The excitement for me as an artist lies not in exploring the unknown but in how I can effectively organise a visual arrangement that reflects the atmosphere and intensity of an environment, evoking a precise moment of the day under specific light and conditions. I hope you enjoy the work
Feature of the week 18/03/2018
Twilight, St Anne's Churchyard
After last week’s feature on The Pubali Cafe, I received a good amount of feedback and additional information including the fact that the owner, Mr. Ali to my astonishment, occasionally rented out his basement for the overspill from the undertakers two doors along. I had wondered about the coffee!
So as an extended tour, I thought that this week I would take the opportunity to continue along the road a little, and cross to the other side and talk about my painting, St Anne’s Churchyard. This also encompasses the Five Bells and Blade-bone pub in Three Colt Street.
St Anne’s churchyard featured in my life throughout the eighties and nineties, as this was the path from the main gates, next to the bus stop in the Commercial Road that led to the Five Bells. It was here that I would meet up in the evenings with other local artists and friends, following a day’s painting or modelling for life-classes at various art colleges.
The Five Bells is now called the Urban Bar and has a completely changed character. Then it was a pub run by a colourful Scottish family headed by the patriarchal Jim and was frequented by many artists, amongst whom where Jock McFadyen and Peri Parkes, both regulars. The biker fraternity, all rather formidable in their black leathers, were also frequent visitors. Along with assorted locals, this all made for a heady mix. It was different in character to the more genteel Grapes, nearby in Narrow Street, which at that time seemed to be the home of actors, talking heads and a few intrepid tourists.
At the Five Bells, we would engage in lively debate after ‘lock out’ when Jim would only serve whisky. I have to confess that on more than a few occasions I had to be dragged away from rather heated discussions with other artists as we threw around concerns we had been wrapped up in during the day’s painting. I am not an intellectual but in those days I could become very passionate as my working practice progressed.
It was usually dark as I negotiated my way back home and I would be somewhat inebriated. I recall very well the uneven path past the statue of Jesus commemorating the First World War, then, I would cross the road and take a short cut through the backs of the flats built in the sixties parallel to Salmon Lane. Nowadays these have security codes and such nipping in and out no longer possible, which is probably a good thing.
I always found the appearance of St. Anne’s somewhat bleak and unforgiving except when viewed from Newell Street, so when I decided to paint the churchyard I chose to focus on the path skirting the statue, placing the trees and the bright lights of the shops in the distance. I held off for a time before introducing the green into the sky, wanting to convey the effect of loneliness, anticipation, expectation, and maybe hope, all the lot of an artist seeking company in a few drinks after a hard day’s painting.
At the time, when drawing the statue of the standing Jesus, the posture proved a little problematic, especially in respect of the raised arm. I was aiming to depict the act of benediction as an image of solace rather than a salute; and at one time I even played around with the idea of replacing the entire statue with one of Queen Victoria. There was a statue of her that I was familiar with residing next to my primary school in Newcastle-under-Lyme. But that didn’t look right at all, so I lowered Jesus’ arm slightly which I think introduced a more benign gesture.
During the day the churchyard had a more banal appearance. It was home to small groups of hardened drinkers. A peculiar 24ft high pyramid in the South West corner of the churchyard introduced an element of mystery. It contains the inscription ‘The Wisdom of Solomon’ and it is thought to have been intended as a pinnacle for one of the towers but I don’t think anyone knows for sure. I like to imagine it came from the sky like the Tardis in Dr. Who!
I am very happy to conclude that the painting now has a permanent home nearby and I would like to think of the owner walking her dog in the churchyard who no would no doubt also feel anticipation, expectation and hope on entering the gate, though not loneliness… however, I have just read that these days the gates are kept locked when the church is not in use… so no refuge for the drinkers either.