Yesterday saw me painting again and one of the great things is that I think I might have finally discovered an approach that actually suits my method of painting (maybe that should be lack of skills but that is for others to judge).
However, whilst I was having lunch yesterday I watched the latest episode in the ever entertaining Victoria Coren Mitchell’s series ‘ How to be a Bohemian‘. Amongst all the bed swapping of the Bloomsbury set she discussed Eric Gill and his far from conventional life (which I think is as nice a way of putting it as I can). Gill was a devout Roman Catholic and yet his sexual practices were far less christian. At one stage during the episode Coren Mitchell discussed whether Gill should be considered a great artist given what he did? In her view he should some of Gill’s engravings are tainted given that he was sleeping with the subject at the time. All very prudish perhaps but then the subject was his teenage daughter. This took me aback and I had to try and think through what she was saying, surely the sign of a really well put together programme, and I have to say I think I can’t agree with her. This is not because of what Gill did, which was totally disgraceful and in his terms sinful, but rather trying to impose current thoughts and deeds on art produced in a different era is always fraught with danger.
Whilst researching Gill’s work online I came across an image that I have recreated above. It is in one of the fonts that Gill created and sums up everything that Gill did in his private life as well as his public life. When I started to examine his art I found myself more conflicted because he was so very very good. After much thought I think I accept Coren Mitchell’s argument but don’t agree with the central point of rejection of Gill the artist. If you wish to hear a far more eloquent defence of Gill then the Rev Richard Coles does so with great humanity in the programme.
So yesterday evening I start down and made a drawing inspired by one of Gill’s prints Prior of Caldey – 1926. Now it is not meant to be a direct copy for lots of reasons but rather an experiment in the use of economy of line and making every mark count.
Gill’s abominable personal life troubles me but his art is outstanding. Who said life would be straightforward? As Coles said…”…the sinner stands at the heart of Christianity…”