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Martin Dace: artist's statement and sundry literary excursions

Artist's statement

Originality is to return to the origin - Antoni Gaudi

the artistI do not aim for a particular style, because I see style as only a by product of the effort to communicate and transform.

My subject matter is representational because one cannot invent the forms nature makes, and the attempt to produce something out of ones head simply reveals the poverty of thought.

The human face is especially fascinating as it is the window of the soul. For me to paint a face is not only a test of technical skill but also of my ability to see beyond my prejudices and expectations, because a good portrait will show the human being within, not the mask each of us wears for everyday show. Children's faces are closer to their real selves, and thus would be easier to make good portraits of, if only they were good at sitting still.

cupidPlato claimed that at some time before our present birth we have seen a higher world and dimly remember it, and the beauty that we see reminds us of what we once knew. We are able to connect with it only because that which is beautiful exists within us already. How else could we recognise it? It remains a fundamental task of art to find and show beauty.

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about the artist

dace ancestors
Sundry Dace ancestors (click for bigger pictures): my great grandfather (top left) allegedly used to strain tea noisily through his moustache

grandfather in biplane

My grandfather (centre in striped blazer)

my father
My father learning to drive when very young.

My qualification for painting is the necessity to express something, and the continuing struggle to refine its expression. I could not be an artist without having something to say.

The core of my training as an artist has been and continues to be life drawing. I realised long ago that to have full expressive power as an artist requires mastery of drawing the human form: for a long time I imagined I would never be able to aquire this ability and so did not try to become an artist. Now I see it as an acquirable skill like any other, and that all that is required is a lot of hard work. I have found a number of different techniques helpful and there are scattered remarks about technique in relation to the various works on this site.

For the intending artist I would suggest two main approaches: to try to see whatever you draw as an abstract composition in form, tone and colour and not to think of it as an object; and at the same time to analyse the human form as a mechanism with parts, and become familiar with their relative proportions and main connections and movements - to see the human body as an articulated machine governed by forces.

I am investigating the classical canons of proportion and the geometry of the face, and have also developed a mathematical theory of the proportions of children.

Mastery of the basics makes the portrayal of subtler human emotions possible.

I have attended adult evening classes run by the Community Education department (CEL) of the London Borough of Lewisham, one of the remnants in England of the legacy of people like John Ruskin who thought that it was not sufficient to feed and clothe people, but that it was important to educate them as well. I have also attended life drawing classes at the Art House Lewisham, and currently am a member of an excellent class run by Douglas Druce at Morley College, London.

I have also attended courses at West Dean College (tutor Valerie Wiffen), and had private lessons with local artist, portraitist and book illustrator Karen Popham. Like Gaughin, I am a late starter, being currently 53 years old and having only seriously taken up painting in the last twelve years. I would say it is never too late to connect with whatever it was always in you to do.

I have sold a number of portraits, one of which now hangs in a client's home in Brussels (see the commission a portrait page for the client's testimonial), and the Alice painting was sold to a collector in Oregon, USA. I now have a steady flow of requests for portraits.


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Aphorisms and quotations...

It is not worth an intelligent man's time to be in the majority. By definition, there are already enough people to do that. - G. H. Hardy

pensive cherubThere are countless routes through life, but not many on which deities guide us. - Plutarch, On Socrates's personal deity

What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon be beautiful. - Sappho

To look on noble forms makes noble. - Tennyson, Princess Ida

Those whom the gods love grow young. - Oscar Wilde, A few maxims for the use of the over-educated

This is the right way of approaching the mysteries of love, to begin with examples of beauty in this world, and using them as steps to ascend continually with that absolute beauty as ones aim. - Plato, quoting Socrates quoting the wise woman Diotima of Mantinea, Symposium 211

All men are in a state of physical and spiritual gestation and need an environment of beauty in which to nurture their birth - Socrates

As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. - St John, Revelation 3:19

And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. - Ezekiel 37:3

The further one goes, the less one knows. - Lao Tzu

Evil seems good to the person whose wits the god is leading towards delusion. - Sophocles, Antigone

Blunt the sharpness, untangle the knots, soften the glare. - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. - St John, Revelation 3:20

The only way of turning a game of complete chance into skill is by cheating. - Jessie Dace (aged 11)

Don't worry, be happy, make efforts. - Meher Baba

He levels mountains and exalts the plain, withers the proud and makes the crooked straight. - Hesiod, Works and Days

To become the spectator of one's own life is to escape its suffering. - Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

I ask you, sir, to stand face to face with me as a friend would: show me the favour of your eyes. - Sappho

Some say a cavalry corps, some infantry, some, again, will maintain that the swift oars of our fleet are the finest sight on dark earth; but I say that whatever one loves, is. - Sappho, poetess and teacher, 6th Century BC; translated by Mary Barnard, University of California Press.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. - Jesus of Nazareth, Matt. 6:19-21

There is a moment in each day that Satan cannot find, nor can his watch fiends find it; but the industrious find this moment and it multiply, and when once it is found it renovates every moment of the day if rightly placed. - William Blake, Milton 2, 35:42-45

What do you care what other people think? - Richard P. Feynman, book title

To be really medieval one should have no body. To be really modern one should have no soul. To be really Greek one should have no clothes. - Oscar Wilde

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Links to pages that don't quite belong in this site but I'm putting them in anyway...


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The fairies of New Cross

fairy From the Lewisham Mercury 24 November 1999, in a beautifully written article, the front page news is that there are four young women living in New Cross who wear wings on their backs at all times (except when in bed apparently). It's true, I've passed them in the street, but I didn't think anything of it, as after all this is London. Britain is in any case famous for tolerating eccentrics that other nations would either imprison or else take seriously. Luckily the fairies are not merely art students claiming to be art, although suspicions might be aroused by the fact that Sparkle and Tinsel go to Goldsmith's College, whose most famous recent product is Damien Hirst, who thinks it is art to throw paint at a rotating disc. (Remember the cow cut in half? I'm only jealous because his stuff sells for three orders of magnitude more than mine.)

'"It's not a concept, it's just a lovely thing", said Tinsel' (they've all changed their names by the way). The reason I think these young women are genuine and not just Goldsmith's College stunt artists is the following quotation from the Lewisham Mercury:

As you might expect, the fairies attract a lot of attention. Total strangers start talking to them and Twinkle says: "It's lovely to make people smile." But not all reactions have been positive. They have been shouted at in the street and had their wings pulled off in pubs. They are banned from a night club in Leamington Spa, and refused entry to the Hayward Gallery. Senior porter at Goldsmith's College admitted to being "dumbfounded" by the fairies. He said: "I asked one of them why she was wearing wings and she looked me straight in the face and said: 'I'm a fairy.' I was quite perturbed that people like that go to university.

On the contrary, Mr porter, university should be the leaven of society, where students have three years to step back from the necessity to make money and take a longer, more objective view. It shouldn't just be about producing fodder for what Mr William Blake called England's 'dark Satanic mills'. If you had the courage to wear wings to work, wouldn't it change your life? Did you ever hear of anyone really bad wearing wings and calling themselves 'Tinsel'?

...more from fairyland


To see more
fairies, click
on the picture

(5 May 2000) Having been delayed in my return from central London by an unpredicted set of events involving the closure of Wapping station, I emerged from the East London Line tube after midnight, only to see two of the fairies just ahead of me. They were wearing their wings as usual and scooting away at considerable speed on tiny silver foot-propelled scooters. I realised I would catch up with them when the ascent of Telegraph Hill slowed them down, as these fairies are subject, at least a little bit, to the law of gravity. They informed me of the whereabouts of their fairy hideaway, which I am not at liberty to divulge, but I can reveal that it looks like a normal house from the outside, and they told me it is all fairy-like on the inside. All four fairies live there.

(April 2001) Thinking to take a photograph of the fairies for the Telegraph Hill Festival, I betook myself to the house in Drakefell Road, London SE14, where the fairies had told me they lived. The door was answered by a young woman who was not a fairy, and I noticed that the hallway looked disturbingly normal. Boldly I asked if the fairies still lived there. The young woman looked at me as though I were mad and then told me that no, the fairies had moved away. Why would she think I was mad as obvously she had met the fairies herself? But perhaps she thought she herself was mad also. Such are the vagaries of human thought.

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