Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Art in Progress "Birth of a Banner"

In October 2008 "Art and Artist Review" persuaded Fleydon (with the lure of large amounts of cash and several cases of inexpensive Australian wine) to document the creative process behind his work. This was the third such collaboration under the hugely influential 'Artist of the Decade' feature- Picasso, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud had participated in the 70's, 80's and 90's respectively and Fleydon was the unanimous panel choice for the 'Noughties' - an apt decade considering Fleydon's own hedonistic reputation.

The documentary found Fleydon in unusual waters as he prepared his entry for the "Tempest End All Wimbledon Open Flag Show", an occasional exhibition that brings together flag makers from all over the country with a fair smattering of overseas entrants from Norway, Jamaica and Brazil amongst others. "Bring 'em on. the more the merrier as far as I'm concerned. Doesn't bother me in the slightest." remarked Fleydon laconically "In fact I'd go so far as to say that you need the competition to push the art. For an artist such as myself it's a challenge. Like Tiger Woods playing in the Ryder Cup, the question I have to ask myself is can I adapt my game to meet an unusual situation? Now I'm about to find out."

The Flag Challenge has created so much interest that the final will be shown live on Setanta and to celebrate AFC Wimbledon have graciously agreed to hold their FA Cup 1st Round match against Wycombe Wanderers during the show in order to provide an appropriate background to the competition. "It's nice to have a bit of action in the background, provided the spectators don't obscure the flags. Setanta and the sponsors will be really hacked off if they do - and I couldn't blame them". For an artist who has made blatant commercialism and product endorsement an art form in itself this steely warning was obviously one not to be taken lightly. And so to the process of creation...

The Idea

"I've a large selection of saved or found items that I feel may be of use in future projects and every now and then one of these items forces itself into my sub-conscious demanding it be acknowledged. Such was the case with my old IKEA tab-topped curtains". Plain and dowdy, two pairs of 'natural' cotton curtains had hung to the rear of 'Chez Fleydon', the famous surreal home of the artist, until replaced with more suitable 'artistic' drapes. "I wasn't going to let them go to waste so I bought some yellow dye, shoved them in the washing machine and hey presto, four new canvas for future use. "

Step 1. The old IKEA curtains are replaced and dyed in the machine. Note how the
dowdy linen is now a vibrant yellow, though still not as vibrant as the
shimmering gauze that replaced them. After an iron they were packed in humidity
controlled surroundings until Fleydon was struck by the muse.

"During the close season I was lurking on various websites when my attention was drawn to the recurring notion of 'Identity'. In football you often here the chant "Who are you?". Intended as an insult ('No matter how famous you think you are, we've never heard of you') it actually raises an important question. Who, in fact, ARE we? At Wimbledon we pay great attention to this question. Interestingly the debate seems to hinge on one letter - 'A' and it's position as a prefix - Wimbledon FC or AFC Wimbledon? The white hot debate that this single letter can generate is amazing. It is both the Alpha and the Omega of the debate, though obviously more Alpha really if you think about it. Of itself it means nothing, but then again it also means everything. For an artist this is most intriguing - it is the gap between the conscious and the unconscious; it is the back of the sofa down which the coin of reason may slip; it is the brand mark on the Wimbledon psyche; the numbered tattoo on the survivors arm. It is both powerful and destructive, that little letter 'A'."

Fleydon took an unusual artistic stance. Instead of 'diving down the back of the sofa after it' as he put it, he decided the best thing was to pretend that the sofa did not exist. "I ignored it, cast it from my mild. As IKEA (where you can get excellent linen curtains ) would have it 'I chucked out the chintz' and concentrated on the core. And for me that core is 'Wimbledon'. Embrace the essence, discard the peripherals, accentuate the positive and, as a result, eliminate the negative."

As usual Fleydon's initial thoughts took shape on his computer. "I'm thinking of banner rather than flag, long enough to proclaim the message but avoiding mention of either AFC or FC. It will be a call to core values. It will be an anthem and a clarion, Roland's horn and the football kicked across the trenches all rolled into one. It will be a giant car-sticker on the rear view window of the ground (for surely that is the role of the Tempest Stand). It will be marvellous!"
Step 2. The basic layout was based on a car sticker with a bold statement of identity backed by the rollicking lyrics to an historic Wimbledon battle tune. The
intention was to leave stupefied outsiders in no doubt that indeed, Wimbledon
were back in town.

Phase Two: Getting down to business

"Having decided on the design I set to work. I tend to start at about ten in the evening as soon as Mrs Fleydon and all the small Feyldons have gone to bed. Then I can concentrate on the work in hand." Although he tried to conceal the fact, hidden cameras caught Fleydon taking the image to a place of work where he pinned the canvas to the wall and projected the two crests upon them. Having drawn the outlines in pencil he had a faint guide to the images.

Step 3: The images are projected onto the yellow canvas and pencil is used to pick out the key features. (we were refused access to the workshop for this part of the process)
After returning to his studio Fleydon then expertly sliced a bin-liner with an ancient cut-throat razor, inverted the canvas and inserted the thin sheet of plastic. " I don't often work with a canvas of two layers, but if I do I don't like the paint to seep through. It offends my sensibilities.. This will stop it short". Although a sensible precaution the addition of a plastic table cloth suggested that the fear of upsetting Mrs Fleydon was a significant factor in the preparations.

Step 4: A plastic insert helps prevent the paint seeping through onto the table beneath.

"I like to start with the white background when doing a crest. I've two separate crests to do but I intend the yellow dye to act as the background for the FC crest, so that will only require some blue paint. AFC is a right pain though...." Fleydon furrowed his brow in concentration. "So many crinkly bits. It's like the coast of Norway."

Step 5: White emulsion is used to produce the background. The black elements will provide sufficient contrast, so it doesn't have to be too thick.

"The black on this particular crest gives it the power and definition. I like to leave it until last so I'm now filling in the red elements of aggression - beak, talons and eyes. I must admit to a certain frisson of excitement at this juncture..."

Step 6: Red emulsion (Poppy from the Homebase tester pot collection) is used to define the 'areas of aggression'

"And now for the solidity of power - the black. But here I must use a mixture of brushes to ensure the lines are no crossed. The paint itself is thick, turgid and difficult to spread. I would normally dilute it, but this particular weave will suck and absorb any liquid causing blotching and staining. So I persevere, long into the night, determined to at least complete the outline of this magnificent beast."

Step 7: Fine brushes define the outline whilst leaving the larger expanses for less delicate application

It is now 2am and Fleydon has had enough painting. "Come on! Open the wine - I've salami, olives and cheese. Time to make a night of it!" We make our excuses and leave...

Next time: Fleydon tackles the Wimbledon FC crest - but an artistic crisis ensues.

The following day Fleydon was already at work when we stumbled into his workshop in the early hours of the evening. "You're late. Come in. Shut the door. I have, as you can see, begun..." With his blue fabric pen Fleydon had blocked out the outlines as a guide. "A risk, but not a great one. When it's painted in blue, no-one will be any the wiser"

Step 8: The Wimbledon FC crest. Having been projected onto a second curtain and outlined in pencil, the image outline is further defined by blue fabric pen in preparation for the blue paint.

Fleydon then set to with characteristic fervour and vim. When we left him he was still at it, paintbrush slashing here and there, his eyes aglow and a thin sheen of perspiration glistening on his brow "I'll see you tomorrow. And next time bring beer!".

Our return the next day was in stark contrast to scene of concentration and excitement of the previous evening. Fleydon was bleary-eyed, clutching a near empty bottle of Lidl Sangria "Two problems I've got. Not one like anyone else but TWO. How fair is that then, eh?" After much coffee and some of our reserve gingerbread, Fleydon explained his crisis. "First off it was a mistake to rely on the yellow dye on the FC crest. It doesn't stand out and compared to the AFC crest it is plain, dowdy and unassuming. It's supposed to be a meeting of equals dammit!!I mean look at it. God knows I even tried painting a different coloured yellow over the dye but that didn't work. Pathetic. I've decided to leave it, but it will mock me every time I look at it."

Step 9: The crests are not the meeting of equals that Fleydon hoped.

"My second problem is of a different order of magnitude. I can't position the lettering until the two halves are joined but that will make a banner of nigh on 14ft. Where can I find a wall that big?? This last comment seems to be a reference to his use of a projector to aid with both depicting and sizing of letters. Today, it seemed that all the modern aids were going to be useless. "I'll have to use the old ways" Fleydon remarked ruefully "Pencils, rulers and ages spent on getting the spacing right. With the smaller lettering I can use photocopies as templates,but even that's a pain. I'm beginning to wish I hadn't started now. Ambition will be my downfall..."
Step 10: The smaller lettering is printed out and checked for spelling errors. Looks good so far...
Step 11: At home Fleydon cuts out the shape ready for a rough positional fitting
Fleydon stood on a chair and looked down at the roughly positioned cloth and paper, now for the first time taking a semblance of its final form. "The positioning looks good and the sizing just about acceptable. Now I have to prepare myself for the joining of the curtains. At that point the banner is born and takes on a life of its own. I then act as nursemaid to the lettering. My least favourite aspect. Give me an interesting image any day..."
Step 12: And a final check shows that the minor problems are not insuperable.
"I'm beginning to find this discouraging. It's not like art as I know it, more graphic design, but maybe that will all change with the ceremonial joining of the halves tomorrow." Fleydon sighed, took his blanket and headed for bed. It would seem that even the greatest of artists can be discouraged in their work

Next time: The Ceremonial Splicing of the Curtains. Make or break time... and then the lettering beckons

When we next spoke to Fleydon he was anxiously awaiting the return of his banner from the outworkers to whom he had entrusted it. "I don't do sewing. That's not my role. I'm the creative force and I tend to leave the basic stuff to professionals. Beside trying to thread up one of those machines is a nightmare. One thing's for sure though, if they muck this up I'll have their guts for garters."
Step 13: Sweat-shop labourers are forced to work long hours for a pittance as Fleydon 'out-sources' his sewing. The two separate halves are united into one banner.
The banner is returned safely and now the spacing of letters can be attempted with some degree of confidence. "The ruler is out and now I have to position the cut out letters in an accurate manner. This is no time for a wobbly hand or faint heart. After tracing around them in pencil I redo it in a felt-tip pen and finally follow it up with paint. It is a long and arduous process. It's a drudge really but at least the letters are manageable. Next up is the main WIMBLEDON lettering, but first I have to establish how much space I have to play with. Excuse me whilst I crack on..." With that Fleydon impatiently waved us away. His head bowed, he had lost his characteristic exuberance and seemed resigned to the long haul. Could we be witnessing the cracking of a great spirit under the twin strains of typography and a deadline?
Step 14: Paper letters are positioned, drawn around then disposed of. Felt-tips mark the edges, a broad brush establishes the outline before a coarser brush is used for the infill. Now Fleydon can establish the size available for his main message

Next time: In the home strait Fleydon struggles to come to grips with his main message. Is 'Wimbledon' just too big for him?

Fleydon had regained some of his old spark when we next spoke to him "Yes I admit I was despondent at times but that's all part of this alchemical process I like to call genius. Now, at last, I have defined my problem. I have a space in the middle of my work 65 cm x 220cm and that space is earmarked for 'Wimbledon'. Using Word Art I wrote out Wimbledon in capital letters and tried and rejected a number of typefaces, looking for an easy but effective visual experience. I then pulled and twisted the text until it was the same ratio on the computer - in this case 6.5cm x 22cm. Then it was a simple case of measuring all the significant elements on paper before scaling them up." Fleydon through back his head and gave a leonine roar of laughter "Easier said than done though. This was on a big scale. Still a work of genius mind you..."
Step 15: The printout is measured an used in turn to define key elements for the main text. Note the delicate scribbles and the consideration absorbed in this draft copy. Deep thought that reminiscent of Da Vinci. Ignore the black paint.
The initial working were completed in pencil but when generally happy overall with the positioning they were reinforced in felt tip. The next stage involved use of a fine brush to establish the edges before the large brushes can move in with impunity. As Fleydon commented about his work on this project "My imagination was dulled with such drudge work but by god it's what your right arm's for, it really gets you back to basics. Especially when you cant even get hold of a decent metal 1m long ruler and have to make due with a straight lines from an old Venetian blind!"
Step 16: The measurements are painstakingly transferred leaving a faint pencil outline on the sheet. This is reinforced with black felt-tip marker, just about ready for the application of the powerful blocks of black lettering

Later that evening we found a flushed, exhausted but triumphant Fleydon smeared in black paint, greeting us at his door. "I did it, it nearly broke me but I did it. Cleared me out of paint though - I had to replenish my stocks of Homebase Masonry tester pots, black with a smooth finish, finest black paint on the market. I did use textured finish once, in error, but it was a disaster. Anyway, on it went in bulk, on by far the most expansive area of black in my whole oeuvre. It's taken me hours and now it's up to dry - and what a surprise for my daughter on her birthday. I bet she'll love it. Not that its for her though. Far too valuable for playing with..." We were ushered in to the inner sanctum to catch a glimpse of it hanging in situ, drying gently in the still morning air. It is no exaggeration to say that we were struck with both shock and awe. Our first impression was that it was both perfect and complete. But for a genius such as Fleydon there was always more to do. "Finished? Not yet, now comes the dressing and the practicalities of hanging. But I can take a step back and have a few day's breather. I'm not as young as I used to be. Art takes it out on you, both physically and mentally."

Step 17: Hanging out to dry in all its Glory. But still, as yet, unfinished.

Next time: Finishing touches as Fleydon considers the coming competition

Come the day of the exhibition and Fleydon is on site early. "A true artist will always consider the positioning of their work. It can make or break you." It was also apparent that the tabs had been removed and some re-positioned above and below the main message. "Hanging tabs you know. Very important for the final look of the piece. It's attention to detail that impresses the judges and I've got attention to details in spades" The main stand is filling with works of art all vying for the top spot and the accolades that follow. "I'm mainly interested in the art groupies" remarks Fleydon casually, "Although the money comes in useful of course."

Step 18: The end tabs are removed and a number repositioned along the top and bottom to give secure anchorage points
Modesty forbade Fleydon from telling us how he did in the "Tempest End All Wimbledon Open Flag Show" but press photographs shows both team and mascot stunned into silence at the quality of the art on display and Fleydon had a smug, self-satisfied smile when we next met him. "Lets just say that I'm having a very nice time at the moment and am looking forward to reprising my performance next year." He gave us a wink before turning and making his way back towards his studio. We couldn't help but notice the close attention he was receiving from several excited young women clutching portfolios and bottles of wine. It seems the old lothario had struck gold yet again...

AFC Wimbledon look over-awed by the quality of flags on display, especially 'We Are Wimbledon', the sight of which sent them into a stunned silence. They later lost their FA Cup 1st round match 4-1 but Man of the Match Luke Garrard admitted concentrating had been difficult "We kept on wanting to look at the flags...I mean football's all well and good, but everyone knows that vexillology is where it's at. It's where all the best looking girls go and the guys are so well paid and everything. Sometimes it's so frustrating knowing that however good with home-made paper flags you might be, to get a flag up there it's a whole new ball-game. But credit to them, they're the professionals" .


Bert said...

You mad genius you. The first blog that's ever left me at a cliff-hanger!

The Big Smoke said...

Love your work. Could you drop me a line at