I'm not complaining but why is it that when summer is about to arrive all plans to take advantage of it have to be shelved? I spend the majority of the year cooped up in my pokey studio staring at my canvas; during the summer, under ideal circumstances, I can sit in a field beneath the sun and stare at my canvas, but just as I was priming canvases to take out the phone rang:
"Hi Paul, it's Tom here". This was Tom Tempest-Radford, an art consultant based in London. "Paul, I was just looking through your new book and wondered whether you might be interested in a commission?"
"Sure", I said, thinking there goes summer. "What's it about? What size and what's the deadline?"
"It's for a new cruise liner which will make its maiden voyage in spring 2008, so the deadline is the end of December 2007".
Good, summer's back on.
"What subject and what size?"
"It's a brand new ship and it's going to be amazing. This is going to be a thoroughly modern approach to cruising, Of course it's going to have the class of the classic cruise but it'll also have the style of the vibrant and modern. It's going to be different, this ship is going to be a statement, and so I want the art work to stand out and be different, or to put it another way: to be different and therefore stand out."
"Hmmm, what size?"
"The biggest two are ..."
"Just a minute", I interrupted, "'The biggest two...' How many are there in total?"
"Eleven decks, two paintings on each except for one deck which will have four, in total 24 paintings".
"24!". Summer's off. So is autumn, winter and all of 2007.
"What do you think?" asked Tom excitedly, "What's your first thought?".
My first thought was not printable, my second was panic and my third was something like:
"Eleven decks, eh? That sounds like a block of flats. How about on each deck a different interior showing the homes of the people who live there"
"Great!" says Tom, "Lots of details and strong colour! What else? Bear in mind that some decks have special features on them like children's play areas; piano bars, restaurants, gymnasia, a theatre. This ship will have everything so make that block of flats have everything".
"You mean like a floating Le Corbusier Unite d'Habitation?" The question was lost in the cloud of Tom's enthusiasm and my fumbling imagination.
"Where to start?" is a question many people ask themselves when sitting in front of a white canvas. The answer can be as equally daunting as it can be liberating. It's only daunting because of the practicalities of deadline, quantity, size and ... what to do; but it's liberating because it means I can follow up on some of those ideas which have been waiting for just this kind of opportunity, which in this case is scale. Ideas come from other ideas and fortunately the more you have the more you will have so I regarded this commission to paint 24 large paintings of interiors with relish.
Over the years I have painted interiors in a fairly conventional way; by using wide perspectives, and also by painting individual objects and juxtaposing them with other individual paintings to recreate a scene but each one of these pieces had to be at real scale to re-create the feeling of an interior. With this commission the idea is to make pictures of interiors out of many pieces. The first multiple piece painting I did was in 1987, and that was only 3 pieces however it was an idea I never really developed but now I've decided to rearrange my individual pieces and combine them with others to make a bigger, more complete story of the interior. Obviously I have to bear in mind that some decks have special features on them like children's play areas; piano bars, restaurants, gymnasia, a theatre and to make some of the paintings fit in with these points, otherwise the pictures might be so obscure as to be inaccessible.
I have to take off my artist's red beret and salute Tom with his infectious enthusiasm and the trust and confidence he showed in me and my ability to come up with his vision to deliver the invisible; something rather easier for him to say than for me to do.