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Jan 2020

If any picture is going to sum up We Don't Need Culture it this one. Molly is Sandra’s granddaughter. I entered an oil painting of Sandra AKA Nan into the RA Summer Show 2018 and it got exhibited. Naturally, I splashed it all over social media and Sandra’s daughter, Jacqui sent me this picture. Molly and Jacqui made a special trip to go up and see the painting. Neither have ever been to an art exhibition before.

WE DON'T CULTURE, a brief history....

We don’t need culture started where a lot of ideas start - down the pub. In 2009 I had been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London as part of the BP Awards. For a portrait artist, this is the very biggest of deals, the NPG is the holy shrine of portraiture in Britain if not the world. It was one big, massive stamp of validation that us sensitive, fragile artists so desperately need.

Our local newspaper had put the painting on the front page and I was featured on page 2 so I was getting a lot of ‘oi, you’re in the paper’ type comments, in the street, down the cornershop and down the pub.

The picture I painted was a Portsmouth football fan - THE Portsmouth football fan. John Westwood or John Anthony Portsmouth Football Club Westwood - yup, he changed it by deedpoll - is not just well known in Pompey but very much amongst the football fraternity up and down the country. John is a lovely guy but by his own admission recognises that he divides opinion of his fanaticism. He constantly rings ‘that bloody bell’ at every game tanked up with HSB.

Steve, the manager of my local watering hole posed the question, and it’s the only time I’ve been asked the question - why? “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good painting but of all the people you could paint, why him?” Well, I love a good a question and the ‘why’ question is, as far as I’m concerned, a philosophical one. Well, I started banging on about John as a mutated, iconographic motif that metaphorically represents the peoples passion for the city and that I was trying to add to the cultural fabric of the community…….all Steve heard was, blah, blah, blah. He stopped me, quite rightly, mid-rant and said,”Mate. This is Pompey. We don’t do culture.” Whaddya mean ‘we don’t do culture? Everything is cultural. This is pub culture. “No mate” he says. “We don’t need culture. We got the Navy and the football.” What about sports and culture - Football is a culture.” And on it went. A beered up conversation circling round two very different ideas about culture. And it got me thinking.

In the end, it was my fault. I was coming from a privileged, middle class, university educated, art can change the world, perspective. Steve, was quite right. He was aying, in a nutshell, ‘Don’t patronise me.’ I didn’t think I was, but in reflection my ambition for the city to be a cultural hub like Liverpool or Margate could be perceived as unrealistically ambitious, a bit lofty, even arrogant. By quoting government literature and statistics I was sounding more like a politician that an artist. I’m thinking, hey, I’m one of you. But that wasn’t what he heard.

I was taught years ago that an artist is someone that stands outside of society. A kind of romantic loner, misunderstood, enigmatically suffering for higher enlightenment. Nobody in Pompey is gonna swallow that bollocks. So I had to reassess what I wanted as an artist.

We Don’t Need Culture is about that. Originally, I just wanted to paint more people - I’d done family and friends. It’s not about standing outside of society but recognising when your stuck in your own echo chamber. Guilty! Kipling helped a bit here, ‘And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.’ But adapt to other social groups locked in their own echo chambers.

The project became about seeing people a bit deeper and hanging back with the knee-jerk judgements we all make.

The people of this city are amazing. Like the football supporters once their behind you it’s a force of nature. So I had a word with myself. If I want the good people of Pompey to appreciate and see the value art and culture and get them to understand what I do as artist, I’ve got to put in some leg work - and change my attitude. Stop judging people and listen. Five years in, it’s not easy. I still catch myself making sweeping judgements the moment someone new walks through my public facing studio doors. But, I’m getting better because, as I tell people if you want know or understand something or somebody. Draw them. Paint them.

April 2019
WE DON'T NEED CULTURE, PAULSGROVE

Time to extend the exhibition to the community centre. The trouble with having an exhibition in a converted retail unit is everybody comes in asking me how much everything is - "How much is it gonna cost to have my portrait done, mate." Nothing! I'm not here to sell you stuff, I just simply want to paint your picture and stick it up on the wall.

Community centres are often dismissed as functional places of yoga classes, five a side football with a subsidised cafe. I want to turn Paulsgroves' into an environment of contemplation and inspiration. Good luck with that mate!

MAY 2018
WE DON'T NEED CULTURE, PAULSGROVE

Two years in Somerstown and WDNC moves to Paulsgrove north of the city where I have taken over a retail unit at 199 Allaway Avenue. This is headquarters for Paulsgrove where the public can come in and talk about the work even sit for a painting.

The former sweetshop has now been tranformed into an art gallery and studio with paintings of local characters from the community of Paulsgrove displayed on the walls for the public to enjoy.

April 2017
The original project was to paint 50 people - I thought I'd start small in Somerstown and see where it takes me. Well, after 2 years I've reached my original target and the project has been a success beyond my expectations. Now I am situated in the Hotwalls the public have direct access to my working process's and I have access to an unlimited number of new people to meet, stories to hear and portraits to paint, so my body of work is constantly growing.

Many people I meet have never met an artist or been to art gallery.

I get all kinds of visitors to the studio but I need to get out and about occasionally, Portsmouth City Council have been a great partner and want me to do the same again in Paulsgrove. So from from the end of April 2017 that's what I going to do.

Are you or do you know anybody who is NOT interested in the arts?

Do you go to art galleries or visit the theatre. Do you have to drag along your husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, partner kicking and screaming to expose them to a bit of culture?

If so I want hear from you. In a city of 200,000 plus citizens we have a massive cultural pride in naval history and football but for some reason that pride, for a lot of people, doesn't extend to other cultural activities such as the arts.

I am looking to paint the good (and bad) people of Pompey from all walks of life - from all socio-economic backgrounds. I want to meet people who live in the city and hear their stories, but I am particularly keen on people who don't believe in the value of the arts.

WHY?

So why am I doing this? Well it all started down the pub.

The name of the project ‘we don’t need culture’ originates from particular debate that took place in my local pub - which could be described as a quintessential working class boozer - became heated when I mentioned the word arts and culture. I suggested the city needed a large dose of arts and cultural input and stated that this could have a positive a effect on the community and economic growth. The reply was simple - "we don't need culture". We have football and the Navy we don't need all that "poncy" stuff. The general attitude of the conversation was that the arts were a waste of money particularly in a city that has some of the most vulnerable low income families in the country. I wondered how many felt like this.

The key thing is that the gentleman automatically assumed I was talking about high culture. I was, but only partially and I realised the pitfall of such a discussion on my part. It was my assumption that he understood the context of the word culture itself.

I want to reclaim the word culture, explore its meaning in a non-patronising, accessible way.

Culture or cultural activities, quickly looking at the three tiered system of high, middle and low brow: high referring to activities such as theatre, visual arts, antiques, opera; low brow or popular culture 'take-away' meals, gossip magazines, best-selling books, blockbuster movies, reality TV you get the idea. It’s the middle brow area that I believe should be my starting point. It’s that fuzzy area between the high and low - drawing on both, not high enough to be analysed as conceptual art (don't get me wrong, I like conceptual art or some of it) nor dumbed down enough to be taken literally. It is an area that can be regarded as fluid and dynamic, in my practice and how the public perceive it.

One word that does seem to fit, quite comfortably in fact is the word, accessible.
And accessibility is key to this project. Portrait painting is an accessible form of art. It can be engaged at all levels - academically and without any prior knowledge or specialist arty vocabulary.

Everybody knows how to draw, toddlers first subjects are usually the big circles, lines and dots that make up the face of mummy or daddy. We can’t all draw well but we all understand the process required through our own experience.

In other words we all have the tools to engage with art. It's just that some people give the impression that we don't because of the language they use - pretentious and verbose.

This project is about engaging with art on your own terms. You won't need a university degree or a docterate just your time and your own personal point of view. And fingers crossed you'll get something out of it and share it. Create a little connection, maybe look at things a little deeper.