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 30/12/2018
Hairdressers, Ben Jonson Road
The images of the two salons featured this week were created during the late nineties and early 2000s, these facades being a common sight in any of the UK’s suburbs or villages; today the modern equivalents are the nail bar, the beauty salon and the dog parlour. The ladies who used to go to the hairdressers’ once a week in an effort to look glamorous for the weekend now dash to the nail bar of a Saturday morning or the beauty salon for a quick ‘facial’ to relieve the stress of the working week, juggling career, housework and childcare duties.
These salons were 150 miles apart but both earned their bread and butter servicing middle-aged housewives like my mum who went for a ‘set’ every week where their hair was washed, brushed vigorously teased into rollers of various sizes, then had a mesh of netting carefully placed over the resultant dome. Nowadays the focus seems to have shifted to getting a good ‘cut’ that will be easy to maintain and last a couple of months at least. I think I have noticed a reduction in of their number on the high street recently, but a couple of years ago when I visited Newcastle-under-Lyme, Margaret’s Hair Salon was still in place, surprisingly barely changed. This had obviously started life as a parlour in a row of terraced houses. A sign states ‘Est.1960’.
For my 13th birthday I was given a hair-do as a kind of rite of passage, a sort of ‘set mitzvah’. This was a horrifying experience and resulted in giving me a life-long aversion to the hairdresser and the chemical sprays that were applied to one’s hair. It wasn’t just the discomfort of sticky stiff hair framing the face, it was the whole atmosphere and ambiance of the small talk that took place and the ordeal of staring into a large mirror for upwards of half an hour, where the harsh lighting highlighted every spot; these days its every wrinkle!
The other salon was in Ben Jonson Road and was part of a parade of 20s’ built shops that also contained the Launderette that I painted and discussed in a previous feature. This parade of shops has been swept away in the name of progress to make way for rows of glass and concrete apartment blocks celebrated as 'luxurious modern living'. We will see if this claim stands the test of time but I noted another term used for these buildings a few days ago... 'spreadsheet apartments'. This accountancy-like term struck me as being very apt when authorities seem to class people and their families as ‘units’ to be housed in ‘units’.
Each of these works is different in another respect… the first is a coloured drawing while the London Hairdresser is an oil painting. Both originated in the same way, from several walks around the subject followed by very preliminary quick sketches and photos gathering ideas for a more detailed lasting record. Once I have formed a distinct mental memory of the composition, I make a decision as to the most appropriate media based on instinct and experience. I know that making a coloured pencil drawing tends to be a gentler, more relaxed and steady process. It will not fundamentally change during the process of production. It is not swiftly achieved but is perhaps more direct in intention.
For me, a painted composition goes through numerous stages, as the initial pleasure of excitement, creating a new piece that this time will be the ‘perfect image’ is followed by hours or even months of deliberation. I love oil paint is because for me it is a great storytelling medium, encapsulating the process of reflection, musing and memory. It also entails trial and risk taking… creating chances, coaxing and editing them; and the placement in the picture ‘works’ almost as a piece of theatre.