Art bringing people together

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I’ve been to a couple of galleries recently, the British Art Show is in Leeds and my good mate Phil Dean continues to interpret the world around him through his delightful sketches.  It’s got me thinking a little bit about art and whether it brings people together.

My dad used to love to sketch and as his mobility declined liked nothing better than getting himself sat comfortably with a nice view where he’d either sketch or get the watercolours out.  When people saw him they would often drift over and have a look and my dad would invariably draw them into conversation.  I was really reminded of this when we were in Malaga recently watching the way Phil would quickly capture a scene wherever we happened to be.  He also does it in a way that does not distract from whatever else we are doing, happily chatting away enjoying some food and drink whilst at the same time sketching.  He will then often continue to work on and embellish the picture throughout the day, adding little flourishes and touches.

I’m no artist so resort like many of us to snapping a few photos on my phone but I think I have always struggled to adapt to the taking a photo of everyday things, is it intrusive ?  I feel uncomfortable with it lots of the time, there is sometimes an element of slyness,  furtiveness or voyeurism using a camera to capture an image that standing openly and drawing is the antithesis of, it’s transparent, people can come and look at what you are doing and in doing so give their approval (or otherwise of course).  What I noticed when Phil was doing this was how much people enjoyed it, someone taking the time to sketch their town, it didn’t matter what part of the town the sketch was in people wanted to have a look.

In looking it brought a smile to people and this was universal in whatever bar we happened to be in and on one occasion a waiter thrust a takeaway bag under Phil’s nose for him do draw something on.  We got chatting to numerous people, our lack of Spanish and their lack of English becoming irrelevant as the sketches of their town elicited a warmth that made us feel very welcome wherever we went, the art becoming a bridge between us.

This simple bringing of people together over someone’s drawings contrasts to the most part of my experience of galleries – they bring people in but do they bring people together ? Most galleries seem to actively discourage conversation you seem to have to look, contemplate internally and nod sagely.  I can’t imagine that this is what artists would have wanted when they were creating their art, surely they would have wanted interaction, comment, reaction and discussion not silence and sterility.  Maybe we are just scared of saying the wrong thing, of showing our ignorance in not ‘getting’ the work that we are looking at.

However even in galleries connections are sometimes made, while we were in the Centre of Contemporary art in Malaga looking at Ai WeiWei’s Zodiac Heads, Andrew got chatting to this elderly gentlemen who was staring in total wonder.  He was so awed by it he simply said I don’t want to leave this place.  A beautiful and powerful example of the transformative power of art.

Stephen Fry in a talk about art said the following:

Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, ‘All art is useless’. And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living.

I love that sentiment and wholeheartedly believe it to be true, but in watching Phil sketch across the weekend it took on a different meaning, art is the extra, the addition to life and in creating it you can enhance people’s lives and bring people together, however fleetingly and put a smile on their face.

All the artwork on this page is from Phil Dean drawn on our recent Malaga trip.  Go check out his sketching site shoreditchsketcher

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Malaga (again) with the Boys Book Club

Each year our boysbookclub heads to foreign climbs for a weekend in October, we try to head to southern Europe so that we can have that last weekend of the year where hopefully the weather is warm, we can sit outside and relax before returning to Britain and hunkering down for the winter.

Four years ago we went to Malaga which proved something of a revelation as a city.  I went with very low expectations but was amazingly surprised by a compact city with a great atmosphere, good culture and history.  It was something of a revelation and I’ve been back since so I was very happy to return again with the boys again this year.  Our membership has shifted a bit over the last few years so it was never going to be exactly the same.

Of course like our book club (and ourselves) the city does not stand still and Malaga has undergone something of a regeneration over the last four years with a completely redeveloped harbour area adding to the cultural attractions.

We did what we also do, wander, generally with no particular fixed objective.  We might for example say lets have lunch somewhere near the beach or lets go to an art gallery in the afternoon but they are loose goals.  In arriving at them we drift around streets, duck into markets, stop in squares etc all the time of course sampling the great bars and eateries across the city.

When we go away we always try to come up with something creative or our own.  We set a theme of Independence this year and you can interpret it as you want.  I’ve published some of the writing that we did on this blog if you want to check it out and one member did a fantastic mini graphic booklet of us all.  The Saturday night was reserved for the monthly book review which for October was ‘Gould’s Book of Fish’ by Richard Flanagan.  The book completely split the book club but for me it was one of the most difficult books to categorise I’ve read in a long time but I found it a brilliantly original a mind warping book.

The highlight as always of our weekends away was simply the spending of time together in complete relaxation.  When do you every really get the chance to do that with friends?  Our personalities are such that there is very little friction or tension and we just bumble along together, chatting over long lunches.  It’s hard to return to ‘normal’ life after the weekend away but I for one feel completely refreshed by it and am already plotting next years trip.  Any tips on where you think would be great for us do let me know.

Independence (by Nathan)

The clock ticked relentlessly and time passed. Some days it passed more quickly than others, but Betty’s routine stayed the same. It was twenty years since George had passed, they’d had a happy life, with kids and grandkids, and a caravan in Bridlington that, despite its size, held a lifetime of memories.

The kids had moved away, first to university, and then to jobs that took them overseas. She envied the other women of her age that she saw dragging toddlers around Tesco and treating them to a bun to keep them quiet. She longed for the chance to pick up her grandchildren, Harry and Molly must be at school now. She’d missed so many birthdays.

She filled her days with a routine. Breakfast at 9am was a slice of toast and jam with a cup of tea. She always made a pot and left it to mash. It tasted stewed when you make it in a mug. Later she would venture out to the shops. Sometimes to the corner shop or, if the weather was nice, she’d catch the number 14 into town. Although, it was getting harder these days, the bus was always late and sometimes she and to stand for the 15 minutes it took to reach the high street.

She would chat to the checkout girl, people didn’t think she noticed the tuts and long stares, but she did, she didn’t care, people should take more time to talk to each other rather than stare into those phones all day.

She’d sit in coffee shop and watch the world pass her by, and then get the bus home before the school emptied out and the kids made it too busy.

Sometimes she would chat to two or three people on her trips into town. The girl in the library always greeted her by name and asked how her grandkids were, she always lied and told them how well they are doing.

It was silly really, just a little slip from the step when she’d reached up to dust the cupboard, she’d fallen awkwardly and twisted her knee. A couple of weeks in hospital and she’d come home to an empty house. The kids had called but she’d told them not to worry.

Her leg was so stiff these days that she struggled to walk to the corner shop and couldn’t face the trip into town. Some days were worse that others, and she was extra careful around the house these days.

Anyway, enough of this rambling, she had to get settled for Countdown. She missed Richard Whiteley but still did the letter games, it kept her mind active.

And as long as she had her mind, she had her independence.

Independence? (by Andrew)

No more to hear your voice

No more to touch your hand

No more to wave goodbye

And yet you live

That handwritten note, meticulous, updated and again, found unexpectedly in a crumpling, manila file. You caught me.

That walk at Scarborough, late afternoon, autumn. But memories of early morning, summer, forty five years ago. My hand in yours, skipping on the beach, virgin sand. The day, my life, ahead. Yours, already, almost half behind.

That drawing. Framed rhododendron heads, three stages of decay. Pen. Ink. You. I’d forgotten it, by the chest in the spare room and caught it with my foot – as you caught me.

You. Again. Here.

Don’t cheek your mother. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Mind you take your shoes off. The story of the orange peel, thrown into Queen’s Dock as they filled it up, mid thirties. You a boy of eight, alone in the city, mother working, father dying. You surviving.

But now YOU’RE gone.  I’m here.

It’s said we don’t grow up until we lose our parents. Independence – but at what price? Who, Mr Quantity Surveyor, counts the cost now that you’re goine? You didn’t reckon that up on foolscap sheet.

Your chair, your brush, your watch, your glasses, wallet, frown. I wasn’t ready.


Each year we go away somewhere warm for our BoysBookClub and as we go away for the weekend (Malaga this year) we decided a couple of years ago to do something creative ourselves as well as reviewing our monthly book.  We tend to decide on a theme and then you can choose what you do, people do short stories, essays, poems and this year Phil did our first graphic booklet.  The theme this year was independence, chosen after our trip to Barcelona last year and despite having ages to come up with something I was frantically typing the week before, a deadline sharpens the mind I guess.  My effort is below, I was happy with the idea but it could do with quite a bit more work to get it where I’d like but I thought I’d put it up as it was. Happy to hear what you think.


All things end, life, my life, relationships, the bed I’m lying on will someday be no more, the planet we live on and the sun that warms it, all things end. I think that it took me many years to slowly realise this but this inevitability has a calmness to it, you can’t change it it just is. My life is drawing to it’s end now and the physical decline being hurried along by a debilitating illness means that although I cannot predict the actual time, my time is drawing to a it’s end.

I tend to wake early now, never quite sure of the time as the stiffness means I’m unable to turn my head to see the bedside clock. I try and judge the hour by the light that seeps in through the edge of the plain cream curtains that just reach down to below the window sill. Pam would have hated these curtains, she always wanted heavy patterned luxurious curtains that reached down to the skirting board. She was fastidious about how they were folded back and tied each morning, I can see her doing it now, fussing and brushing and making sure the folds were exactly the same on each side. It’s funny the things you remember about those you love, it’s always these weird little actions and manners that only we know. These dull excuses for curtains will not be tied back and they will not be opened carefully, the staff will breeze it at some point bellowing “Morning Mr Davis” and briskly sweep the curtains aside. I’m not sure why they shout so loudly, ill and fading away I might be but deaf I’m not. I’ve also told them repeatedly that my name is Bryn not Mr Davis, my dad was Mr Davis not me, it’s even written in my care plan apparently but with the dizzying changes of names on their shiny lapel badges I guess they don’t have time for the nuances of care any more. It’s all function, get in, get him up, bag emptied, washed, dressed, medicated, and sat in ‘the chair’ and then move on down the corridor to the next lucky soul.  Continue reading

Summer Photo Fun 2015 – Week 7 – Odd


We finished this year’s summer photo fun with the kids choosing odd as the theme.  This summed up the summer quite nicely for me as for reasons that I’ve never quite got my head round Leeds decided to opt for a 7 week summer holiday this year for schools instead of the normal 6.  Apparently next year it will be 5, no idea why, as I say odd.

When people tweet me their photo interpretations they often put a little explanation in with the tweet, I never use this on the blog posts as I like the photos to tell their own story and when they are all placed together in a gallery you get a better overall effect I think than single photos with an explanation.  Also I like people to look at the photos and either figure out what the taker was thinking or perhaps to see their own interpretation within the image.  This week though with odd I did think about putting up the explanations as there is indeed some odd photos and interpretations, but then I thought naaaaargh just go with it.  So here it is an odd gallery indeed.

Also an apology from me, I struggled a bit to get the blogs up on time this summer, primarily just because I’ve been busy, you know life getting in the way, and this post is a typical example as it’s two and half weeks after the end of the holidays.  Tardy indeed.  It’s also been an interesting summer photo fun as I look back over it with some weeks really capturing the imagination and lots of people taking part while other weeks barely seemed to get off the ground.  I’ve no idea why this was, maybe people are bored with it after a few years of doing it?  I suspect there’s no real rhyme or reason to it which is always part of the fun, you put the idea out there and see what happens.

I’d really like to thank everyone who has joined our good ship photo fun, it was my eldest who came up with the idea a few years ago and while I pull it all together they still come up with all the themes.  I love every photo that comes in as each simple photo and tweet is a connection made across time and space and there is something beautiful about that as far as I’m concerned.  Cheers from me and the kids.

Summer Photo Fun 2015 – Week 6 – Culture

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I’m strangely fascinated by the word culture – what is it, what does it mean, what connotations are there when it’s used so it was a great theme that the kids picked for the penultimate theme of this years summer photo fun.  As always the photos that you contributed to the week I think showed many sides to that word culture which I think goes to show what a confusing word it is.

the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

maintain (tissue cells, bacteria, etc.) in conditions suitable for growth.

A long time ago I went to university, all I actually learnt was one key thing – definitions are vitally important, if you don’t define what you mean by a certain word then confusion, misunderstanding and misinterpretation is the guaranteed result.  Culture is a great example of this covering as it does some stuff floating about in a petri dish or opera (some might argue they are the same thing of course).

So while the gallery does not bring us any examples of the third definition I think we’ve got the first two covered.  I particularly liked ‘Pub Culture’ at the top of the post a photo that is full of possibilities and questions and the more I look at it the more I see and question.  Take a moment and have a good look and think.

As always thanks so much to everyone who contributed, this week made me think a lot.  Do let me know what you thought and also I’d be interested to know what culture means to you.