Monday, 24 September 2012

Still: Roelof Bakker inspires 26 writers

I'm looking at my own copy of Still as I write this - it arrived a week ago, and I've been saving it. It's a treat for a rainy day, which today surely is.

On the cover, it simply says 'edited by Roelof Bakker', but that only tells part of the story. Roelof took a wonderful sequence of photos of Hornsey Town Hall. It had been abandoned and he saw the beauty and poignancy of its empty spaces. He made an exhibition of his pictures. And then, because someone - Andrew Blackman, I think - said that there were stories in them there pictures. he commissioned 26 of us to write them. And then he set up his own press and published the book, complete with gorgeous photos. What a man!

I'm off to the launch on Wednedsay, at Foyles, and I shall be saying a huge thank you to Roelof for including me in his project - it has been a true privilege.

Roelof interviewed me about my story, by the way, so you can see the interview and the photo I chose over on the Negative Press blog.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Harold Mockford - light and dark

Yesterday I gave myself a treat and drove down to the Towner gallery in Eastbourne to see its retrospective of Harold Mockford. To be honest, from the reproduction of his picture in their leaflet, I wouldn't have bothered - and the image above doesn't do him justice either. Luckily for me, a friend told me I had to go and see for myself. Thank you Colin!

Anyway, the picture above is Mockford's When the Lights Come on, and it's wonderful. He's captured completely that feeling of an English winter, of being outside when most other people are already home, turning on their lights, making cups of tea, of looking in and wondering.

Most of the pictures I saw yesterday were painted in Eastbourne and Newhaven and on the South Downs, but they're far from provincial even though their subject is so localised. They're about a particular place, yes, but they're also about place - the energy, solidity and secrets of any where.

Mockford often paints scenes at dusk, so many of his pictures have large areas of shade, or almost complete dark - but they also shine with light. His Newhaven ferries, lamps at level crossings, moonlight on the Long Man at Wilmington pulse with energy in the darkness.

In some of his pictures, he focuses for us and paints in detail only the core of the picture, and leaves its surroundings dark, or roughly painted. The effect is discomfiting - there's something going on here that we don't understand. It's as though suddenly we have tunnel vision and stuff's going on outside our field of vision that he's not letting us see. Even where he paints the whole picture, we know there's more to it than meets the eye - these are landscapes and streets with blood running through their veins. They're vivid, alive.

I wondered as I looked what makes Mockford's pictures so powerful when landscape paintings can be so emotionally flat in less able hands. And I concluded that it's not so much technique - though that's there in spades - but gut feeling. This isn't a man who took a photo of some shapely hill, or unusual park gate, and painted it back in his studio. Mockford paints from memory because these landscapes and streets are part of him. It's like he's painting himself. What's impressive is that he can reveal it to us.

Finally, as a tribute to Mockton, I took a photo as I left the Towner. I love the way he includes arrows on the road in several of his paintings, always pointing away from the picture's apparent focus, sending us off sideways, towards something outside the painting. I hope he'd smile at this one.

Monday, 10 September 2012

I'm not much of a swan but I like swimming

On Thursday my friend Steffi Pusch's exhibition of photos opens at the Ashdown gallery in Forest Row. This isn't one of her photos - it's snap of me swimming in the Medway on a roasting hot day a couple of weeks ago.

Swimming in the river is one of my most favourite treats. We cycled up over Speldhurst and Bidborough - sharp hills both - and down to Leigh where we threw our bikes down and jumped in. It was contagious - some passing walkers flung their clothes off too and dived in to join us.

Anyway, that's a diversion. Steffi's photos of the river are beautiful . I'm really glad she's showing the sequence she took for our Old Stile Press book, The Swimmer and to help her celebrate her opening, I'll be reading from the story on Thursday night.