What’s a fit and proper subject matter for the contemporary artist? Peter Blake famously advised his student Ian Dury, when one day he found him in the college studios thoroughly bored, to paint what interested him, which was mainly girls and rock & roll.
Anything can be the subject for art then but this can result in work that is dull, obtuse or just gimmicky
Best maybe to avoid the gimmicks and stick to the more familiar options; figures, portraits, landscapes, still life.
However occasionally you get hold of something that demands you make use of it even if it does lie slightly outside the usual range of work you do.
A friend recently gave me nine membership cards he’d found for Julie’s, a popular 1970’s Newcastle nightclub. Its quite remarkable how long these cards have survived. They’re like little time capsules, with their stapled on passport photos and everyone looking like they belong to a left wing terrorist cell.
Members were required to give their occupations. Most are students but amongst them is a caulker/burner, a grinder and a hot metal handler. All of these jobs probably still exist somewhere in the North East. But they’re unlikely to be as common as when these memberships were being taken out.
What also gives the cards a strong elegiac quality is that all the members information is written out by hand. Also, it’s Julie’s ‘discotheque’ these men were joining. This is the Newcastle of Get Carter and the Likely Lads, rather than the Baltic and the Sage (which anyway is in Gateshead). Added together it all speaks of an earlier time.
Whatever I end up doing with the cards it’s important that it keeps this sense of time past. In the meantime I’m getting to know the cards in the most direct way any painter can. Drawing them.