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Saturday, 21 March 2009

Brushes with Fame.

I suppose this could be seen as an example of that most mind-shunning habit, name dropping. So instead, look upon it, if you will, as my three unsuccessful bids for those fifteen minutes of fame to which, according to Andy Warhol, we are all entitled. My three near-brushes with fame. I shall take them in chronological order.

The first, I have blogged about before, so if it's old hat for you, my apologies. It is the one most indelibly engraved upon my memory for all the wrong reasons and goes back to those far off times when I was an art student. Again, for all the wrong reasons (you may feel) I shall give it the lion's share of the post. The school's sculpture studio, which doubled as the pottery studio, was located in the basement and was reached by a steep flight of plaster-encrusted stairs which Health and Safety would condemn out of hand these days. I had signed up for sculpture periods on two weekday evenings. These were shared with part-time students that we ego-inflated souls dismissed as amateurs. They came, as often as not, in lounge suits or decent frocks (we used the word in those remote days)! They chatted (gossiped) more than they sculpted or potted, and they generally contrived to look and sound like people who were not interested in what was supposed to be the point of the exercise. They, for their part, regarded us as Bohemian. That, I need hardly say, was meant as a term of abuse. It meant that we operated outside the normal social parameters when it came to the decencies of life: washing, dressing, sexual behaviour and morality generally. Their one justification for this that I could see was that we dressed (on the whole) in ways generally regarded as Bohemian. (I, for example, would typically wear blue corduroy trousers, green suede shoes, red shirt, orange tie and green pork pie hat. (Well, I had a position to keep up, didn't I?) We (the two sides) would be friendly enough towards each other if we met in the street or the restaurant, for example, but down in the basement we treated each other with disdain.

On the evening I now describe I had arrived early, being anxious to get in as much work as possible on my latest project, a plaster construction freely based on the skeletons of two cocks fighting. For half an hour or so I was alone in the room. Then came the sound of footsteps descending the stairs and the appearance of a man I did not recognise. Obviously an evening school student - damn it all, he was wearing an expensive suit. (Expensive in terms of an art student's budget, that would be.) I ignored him. The unfinished models and pots were all on turntables, which in turn were mounted on tripods. Some works were covered by damp cloths to keep the clay moist. He went up to one and removed the cloth. The hairs on the back of my neck began to rise. His attitude was nonchalant in the extreme; one foot on the bottom rail of the tripod, leaning back to examine the model, spinning it with one hand. Eventually he looked in my direction:

Yours?

Absolutely not!

You know the person who's doing this? (This was an elaborate design of shapes derived from sea shells and marine animals.) Wally (not his real name) had been working on it for weeks, building it up by the gradual addition of small pellets of clay until it was by that stage, several feet from b base to apex.)

Absolutely, he's a friend.

Does he do much of this?

Cor, does he? He's always at it! Knocking them off so you wouldn't believe! Two or three an evening when he's in full swing!

The conversation continued in this vein for a short while longer, he asking his questions and me giving him my inane answers. Then:

That yours, then?

Well, I ask you. I had been working on it! Yup! Guess so!

Do you normally work that way? (Presumably meaning modelling as opposed to carving.)

Whatever comes! I'm not too fussy. Just as the mood takes me, I guess.

You don't have a preference?

No, it's all the same to me.

Just then a shadow appeared at the top of the stairs, darkening them appreciably. A voice called down them, the voice of Mr Henke, the lecturer.

Are you down there, My Epstein?

Coming! called out the visitor - and disappeared up the steps at a rate of knots.

Later, with the session now formally under way, Henke asked me:
What the hell did you say to Mr Epstein?
and before I could answer:
He wanted to know who the bloody idiot was who had been irritating him .


But no, it wasn't the Mr Epstein, but his brother. Some relief... but even so, he was a well respected sculptor of some significance who had come specifically to gave a second opinion on the work being done.




My next brush with fame occurred not long after the first. I and a friend were having a day in London, doing the exhibitions and museums. Quite out of the blue he took me along to see Feliks Topolski in his studio under one of the arches of Hungerford Bridge almost opposite the (then) recently built Festival Hall. This actually is another example of synchronicity at work, for I had got to about this point in my post when I read in the newspaper that the trustees of Topolski's estate are archiving as much of his work as possible and creating a museum to his memory in the studio which he made so famous. A retrospective exhibition is also planned. They are, therefore, anxious to trace as many of his works as possible and are appealing for anyone with information to come forward. The former studio is n ow open to the public, so I may well soon be retracing my footsteps to make a somewhat nostalgic visit. Details can be found on the official websitehere

My friend, I discovered, knew Topolski in some connection. How closely, I never did discover, but at any rate it was close enough to get us an entry and to see the great man at work for a short while. I was bowled over by the energy of the man and the energy emitting from his works. His drawings sizzled as though a powerful electric current was crackling through them. Below is a charcoal drawing of looters at work in Germany.

He was a one-off. I can think of no other artist even remotely like him.




If my first encounter is the one most indelibly engraved in memory, this third one is the one most fondly remembered. It was another day out with a friend. Not the same friend. By then I was at college and my fellow pilgrim - for that is what it was - took the day off to travel to Cookham on the banks of the Thames, the home of Stanley Spencer. I'm not sure what we were hoping for; perhaps just to get the atmosphere of the place that had been his domain for pretty much the whole of his life, with just the exception of his days at The Slade School of Art and a few years as a war artist.

We made (I think first of all) for the church and entered the church yard. And there he was, sitting beside his famous pram loaded with canvases, paints and all the paraphernalia of his work. The scene might well have come straight from one of his paintings. I expected Christ to appear in some guise at any moment, perhaps with his disciples (all villagers, of course).

Below is Spencer's work: Shipbuilders Christ's Entry into Jerusalem.

38 comments:

Elizabeth said...

Fame indeed!
Your close encounters were wonderfully described.
I share your enthusiasm for Stanley Spencer who transmuted awkwardness into very powerful images indeed.
Always a little disquietening.

Karen said...

Dave - You make the meetings come alive. As usual, you educate me with your blog. Thanks.

Maggie May said...

I love your narrative tone!

Cathy said...

Dave, you are a wonder. I especially love the Epstein story.

Lisa said...

i feel like i was there !
i met Brian Cadd once- he was an egotistical , arrogant, alchohlic short man and did not make me aspire to meet any more famous people.

Your stories are much better than mine and besides, blogging provides 15 minutes of fame, does it not ?

Tumblewords: said...

Close encounters of the fine kind! Nice!!

Snowbrush said...

I don't know, dude, you've got followers coming out your yin-yang. Maybe that's just as good as it gets. Not so good, eh? Well, remember, even Hemingway blew his brains out, and that was only after unsuccessfully trying to throw himself into an airplane propeller. One possible lesson one might take from this is that fame isn't all it's cracked up to be (yes, there IS a pun in there).

Jeanne said...

Because I'm irrecoverably shallow, I must ask: what shade of green porkpie hat?

Cloudia said...

You are always interesting to follow, Dave.

"I would typically wear blue corduroy trousers, green suede shoes, red shirt, orange tie and green pork pie hat."

Oh, my! Not only an intellect, but gorgeous plumage! Aloha, Free Bird!

Dave King said...

Elizabeth
I fully agree with your final paragraph, though I don't think I have ever heard it put so exactly. Many thanks for the interesting feedback.

Karen
Good of you to say so. Thanks.

Maggie
Much thanks for that.

Cathy
Yes, for some reason, I am very fond of it myself - even though it does go against me.

Lisa
I hadn't thought of it that way - guess I'm happy to settle for that! Thanks.

Tumblewords
Funnily enough, the closest was without any words being said.

Snowbrush
I take the point - maybe that's why we should only have to carry it for 15 minutes.

Jeanne
Emerald.

Cloudia
I did get my comeuppance though in that regard - I'll maybe blog about it one day.

jinksy said...

You transported my back to my art college days, sculpting the wet clay - what joy!

Patrice said...

That was fun - and an introduction to some artists I was only vaguely familiar with.

Entertaining Sunday read. Thanks.

Adrian LaRoque said...

Fame...is the word.

Mistlethrush said...

I see what you mean about the energy emitting form the photos. Amazing aren't they? Even more so in real life I imagine.
My main brushes with fame mostly occurred when I was a checkout op in Tesco: a few sporting personalities, a newsreader and a soapstar.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I loved your moments of near-glory Dave. They reminded me of the time Picasso came to London to speak at Burlington House and a member of the "friends" was sent down to meet him off the ferry and bring him back to London by train. They duly met, got on the train and sat down opposite one another. The "friend" was searching for something to say so that they could make polite conversation on the journey. Finally he leaned forward and said to Picasso, "I piant." Picasso looked him straight in the eye and said, "So do I!"

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

I'm sure encounters with personalities should always be in ignorance. What you see is what you get!

Dave King said...

Jinksy
I agree: nothing like it!

Patrice
Thanks for the comment.

Adrian
As in imagination, of course...

Mistlethrush
That is not at all a bad collection.

Weaver of Grass
That is superb. Priceless!

Derrick
That was certainly true of one of mine!

jinksy said...

This is the only way I can say thank you for your comment on my blog, as emails are still boomeranging back to me!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Dave--fun post to read--and it's always odd running into the famous. I grew up in a place where the famous play--and like everybody to pretend they're just regular folks...never seems to turn out that way...

Rebecca said...

Thank-you for following my blog. A little mystified as to why anyone would want to follow the ramblings of an Art History student who gets more excited about cooking than classes, but it's nice to know that someone does.

Looking forward to reading more of your posts. I particularly like the Epstein anecdote.

Dick said...

Although you have a year or two on me, Dave, I can remember when a coloured shirt, corduroy and suede shoes represented the apogee of bohemianism! Simpler times. Great stories of your encounters with the greats. I'm glad that it was the real deal in Cookham and not Stanley's younger brother Rupert...

Andrew Shields said...

I tried to send you email, but it bounced, so I'll take the liberty of saying this here: would you mind promoting my Daily Poem Project on your blog? If even just half a dozen of your followers joined in, that would be fabulous!

(If you find this comment inappropriate, as off topic, feel free to delete it ...)

Aniket said...

I finally made it to your blog Dave... and what an interesting and insightful read!

I loved the narration of your close encounter with Mr. Epstein. :-)

And I know the feeling of being out of place. I felt the same feeling when I took a class of singing in school once. My teacher whole heartedly agreed with me, that I didn't belong there. :) :)

Janette Kearns Wilson said...

How wondeful to brush with fame and to be there when they are working!

The lady in Red said...

Nice post, Dave
Best wishes,
Rosana

sudharm baxi said...

Loved reading this post!!

And that charcoal work is truly SUPERB!!

Dave King said...

Jinksy
I will look into it thanks for the thanks, though!

Conda
Maybe we should all pretend we're famous.

Rebecca
I really enjoyed my visit, so thanks for that - and for your comment.

Dick
No, it was the real deal, right enough. No words were spoken, but it was a memorable moment.

Andrew
Sorry about the bounce - actually it is quite false. I do get the emails, though I should imagine yours has gone into the spam folder. I don't lookm in there as often as I should. I will do that for sure.

Aniket
That has happened to me more than once.

Janette
Yes, that was the best part. Magical is not overstating it.

Lady in Red
Thanks very much.

Sudharm
Very kind of you to say so.

Cestandrea said...

Dave, I like these stories and the first one makes me smile, oh youth seldom knows how to spell "tolerance":)
thanks for the beautiful stories;
have a great day
Andrea

Jenn said...

Having not one but three opportunities to come face to face with fame in some capacity is so cool. And not only that but sharing conversation! I do not even know who these people are but you told the stories so well my heart actually sped up in anticipation of your encounters!

K.Lawson Gilbert said...

I truly enjoyed your accounts of rubbing elbows with the famous. I, especially, liked your encounter with Spencer. I admire his work. Thanks for sharing.

Stephen Dell'Aria said...

Quite an array of experiences, Dave. I'm always fascinated with how you describe events and walk people through your world.

Lucas said...

Very precious memories - the Stanley Spencer encounter especially. Thanks for reproducing the painting!

Mary Ellen said...

What interesting encounters. Your descriptions make one, though not possessed of artistic talent, feel as though I'm there - a little breathless, but delighted all the same.

Lyn said...

The Spencer experience is stellar as is the art itself. I like when life and dreams meet.

Barry said...

I think my closest brush with fame is visiting here on your blog.

Fire Byrd said...

Thos are definately good brushes with fame.... I can only produce Sir Alce Guiness in my own hall of fame! Thank you for deciding to follow me, much appreciated.

Fire Byrd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
trousers said...

Excellent stuff, I really enjoyed reading this. I shall (to echo your words over at mine) be sure to return.