Thursday, 18 September 2008

In perspective

I’m sitting on the top deck of an 88 bus having had to rush back to one of the offices where I freelance in order to pick up a memory stick I had accidentally left on the desk there. It’s a handy device when you find yourself working on a variety of computers in a working week, but it's also handy to misplace and the idea of losing it is not one to contemplate; most of the information on it is backed up in other places, but there would always be that lingering feeling that I’d lost something irreplaceable if it did go awol.

The files that I was most concerned about not losing were a handful of images I’d been working on that I was due to be emailing on to someone. I had the original drawn versions safely at home, but I’d been grappling with IT problems and I’d invested a lot of time in getting the images to the state they were. Was I feeling a bit foolish about losing something so important to me? As I’m musing on this, the bus passes the Home Office in Marsham Street, a department with a history of losing vital data that put things into perspective.

Hopping off the bus in Regent Street, I nipped over to Sotheby’s to see Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, the show of work by Damien Hirst set for auction, sidestepping the usual route of selling through galleries and heading straight for the buyer instead. This is another chance to get things into perspective. The sale rooms are buzzing, from the foyer where we all get our bags checked, to the many rooms overflowing with spin paintings, preserved assorted livestock, bling in cabinets, and collaged butterflies.

To fill the space with a lifetime’s work would be an achievement, but everything I see is dated 2008. Then again, he does have a team of workers making the work for him. And after regularly seeing estimates of £2.5m to £3m for some of the works, it doesn’t take long for the £20,000 estimate for small butterfly works to look rather, well, cheap. It doesn’t take long, either, to see everything in terms of its price tag rather than the quality of the work. That, and managing to keep prices high as well as bring so many to the market, seems a particularly Hirstian achievement.

A couple of days later – the auction is spread across two days to the accompaniment of meltdown in the financial markets – and the 223 lots have gone for a total of £111million. Financial crisis, what financial crisis? Where do I fit into all this? Where do any of us fit into it? I email my images, now backed up, and have interest from another gallery to show my work. Life, somehow, goes on.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Rain stops play

The wet weather sketchbook: I nearly started one of these again this summer. I had one about 18 years ago when I was in the Lake District for only a few days. The rain was incessant then, too, and rather than take a perfect, dry, empty sketchbook home, I took a battered, stained, warped, torn, and yet full one home instead. Even a pencil doesn't get a firm grip on wet paper, unless you're using about a 16B, so the results were less than great. A coat pocket with a sketchbook sticking out of it becomes a funnel in a downpour, which only added to the problem.

I cycled through part of the Lake District this summer with brother and brother-in-law, going from Whitehaven to Newcastle, from west coast to east coast, which would be impressive if it was the United States or Australia we were talking about, but it's only about 140 miles in this rather thin part of the UK. Thirty-odd miles on the first day in relentless rain meant the sketchbook stayed in the bag — we wanted to get to the B&B to dry off rather than have me sit around like some pretentious idiot pretending to be like Turner strapped to the mast of some ship in a storm, or whatever it was he did. I bet the crew weren't too impressed with what he was up to.

Camping with the family in August wasn't meteorologically ideal either. The ground became a little soft for trifling things such as tent pegs, which had interesting consequences. But we stuck it out, because camping is still just so great, even in the wet. I didn't resort to a wet weather sketchbook then, either, not least because the marker pens I use now would take to damp paper in an even less successful way than pencil. But it didn't rain as much as all that. It sounds bad from inside a tent, but it's not, if you're outside.