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‘Studio Tango Revisited’

One week before it was set in place I posted a movie on youtube of the Fulbridge Entrance painting in its finished but unvarnished state. Although staff and children at the school were aware of the design, and informed of the progress of the painting through photographs presented as a visual diary on my daily blog, the movie was a ‘sneak peek’ of its actual scale prior to appearing on site. The painting was much larger than my studio space and my only means of assessing the whole composition and whether the sections of the painting worked when assembled was by recording myself putting the jigsaw together.

The original ‘Studio Tango’ was published online on March 7th last year. ‘Studio Tango Revisited’ therefore is an impression of the whole story.

Why ‘Studio Tango’? Continually moving the boards around the studio with outstretched arms during the 8 week painting period felt very much like they had become large and very heavy dancing partners!


‘Yes, I have been privileged to know some of the noblest walls in England, but happy fortune reserved the best for my last – the last love of my old age. In form, in surface, in elasticity, in lighting, and in that indefinable something which is, as we all know, the final beauty of a wall, the very essence of its being, Pepper-nose’s wall was the crowning joy of my life. I can never forget the way it took the brush. Yes, boys, I have to thank God for that wall. And all the other walls. They’ve been good to me.’

– Joyce Cary, The Horse’s Mouth


Done. Dusted. Delivered!

Fulbridge   R2B35a   R2B35b

R2B35c   R2B35e   R2B35f

R2B35g   R2B35h   R2B35i



Another chilly Studio Tango work-out. It’s taken a full day to make floor space return in order that I could address the task of wrapping the 7 sections with some protective bubble for their journey to Fulbridge. It’s been heavy and awkward work, but late afternoon all was packaged and prepared. So, it’s job done. Christo would be proud of me.

That’s it. Next week the studio is going to look so empty. After 34 days in the studio I’m set for collection on Friday morning by the assigned courier service (or should that read Iain & Brian?)

Jan13Delivery   R2B34b   R2B34c

Pristine                             Painted                            Parcelled!


Now the flip side, although the word ‘flip’ doesn’t adequately describe the action and effort required to turn the boards over. Henri once again took on the role of artist’s assistant this morning, so that the sections could be turned with the possibility of damaging the painted surfaces kept to a minimum.

With both front and reverse sides now protected with varnish, tomorrow will be spent wrapping some very large parcels.

Side 2:

R2B5inside   R2B7b   R2B33c

Primed                             Emulsioned                       Varnished


There is a small painting by William Parrot, in the Ruskin department of Museums Sheffield, which records my mentor JMW Turner at the Royal Academy on Varnishing Day. Varnishing Day was a special event, when artists could varnish their paintings before the official opening of the Summer Exhibition. Turner not only used this occasion to varnish and put finishing touches to his works but also to significantly alter or even paint an entire picture.

I have a few Varnishing Days ahead of me but for once I’ll not be influenced by JMWT’s example and resist the temptation of making any changes to the painting now. Yet rather than imitating the isolated figure of Turner standing in front of his work, I’ve felt that the scene in the studio today might be more closely compared with an illustration of Varnishing Day by George du Maurier, printed in Punch magazine in 1877. Although I’m the only one working, there’s a distinct shortage of floor space and it feels just as crowded

Spot the difference:







Lifting. Shifting. Rearranging. Varnishing!

Spot the difference:


R2B7b   R2B7c


R2B31c   R2B31d


‘When will you make an end?’

‘When I am finished!’

Not an impassioned plea from Iain Erskine, but Rex Harrison speaking to Charlton Heston in ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy’. Not a film about drug use, but a drama illustrating the relationship between Pope Julius II and Michelangelo during the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. I’ve been thinking about this film a lot recently, not because I’m comparing myself with Michelangelo but because of the length of time the painting has taken. It’s always difficult to predict a timescale with large projects and admittedly, except for this one, I have worked only 4 days out of 5 each week. Nevertheless it has taken the best part of 7 weeks, however I’m certain it would have been a very different story had it all been in one piece. I painted two 25′ x 7′ corridor walls a few months ago in 5 days.

The Mamas & the Papas suggested that the darkest hour might be just before dawn, but this one felt like the longest day. Perhaps this was because of the time spent on my knees working with the ‘little people’, all 37 of them. There’s no significance about the number, but it is a miscalculation that will haunt me. My intention was to include 35 figures, as a reference to the year 1935 when the original school was established but I miscounted during the drawing stage. I only noticed that I’d made this mistake yesterday and it would now take time to correct which is perhaps unnecessary. The figures stretch across 3 sections, amounting to a distance of 20′. After the Lilliputian chain was resolved, more Studio Tango. Shifting, lifting and repositioning the sections in order to view the composition as a whole to make final adjustments to the painting, took up the latter portion of the afternoon.

R2B30b   R2B30a

It’s never a straightforward or easy decision to know when it’s time to let go but when I left the building this evening I felt that, maybe, that’s it. I might change my mind when I walk through the studio door tomorrow morning, but right now I’m feeling that I could give Rex a straight answer to his question. I have made an end……………………………….I think


R2B29a    R2B29b

I’ve now reached the tricky bit, making final decisions and pulling the composition together. Today I’ve been working with the child figures, tomorrow will be the turn of the army of Lilliputians.

As with any painting I need to be sure that the composition has reached its peak before I can allow it to leave the studio, it’s very irritating to find a painting at a later date with a weakness that was overlooked and which should have been repainted, and this one is destined for a public space. As George Orwell might say, I must be certain it is doubleplusgood. However, working on such a large scale and unable to view the composition as a whole until it is erected above the entrance of the building, I have to admit to feelings of trepidation, which is ungood. Now is the time when belief in myself and trust in previous experience, combined with my love of the cinema, needs to play its part.

Perhaps reassurance can be found within the film ‘Shakespeare in Love’ by recalling the conversation between Phillip Henslowe and Hugh Fennyman…………(for ‘theatre’ read ‘mural’)

Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Fennyman: So what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Fennyman: How?
Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.


Many years ago I was talking to a chum about the renovation project we were about to undertake after moving into our home, which we bought in a very dilapidated state. The place required a serious makeover, and because of the cost we had no choice but to do the bulk of it ourselves. He gave me a piece of advice which has remained with me since, “Slates, when it comes to tiling, there’s either good tiling or bad tiling. There’s no in between.”

A man of few words, I knew he meant what he said and often when I am considering a task I hear him whispering in my head. He was with me again today as I continued with the painting of large letters. It’s been another long day with the need to work with due care and attention, it would be a disaster if the most important ingredient was below standard. For ’tiling’ read ‘lettering’. There’s either good lettering or bad lettering. There’s no in between

R2B28a   R2B28b   R2B28c

R2B28d   R2B28e   R2B28f



Today Fulbridge School became an Academy without a new sign above their entrance, but with black paint now on my brush I’m entering the end game. Large lettering has been the object of my attention and Monday will be more of the same. Then, it’s the army of Lilliputians to tackle, two large figures to complete and the task of varnishing can begin. I’m almost there. An investment of more good studio hours next week might see it in a finished state this time next Friday.

R2B27b   R2B27a


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