Something I didn’t mention in my blog about the semi-final at Felixstowe was my growing desire to be in the final so I could carry out the challenge set by the judges. I found this slightly weird as I had never enjoyed commissions in the past, but this felt different. Perhaps it was the competition which seemed to be bringing out different things in me. Things which I was clearly enjoying! Whilst I had some little moments of crisis, I had basically chuckled and gurned my way through my heat and the semi-final, and the thought of a commission no longer held the dread it has done in the past.
In previous years the additional painting carried out as part of the competition final had been called a commission. But this year they called it a “challenge” as it wasn’t just about painting at a given location, there were additional requirements. Once at our given location, mine being Brighton, we were presented with the following brief:
“Because they want to see how you work outside of a four-hour timed challenge the judges have invited you to paint the view of Brighton Palace Pier as part of your Final challenge. You have been requested to visit this place in the evening time because as day turns to night this landscape undergoes dramatic changes in light and the judges would like you to make use of this unique opportunity. Additionally, they have organised for you to meet an expert who will give you an insight into the history of this landscape to aid you with your work. You have two weeks to complete the artwork, beginning the day after you arrive home from this challenge.”
For several years I had wanted to do more night-time painting so this was a gift. A gift also was the multitude of possibilities that being at Brighton Pier gave. There was the fun fair and walkway on top, the metal structure underneath and not to mention the broader view of the whole pier against the landscape of the beach (my third beach of the competition I might add!) And as the day progressed, I found more and more interesting things I could “do” with the pier!
When you watch the programme it looks like you get a whole day to draw, paint and prepare for the commission…well there are actually a lot of other things which also have to happen. Lots of other bits of filming including meeting an expert at your location, which in my case was Geoffrey Mead, a local historian who was fantastic to talk to. I was raring to go by the time I got to do some painting so when I did get going, I worked really fast! In fact, it made the 4-hour painting challenge look like a walk in the park!
Whilst taking hundreds of photos on the pier, I took great delight in giving the film crew the slip for a little while just to get some headspace. My head was so full of ideas and I was so very hot that I needed to ponder some ideas and breathe a little. Ideas were flowing thick and fast, I loved the fun fair against the structure of the side of pier but I also liked the view of the old pier, its burnt remains haunting the Brighton coast line. However, it was the underside of the pier that I loved most. Under the pier on the beach is where you’ll find teenagers hanging out, boozy picnics taking place and it would seem, lovers tiff’s…There really was a sense of Brighton’s alternative side, people who perhaps feel they don’t fit or those who want to escape the commercial side of Brighton. I liked it a lot. If I had been twenty years younger you would have found me here in my DM’s and over-sized shirt. Mind you, the invasion of a TV crew was probably not entirely welcome…
I decided to focus my efforts on studying the underside of the pier, the “underbelly” as I had started to call it. I made several studies in paint and charcoal as the light faded, loving the contrast between the dark underside and the fairy lights on top of the pier. It seemed to represent the face of Brighton we are presented with – the fun, bright, jolly side, against the dark, unseen, hidden side. I was completely in flow when we stopped filming around 10pm, so I stayed on the beach on my own for another hour.
Something I have learned over the years is that I need to work with the energy of an idea whilst it is fresh. So on the train on the way home from Brighton I furiously sketched and wrote down ideas and possible compositions for the commission. Once home, I had to face the fact that I had just given up my lovely big studio (various reasons) and now had to set up a temporary studio in the main family dining area with the time-lapse camera hopefully not capturing too many dodgy bits!
The red outsider
I was very clear about the composition I wanted to use and worked pretty fast, so I spent the first few days working on two versions of the same composition. On a whim, I also started a third completely random image (the red one) which still held the theme of Brighton’s Underbelly, but was quite different to my planned submission for the final. I painted very little for the next few days but returned to finish three out of four paintings. I was ready to submit my chosen painting and packaged it ready for collection, but something was bugging me. I had this nagging feeling that I should submit the “red one”. It would be a brave choice but I had nothing to lose, so after a torturous couple of days, I changed my mind and sent in the random red outsider.
All the images I completed are in this post, including this final “red one” I chose to submit.
Clearly, it was the right choice 😊