In Vino Veritas

Episode 8

A year of working in the theatre was drawing to a close. It was time to move on and go and see, for real, the artworks that I had been studying. Theatre life had been good, not only the painting, but also doing behind the scenes drawings of touring dance companies, the Russians in particular.

Working on a pantomime was great fun and was to have later repercussions. This one was all about the sea, with submerged wrecks, sea creatures, all manner of sailing ships and, of course, lighthouses.
Some things still stay with me.

1. How to get a dead level horizontal line running across 10 metres of stretched canvas.
I bet Raphael and his mates did this in Renaissance times. Simply attach a cord to the correct height at either end, ‘chalk’ and tension said cord. Stand in the middle, pull the cord back like a bowstring and let it go. SNAP! There is your line.
2. Painting scrims was also fun. This involved painting on an open weaved fabric (difficult), but when completed, if it was lit from the front it could be a brick wall, lit from the back it virtually disappeared.
3. My last theatre experience. This was at a different theatre and consisted of a one- man show of the most withering satire on Australian life. This guy was stunning, a class act. His name? Barry Humphries.

OK. How to get to Europe? The Boeing 707 was well and truly around by now, but pricey. The next cab off the rank was the good ship Ellinis. If one thumbs through the current crop of cruise liners, at jaw dropping prices, it might be tempting to put the Ellenis in this class. Not quite. Somebody less charitable than me described it as 8 million rivets sailing in formation. Unfair and untrue.

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Prospects of loads of female company for the best part of a month lent a certain sense of anticipation to this sojourn. What diminished said keenness was, to put it mathematically, the male/ female numbers ratio.
It was lopsidedly male.
WHY?

Rare Work Available!

Having recieved a message from a collector of my work, who needs to downsize, there are a few older paintings available to purchase. This does not happen very often! And it is interesting to see the transition and development of my work. Email me if you are interested in purchasing any of the following:

Cast Your Bread 1

Episode 1

Another scene. A desert island. The lone inhabitant (he had tried to sail across the Pacific in a very large yoghurt pot) was surviving, but only just. He had found enough to eat locally, but had saved up the tastiest bits of his sandals for a kind of culinary ‘Michelin Moment’. However, after some instinctive premonition he decided on a more modest seafood meal instead.

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Was there some kind of celebration in prospect, perhaps not unconnected with the world he had left behind? This was an immense loss, as powerful as life itself.
He gazed out to sea, this gap would never be closed….. nostalgia flooded in.
But wait. He sat bolt upright.

Ah…tricks, a mirage, a cliche even… Was that the light bouncing off the neck of a bottle?
A bottle that bobbled toward him? Did this bottle contain a tightly rolled scroll of documents? His sun- stroked neurones had led to a wandering mind more than once.
Our man was a fine string player in an earlier life. Could this vessel contain an autographed score of Beethoven’s Op. 132 string quartet? Music that the Gods could listen to but could never hope to write. Ever. His spirits rose.
He waded out to get the very real object. Yes, a scroll of papers was contained within.
As he gently extracted them, our man wept.
A moment to be savoured! The text was in English!
He settled down under his favourite palm tree and began to read. It was a review of a conceptual art show. It was headed ‘Beyond Aesthetics, Readings in cultural intervention’. There was pages of this stuff… deep, deep, joy!
Agog with anticipation, he read the following:

‘During the past two decades the breakdown in humanist metaphysics has radically transformed theories of the production and reception of art. Humanist fallacies of the individual as an essential self have been deconstructed by post- structural explanations of the formation of subjectivity through language and its representations.
The art object is no longer conceived as an autonomous, transparent device reflecting the unmediated intentions of its maker, but read as a visual text ‘read’ through the lens of the cultural fabric which furnishes the meanings encoded in art.
Roland Barthes’s famous dictum that ‘the birth of the reader must be at the cost of of the death of the author’ has suffered an overly reductive interpretation as simply entailing the impossibility of originality, which has been used to justify the supposed futility of attempts to generate new imagery. Abandoning the modernist pursuit of
‘Making It new’, reactionary artists now gratuitously ‘quote’ existing images. But as Jean Baudrillard commented, quotation is never a goal in itself… the play on second and third degree quotes…. is a pathological form of the end of art, a sentimental form’.
If, as Barthes wrote, ‘a text’s unity lies not in its origin but…….’

At this point, (about 10% of ‘beyond aesthetics’), our man drifted off…. perchance to dream… about what I wonder?

See ‘cast your bread’ episode 2

In Vino Veritas

This post contains mature content in the form of life drawing and nudity.

Chapter 5: The Journey to Thinking Big

At the end of secondary school it was time to go back to Melbourne and stay with my Aunt. Why? It meant that I could study art at the grandly named Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. This activity was not so much a learning curve, rather more a vertical axis.
The tuition was very good, three years illustration was followed by 2 years painting. I was , and still am, deeply devoted to both. Customer satisfaction. Life drawing, a splendid discipline, was included in all of this.

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DA studio NZ2
This is a shot of my continued life drawing practice, in my studio in Auckland a good few years later. More on that to come. Photograph courtesy of Geoff Studd. Models name Penny.

In my final year I was employed as a lecturer to teach the first years and part-timers this noble art…. a valuable experience. The students did not seem to be troubled by the age of their tutor. His love of the subject seemed to preclude this. I got my diploma and learnt how to do many things.
THEN! Overtaken by events. A major theatre in the city had approached the college to see if they had a student who could paint theatre scenery. I could imagine how the conversation went… ‘We need somebody who can draw and represent the physical world…for God’s sake don’t send us some abstract expressionist or cubist clown or a mystic Meg. We want technical skill. Give him, or her, anything, and they can do it. They will have to work on a huge scale. More than that, they will have to produce results before the pubs open’!

I got the nod. My meeting with the head honcho was salutary. He was short, golden bristled in a Scottish sort of way, and had the eye colouring of a Norwegian fjord.
He gave me a ‘O God, here’s another one’ sort of look and then pronounced in a voice flat with indifference, ‘Look,sunshine, if you can’t do this, I will bloody soon find somebody who can. I can’t frig around, let’s go’. I have heard similar sentiments expressed many times over the years. You either drop your bundle or it puts iron in the soul. As if to under- score this, he produced a cartoon ( in the original sense, a preparatory study). This was about A2 landscape in format and had to be scaled up to a massive 10×5 metre back cloth. Suddenly, a jaw dropping moment.
Our leader folded the cartoon twice, and tore it from top to bottom in order to make 3 identical panels. He took one, his long time assistant another, and he gave the third to me.
‘OK,’ he commanded, gesturing at the prepared canvas, ‘you guys start at either end, I’ll do the middle. Don’t screw it up’
I am as dry as a dead dingo’s….. ‘You have an hour to get the first stage knocked in’.

I looked at the cartoon. It was a kind of Baroque hell. Greek columns, acanthus leaves, Brunelleschian architecture, figures in alcoves, tracery, decorative stone and woodwork, and on and on. It was to accompany a Strauss type Viennese Operetta. I am sure the blue Danube must appear sooner or later. That would be a doddle.
Enter the real world…

Two legacies of all this… 1. Only ever using thin paint as the cloths had to be rolled for transport; and 2. An undying love for working on a very big scale.

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Opus 5 Requiem, dye and acrylic on canvas, 198 x 370cm

 

Glyndebourne Exhibition

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email version 1

Glyndebourne Festival Gallery is open to Festival ticket holders only.

www.glyndebourne.com

You can visit my studio at any time by appointment,

email: info@davidarmitage.com or call: 01825 873477

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In Vino Veritas

Chapter 3

The big game of the day was marbles. About a 2 metre ring, inscribed in the grass or gravel was surrounded by players who simply  had to knock the opponents marbles out of the circle with a well aimed shot. Every now and then bigger kids would appear with soft clay on their boots and proceed to walk through a well stocked ring. Bastards.
Never mind that. The joy of these things were the rainbow hued cats eyes red, green blue, and all the rest… Colour again.  I would hold them up to the light and watch the colours refract and glow, sometimes one to each eye. I would miss my turn doing this.
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At school I had a two-tier swivel pencil case, a ruler which doubled as a spirit level and a range of soft to hard pencils. They all had a wonderful smell, even the eraser.
All art paraphernalia had a  heavenly scent (like that!) which remains with me to this day.
The walls of our house were bedecked, or spotted with the usual range of ‘furniture pictures’ a phenomenon which has remained largely unchanged in contemporary dwellings. It was mostly agreeable or anodyne stuff that contributed to domestic serenity but was wholly unconnected with the visceral power of painting. Pictures again. Bits of French confectionery (street scenes) rubbed shoulders with exotic scarf/earring portraits which exhibited a certain leaden charm. A blast of the chilly wind of C17 Dutch Protestantism made an appearance,  so at least we had, in these cathedral prints, moved off the picturesque.
But, I wondered, as I gazed across the unique splendour of the Tasmanian landscape, why hasn’t somebody not done something with this? By that I meant not knocking out cosy European models, but establishing the spirit of the place in a new language.
The answer to that came many years later when I was a student in Melbourne.
His name was Fred Williams , an uncharismatic moniker, but boy, did he do what I wished for.  Stunning. Met him in the print studios at the college. Lovely man, an inspiration. Still.OA6.1965##S.jpg.505x375_q85

© Estate of Fred Williams

In Vino Veritas 2

Chapter 2

More from the early years…

Apart from the paper mill, the local economy depended on the production of hops, berry fruits and mixed farming. The river supported a rich crop of willow trees, whose elegant branches were just made for fashioning longbows. The arrows were bamboo (sometimes weighted a bit) and the tough bowstring came from the mill. Hardly the stuff of Welsh archers, but pretty good. Later, being fed on a diet of American Westerns at the local Odeon, we simply had to have Winchester repeaters in our saddle bags. One quickly learnt the perils of having exposed metal parts on your home-made rifle. How often had one seen a lantern jawed sheriff nearly blown off his horse because the baddies saw the sunlight glinting off his shotgun. BEWARE!

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The unadulterated tosh of the Westerns was at least entertaining and as predictable as gravity. These were replaced by the saccharine kitsch of the musical. A huge turn-off for kids. No sex, endless antiseptic dance routines couldn’t stand a chance against the goings on in Dodge City. John Wayne was a piss-poor actor, so was the script and the direction. Any 5 year old could spot that, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. I fell in love with Nancy at the cake shop but she didn’t want to know, even when I wore my Lone Ranger cozzie. Never mind.

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After the trip to Melbourne it was time to get down to work. This involved sitting on my bedroom floor surrounded by pens, paper, crayons et. al. and trying to draw.

The gap between expectation and achievement could be measured in light years. One thing never in doubt was the magic of making marks, the overwhelming power of colour and how all this could fashion another world, as real as the one in which we exist. (As with any beginner, child or adult, the aim is to represent the physical world. Once one can do this, it is time to move on. Whether you take anybody else with you on this endeavor is problematic, to say the least.)

My reading matter, or being read to, kicked off with the Little Golden books, which consisted of pretty ordinary versions of Grimm of Perrault. Yet the imagery lives on. I can still see the witch holding Hansel’s hand to see if he was fattening up nicely for the hotting-up  pot behind him. Crossing cattle grids or bush bridges was nerve wracking… I bet that ogre was down there somewhere. I was sure I could hear him.

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A bit further on, the English childrens classics were widely available. Although American and sometimes Australian stuff was around, I had a bit of difficulty responding to the European muted settings and fauna. Squaring the sylvan vegetation of the Ashdown Forest with what I saw walking to school was difficult. This ranged from a kaleidoscope of crimson Rosellas to a drunken bunch of sulphur crested cockatoos. Once the latter had crashed their way into a tree, their clatter would cease, as if by some celestial intervention. The reason was partly celestial, a ‘wedgie’ so called, was on the look out for a spot of lunch.

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What was really a great sadness for my mother was my developing addiction to a form of literature of a much lesser God… COMICS! Worse, American and all about Superman. Tosh of course, but what was the attraction? COLOUR. Trowelled on primaries had all the subtlety of an outside dunny in a cyclone. They also had a powerful smell and contained other niceties like speech and thought balloons. These features were to re-appear in a different form decades later.

Another life-long passion was, oddly enough, established at the age of 3 or 4. This was an unbroken link between our Sunday lunch and so called ‘classical music’. The music mostly took the form of C19 warhorses but as I tucked into my roast lamb I absorbed the sound as well, and the hooks were in, never to slacken. My debt to my parents for this gift is immense.

In Vino Veritas 1

I was born at a very early age…

The aged Dakota DC3 trundled towards a rather basic building at the Hobart airport. It’s piston engines set up a splendid racket and the heat haze smelt pretty good too. This was not wasted upon a wide-eyed 4 year old child bursting with excitement within the confines of the ranch style terminal.

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A trip to Melbourne! This prospect opened the door to another world, a much bigger one. One with loads of trains and trams, big buildings, clouds of people and… some of the houses even had stained-glass windows… even the sky was a better shade of blue. But more than that, if this was one door, how many more were there in this world? The child flirted with this open ended concept. The other huge driver in his short life was his greatest wish that he could learn the skills in order to draw these aircraft. The magic was spun further with the plane ride. Who remembers the sloping aisle to the cockpit? You sat in chairs rather than seats. And those boiled sweets! The hostess gave loads to the kids. AND… being able to visit the cockpit and sit with the pilots as they left the Bass Strait and began their approaches to Melbourne. Magic. Try that now.

And yet, greater excitement awaited. His aunts serried ranks of multi-coloured biscuit barrels were stuffed with a cornucopia of goodies. Viewed from today’s healthy diet platform they would be biscotta non-grata. Never mind, the teddy bears, the stars of the show, were little treasures and will forever remain so. The trip from Tassie was a harbinger of things to come. Even at the ripe old age of four it was clear that there is another world outside this insular community.

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I started life in a mill town, a good chunk of the economy was predicated on that paper producer. It also established a kind of local real estate hierarchy which mirrored that found in the mill. The town was bisected by a fast flowing river, good for swimming but could be dangerous. My mother did not know how close I came to never writing this stuff when I slipped off a greasy submerged plank. A flailing arm grabbed a mooring rope. The arrival home was tricky… how to get into some dry clothes and look relaxed and happy whilst re-living the suffocating horror of the water closing over my head. I attended a funeral service for a child at about that time. Maybe that WAS me and I have entered a parallel universe. I mentioned this concept to my cat Trevor but he looked at me as though I was a chop short of a barbie.

Well here we are then…

Someone told me I should write a blog, and I always do as I’m told [pause for laughter] or perhaps I got a ghost writer to do it all for me… who would ever know?!

Giverny low res

Hmmm… anyway here we are at my first blog post, I’ll keep it fairly brief. Above here you see one of my most loved paintings, Giverney which will be out on show at my studio during the Glyndebourne Festival season – more on that next time. For those of you who don’t know, my main passion is abstract painting and colour, always colour. Whether it’s from an inkpot applied to paper, or from a bucket tipped onto canvas, IMG_6561there is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than colour.

La couleur est mon obsession quotidienne, ma joie et mon tourment – Claude Monet

Colour is my daylong obsession, joy and torment.

You can see more of my paintings on my website and also facebook and instagram. Yes I am a man of the 21st century!

But there are many more strings to my bow; does anyone remember The Lighthouse Keeper? Mr and Mrs Grinling and of course Hamish are now entertaining a new generation of children, and many people still tell us how much they loved these books when they were young.

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I have also illustrated many other books, including the Kate Greenaway Award nominated Queen of the Night:

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And most recently a self published book Winterreise, bringing to life the timeless song cycle for voice and piano, composed by Franz Schubert and including the poems of Wilhelm Muller.

David Armitage

But what there’s more? I hear you gasp! Well being a well traveled and well matured specimen I have many a tale to tell which you may find diverting; and being a Tasmanian by origin I do love a bit of banter over the cricket which you may find amusing or infuriating depending on your allegiance. I’ll try to be gentle on you.

1796-7-8 e1 david armitage triptych 25 feb 2017 copy

That’s all for now. Make sure you come back again soon to see what I’ve been up to, or subscribe by email… someone’s got to keep an eye on me!