Precious Metal.

headbangers

http://www.ruthgeldard.com

There was no trumpet. And looking at the disparate group of five musicians setting up onstage, I thought it unlikely that one would be produced. We had obviously made a mistake, even so I felt childishly disappointed. Looking at the band members it was impossible to match them to a particular musical genre. The audience was made up of twenty-five people standing listlessly about in the too large and rather seedy venue, except for one who was already very, very drunk and busy head butting cushions.

By now two of the performers were taking off their shirts behind the drum kit, in that way that lets you know that they know you are looking. The lead guitarist with swingy Pantene hair and sporting bare legs and cute little worn out boots (with their tongues out) slipped on an elegant shirt and morphed from AC/DC into George Michael. The other guy sauntered slowly to his drums wearing only shorts and tattoos that made a kind of bra pattern on his beautiful chest. He looked about 12.

The bass player looked stereotypically afro caribbean, long boned and laidback with slow graceful movements. I was sure he would sound like Rastamouse

The keyboard player looked exactly how I would imagine the tall one from Kraftwerk might look now (and I’ve checked and he does) holding himself very still, eyes staring straight ahead  a hand poised enigmatically.

And then they started playing…Superstition…in heavy metal style…Genius.

The lead singer appeared to have become separated from his Hell’s Angel Chapter, possessing a massive Saxon head and impressive shoulders that tapered sharply into tiny Max wall legs. The long pointy beard at the end of his chin left his face with too much flesh. Big white letters on his “T” shirt said: ALMOS, which I took to be the name of the band, until he took off his jacket and I realised it actually said: ALMOST HUMAN.

And then they started playing…Superstition… by Stevie Wonder, in heavy metal stylee… Genius.

I was completely blown away by the quality of sound, my first live exposure to heavy/rock/metal. Each performer seemed cocooned in a bubble of musical sureness and at the same time respectful of everyone else’s performance, evident in the politely given physical space as they wove around each other.

And then the very, very, drunk man took over the mike and began an eerie, whale like calling. He was ever so politely and expertly, removed from the stage by the lead singer.

The crowd went wild, well, as wild as a crowd of twenty-four could…

The performance headed towards a crescendo:  The laconic base guy’s fingers were now a blur of speed, the key board player a one-fingered and rapid, minimalist, George Michael was on his knees guitar howling, the Hell’s Angel was dark and sodden with sweat and the drummer hysterical. The sound became a satisfying, mutual hum made from the collaboration of all the elements. A sum of its collective parts.

And then the very, very, drunk man put his head on my husband’s shoulder, suddenly poetic in his drunkenness and cried: “There’s a devil in my soul and something wrong with the controls.”

The crowd went wild, well, as wild as a crowd of twenty-four could and I it was then that I understood that for this band the performance was everything and that they really would give their all for every audience, no matter how small, no matter how drunk.

…heavy metal has shaken me out of my comfort zone.

Which brings me back to Art, where of course the performance/process is also what it is all about. Accidentally finding heavy metal has shaken me out of my comfort zone and the  band’s artistic integrity coupled with wise words from the talk: The A-Z of Surviving as an Artist, with Rosalind Davis and Annabel Tilley, has inspired me to re-evaluate my practice with a focus on drawing. I rather fell out with drawing during a recent and intense period of study favouring three dimensions over two. I need to find a way to reinstate it which feels like going backwards, but at least now I have Highway to Hell, to keep me company.

Drawings coming soon.

 

The Van Gogh Museum V The Anne Frank House: How Do You Curate a Legend?

vgflowersThe Van Gogh Museum V The Anne Frank House: How Do You Curate a Legend?http://www.ruthgeldard.com

Somewhere in the 1970s, as an adolescent schoolgirl on a trip to the National Gallery, I came into the orbit of one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. In those pre-internet days, I had only ever seen a dodgy, book-sized reproduction, the awfulness of which became apparent, once I saw the original. Crude printing had reduced Van Gogh’s inspired colour-mixing and what I had taken to be an orange background in the reproduction, was actually a luscious, many faceted, creamy peach.

This rare interaction with a live painting, was literally, an illuminating experience, and hinted at things that would take me a lifetime to process. Through this specific work, I could see that each part related to and was in a dialogue with all the other parts, my first encounter with wholeness.

At the same time I developed a new language of sensory perception, which prefigured a thousand other such experiences to come. Just being in the same hallowed space, caused a physical ache in my chest, an overwhelming kind of joy, similar to that felt on hearing a full orchestra for the first time. It was almost too much but I stayed there until it was time to leave.

Many years later, on a recent trip to Amsterdam, I approached The Van Gogh Museum, with great excitement at the thought of seeing so much of Van Gogh’s work in one place. However, the huge, glassy non-space of an entrance hall, filled with every conceivable variation of commercial tat, carefully marketed as design, did not bode well. As I mounted the huge escalator through another intimidating, glass void, I willed myself to see it all as progress.

The first sight at the beginning of the exhibition was a row of glass cases each one contained (immured) one of Van Gogh’s portraits. My heart sank even though I am not averse to glass cases, with their precious, dust-free, museum aesthetic, here, the effect only served to isolate the viewer from the painting and interfere with the full sensory perception of the work as alluded to by Koester.

“Just strolling through the spaces might be enough for a visitor to get a sense of what is going on. I call this ‘inhaling the show’ – perceiving it through the body.” Joachim Koester

Also, I think grouping all the self-portraits together was a mistake, they don’t work in the same way as the sublime group of Rembrandt self-portraits, with their deliciously, subtle and incremental changes. The Van Gogh portraits by contrast, contain great, risky, jarring strides in experimentation and artistic endeavour. These intellectual leaps would be easier to process and when in direct comparison to the landscapes.

For Van Gogh his subjects were a vehicle for experimentation so the showing of landscape and portrait side-by-side, would point-up the quality of his brave mark-making and begin to make sense of how this fractured the surface of the painting.

The exhibition was spread over an unnecessarily vast area and frequently broken up with; irritating text, digital screens with a forensically, scientific approach (you can analyse his paint under a microscope) and obligatory aural input.

All this amounted to information overload, and felt as if the museum was trying to justify the lavish architecture and expense by giving its audience an all-singing all-dancing experience. I expected at any moment to come across a giant revolving hologram of the great man’s ear, complete with a facsimile of the missing piece. I longed for the mental and physical space to commune with the work and be allowed to think my own thoughts.

What made it worse, was having visited The Anne Frank House the day before, a completely different, pared-down experience. They too had made use of technology, standing in the long queue outside, we could see 3D cutaway, computer graphics of the house, but it was kept well away from the actual experience. Inside, the house though empty of furniture, was faithfully kept as it had been, with its dim, shrouded interior.

All extra information was discretely displayed and relevant. In the attic itself, the rooms were also furniture-less, which drew attention to the physical traces of occupation on the walls. Each room had a small photo of how exactly how it looked when furnished. It was all so conducive to imagining how life must have been. The museum, wrapped around the house in starkly modern contrast and contained a carefully, displayed, utterly moving paper-trail, evidence of the processing of the families. There were extraneous threads of extra information, but so sensitively done that it gently expanded knowledge while cleverly contextualising the experience.

I am not against the use of technology and understand the need to appeal to a contemporary audience, but somehow, The Van Gogh Museum, has lost sight of the man himself. And as if to illustrate this, on leaving the exhibition, a large, shiny, red bus went past, with a massive, day-glow, multi-coloured, Van Gogh face, plastered on the side.

“I thought I would be understood without words.” Vincent van Gogh

 

 

 

Written on the Body – We are What We Do.

 

DSC_0011http://www.ruthgeldard.com

My body is slowly recovering from the seven day marathon, of exploring and listening to, the broad church of music that is, Broadstairs Folk Week. But with all the eating, drinking, dancing and walking, also essential elements, full participation requires physical (if not mental) stamina. And as I have explained on previous blogs, an absolute necessity for my personal enjoyment of the festival, is to be able to draw the musicians as they perform and over the years I have become addicted to this live, in-motion, participatory type of drawing. However, it is not without its physical discomforts, risks and even bodily injury.
This year has seemed more physical than most, right from the start, on the opening night. As I stood at the front of a packed bar, standing being the only option, into the throng, wove two delightfully drunk teenage girls who preceded to; lurch, lean and sing, in front of the legitimate performers. Twice I had to prevent them from falling backwards on to me, which culminated in a small, handbag-related injury. The good-natured crowd eventually got fed up, especially with the leaning, and the girls got properly told-off, but were so charmingly remorseful, it was easy to forgive them, especially when one of them, put her arm around my shoulders and said breathily into my hair, “I love you, I love your drawing, it’s well-good – I love you…” etc.
The next morning, I found out that two hours of standing-drawing, even with alcohol, was probably too much. Years of drawing in the melee of the crowd, has taken its toll on my right, sketchbook-holding arm, which tends to go rigid when I concentrate and then my spine joins in, from now on, I will have to find things to lean on. But later that day, numb with Paracetamol and Shandy, as I was drawing two violinists, I noticed the way that even their young bodies had already begun to mould themselves around their instruments, their faces flattening into chin rests and elbows bending into waists, all echoing and exaggerating the lines and curves of their instruments. We are what we do.
The day of my second injury, a small cut on my toe, the result of running from a downpour, had the happy consequence of causing us to take shelter in a low-ceilinged, dark bar where two men were dancing and tapping on boards, in what seemed like an early, infectious, form of beat-box. They managed to dance, sing and play instruments, simultaneously, accompanied by a wild Nordic-looking man, with blonde dreadlocks, who swung his double-bass like a cricket bat. It sounds crazy and they are, in the refreshingly eccentric and original treatment of an eclectic array of old songs. I tracked, stalked and drew them three times, almost defeated by the constant motion of their bodies that tested my patience, as it meant waiting for a particular gesture to repeat. At their final gig, grey with sheer end-of-festival knackerdness, they gave their all, in a storming performance that transmuted the grimy, sweat-stained pub, where your feet stick to the floor, into what felt like the O2.
So many moments, so many tiny decisions about what to include and what to leave out, each one, rich with the potential of a thousand possibilities and their consequences, including failure. This yearly drawing marathon has its own peculiar mental space which allows a pause to reflect on my drawing. This year I came across a performer that I last drew, anonymously, twenty-five years ago. In the interim we have both aged in parallel, perhaps this is what made me so aware of the ravages that time and music have reaped on him. But when he played…all that fell away and the pure, clean sound caused a memory-loop back to the first time, and in that spiritual space, we, musician and artist, were united. We have still not met and don’t need to, the most important thing is that we both keep doing what we do, for love, for all of us, we are what we do.

Write My Words.

My painting, “The Vale” is being used this week as a writing prompt and I am looking forward to seeing if anyone responds, with actual words… The idea of my painting as the starting point for transcription, is very exciting. You can find it here, nadanessinmotion.blogspot.co.uk

The Vale
The Vale