Monday, 5 March 2012

RICHARD CREME at MMU, Creature Tales and the Rebel Clown Army...

Last summer I had the opportunity to meet up with Chris Larkin from The Stroke Association (UK), to talk over the relevance of the arts in relation to stroke. It wasn’t an area I had any great expertise in, other than personal experience within my family. Chris and I arranged to meet up at the City Gallery in Manchester and have a coffee to discuss ways we might work together.

A couple of days before the meeting, he got in touch to ask if he could bring someone along who he had recently met and who was producing work that I might be interested in. This seemed a great idea, and on the day of the meeting, I’d got there nice and early, because it was the middle of the Manchester International Festival (MIF), so I’d secured a table in the gallery cafe and was contentedly people-watching, settled down with a strong coffee.

The clock was ticking, and as I didn’t know Chris, I wasn’t quite sure who to be looking for amidst all the monochrome of the stylish MIF set. However, I soon spotted the artist that Chris was accompanying, a figure from my younger years (before I’d a family and still had money), who I’d secretly aspired to emulate! This was Richard Creme, of L’Homme and then the self-named, Richard Creme - the most elegant men’s boutiques in Manchester; the most charismatic, (and if I’m being doubly-honest) tall and immaculately dressed owner. I’m six foot three, and Richard is head and shoulders taller than me and far, far more elegant.

So I’m sitting calmly, waiting to meet Chris, when in walks this Manchester icon, and he is the artist, he is the man that has had a stroke and has come out of the other side, with something new, something that has fundamentally changed him and the way he sees the world.

Over the next couple of hours, Richard, Chris, Lorraine Longmore, (Communication Support Co-ordinator) and I, look through a portfolio of work he’s produced since he had the stroke nearly 4 years ago, a stroke that’s affected the right hand side of his body, but more frustratingly, has taken away his ability for word-finding and speech, leaving him with all the thoughts and ideas, but unable to converse in sentences. More often than not Richard gestures, his great arms grabbing hold of me, and his booming voice repeating ‘why’, to the things he wants to say. Imagine the scene; the great and good of cultural Manchester gathered to hob-knob, with their canap├ęs and thoughts on art; and a small gathering, centered around the largest of characters, who with consistent style, spreads out the most astounding selection of drawings and paintings, as we begin to share the significance of his work.

Lorraine and Chris, help me understand a little about what Richard has been through, and that following his stroke, he was, as you can imagine, at rock-bottom. Richard has subsequently expressed that he felt so depressed, he would most certainly have considered suicide, but for Lorraine's support to nurture the discovery of his creativity. This is powerful stuff. Our table is easily the most animated in these genteel surroundings.

Before I see the first images he’s created, there is a powerful smell of ink, and not some fine printers ink, but the smell of ink that I remember from school exams, the ink of a biro. Opening these first pages in one of the completed sketchbooks, was sensate and riveting. This was a man, who hadn’t turned his hand to the arts since his school days. In front of me were the most dense and heavily worked drawings, produced from photographs and other artists images, but in blue biro. Some so meticulously over-worked that he’d patched up the other side of the paper, where he’d scratched through. Hours and hours of work and fine draughtsmanship in each piece.

But these drawings, often of celebrities who had frequented his boutique, were only the start of things, and provided an elegant time-line of a man refining his skills, which moved through different mediums and took on more startling subject matter. A group of drawings of the hand; a series of self-portraits and portraits of his wife Shelley; a collection of images in washed out grey of the photographer and one-time friend and collaborator, Norman Parkinson; abstract patterns in vivid colour and stark, but elegant headless human bodies.

Without much hesitation, we discussed how we might exhibit some of the work, and Richard very animatedly let us know that this was exactly what he wanted! With bear-hugs and much passion, we agreed we’d meet again and make it happen.

Exploring potential gallery spaces in public buildings like the Whitworth, City, or Platt Hall appealed, but could take forever to organise, and talking with the curators of the Link Gallery at MMU, Elisa Artesero and Roger Bygott, it quickly became apparent that we had the expertise and passion to curate an exhibition, sooner rather than later, that would put a marker down in the trajectory of Richard Creme’s work.

We’ve met again a few times since that first meeting, and Richard and Shelley are a joy to work with. Both passionate, creative and full of excitement at the possibility of pulling off this first show. They tease me mercilessly about my clothes, Richard eyes me up and down each time we meet, (rubber mac, not good, looks like the gimp...corduroys, tut, tut). It was a lovely treat for them to make contact with an old friend John Walsh who had worked on numerous projects with Richard over 10 years and who now works at MMU in graphic design, and who’s helping out with some of the design around publicity and a catalogue too.

So the exhibition is planned. Between 1st and 11th May, at the Link Gallery at MMU and it’s going to be called, Richard Creme and it’ll be a brilliant thing. It will be a show about one man, and his life. It will reflect something of him and no doubt, be open to all sorts of interpretation. It’s happening during Action on Stroke Month, so yes, we hope that we can all learn more about stroke, but for me, this is about one man, his incredibly beautiful work, and how art has the potency to reach out to us at the most difficult of times, enabling the expression of frustration and anger on one hand, but liberating us and enabling us to flourish on the other.

Thank you to all those people freely collaborating on this exhibition.
'Richard is the king of style, the first person to bring the likes of Comme des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and many more to Manchester.'

and CLOWNS...
I’m reading Saturday by Ian McEwan at the moment, and last night I read this line, which considering our field of work, made me smile. This section of the book concerns a memory of the story’s protagonist, a neurosurgeon, who is reminiscing his, and his partners’ wondering around of a deserted section of the gallery, at the opening of Tate Modern...

‘Such was their wellbeing that even the sullen orthodoxies of conceptual art seemed part of the fun, like earnest displays of pupils’ work at a school open day.’

I love the irony that their wellbeing was so good, that even the art didn't cause damage to it. Spot on. 

I’ve also been grinning inanely at clowns this week. NOT CLOWNS, you shudder, the things of nightmares - not even our friends, the clown-doctors on this occasion, but the militant tendency of the Clown World, who had come to my attention via the excellent work of people involved in the Occupy movement. No, this is the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, yes, that’s The Rebel Clown Army, an altogether more 21st Century tomfoolery. You have to admit, you’re curious aren’t you? Power to the grease paint.

More tomfoolery and carnival mayhem? Well maybe not mayhem, but sensitive, compassionate and utterly compelling. This is a short film by Creature Tales, an arts organisation based in Tasmania and who I had the pleasure to hook up and hatch plans with, last year in Canberra. I very much hope to support Creature Tales and DADAA on some action research around the powerful impact of their work.

Our manifesto is almost upon us and I wonder, would you like to be involved in the final stages? I’m interested to hear from artists and free-thinkers of any persuasion, how we might share our ideas, those salient points - the core of our beliefs. So feel free to get in touch and remember, no idea could be too radical. I’m also interested to think about how we might share key thoughts from it, with people who would never get involved in this sort of work - the average person in the street, who makes no connection between art-society-wellbeing. So again, if you have any ideas about face-to-face conversation with people outside of our sometimes insular world, or those who would be outrightly antagonistic, get in touch. Thank you...C.P..

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