Sir Paul Talks about his Paintings.
On Saturday, September 16th, the Daily Telegraph (London) published a portion of a longer interview which appears in the Autumn, 2000 edition of the journal Modern Painters in which Sir Paul shares his thoughts on painting with the journal's editor, Karen Wright.
When asked how he became interested in collecting art, Sir Paul responded:
"I would like to say I am not a great expert on anything. - I have fragments of knowledge but I am not a great expert. I am not a great expert on music, either. I used to hang around some of the galleries in London just for fun [in the Sixties] and I bought a little Cocteau drawing, which I had on my wall. And then it started seriously when I met Robert Fraser. We became good pals and we just talked art all the time. Robert had a lot of pieces in his apartment and I'd say, "That's nice", and he'd say, "It's for sale".
And why was Robert Fraser's art gallery such an influence on Sir Paul?
"I think he hung around with music people because he was attracted to them. It was the happening scene - it was where all the energy was coming from. A lot of artists like Peter Blake were into music and there was a kind of crossover that happened naturally. Robert would say, 'Do you know Takis? He's a cool sculptor', and I'd say, 'What kind of thing?' And he'd say, 'Long tank aerials, that kind of thing.' So we'd go and see him. We'd all just get in my car and drive down the Fulham Road. So I got this very informal education, which is how I like my education. I have never been good with the formalities - in music or anything."
Is Sir Paul defending himself with this remark?
"It's more a disclaimer. I don't want people to be reading this thinking, "Bloody hell! That's completely wrong, he doesn't know." I like the primitive approach, so if I learn to sail I don't take sailing lessons: I get into a boat and I capsize a lot. It's actually very much my philosophy and it works equally well in painting and in music.
"Back to Robert Fraser. We would go to all these painters, and that's when I got to know Alan Jones, Paolozzi, Takis. And when I developed an interest in Magritte, for instance, which became one of my passions, Robert would say, 'Why, I know Isoles' [Magritte's dealer]. So I'd say, 'Great!' and we'd go over to see Alexandre [Isoles) and have dinner with him. He lived over the shop so we'd go down after and there would be these beautiful Magrittes, and I bought some wonderful ones, which I still love.
"The definitive moment with Robert and me was when I was in London, and I was filming a singer, Mary Hopkin, in the garden. Robert arrived, got let into the house, then left. And when I came back in I found he'd propped up this little canvas by Magritte on the table where he knew I'd see it. It was a big green apple, and written in lovely cursive writing was Au revoir, and Robert had put it there like a conceptual thing - he'd just left and Au revoired. It was a golden moment. It's still one of my favourite pictures of all times. The Apple logo came from that.
"The next most influential person was Linda. Linda was very knowledgeable because her father, Lee Eastman, was a great collector - of mainly Abstract Expressionists. He was a lawyer in New York. When you went to his house there were a lot of fine paintings - he had Rothkos - and he knew a lot of these people. He had French Impressionists that he'd bought in the Thirties.
"So Linda was the next major influence. One of my chat-up lines was 'Would you like to see my Magrittes?"
Did this line work on Linda?
"Yeah! She said 'What! You've got Magrittes?' Most of the other girls wouldn't have known what I was talking about, but Linda knew all that. She had known the Warhol crowd, so she could fill me in. I had never wanted to get in with them - I sensed a danger. Linda would go down to Max's Kansas City, and all that, but she didn't get too in with them; like me, she wanted to get out before it got too crazy. And you had to judge it all in the Sixties. At the same time as being stoned you had to retain some sense of balance.
"Linda helped a lot in collecting. We built up a very personal collection. I fell madly in love with Tiepolo's drawings and occasionally she would buy me one. We decided we wouldn't have any themes - they just had to be pictures we really liked. She bought me Magritte's easel when he was selling the contents of his studio, and with it came a little table and his spectacles, which is very poignant, and there's all this stuff in the drawers. I like these connections, I like to feel a part of him - although using the easel was very intimidating."
What about the influence of Willem de Kooning on Sir Paul?
"He was the great influence because through Linda's dad, who was his lawyer, we got to go to his studio in Amagansett. When we were on holiday we'd just ring him, and we'd go over and have coffee and sit in these two big chairs and look at his new work, and just wander around and chat to him about it.
"What happened was someone said, 'Bill would like to give you and Linda a picture.' Bill had known Linda since she was a kid and he'd always liked her because she was a free spirit. Faced with this gift we thought, 'We can't have one of those big million- pound canvases.' So we chose one of his pulls. (When he had too much paint on the surface of a canvas he would put the New York Times on it and pull the paint off and he'd get like a print from it.)
"It was a beautiful one. I plucked up the nerve to ask what it was. And then came the most freeing moment of my painting life when Bill said, 'I don't know, it looks like a couch, huh?' And the way he said 'huh' excited me because he threw it open to me and it was like my head just burst. I thought it looked like a purple mountain, but it was so liberating - the idea that it didn't matter. I suddenly realised it was the freedom, the colour, it was the paint and the way it was applied. I'd been itching to apply paint to a surface, and I decided life begins at 40, so let's do something.
"I reminded Peter Blake recently of when I asked him for practical tips. I wanted advice on painting and he said, 'Paint more, that's the only advice I can give.' I said to him more recently: 'You know, what I was looking for was how to get hair off the canvas if it's on there and you don't want it.' We had a laugh about it. "
Sir Paul then proceeded to discuss specific paintings:
"This series [in a new book accompanying an exhibition at the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol] comes from an image I got of someone scratching three fingers down a wall. I woke up with this thing [in my head] and I thought it would be just a black canvas and these three-fingered scratches, like someone in prison who is either trying to get out or they're trying to mark the dates. It's like graffiti.
"That set me off on a little bunch of paintings. And things happen, like I didn't want it to just be black, so I was going to make it blue-black. So I threw some blue on the canvas and was going to blend it. But then a shape emerged with this blue, and I still don't know what it is. It looks vaguely phallic, or somebody's ass bending away from you. But that's what started to fascinate me. It's probably an accident, but what I like is the inner content, that I have no idea what my dreams are about.
"My equation would be that my computer is fully loaded by now - maybe in younger people there's a bit of loading to go, but mine's loaded pretty much - so what I try and do is allow it to print out. I'm interested to hear what it's got in there. I think we must be interested as musicians, too, as often our music arrives that way. I dreamed the song Yesterday. It was just in a dream, I woke up one morning and had a melody in my head, so I have to believe in that."
When asked about his painting Oak Apple, he responded:
"This is made of oak apple. I was in the post office trying to buy some Quink one day, and they said, 'We don't sell ink any more in this modern day and age.' I was on the way out and there was an old man and he said, "If you want some ink, get those little oak apples, put them in water for two weeks and you'll have a nice ink.' So that's what I did, and that's the ink you get, beautiful brown ink. "
Asked if the 1920s feeling of his work is intentional, Sir Paul replied:
"I think it's just the guy, his little moustache, he's very Twenties. If I had to use one word about my paintings it would be free, and that's what I like about it. Things just arrive. "
Is that how things work for him in his painting?
"Well, it seems to be the road I'm going along. I have millions of little ways to get over blocks because for me - because I don't do it for a living - it's important I enjoy it. But every artist that I've ever talked to gets a moment in a painting of "What the f*** am I doing? What the hell is this?' You get that scary feeling I used to get at school: you suddenly think, 'Oh my god! This could go horribly wrong at any second.' So I developed tricks.
" In my mind I have a friend who is Luigi. Luigi owns a restaurant and he's got an alcove, and he always needs a painting for it. So whatever I'm doing, if ever I get that terrifying moment I say, 'It's for Luigi's alcove, Luigi will like this.' And he just lets me off - it frees my head for two seconds and then I'm over the hurdle and I can carry on. Luigi's alcove is one of my huge saviours.
"And then I like blending paint, so I have an alter ego called Mr Blendini. He often paints for Luigi. "
What is Sir Paul working on at the moment?
"I've done a few things in the past couple of years. Not an awful lot. I think some of them were just therapy, but again I don't think that's a bad thing. Yeah, it's been quite grief-laden, the last couple of years, so anything I've done has picked up a tinge of that. A bit stark. A bit sad, dark perhaps. But it was good to do them. I'm glad I did." Hopkins)
(kindly submitted by PLUGGED correspondent Joan M. Hopkins)
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