Saturday, 6 August 2022

Buying Miro's Cat

This about a painting called Miro's Cat by a North Devon artist called Gerrard Lindley. I hope somebody will tell him that the picture he created in June this year has found a most appreciative home, and that if I should ever bump into him, he is assured of a very sincere thank you. Possibly a drink. I'd like to know the story behind the painting. I'm sure there must be one.

I'd got the usual annual invitation to attend the Private View of the artworks on display at the Westward Ho! & Bideford Art Society's Annual Open Exhibition at the Burton Art Gallery & Museum at Bideford, next to the park, and almost on the Quay. This is an important annual Exhibition, and the Gallery is an important venue. I bought paintings there in 2009 and 2011, and ever since have received an annual invitation to attend the Private View, with a companion if I wish. Unfortunately from 2012 to 2021 I couldn't go, as I'd altered my late-summer West Country holiday dates from July or August to September so that I could go to the Appledore Book Festival instead. But in 2022 I'd reverted to July, and I may very well keep to that from now on. Over the years, I've met a lot of authors, and bought a lot of books. It was all very diverting for a long while, but for the future I'd rather like to concentrate on pictures. 

Anyway, I arrived just before the appointed time for the Private View to open, on Friday 15th July. There was a good atmosphere. It was even better once everyone had secured their free glass of wine! I made sure to get my shots before too many invitees turned up.

There was a notice saying that for publicity purposes an official photographer might be taking photographs, and attendees might find themselves included in the pictures taken. That was a relief. I could blast away with LXV and people would assume it was my special business to do so. But I made a point of assuring more than one person that I wasn't in fact that official photographer. It didn't matter. Although I was almost the only person there with a proper camera, I certainly wasn't the only person taking pictures. A lot of people had their phones out, either to shoot the artworks or to get souvenir selfies.

The artworks were well presented. The paintings were nicely arranged - 'well hung' being the term apparently. (I thought that was something you said about men. Or was I thinking of pheasants and venison? Never mind) Here's a selection, with close-ups of works that I particularly wanted to examine. 

Those two works above were both very expensive. Not at all in the 'affordable' category, which I suppose means 'under £300' just now.  

Time to get my glass of wine! Drink ticket at the ready, I joined the queue in the Café du Parc, which adjoins the Gallery, and can be reached through it, as well as from the park. I chose a crisp white.

The Gallery was filling up. There was a cluster of people in one corner, where two pictures made of sewn fabrics were getting plenty of attention. Needless to say, they weren't 'affordable'!

By no means was it all pictures, mixed-media or otherwise. There was for instance this ceramic chess set, entitled 'Land Versus Sea' - so snails battling it out with prawns:

Most people I talked to thought it exquisite. True; but surely difficult to get a grip on which pieces corresponded with conventional chess pieces. Well, I'd quickly get confused. Maybe you weren't seriously meant to play a proper game with it.

I enjoyed the milling crowd of attendees, with only a passing thought for any possible Covid risk. Unlike those daft and irresponsible Anti-Vaxers, I'd got myself fully jabbed (and I'm ready for more: bring it on) and felt reasonably safe. It wasn't disco-crowded anyway.

I especially enjoyed speaking with this woman, an artist herself, over here from America:

Was I going to buy anything? There was indeed one acrylic painting that I kept coming back to. This one.

I very much liked the style, the composition, and the particular colours used. Miro's Cat by Gerrard Lindley, the brochure said. Hmm. I was sure I'd seen something akin to it elsewhere - the wavy cat's whiskers and the 'El Gato' (Spanish, of course, for 'The Cat') jogged some memory. But whether wholly original in concept or not, it was definitely a painting to consider. The price was £225 - affordable! But should I actually spent the cash? I'd spent so much already this year on house, car and caravan. I had a potentially expensive home rewiring job looming in early August, and then a long holiday in the north of Scotland for the whole of September. It was all budgeted for, but should I reduce my cash reserves still further by getting this painting? 

I decided to sleep on it for a night or two. Then buy if I still wanted it - and if nobody else had beaten me to it. (There was indeed a local lady I spoke with, who had her eye on it) 

A couple had asked if the Museum upstairs was open. No, but it could be opened in a moment. I joined them up there. A small but well-presented museum, with at one end a special collection devoted to local pottery. Not the Barum Ware you can see in the museum at Barnstaple, but the work of famous potters local to Bideford, including some now-rare commemorative pieces. 

The lighting was pretty subdued. I wondered whether these shots would be successful, as LXV's maximum aperture of f/3.5 is on the slow side. But as you can see, my Leica X Vario's very good sensor has come to the rescue, and the pictures have turned out fine. They would be better still if I still had my Leica X-U, with its f/1.7 lens. But LXV has a zoom, and is therefore much more versatile as a picture-taking device. A good trade-off.

I noticed that from the museum you could look down on the Exhibition. I couldn't resist one or two shots of people's heads. Don't people look strange from above?

Two days later, on Sunday 17th July, I was back. The Exhibition had been on all weekend. Surely somebody must have snapped up Miro's Cat? 

But no. No orange dot. It could still be mine. And yes, mulling the matter over while chilling as best I could in the fierce heatwave on Saturday, I'd reached a decision. I wanted that picture. I could see it in my lounge. It would be eye-catching and powerful. Here I am, looking relieved and resolved at the same time.

So I went to the Art Society desk and said I'd like to buy it, provided I could take it away with me before leaving North Devon on the following Wednesday, three days ahead. When I last bought an Exhibition painting, back in 2011, there had been an inflexible rule that all sold paintings must remain on display until the close of the Exhibition, which in 2022 would be on 28th August. And it was no good trying to post it to me at home. I was heading for Scotland on 30th August: it would never get to me in time.

But they had changed their rules, and holiday visitors were now permitted to take their purchases away, so that a later return visit wasn't necessary. I could collect it on Tuesday 19th July. So I paid the £225 and it was mine. That vital orange dot was stuck next to Miro's Cat.

I was so glad I hadn't let caution get in the way. I knew that if I'd failed to buy, and had just moved on, I'd regret it. Now it would restart my art collection! Indeed, kick-start it afresh!

What to do next? I went to see those gnomes.

Two days later, on Tuesday 19th July, I was back again. The painting was taken down...

...and bubble-wrapped. The lady at the desk - none other than the Art Society chair - told me that they used a special type of bubble-wrap that wouldn't damage any artwork. In fact my purchase would be the first wrapped this year in their big new roll of the stuff. Here she is, cutting a length off.  

While this was going on, I'd dropped into conversation with a pleasant young woman who had also come to the Art Society desk. She was a local artist with a picture in the Exhibition, but hadn't been able to attend the Private View, so I hadn't been able to speak to her then (as I had with one or two of the other artists). She was going to have a coffee and maybe a crêpe for lunch at the Café du Parc. As I was getting hungry, that definitely sounded like something I might think of doing! But first, let me get the painting safely stowed away in Fiona's boot...

That done, I made my way to the Café du Parc, which looked pretty busy. I spotted the young artist, said hello, but found my own table and ordered coffee and a crêpe. Then I took a couple of shots to capture the atmosphere of the place. 

Perhaps it was those little tricolors hung about, or the ornate picture-frames, or the style of the chalked menu, or the wine bottles, but it did seem genuinely rather French to me, as opposed to pseudo. (Says she, who hasn't visited France for twenty years!) Well, the coffee and the crêpe looked authentic, and were indeed delicious.

Halfway though eating this, the young artist joined me and she made the occasion complete. She need not have, and I wouldn't have minded, but it enlivened my day. Her spontaneity was just the thing to make this, my last day in North Devon for now, not only successful but memorable. We conversed easily, and at so much length that she overran her parking by fifteen minutes. (But without consequences - thankfully Bideford wasn't Brighton, where the parking officers might eat you alive for any transgression, and you parked in fear) 

After the hoped-for painting-purchase, and such engaging company at lunchtime, the afternoon seemed flat and rather an anti-climax. But I was thrilled at having a painting in the boot, with all the fun to come of hanging it up at home. Next post.