As a parent of two wonderfully exhausting children, aged 2 and 4, I can attest that our home is overrun with scraps of paper, magazines, colouring books, hallway walls, backs of armchairs, the odd paperback book and table-tops littered with the visual musings of small hands: the graffiti of doodles, portraits of family members, animals and general streams of consciousness as perceived and transcribed by pre-schoolers.
As indelible as the ink they are sometimes scrawled with, these drawings are naive, primitive, simplistic, ambiguous and often requiring interpretation or explanation from their originators. At the same time, they express a free-hand, innovation of form, unburden with historic or stylistic influences. All in all, they are what every parent delights to see and experiences in the Early Years development of their children. And of course, we can all expect that little has happened to change both the artistic output of, and emotional responses to, a child’s art/drawings/visual commentaries with each passing generation of children.
But for all that, I was struck hard by the painting shown here, ascribed to the Veronese painter Giovanni Francesco Caroto in 1515. With sharp intake of breath, I experienced a compression of time unlike any other I can remember in recent memory. Within the pages of an art book in the corporate-lit shelves of a well-known bookstore chain, itself located on the sanitized grounds of the financial centre of London, is a family keepsake painting of their son portrayed with one can assume to be something of his characteristic smile and handiwork. Here is a painting, 497 years old and counting, which equates with many images that many parents would recognize, either taped to fridge doors, pinned to Mummy’s office cubical wall or included as Grandpa’s token Christmas card insert.
The painting resonates for several reasons. Primarily, the incongruity of its subject matter against the tradition of oil painting, and certainly Italian painting, of the 16th century. There are no mythological allegories, no religious connotations nor figures, no kings nor courtiers, no monied estates, no hunting scenes, no Bacchusian revelry, no still lifes. Just a child and his drawing. The lack of formality too, separates this painting from the mainstay of the time. There are also no subliminal messages inserted from extraneous items or motifs – there simply are none present. At heart, it offers a personal visage of someone loved and cherished, an inner-circle memento of a passing stage in a small life. It might even have been a post-mortum relic of a dead child. Whatever the intended use and commissioning (and let’s agree that such paintings were non-trivial items of expense and required some familial status in society), it is a powerful and emotive connection across so many passed years.
The only other notable sense of a historical life – whose, I will never truly know – that I can recall was upon seeing the hollowed, amorphous shells that once enclosed the bodies of the people of Pompeii. Seeing their fleeing, cowering, defensive poses, and understanding the pyroclastic wave that swarmed to engulf them, triggered the same sense of immediacy within me and to feel their presence, as readily as had I felt that uncomfortable warmth of a seat newly vacated by a stranger on a crowded commuter train. In both the painting and Pompeii, I lost the dissociation of time; the numbing gap of prior generations.
As aware as I am of my antecedents, from my family and those beyond any hope of tracing to my lineage – otherwise known as Everyone Else Who Lived – the idea of their prior existence is often divorced from the thought of their lives, fears, wants, loves and losses. This lovely painting has reminded me of the pasts happenings, as immediate and simultaneous as I find them today, as undoubtedly they shall continue into the future – in short: without time to age nor alter. And without changing, this defines timelessness.
We bumped into Alex Springer in Trafalgar Square while travelling around various bits of London distributing No Gallery Zero. We’d only placed a few pieces and were still eager for any feedback or encouragement on what we were doing.
As luck would have it Alex is also a photographer and was also just setting out on a photography related art project – ‘London Camera Style’ where he spots people in public with interesting cameras and shoots them for his blog.
Matt has a rather nice Leica M6 which caught Alex’s eye so he came up to us and rather nervously asked if he could shoot it. His shot of Matt’s camera (but not face!) and my shoe in the bottom left showed up on his blog here.
And here’s me photo of him taking the picture!
It was great meeting Alex, it made me feel No Gallery is part of a sea of interesting art/photo projects and other people really do care about this stuff.
No Gallery Zero was a success.
Less than a week ago all the pieces of an idea that’s been running around inside my head for years finally clicked.
I drifted into photography. I got a camera one birthday when I was a kid, took lots of photos (film was cheap!) but got few of them developed (developing was expensive!) and quickly gave up on my little shiny silver plastic 110 camera. It’s probably still in a box at my mum’s house with rolls (cartridges?) of undeveloped film. Even before that I remember my dad taking family photos on caravan holidays by the sea, setting the camera’s clockwork self-timer then running to stand in the photos himself. Magic.
At university I had a friend who was obsessed with photography. One day on a road trip he showed me his Minolta SLR and explained what the hundreds of buttons and dials did. It seemed impossibly complicated. Actually, perhaps my friend was obsessed with cameras rather than photography.
I bought my own SLR and within a few months I was taking photos for the university newspaper, experimenting in the darkroom and arranging jellybeans into pretty patterns to photograph.
Then I gave up. Then I started again. Then I got serious. Then I quit my job to pursue it as a career. Then, and only then, I fell in love with it.
I used to be a nerd. I still am. I like science. I like maths. I thought about becoming a research physicist but never quite got around to it. Perhaps my favourite ever book is an instruction manual for a computer programming language. I liked art at school but was steered into more academic subjects by my teachers. Years later I walked into an art school to meet a friend and instantly had, not quite an epiphany, but some kind of realization that there’s all this stuff going on and all these people and all this experimentation and play (I love play) and hey, why wasn’t I a part of this? Who tricked me into doing actual work work?!?!?!?!?
I’m trying to explain what it is I find appealing about having a gallery. A gallery (even this No Gallery) is a means of distribution. One of the joys of doing work for me is getting it out there. It’s not even the having people see it, it’s just the getting it out there. If you do the work and if you get it out where it can be seen then you’ve done your job. Whether anyone appreciates it, well, that’s up to them and frankly if they don’t like it then screw them.
You don’t need anyone’s permission or approval. It might feel like you do, but you don’t.
This is what we (me, Matt) did:
- Bought some cheap photo frames.
- Printed out half a dozen quickly chosen photos each and put them in the frames.
- Stuck labels to the back with name, title, date and a very short (too short) explanation of No Gallery.
- Travelled around London for the best part of a day on foot and by tube, dropping off the pictures at places that seemed good at the time.
- Had fun.
- Gained a new energy and enthusiasm for art generally and our own work.
Sure, it was a trial run, there were plenty of things wrong with it and there’s lots we’ll do differently next time. Part of the reason for using our own work was I wouldn’t want to exhibit some else’s until we’ve shown the worth of the whole project. And of course we both wanted our own work to be seen. Now we’ve both done our first exhibition.
No Gallery Zero was a success!
No Gallery is a Gallery without a gallery. I wanted somewhere to display my art and the art of others.
What Is This Blog?
News about No Gallery, details of exhibitions etc.
I’m going to try to be as open as possible about the No Gallery process so a lot of work-in-progress will be shown here.
Recent Blog Posts
- How art can define timelessness
- Photos of prints that are photos
- Reading into Paintings, Drawing from Poems
- "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."
- DIY Art Stands V0
- Interesting Person #1: Alex Springer
- No Gallery Zero: the perfect is the enemy of the good
- Creative control : an oxymoron?
- Post-visualising the Zero exhibit