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In this painting I imagined myself as a Viking, landing on the beaches of Northumberland in search of gold and glory. Which is exactly what you get in this picture: A nine year old boy, dressed in Viking garb, looking really uncomfortable at the thought of marauding through the land of the Prince Bishops with a bunch of blood thirsty Odin worshiping thugs.
Pastel on paper
When we were kids my brother had a keen interest in railways. As well as messing about with electric model trains, making a layout with a station, sidings and landscape features, he also read avidly about the history of railways. Consequently days out were spent quite often at tourist railway sites then under construction. Wearing stout Wellingtons we would tramp around, muddy, sooty railway sites begging a ride on the footplate. York Railway Museum was not the clean smart site it is now outside the main sheds and the Tanfield railway was positively filthy. We also were lucky enough to have a Grandma who lived in Barmouth in Wales; this gave us a good excuse to ride on all the nearby narrow gauge railways that wind through the Welsh hills. I loved these days out and could understand my brothers enthusiasm and what drove the people who were helping to restore this part of our heritage with the gift of so much of their free time.
One of the high points of these days out was watching the Flying Scotsman speed past on its way to Scotland full of passengers in period costume waving at the crowds that stood cheering. Little wonder then that I produced this pastel drawing and the accompanying Stevenson’s Rocket for my brother to pin up in the bedroom.
Pastel on paper
It’s no wonder everyone was so impressed with how fast his engine could go, if it came down a hill like that on its show trial !
‘Charlie and the Chocolate factory’ was read to me at school by one of my teachers. I loved the story and must have been inspired enough by the tale to draw one of the central characters Willie Wonka. The idea of finding a chocolate bar in the street was good enough, but having your own chocolate factory seemed fabulous. As an adult I now associate the story with the film version and in particular the Oompa-Loompas. If you have seen it and have mentally visualised them, I bet you are singing to yourself that awful song they sing. ‘Oompa-Loompas didily doo’ ect . It will be with you all day. You can hate me now if you like.
Matthew shows off his awesome recreation of a trolley bus, carefully crafted using Meccano in the days before kits, when you had to very carefully bend the steel plates and invent much of the design as you went along with the Meccano pieces you had available. I made a bizarre pig like creature I called a ‘Rhinelopig,’ with plasticine, which is placed on my knee. I know which I think is more impressive
The battle of Hastings was a big deal for me when I was at junior school, because we re-enacted it on the school playing fields. Mr Bradley used to take the boys for craft and had the bright idea of letting loose thirty or forty children with homemade weaponry bent on destruction. For weeks we forged helmets, swords, shields, axes and armour out of cardboard of varying thickness. We then painted them with authentic designs and sealed the handy work with PVA glue in case the day of judgement was inclement. Those that were more cunning in the art of war soaked their equipment in PVA until it became as strong as folded steel. We discussed the tactics of the battle itself and how we would re-enact the events whilst the home team drew lots to see who would be the unfortunate soul to play Harold. I was to be an invader, a Norman. This pleased me for two reasons, a). the kit was better looking and b). we were destined to win…..
Battle eventually came after weeks of waiting. A hill with young woodland growing upon it was chosen, as the best setting, but we were given stern warnings to keep away from the school pond and surrounding marshland, which sat at the lower portion on the hill for obvious reasons. We lined up in battle formations and on Mr Bradley’s signal we charged into action. With blood curdling war cries Harrods army ran down the hill whilst we struggled up the slope to meet them. We crashed together in a scene of utter carnage next to the school pond slap bang in the middle of the marshland. Those that fell were trampled underfoot or were unceremoniously pushed into the pond. Soldiers with PVA strengthened weaponry made short work of any contenders cutting to ribbons weeks of careful work causing fistfights to sporadically break out. All thoughts of enacting the events of the true battle of 1066 had evaporated. This was all out war and the last boy standing would be the victor. Boys turned on their own countrymen when no true enemy could be found until we eventually heard the loud shouting and whistle blowing of Mr Bradley now desperate to stop the slaughter. Limping wet and bruised back to the classroom with our heads bowed in shame at our behaviour, we were secretly delighted as to how the day had turned out. We had little left to take home and show our parents but what did that compare to a day we were unlikely to ever forget.
I doubt that today, with fears of legal action in teachers minds, whether this kind of event could take place in a school. If so, this is a great pity, as it was one of the key events that cemented my love of history and for that Mr Bradley I owe you a debt of gratitude.
This is one MEAN guy. I really like this one as it shows how passionate I must have felt about what a horrible baddy this man was. I had a book that talked about the crimes of the real life pirates and Blackbeard was made out to be a truly horrible man.
This illustration of Edward Teach, the real name of Blackbeard, created in this 1736 engraving used to illustrate Johnson’s general history, shows him bristling with weapons with his trademark smoldering beard, staring wildly to emphasise his menace.
My Dad made an easel with an area for my paints, brushes and water pots when I was about eight. I loved it because it made me feel like a real artist. This was one of the first paintings I did on the new easel. One of many, bold portraits of real and imaginary villains and heroes. In my painting of Bonnie Prince Charlie, I imagined him as a rugged, proud Scottish hero who loved the highlands and wearing a kilt. In my painting he has a full ginger beard. The oil portaits by Louis Gabriel blanchet of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1739, portays the young prince at 19 looking like is will be some time before he grows a beard. In the painting above by Maurice-Quentin de la Tour, he is depicted as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ at age 26 at the time of the rebellion in 1746. Still no sign of a beard.
Louis Gabriel Blanchet, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, 1739, oil on canvas, The Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Felt tip pens on paper
Recently I was at home ill watching ‘Reap the wild wind’ in the afternoon to pass the time. John Wayne gets killed at the end wearing a deep-sea diving suit, trapped in a shipwreck, attacked by a huge octopus. This film was total rubbish, making me at the time laugh out loud at the poor performances, but I was delighted to watch it all the same, for it was one of those films that had stuck in my mind as a child. I can vividly remember his deep-sea diving helmet filling up with water and feeling strangely helpless and sad. Quite frankly for his acting alone he deserved it, but as a kid I was devastated.
Big John did not die; he was like Joe 90, he could be steadily relied on to get away, however dangerous his opponents. Deep sea diving in one of those heavy suits was obviously THE MOST DANGEROUS THING ON EARTH.
My ‘Action Man’ just had to have a deep-sea diving suit. To save the princely sum that would be needed to acquire this would take a considerable time with the pocket money I received each week. While I waited I fantasised by drawing pictures of divers, of which this is the only one that has survived. I also made a relief picture of a diver under the sea with bits of balsa wood, which my parents kept for years until all the bits eventually fell off. When at last I did get the suit I was not as pleased as I had expected with my acquisition. The suit was hellish to get on and off action man without real risk of pulling his arms and legs off, and the menacing plastic shark which came with the set deflated and looked sadly in need of oxygen within a matter of hours.
Oil paint on oil painting paper
This would appear to be one of my first attempts with oil paint. To get the paint it may have come from one of two sources: Painting by numbers was all the rage and I can remember receiving a set from my Auntie one Christmas. I disliked painting by numbers as I could see little fun in it. The tiny paint pots used to run out before I had covered all the patches so inevitably I painted on top of the carefully drawn out image with whatever I liked. Around the same time my Mum had an oil painting set bought for her and I commandeered it whenever possible. This painting was – I think – copied from a picture on an Airfix box. I can remember how special it felt to move this strange smelly paint about, so different from my little box of watercolours.
My brother and I are sporting fashionable home knit cardigans and white polo necks, well turned out for our infants school photo. The double portrait being the charming economy option for any young family wishing to avoid multiple school photo outlay.
These photographs would be placed with pride on top of the TVs, sideboards, pianos and fireplaces by parents and grandparents across the land, to remind them of those they loved most.
No one would be happy if you blinked, pulled a funny face or did not smile lovingly at the camera. This was a moment to show everyone what a lovely model child you were. Boys would wet their hair in the sink and comb it into side partings to mimic grownups haircuts. The girls would lovingly prep each others locks by platting or combing repeatedly until their friends hair shone. Hair lice loved school photo day as children freely shared combs and hair brushes. Nicky Nora the dicky explorer had no fear of being out of work as long as the school photographers were in business.
If these photographs were so revered, I thought, why not make a three quarter portrait version that could hang with pride elsewhere in our home. Although charmed by this idea, my parents sensibly declined from framing this watercolour and adding it to the interior decoration.
Like all boys of my generation in Britain we were bombarded with sanitised images from World War Two. This came in the form of black and white war films that by now were regularly screened on the TV, plastic figures and models from Airfix, and action comics which were sold by newsagents. The school play yard was a battlefield full of continuous machine gun fire shouted by small boys holding imaginary guns, shuddering with recoil in their hands. This painting was worked from the cover of a Tiger Christmas annual, which I had bought at a jumble sale full of tales of daring do. When I look back on it now it is amazing that more of us did not turn into homicidal maniacs.
If I was not sporting a ‘six gun’, I was blazing a trail through history righting wrongs with cold steel. I had all the kit thanks to my Dads ingenuity with plywood, wooden poles, linoleum and cloth. Prince Jason was a rare sight indeed with his chain mail made from a string vest and a cape fashioned from an old pair of curtains. Jousting tournaments were regular fixtures both in the street and my front garden. Although, after some exciting near misses with lances tied to our bicycles it was thought best to tone down our enthusiasms somewhat.
As a child, I can remember being scared of snakes in films. I would feel compelled to hide behind the sofa when they were menacing anyone. Rattle snakes were particularly troublesome, because they had fangs and a rattle. So, it’s not surprising that the six guns are turned on the snakes in this image. If the cowboy in red does not shoot the snake, he will soon die, because he cannot walk. His disability is due to my ineptitude at drawing his legs, which look like he has been run over by a steam roller. This lack of understanding of three dimensions does not appear so obviously elsewhere, the open bean can and bucket have been drawn with quite competent ovals and the box of cartridges and chest show three sides of their box like forms. So, perhaps by flattening his legs I was trying to rack up the tension.
COWBOY ON HORSEBACK
A friend of my Dads had given me an old Annual that had instructions as how to make a holster out of leather. Press-ganged into the work my Dad cut up an old handbag and stitched together the best looking holster I had ever seen. Strung through a wide leather belt it took on an awesome realism. All I needed now was a gun.
Several jumble sales later a replica gun was purchased and at last the neighbourhood could be saved of any outlaws. Many hours were spent in front of the mirror practising my sneer and being the fastest draw. Killing the bad guys felt good. Falling down dead from fatal wounds was good as well. I didn’t have a horse, but the one in the drawing looks a mighty fine steed.
This clip was made in 2003, when I was obsessed with painting the sea. I was developing a method pf painting the sea, at speed, using wet-in-wet techniques and removing the wet watercolour paint using blotting paper. The over dramatic music is Wagners Flying Dutchman in which a sea captain is doomed to sail the oceans for eternity. I felt this might reflect the drama of the subject, but it now seems rather melodramatic.
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and The Dawn Treader were, when I was seven, my favourite books. Not that I read them myself; my teacher had read the first one to the class and I had talked my older brother into reading the others. They had made the stories come to life for me and this painting was my response to the CS Lewis tales of derring-do. I can remember painting it at school wearing a plastic apron, throwing the paint on with real abandon creating large puddles and multi-coloured shoes.
It won a prize at a local fair. I don’t remember much about the art display, but the kazoo blowing juvenile jazz band with baton twirling teenyboppers all dressed in matching tasselled white outfits haunt me still.
Sadly this is one of the few first pieces of work that have survived. I must have had a clear out aged about 10 and thrown out early stuff that I thought sub-standard. It’s a shame, since according to my parents I used to draw cowboys with hats with no brim, so effectively they had Sheriff’s stars nailed to their high foreheads.