My dad died this month 28 years ago. I was 28 at the time, so it seems an apt, even balanced moment to write about how he viewed my art and misunderstood the real reason for its creation. As a boy and a teenager I had always sketched and painted; it was something I did on a rainy day or anytime I could get away with it at school. I wasn’t brilliant, but people recognised I had an ability to capture the essence of reality.
I never thought about making art seriously until I started a degree in Geology. Strange you might think, but after a year out (now called a gap year!) working and playing in bands, the 9-5 study of a geology degree was about as exciting as watching the BBC test card disappear into a small grey dot at the end of the night; thinking about it, the test card was more exciting! In the single term that I studied geology, I spent all of my spare time in the Art Department and the bar that accompanied it, rapidly coming to the conclusion that I needed to swap the study of seismic waves for the freedom of creative nonsense. Unfortunately, the icy faces of my mother and father that greeted me on my return to the frozen north did not bode well for my conversion from priest to sinner. However, the conversion was soon completed, as the next year I gained a place at Art College and began creating nonsense in earnest. And so, it was about this time that my dad took me to one side, as parents sometimes do, to discuss the odd art work I had been showing them. You see my dad was a very practical man, he was great with his hands and could make and fix just about anything. With this in mind, he had really wanted me to leave school at 16 to learn a ‘trade’, luckily my mother was having none of it and allowed me to stay on to take my A levels. So with this practical outlook, he couldn’t understand why I would want to create ‘strange’ art and make no money, when in his eyes I could make a ‘good living’ painting those ‘nice water colours’. Mmmm. You can guess the outcome of that conversation. He never really understood and to be fair neither did my mother, what I was trying to achieve. I have always been quite fancy at doing the odd water colour (l have always greatly admired Cotman and Turner’s abilities in this area), but to do this week in, week out to earn a living would be for me, turning my art into ‘stacking shelves at Sainsbury’s’. I realise that many artists get great pleasure from creating this type of work and often when I’m walking in the hills I will sketch in my notebook as a visual reference to that days walking. However, that’s all it is, a visual reference. There is a link between a skill and creativity in all its odd forms, but I have always endeavoured to keep those ideas separate, as when I haven’t my work become stale and about showing off my skills. Make work that always ‘rocks your boat’, my dad didn’t get this, he liked my work when I showed off my skills. RIP Joe.
The two water colour sketches above are from isle of Arran in Scotland, 2016. The other two sketches are works towards a major painting I have just started.