Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
From the East Anglian Daily Times
It's a bright and balmy mid-November morning in what my colleague, Peggy Cole would call “St. Martin's Little Summer, a last few days of clement weather before the winter wheelclamps us. I'm attending a private view for an art exhibition at the Chappel Gallery, just up the road from railway viaduct. This is not the main private view, you understand. This is a private preview for the hardcore fans, the actual buyers.
The artist Wladislaw Mirecki or Waj, when he's at home, was born to Polish parents in Chelmsford in 1956. He paints Essex landscapes. In fact, he paints things that the type of people who like sawn-up livestock in formaldehyde and Tracy Emin's laundry basket probably wouldn't consider to be cutting edge. The same type of people would probably tell you that they didn't like J.S.Bach either, because he was “too mathematical”. People who know the beauty of the local countryside, though, recognise the quality of Mirecki's defiantly coherent work. It sells, of course.
Early Autumn, Chappel Viaduct (Watercolour 2007)
As I may have said before in these pages, in common with much of the puzzled public, I like only certain art forms. As well as landscapes, these include portraits of stags in glens, buxom middle-aged French women in bathtubs, three kittens in an old gardening boot and almost anything by the Victorian artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw, who specialised in painting haunted autumnal lanes. If I dare utter these preferences to people at arty gatherings in my native Wivenhoe, I am met by an awkward laugh or a look of disappointment. I am, of course, serious. And yet, still, the invitations to incomprehensible exhibitions, snow in through my letterbox. Some people just can't take a hint. Marty Feldman, the late comedian once performed a sketch as an art gallery guide, where, pointing to a classic Reubens oil painting of a large nude woman reclining, he announces to his tour party: “There you are. Fat tart havin' a kip.” The resonance of that sketch remains with me.
Oak Tree (Watercolour, 2005)
Waj, a completely self-taught artist, has never not-painted. When he says: “I never went to art school,” the statement has a sense of mystery to it, almost as if he were talking about a strange club
in a far off city which he'd once heard about but had never felt the urge to visit. At school he'd always been regarded as being 'good at art'. Instead, however, he gained a science degree and later moved onto industrial design in London. He was terribly unhappy there, falling, he said, into a chasm of depression and an eventual breakdown. He now maintains that it saved him. He left London in his late twenties in order to “take up the brush.” Returning to Essex in the mid 1980s, he became a labourer, laying tracks for the Railway Museum at Chappel and settling down here to paint the landscape.
Railways are Waj Mirecki's other great love. He's in the right place to indulge his passions. For here in Chappel, as well as the East Anglian Railway Museum are the rolling contours of the West Colne Valley. The place has everything a traditional English landscaper might desire: a winding river and acres of fecund farmland with tree-lined country lanes, all straddled by a stunning Victorian railway viaduct. Waj, then, doesn't need to work very far from home. Here, for nearly a quarter of a century he's followed the changing seasons with the persistence of a particularly obsessive stalker. From the buttercupped spring meadows, through the deep green hollow ways of summer woodland and out again into the glacier-mint light of winter fields, his landscapes are nearly all un-peopled. Waj will tell you that this is because the countryside nowadays is mostly, empty. The workers have gone from the land and much of it he says, now serves merely as a dog latrine.
Waj wanted to paint his immediate locale and reckons that it took him about ten years before his work began to do the landscape justice. His paintings are realistic, though un-blighted by any sterile photographic quality. One picture of a roadside winter hedgerow is entitled, “Cold and Damp.” He's captured it so well that after a while viewing it, you begin to feel the cold and damp. Waj doesn't over-idealise his subjects. Where a road, for instance, encroaches upon one of his landscapes, in too, go its markings and all the yellow lines. In years to come, such things will tell the viewer as much about the countryside in the early 21st century as a Constable painting does about the early 19th. The influences of John Constable and John Atkinson Grimshaw, however, remain present in Waj Mirecki's work like two wardens in a country park.
He doesn't subscribe to the tortured artist myth. He gets up in the morning, goes down to the shed at the bottom of his garden and then, sober and untrammelled by doubt, he paints. He says he'd prefer to go the Mozart route – rich and famous in his own time – rather than the rockier Van Gogh one. Inspired by this, I say that I intend to write to English Heritage as soon as I get home and demand that they send me my blue plaque now. For the first time in a fairly serious conversation, Waj roars with laughter.
The Boys Of September
Quiet fell the fields in the first winter rain
As home came the ploughman
to plough once again
And steady-eyed, he walked beside
his heavy Percheron
When the boys of September had gone.
There where they fell, only shell, bone and tears
Till the wheat which they'd sown,
it had grown, over years
In the ridges and the contours which
the poppies sprang up on.
Names locked in stone
Written in the town and village squares
they had known.
Now it's long years away, I will stray
down this lane
Where the boys of September cannot
And a sickle wind will sweep the fields
But I will carry on
When the boys of September
The boys of September
Terry the Okapi is back from an arts seminar in Norwich. "It's not like real life," he said, as he tore down one of the curtains with his teeth and started pawing at the fabric, tossing his head from side to side."I mean, the whole arts world and indeed, arts programming and funding in general all seem well up the eastern contraflow. I was asked recently if I wanted to enter a cross-discipline, cross-species, arts initiative which they plan to action in the region next summer. It involved getting a load of old fruit juice tetra packs, sort of glueing them together in a number of different installments, then having salsa dancers with street poetry workshops all around them on these stalls down the high streets. They were going to call it The Urban Poetry Olympian Zoo You could see it wasn't going to work and I said so.Told them it was a pile of w***... which they seemed to think was a good alternative title for the project."
"How much did they offer you?" I asked the central African ruminant. "Seventeen grand to perform...or seventy five grand if I offered to head up and facilitate the project. Of course, it won't be as simple as that. There'd be feasibility studies, meetings upon meetings, and finally an interminable bloody breakdown afterwards, which I've forgotten the name for. But it's where you hand out loads of forms to the punters than analyse it all, with graphs to show them what you've done and why it's been a success, even though no f***er came.
"Naturally, it wouldn't be what the punters want. You might as well stand in the middle of B&Q on a bank holiday, shouting, "Yaawwww!" into a cardboard box or making little mewing noises at the people on the help-desk through a length of plastic drainipe, for all the bloody good it will do you. At least it would be finite, because they'd probably send for the police and have you removed after about 20 minutes. And what would the punters do? I'll tell you. Sweet bugger all, that's what. Just as they do when you stage an arts spectacular. They'd walk round the f***er."
Terry had now worked up a fine head of steam. "I'll tell you what the punters really want. --Halloween and fireworks, that's all. You put a load of plastic masks, cloaks, face paint and red devil tritons in the Co-op, where the king size biscuit tins usually go and what happens? They'll sell out like French lipstick at a Norwegian ladyboy convention. People cannot wait to dress up for Halloween. Then..." said the Okapi, throw in a few fireworks and you've got 'em. Fireworks and some plastic costumes from the Co-op. That's what it all boils down to, these days."
"Meanwhile, Johnny Arts Council seems intent, with what little money he has left over-- after the Olympics Board have purloined the rest -- upon force-feeding the benighted public, poetry that doesn't rhyme, drama that's unwatchable and art that looks like four mentalists on drugs have tried to put a shed, using some packaging stuff left around the back of Tescos. I despair. I really friggin well do!"
"So did you get the job then, Terry?"
"Start next week." he grinned.