by Dick Millott
Someone called Donald Trump a "dilettante" the other day and for a moment I paused because I knew it couldn't be good. It's not a word you come across every day is it? Anything surrounding Trump is bound to be awful given the way he effortlessly seems to offend people. And wants to build Berlin style walls to keep people out of America. As well as the ones he wants to send back to where they came from. Anyway I looked it up to see if I thought it really was what I thought it was - and I was right - a dilettante is someone who cultivates an area of interest, such as art, without any real commitment or knowledge. A rank and probably outspoken amateur. In Trump's case (and a thousand white shoe property developers like him), just because you have barrow loads of cash to buy art, doesn't necessarily mean you know anything much about it.
We've had a few here in Oz too. Alan Bond who stumped up the cash to win the America's Cup was one case in point. Van Gogh's 'Irises' ended up on his wall - he got them for a snip - a mere $54,000,000 - which at that time was the most ever paid for a single painting. But Bond like all other dilettante types probably didn't get real close and ponder every brush stroke for hours like the rest of us.
Which brings me back - to me. I've been in a hiatus. A coma. In a state of full blown artistic paralysis. On bloody life support! I've been studying every brush stroke too much. Completely overwhelmed by the collective brilliance of a dozen or more artists like our mate Waller. Damn You Tube! My evenings have been whittled away gazing longingly at those that can dabble with such apparent ease that I could reach out and throttle them. Which has served to completely paralyse me - my hand unable to grip a hog haired pigment spreader because of the emerging inadequacies. I mean - I had belted out a couple of trial works in this new medium- but share them with people? Nah!
You can add to this the fear of this new medium. Acrylics. Pffft! I'm not totally in love with them just yet if I'm honest but I'm starting to appreciate their qualities. The vibrancy of the colours for a start is really something. They dry too quickly for me - but like watercolours and oils to some extent - you can keep adding layers - wash on wash - to reach your own final happy solution. The blending issue is easily fixed with scumbling.
Then I thought - what will I paint? So a few weeks research went into that. Who actually buys most of the world's art? Women! Women are the decision makers I deduced in a moment of profound clarity! Paint - but make sure you paint for a woman because at the end of the day - she is the one who will give the silent nod.
So I was sitting in the dentists with a choice of a 10 year old Reader's Digest or the current Home & Garden. I looked at the walls of every home featured in this ad-ridden mag and noted the perfectly dressed women showcasing their interior designs, who despite having to drop Xavier off at boarding school and attend charity lunches and play tennis and cook three course dinners for their stockbroker husbands - still have time to furnish their lovely homes and lather the walls with the latest word in paintings.
And there they were. Big colourful flowers. Only trouble with that is that I don't think I have ever painted a flower. Well maybe when I was a schoolkid. But even then it would have been extremely unlikely. Flowers and testosterone charged boys don't really go together do they? But the other thing I found out, is that women are subconsciously drawn to the colours purple and pink. Especially purple. Deep in the female psyche is a love of purple.
So I mapped out a flower or two on a biggish canvas from my stock of biggish canvasses that I have been stockpiling for the happy day when I do a Waller and really get stuck in. I'll do a Monet I said with a number 30 brush in my mouth. Water lilies! Perfect. So for two days I toiled - belting out a canvas of water lilies. Then I did a Dahlia. Never liked them personally - but they are good painting.
And here's the thing folks. Once you start - once you drag yourself out of your fog of reticence and actually start painting - you can't stop. You still paint in your head when you go to bed. Everything else is a bloody nuisance - you just want to get back to painting.
Sure there are lessons. Being an architectural artist - doing anything without absolute precision is alien territory for me. Big brushes. Big canvasses. Big tubes of paint. Broad strokes - all absolutely foreign province. But I'm sticking with it. And don't think for one moment that floral matter doesn't have serious detail if you look for it. Then there is the colour mixing. I have just found a thousand new shades of green. And fifty shades of grey. Sometimes I get colours but have no idea how I did it.
I'll give you another tip. I pinned a simple picture to my easel and did the drafting bit that is vital in complex paintings with lots of detail . Then I thought - woo - I've got a spare really big computer monitor somewhere here- I might put the photo on that and plonk it next to my easel. Works a treat. Not only can I see what I'm doing in detail - it allows for colour matching by daubing a 'post it note' right on the screen.
Now let's get a couple of things straight before you all say "Sheeesh - he's not that good!" I know these first shared examples are not brilliant. But also trust me when I say - this is a giant leap for me. I've never wielded a big brush and slapped paint on like a glue-master at a wallpapering speed trial convention in my life.
All I can say now is - Stand By! I'm painting like a man possessed, belting out a canvas every three days. If I sell anything I'll let you know. I'm hoping that there are lots of dilettantes out there who love purple and green splodges on nice big canvasses.
(Update- two sold already! To WOMEN! See - told ya! My research has paid off! And I haven't even varnished them yet.)