Creative Democracy: What amounts to an artist?

“I am dyslexic. At primary school they said ‘He won’t amount to much so at least he’ll have his drawings to fall back on’. Every Thursday they would put me in an art class with OAPs who the school let out the hall to – I learned the basics there. It was because I was disruptive in class.”

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Richard Whitcombe at work

Written off before he was even old enough to choose his calling in life Richard Whitcombe, my good friend and fellow merlot sipper, had two options – continue to be sidelined by behaviourial and educational problems or  indulge his creative side and exploit an opportunity to express himself through fine art. Seen as a “naughty boy” and “not very clever”, this marginalised primary school pupil capitalised on the opportunity and was delighted to have extra time doing what he loved and honing his natural skills, which he would share in class every Friday.

“Looking back it was horrific,” he adds. “But I didn’t know any better – I liked drawing and I saw the teachers as knowing what they were doing.”

Eventually his dyslexia was picked up in secondary school in an assisted learning class and the one-time “no hoper” was able to keep up pace with his peers and go onto sit A-Levels. In fact in terms of imagination and drive he was capable of outstripping expectations – so much so that his more inventive approaches to skiving went unchallenged.

“When I was working towards my A Level I had to pick an artist to do a study on,” explained Rich. “We had to draw a picture of theirs and write about it. One week, an hour before class, I hadn’t done the work and had to make up an artist – I came up with “Anna Fugazi” – an idea I stole from an X Files episode where Mulder discovers the character’s name means “fake”. I made her out to be a Jewish prisoner of war – she painted in prison to keep her sane and when she came out she continued to paint to recover – I created a whole back story And the art teacher loved it. The teacher wanted me to do a series of works from Anna – I went with it for a couple of weeks and the teacher never found out.”

But ultimately it was to be this same A Level that stole the young artist’s passion for his works – earning him, what his art teacher described as a “subjective” C. Rich downed tools almost overnight, putting by creative endeavours and instead facing the realities of going into the jobs market.

It wasn’t until, as an adult and a full-time public servant, that Rich would seriously pick up his brushes again.

 

“When I moved up here and started working in Tile Place Stables, In Windsor, I mentioned drawing to one of the girls and she asked me to draw her horse,” he explains. “It was horses that got me back into it. It was word of mouth that meant I started getting commissions. Up to now I have pretty much only drawn and painted through commissions. This is the first time I’m doing it for me to build up my portfolio.”

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Working in a variety of media including oils, acrylics, pencil and pastel, Rich has been turning out gallery quality works in his spare time. With his carefree technique of standing with his canvas in hand, with paints and brushes tentatively balanced around living room furniture, Rich’s spare time is absorbed into bringing detail and life to his subjects. In an interesting twist, Rich’s new works have been inspired by the very A-Level art project which produced the world ending “C” – Animals in Art Through History. Subjects include horses, dogs, stags and, in the future, birds of prey – as well as the occasional human subject thrown in for commissioned work. And the dream is for this hobby to become a full time occupation, in a studio of his own.

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“I’d like to make some proper money,” He adds. “Ruth (Richard’s girlfriend) goes mad at me now because of the time I spend on pieces and I keep undercharging people. I’d love to be a serious artist and make a living out of this. I think if the country was in a better state  economically people would pay for these things. All I would want to do is draw – but right now it isn’t going to pay the rent.”

So, for now the creative endeavours are limited to the time Rich can spare between a busy working life and a healthy social and personal life. But the dream burns on – with hopes to emulate the works of such inspirational artists as Fabian Perez – and dreams of a workspace in which to do his painting instead of squeezing art around the economics of living.

*For more information on Rich’s work or to discuss commissions contact him via email: Richard.whitcombe@yahoo.com

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