In between the lulls in the music we were free to wander through the hall and gardens. It’s packed with fabulous artwork. Impressionists, old portraits, sculptures and modern art. Quite a formidable display. If I had a bit more time I could have taken better shorts and got the light and colour better – but there was music to listen to!
Have you ever had one of those truly incredible strokes of complete coincidence? I did with Burra. I’d never heard of the guy. Then, back in the seventies, I was browsing in a book shop and pulled out this art book from among this big stack. I started glancing through and was immediately taken with these fabulous stylised paintings of Harlem in the thirties. The paintings were incredible – the colours, the images – very original. It was almost Picasso-like, almost surreal. I hadn’t seen anything quite like it. So I bought the book.
That night I put the telly on and lo and behold (there were only 3 channels back then – I don’t think Channel 4 had been invented) on BBC 2 was a documentary about Edward Burra which I watched with great enthusiasm. It was brilliant. At the end of the programme it mentioned that he had an exhibition at the Tate which I went to the very next day.
How amazing was that?
If I hadn’t have pulled that book out from that heap I’d have never known about him. In the space of two days I had discovered him, bought a book, watched a documentary and visited an exhibition. I’ve never seen anything more about him again. But I reckon he was a really important artist in the development of modern art.
Check him out:
Opher’s new book – Opher’s Art and outpourings – does exactly what it says on the tin! It is a collection of of Opher’s Art – in his unique style – ‘PSYCHEDELIC PRIMITIVE’ unlike any other. Full of bold colour, lurid brushstrokes and meaningful imagery. Along with each painting is a piece of writing that not only illuminates the artwork but also expands upon the philosophy and political inspiration behind it. The short sections are interesting, thought-provoking, stimulating reads. It is short, light and fun. Why not have a look? Here’s a couple of extracts: Nuclear War Head – 1977 I’d grown up in the 1960s under the constant threat of mutual annihilation. This was the cold war era – the age of the Cuban Missile crisis. I remember going to school on that day not expecting to return home. The Russian fleet was heading for Cuba with missiles for the Castro. The USA told them that if they crossed a certain point it was an act of war. Kennedy may have been bluffing. We will likely never really know. The Russians steamed straight up to the line. We held our breath. They turned back. We grew up with the knowledge that tens of nuclear warheads were pointing at us wherever we were in Britain. America was using us as a forward base for their missiles. They had hopes of a nuclear war being confined to Europe. It would leave America and the bulk of the USSR out. We were the equivalent of a huge aircraft carrier for American planes. We were expendable. When I taught in Beverley the great US Vulcan bombers took off from Leconfield directly over the school. The whole building shuddered as the giants clawed their way into the air. Each one of those huge planes carried a dozen nuclear bombs. It was not a question of whether we were going to be consumed in a nuclear holocaust so much as when. Britain was splattered with nuclear shelters for the politicians and civil servants. Under the House of Commons, far below the underground the politicians put their faith in a hardened shelter fully resistant to direct hits. I put my faith in CND and multilateral disarmament. I put my faith in CND and unilateral disarmament too. I felt it was better not to be a forward base for American whims. Too many of them were evangelical Christians who were looking forward to the end of the world! I wanted to live!
Psychedelic Self-portrait – 1974 When I started out on my teaching PGCE course I made the first compromise. The hair, which had reached my arse, was cropped to shoulder length. Somehow I thought that this was acceptable. I suppose it was. I got through my teaching course, following a few spats with my supervisor, and managed to get a job. This is when I suffered a schism in my persona. At school I was Chris. To my friends I was Opher. My ‘professional’ persona was built on aspects of my personality. As Opher I was me – open, transparent and fully alive. I wanted this self-portrait to catch the energy that was roaring out of me. This is a portrait of Opher.
Work – 1973 I called this piece work with rather a tongue in cheek attitude. I have never minded work. I like working hard. What I resent is the time it takes. There are always a thousand more pressing things to be doing with my life than work. Work gets in the way. On those days when there were poems to write, books to get out of my head and paintings clogging up the arteries, it was hard to become motivated by work. On those days when you have been up to three in the morning getting into the flow of a novel it is incredibly frustrating when the alarm goes off at seven and you have a whole day of work ahead of you before you can get back to doing what seems overpoweringly important. Work is prostitution. You sell your body and brain for a sum of money. You were stuck within the confines of the workplace. Outside the universe raged. You were not free to experience it. In 1976 I discovered teaching. I’d saved up my PGCE training as a year at college to escape work. I had no intention of going into teaching. I merely needed a year off. I found that teaching gave me a creative outlet. It allowed me to give vent to my passions. If I had to work at least I had found something I could be happy with. I was part of building a better, fairer, just world. When you are doing something you enjoy it is not work. The alarm clock still frustrating went off at seven and there were five days a week that were set in stone. Psychedelic Opher & Liz – 1973 I’m not sure Liz finds this very flattering. I had this idea of fusing some of the characteristics of each of us in the other. Her partial beard does not really suit her and having my nose is not in keeping with her immense beauty. But I certainly get the better deal. Love means that you always carry part of the other person round within you. We have shared so much we are bonded forever, beyond break up or death. We carry part of everyone we have interacted with but when you have been as close as lovers can, so that your mind and emotions flow from one to the other there is a melding that goes beyond anything else. We are no longer separate, nor can ever be. It was another one of my attempts to show the energy at play within us. I also had this idea of light and shadow, good and evil – a duality at play. Alien Vision in red – 1972 This is collaboration with Pete Smith. He did the drawing. I did the painting. Pete was brilliant at doing these cartoons and drawings. He could encapsulate so much into them. I was impressed by his genius. I had always been keen on Science Fiction. I do not like Fantasy. My penchant was for stories based on real science about life in the future. Science Fiction may be the work of imagination but it presents a lot of scope for looking into the depths of the future at what might happen. There’s a lot to be learnt from studying the future. All the religious fanatics believe that we are the only intelligent beings in the universe. That we were placed here and the universe was created by God for us. I find that not only naive and simplistic but completely laughable. I wish the Neanderthal’s had not become extinct. If there were two separate species of intelligent humans it would have been much harder for the fanatics to represent us as the chosen ones made in God’s image. I do not believe in any god. I do not believe we have evolved. I certainly do not believe in the incredibly narcissistic view that the whole infinite universe was created for our benefit. One day we will (if we manage to survive long enough) discover other intelligent life in this galaxy. When that day happens, and I doubt (due to the immense distances involved) that it will be a face to face contact, it will shake the religious fanatics to the core. I love the way Pete created the mirror-image of NASA, the reflection of the alien and tears.