographs was in the pre digital era between 1967 and 1981 and during that time I wouldn’t go anywhere without my trusted Roleiflex camera.
I now have a vast collection of negatives taken during that time in seventeen countries on four continents. Although this part of my art is relatively unknown, for me the photographic collection is as important as my collection of paintings and drawings. Posted below are a few of my favourites.