Visiting Artists 2
On December 14, 2014 by Becky Nuttall With 0 Comments – Uncategorized

One day in about 1966 two artists visited the art supply shop below the Overgang at the harbourside in Brixham.

The younger artist knew the king of art mediums is oil. With linseed oil, turps, scratchy brushes and canvas, this was the alchemy needed to create a “work of art”.

Having announced she was going to be an artist and go to art school (Tony Hancock hovers in the wings) the older and wiser artist replied “Art schools are the universities of life” along with “never trust banks” and “people with glass tables shouldn’t sit on them” and “hang on, you’re nine years old”

To the younger artist, buying the oil paint would mark a line between what you create with poster paints on paper and a new expectation; ‘the work of art’.

Disaster: the completed canvas was the work of a nine year old; she wanted it to be at least a Picasso.

Now she realises this was the closest she got.

‘It takes a long time to be young’ Pablo Picasso


The Glossary Album:

“Death and the Maiden (to purchase paradise again, which we had lost through our own fault)”

These are the sensibilities of a Seventies adolescence. The Barbie gender ideals of old school toy designers juxtaposed with the glam rock frippery of South Sea Bubble suits for men; also referring to androgynous ambiguity; the tearful hysteria of fandom; live music in music hall venues and the starry optimism of the space age set in the cosy books of childhood. The painting had several titles including “Stars in Their Eyes” and “Good Housekeeping” based on a poem I wrote with this title; the poem refers to the conflict between teenage daughters and mothers’ brought up by Edwardians. The final title “Death and the Maiden” refers to the transition from childhood and adolescence to adulthood. The initial idea for the poses came from a screenshot I took of “Singing in the Rain” with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. The wall is based on the cover of “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. The white suit, shirt and tie are based on one worn by Rod Stewart and screenshots of costumes worn in “Mapp and Lucia”. The white dress is a Fifties wedding dress, including white gloves we had to wear as part of our school uniform

(My works have biblical quote subtitles to illustrate the conflict between dogma and creativity)

Death and the Maiden (detail) – Acrylic on Canvas Board



In my adolescence, I visited the artist in a London flat. There was a room designated for the studio; I could not smell turps or white spirit; I could not see a Francis Bacon tsunami licking the prosaic off the floorboards, spitting it into the tide of detritus lapping the skirting. Here the artist no longer speaks of childish things to a child artist. He is now, I realise, the professional lexicographer; verbal expression is the test and the tease.

Doorways were a feature of this space. Caught in a corridor, I stood before the one for the studio and glanced at another; the guest room. Who are the guests of the artist when he is away from home; living in this flat away for the anchor and the source? Away from the summer lawns, replacing them with something, someone, people that held him hostage for weeks; anchored and weighed, adrift from the banal and paternal. I am today’s visitor and we do not speak of childish things. He has become a resident writer in another orbit and I have become his caller; although welcome, the space shifts and shapes around the presence of more preferred visitors; patrons, lodgers and paying guests; the bill payer, the emissary, the trigger, the executor; I only brought a doorway back to neglected summer lawns.

It’s thirty years and I have surveyed the wreckage of the artist’s life in residency. The spread of coats and jackets. Unwashed clothes upon the bed, the floor ripe with neglect; the kitchen, in the freezer readymade meals, frozen, suspended between hunger and memory. Free gifts from magazines, brought to the house only to show someone lives at this address. The remains of Chinese takeaway, human contact crossed with silver, loneliness. The wreckage of paper, a lifetime of lists, the lifetime since last I left, of jottings, poignant, stupid, clever, plots, settings, character, point of view; none of them mine, very few his. I came to clear a way back, through the rational searching in lists and plot, only to find, disappointingly, a message that artists who were men offered to women back then; I am the artist, not you; I am the writer you are not. The misogynist artist’s love token, a padlock of words ruling the lock.

In the guest room a bed was made; I had arrived without luggage, I would not stay. I found his art school folder, remembered some promises he made when I was young and  when he made me laugh. I scan, cut and glue our lives together, each of us guests in each other’s work; I weigh and anchor him back to me and women’s art.


Visiting Artists or read all about it

Artists are not always in for visitors. “Fear not”, the older and wiser artist says, “artists are show offs no matter what they say, otherwise what is the sodding point; all you need to know they will have put in a book, that will fill a gap” (Harken the approaching dawn of YouTube)

Off he wanders again, sharpening his own point no doubt, ready to jab a talking artist or small over – ambitious child artist.

The house is full of books; magnificent books of the twentieth century, over thinking everything and simplifying nothing; jealous, defensive books (roll on the twenty first century and the approaching dawn) none of them giving away the secret of thinking, making and being good at it in one day Bert Wheedon style. So the only way to start is to look at the pictures; which is his point (maddeningly)


Visiting Artists Come in Many Guises

Visiting artists come in many guises; talking artists were a wonder to a child. These artists began by talking on the telephone. The child already acts as the telephonist; diverting calls; small master of the procrastinating deadline; the mysterious unavailability of the artist to talk today; he is talking bills, school fees, Welsh gossip, Senior Service supplies, off licence invoices; he’s not at home for talking artists today; call again please.

If summoned by telephone to the house, the talking artist would begin to talk about creativity, it’s superiority and manifesto for an excused reality. The wonder that unfurled before the child, the wonder of a talking artist, the words that can spark the imagination, making a child integral to the completion of the imagined work; left with the belief that the work was complete, available, an object.

Judgment would fall upon the talking artist

“Sorry, you think you’re doing it. Thinking is sweet and addictive but like honey, it’s happy in a jar and notoriously difficult to extract and spread about. Thinking is not doing.”

However, look into the future of art school dogma and Conceptualism is the talking artist’s good fairy;

‘Don’t worry about the technicalities of getting a thought out of the jar; if it’s a mess it shows you’ve given it a lot of thought’.

By this time the telephonist diverts all calls to Muswell Hill

‘Part of the act of creating is in discovering your own kind. They are everywhere, but don’t look for them in the wrong places’ (Henry Miller)


As children we would visit artists and artists would visit us; it was part of the ebb and flow of our lives. They rarely said they were artists because they mostly came as mothers and fathers and we played with their children. We weren’t encouraged to be the children of artists; we conspired, played and fought and created next to nothing. As a bunch of adults they talked art and creating things and how to make money; as mothers and fathers they were judged on the warmth of their hellos and the sadness of their goodbyes. Yet something always rubbed off, a feeling that being an artist was a bit mysterious and being children of artists a bit of a mystery.