Work in progress - Chekhov in exile These images are from short stories I am writing about some of the characters in Chekhov's plays. After the Revolution, what happened to them? Some, like Natasha's lover in 'Three sisters' no doubt thrived on the petty bureaucracy, which inevitably followed, but others, such as the three sisters, Olga, Masha and Irina and Masha's husband, would have had to flee. Most of the images shown here are from what I have imagined happened to Vanya and Sonya (from 'Uncle Vanya') and Astrov, the doctor loved by Sonya. I see them landing in Aldeburgh, which in the early 1920's was not the stylish little town known today for its world famous music, but an inward looking small town, with all that suggests. This is a work in progress and so more images will be added, working towards a show.
My studio is very small and so, if I want to convey a sense of space, I have to work with miniature rooms. I have used dolls' houses, but recently, I am making my own interiors, using pieces of wood,often found on skips. The studio window overlooks the garden, which is beautiful, but if I want to suggest a marine narrative, or a landscape, I have to paint one. The white interior is one I find fascinating, as it is by the window and so I can record the changing light from the sharp brilliance of summer, through to the cool and close toned winter. Taking a subject seen in different lights, is an ongoing preoccupation - hence the Fitzwilliam and Chevington series, the interiors and several of the still lifes, where white or monochrome objects are lined up on the same shelf and the light (always natural, never artificially created ) defines the passing seasons and time of day. Several of the props are from Gabor Cossa, Trumpington Street, Cambridge
The sea, for me, is a purely visual experience. I loathe swimming and dislike being on a boat and can still recall the childhood misery of paddling in the Arctic wastes off the Suffolk coast and the supposedly less freezing Solent. But visually, it is sublime. One image which I want to recreate, either in paint or some kind of construction, is the quick, diffused brilliance of the light on the marshes as you approach Venice, seen from the Prague/Vienna train. I took photographs at the time, but they are not very satisfactory, and do not convey the sense of that flash of ethereal light on the watery space, neither land nor sea, but, like Venice, simply existing. Some of the images are of the river, but a river so near to the sea, that they can (just) count as seascapes.
Cambridge is one of the fastest growing towns in the country, with new building including the inevitable mix of the hideous, the odd and the beautiful. Botanic House stands by one of the gates of the University Botanic Garden, and commands the view down Hills Road, over the War Memorial and on into the centre. The curved glass means that it reflects the weather and the time of day and on this early afternoon, in February, the blue sky appeared to be vacuum wrapped around the front. The Budapest buildings are those which we see often, when visiting our son Alex and his family. Budapest is a miracle city; in 1945, all the bridges over the Danube were down, most of the Casle District in Buda was in ruins. Pest was marginally less damaged, but whole streets had to be rebuilt. Now, it is one of the finest, most elegant cities in Europe. From Buda, the views of the Danube, sashaying past Pest and the Parliament Building must be one of the great sights of the world.
Still life. The two words are a perfect description of the subject. Still life does not move, but it is still life. Nature Morte, is not how I view the objects on my studio shelf. They are not dead. Stillness is a living existence, the lack of movement suggesting a temporary cessation rather than a final and absolute death. Most of my still life photographs are taken from a shelf in my studio, lit from a side window. The light is a major player in what I see as an ongoing drama series. Each hour is different, often changing minute by minute and it is always natural light. I am not interested in anything else, as I find the beauty of natural light, however unexciting it might be on a dull day, of infinite fascination. One thing I have discovered which makes a difference to a composition, is that if there are too many objects of value i.e. antique and beautiful, the effect can be quite dull. Mixed with trivia such as boxes, bottles, small tin cans and crumpled paper, often roughly covered with acrylic paint, the precious ones take on a new life. It becomes theatre, with the divas surrounded by extras - who are not really extra, but essential.
I stopped photographing the front of the Fitzwilliam Museum a few years ago, when the light began to get either over sharp or dull. Having taken pictures of it nearly every morning; even rushing down to see the early summer sun at 5.0am, it began to fade as a subject, overtaken by other ideas. From the late summer 2013 to spring 2014, the front was covered in scaffolding and this made it into a completely new subject. The images shown here are a selection from the time when the light was at its most subtle and interesting. The image taken one Christmas morning is - I know - slightly blurred, but I loved the colours, which even on a cold morning, when it was still quite dark, managed to shine. But then, on December 6th, it looked really rather good, with the low, winter light turning the left hand section blue and gold and the middle coumns into grey and silver.
Some years ago, I started to photograph a city which never existed. Charlemont was a dream, a place which never got beyond a few foundation stones – which were in the 1920's dug up to make way for a Co-op. A city in the Cambridgeshire Fens, it would have rivalled anything then seen on mainland Europe. Using templates from other sources, my intention was to create an impression of not only how it might have looked, but as it was – an unrealised dream. In the 1630's, the great engineering project was the draining of the Fens. King Charles 1, excited by the new found land, rising from the water, decided to build a city, with a palace to rival Versailles and to call it Charlemont. The site was to have been at Manea, in the centre of the Great Level. According to William Dugdale (1605 -1686 ) the antiquarian and historian, and contemporary chronicler of the scheme, the King drew the designs himself. However, lack of funds, the Civil War and the violent opposition of the locals, prevented the idea from becoming more than a romantic dream. Originally, Charles had envisaged an elegant town, possibly with a university rivalling Cambridge and in its watery aspects, the grand vistas of Venice. The images shown here are some of my ideas of how he might have envisaged the city rising from the marshes, seventy years before Tsar Peter the Great built St Petersburg. The drawings made by the King have never been found, or if they have, they are not widely known and not in the usual collections. I have contacted the Royal Archive, the British Library and many other institutions and the only references I have found, are fleeting references and the entry by Dugdale in the University Library, Cambridge. Dugdale, who published his history of the embanking and draining of the Fens some time after the events, in 1662, does not make it clear whether he witnessed King Charles drawing up his plans, or whether it was hearsay. Apart from King's College Chapel and Ely Cathedral, Cambridgeshire is not known for the glory of its architecture and so it is fascinating to wonder how the county would have been shaped if Charles' intentions had been carried out and we had a Venice cum Versailles in the Fens. In an increasingly utilitarian world, it is the romantics and the dreamers who are to be cherished and who are fast becoming an endangered species.