Still working very hard on the reverse of the altarpiece, trying to get as much done as possible to give people an idea of how my ‘Agony in the Garden’ will look. One member of the PCC calls in the afternoon to see it. Otherwise whole day & evening spent painting in new much larger kneeling angel which means painting out the previous two versions which were too small and too static for the composition.
Quite a few of the PCC call in at the studio to see the altarpiece triptych in the afternoon. Interestingly most have just been to a wedding at St Michaels that of Rev Malc's PA. so it is of particular interest when they spotted that outside my depiction of St Michaels I had painted a tiny wedding. I have some very interesting conversations with various members including Ro who is the Library Manager who tells me she didn't used to be able to look at my crucifixion painting The Rood because she found the anguish too great to bear. she also comments on the anguish on the face of my Christ in the Agony in the Garden painting on the reverse of the doors. I have surprised myself in how soon I have been able to create this side even though it needs a lot more work, it reads as the painting will be already. I think I'm probably getting a lot of help from above.
Also interesting that the little shepherd painting ‘On a Night Like This’ gets admired by several of the PCC who come to view the altarpiece in progress. More come today. Particularly interesting conversation with Chris who used to help Jenny Mead with the Sunday School and got his firm to raise the money for the library at Tewkesbury School where Jenny was Librarian. Again work until early hours.
A little more work to the outer edges of the “On a Night Such as This” frame, .a final parting gesture before.....................
........giving it to Richard to pack carefully.
A rather busy day as we’re off to Stratford at 4 and we’re waiting for Federal Express to come and collect the small commission that is going to Paul in Australia, ‘On a Night Such as This’. And the printer ink has run out so I write the six invoices by hand.
Text from Revd Malc who asks if he can come to see the altarpiece triptych again and bring Richard, the new team vicar, to see it which he does in the afternoon. Richard gives a very enthusiastic response to the altarpiece. Malc said that someone had mentioned Mary had a halo but not the infant and I explain that this is the problem of showing a work in progress and that I tend to paint the halos in a translucent way they normally don’t come in until the last stage but as Mary’s overlaps the sky I had lightly painted the impression of one.
Richard’s on the phone asking Fedex why the parcel hasn’t been picked up when I answered the door bell and there like magic is the Fedex man! So we’re just a little late setting out for Stratford and Nathan is already sitting on the roof top terrace restaurant at the theatre. Its lovely to see him and he says he has really enjoyed his time with the RSC and how dedicated the actors are and what a good rapport there is between them and the Swedish Director Maria Aberg and how the whole company works so well together. Time flies and suddenly we hear the call that the performance begins in 3 minutes at 7 rather than 7.30 on the preview nights. So he bustles us through to The Swan and we arrive just in time. Its a very exciting performance with the sets on three levels plus one above with the musicians on. And of great interest to us and an important part of the production are the videos than Nathan has made for them which at times fill the whole of the backdrop. The White Devil is quite a complex play written by Shakespeare’s contemporary John Webster and therefore uses similar language and imagery in contrast to the very of now costumes which have been designed along with sets by Naomi Dawson who used to share a studio with Nathan. We’re amazed at the ability the actors and actresses have at remembering such long dialogues. It is part of a season of strong feminist plays called The Roaring Girls (after the Decker & Middleton play) and Arden of Faversham. The play ends up rather like Hamlet with many of the main protagonists dead and it has perhaps been all the more compelling because it is performed on a thrust stage where the audience surround it on three sides an there isn’t a proscenium arch.
Nathan introduces us to several of his friends in the interval and then afterwards takes us to the party and introduces us to many of the actresses and other people like the lighting designer James Farncombe and David Maclean the composer of the music.
So by the time we leave to take Nathan back to London in readiness for his knee operation tomorrow, its about 1am….
…..we arrive at Henrietta’s where we are staying whilst they are in Devon on holiday about 3.30 am.
Am relieved when I receive a call from Nathan to say he is in the recovery room. He sounds a bit groggy - he then calls a bit later to say we could collect him at 5 pm. so drive over to Homerton. The nurse who’s attending to him before discharging is very efficient as she calls him back when she sees that there is some blood seeping through his dressing and bandage. So she attends to him before we make our exit with Nathan walking expertly on his crutches. When we get him back we go and shop for ice for his leg and meals, fruit, salad and juices etc. But he’s keen for us to go as he’s very very tired. But I do get a text at 1.30am saying he’s feeling much better and the selection of meals etc we had got him were perfect, which enables me to sleep better.
Pick up some more raspberries and cherries for Nathan and a bottle of orange carrot and ginger juice and go over to see him. Get some of the bags of ice we had collected yesterday for him to put on his leg for fifteen minutes. we don’t stay for too long as he’s very sleepy.
Back at Henrietta’s manage to do some painting in the evening having bought one of the works along and also manage to catch up on last month’s diary.
We go over to see Nathan again and Richard goes out to collect a couple of things for him. He’s looking a bit better and doesn’t feel as hot.
en route back we pass Paintworks where Richard tells me Nathan used to get a lot of his materials such as clay. so I decide we ought to have a look as I’m a little short of a couple of colours I forgot to pack. Its a fascinating shop and I end up buying several Noh-type masks and lots of creative materials for when we have the little boys plus some super sketch or notebooks that they seems to produce themselves. So having gone in for one tube of paint I come out with a big carrier bag full of creative goodies.
Back at Henrietta’s sit outside and paint for an hour or so before moving inside.
Pack up and drive over to Stoke Newington to visit Nathan who is feeling a bit better. The thing that is uncomfortable is the dressing and all the bandaging. Richard pops out to pick up a few things for Nathan and after the visit we wend our way back to Cheltenham. We arrive home in time for me to get back to work in the studio.
Busy at work in the studio
A lot of the day is spent contacting people who have been taking out quite large sums of money from my 92 year old mother’s bank account, including a charity that took out £300 and two different boiler servicing companies who had between them taken out £340 when her boiler has actually covered by British Gas for several years. Its all done by cold calling. Luckily so far I have got them to promise to reimburse. my Mum’s never been overdrawn since she had a bank account and this is what first alerted us to what has been happening recently.
Ring Nathan to see how he is then later at night receive lovely e mail from Alan Loch asking if I’d like to show at the Toronto Art Fair and in their two Best of the Contemporaries exhibitions at their galleries in Toronto and Calgary.
Work in the studio till about 2am.
Although the black currents, black berrys and goose berrys seem to be over in the garden, the Victoria plums are all beginning to gain their rosy blush and I’ve already picked and eaten a few. I think at one time our garden would have been part of orchards. When this was first built the orchards would have spread right across the Lane and the dwelling houses would have been very sparse.
So pleased that “On a Night Like This” has arrived safely in Australia and that Paul is really pleased with it.
I was going to be sending The Joker to an exhibition that runs until January but think it may be one that Alan in Toronto might like to show at the Toronto Art Fair in October but it would need to go to the exhibition here on Tuesday so decide to ping an image over to Canada to get his reactions and almost by return an e mail comes back saying “I love it. We’ll take it”. Just the sort of enthusiastic response that so nice to get from a dealer though rare.
Good day in the studio. In the evening receive lovely call from Audry, lovely lady who has been following my work for many years and who said last time I met her that she would like a ‘hare’ which I have now painted specially with her in mind. She says it is all she had hoped for which makes me feel very happy.
Henrietta rings to say that Samuel has broken both bones in his lower arm the Ulna and the radius when he fell from the Monkey bars at the home of a friend she and the boys were visiting for the Day with other friends. She and Samuel are in Hospital over night
Lots of phoning re Samuel who was still in hospital awaiting the operation to set his bones. After having my Mum round for tea and rock cakes and giving her a new present before we leave we set off to Blackheath arriving at about 8 pm. Samuel and Henrietta are back home from the hospital; he’s still drowsy and needs the medicine to stave off the pain.
Samuel seems much livelier today so the decision is made to sett off to France albeit somewhat later than the original plan. We arrive at Dover about three; its a lovely smooth and sunny crossing on the ferry which we chose particularly with the little boys in mind, arriving in Calais about 5.30. Its a pleasant evening though grows darker by our second stop before reaching Bayeux and our hotel for the night. The boys are very pleased as they discover there is a double door that opens between their two rooms!
The morning’s bright and we stop at a delightful tea room for a breakfast of pastries before walking up to see the Bayeux Tapestry, visiting the Cathedral en route. The Tapestry is a fascinating experience as we each have a recorded narrative to listen to as we make our way around this 70 metre long embroidered cloth, thought to be made in England by several workshops of women who painstakingly created the retelling of that period in history covering the couple of year before 1066. So important in both English and French history culminating in the Battle of Hastings in 1066 where Harold was slain by and archer’s arrow entering his eye. Its often called the first cartoon strip as it tells this story in numerous scenarios, showing each episode in considerable detail both on the central panel and the borders. what is particularly remarkable is that it has stayed intact for a thousand years. The Museum also goes to great lengths to back it up with models and reproductions of the boats and the of husbandry of the time, often using minute figures and animals showing the way that settlements and castles were built.
After a visit to the shop for a couple of knights and horses and an animated dvd of the Tapestry illustrating this history with movement.
We then get into the Land Rover first making a stop at the Carrafour to pick up provisions. Then a stop or two for the boys to play football before arriving at Ruffec which is the nearest town to Les Ballons, the house we’re renting. Its dark when we arrive at this beautiful mansion/chateau. Its wonderfully spacious and even has a music room and library. The boys rush through in great excitement wanting to claim their bedroom which Samuel had already selected from the photographs we had shown him. After a supper of cereals and bread and cheese we turn in for the night.
We breakfast outside next to the lily pond with Isaac serving us from the semi circular outside bar.
It is a bright and sunny day which Isaac, Henrietta and Kev spend most of in the large pool, pushing Samuel who mustn’t get his cast wet, in an inflatable dinghy that they had found for him in the Carrafour, which works out very well.
We leave them all happily in or on the pool and drive to Poitiers airport to collect Nathan, who has managed to come without the aid of crutches, his knee having made such good progress. Its lovely to see him and the boys are very excited when we arrive back. Interestingly you can feel the temperature being warmer here even than in Poitiers as this region has the benefit of a micro climate making it similar to the Cote d’Azure.
Today is spent mainly relaxing around the pool (although Richard goes into Ruffec each morning to collect freshly baked pastries, bread & brioche for breakfast) interspersed with playing football, badminton, boulles and table tennis.
Richard and I stay up late, he cooking the birthday cake and me painting a tiger on a black background for Nathan who was born in the year of the tiger.
Today is Nathan’s birthday. Richard goes to the market in Ruffec to buy things for the grand feast. He loved the atmosphere and chatting to the stall holders who were all selling their own produce and he brings back two fine chickens, a large bag of apricots and another of strawberries etc. he’d also collected logs and kindling in the woods which he’s had drying in the sun in readiness for a fire in the long dining room, which looks magnificent with the two candelabras each set with three candles. It is a magical evening; the little boys are bubbling with excitement, the meal is splendid and every one is on good form, a perfect evening.
The sun isn’t shining as much today although it is still warm so we decide to go down to the river that skirts the garden of the estate and Nathan tries his hand at fishing. Its a glorious setting but the fish don’t seem very interested in the sweetcorn bait he’s offering and the rod, being made to a child’s scale, doesn’t reach out very far into the water. But we do discover an ancient tree with a huge and wide trunk covered in rounded carbuncle like growths. It looks almost prehistoric or like something from the Lord of the Rings!
its hot again and most of the day is spent in and around the pool. Nathan’s cooking the dinner of trout stuffed with tarragon, lemon, onion and olives on the barbeque; he’s also made a guacamale which is hot and spicy. We sit out in the evening sunshine after games of badminton, boules and table tennis to enjoy this delicious supper.
The grounds are breathtaking and beautifully kept, which we suspect must almost be a full time job for the lovely gardener M. Chirag.
after supper we play Go Fish with the boys and Samuel is gleeful as he wins most tricks (with a little help from his Mum).
After breakfast we drive Nathan to the airport at Poitiers for his return flight to London where I think he will again be partying with friends in a joint birthday celebration tonight. We then drive back where Henrietta Kev and the boys have been enjoying the pool. we lunch in the sunshine and then set out for Giverney. We are rather later than intended so its dark when we arrive at this glorious Norman manor house set around three sides of a stone courtyard with the well in the centre. It is ancient but has been very sympathetically restored to become a series of guest rooms exquisitely furnished with antique or old but very modern bathrooms in the way that the French have of combining the old and the new with such distinction. Most of the restaurants here have closed but the owner, who has created this lovely environment, brings us bread and cheese and yogourts and glasses so that we can open a bottle of wine to share. It is interesting to discover that he is a graphic designer and we tell him that Kev is a designer too. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is going to Giverney
We meet for breakfasts on the mezzanine at 9.30 - croissants, bread and pastries, all freshly baked. When the owner brings the hot chocolate for the boys he brings another plate of custard filled brioche.
We then walk to Monet’s house and garden in the sunshine it looks even more glorious than one expected. We arrive at the perfect time, mid morning and are able to walk around these exquisite gardens with their profusion of blooms & blossoms laid row by row. The view of it from the windows of the house makes you feel perhaps a little of what Monet felt when he was planning and growing it. A project that absorbed all his income for the last thirty years of his life. It wonderful to wander round the rooms that he lived and worked in from the salon where he displayed his layers of paintings to friends and clientele to the famous yellow dining room and blue kitchen that have for almost a century inspired artists, designers and the public, particularly the Americans who have helped fund this and the saving of green spaces in the village. It is intriuging too to see his room of Japanese woodcuts and engravings including Hokusai’s famous Big Wave. There are still chickens in the garden and wonderful espaliered apple trees similar to those that Alain and Michelle Blondel have trained in their garden. and a very commercially viable use of the large studio in which he painted the long waterlily paintings as you exit through this gift shop (title of the Banksey film). It is extraordinary to see the actual water garden and Japanese bridge and it makes us smile when we see an elderly American in Cycling shorts posing a small bronze statuette of Michaelangelo’s David to be photographed on the Japanese bridge and at other points in the garden. It seems a little incongruous to us but perhaps to an American Florence and Giverney are just part of the same European continent - maybe it feels rather like two of their own states which are within an even larger landmass.
As we walk back along the narrow village street we are really pleased to see that although many of the houses that are offering al fresco luncheons they are little changed from the time when Monet lived here and that with the help of the Americans they have managed to stave off any new development.
We stop and buy salad filled baguettes to eat on our journey to Calais were the volume of passengers means we have to wait an hour or so for a later ferry. Traveling Club Class affords us the luxury of a quiet crossing with ample seats and numerous cups of tea etc.
One thing that struck us while we were waiting to board and was perhaps the cause of the delay due to British customs checks, were what looked like a large group of would-be illegal immigrants who seem to have been turned back.