My dad was the last of his generation in our immediate family. One of the consequences of his passing has been the sorting out of all the nooks and crannies of his house, which revealed a lot of things I’d completely forgotten still existed. Not only parental items we grew up with from childhood, but also things left behind by us kids as we moved on in life. As the artist of the family I’ve by far been the worst offender – when I set off to art college all my school art work was consigned to my dad’s loft, where some of it stayed for 40 years. Even when my parents moved house, they loyally took my old artwork with them.
Other bits and pieces were thrown away, but artwork was sacred, even the scrappiest of work. To this initial pile of stuff in their loft was later added my degree course sketchbooks (though I threw away most of my finished course work when I left Manchester), then bags of artwork from my London studio after I gave it up and headed out for the Far East, and various bits and pieces from the 21 years I lived in Japan, including every single letter I wrote home to my parents.
They kept it all. Yellowed, damp and foxed from all those years in my dad’s loft, great wads of the stuff. And now it’s all in my possession again.
This is in addition to my dad’s creative life – the contents of his little art studio room, his oil paints and other materials, some of his paintings, boxes of books and postcards that inspired him (largely seascapes, the Impressionists and Victorian genre painters). Plus his collection of First World War books, and most importantly for me, our family archive of photos and documents – as the family genealogist I worked a lot on these with my dad’s encouragement, painstakingly identifying faces, scanning and photoshop restoring, compiling and researching our family history, these are all in my safe keeping now.
So I’ve been buying new storage furniture for a major reorganisation.
When I left Japan I came back to the UK pretty well empty handed, in grief over my wife’s death I threw away virtually all artwork except children’s book illustrations, abandoned my furniture, household items and record collection, and sold off 2/3 of my books. I brought very little back from Japan, it was a new life coming back to England, I wanted to start afresh, not be burdened by the weight of a previous existence. I regret throwing so much away now, but it did stand me in good stead over the numerous times daughter and I moved house.
But now with the arrival of all this material I’m in a bit of a dilemma what to do with it, not the family archives, but particularly my old artwork. My dad’s occasional paintings are one thing, but my adolescent stumbling art attempts? Some of these ancient works are truly embarrassing, for the prosaic subject matter as much as anything – what was I thinking? It always surprised me that my parents were more interested in displaying my immature work on their walls rather than my professional illustration career. But age has given this work a resonance and unique significance I can’t ignore. It’s now an archive, I can’t throw it away, it’s history!
….. some of it I’m quite proud of actually, these were important stepping stones.
So, inspired by Neil McGregor’s successful BBC/British Museum tie-up series A History of the World in 100 objects, I’ll share a few bits and pieces of in a History of my Archive in 10 Objects.
Coming up is Object Number One….