WHY IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO LEARN TO PAINT OR DRAW

PAINTER LACH­LAN GOUDIE IS A JUDGE ON A NEW TV SHOW THAT AIMS TO EN­COUR­AGE US ALL TO TAKE UP THE BRUSHES, SO WE SENT CATE DEVINE FOR A LES­SON FROM THE MAN HIM­SELF

The Herald Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

IN the exquisitely crammed space of Lach­lan Goudie’s North Lon­don stu­dio I’m sit­ting on an old wooden stool and gaz­ing over at a pretty still life of an­tique glass de­canters, dam­son wine glass, lemon, nap­kin and knife, all bal­anced on a pewter plat­ter and lit strongly on one side by an anglepoise lamp. I see the sparkle in the glass, the depth in the liq­uids, the lus­tre in the pewter, the plump round­ness in the lemon. This, I think, has all the clas­sic el­e­ments of a priceless Old Mas­ter and I begin to imag­ine a stunning end re­sult of thick paint, lus­trous colours, dark shad­ows and con­vinc­ing re­flec­tions. Be­ing a mere am­a­teur, how­ever, I’ve been given 20 min­utes to sketch the lot. I panic. Lean­ing over a blank A10 sheet of car­tridge pa­per which has been clipped over a flat board on the kind of over-the-bed tray you find in hos­pi­tals, I pluck up my courage, pick up my pen­cil – and find that I haven’t a clue where to begin. I’m crushed. So much for hav­ing got a re­spectable Higher Art grade at school.

Luck­ily, the cel­e­brated Glas­gow-born artist is hov­er­ing at my shoul­der. “Try to plot the most ex­treme points, and don’t worry about fill­ing in the lines just yet,” he

prompts gen­tly. So I put a mark at the top and bot­tom of the two de­canters, at the ex­treme edges of the tray, and round the wine glass as I see them. “That’s very good,” says my tu­tor. I purr.

Then I try the out­lines of the ob­jects. This is dif­fi­cult: I find I’m very out of prac­tice and end up sketch­ing lines timidly rather than boldly tak­ing con­trol of them. Be­fore long I’m over-ob­sess­ing. An­gles get skewed, per­spec­tives shot. The ob­jects are out synch with each other.

Goudie ad­vises me to stop and look again at the whole pic­ture. I’m to imag­ine the cir­cles: of the glass stop­pers, the dec­o­ra­tive necks of the de­canters, the rim of the wine glass, the base of the ob­jects, the liq­uids in­side them. He shows me how th­ese should be nar­row to re­flect height, or opened out to con­vey depth. My page is soon plot­ted with hor­i­zon­tal ovals and elipses cir­cling ver­ti­cal cones. Im­me­di­ately, my ob­jects are erect, bal­anced, to­gether.

Now I can start on the ver­ti­cal lines. Goudie urges me not to angst too much but just to get on with it. As a left-handed per­son with a re­cently dam­aged in­dex fin­ger, my hand feels weak and my pos­ture wrong. But th­ese are just ex­cuses. I have to ad­mit the truth: af­ter years of tak­ing any in­nate artis­tic tal­ent for granted, I’ve al­lowed my­self to be­come a stranger to this drawing malarky. I’m dis­ap­pointed and em­bar­rassed.

SINCE I’ve dab­bled in por­trai­ture and fig­u­ra­tive sculp­ture in the past, and still har­bour a long-held as­pi­ra­tion to re­turn to th­ese at some point, I’d asked Goudie if I could at­tempt do his por­trait in­stead of a still life. But he’d been adamant: “Don’t start out with por­trai­ture. It’s much more use­ful to start with still life where you learn about vol­ume, per­spec­tive and tone,” he’d coun­selled.

“Af­ter a while that can be trans­lated to other things. Ev­ery­thing you’ve learned about drawing, say, a lemon you can trans­late to paint­ing, say, aun­tie Mary. But it’s like learn­ing pi­ano: you go very grad­u­ally, de­velop in­cre­men­tally, and start by learn­ing chords and scales.”

It’s in my in­ter­ests to lis­ten. Af­ter all, Goudie, son of the late Glas­gow artist Alexander (Sandy) Goudie, is not only a suc­cess­ful artist in his own right with a string of ex­hi­bi­tions be­hind and ahead of him (he shows in Lon­don, Glas­gow and New York; A Place in the Sun opens at the Roger Bill­cliffe Gallery, Glas­gow on Fe­bru­ary 28, and New Paint­ings opens at the Mall Gal­leries, Lon­don, next month); he’s also a judge on the BBC’s up­com­ing Big Paint­ing Chal­lenge, a new six-part se­ries where 10 would-be cre­atives vie for the ti­tle of Bri­tain’s best am­a­teur artist.

Although there are no Scots contestants or lo­ca­tions in the se­ries, it hopes to tap into the many peo­ple who per­haps stud­ied art at school, or even ex­celled in early child­hood, and want to have an­other go, be it in land­scape, por­trai­ture or still life. Af­ter all, drawing with­out em­bar­rass­ment is one of the ear­li­est things we do as chil­dren.

In the pro­gramme, pre­sen­ters Una Stubbs and Richard Ba­con fol­low the ef­forts of ten artists. Gaudie and artist Daphne Todd will cri­tique the am­a­teur artists in three spe­cially de­signed chal­lenges each week, de­cid­ing who goes home, and who will ul­ti­mately be crowned Bri­tain’s Best Am­a­teur Artist.

The com­peti­tors have to prove their skills in a range of artis­tic medi­ums – from oil, acrylic and wa­ter­colour paint­ings, to pen­cil, char­coal and chalk drawing chal­lenges, cov­er­ing fig­u­ra­tive art themes from land­scapes, ci­tyscapes and seascapes to still life, por­trai­ture and life drawing.

When he was grow­ing up in “an un­be­liev­ably mag­i­cal house” in Glas­gow’s west end, Goudie at­tended Kelvin­side Academy and was awarded the RSP prize for paint­ing at the Royal Glas­gow In­sti­tute of Fine Arts in 1999 and the NS Mac­Far­lane prize at the Royal Scot­tish Academy in 2001 be­fore gain­ing a de­gree in Fine Art and Paint­ing from Cam­ber­well Col­lege of Arts in 2004 – the same year his fa­ther died.

He says it was his fa­ther, whom he phys­i­cally re­sem­bles and whose tem­per­a­ment he says he shares, who gave him his clas­si­cal ground­ing in art.

“He al­ways en­cour­aged me to go out and draw,” he says of Sandy. “He taught me to al­ways look up and see the beau­ti­ful de­tails of the build­ings around us. Naval de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture re­main fas­ci­nat­ing for me.

“He’d give me huge sheets of pa­per when I was 8 or 9 and bring out his books on Ve­lazquez. He knew I was into 17th cen­tury art. He made it fun. I’d come up with frankly chronic rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Pi­casso, but he’d say, ‘don’t be in­tim­i­dated by that. Love to paint’.

“My dad was an ex­tra­or­di­nary en­thu­si­ast, pas­sion­ate and opin­ion­ated. In the sum­mer he’d sit out on the steps of our ex­tra­or­di­nary big house in Cleve­den Road and speak to peo­ple. He’d say, ‘Isn’t it just f***ing great to be alive?’ He lived for the mo­ment, but he was also very tough and could be very dif­fi­cult. I’m the ben­e­fi­ciary of his en­thu­si­asm. He rooted me in the clas­si­cal tech­niques, and I’m very grate­ful for that.

“I am my fa­ther’s son, and I do paint in a way that could recog­nise my con­nec­tion with him.”

On the other hand, he feels there is a dif­fer­ence be­tween his art and his fa­ther’s. Sandy trained and taught at Glas­gow School of Art in the 1950s and 1960s be­fore be­com­ing a full-time painter, in an era when there was a great tra­di­tion of paint­ing based on skill and craft; but the idea of art changed and it be­came more about rep­re­sent­ing what you thought about the world than show­ing what you saw.

“Post-mod­ern art was a more cere­bral ap­proach and when it came to the fore artists of my dad’s gen­er­a­tion found them­selves in an alien world. That en­trenched him in a sense of what rep­re­sented him.”

LACH­LAN says he feels the need to ex­plore dif­fer­ent ways of us­ing paints, pen­cils and inks, and to put him­self in dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ments such as the Rocky Moun­tains, where time spent paint­ing in the open air helped give his paint­ing a looser ex­pres­sion than his fa­ther’s.

“I like to re­ally let go, to fling paint around,” he says. “In this, Joan Eard­ley is my lode star. She helped me de­cide my fu­ture. It’s more ex­pres­sive than just rep­re­sent­ing what’s in front of me.”

We meet on the very day that The Her­ald re­ported com­ments by the Pais­ley-born artist John Byrne that the Glas­gow School of Art – which he at­tended be­tween 1958 and 1963, and whose de­gree show nudes were pur­chased by Sandy Gaudie only to be lost in the mists of time – was a “fun fac­tory” and that there was a lack of drawing abil­ity at the school.

He made the point to em­pha­sise that “real artistry” has be­come over­shad­owed by the at­ten­tion grabbed by con­tem­po­rary art awards such as the Turner Prize (where the GSA has ex­celled). It is all about pro­mo­tion, he says, and some of it is empty and

I am my fa­ther’s son, and I do paint in a way that could recog­nise my con­nec­tion with him

vac­u­ous and gives stu­dents delu­sions of grandeur.

Does Goudie, 39, agree with the view that teach­ing the fun­da­men­tals of art – life drawing – is be­ing over­looked in favour of con­cep­tual art?

“A lot of art schools in the UK are en­gag­ing in a bit of a cha­rade,” he says. “More and more peo­ple are be­ing churned out of art school; now it’s all about style and cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships.

“This was never the case be­fore the 1960s. Lots of peo­ple are go­ing into art school and ac­cru­ing large debts they think they can pay off later.

“But from my time at Cam­ber­well, there’s only one other stu­dent who re­mains an artist. The rest are in ad­ver­tis­ing, web de­sign, a lit­tle failed by the sys­tem.

“It’s what hap­pens when art is made for cu­ra­tors. It has en­gen­dered an at­ti­tude that if it’s not chal­leng­ing it’s not rel­e­vant and a sort of art hi­er­ar­chy has evolved.”

He reck­ons there’s noth­ing more snobby than the art world. “We’ve got to the point where the only re­sponse to a vase of flow­ers is pity. That’s ridicu­lous. It sup­presses the voice of many peo­ple who would quite like to do a bit of paint­ing.

“The rea­son I got in­volved in this pro­gramme is that it’s ad­dressed to the hoi pol­loi or wider public, not to the cognoscenti of the art world.

“Am­a­teur art is an area that’s been dis­missed for too long. It’s like open­ing a door to great ideas, great colours and

great nour­ish­ment for peo­ple. Art slows you down and helps you ap­pre­ci­ate your sur­round­ings. I de­cided to give it a shot to en­cour­age peo­ple to see it’s worth giv­ing it a shot again.

“No doubt the cul­ture vul­tures out there will knock this show, but who the hell are they to tell peo­ple that what they do isn’t rel­e­vant? I don’t like that sense of ex­clu­siv­ity.”

And so back to my still life sketch. I feel frus­trated by my lack of progress, but Goudie reck­ons it’s good. “In just 20 min­utes you’ve con­vinced me that th­ese ob­jects in­habit this space,” he says.

To cre­ate a lit­tle depth, he helps me with shad­ing – putting the lead nib of my pen­cil flat against the pa­per and “be­ing bold” with fill­ing in the white.

This is most chal­leng­ing when it comes to giv­ing my lemon a bit of shape. Tak­ing my rub­ber, he shows me how to erase a sharp white out­line around its edge; viewed against the dark back­ground it be­gins to look bet­ter. I smudge a bit of the shadow with my fin­ger, and he’s pleased. Cre­at­ing a con­vinc­ing lip and in­dent around the edge of the plat­ter is also dif­fi­cult.

I sense he’s try­ing to keep his cool as I hes­i­tate with my criss-cross shad­ing down one ex­ter­nal side of a de­canter and again down the back of its in­side in an at­tempt to cre­ate the illusion of trans­parency. But he com­ments: “I think you have a re­ally nice sense of ob­jects and how they re­lated to one an­other in space.”

I sus­pect he might be be­ing kind. Surely if you don’t have the skill, you just don’t have it? “You can learn if you have pa­tience and you’re will­ing to prac­tise, but there’s no doubt that if you have ab­so­lutely no sense of spa­tial aware­ness you’re go­ing to find it dif­fi­cult,” he con­cedes.

“How­ever, there’s no doubt in my mind that with a lit­tle bit of tu­ition peo­ple can gain sat­is­fac­tion in art, and a real dis­tance from all the crap that life is full of.

“Re­mem­ber, paint­ing is not just about struc­ture and tech­nique. It’s about emo­tion, en­ergy, un­ex­pected ideas and points of view. Paint­ing is magic. From a blank piece of pa­per you can con­jure up new worlds.

Sur­vey­ing my ef­fort in 2B, he adds: “The one guar­an­tee with cre­at­ing paint­ings is that there’s al­ways plenty of rub­bing out to be done.

“Don’t be dis­heart­ened. The best artis­tic ad­vice I was given was never be afraid of tak­ing a risk. So I rec­om­mend you go and make some mis­takes.”

As if I haven’t made enough al­ready. Thank good­ness we didn’t have time to ap­ply the paint.

Lach­lanLon­don stu­dio. Goudie Hein his

cred­its his fa­ther Sandy,

the well-known artist, for

teach­ing him to ‘al­ways

look up and see the

beau­ti­ful de­tails of the

build­ings around us’

From top: One of the paint­ings Goudie pro­duced af­ter spend­ing time in a Clyde ship­yard; his fa­ther, the artist Sandy Goudie; one of his fa­ther’s well-known paint­ings

From left: Goudie’s take on the stilll life; Cate Devine with hers. Of learn­ing how to draw, he says: ‘You can learn if you have pa­tience and are will­ing to prac­tise, but if you have no sense of spa­tial aware­ness you’re go­ing to find it dif­fi­cult’

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