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.