Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The Malta Sketchbook

View of Malta, 12 Sept 1995 
(Pencil and watercolour over two pages of 6 x 8 in sketchbook)

OK, let's try to get this blog back on tracks.

I've only been to Malta once; I didn't much care for it. I know many people like the island and there are certainly quite a few artists who go there regularly to draw and paint, but though I've toyed with the possibility of returning, I've never been able to persuade myself that it would be worthwhile. Unless it were with the sole purpose of going back to Tigne Battery (more of which later).

If you're a Malta fan, let me put my case before you throw up your hands in horror. When I was considering a trip there, I asked a friend at work who had been there what he thought of it. His reply was succinct: "It's beige," he said. And so it proved to be. The island and all the buildings are made of limestone which, unlike the limestones of the Greek islands, is not white but, well, beige. I did this drawing of the capital Valletta, on the first day there and found the buildings just blended into one another such that I eventually gave up trying to sort it out. It's not a bad drawing (not very good either), but it didn't satisfy me at the time and still doesn't.

We were staying in Sliema on the northeast coast of the island and a bus took us to the hotel from the airport. On the way there, we fell into conversation with a couple who told us they had been holidaying on Malta for 25 years. They loved it. But it soon became clear they never went out during the day, not because they were vampires but because they were something much more exotic - sequence dancers.

It seems sequence dancing clubs are very big amongst a certain section of the British population and wherever British servicemen have been stationed, there you'll find a sequence dancing club. To cater for their passion, package holiday companies take them on holidays all over the Med - Cyprus, Gibraltar, Malta and the usual bits of Spain. It being too hot during the day to trip any light fantastic, They Only Come Out at Night.

So dancing in the dark is obviously one reason for Malta's attraction. The beer is pretty good, too, being British styled but lighter for the climate. However, when we were there the pubs and even the cafes stuck rigidly to an afternoon closing schedule which made life quite difficult. One day while sitting outside a pub finishing off a pint, they came and took away the umbrellas and left us in the fierce heat., yet there was still a good half hour of opening time to go. Sitting in a cafe we'd just got our sandwiches before 2 pm; five minutes later, other customers were turned away.

The buses were wonderful old machines, beautifully painted and decorated with rosaries and religious icons but all of them went into and out of the main bus station, which meant that if you wanted to go anywhere other than Valletta, you still had to go into Valletta bus station, change buses and out again. I understand there's been a shake-up of the transport now: the old buses have gone and Arriva has taken over. My experience of Arriva in this country doesn't make me any more cheerful to hear that.

Oh, let's finish on the food. I had the worst pizza of my whole life in a restaurant in Sliema. The wait for it was considerable and when it arrived there was a huge bubble in the pastry which had made the topping slide off to one side, leaving a dry lump of pastry bubble at the other side. I was so astonished and so very hungry that I didn't bother to complain.

So there you have it: not what I hoped for from a holiday. I was on the point of giving up on the idea of getting any drawing done when I discovered Tigne Battery. More next time.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Newcastle Skyline

Newcastle Skyline 1995 (Oil on board, 10.5 x 36 in)

I was contacted yesterday through my page on Facebook by someone asking if this painting, which he now owns, was one of mine. Signed "HRBELL95", it is indeed one of mine. It's one of the first paintings I ever sold and I'm delighted to be reminded of it. 

This painting was to be part of my first solo show but after I'd delivered it to Northumbria Gallery, and before it could be sent off to the framer, a man charged with putting together a corporate art collection bought it from the gallery along with one or two others. I was really pleased, of course, even though it meant I had to suddenly produce more work to fill the gaps in the show.

The kind person who contacted me on Facebook is a Geordie living in Berwick who says he loves having this memory of Tyneside in his home. For my part, I'm heartened to learn that my work is still providing pleasure.

It's always instructive to look again at old work and this one reminds me of ways of working which I've abandoned in recent years. In these times of self-doubt and uncertainty, it helps to get my mind into new, or even old ways of thinking and I can already see where I might be going.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year

Garden Gate (Oil on canvas, 16 x 16 in) Private Collection

2013 was not my favourite year by any stretch of the imagination. It began with a pre-existing eye condition getting out of control, went on to encompass two operations on my left eye and ended with a death in my partner's family.

So I'm not unhappy to bid farewell to the old year, even though it did have some saving graces: Pat, my partner bought a house much closer to my own and we're now able to spend more time together.

I've done no real painting since March. Partly because of the problems with my eyesight, but also due to a definite pause in the creative urge. I've written before about a feeling that I need a new direction to revitalise what I'm doing and I'm still in that uncertain state. But I always like the challenge of a New Year and intend to get some ideas sorted out this month so that I can start to move on.

Meanwhile, what can you expect from me here on Boogie Street, assuming that is that I'm still talking to at least my Regular Reader?  A while ago I promised to resume posting from my collection of unfinished sketchbooks. The Malta Sketchbook is the one I think should come next, so watch out for drawings from that island.

Finally, there are exhibitions in the offing. Two are lined up with Figure 8 this year and I'm delighted to say that I'll be putting on a solo show for the first time in my home town of Gateshead in April/May. So there should be news of those as we get nearer.

Let me end by wishing you and those you love a Very Happy New Year indeed. We all deserve it, you know; let no one tell you otherwise.