In One Ear and Out the Other

Bill Barrell says his  last year in school was spent gazing out of the school room window…..

…..   ” The teacher would get my attention by aiming a piece of chalk at my head, often with great accuracy, and bring me back from my adventure among the clouds and sky. I was fourteen. Even though I would then sit and pay attention, so much seemed to go in one ear and out the other.

In One Ear and Out the Other, Head with Green Nose
In One Ear and Out the Other (Head with Green Nose), 36 in x 32 in, 1998

 The British school system was set up as to provide a work force with a bunch of muscle, lacking brains. How to add and subtract pound shillings and pence was drummed into us so that we could go out into the world and spend our wages on beer and baccy after toiling in the mines, factories or fields.

I did have the one teacher who I could understand what he was talking about. The art teacher. He would walk around in his tweed jacket with leather elbows while sucking on a pipe and umming and arring over our work. He was big into abstract art of which I knew nothing. He mentioned Miro, I remember. He would encourage us to just make shapes and forms and curvy lines. He liked my work so much that he pinned one up and discussed it. Little I knew this would become my calling ten years later. His was the only class I didn’t daydream in. I still remember it all very clearly, whereas history, science and math is all a blurr.

My first year as a wage earner was spent in the west end of London as a theatre ticket and messenger boy. I had previously found a job in a stained glass workshop at apprentice’s wages. That didn’t sit well with my father as he felt I had to contribute to my upkeep. He found me my West end job saying it would broaden my mind (and give him more to spend down the White Lion). Perhaps it was just as well. Who knows. I probably would be dead from lead poisoning if I had stayed at the glass shop. Maybe my father with his selfish desires saved me from a grizzly end.

Also, being a messenger boy perhaps fitted in with my later calling. Paintings are like messages. They reveal things in us we would never have known otherwise.  We can view things in a different light and peer into the dark recesses of our minds. Art keeps pressing forward, never stagnant always fresh and questioning. For instance, who would have thought a hundred years ago that Damien Hurst’s sliced up cow in formaldehyde would be a priceless museum piece.

So, in one ear and out the other makes me aware of where I came from and perhaps, some things we hear do not need to be retained.”

The Not So Still Life

Bill Barrell loves to paint but tea also plays a big role in his day to day life….

Still Life with Telephone
Telephone Ring, 50 in x 66 in, 1998

…. I am usually the first one up in my house which means that I make the tea.  Marilyn, my muse, will not stir until tea has flowed through her lips. Once in a while, she will call out “Good Cuppa”. This means all of the elements have been in the correct position for the perfect Cuppa.

One can never rely on it being a good cup of tea no matter how much attention one pays to the making of it. I have read much on tea and have a Chinese friend who scolds me for adding milk. I have enjoyed many a cup of oolong or lapsangshoshon, but nothing surpasses a cup of regular Brook Bond Red Rose tea with milk – no sugar.

This painting, “Telephone Ring”, was leading me on just such  a merry chase and was giving me a hard time. Deep in thought and wrestling with what to put where or what color would bring it to life, the phone rang and I answered it.  I was still talking on the phone when I glanced at the work and through the distraction I saw what I needed! I thanked my caller profusely, hung up and dove right back into the painting, wrestling it to the ground.

So, what I have in this painting is a captured moment. The phone rings and things have come to life. A painting can look so easy and sometimes it does come easy.  Many times it’s a struggle, creating doubts and fears that one has lost ones mojo. Often, these works turn out to be the most forceful and interesting because digging deep into the psychic mind, we find the ability to solve what seems like an unsolveable problem.

When looking at paintings, it is a good thing to look at the reworking in areas. This can give you an idea of the struggle. For example, you can often see in Picasso’s work that one line or block of color will change the whole area therefore shifting the perspective, feeling or energy field, the latter being such a vital part of the work.

What is so great about art is that once the energy has been attained it is an energy force that does not diminish.

It is almost as good as a good cuppa……