Art bringing people together

Screenshot 2015-11-11 at 20.11.57

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

Screenshot 2015-11-11 at 20.22.07

Screenshot 2015-11-11 at 20.19.10

Screenshot 2015-11-11 at 20.16.23

Screenshot 2015-11-11 at 20.15.00


Screenshot 2015-11-11 at 20.22.50

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

Amsterdam Movement


Lithe, easy going, effortlessly gliding; understated coolness moving to a different beat.

Water ever present adding it’s own shimmering, chugging splashes to the palette of the cities movement.

Like looking into the ever changing flickering flames of a late night outdoor fire I find myself hypnotised by a city that flows like no other.

Trams snaking through the middle of ancient streets, utter modernity alerting you to their presence with a timeless 1920’s bell.

A progressive political and social heartbeat, tolerant, boundaries pushed outwards in art, philosophy, architecture, enlightenment shining through still.

I adjust to it’s rhythm, thought processes slowing but clearer, more space as my mind relaxes, body too in no rush, gentle movement and wandering seems the best pace.  Natural not forced and I instantly feel the better for it.

Then I join the flow, turn the pedals, relax and just journey randomly taking the temperature of it’s perpetual movement of which I’m now part.

I stop at a canal-side cafe and settle into the Dutch state of being, gezellig.  Time for my pen to move and distil thoughts.  I sit and watch trying to work out how to capture the moment and the movement that aligns with my soul.

Liberate Tate #TimePiece


I like it when you stumble across things.  I’m one of life’s bumblers with no grand plan, this can of course be infuriating for me and others at times but on balance it really works.  It’s a particularly good way to enjoy cities so instead of a must see list and charging round at the speed of light so you can cross things off said list, I find it much better to have a vague idea, somewhere to sort of aim at but it doesn’t matter whether you get there or not.  This way, while you have a sense of direction, the journey is somewhat more haphazard and as a result you see more things along the way.

I hadn’t planned to go into Tate Modern the other day but as I was ambling up the south bank having spent a very enjoyable few hours in it’s older sibling Tate Britain and in particular at the Fighting History exhibition I thought it would be good to pop in and see what was in the Turbine Hall, also I needed the loo.  I really wasn’t sure what was going on at first as hunched, veiled figures were holding books, scribbling on the floor.  On closer inspection I’d stumbled across an artistic protest which was kind of spookily ace seeing as I’d just come from an exhibition featuring radical protest art and artists trying to interpret key moments in history.  Climate change and dependence on fossil fuels will surely be a key moment in our history and here unfolding in front of me was conflict, protest, an artistic act that seeks to make sense of this moment and affect change.

The group doing the scrawling were Liberate Tate who are a group of artists protesting about BP’s sponsorship of the gallery.  They have done a number of other artistic protests but in this one they were occupying the turbine hall for 24 hours (to coincide with the tidal movements of the Thames) and were using charcoal to inscribe passages and slogans from dystopian novels, climate change reports, non fiction books that provided a thought provoking narrative.

Should public institutions be tied to companies driving climate change? At the very least it should be very clear what investment is being made and it seems very odd that it took a three year legal battle to get the amount that BP invests in the Tate made public, and the amount ?  £224,000 a year apparently which, while being a not inconsiderable sum of money, makes up only 0.3% of the Tate’s operating budget.  Food for thought I think.

I don’t know what happened when the gallery was due to close, would the security guards move in or would the group be allowed to stay and continue their silent protest, quietly scribbling away?

I’m glad that I stumbled across Liberate Tate.

10952606_1632586693622456_213369786_n 11376543_1632880346969558_17173845_n

The Dying Graves In Spring


My jumping-jack cat has shown up. He used to be a part of my childhood and now he’s back again. Wearing 17th century Thirty Years’ War gear (or so I think), he looks rather special. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was so utterly horrific and dying so much more common than it always has been anyway that it was as fashionable to reflect on one’s own death as it is fashionable to dream of 15 minutes of fame nowadays (even though vanity was also a huge thing in the Baroque period). That memento mori has its place in Lent as Christians prepare for remembering the death of Christ. Curiously my walk took me to a cemetery today. It was sunny and I wanted to see the early flowers of spring. In other words: life. What do we love about these early spring flowers? They are the heralds of spring, of a beginning of a new life. They defy the final frosty days of winter, fight their way through frozen soil and layers of old leaves from last year’s autumn. In a world still dipped in shades of brown and grey they are a colourful delight to our eyes. Oh, how wonderful they looked today, in white, blue, purple and yellow! They were pure poetry. But their lives will be short – just like those of the people who lived during the Thirty Years’ War.


The old parts of the cemetery date back to the 19th century. I’m a lover of 19th century art so this place has a lot to offer. Unfortunately, decay has been massive. Here it’s the graves which are dying and being buried by Mother Nature herself. What once was splendour is now reduced to rubble. These graves survived a war but not indifference. The spring flowers here are Nature’s oxymoron to Mankind’s crafts.


I enter the hospital where I was treated for pneumonia a few days ago. I want to visit an old woman who I shared a room with. I find she is back to her home and nobody is able to tell me which one. A few days back, when I was caressing her cheeks and holding her hands she looked at me and smiled: “You are a good person. Hopefully we will meet in Heaven.”