Tag Archives: Drawing

Drawing on the Past by Ray Bentley (FreeSpace #3)

3 Dec


Ray - 1 of 3

Drawing on the Past

Ray’s talked about his recollections of Mark and Billy over the last three weeks, and now he wants to tell you about his own experiences from the same time.

When Ray moved to London in 1956 he could hardly believe his luck. He was 17, he’d secured a place at St Martin’s School of Art to study sculpture when the college was on the rise, and he felt liked he’d arrived from the provinces just in time to see things finally wake up after the war.

Even though he and his best mate had only applied for a laugh, Ray took to London life immediately, and flourished both socially and creatively. He made a lot of friends within and without the school, and he quickly found himself singled out because of his instinctive ability. Just a year after arriving his work was exhibited alongside one of the pre-eminent sculptors of the time, and he was feted by his lithography tutor for his exceptional talent. Word soon spread, and some very important teacher-artists used to come to the studio to see his work.

Elsewhere, he was enthralled by the American painters who were being exhibited in Europe for the first time, and he embraced the ground-breaking shifts that were taking under his sculpture tutor.

Moreover, at a time when British artists such as Francis Bacon, John Craxton and Keith Vaughan were exploring their emotions and desires in frank and challenging ways, and when many of his fellow students were becoming increasingly flamboyant, Ray believed he was at a place where he could live openly and honestly.

He couldn’t have been more mistaken. At the end of his third year an increasingly overconfident Ray told one sculpture teacher he was gay, an admission he naively considered innocuous given the apparent liberalism elsewhere in the school. Instead of keeping his counsel, however, the teacher immediately passed this confidence to his head of department, who in turn shared it with the principal. As Ray’s guardian he was justifiably fearful of the legal ramifications of this confession, but his handling, though initially well-intentioned, was to have a lasting effect on Ray.

Ray immediately questioned their response, but was told that “because it came from your own lips, we have to take action”. The principal sent Ray to see the most eminent psychiatrist in London in the hope that he would take – or at least feign – a cure, instructing him that when asked, he was to say that he initiated the consultation himself.

Ray - 2 of 3


He did nothing of the kind, and he made it quite clear to both the doctor and the dozen-or-so medical students sitting in on the appointment that this pantomime was not his decision, that he was perfectly happy as he was, and that he wouldn’t be returning. While this decision may appear either brave or foolhardy, Ray was also driven by fear. In the absence of any sympathetic guidance and amid a mess of half-truths and rumours, he assumed that he would be admitted for electric shock treatment, aversion therapy or chemical castration. Worst of all, he was scared that he’d be forced to leave his partner, who you read about last week; this, more than anything else, was out of the question.

When he returned to the school “all hell broke loose”. He was greeted with a tirade from a frustrated principal who made it clear that Ray had no future there, and his stand led to the collapse of his relationship with the more pragmatic sculpture department. The invective he received from one staff member in particular was so persistently debilitating that his some of his fellow students complained about his behaviour.

Furthermore, Ray’s house-mate was summoned to the principal and grilled on every aspect of his domestic life in an attempt to uncover any indiscretion which would have been grist to his mill, given that Ray – though outspoken and intransigent – had been seen to have done nothing up until then that was either illegal or in contravention of college rules. The already-vulnerable Alan then attempted to take his own life. He left college shortly afterwards, and never painted again.

Despite – or even because – of this uncertainty, however, Ray’s printmaking continued to mature at a considerable rate, and his increasingly sympathetic but clearly hamstrung lithography tutor made it known that he had developed talents well beyond his years.

This was all academic, however, because Ray was failed, as he knew he would be. Many of his peers were nonplussed by this decision and they recommended that he appeal or resit, but he knew that either was untenable while the status quo remained. He did approach a solicitor, however, but after sharing his story and his tears he was curtly presented with a bill for five pounds and told that he should “accept his punishment”.

After completing a series of corporate commissions he’d secured in his final year Ray retired as a professional artist and tried to forget everything. He never told anyone else what happened, including his partner, with whom he remained until his death 29 years later. His surviving family will only find out when they read this. He avoided living one lie, perhaps, only to live out another.


Ray - 3 of 3


The good news, for Ray at least, is that this isn’t the end of the story, because he returned to art full-time over fifty years later at the age of 72. He’s very quickly had an unexpected, though modest success as a painter, and his work has been exhibited throughout the UK. He’s been away for too long to even know what the vanguard looks like any more, but his unashamedly conservative yet intuitive works have won a small, but enthusiastic set of admirers.

Does he regret all of this? For himself, no; if anything, he thinks it was the making of him professionally, because at the time he believed that nothing worse could happen. He’s sure that in the decade that followed this lent him a toughness that enriched the next stage of his life, even if he took a different turn to the colleagues who went on to make St Martin’s the centre of the art world for a while. He didn’t even think then about what he might have been missing.

It’s fair to say, therefore, that Ray isn’t speaking out now because he feels aggrieved, or because he wishes to point the fingers at the usually-capable professionals who were themselves the victims of history. He can even see why some people would think he didn’t do a great deal to help himself. He’s speaking out because he was one of the lucky ones, and because he wants to put it behind him. He found a way to survive and exploit his creative energies elsewhere, but some people lost more than just their careers and their dreams as a result of the peculiarities of the age; they lost their lives as well, and this article is for them.


At the beginning of this year Ray returned to St Martin’s (now Central Saint Martins) to share this story with them. He wanted to find out if there was any record of what happened, and whether this happened to anyone else. If it did, he wants their testimony to be shared with today’s students so that they could see how recently discrimination of this kind was still commonplace, even at an institution many assumed would have been a beacon of tolerance; if this was systemic, this would be an important part of their history.

He returned with the testimonies of those surviving house-mates who were interrogated and a wealth of documentary evidence confirming his presence at the school, but sadly there is no trace of him ever having been there at all. He is still in discussion with Central Saint Martins.



Ray Bentley is an award-winning painter from Stoke-on-Trent whose still lifes and figurative paintings have been exhibited throughout the UK. He now lives and works near Redcar with his partner and dog, where he spends his days eating biscuits, napping, not doing the housework, tweeting about his favourite things, reading thrillers and – occasionally – painting. You can learn more about him at www.raymondbentley.com or follow him via  https://twitter.com/bentleyteesside


If you missed Ray’s first FreeSpace (Drawing Mark from Memory) you can find it here.

And Ray’s second FreeSpace (Trumpets: Drawing Billy From Memory) can be found here.


nb. Ray, happily, is also one of our Viking artists taking part in ArtiPeeps’ 2014/2015 largescale collaboration The Nine Realms


FreeSpace is a creative opportunity that offers 3 posts on ArtiPeeps to an individual or group for showcasing or a project. The slots can be taken in a cluster or spread over a period of months. Do get in touch via the contact form on the What’s On page or via comments if you’d like to take up this opportunity.

Trumpets: Drawing Billy from Memory by Ray Bentley (FreeSpace #2)

19 Nov


Falling Asleep Reading

Falling Asleep Reading


Trumpets: Drawing Billy from Memory


Last year Nicky allowed me to share the story of the first, and, indeed, the last surviving of my London friends. Over the next two weeks I’m going to be writing more about that time, but I’m going to start by retelling the story his life, and about how I tried to draw him from memory nearly half a century after my first sketch of Mark.


I owe everything in my adult life to the suffering of Billy. If he hadn’t been severely beaten as a child, and if he hadn’t been bullied by religious zealots, things could have been much less interesting for both of us.

Billy made the first of many attempts to escape from his parents at just seven, when he was found at the local railway station trying to buy a ticket to London. He didn’t succeed then, but that taste of release was enough to make him clock-watch for the next eight years until he finally broke free.

He was raised in a Salvation Army family, and he hated everything about it. There was no dancing, no theatre, no pictures, no radio, no music worth listening to and definitely no drinking, just trumpet lessons and prayer meetings and endless, perfunctory traipsings in stupid, ill-fitting uniforms. There was nothing to do in fact, but save, plan and daydream for his big getaway, which turned everything, including school, into an unnecessary distraction. Although he was never a naughty child his indifference was generally taken as insubordination, and his frequent chastisements eventually culminated in a beating with a board ruler that was so severe that it fractured his wrist bones; he was just thirteen.

He lived with the pain for a few days afterwards, and it was only once he fainted on the way home from school that a botched attempt was made to reset the bones. This marked the beginning of a series of costly to-ings and fro-ings to hospital which eventually led to a sepsis in his arm. His doctor recommended amputation, but Billy insisted otherwise, and he found another physician that was able to save the arm – at a cost.

The resultant damage made it near impossible for him to comfortably hold his Salvation Army band trumpet while it was still healing, which seemed to make little difference to his insistent parents. Just shy of his fifteenth birthday and the end of his tenure at school, he decided he’d had enough. He gathered what he’d been able to save and made the journey from Teesside to Tilbury docks, where he attempted to board passage on a merchant vessel.


Bathtime Learning

Bathtime Learning


It was fortunate for Billy that the first man he met knew where his best interests lay. He fed him and persuaded him to return home, and to come back when he didn’t have to lie about his age. He gave him all the money he had, which was just enough to get him as far as Doncaster, leaving him shy of home by eighty miles. It took him three days of walking and hitching on mostly empty roads to reach his sister’s house in Thirsk, where they had to cut him out of his boots.

This adventure, the first of many, and probably the best, gave him the quiet invincibility he would need to make the rest of his life just as exciting. To be fair to his parents, it did shock them into cutting him enough slack to stopping him running again, and he held on until he was finally rescued by the outbreak of war.

He went to enlist with his local battalion, The Green Howards, but quickly changed his mind when he was told that it was, at that time, standard policy to remove the teeth of new recruits. He decided to cross The Pennines and join The East Lancashire Regiment instead, which allowed him to keep more than his teeth; all but eight of his fellow recruits from the Green Howards were killed shortly after they went into active service.

The battalion recognised his physical limitations and gave him an administrative role, and his life blossomed as he was sent first to South Africa and then Egypt. He was captivated by the colour, the levity and the sensuality of these countries, and he developed a taste for life at its fullest: food, culture, travel, diversity and of course, sex, all experienced anew at a time when his life could be taken at any moment. Having lost his virginity – as most of his comrades did – in the brothels of their nearest postings, Billy then had his first gay relationship with a British Officer in Cairo, a self-discovery which would only enrich his life further, and which lent him an attitude to sexuality and fidelity which was completely unfettered by the domestic mores of the time.

After what was for him a very enjoyable war he returned to London, where he secured a job as a warehouseman at Derry & Toms, a department store in Kensington. It was while working his way through the ranks that he met Leslie, who became his first long term partner. Leslie worked for Odham’s Press, a publishing house in London, and he did as much to broaden Billy’s perspectives as the conflicts of his formative years.

They took a flat together at the wrong end of Chelsea at a time when furniture was “on coupon”, so they had little choice but to appoint their flat with cheap antiquities. Their home became something of a meeting point for West London’s smart, gay demi-monde, and Billy was given a masterclass in polite bitchery and sharp-tonguedness that was as gruelling as anything his military training had thrown at him.

They separated amicably in 1955, when Leslie went to Venezuela with his new partner, leaving Billy to hold fort both in Chelsea and at Odhams, where he inherited Leslie’s professional duties. It was a year later that I first came into his life after we were match-made by Mark, who I told you about last week. I was still seventeen, and I’d been in London just a few weeks. Billy was thirty eight, and together we started a personal and business adventure that would last for another 30 years.

Despite the age difference we flourished because we were in the early stages of the same journey. Billy was learning more about fine art at the same time that I was doing my diploma at St Martin’s, and it was this shared appetite, combined with our own separate adversities which led us to open a shop together four years later. I’ll tell you more about my own journey next time.

He left from Odhams shortly after we’d met to join a new company that organised international trade fairs for publishers, but the plug was pulled in 1960 when it was discovered that the fairs were being used as cover for British spies who were operating in Eastern Europe. With the money he’d saved and the income I contributed, we opened a shop together on Pimlico Road selling early English watercolours, prints and old master drawings.

When we started there was nothing but a baker, a dry cleaner, a haberdashers, a few empty shops and a bomb site on our part of the street, and the time we spent building our customer base and travelling England’s B-roads in our rickety Morris in search of stock was probably the happiest time of our lives.

Despite his burgeoning tastes and passions Billy lived free of any middle class affection, and it was very much the case that his brusqueness, his fearlessness, his knowledge, and his complete lack of concern for the fripperies of bourgeois life endeared him to our upper class customers.

Lost at Sea

Lost at Sea


In less than six years – through no effort on our part – our patch of London had become the heart of a revitalised city that was, for a short while, the centre of the world, but it made us too busy to notice the finer details of this mini-renaissance, much to our regret.

We finally moved from London to Bedfordshire in the late 1960’s, but our decision to join the commuting classes and inveigle ourselves in the pettinesses of suburbia never sat well with Billy, whose main contribution to the cultural life of our new home was the ease with which he could sleep his way through the erring husbands and wives of the town.

 The business was so successful that it effectively ran itself, but Billy lost his appetite for it as the sixties came to a close. We kept going – even though I now feel we should have got out earlier – until he fell ill in 1984. The fire-haired, pale-skinned Billy had been burned by the sun during his military training in Egypt, which returned as the melanoma that took his life in 1986. As his end grew closer, he never lost his passion for life, he never became embittered, and he never allowed himself to fall into the trap of wanting more; the deaths of young colleagues had become commonplace when he was a soldier, and he knew he’d already had more than his fair share. Like the first Peter Pan before him, he considered death to be the next great adventure.

I arranged all of the civil details for Billy’s funeral, but at their insistence I allowed the service to be arranged by his sisters. They passed it to a Salvation Army Officer who had never met him, and who delivered a memorial which made no mention of his military service, nor any of his life after he left home. My own bouquet was removed from his coffin, and I was duly handed the bill for everything; he would have been disgusted that the religious jobsworths who had driven him from his home had returned to bring him back for good.

He left a legacy which is still celebrated by those of us who knew him. He was tough, disdainful of weakness, contemptous of self-pity, opportune, impulsive, and frequently errant, but he was also extraordinarily kind, thoroughly honest and in all other respects tireless reliable in all of his dealings.

The drawings included, I did of him at various times of his life. I tried to paint him afresh for this, as I had done with Mark, but unfortunately I no longer hold a strong enough picture of his face in my head for me to be able to do so. The watercolour, which I painted on holiday in Greece, gives a sense of how he relished every opportunity to immerse himself in the heat and colour of the world without any fear; this is how life should be.



Ray Bentley is an award-winning painter from Stoke-on-Trent whose still lifes and figurative paintings have been exhibited throughout the UK. He now lives and works near Redcar with his partner and dog, where he spends his days eating biscuits, napping, not doing the housework, tweeting about his favourite things, reading thrillers and – occasionally – painting. You can learn more about him at www.raymondbentley.com or follow him via  https://twitter.com/bentleyteesside

 Watch out for the second instalment of Ray’s FreeSpace on Wednesday 3rd December

 If you missed Ray’s first FreeSpace (Drawing Mark from Memory) you can find it here.



FreeSpace is a creative opportunity that offers 3 posts on ArtiPeeps to an individual or group for showcasing or a project. The slots can be taken in a cluster or spread over a period of months. Do get in touch via the contact form on the What’s On page or via comments if you’d like to take up this opportunity.

Weekend Showcase : Ashley Mackenzie (Artist)

16 May


Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.



Ashley Mackenzie






Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Toronto, Ontario. Some of her clients include The New York Times, Scientific American and The New Republic. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing she can be found reading, playing videogames or thinking about her next project.

 You can find more about Ashley here:




 Thank you, as ever, for your interest.

On Monday there will be the final FreeSpace from writer Estrella Azul.  



Transformations Kickstarter Campaign

14 Twitter poets, 15 Twitter artists, 1 Contemporary reworking of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Please do take a look: 

 Campaign short code


Campaign Video short code




Weekend Showcase : Jack Morris (Artist)

2 May


Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.


Jack Morris



Old Trafford (ink on canvas)


Artist’s Statement

“A line is a dot that went for a walk.”

So said Swiss-German artist, Paul Klee, and it is a quote which holds great visual and contextual relevance to my work. Indeed, my artwork is dedicated to analysing the subconscious exploration and emphatic celebration of the city, offering a critical yet liberated view on how we traverse and observe the grand cities and their conurbations. The notion that “a line is a dot that went for a walk” is utterly pertinent; it not only connotes the way in which the medium is applied linearly to the canvas, it is also metaphorically applicable to how it traverses freehandedly around the canvas, much as we may traverse a city.

I consider my art to be a form of cartography. However, rather than attempting accurately to replicate what the city looks like, I seek to convey what the city feels like; amalgamating the dynamic, vivacious, exciting and hostile ambiences of the urban landscape and illustrating them upon the canvas. It is a unique form of cartography, a visual representation of the atmospherically rich urban landscape.


 You can find more about Jack here:





You can see Jack’s collaboration with poet Lucy Quin here  Part of our ‘Supporting Mental Health’ Anxiety/Release Collaboration.

Thank you, as ever, for your interest.



Transformations Kickstarter Campaign

14 Twitter poets, 15 Twitter artists, 1 Contemporary reworking of Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Please do take a look: 

 Campaign short code


Campaign Video short code




Weekend Showcase : Heather Burns (Artist)

4 Oct


Every Friday, 1 creative, letting their work speak for itself.


Heather Burns


K's image of Fence

 The Fence


I have chosen to share this particular painting after much deliberation, as it marked the start of a very rich seam of responses to images and sketches that came from a long holiday spent in France over the summer of 2009. I made the painting of this and for ‘Lane’,’Chaos Granitique’ and ‘Meadow’ over the winter months of that year and into  the next up to Easter and beyond.

My ‘New Red Flower Painting’ 2013 came from a sketch made on that same holiday. I was surprised at how the paintings just seemed to make themselves and to totally evoke the particular time, feeling and experience of responding to the summer, whether in the sacred space of the lane, or the in the garden of the house where I was staying. I felt that I had come alive again as an artist through this holiday and experience. I was able to time-travel in the winter months through these pieces back to the exact time and place where the original sketch was made. This was a very special feeling for me, a revelation. I had done it before in previous works, like ‘Geronimo’s Window’ of 1989, but somehow thought that may have been a fluke somehow.

With ‘ The Fence’ I discovered I could repeat the experience. The texture of the leaves and the very particular style of French country fencing with its bleached blonde wood, came back into my consciousness completely. This was a wonderful surprise to me. The subsequent works such as ‘Lane’ flowed ever more urgently out of me. It was as if the time in France was made to last forever. The experience of looking at the work brings back the experience in a complete way that I view as a gift from the place. I wanted to share this with you.

‘The Fence’ surprised me when it manifested itself. It was almost as if the painting had made itself before I created it. Just as when a child is born and you think,’ I should have known it was you,’ I felt the same about this piece. It opened the door to so much more. It continues to influence current responses, namely the final piece that I have recently completed in the ‘Medea’ series for ‘Transformations’ for Artipeeps. Recent work may be more raw and abstract in nature, but it couldn’t have come into being without ‘The Fence’


Artist’s Biography:

My name is Heather Burns and I am a practising Artist and Art Teacher at Clitheroe  Royal Grammar School, Clitheroe , Lancashire, England. I was brought up in St.Bees Cumbria, and attended the Village Primary School, and after that the Grammar School in the next town of Whitehaven.

The village of St.Bees still means home in so many ways, and I have revisited it many times over the years resulting in the series of paintings :’St.Bees Rocks’ which you can view on my website heatherburns.co.uk The red sandstone is so characteristic of the place, and the headland on the beach constantly drew me back.

The sea was always part of my days, especially as so much time was spent exploring the countryside and walking the dog. I always miss the sea, and that sense of something absent is what I am exploring currently with my Lyme Regis painting.

Childhood was spent largely outside playing and dreaming with the sea as a constant presence. I took it for granted a lot of the time, and it is only now when it is no longer with me that I appreciate the role that it plays for me. I can hear the sound of it as I write this for you.

I went to Leeds University to study Fine Art, and travelled to Norway to research Edvard Munch’s work as part of my studies. I was able to see the originals not on display in the store at the Munch Museum, and that memory remains with me to this day. His fluid mark making and uncompromising ability to explore many taboo areas still has an influence on my practice as in my recent ‘Medea’ work.

I then decided to take my Art Teacher’s Certificate at Leeds in the year following my degree. I also got married at the end of that year to the love of my life Tony. My first teaching job was at one of the Village Colleges in Cambridgeshire, and we spent the next three years there. The demands of teaching meant it was difficult to do much of my own work, but I did make large pastel drawings as they were relatively quick, and managed to keep going with some painting.

We moved to Ely in Cambridgeshire in 1983 and my eldest son Patrick was born there. I was very happy in our little cottage and kept going with my pastel drawing, but the demands of motherhood meant that my art took something of a back seat. The drawing I did do I was happy with, and I gradually got enough work together to have a show at ‘The Old Fire Engine House’ in Ely. I had stopped art teaching and was teaching English as a Foreign Language in Cambridge in the holidays so that I could spend more time with Patrick.

We moved to Clitheroe in Lancashire in 1987, as we were missing the hills and I wanted Patrick to have stony streams to play in. I quickly got an art teaching post at the Grammar School here covering a maternity leave. Our second son Simon was born in 1988. I’ve been here ever since.! It’s been a great place to raise a family. The school has also been a significant part of my life, and has a sixth form which I always wanted to include in my teaching.

As far as the development of my own work was concerned, I found a way of working whereby I would explore motifs in the landscape in the form of ‘recce’s’ often with the family, then I go back under my own steam and draw ‘plein air’ uninterrupted, then make my paintings back in the studio.

I had a show at the Haworth Gallery in Accrington, and gradually have managed to build a body of work that represents my interest in a sense of place and the narratives that they hold.

I am moving back to working in oils after experimenting with acrylic. I am finding this exciting as the resistance on the brush and the lush colour obtainable suits my work at the moment. I have learned a great deal over the years from the practicing artists that I have worked with, especially Ian Murphy whose thinking on colour taught me so much, and his uncompromising way of working in the landscape directly from the motif. All this came through my teaching and I am immensely grateful. These things come together to bring me to where I am now.

My work has recently been on show at my brother’s gallery in Askham , near Penrith, in the Lake-district, stuartbroadhurstceramics.co.uk and I am very appreciative of the opportunity to show my work there. It has been a great springboard for me. I am currently looking for a larger venue in the north of England to show my paintings, so that you can stand back to appreciate the scale as several are quite large. I always thought I would do my best work in my 50’s for some reason. My art has always been central to my life, and the need to create will always be there. If what I am trying to say through it can reach folk in some way it will make me very happy.


 You can follow Heather on Twitter here:



* As Heather indicated, she is one of the 15 artists involved in our ‘Transformations’ poetry and art Exhibition at Hanse House in Norfolk, September 2014

Weekend Showcase: Ryan Atkins (Artist)

28 Jun


Every Friday, 1 artist/painter/poet/writer, letting their work speak for itself.


Ryan Atkins





Artist’s Biography

“My name is Ryan Atkins and I’m a single working father that lives in Casper Wyoming, USA. I draw in my spare time yet I hope to draw full time very, very soon! I’ve drawn my entire life yet have only had a semester of Art in college. I love drawing female figures, mainly faces and portraits. I also enjoy comic book style fantasy art, sketching and the occasional side walk chalk art. You can check out more of my work at theryanatkins.blogspot.com
I can be reached publicly via @theryanatkins  or via email theryanatkins@gmail.com





The Divine Mr M: Drawing Mark From Memory

17 Jun

The Divine Mr M: Drawing Mark from Memory

by Ray Bentley


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When Nicky asked me to write something for Artipeeps I was thrilled, even though I didn’t have a clue what I could possibly say that would hold anyone’s interest for 2,000 words. I had a look at the blog and there was any number of posts from people about their personal testimony or their artistic practice which I didn’t feel I could match, simply because my own biography and working methods seem utterly dreary by comparison. My first thought was that I should write something called “What is Art For?”, but this was quickly dismissed by partner as the kind of arid mumbling that had been done a million times before on art blogs.

“I know:”, he said. “Why not write about Mark?”.

“That’s not really relevant”, I said.

“No”, he said, “but he is interesting. Why not draw him as well? It’ll be a good exercise.”

The latter would be a challenge, given that Mark made it a rule never to have his photograph taken and that he’s been dead for ten years, but I thought I’d give it a go. I did draw him once before, a long time ago; he commissioned me to do a pen and ink drawing of him at his prime, but that’s long-lost now.

When I settled on Mark as a subject, I was presented with two new problems: firstly, how could I do justice to his extraordinary life, and, more worryingly, how could I do it in so few words?

I wasn’t sure, so I delegated that part of the task to my partner (who’s also called Mark), which means that everything you’ve read so far – and everything you’re about to read – has been written by him (seeing as it was his smart idea). All I did was talk into his voice recorder for an hour and a half, and do some drawings.

Mark was twenty five when we first met, and although he’d reached the pinnacle of his working life a few years previously, the long, elegant decline I saw him play out was as compelling as anything I’d missed. I was eighteen, fresh from the provinces, and he immediately offered me the first of the many stark bon mots which would become his trademark over the years.

“Raymond, darling” he said, with a swish of his dinner-plate hands “if ever you are ill, simply disappear, and come back when you’re well. Aaand – if you have any problems, don’t even think for a moment of sharing them with anyone, because they won’t want to know”.

For the rest of his life he continued to hide behind this ineffable mask, and while he steadfastly refused to advertise his frailties, he never gave himself the time to flaunt his successes either; I only found out from a friend years later, for example, that while peers, dignitaries and heads of state were forced to walk from the cordons to Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day, Mark had been limousined from palace to palace to spray the hair and fix the coronets of the world’s aristocracy. Not-yet twenty-one, and under the soubriquet of Mr M (or “Lil” to his closest customers), he’d become the best-placed commoner at the last hurrah of the greatest empire, without even breaking into a sweat.

If ambition had ever been a part of Mark’s make-up, he hid that well too. As far as I know he’d left his native Cardiff as a teenage hairdresser to move to Manchester after catching the eye of Helena Rubenstein, before quickly heading to London, Paris and then London again to find himself teasing the locks of Queen Mary and Princess Margaret before he was old enough to vote, and without that much in the way of effort.

So: in the absence of any palpable hunger, what was it that tossed a working class boy from South Wales to these heights so quickly? I’m not really sure, but I think it was the combination of his impeccable, unforced manners, his beguiling confidence and, more than anything, his looks that taxied him into polite society, blessed as he was with the pompadour, the quixotic flounce, the traffic-stopping nose, the ambiguous physique and the sheer height that would, by turns, disarm, mesmerise or reassure everyone who met him.

Looking back, now, however, I can see how the same un-neediness occasionally informed against him. Had he been more career-minded I feel sure that he would have found it in himself not to throw a chair at one of his more celebrated clients after her late arrival to an appointment. His inevitable dismissal as a result of this naturally curtailed his trajectory, but after retreating to Cardiff to let the dust settle he was quickly lured to London afresh by Oxxxxxx just before they moved to Knightsbridge.

So: less than two years after his expulsion he was preening the elite again, just as his sins were slipping from polite memory, and with the instinct and renewed energy to try something new.

Wigs had slipped out of fashion in the 1920’s, but with the advent of new technology, greater prosperity, and some fledgling interest on the continent, Mark decided that he would bring the revival to the London, and he successfully and somewhat doggedly re-introduced the capital to a passion for hairpieces that would last well into the sixties.

This was another of his unique qualities: he could learn his way into a position of unparalleled expertise on whatever appealed to him at any given time: wigs, clocks, antiques, quadrophonic sound, chimpanzees, his Borzois, exotic African gentlemen or Lord Byron (whose style he comprehensively appropriated) , and this always kept adversity at bay long enough for him to keep the Mark industry ticking over. Such was his authority on the aforesaid poet that he was consulted by Peter Hall – director of the West End première of “Camino Real” – to ensure that the young Robert Hardy played him with exactly the right hair colour.

His passions weren’t always so durable, however. He returned his chimp to Harrods just hours after its purchase when it became evident that the constant screeching and poo-throwing would play havoc with his hosting prowess.

He was also blessed with a selective practicality which, to all but Mark, appeared utterly extraordinary: for example, he thought it perfectly natural that everyone should have at least one overgrown fingernail for those times when there wasn’t a screwdriver to hand. He also thought it was the obvious career move, when, aged just twenty, he received a series of injections from a doctor boyfriend which successfully protected him from hereditary baldness, even if it meant that he’d be forced to live with a pair of perfectly formed but debilitatingly substantial breasts for the next thirty years.

I can’t say exactly what it was that made him leave hairdressing in the early 1960’s, but he made a well-timed exit just before the kid-next-door renaissance of that era turned Mark’s brand of exoticism into a quaint impediment.

Mark’s first attempt at reinvention shrewdly mirrored the entrepreneurial hipness of that age, and he utilised his contacts within the music industry to repackage himself as The Mystery Singer. His plan was to release a beat version of “Come Into The Garden, Maude” which would be sang from behind a screen, upon which a back light would silhouette Mark’s unmistakable profile and trademark cigarette holder. Although he couldn’t actually sing a note he considered this wholly unimportant, as he was well aware that they could “do marvellous things in the studio” to rectify this. Unsurprisingly this project never came to fruition in the way he’d hoped, although the concept remains strangely compelling.

It’s from this point onwards that I lose track with the chronology of Mark’s life, because when he didn’t visit he would limit contact to occasional, superficial telephone calls if things were going either extremely well, or extremely poorly. Given that I hardly ever saw him, this will give you some idea of what lay ahead.

His father – who’d diligently tithed Mark’s earnings for over a decade to ensure he didn’t fritter everything away – moved to London from Cardiff in the sixties, and together they relied on Mark’s knowledge of clocks and his father’s engineering prowess to make a comfortable living – for a while, at least.

It was about this time that he also embarked his longest, but most unsuccessful career, as an inventor. His single-mindedness remained as formidable ever, but for the first time, perhaps, the world resisted Mark in ways he couldn’t negotiate. The financial pressure of retaining patents on his ideas, coupled with his unerring taste for the good life meant that his capital was eaten away, and he could do nothing as his better innovations were picked off one by one as his rights expired.

To an inventor, determination is as combustible as oxygen, and the drive that allows you to knock unflinchingly on a multitude of doors eventually blinds you to the limitations of the products you believe in – and invest in – the most.

In Mark’s case he came unstuck because of his unwavering belief that disposable, self-adhesive glove-pads for caterers and car mechanics were the future, and he spend a king’s ransom on research and development until it became clear that it would cost him too much to get his glue to both work effectively and reliably whilst also meeting unsurprisingly stringent trading standards.

A substantial inheritance and the generous returns from the sub-letting of a sitting tenancy in the heart of the West End kept things ticking over financially, and he was able to mask his adversity from the mavens of London life for well over a decade, during which time he continued to make some very important friends despite any tangible success in his professional life.

Consequently, he was invited onto “Clive Anderson Talks Back” in the mid-80s to talk about his inventions, and he proved so popular that he was hurried back for a repeat performance on a following episode.

This flurry of interest in both his ebullient charm and his unlikely devices coincided with the removal of his breasts, but instead of freeing him to enjoy his eminence, it precipitated a deterioration which made it almost impossible for him to fully savour the rest of his life. His demeanour never changed, however, and he remained as dashing, imposing and as infectious as ever, even if he could no longer walk without assistance.

The last time I saw him was about twelve years ago, and even though the money was all but gone, he was living in a grace and favour house in the sticks that was nothing less than palatial, and was able to call on the services of a housekeeper to tend the needs of Mark, his partner, his ever-decreasing circle of friends, and his two enormous Borzois. He talked about how he’d recently appeared on Esther Rantzen’s new daytime show, but was somewhat discomfited by the way in which he and his fellow inventors were now been presented as eccentrics worthy of nothing but ridicule.

Between this visit and his subsequent death, two years later, I spoke to Mark only sporadically. His telephone calls were short, breezy postcards which were as engaging and as occasionally infuriating as ever, but they were never long enough to betray the new realities of his life.

When I went to his sparsely attended funeral I found out that both the house and the housekeeper had been gone for some time, and that he, his partner and his pitifully out-sized dogs had been forced by penury into a council flat which was hardly big enough for one giant, let alone four. A handful of people – mostly local – paid their respects at his service, but there was only me there that knew the many truths about Mark that would otherwise have remained locked away, even from his partner.

The fifty-year-long sunset on his own private empire was finally over, and with it, another un-Google-able life had been lost to history. For all I’ve gone on, you still don’t even know the half of what he got up to.

From this point onwards Me – Ray – the narrator, and Mark (my partner) the writer, differ: given the colour and unthinking vitality of Mark’s life and my own experience of his outlandishness, I only see tragedy in his quiet end.

My partner, however, only sees triumph, given that almost every life, be it eventful or otherwise, usually ends with the same unseemly bathos. Mark, he claims, lived “to the max”, and he feels sure that were he presented with the circumstances of his late penury, death and quiet exit exit fifty years earlier, he would gladly have taken it in return for the richness of the life he was gifted.

I’ve attached three drawings I did of Mark: the first was a pencil sketch I did as a refresher; the second was a profile based on that and further recollections, and the third was a much more impressionistic rendering I did after this article had been written; none of them, it has to be said, do him justice. If, on your travels, you ever chance upon a pen/ink sketch of a tall, naked reclining man with pendulous breasts, spectacular cigarette holder and an even more spectacular male appendage then you’ll have completed the set, and you’ll have a much better visual analogue for what it was that made this man so unique.

So: in a roundabout way maybe I have addressed my initial conceit, and I’ve perhaps unintentionally demonstrated just what it is art is for and what it can aspire to. It can reach up to the condition of excellence that makes humans so special, even when they’re maddening, frustrating, inscrutable or just too plain big to be pinned down.

We will almost certainly fail to do that as artists, just as we invariably fail as humans to reach our full potential, but when it gets close to the truth, it’s always worthwhile.


You can find more about Ray and his painting here:



Weekend Showcase: Koos Kleven (Artist and Writer)

15 Feb


Under the Spotlight 

Every Friday, 1 artist/painter/poet/writer, letting their work speak for itself.

Do get in touch if you would like to be showcased.




KK 2 Frame Tiff

KK 3 Frame Tiff 3

Hi, I’m Koos Kleven, the writer and artist of AnotherWebcomic.com. I’m not actually an artist, at least not professionally, in fact I’m a software engineer with an art habit; being from Seattle, it turns out that isn’t too uncommon. Getting into art and design has been and continues to be an awesome challenge, but so time consuming.

One of my favorite activities is borrowing the style of other artists. With the theft of others’ style, I hope to gain some better techniques and slowly evolve a style of my own. While my style drifts through most of my work, I try to keep style consistent within story lines.

There are too many artists who inspire me to ever list, however here’s the beginnings of a list of those artists:

Kali Ciesemer (http://kalidraws.blogspot.com/)

Asaf Hanuka (and his brother Tomer Hanuka too) (site: http://realistcomics.blogspot.com/)

Danielle Corsetto of http://girlswithslingshots.com

– Zach Gorman of  http://magicalgametime.com


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