This a picture of a wall in my flat. I’ve owned each of these pictures for ten years or so. They give me a shot of pleasure every time I look at them, which is often. I can tell you what I think each of them is ‘of‘, but is what they’re ‘of‘ what they’re ‘about‘?
I first saw the one on the left at an art fair. I was intrigued. I looked at it for longer than I looked at anything else that day and then I looked at the signature. Peter Schmidt had been the head of the Foundation course I’d attended. He’d taught me. I’d known him. He was a very good artist, I think. Always exploring, never standing still, always inquisitive. On the course we discussed things that I still think about today. How do you know when something you’re working on is finished? How quiet can something be and still be heard? He was a quiet man who valued quietude.
He called me into his office one day, opened a draw of his plans chest where there were five hundred prints, all the same except each was coloured differently. After a lifetime of being a print designer I don’t know the lithographic technique that allowed him to make each a different colour. The first one had a black background and the last a white background, and inbetween was a rainbow of colours. He wanted to thank me for a favour I’d done him. I was allowed to pick three. They’d been made for the cover of an album by his great friend and occasional collaborator Brian Eno. People always think he’s wearing a beret. He isn’t, it’s his hand on his head. The record was an early one by Eno called Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy. Eno was the most glamorous member of the very glamorous Roxy Music and had left after its first record. He came to give us a talk about his work one day but all anyone wanted to talk about was Roxy Music. Eno became intrigued by a type of sound called Ambient Music and then a world-class record producer. Here are the three lithographs I chose from Peter Schmidt’s plans chest.
The picture on my wall is an earlier work, made ten years or so before I met Peter. It’s a representation of a note of music. It might be sound waves. It’s part of a set of, I think, six. I enjoy the form of the picture, it’s a sound made visual – not abstract, but not graspable, either. I always read it as a breath before I remember what its maker said it is. Often it makes me think of him, which I enjoy, too. Maybe it’s an ambient picture.
It was love at first sight for the middle picture when I saw it in a print gallery. I returned to look at it three or four times a day for a week before I bought it. I don’t often buy pictures on a whim. It’s by Eduardo Paolozzi who is well-known: there has been some attention this week because some of the mosaics he made for Tottenham Court Road Station have been destroyed. They weren’t the most beautiful of his work but it is a scandal that they no longer exist. My picture is of, I think, a curious sort of garden. All the shapes are composed of things not from gardens – wheels from gas meters, camera lenses, other things I can’t identify. It’s in black and white which I know is clear but it seems an act of perversity to make a picture of a garden without colour. I sometimes take a mental walk on the winding path on the left.
The picture on the right is by Simon Bill. I just learned he was born the same year as I was. I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere that (in an attitude of over-rampant narcissism) I’m drawn to things made in the same year as I was. I’m not displeased to learn his birthday. I think of the three it’s the most mysterious of all. Mr Bill often uses ovoid shapes and I’ve seen similar rabbit heads in his work, if that’s what it is. The overall shape isn’t a random ink blot. This is no Rorschach test. The edges are rough, made from a series of short straight lines. The rabbit is a red herring. The eggs aren’t eggs. Whatever meaning it has is confused because my father was known to his family and close friends by his nickname, Krulik, which is Polish for rabbit. He loved this picture because he saw himself in it. My over-rampant narcissism doesn’t spring from nowhere.
So I love these pictures because, in part, I can’t put my finger on exactly what they’re about or what they mean. And I love the way they look even if I can’t say what they are. I love the association they have for me with people who have meant a lot to my life but are no longer alive even though the artists knew nothing of them. We bring ourselves to art, too. They’ve hung on my wall since I bought each of them and I hope they always will, wherever I live. If their meaning was obvious I think they’d quickly have become wallpaper, but I haven’t tired of them. And that’s why I love mystery in art.