Saturday, 12 November 2011


One of the many reasons I love Moffat is because of the view out of my sitting room window, of birch trees growing alongside the mill leat. The mill leat, as any fule no, is the channel dug to divert water from the main water course (in this case, the Birnock Water) for reasons understood by people who use water for mills. I do not know, and have yet to find out, what the piece of land is called between the river bank and the leat. In the case of the one I overlook, it is an exquisite shallow arc, the sort one drew doodling with one's school compass. I looked at the view particularly carefully this morning, because my sensibilities had been twanged by the arrival of the RA mag whose cover (Winter 2011)is a Hockney tree painting. The nearest I ever got to him in person was on Millenium Eve. We were standing by the Embankment waiting for the damp squib (the flash of fire that was meant to fly up the Thames before the fireworks proper, but never did) when he walked past, wearing quite a big hat. It is true that good painting - great painting - makes you immediately see the world differently. I like Hockney's trees. I looked at the birches outside my window, and they suddenly looked like Hockney birches. I could imagine how he would paint them. They still have a few golden leaves which hang delicately round them, like a veil. The golden leaves, the colours and shapes of the trunks, the arc of the mill leat - add up to an unrivalled view. Which brings me onto my second point: great artists like Monet, Matisse, Hockney go on and on painting the same thing time and time again. Unlike the rest of us who perhaps sketch a window frame in Provence and then a line of washing, these guys perseverate; they persevere, repeat themselves; they go over and over - in Monet's case the same quite boring haystack - and over again, changing the colour a bit, just completely possessed to suck out every last tiny bit of interest. To confirm my point, see an article in today's The Times newspaper about two virtually identical paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, one at first glance more or less a copy of the other but on closer inspection, radically different. There is no need to look for endless surface variety. If you find something that interests you, you just need to go on digging away at it. Novelty, variety, is not all. Depth, minutiae, sticking to one's last - all that stuff - is the mark of great artists. By the way, have you ever heard of Gerhard Richter? Nor me. He is apparently the most expensive living artist. I thought when I looked him up on the internet that someone - William Boyd perhaps - had made him up. As a matter of fact, William Boyd did make an artist up, Nat Tate (geddit). but this guy Richter. He is protean, but not in a good way. Every so often he seems to ingest the whim of the moment and splats it out as dots, neorealism, abstract expressionism. You name it, this guy can (and does) do it. Is it art? I doubt it. Stop Press: Blow me down with a fine porcupine feather quill if a work by Nat Tate (fictional artist invented by William Boyd, David Bowie and Gore Vidal) isn't to be offered for sale at an auction at Sotheby's this very Tues Nov 15). the work is entitled 'Bridge No. 114', estimate £3,00-£5,000. You read it here, folks

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