Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Thursday, 2 January 2014
Girl with a lap-dog
I like to think of this little porcelain figurine as Grayson Perry as a child but, in reality, I think it is of Queen Victoria, and made sometime toward the end of her lengthy reign. Not one of my better purchases of 2013.
She had been sitting on the same trader's stall for about 4 years, and had become grimy through handling, though none of the handlers liked her enough to buy her, including me.
When the trader became fed up with unpacking her, spending all Saturday looking at her, then packing her up again, he knocked her right down and I broke a golden rule by buying something I knew nothing about - not for the first time.
There is only one type of Staffordshire figure that I really love, and they are those wonderful little depictions of Greyhound Lurchers with stupid expressions on their faces. Some are just wonderful, and - coming from the era they do, when dogs of this type were unromantically looked upon as creatures of purpose, highly efficient killing-machines or racers - the expressions on their faces just sum up the irrepressible compulsion even hard-bitten humans have to anthropomorphise pet animals into adorable, special-needs creatures of almost the same species as us. Disney spoilt all that, and I can never forgive the corporation for it.
Now I remember, I have a good friend who has a different sort of Staffordshire figure which I really covet. It is of a fat ewe, quietly sitting down on a small tuft of vivid emerald grass and minding it's own, inconsequential business.
Because the features on all of these things were hastily painted with a sable brush by women of varying degrees of skill, and because it only takes a microscopic deviation in the tip of those brushes to turn an expression from regal to vacant to demonic, some of them live on as totally unique characters, their faces betraying their inner weaknesses long after their creators, their creators' children, grandchildren, etc. have died. They still raise affectionate smiles almost three hundred years later.
As someone who regularly struggles to hack just the right expression into the face of a half-ton block of stone, I very much understand the nuances which can be created or destroyed simply by using a nail-file on even something that big. It all comes together in the last five minutes.
That is the wonderful difference between art and artistry - when the professional gets it right, it often doesn't look anywhere near as right as when the amateur gets it wrong. This is why you never see a piece of bad art coming from the hand of a child. We have to be trained to make bad art, and it takes years of experience.