Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Heroes and Villains

I’ve added some new products to my online shop (http://peterjamesfield.bigcartel.com/)- a range of five greetings cards, plus my first ever PJF badge set, ‘Heroes and Villains’, for only £3.

These sets of four 25mm button badges feature a random assortment of celebrities categorised by me as either heroes or villains. You’re welcome to disagree with my decisions...
The eight heroes are Al Pacino, Keith Moon, Graham Coxon, Jeanette Winterson, Dot Cotton, Tracey Emin, Jane Austen and Marcel Proust.

The villains, whose faces are partially obliterated with angry scribbles, are Mr. Blobby, the Crazy Frog, Jennifer Lopez, Lisa from Steps, Jim Carrey, Victoria Beckham, Danni Minogue and Damien Hirst.

The hatred is tongue in cheek, you understand (in the past I’ve even identified myself as a bit of a closet Danni fan) but the heroes are certainly genuine. The fact that I haven’t ever finished my copy of Proust’s ‘A Le Recherce du Temps Perdu’ is neither here nor there, of course...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Time Magazine

My drawings ended up in the hands of 20 million readers last week, when my column portraits featured in the world’s largest weekly news magazine, Time. Above is my personal pick of the bunch, a sketch of American film producer and director Judd Apatow.

Monday, 22 November 2010

New Sketchbooks Blog

I’ve been experimentally posting up some new work on a second blog over recent weeks. I’m keeping it as a sacred space to play around with new ideas and take my style in some different directions.

This parallel ‘sketchbooks’ blog grew from a recent self-analysis of my working methods. I’ve noticed a temptation to feel that everything in my main portfolio has to be highly finished, commercial and perfect - which can engender a certain hesitancy, or take the edge off the heady, devil-may-care joy of quickly generating work. Interestingly this has never been much of an issue with my visual diary, and two obvious reasons for this spring readily to mind – firstly, although the diary may cross over into the commercial world, it’s never ever been made solely in the pursuit of work. As such it retains a certain purity. Secondly, I have a defined commitment to produce a certain number of new additions to the diary each month. Knowing that people really do religiously check back expecting updates (I’ve had e-mails from four continents to prove it) is an unbreakable contract that motivates me to produce new pages. I’ve been trying to harness this power experimentally, for a while at least, by committing to post five new non-observational sketches on the sketchbooks blog each week.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Art Junky

This Sunday from 11-5 I’ll be involved in Art Junky at Brighton’s Phoenix Gallery (just opposite St. Peter’s Church). The event is an indoor market with creatives of all descriptions selling lovely things in the run up to Christmas. For only £1 entry it will be the perfect place to snap up a few unique, bespoke gifts for the festive season.

I’m taking part alongside the friends I exhibited with as part of the Brighton Fringe earlier in the year – so our stall alone will boast photography, fine art, illustration and textiles. I’ll be showcasing some high quality giclees at very affordable prices, along with a treasure trove of greetings cards and little books. See you there!...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Glug Skulls Update

My painted skull has finally been glazed and fired, ready to be auctioned off (hopefully next month) to raise money for local childrens charity ‘Rockinghorse’. I’m delighted with the way it turned out. On the night of the live painting, if I’m being completely honest, all I could see in the finished article were the many and varied ways my original sketches didn’t translate fluidly into that new medium. Firing the piece makes a world of difference (which is, I suppose, the whole point right?).

I’m planning more experiments in the world of ceramic art - meanwhile, many thanks to the Painting Pottery Cafe in Brighton for supporting us at the Glug event.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Rainy Hove

I thought I’d post my 2008 rainy Hove picture, as it seems altogether appropriate for the weather we’ve been having lately. Living now, as I do, forty minutes walk from my studio, the rain each day this week has seemed all the more... well... unignorable. Yesterday I bought some waterproof trousers, and no doubt these will add a humorous flourish in the next visual diary.

I’m still really enjoying studio life – feeling happier and more productive than I have all year. My autumn is also panning out to be a lot less stressful after I decided to stay in my current flat for now. My landlord found a buy-to-let purchaser who agreed to let me continue my tenancy, so I’ll still be at Marlborough Court for Christmas.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


Considering that until the mid-nineteenth century most art was financially motivated (commissioned by the church and later wealthy patrons), self-portraits make a uniquely ‘pure’ category. Seldom created with any financial goal, they’ve only ever existed for vanity’s sake. How do artists see themselves, and how do they want to be seen by posterity? This was the subject of a great documentary called ‘Ego’, presented by Laura Cumming on BBC4 last week.

Famous examples include Michelangelo declaring his unworthiness before God by painting his own likeness onto the flayed skin of Bartholomew in the Last Judgement, Egon Schiele attacked by arrows in a rather ludicrous literal martyrdom, or Andy Warhol hiding his shy persona behind the constructed public image of wig and sunglasses.

The documentary also introduced me to some amazing works by an artist I hadn’t heard of before – Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. I really think these could be among the most striking self-portrait sculptures ever made. With their horrific extremes of expression, they could easily be mistaken for modern conceptual art – when in fact they were made in the strait-laced 18th century.

Messerschmidt was a successful sculptor who had won commissions from European royalty, as well as teaching at the Academy in Vienna. In 1774 he was expelled from teaching, despite having only a few years before been promised the professorship. Little specific detail is recorded, but contemporary documents refer to a ‘confusion in the head’. Messerschmidt, it seems, was going mad.

The sculptor commenced work on a series of ‘character heads’ displaying bizarre extremes of emotion. They were completely personal works, not intended for any audience. The artist himself explained that the various grimaces were observed after repeated pinches to his lower ribs, self-administered to take his mind off an agonizing stomach complaint. Stranger still, he claimed that these sculptures mocked ‘the Spirit of Proportion’, whose spectre visited him at night and subjected him to horrendous physical torture.

As well as their unusual and slightly frightening appearance, these sculptures are truly remarkable for a couple of reasons. Firstly the lucidity of expression summoned by a man who was, clearly, undergoing a horrendous breakdown. Secondly (and perhaps most terrifyingly) the technical ability required to pull these brief, fleeting facial expressions, tense all the facial and neck muscles to snapping point, then faithfully and realistically carve them into a medium as unforgiving as stone.

Digressing slightly, one of my favourite self-portraits (not mentioned in the BBC4 prog) is a 1938 painting by LS Lowry. It’s not the prettiest picture in the world – indeed it’s quite a painful image to look at. With its angry staring bloodshot eyes, unkempt hair and grey whiskers, Lowry looks like a tramp. The artist was fifty one years old, and had thus far achieved no commercial success or recognition in his lifetime. His dreams of an artistic career were fading as age advanced. His beloved mother was close to death. He’d spent a long time nursing her through her final illness, whilst holding down a full time job as a rent collector. The portrait captures him on the brink of a physical and emotional collapse. He had no audience for this work, hence no particular reason to imagine that anyone would ever see it or care for what he was going through. It is, in the truest sense of the word, a silent scream.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Japan Diary

I thought I'd balance out yesterday's rather functional reminiscence of my time in Japan with just one more personal jotting I found from that same period...


A Bad Day - January 99

I never enjoy Tuesday visits to my most distant mountain school of Hiruzen, but yesterday promised to be better than usual. There was a light snowfall in Kuse, and Mr. Ikemoto, the scary man who pestered me at the bus stop, was not there. No-one would be grilling me about my sex life that morning.

A bus pulled up and I made out the kanji for “Okayama city”. Wrongly assuming it was a city bus I ignored it. Ten minutes later it dawned on me that I must have missed the Hiruzen bus. Reluctantly I called the school on the payphone. Gritting my teeth I tried to impart to the disapproving Hiruzen headmaster that I had… what’s missed the bus in Japanese?

“The bus came” I stumbled, “but I did not get on it.” I noticed that the tiny bus shelter had gone silent, and that all the old women were listening to me, snorting with laughter. The head advised me to sit tight and get the next bus.

After an hour the next one came. Cold and annoyed, I scrambled onto the bus and sat there with my book. Forty five minutes later I stopped reading, and began to admire the mountain scenery. The landscape was unrecognizable under a blanket of snow –strange how different it looked… Or was that because it was totally different? I began to feel sick.

The tannoy announced the next and final stop, as the bus began a steep ascent up a mountain road. This was not a village bus but an express bus going to the foot of Hiruzen mountain. Hiruzen Heights, the ski resort – miles from the village. The driver eyed me with a certain suspicion, as I stepped out into blizzard conditions, up to my knees in snow, with no-one or nothing to be seen in any direction.

Making down the path I saw a building with a phone box. The headmaster was worried. Mrs. Fukuoka had been out looking for me in vain, and they’d noted my disappearance. He told me to wait there, so I stood shivering in the snow a further thirty minutes. Mrs. Fukuoka finally arrived and threw the car door open with a joky smile to find me drenched and frozen. I made it into the school by lunchtime. As I walked into the teachers’ room the headmaster led the others in a hearty round of applause.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


I've recently been sorting through some old prose jottings from the time I spent as a teacher out in rural Japan. During my third and final year there, as I began to realize how little time I had left, I wrote a few simple observational pieces about certain events, so I wouldn't forget them. I'm glad I did. Life was so different and, at times, surreal. It's summed up for me by this description of a typical junior high school 'sotsugyoshiki', or graduation ceremony. I myself didn't have any graduation ceremony from my middle school or high school (as my Japanese co-workers were horrified to learn), and so the idea of this extremely formal, quasi-religious ceremony to give thanks and mourn the passing of a phase in ones life seemed a charming if utterly bizarre concept.


At 10.00, a dead hush over the school gym. As the voices fade, we hear rain beating on the gym roof. Teachers dressed in black suits and white shirts and ties survey row upon row of motionless students. A gloomy moment on the precipice of over three hours of formal duty and boredom. I shiver with the cold and rub my hands together. Mr. Kimoto stands up and delivers a military bark.


The crowd breaks on cue into pulsing, practiced clapping, as the brass band kicks into a somewhat flat rendition of “Thine be the Glory”. The graduating students file in through the centre row to occupy their special places at the front.


Everyone stands.


We all drop into a bow. 1, 2 and up.


We all sit down in unison, as though the whole thing were a dance move. We practised this for more than an hour yesterday at the formal rehearsal.

Kyoto-sensei (the deputy head) delivers the “Kaishiki no kotoba”, where he announces the opening of Kuse’s 39th annual graduation ceremony. The brass band plays the national anthem “Kimi ga yo” as we stand facing the Japanese flag onstage.

Next they hand out the graduation certificates. Kocho-sensei (the head) takes the stage in his suit and tails, before each homeroom teacher in turn reads the roll of his or her students. As each name is called the child stands and shouts “HAI!”

The lights are dim and there is a tacky, tinkling music box soundtrack. When each class roll call is done, a representative is called to the front. They turn, bow to the guests, go up the stairs, walk like an automaton to the lecturn, wheel round and bow. Kocho proffers the “sotsugyoshosho” (graduation certificate) and reads it, finishing with the date and his full name. The child takes it, bows, spins, bows to the flag, spins back, down the steps, bows to the teachers and returns to his seat.

After all the classes are done, Kocho unrolls a speech brimming with clich├ęs which he reads off in monotone, without extemporisation.

The head of the board of education comes to the stage and delivers a similar speech.

The mayor does the same.

Kyoto introduces the official guests. One by one they bow and say “omedetou gozaimasu” (congratulations).

The head of the outgoing student council takes to the stage to present a memorial gift on behalf of the graduates.

Second grade follow this with a farewell presentation. To a background of tear-jerking piano tunes, an OHP screen displays heartwarming photos of the kids. Second grade praise their sempai (seniors) and thank them for help and kindness. Tears from the girls are obligatory. Together they sing a song.

Third grade representatives now make similar speeches - encompassing at least one very protracted pause in which a female speaker is unable to carry on for hysterical tears. They sing a song.

The brass band now accompanies the entire assembled crowd in a rousing rendition of the Kuse school song.

After Kyoto delivers the “heishiki no kotoba” (closing announcement) the kids troop out through a flower arch held by the children of other grades, while the brass band plays “Auld Lang Syne”. Girls and some boys are openly weeping. Teachers dry eyes and blow noses. I get funny looks for being unmoved.

A tearful Naramoto goes off to conduct her final homeroom class. At 12.15 all third grade classes gather on the terrace to hear the outgoing school council head, Dai Matsumoto, lead them in a final “ippon jime” (ceremonial clapping). They cheer.

Outside, they leave the school for the last time. We all gather in the car park as they run round taking photos and saying goodbye. Girls ask the boys they fancied for metal buttons off their jackets. Uncool kids leave fully buttoned, whilst Dai Matsumoto leaves buttonless.

Third grade teachers get into a minibus decorated in a “Just Married” fashion. The other teachers stand outside clapping as the bus does three victory laps of the car park before taking to the road for a post graduation piss-up weekend in Osaka.