Sold at Oriel Tegfryn
acrylic on panel – 42 x 42 cm – 2014
While torrents of words have been written by art historians about painters and their works, and while newspapers and periodicals carry the pronouncements of critics on exhibitions of works both historic and contemporary, and there are even inveterate private collectors who occasionally pronounce on their collecting policies, there is very little written by individuals who set out on a mission to purchase a particular painting. Perhaps that’s because art-buyers are shy about trumpeting their acquisitions, or don’t feel able to express in words the feelings that drive their collecting.
Phil Cooper is not yet a collector, and indeed may never be one, though by admission he felt compelled to purchase his most recent painting, which might be a sign of an incipient obsession. (I’ve know many art collectors who started out innocently enough with the getting of one or two paintings, but then found themselves in the undertow of an unexpected and hard-to-control passion-to-acquire.) But for now, and I hope hereafter, Phil has been measured in his judgements and acquisitions. He is a man who has collected two works by a single painter, and that painter is me. He purchased the study of a dragon I’d made for the cover of the just-about-to-be-launched Marly Youmans novel Glimmerglass, and yesterday he wrote to tell me that he’s acquired a painting I’ve written about here on the Artlog, The Catch.
Phil is an artist himself, and so he sees things with an informed eye. He’s open-hearted and candid in his writing on his own blog, and he’s a generous commenter on the blogs of other artists. In his letter to me he wrote beautifully about what had drawn him to the painting and made him want to have it in his home, and as a direct result of that, he agreed to write again, a piece for public consumption at the Artlog. Here it is:
“I first came across Clive’s work about three and a half years ago. I think I was Googling ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ and amongst the images that popped up was a beautiful painting of the head of the green knight that I now know to be one of three studies Clive made on the subject some years ago. The strong composition and colour palette, the intensity and poetry of the Knight’s expression, and an elusive quality that is less easy to define, all stopped me in my tracks and I went ‘whoa, what’s this?’. I started to jump from one link to another, greedily gobbling up all the fantastic images that lit up my screen. By the end of the evening I was hooked and I went on to become an avid fan of Clive’s work, which I’ve been following ever since on the fantastic, peerless Artlog.
Recently, I started to think about acquiring a painting and at about the same time I saw a new work begin to emerge on Artlog. A thumbnail sketch appeared of a bearded man holding a basket or platter of fish. The sketch had all the hallmarks of Clive’s preparatory drawings; dynamic energy, exciting composition, crackling negative space and an exquisite use of line and mark making.
When the finished painting of ‘The Catch‘ was revealed online a few days later, I was so taken with it I’d keep snatching a glimpse on my iPad throughout the day, poring over the details and the marvellous effect of the whole. At first I was struck by the glow of the fisherman’s pale skin and red hair against the dark blues and blacks of the sea and sky. Then the beautifully painted mackerel, and tattoo also caught my eye, but what I was drawn back to, what really enthralled me, was that face, with the dreamy, unfathomable, eyes-closed expression.
Clive wrote a superb ‘from start to finish’ post about the evolution of ‘The Catch’ on the Artlog, the kind of post that blogging was invented for in my opinion, and being given such a detailed insight into how the painting came into being made me love it even more. Clive wrote about how he wrestled with the eyes of the fisherman, spending a lot of time just staring at the work in progress, trying to pinpoint what might be needed to ‘clinch it’. He mentioned that painting the figure with his eyes closed was a risk, that it could break the connection between the painting and the viewer. It’s true that we cannot know what is going on behind those eyelids; is his reverie concerned with past pain or pleasure, dreams or fears of the future? The tattoo unfolding down his arm depicts a ship pursued by a monstrous nautilus; had he escaped such peril at sea? Is he re-living a nightmare ‘flashback’? Or are his eyes closed in a moment of private relief and gratitude? At the point in time captured in the painting, the fisherman is holding a shallow wooden bowl of plump, tasty-looking mackerel, an armful of riches from the sea, so whatever may have happened is in the past because right now he is blessed with plenty. There are a couple of fish that look different. Clive referred to them as ‘ghost’ fish. Do they signify the one that got away, a lost love, or the fish yet to be captured, a love yet to be won? Whatever feelings are being felt, that face looks calm to me, soft, the bulky shoulders strong but relaxed, the body and mind quite still. In contrast to the choppy waves and the currents sweeping around the quay, this man is steady and rooted, firmly cradling his precious, hard-won catch. Life’s storms and squalls eddy around him, the waves buffet him, possibly leaving him marked or scarred, but both he and his glittering, miraculous bounty remain intact.
Some of these ideas may have informed my decision to go for this particular work of Clive’s. What moves me about a painting and connects me to it might be a whole range of things, some of which I can appreciate consciously and intellectually such as my love of particular colour palettes and imagery, the fine qualities of composition and form, or the beautiful mark making and brushwork. But I know there will also be all kinds of messages bubbling up from my psyche that I won’t quite understand but that might just push my choice in a particular direction, whispering ‘that one, it’s that one’ in my ear.
What prompted me to go for ‘The Catch’? Well, one reason I wanted to treat myself to a painting was to give myself something for getting through a very difficult year. We lost my dad last November, an extraordinary, lovely man, and then other challenges came along to blight the last few months, though thankfully these are now ebbing away. I kept coming back to that face, and it reached out to me, something about it saying ‘relax, all is well, stop fretting about those waves out to sea. You’re safe here. Look, your bowl is full of marvels’. The closed eyes really did clinch it for me, they may prevent a more direct contact with the fisherman and his emotional world, but they also seal a particular kind of ephemeral magic into the painting, fixing it like a shimmering gossamer soap bubble stretched across the frame.
I’m just so chuffed to bits to have been able to acquire this painting and I look forward to getting to know it better very soon when I pick it up after the forthcoming exhibition at Oriel Tegfryn. I thought ‘The Catch’ could be an early 50th birthday present to myself, though as I don’t reach my half century until next April it’s a very early present – but I couldn’t let this one get away!
Thanks Clive for letting me share my thoughts on the Artlog. It was a pleasure writing about how I fell for your wonderful painting.”
Phil Cooper. 14/08/14