RAPT stands for the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust. It is a truly worthy cause. Many people find themselves in prison each year having committed crimes while being addicts. The answer has been to lock them up for a period of time and then let them out. At this point, having had no help to deal with the root cause of the problem, their addict ion, they most likely go back to commit further crimes. RAPT is anon government funded, independent charity,and the only groupworking in prisons offering help to people trapped in this destructive cycle.
My wife Sophy and I have been supporters of RAPT for a few years now. Sophy is a great reader and loves quizzes and Rapt hold a quiz once a year at the Tabernacle in Nottinghill Gate to raise vitally needed funds. The fellow contestants are generally made up of the West London intellectual cool elite so I’m not sure where I come in but the evening is great fun and as we have a secret weapon on our team in the form of a human Google, we usually do quite well or even win. In fact he is so brilliant that the rest of us just sit in awe. This freed me up to do a little drawing on my note taking paper which I have put at the top of the page. Rick is second from the left.
The Radio 2 DJ and talk show host Jeremy Vine was the quiz master and the questions were set by Judith Kepple, the first person to win on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. They were brilliant. We had a brief talk about the good RAPT has done given by a former prisoner
who had been through the program and could speak with genuine authority on the subject.
This year I offered a days art lesson as a lot in the auction. Here is the description from the catalogue.
I got quite a good pitch from Jeremy Vine. Once I gave a painting to be auctioned for a racing charity and the auctioneer was the TV presenter Clair Balding. She started the auction off, what do I hear for a painting by artist Will Topley.
£2000 someone shouted.
£2000?!!! Are you sure? She answered.
Not exactly encouraging.
My lot went well and raised £350 for the cause which pleased me greatly.
Here is a video clip I discretely shot over my shoulder during the bidding. The Camera shake is me getting excited.
The evening was a great success and we came in second place, two points behind the winners. Most of the answers that I knew were also known by Rick (the fore-mentioned human Google) but I did know the name Marcel Duchamp signed on the infamous urinal – R Mutt.
Earlier this year I was asked to paint an interior of a house in Berkshire. It is a very beautiful house that has quite recently been decorated to the highest standard. Each morning I was let in by William the butler and was fed with coffee and biscuits throughout the day by him, Janet or Anna. Luxe.
I selected a good spot with a clear view into the middle of the room that took in the fireplace and just getting in the three walls with windows. When I paint an interior my aim is to try to express the feel of the room in one view. This isn’t wholly possible but I like to try and get as many of the important aspects in as possible. Usually, I would say the fireplace is the focus of most English houses. A view if there is one is certainly something to try to include. Usually the chairs and sofas face the fire so they often obscure the view. One way I have found to avoid this problem is to get as high as I reasonably can without loosing the human scale.
To this end I have a folding aluminium platform with a wooden surface made up of wood from pallets. This all sits on a rug to catch any paint that may try to make a jump for it. On the platform I have a tall stool and folding table. Many artists paint standing up and in an ideal world this is probably best as it encourages you to regularly get back from the painting, something that you get lazy about when sitting. However stepping backwards off a platform is not good. I also find that the relationships between the shapes in the furniture is so complex that keeping still is the only way not to get totally confused and sitting makes this easier.
I started off with a drawing done in pencil on paper. In order to get the feel for the whole room I like to get a view of up to120 degrees and at this wide an angle get the big relationships right, something which it is important to achieve. If this goes wrong, any detail, however beautifully executed, could end up in the wrong place and therefore have to be redone. Hours can be spent and lost this way.
I was to include the Labrador Spike in the painting so I did some roughs from life. However he is very boisterous and although obedient, he can only keep still for a couple of minutes so I did an oil sketch using my roughs and a few photos I took.
Next I did a quick version including Spike, and at this point it was decided that it was unfair on Rollo, the other Labrador, so he was to go in the main painting too. I now felt I could start so I scanned my drawing and when I had worked out the best size and proportions I printed it on paper to 14 x 18 inches and transferred to to a gesso panel that I prepared using rabbit skin glue size and whiting. I take a lot of trouble to decide on the best proportions for a painting of an interior and the panels are made up by me accurately to the last millimetre.
Just to keep me on my toes a fender was added in front of the fire. Extra bits of furniture arriving from time to time is something you have to learn to contend with if you are a painter of interiors and working slowly.
Towards the end of the painting we had a bit of a heatwave; it was now that I decided to light the fire and put some flames into the fireplace. I should have done this earlier when it was cooler but I had kept the fire until last as one may save the cherry off a cake to eat because it’s your favourite.
You get to know the people who work in a house quite well when you paint there over a period of time and in the same way that when a portrait is over you miss seeing your sitter, I miss the staff who looked after me so well.
In spite of being born in Hong Kong (a great racing nation) and my parents being members of the Jockey Club’s country club at Beas River, I had never even stepped foot on a racecourse before I met my wife Sophy in 1996. That was the year that Helissio won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. We watched it on television and that was the first race I ever watched. Sophy’s family were always involved in racing. Her father, was member of the Jockey Club and had horses in training with Bernard Van Cutsem and then with James Toller. Sophy has always had something in training with James too.
She has always been very supportive of my painting and I think she would even like it if I were an equine Artist. The problem is that the difference between a yearling that makes £4 million at the sales and one that is led out unsold at £1000 are not that great to the untrained eye and no one would thank you for painting their Group One winner a bit offset on the near fore.
One of the greatest living racehorse painters is Susan Crawford. She trained at studio Simi where she and Julian Barrow were students together. While he specialised in houses she specialised in racehorses. There is a queue a mile long to have your horse painted by her and she is the Artist of choice for many of the owners of Group one and classic winners. This would take some getting your head round if you were at a London Art school any time after about 1960, as conventional subjects painted in this kind of realistic way was looked down on by the cognoscenti. Witness Munnings’ great popularity amongst all racegoers and the public generally and the profound lack of his pictures in public collections. If you want to annoy a highbrow in the Art world, tell them that you love Munnings. Then cover yourself up well as the spit flies with their rage. However, in the great words of Liberace, Susan Crawford is probably “crying all the way to the bank”.
It is strange that this attitude should exist today as the worship of money and success has reached such great heights in the Art world that it seems sometimes to be the only way Art is judged.
When you try and draw a horse it is VERY difficult, it requires a great level of skill and knowledge. When I put a horse in one of my paintings and show it to my wife she says; very nice darling in such a way that I know I have to try again.
Sophy has a quarter share or what is known as a leg in a horse called Loving Spirit that was running at Newbury last week and as I am friendly with one of the directors of the course I rang him up for permission to paint there. I asked if he minded if I took my white umbrella, I was slightly worried that someone would say it could spook one of the horses but he said I wouldn’t need it – “it won’t rain” he assured me.
We got to the racecourse with plenty of time to spare. I wanted to set up on the National Hunt course which runs inside the flat course so that I could get a good view of the stands and the racing and also not be in the way. It was a rotten day and as I stepped onto the course who should I pass but my friend, the director of the racecourse, Eric Penser. He was holding up an umbrella against the drizzling rain, this really appealed to my sense of humour and being both intelligent and Swedish he saw the joke immediately.
I had already got an idea of what view I wanted. This was good as it saved time, it was also bad because I was not so open to discovering an exciting composition should it suddenly loom into view. I used a viewfinder with a red filter to reduce what I saw to it’s tonal values and help me to select the composition. Being a dull day it was even more important to make a good shape to the painting.
Just after I had got started the rain came down in a deluge. Luckily I had my Jullian umbrella and I found a good place to attach it to on the lid of my French easel. I hadn’t used this easel for a number of years but my setup worked very well. The wind blew some water onto me and my palette but I survived and by about 3.30 the sun vaguely made a break through the cloud cover and I slapped a touch of blue into the sky.
Although I was standing away from any route that anyone would take to get anywhere I met a number of people. About half a dozen race-going friends came up to say hello. Then there were stall handlers, someone who may have been the clerk of the course, the course photographers, who took lots of pictures and came to check my progress before every race and document it with more photos. There was also a security guard who asked lots of questions and gave a great deal of advice such as;
guard “I see you are using muted colours, is that your style?”
me; not really, it is a very dull day today
guard; “There are lots of strong colours you could pull out if you wanted”
guard; “I suppose you have permission to be here?”
guard; “So are you going to cut the bottom half off the painting?
me; “I quite like it like that”
guard; “no, you’ve left far to much room at the bottom. A bit would be alright but that’s far too much”
and so on.
Loving Spirit ran a good race to come 5th. I didn’t put him in the painting. It is considered bad luck to have a horse painted until it has won at least a listed race, preferably a group race or even a classic. Instead I painted Snoano beating Acaster Malbis in the Haynes Hanson and Clark Conditions Stakes. You can only tell by the clock and the jockeys colours that it is that race. The whole thing was over so fast that I sort of made it up afterwards if I’m honest.
After Loving’s race Sophy went and waited for me in the car and I carried on until about 5.30 or 6pm. Then I said goodbye to my new friend the security guard and called it a day. Wet and tired but with a sense of achievement and a warm glow of happiness.
I have never been to an Indian wedding but have heard that the party goes on for 3 days and nights and that they are both spectacular and great fun. Last weekend we went to the party for my stepson Declan’s 21st at his father’s house Fonthill. It turned out to be an event to rival any Indian celebration.
We spent Thursday night at Splendens, a pair of studio cottages in Fonthill Park that are managed by the Beckford Arms. I would highly recomend staying there.
That night we had dinner at The Lamb at Hindon with Declan and a number of his friends.
On Friday, Declan and his friends spent the day enjoying the superb shooting at Fonthill. There are a large number of people involved in a day’s shooting, The keepers need to raise all the birds and protect them from disease and predators; The land needs to be looked after; special crops planted for cover; woods swept, but some areas made for more cover. The drives must be planned and the day organised to suit the prevailing conditions – wind direction and speed, rain, cloud cover and temperature are all factors to be taken into account.
Some hours before it starts the beaters go out with sticks and bring the birds to where they are needed to start the drive. When the drive starts it is all beautifully timed. The keeper directs everyone so that the birds fly out at regular intervals over the guns. They need to fly high as shooting at low flying birds is both unsporting and dangerous.
I have always wanted to paint a shoot, but when I go shooting I am generally invited as one of the guns, and to put ones gun down and pick up a brush in its place would be unforgivable. This however was a great chance. I found a really good place to stand for the last drive before lunch where i was out of the way of the guns, but with a good view of the pegs where they would stand.
At 9.30am I started on the landscape. Everyone turned up at about 12.30pm by which time I had the landscape more or less done. The action is fast and doesn’t last more than about 15 or 20 minutes but I managed to get Declan in as the main figure, some other guns standing further down the line, a few partridges flying past and a shot bird falling.
In the afternoon I loaded for a couple of people. Then, in the evening there was the Estate Party in the Tithe Barn. I thought of having a rest but instead I went across the road and found a view of Fonthill House from the park.
The party started at 6pm but my stepdaughter said she would take my wife to it in her car which gave me until just before 7pm to do something. I got down to painting and the time flashed by. In the end, I only just got to the party in time to hear Declans speech thanking everyone. I was a good speech and he got in a fair number of jokes to cheer it all along. We were pretty tired after all that and as I had taken full advantage of the canapes, I was ready for bed.
On Saturday I got up early and went to the stable yard to paint. The day’s work there starts early so it was all fairly peaceful by 9am. I found a good spot looking into the yard by one of the two entrances and asked for the horsebox to be put on the left. I had until 12 to get that done as my stepdaughter’s filly which is named Kitten was going to a show and would be travelling in the box. I love painting yards, there is tranquility with bursts of great excitment. Kitten came back at about 3pm. She won second prize and a blue rosette.
By 3.30pm it was time to leave for the station collect my son Lewis, drop him off at his hotel on the way, come back and change and then rock-on to the party. It was a great evening. Everyone made a real effort to dress up in the Carnival theme and we danced until 2.30am. Lewis and his girlfriend Andreea danced on until 9am and said that Declan was still going when they left!
The next morning I was up early again and, looking at my painting of the yard, I decided to go up there and change the values of the stables, I had done them fractionally too light. That didn’t take too long so I then turned the other way to a view of an old black barn where hay and bedding for the horses is kept. There was a nice red tractor which had caught my eye so I got an 8 by 6 inch sketch done of that. I finished it in perfect time to get back to our billet and change to go for lunch.
3 days of great fun and four paintings to show for it. However I’m not getting any younger and I felt somewhat jaded most of Monday. A truly memorable time.
I was very pleased to be asked to do the invitations for the weekend of my stepson Declan’s birthday celebrations.
There were to be two parties; the first for tenants and employees on the estate plus a few local friends, and the second bash for friends, relations and godparents.
I started off with some sketches which I sent to Declan and his father Al Margadale for approval and feedback. A scanner and email mean you can do this very easily and is one of the joys of modern life.
We worked out the design and lettering between all of us after which I worked up the design for the second invite first using gouache with bits of watercolour. The theme of the party was to be Carnival, most specifically South American carnivals, inspired by Declan’s trip there in his gap year. When I had finished I realised that the name of the person being invited would be a bit cramped and hard to see on the dark background. My solution was to add a wide oval shield to the top. I did this on a separate piece of watercolour paper and photo-shopped it together. In the end I think it strengthened the design, one of those situations like a lucky accident that happen in deisgn. I believe that post-it notes were invented as a result of trying to create an immensely strong glue which resulted in the scientists involved finding a weak glue suitable for tacking bits of paper temporarily to various surfaces.
The main focus of the invitation to the first party was the completion of the re-thatching and refurbishment of the tithe barn at Place Farm in Tisbury. This was an enormous project and a major expense for the estate as it is the largest tithe barn in the country. I tried to include a few things about the estate into the design.
Estate party rough 3
The pheasant, the tractor and horse representing the shooting, the stud and the farming that take place at Fonthill. The woodcock and the red deer are references to an estate on Islay which is also owned by the Morrisons. The rider is my step daughter Nancy wearing the Morrison racing silks and riding her coloured horse Kitten which was bred at Fonthill. I gave myself a bit of license here, the filly is only a yearling so in no way ready to be ridden over jumps.
My step son Declan is 21 and I wanted to give him something to mark the occasion. He is a country boy who loves country persuits such as fishing and shooting and although I am in two minds about giving pictures as presents, I thought I would do him something connected with his interests so I have designed a bookplate.
I have done various bookplates in the past. They are an old fashioned idea that should not be allowed to die out. You stick them in the front of your books to identify them as your own. There is a long tradition of Artists doing them and they are not all just crests and heraldry; people have had nudes and all sorts of exciting things done for them.
Declan’s bookplate shows the following:
the arch at Fonthill, where his father lives,
him mounted on his hunter,
the view of Fonthill House in the Park,
a lurcher and a hare,
a fishing rod,
a Cessna, the type of plane he leaned to fly,
a game bag,
a stags head, mounted,
a map of Islay, a place he loves and where his family have property,
a map of Africa, where he went on his gap-year.
William Hogarth, Aubrey Beardsley, Rex Whistler and John Piper all designed wonderful bookplates. I aspire to join them.
Morning view over the Chalke Valley 7″ x 8″, Oil on gesso
We went to say with friends for the Chalke Valley History Festival. It only takes about an hour and a half to get there by car from where we live but it is always much more fun to stay with friends. I got up reasonably early the next day and spent a few hours painting the view from the south front of the house. I then had an attack of FOMO; which you may know is Fear Of Missing Out and so went inside for a considerably large breakfast of scrambled eggs and kippers and a pleasant discussion on the general state of the world. It is only a small picture, so I had the bones of it done and decided to finish it off in my studio. As a rule; I don’t really like to touch a painting when I’m away from the subject but I have been reading quite a bit on light and colour of late and feel that on this occasion I did manage to bring the thing to a satisfactory conclusion. There was a curious lemony light bathing the fairly dry panorama and a streak of blue from a field of Flax which had just come into flower. This played off against a pink orange I put into the gravel in the foreground. It was hard to make the bright yellow flowers of the Verbascum Bombicyferum stand out as much as they appeared to, as the flowers are so small in the painting but you can sort of make them out as they stand proudly from the otherwise bareness of the drive.
Stooks at Chirton 6″ x 8″, Oil on aluminium panel
At the other end of summer and the linseed in the Chalke Valley will be harvested soon but in a field next to our village the corn had been cut. Instead of rectangular or cylindrical bales as we are now used to, stooks are carefully arranged to dry, set fairly regularly about the field. It is a wonderful sight and although I have seen the same thing here now for about 3 years, I have never got round to painting it. This year I got out and put that right. I don’t know if I was the cause of inspiration as I stood painting but several people stopped to take photos.
Delivery man, parked and snapping.
Artists are often dismissive of “the general public’s” visual sensibility but this little scene certainly brought out the Artist in quite a few. The farmer was very pleased with his crop and asked that I didn’t put the stook that had blown over in the wind into the picture. A bit like asking the portrait painter to make your bum a bit smaller
Farmer in his field
Strange and sometimes interesting thoughts go through ones head while painting. One of the first things that struck me was that the composition had a lot of pyramids sitting in it and it reminded me of the topiary in my friend’s garden. Although I was painting this mid morning from about 8.30am to midday so at a roughly similar time, I was looking north rather than south and the light was quite different, less lemony. I started to think of Sir William Gillies. I was introduced to his paintings by one of my tutors at the Slade, Jeffery Camp. He had been taught by Gillies at Edinburgh and had shown me several paintings by him that he owned, they were stacked up in his studio behind a curtain and they gave me quite a surprise and a thrill when I first saw them. So Gillies taught Jeffery and Jeffery taught me. Ergo Gillies taught me.
Landscape with a House and a Field by William George Gillies
The Scottish painters of that time seemed to love purples and maroons in their landscapes and once you see one of their paintings you start to see those colours whenever you walk in an overcast British landscape. It’s a strange thing as purple can be a very garish colour in the wrong hands and is very hard to pull off successfully in interior decorating. When I was a school boy my housemaster’s wife had one of our dorms painted a particularly ugly shade of purple and we found it was hard to rest your eyes anywhere in the room. It was a tough year and I expect it was that which drove us to drinking Bacardi and orange redoxon in the evening. I think purples worked for the Scottish painters as you can make very grey greens and when placed next to or near those purple hues they will read greener than they otherwise would have as they are a kind of split complimentary. If you want to try a Bacardi and Orange Rodoxon here is a link for the Rodoxon
A weekend in the South of France: we could have been characters from F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night or even St Tropez, queuing to get into cordoned off VIP areas for overpriced drinks but it was neither of those. Apart from the total lux of the billet it was a normal weekend with our friends and their family. I was free to paint and had no washing up or other daily tedium to impair my fun. All I had to do was turn up on time for lunch and dinner.
We went in comfort by train and on arrival I started a picture straight away. I only had an hour or so but I had made a start. I had decided to try using a viewfinder with a red cellophane filter that I had put together and which slips nicely into a slot in the new Pocharde box I have been making. Basically the red causes the colour to be removed from what you see and allows you to judge the composition purely on tone, similar to the way squinting at the subject does the same thing
The next day I started a picture of the back of the house. After a bit one of the children said I should sketch her so, never one to refuse the chance of a free model, I broke off to do a small 6 by 4 inch oil sketch.
In the afternoon the light had shifted and the front of the house was looking good so I started that.
I find that when the light is very directional having a couple of paintings or more on the go is the best approach. Not too many though as it becomes like spinning plates on sticks; some or all of them will crash to the ground!
Very near by the town of Roussillon stands on a hill of red ochre. On the last day I went with my host to buy local pigment and ice cream there. The ice cream was heavenly, I’ll try the pigment before long and write about it.
I had an hour free to try and finish the first picture. The problem was that I had conceived the composition in the evening and I only had a bit of morning to do it in. So I changed the painting to a morning scene – it was not good. The shapes that had been so strong in the evening had disappeared and the composition was all too flat with not much else to hold it together – probably not a keeper. I wonder if I hadn’t used the red filter whether I would have composed a picture that was so reliant on tone. |I could perhaps have done one that was less sensitive to the change in the light. Moreover observing tone to the exclusion of other elements does tend towards very dull and academic work, something I would like to guard against.
Even though they are quite small, four paintings in three days is fast as hell for me and I was really pleased with how I had done. It was a wonderful weekend. Being with our friends would have been fun enough but painting does add an extra layer to the enjoyment.
Some time ago I went to a party where I was introduced to the well know politician Roy Jenkins. I was interested to meet him and find out what he was like “off duty”, if a politician can ever be said to be off duty. Unfortunately my mind went blank and I couldn’t think of anything to say to him.
I mentioned this later to my friend Mary Anne Sieghart, who was a staff writer on The Times and well used to meeting politicians and their ilk. “Why not ask them what they think of property prices?” she replied “everyone is interested in property.”
Well I suppose that is true and with that in mind I’m going to paint a few more houses. Yesterday the weather was good so I went outside to paint our house, a Georgian old Vicarage with nice proportions. It then clouded over so the light was not what I had in mind.
The Old Vicarage, oil on board 6“ x 8“
If I get a nice evening soon I’ll be tempted to pop out side and put in some stronger highlights. Sometimes it is hard to leave paintings alone even when they are finished.
Sadly Roy Jenkins died not long after I met him. He was an interesting man as his biography on Wikipedia will testify. I’m sure that the House prices conversation would have been fascinating, had it taken place.
I had heard of Julian Barrow and seen his paintings long before I met him. I had heard that he would travel the world, arriving somewhere with perhaps two letters of introduction. He would paint a collection of pictures, have an exhibition, then sell all the paintings to the large number of new friends he had made since arriving. He would then move on to another country and do the same again. Actually I didn’t just admire him; if I’m honest I was also a little jealous.
One day I was painting an interior of the dining room in a very grand London house and I went downstairs and found him painting a view of the hall. He was completely charming and I liked him right away.
We painted together like this for about three days during which time we stopped now and again to look at each others work and to chat. His picture was then finished and he went off to paint a house in St John’s Wood. My painting took a further two months and although he was very nice about it and said that I was doing something really much greater and that his was rather slight in comparison, I couldn’t help feeling that somehow he had the best of it all.
A few years later I bumped into him and he took me to see his studio in Tite Street, Chelsea,. It had once belonged to Augustus John and the living and working areas were situated on various different floors. The rooms were tastefully decorated in a Bohemian and rather opulent way and the walls were covered in his paintings, all beautifully framed. Here he held annual parties that were renowned throughout London and the home counties. All pictures were for sale and sell they did. As I left we swore undying friendship and promised to meet up in Wiltshire very soon.
Sadly he died last year and his memorial service was crowed out with his friends, more friends than most people would make in ten lifetimes. The address captured him so well and you can read it on line here and also see some of his work
He was famously known as one of the pin-stripe painters, after the sort of clothes worn around the St James’ area of London, where all the gentleman’s clubs are. Certainly, I noticed a number of pictures by him when I was painting a portrait interior at White’s a few of years ago. He told me he trained at Signorina Simi’s, an atelier in Florence where young people went to study painting 30 or more years ago. I think there was a large emphasis on tonal value there and this may have helped him see compositions in a simplified way which enabled him to paint so quickly and yet convincingly. I have read that he studied under Annigoni so I may have mis-remembered what he told me but the end result is the same. Many people who train in the Ateliers in Florence now seem to come out as clones, it can be hard to tell their work one from another but Julian Barrow’s work is easily recognised even before seeing his hand written style signature in the bottom corner.
I still think of him and his paintings, particularly when I am trying to capture something quickly. In fact I have been painting in a house recently where I counted 6 of his pictures so far – there may well be more – and as I go past them I have a look to see how they were done.
I love paintings of country houses and I thought I would try and do one. I painted this at Fosbury in Wiltshire a couple of weeks ago and I have to say it probably owes more than a little to Julian.