45 - Nelson, and opportunities missed
I've no idea why I went in the charity shop the other day, or what I was looking for, because I fell head over heels in love at first sight with this gorgeous old sewing machine, and all other sensible considerations flew out of my head. It didn't matter whether the machine worked or not, it was just the thing to add the finishing touch to my Circling Forward exhibition. Now, I have a sewing machine already, and that is what made me hesitate - my trusty Pfaff Ambition 1 with endless stitch designs and a text setting too, so I really didn't need this black beauty. Desire consumed me nevertheless. The Pfaff has just been serviced, having suffered a severe indisposition after I'd fed it one too many ply of sticky pastel-coated corrugated cardboard at one sitting, but is ready to go again.
So I hesitated and I dithered and I went away to allow head and heart to battle things out. The next day I was challenged by a visitor to my exhibition "You said you'd be stitching at a round table!" I had indeed rashly hinted that I would be stitching into the long drawing which I am making to coil right round the 8-metre exhibition space. How stylish I would look sitting at a round table with Nelson clattering away in front of me, it's colourful circular motifs and round brass handle and foot plate emphasising beautifully the circularity aspect of my exhibition. That was it, I needed the Nelson, and the next morning off I trotted to the charity shop, cash in hand. Of course, Nelson was far too beautiful to have been sitting waiting on the shelf and had been snapped up and whirled away no sooner had I left the shop, and I had missed my chance.
In my heart of hearts I knew it was the right thing. If I am to do any sewing at my "exhibition in transition", the sturdy Pfaff is what I need. Things change and so do plans. I'd given Circling Forward its subtitle with that very thought in mind. The beautiful gallery space hosting the exhibition, known as The Depozitory, now Montage Place, has undergone many changes of identity, and the idea behind my own exhibition was as part of an ongoing artistic development - my existing oil paintings hung on the wall, with a 30-metre roll of paper providing the substrate for a set of new ideas, new visions outlined in simple fineliner during the course of my time there, reflecting my surroundings and my wandering eye in those moments in time. My original idea had actually been to replace or cover over the existing work with new drawings, but the response to the abstract paintings and the writings accompanying them in that wonderful airy, bright former chapel-cum-ballroom-cum coastguard's lookout has been so powerful that I felt I would be doing returning viewers a huge disservice to cover up the existing work, and so the paintings remain, and the architectural features of the room itself - the balustrades at the windows, have provided the perfect anchors for my evolving revolving drawing at the foot of the wall displays. Some stand-alone 3-D canvases too have been added today to provide additional anchor-points for the drawing to snake around.
I have, no doubt, missed opportunities during my first two weeks there. I've spent a lot of time just gazing. There is too much to take in - the surroundings are too exciting, too beautiful, too overwhelming. In this room on the Island, I can see glittering chandeliers and decorative acanthus leaves on the ceiling. From the tall graceful arched windows I can see right into Hampshire, I can see massive vehicle transporter ships on the Solent, an old-fashioned sailing cutter, a modern naval frigate and cruise liners going by, I can see chimney pots, a church and a venerable art deco hotel, and I find myself drawing wobbly window panes reflected in my picture glass, and the flies crawling up them. I have spent much time too catching panicked late red admiral butterflies as big as bats (where have they come from?) in a makeshift trap consisting of a lead crystal rose bowl and a Moody Blues album (Montage is that sort of a Place), to set them free outdoors.
So I dither and dally and goggle and draw. But as I do so I reflect on my oil paintings that are up on the walls. Most of them started with a random hasty line or two capturing a random encounter with a random creature or moving thing, never planning that one day they would turn into paintings or anything at all. The tiny unplanned things are often the things that that turn out to hold the greatest treasure, so there's no point looking back with regret. My long drawing is progressing, I am drawing whatever my eye rolls upon - shapes from my own abstracts, the curling fingers of plaster acanthus leaves, the flies on the window panes. Missed opportunities are actually rarely really missed if we make the most of the little things we are able to take hold of at any given time, keep moving on, never still, ever circling forward.
Some of you have already visited Circling Forward, some live too far away to visit, so I have created a virtual exhibition with a selection of paintings from the real one in a room that is different but equally elegant. You can find it through the Gallery page of this website (menu at the top of the page). In the real world, Circling Forward is open at Montage Place at The Depozitory, Nelson Street, Ryde, PO33 2EZ, every afternoon (12 noon - 4pm except Sundays and Mondays), until 21st October 2023.