The Point Morning, 2005 - 50 x 40 inches, Oil on canvas
Bar Across the Bay, 2005 - 24 x 40 inches. Oil on canvas
Black Windows, 2006 -
54 x 80 inches. Oil on canvas
Casino Bar, 2006 - 40 x 50 inches. Oil on canvas
Blue Beach Bar, 2005 - 28 x 36 inches. Oil on canvas
Casa Blau, 2006 - 30 x 40 inches. Oil on canvas
Hotel Bar, 2005 - 37 x 40 inches. Oil on canvas
Hotel Bar 2, 2006 - 18 x 22. Oil on canvas
Point Steps I, 2006 - c.20 x 16 inches. Oil on canvas
point Steps 2, 2006 - 38 x 30 inches. Oil on canvas
The Point Afternoon, 2005 - 40 x 50 inches. Oil on canvas
The Slot, 2005 - 24 x 38 inches. Oil on canvas
The View from the Church Cadaques, 2006 - 34 x 38 inches. Oil on canvas
Red Jug 1, 2005 - 20 x 16 inches. Oil on canvas
Red Jug 2, 2005 - 20 x 16 inches. Oil on canvas
The Narrowing Lane, 2006 - 22 x 18 inches. Oil on canvas
Cadaques - 2005 to 2006
Below is an extract from Sargy Mann; Probably the Best Blind Painter in Peckham where Sargy Mann describes Cadaques and the process of making these paintings.
In May 2005 I went to Cadaques in north Spain with Peter in search of new subjects. Cadaques is a fishing village is built round a bay where the Pyrenees come down to the Mediterranean and until modern times it was only accessible by boat. Now there is one road which comes in to the top of the town, then goes down to the sea front. For the rest it is narrow lanes winding up and down, often becoming flights of steps or steep ramps with more steps connecting lanes in a baffling network. A further complication is that a spine of rock comes out to the centre of the bay on which is built the church and on either side of this is a steep valley so that there are two little beaches or fronts on either side of the bay and the town undulates round the bay as well as falling steeply down to it. We had an apartment on one of the side hills. From the terrace where we had breakfast and lunch, you could see down into a lane and across pantiled roofs to the hill on the east of the bay, and far round to the right, down to the sea.
I sometimes thought that I could just make this out through my telescope and it drove me mad as it was so much the sort or thing that I would have loved to paint if I could see better. The corneal graft that had been so brilliant had become ulcerated and I had lost most of the improvement. Another annoyance was that my arthritic right hip was hurting alot so that I was hobbling along using a heavyweight white walking stick rather than my folding wand and Cadaques was not suited to bad hips.
The light was stunning; cold, bright Mediterranean sun with a blue sky and ridiculously blue sea, and all the houses were painted white so that the shadowed lanes were brilliant with a pink reflected light. The overall colour key was blue and white and pink which was quite different from the Italian light that I had been painting.
After breakfast on the terrace, not early as neither Peter nor I are early risers, we would set out to prospect for motifs, me with my little tape recorder and with a radio mike pinned
to my lapel, and Peter, loaded up with movie camera and recorder and still camera piloting me along and up and down, as my hip gave way every few steps. To begin with all I saw was mushy areas of brilliant light and luminous shade with touch and hearing giving me some sense of the physical presence of buildings, spaces and such. In fact the senses always work together, have evolved to do so, and there is constant feedback between them all the time, reinforcing or contradicting, in order to build up meaningful experience. Even now when I am totally blind, I find that, quite involuntarily, certain movements like washing my hands will generate in my brain a visual experience of seeing them,
not as you would – hard to make out, but somehow precise. From time to time I would stop when something, a surprising blast of light near to or a dark space ending in orange and blue, say, suggested that this might prove to be a subject. Then I would ask Peter a lot of questions about where we were and what we were looking at, how far away? how tall? at what angle? etc. If I got interested, I would move about tapping surfaces with my stick, counting paces, measuring stick lengths while I tried to build up some understanding of the place and with Peter watching like a hawk as I got nearer and nearer to the top of steps or a drop, while no doubt, also filming me. It must have looked very baffling to the natives. I would make a few notes on my tape recorder with, of course, the time and possibly a different time if we estimated that it would be even better when the sun was somewhere a bit else. There was shopping to be done and usually a beer at one of the bars before going back for lunch. Fairly soon I realised that sitting at a little round table drinking beer or a Fanta with Peter, while looking past people, dark or light blurs, to the sea was one of the things that I wanted to paint and as it turned out I made paintings of four different bars. When I was fairly sure that I might want to paint somewhere, I would get Peter to take a mosaic of photographs from my position and then when we got back to the apartment I would start a gouache of the subject from memory.
I painted in the sun on our terrace but I now can’t remember whether I had my paper in direct sun or in bright reflective shadow. After lunch I would often have a nap and then paint some more on the terrace while Peter would go off on a proper walk for some time on his own. In the late afternoon we would go off prospecting until sunset. Peter is a very good and serious cook and the evening began with us listening to jazz and drinking while he started on the dinner. One of the things that I can do, though not to a high standard, is play blindfold chess, blindfold not required, and we had some good games. One day we woke up to torrential rain and had a game of chess that lasted over eight hours, while we got to work on the five litre bottle of port that Peter had bought thinking it was red wine, I won, I think.
We found the black windows subject on something like the second day and spent a bit of time there everyday at the right time if the sun was shining. It was wonderful but so complicated and challenging. I knew that it would have to be a large painting and I wondered whether I was up to it. I didn’t make a gouache as to be honest, I had no idea of how it might make out on the flat, what sort of a pattern would be necessary to define it. But we talked about it a lot, I made tape recordings and Peter made a lot of film of me there.
You came down a lane and suddenly the space opened out in all directions. To the right and set back a bit at an angle was a tall building, seeming very tall because one was close to it, with three black openings at the top against the sky, very dark blue because one was looking so steeply up. In front of the left side of the building and as high as it was
a cyprus which even though the sun was on it, looked very dark against all the white painted buildings. Away from me the lane went down and then up and round behind the building with the black openings. Against my left foot was a wall a few inches high and a drop of eight or ten feet to a lane going steeply down to another across its bottom such that the roofs of this lower cross lane were near eye-level and you could just make out the hill down the left hand side of the bay above them, so you had a strong sense of the sea even though you could not quite see it. Where the lane going down to the left met the one going away was a slightly acute corner which was astonishingly close. I was standing in shadow which went across the lane just in front of me but the sun which was behind and a little to my right, was lighting up most of the building ahead so that the space we had come into was blindingly bright with the high windows shockingly black against the very dark sky. It was all extraordinarily wonderful and surprising.
Our flight home was on the 28th of May which was the day before my sixty eighth birthday. Charlotte had come up from London and Susanna, who had been in Granada flew home on the morning of my birthday, which became a perfect day. The next morning at about eight, I woke with a strong pain in my left eye. When I asked Frances to have a look at it and she said, ‘Oh God, it’s bleeding.’ I was pretty certain straight away that this was what I had been dreading for so long. Frances rang Nick Astbury who was head of the Opthalmology Department at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and a friend and, even though it was a bank holiday, he was with us in half an hour. The ulcer on my cornea had perforated causing the eye to collapse and my retina such as it was, to totally detach; it was, indeed, the start of total blindness.
About eight days later after a few days in hospital, I was mooching round my studio wondering what I would do with the rest of my life. I had never had much feeling for sculpture although I thought that I could imagine making structures a bit like architectural models which moved the light about in exciting ways. But my mind was full of the dozen or so Cadaques subjects that I had come home intending to paint. Well, I thought, I have got a ready
stretched canvas and all my paint and brushes which I had imagined giving away, so why not have a go? It was a lovely sunny day I could feel, so I put the canvas up on the window sill outside my studio, carried out my painting trolley and a plastic chair and started to feel the canvas and imagine my subjects. Almost at once I knew that the one I would attempt was the hotel bar. I imagined, re-lived, the setting sun coming towards me through the open doorway on the right with it reflecting blindingly off the sea in the bay, the dark blue sea, black hill and blue sky through the window ahead, and Peter right round to the left sitting with me at the little round table. After a bit I thought, ‘well here goes’, and loaded a brush with ultramarine. What followed was one of the strangest sensations of my life; I ‘saw’ the canvas turn blue as I put the paint down. Next I put down my Schminke magenta and ‘saw’ it turn rose. The colour sensation didn’t last, it was only there while I was putting the paint down but it went on happening with different colours.
After painting for about an hour by which time I thought that I had covered the canvas, I asked one of the family, I’m not sure which, to come and have a look. ‘That’s fantastic.’ ‘Can you see what it is?’ ‘Well, I think so; is that Peter on the left? and sun coming through a door on the right, and sea and a hill in the middle?’ ‘Is it any good?’ ‘Yes.’ So that was it; sorted, and three years on and I am still painting. Once I had started painting blind, there was no stopping me, it just became the new way of doing it, doing the best that I could to bring my subjects to life through design. It was difficult alright, but it had always been difficult, art is supposed to be difficult, and having a new set of difficulties is no bad thing, as the worst thing is to repeat yourself. One thing my changing, diminishing and eventually, disappearing sight had done was ensure that I didn’t get stuck in a rut. I knew my colours and for years I had hardly mixed them on my palette, modifying sensations rather, by glazing or scumbling one pigment over another to get what I wanted. It was perhaps, a bit like a composer knowing the sound of the different instruments of the orchestra and how they would sound in different combinations, hearing the music in his head, and writing it down on manuscript paper, which you could do even if you became deaf. The bigger problem for me was drawing, knowing where I was on the canvas, where I had put down a mark. I marked distances from the edges of my canvas off on brush handles using elastic bands, or my white stick for longer ones and this worked pretty well though as I liked to work on at least two paintings at a time, I had to keep a pretty clear head, in order not to get in a muddle.
I painted all the other Cadaques subjects before Black Windows. I had pretty well decided that I wasn’t going to paint it at all but when I had done all the others, I thought I might as well have a go. By this time Frances and Peter had put the mosaics of photographs together so when I started to imagine a pattern and think about proportions and divisions of a rectangle, where key points would occur across and down the rectangle, I could ask them to measure the photomontage for me. Because it was such a large painting, a little more than four feet by six, and such a complicated subject, I felt that much more than usual, I needed to work things out before I started. There were two main looks in the subject; the pull up to the black windows which felt neck achingly high, which was more or less straight ahead but somewhat to the right, and the utterly unexpected pull right round to the left, down the lane and across to the roofs at the bottom to the, not quite visible sea and the sky. These two looks diverged from the surprisingly near corner which therefore, was a very important interval across the rectangle. I thought that this could be a third of the way in from the left with a square to its right and a half square to its left, and that the black windows building could occupy the middle third of that right hand square. And this idea seemed to correspond well with my memory of being there and the relative importance of the two looks. I got Frances to do some measuring on the photomontage and draw some lines on it. When, for big pictures I staple canvas to my studio wall, I have to leave three inches all round for stretching so there isn’t an edge to feel. I hit on the idea of gluing very thin wood moulding around my picture edge which I could feel and (as it turned out, pick up splinters from). Then I started marking key intervals on this with blobs of Blutac. One day when I was trying to work things out in my head and feeling the canvas and moving the Blutac about a bit,
I had an idea and rang up Peter who was back in London. ‘Pete, you know the black windows set up?’ ‘Hang on, I’ll get it up on my computer. o.k.’. ‘Now what I want you to do is first find the eye level. Got it? Right, now divide the height above into three equal horizontal bands. Now leave the band just above eye level as it is but vertically stretch the middle band a little bit and then stretch the top band rather more. Then divide what is below eye level into four equal horizontal bands. Leave the top two as they are, compress the next one a bit vertically and compress the bottom one more. Next push the extreme right and left hand edges in a bit, Done that? Now, does what you are looking at feel more like being there?’ ‘God, yes,much more.’ ‘Great, just as I hoped and expected. Can you email that image to us please?’ I had for decades mused on why looking up forty five degrees, say, seemed like looking up a lot whereas looking down by forty five degrees didn’t seem to be looking down much at all. I came to the conclusion that most of the information we needed for survival in the early days had been below eye level and so we had evolved to take more notice of this and this was why we could bend our head down easily but up and back, much less easily, and, why we had eyes set horizontally rather than vertically. The ground, near and far was what we needed to know about, the sky, much less so. And I thought that this could have something to do why why photographs of very high things, mountains, sky scrapers, etc., were always very disappointing and didn’t give back the experience one had had. It also explained, or partially did, I thought, why painters who tried to communicate spatial experience rather than map out the pattern of appearance, Cezanne in particular, often made high things much too high as by measurement, Mont St.Victoire, for example. When Frances measured our doctored photo set up it fitted even better my compositional idea which was very reassuring, so I marked it out and started putting paint on the canvas. The biggest problem was to ensure that the eye went first up to the black windows and then only later and with surprise discovered the lane going down right round to the left. There had to be some way of breaking the experience, of stopping both looks being taken in at once. After a time I thought that I would put in a figure, myself really, standing just in front of where I was looking from and in front of the corner which was the turning point in the space. I would have this figure looking up to the black windows as I was doing, which would emphasise this look and make one respond to the right hand square almost as if this was the picture that one first saw, then, after a bit, one would discover the lane going down behind the back of this very near figure that one was encouraged to identify with.
I had positions on the canvas marked off with blobs of Blutac along the vertical and horizontal edges like the co- ordinates on a graph so that by moving my stick up and then across I could arrive at the right place. It was all very slow. Also, I made a scale on a length of dowel so that I could
transfer measurments from the photo set up to the canvas. There was one position where the road ahead stopped going down and started going up, just where you stepped up to the triangular courtyard in front of the black windows building, which became very important as a sort of hub from which different directions through the space spoked off. I got so bored with refinding this position again and again that I took a blob of Blutac and stuck it on the surface of the canvas. This saved so much time and seemed so obvious once I had done it, that I put more bits in other places and by the time I had finished the painting I had seven or eight bits of Blutac stuck in different key positions. As the painting progressed, the drawing changed and so I would reposition the Blutac from time to time.
Sargy Mann, 2007