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A Step Back In Time

‘If perfection could be achieved it wouldn’t be worth having

A return to Thorpe Hall, 43 years later. Back in June 1974 I spent a day here painting a landscape for my ‘A’ level Art paper and made reference to it in a previous blog about my school art teacher ‘The Importance Of Being Nobby’.

I knew the place would have changed. I’d simply remembered sitting in a meadow looking at a boarded up building located somewhere within the hall grounds. It took a while to find the exact spot, but then it suddenly unveiled itself. The sky had become a classic ‘Tur-kwarzy Blooo’ and inside my head I heard the nasal tone of Nobby shouting ‘Hands out the pockets boy!’. Not much had really altered. The wild flower filled field had become a car park, the trees had been cut back and new housing could seen at the exit, a hedge had appeared alongside what was once a gravel track and the building I’d focussed upon is now an attractive renovated gate house – other than that, the view still looked very similar.

This was where I produced my last painting before embarking on an art school career and I’ve often been tempted to revisit the site of one of the oldest compositions I still possess. Other than my grandmother’s living room it has made only one other appearance in public, being included in my ‘Landmarks & Milestones’ exhibition a couple of years ago. In 1974 the teenage me was convinced the painting was a complete and utter disaster and I’ve never waivered from that opinion. Nevertheless, I’ve also wanted to see whether that point of view was well founded. Returning to the scene of the crime with reproduction in hand to make a retrospective assessment I’ve learned that perhaps I needn’t have given myself such a hard time. The painting was probably alright after all.

It could be said that today I was back where it all started – but this time I didn’t lose my temper!

Gladiator Mural (Parts 1&2) at Rowlatts Hill Primary Academy

20.2 – 5.5.17

Hard on the heels of the ‘Once Upon A Time’ mural, my brief for this follow-on project was to transform the appearance of a fairly narrow and very busy corridor and create a taste of Tuscany, a landscape filled with grapevines and warm sunshine. This space, located outside two Year 3 classrooms, leads to a Roman themed area of the school and Principal Jay Virk suggested the final scene from Ridley Scott‘s ‘Gladiator’ movie as a clue of what she envisaged in her mind’s eye. Remembering his home built at the end of an avenue of cypress trees Maximus, Russell Crowe, imagined himself walking through a wheat field in a gently undulating Tuscan hillside to return to his family. To him, this was an image of Heaven.

However, the ‘Gladiator’ mural would be painted in three parts, and as this would be the largest I decided to begin with the smallest section first, so Heaven would have to wait till ‘Part 1’ was completed.

Gladiator mural (Part 1) – The Portrait

The wall seen at the end of the corridor was located within a cloakroom area already having the appearance of a Roman villa, which posed a problem. The design had to work both as an integral element of an exterior landscape scene as well as a Roman interior. The difficulty was resolved by giving the impression the wall surface was made of marble with a plaque, inscribed with a portrait of a Caesar, mounted on it. The trompe l’oeil plaque and portrait was inspired by a Roman coin auctioned in Switzerland in 2015.

 

Gladiator mural (Part 2) – The Landscape

Left Wall:

Right Wall:

The corridor walls have an imagined landscape view and at its end, before entering the Roman area, a grapevine covered pergola helps disguise a door frame. This portion of the corridor is quite dim, so the pergola generates the illusion of being the cause of the shade, whether walking in one direction and out of the ‘sunshine’ or from the other on leaving a bright ‘interior’.

Looking back, the landscape on the wall above the stairs was based upon the house seen in the previously mentioned final scene of the ‘Gladiator’ film, the perspective of the avenue of cypress trees painted to work with the angles seen as one walks toward it.

The walls on each side of the steps are painted in a fragmented, abstracted manner as the landscape gradually simplifies and metamorphoses either into a portrait of the Queen or a stained glass window, the final elements of the ‘Casablanca‘ and ‘Give Peace a Chance‘ murals which are located in the adjoining corridor.

In time, the surface of the corridor floor will be covered with a grass carpet which will further assist with the illusion of walking through an avenue of vines, and the small area of floor between pergola and portrait will become the final section of the Gladiator mural. This will be Part 3 of the project, to be painted next, and which will involve the painting of a mosaic.

Rowlatts Hill Academy, Balderstone Close, Leicester LE5 4ES

Landmarks & Milestones: A Painter’s Progress

5-29 October 2015 • The Castle, Wellingborough NN8 1XA

Our lives follow a meandering path, taking us in different and unexpected directions. This retrospective exhibition is an opportunity to reflect upon a painting career that has incorporated a variety of subjects and activities, with dramatic changes in scale.

From early formative works through to more recent painted and drawn images, it also includes examples of monumental mural paintings, a recurring feature of the artist’s output since 1977.

My painting is me
A kind of biography
Written in pictures

Landmarks & Milestones: A Painter’s Progress
5-29 October 2015
Exhibition Wall & Gallery
The Castle, Castle Way, Wellingborough NN8 1XA
01933 229022
www.thecastle.org.uk/colin-slater

Epping Forest

Corporation of London Christmas Card Commission  2001 & 02

Centuries of leaves
In a cathedral of trees
Carpeted with breeze

*

Alone in a crowd
Light dim. A face peers out
From a crumpled skin

*

Ticker tape welcome
Confetti fluttering like
Pennies from Heaven

*

Rockin’ and Rollin’
Arms raised, Hallelujah’in
Tall, time-worn trees talkin’

*

Time-worn veteran
A portrait of life etched deep
In wooden wrinkles

*

Family clusters
Small processions of figures
Regal, triumphant

*

A shower of sunlight
Tall canopy filtering
Sun streaked whisp’ring winds

*

Faces emerging
A woodland Nativity
In pollarded trees

*

Leaf fall glittering
Autumn sunlight flickering
Black crows bickering

*

Cascading deadfall
A jackpot of leaf pennies
A blanket of gold

“Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right.
Singin’: “Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right! “

Rise up this mornin’,
Smile with the risin’ sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin’ sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin’, “This is my message to you-ou-ou: “

It’s not the Carribbean, but it certainly felt like it with Bob’s familiar and reassuring voice playing in the background as we relaxed to an evening meal with a glass or three of locally produced krasi at a beachside restaurant in Ligres. To shake off the cobwebs, recharge the batteries and forget life’s worries, trials and tribulations the perfect answer is to escape to Crete and see what a week of sunshine and wine in a country with a radical left-wing government does for you.

Thanks to our very good chums Peter & Monica we were able to do just that by returning to our version of Shangri-La, or more accurately Agia Pelagia in the centre of the island. Having the opportunity to work in my ‘Cretan Studio’ again was tonic for the soul. With seven days of wall to wall sunshine time stood still, the conveyor belt switched off and life was lived at a more relaxed pace in a landscape lush and green following an unusually wet winter. Travelling on empty roads there is so much to view, driving through deep and imposing gorges which lead to idyllic and isolated retreats such as the aforementioned beach and restaurant at Ligres, the Agia Fotia Taverna and the rich red abandoned village at Aradena.

Add to this the opportunity to work en plein air in the dappled shade of an olive grove, accompanied by the chirruppy and happy whistling of busy Cretan birdlife and the fleeting company of delicate dancing butterflies, listening to the breeze blowing harmoniously through viridian and silver leaves, the occasional sound of an inquisitive and magnificent black carpenter bee making its conspicuous hum as it flies ponderously from flower to flower, the fleeting scampering feet of green and brown lizards, the scream of a peacock, the shrill stridulating vibrations of grasshopper bodyparts, the occasional spontaneous peal of distant sheep and goat bells – dare I suggest it’s even more relaxing than listening to Sarah Walker presenting Essential Classics on Radio 3.

Adopting Bob as the soundtrack for the week, the combination of good company, krasi and contemplation has been restorative, refreshing and stimulating, very much like a life-affirming cocktail. Had Bob been with us he may have added a stimulant or two of his own but the change of pace and sense of place was enough, the only vaguely hallucinagenic moment for me was the sight of multi-coloured ants walking across my feet while working in the seclusion of the olive grove.

Aristotle or Plato (or was it Lynyrd Skynyrd?) must surely have said something very similar so apologies to them if I’m stealing their wise and philosophical words, but to put it simply………..it’s been Bloody Orea!

   Having a Bad Trip?

    A misconception?
    A visual deception?
    Confused perception?

    Rainbow transcending
    Colours mixing and blending
    My palette amending

    Tints, shades and pure hues
    Animated reds and blues
    Total spectrum forming queues

    Cobalt figurines
    Pebble dashed ultramarines
    Crawling aubergines

    Army of orange blots
    Trampllng over coloured pots
    Invading yellow polka dots

    Sun filled fields of green
    Poppy splatter unforeseen
    Marching marks intervene

    Tan, rust, milit’ry brown
    In ‘No Man’s Land’ puddle moiré drown
    Somme-like, faces down

    Bad trip? All is fine!
    Psychedelic dream is mine
    A paint mixers dotted line
    
    Small chromatic flecks
    Stippling, swimming insect specks
    Nothing anymore complex
        – I’ve Aints in my Paints!

Image making workshops at Dogsthorpe Junior School

– Landscape & Seascape

22 & 23.5.14

A couple of days working with children from year 4 at Dogsthorpe Junior School, Peterborough, to generate some ‘Landscape’ and ‘Seascape’ images following an invitation from Head Teacher Charlotte Krzanicki. The first day was spent using charcoal, the second chalk pastel.

I met with three groups of 30 children each day and sessions took a similar format, I displayed a couple of my own charcoal and chalk pastel drawings in the room so that the children could identify a comparison with my regular working practise and I also worked alongside them to produce a drawing too while they made theirs. We began by making an initial investigation and exploration of working with the medium which was followed by the production of a more finished drawing as a conclusion. However, although each group received the same introduction their end piece was a different subject.

In my own working practise as a painter I often produce interpretations of the work of others which I refer to as ‘Souvenirs’, a term stolen from Hercules Brabazon Brabazon, a nineteenth century artist who produced some wonderful watercolours of paintings he had seen and admired. The concluding piece for each group therefore was to produce a variation on the work of a Master, however rather than showing an illustration of a painting and making a slavish copy I described a scene and asked them to picture it in their mind before we worked together to make our interpretation of it.

Working on a board which they could all see at the front of the class to produce my own version I suggested a series of stages in which the drawing could be constructed. We drew a portion of the composition, followed by another, until the sections pieced together into a picture. The children were totally oblivious of the painting they were creating or its title until it was finished, and after their teacher had searched for it on the internet it was revealed to be shown to them at the end which made for an interesting comparison.

Day 1 had a ‘Landscape’ theme and the painting I selected for the first class was ‘Christina’s World‘ by Andrew Wyeth, for the second one of the many compositions of ‘Mont Sainte-Victoire‘ by Paul Cezanne and ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows‘ by John Constable for the afternoon group.

The theme for Day 2 was ‘Seascape’, with the first group producing a variation of ‘Snow Storm; Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth‘ and the second ‘Peace – Burial At Sea‘, both by JMW Turner, with the afternoon group tackling ‘The Cliff, Etretat, Sunset‘ by Claude Monet.

All the children made brave attempts with their image making and some successful images emerged. Unfortunately I didn’t photograph the children’s work so the examples illustrated here are the images I produced while leading each of the groups…………..

Nevertheless, these sunset images after Monet were all produced by the children and are a selection from the last group of the day. Considering it was a Friday afternoon and the last session before breaking up for half term, I think they produced some pretty breathtaking drawings!

The Art of Poetry

Two paintings, ‘Blue Salute Sunset. Turner Speaking From Beyond the Horizon’ & ‘Black Nene Willows’, included in a diverse exhibition of art inspired by poetry and accompanied by the poetry that inspired it. The exhibition, at Obsidian Art Gallery in Stoke Mandeville, will be open from Friday 21 March – Wednesday 23 April 2014.

In addition, a specially commissioned book featuring selected work from the show will accompany the exhibition, and includes a haiku and colour illustration of ‘Black Nene Willows’

SLATER-Blue Salute Sunset

Blue Salute Sunset. Turner Speaking From Beyond the Horizon
Oil on Board    55 x 55 cm

Haiku:
Learning from a Master

A daunting prospect
Following giant footsteps
And reputation

Walking in a dream
And looking through Turner’s eyes
With captivation

SLATER-Black Nene Willows

Black Nene Willows
Oil on Canvas    65 x 55 cm

Haiku:
Dusk falling
Black willows weeping
Silently

The Importance Of Being Nobby

‘If you start me up
If you start me up I’ll never stop, never stop, never, never, ever stop………….

Many of my paintings have a hidden story and the memory of producing them is often indelible, which is one reason why I find so much difficulty parting with them. This one was painted in 1974 when I was 18 years old, in the grounds of Thorpe Hall, Peterborough.

SLATER-Thorpe HallI was very unhappy with this painting and it has survived only because my grandmother prevented me from tearing it to shreds and throwing it in the bin. As far as I was concerned, it was a disaster. She, however, effectively stole it from me and it hung on the wall of her living room until she died in 2006.

It was produced as the answer to the landscape paper for my Art A level, the last of the three sections which that exam comprised. Accompanied by our Art teacher there were about half a dozen of us sitting in various positions around Thorpe Hall that day and I remember it was sunny, warm and quiet, an idyllic spot to paint ‘en plein air’ close to the heart of the city. Not for me though, I struggled from start to finish. It was one of those very frustrating painting days when I felt everything was going hopelessly wrong.

After about two and a half hours the tranquility and silence was broken by the fizzing sound of a drawing board flying through the air, and heads turned in unison to witness it nosedive and disappear into long grass about 30 feet away. Unlike a boomerang it didn’t come back. I felt exasperated and, like my painting, I then hurled myself off in the opposite direction. I didn’t nosedive into long grass, I just took a long hike. As far as I was concerned my A level landscape submission was worm food.

My art teacher during my time at Deacon’s School was Mr ER Clark. We called him ‘Sir’ to his face, otherwise he was ‘Nobby’. During my early years at the school he scared me to bits, as did many of the staff. When he was around no-one dared to speak and to have hair touching the collar or hands in pockets risked receipt of the death penalty. On one occasion I had to provide him with an essay, ’10 pages on Dürer, 10 words a line, for tomorrow morning’, for not having my tie done up correctly.

Early years were tough but as we grew older another side slowly revealed itself. Although he would always have a sharp bite he began to present a different character. He became someone we could converse with and there was a wicked humour at times too. When I was a sixth former I innocently asked him why he’d kept a treadle pottery wheel as there were 3 electrically powered wheels in the art room and suggested he should perhaps sell it as an antique. From nowhere words suddenly hit me like a machine gun, gaining in volume as they gained pace. In one breath and without punctuation he gave me the full barrage – ‘That wheel has been in this studio for 18 years I’ve been here for 18 years if that’s an antique then I’m an antique is that what you’re calling me Slater? An ANTIQUE????!!!!!!! Blown completely away by the shock, I floundered for words. I was rooted to the spot, my mouth agape. He turned on his heels and skipped away, leaving me wilting, while my comrades stood like Garfield puppets glued to the art room windows.

Later that year I submitted two articles which were printed in ‘The Deaconian’ publication. The first described a day in the life of a long suffering Art teacher, the second was a Top of the Pops styled Best Sellers List, using song titles which I felt reflected different members of staff. Next to Mr Clark I wrote Alice Cooper’s ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’.

Returning to that A level landscape day in June ’74, instead of the hairdryer treatment a voice of calm tracked me down, with a suggestion that tossing my board into the abyss should really not be my final creative act as a Deacon’s School Art Student. I was encouraged to reassess the situation and continue the assignment. Regardless of the resulting painting, it was the right thing to do and another lesson learned. Things don’t necessarily ever go the way you want, but it’s important never to give up. Perseverance is the key.

Nobby provided us with a huge catalogue of catchphrases spoken with a voice that resonated through his nose and when our Sixth form Art group left the school, not only did we present him with an engraved tankard as a goodbye gift, we also wrote 50 of his well worn ones on parchment in the finest calligraphy we could muster. Of my favourites, ‘Chatting!’, ‘Duck Egg Blue’, ‘It’s the old, old story’, ‘You can’t see the wood for the trees’, ‘Look for the green in the hair’, ‘Slater you’re making the breasts look like brass bowls’ and his particular and individual pronunciation of the colour ‘Tur-kwarze’ (Turquoise), will stay with me forever.

When I wasn’t accepted at my first choice college for my Foundation Art year my disappointment was overwhelming, however he spoke to me in harsh terms. ‘It isn’t the end of the world’, he said, ‘Get in at your second choice instead’. I did, at Loughborough, and from there I progressed to Coventry for a BA Hons course in Fine Art, where I met my future wife. He was right. It wasn’t the end of the world, it was only the start of it.

I kept in touch with him while at art school and would often pay him a visit when I was home. We continued to meet at intervals when I became a Lecturer myself and he visited several of my exhibitions, which included both solo and group shows. A few years ago he contacted me to say he no longer had need of his personal art materials and he passed them on to me. In the summer of 2005 I held a solo exhibition at the Blandscliff Gallery in Scarborough, the work produced using Nobby’s materials.

So what is the role of a teacher? When does it end? During my years at school I feared him but his teaching developed my practical skills as well as instilling discipline in my studio practise. Nobby never presented Art as being recreational or the ‘rest’ lesson. Although I was genuinely interested in the subject, it was he that got me going and for that I am eternally grateful.

After leaving school I maintained contact for 40 years and he became a friend, despite the fact I never used his preferred name. He would often repeat the line ‘Colin. Call me Roy’. I would always reply, ‘Okay……..Sir’. He was a constant source of reassurance, encouragement and constructive criticism. Above all, I knew I could trust his opinion and he would always tell me the truth. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing what I am today. It’s as simple as that.

Last summer I visited a different him in hospital. Today I attended his funeral. Tomorrow there will be a collection of angels seriously ticked off for talking in assembly.

Thanks for everything Nobby. I’m really going to miss you. You started me up, and now I’ve started, I won’t ever stop………………..

ERC

Edward Roy Clark
27.6.27 – 16.2.14

George Bellows (1882-1925):

Modern American Life

9.6.13

SLATER-Bellows p4

An afternoon with George Bellows at the Royal Academy, and an exhibition of contrasts.

Gatherings in open spaces, and in claustrophobic cityscapes and interiors. Freezing winters, suffocating summers. Powerful, stark structures of a city metamorphosing into a modern age. The rural idyll of fields and sea. Urchins bathing naked or hurling cans at each other in slum gutters. Rich crones and pampered socialites playing tennis or skating. City inhabitants stacked in tenements and as a human tsunami wave surging through streets of high rise. Countrysides for relaxing strolls in sun and snow. Crowds with blurred and smeared faces cheer on boxers disfiguring each other in brutal combat, their blooded flesh painted like carcasses hanging in an abattoir. Portraits of the clean and well dressed ‘Nouveau Riche’.

The dark and sordid, the light and happy. An artist of opposites. Early works bristle with risk and sweaty energy, later compositions with safety, calm and tranquility. Regardless of the subject, the successful pieces for me were active and animated, physical configurations flourishing with exuberant brushstrokes and vigorously scribbled lines – and Life! With a capital L. That’s the Bellows I’ll remember. A painter with an adrenalin rush of mark making!

SLATER-Bellows p1   SLATER-Bellows p2   SLATER-Bellows p3

 

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