Monday, 15 November 2010


There’s nothing stealthy or sleazy about private viewings, simply the chance to see art with a free glass of wine the day before the exhibition is open to everyone. Agreed the wine might improve the chances of a sale – I recall at the same gallery in the 90s sitting in a roof garden when the summer sale was on, and buying The Upside Down Chair 1966  by Pamela Izzard, a large oil painting all 60s oranges and blues which has hung in my various kitchens ever since and is loved more and more each day.

I arrive at the Abbott and Holder Gallery at noon, the very minute the show is due to open, and climb several flights of stairs. I know of Mungo McCosh as an illustrator - Out of the Woods  and An Alphabet of Aunts. (I later discovered he’d painted the rood screen in the Crimean Memorial Church in Instanbul and in 2007 was an embedded artist with the Argyll and Sutherland Regiment in Basra - but those I am not likely to ever visit). So I’m surprised to walk straight into a room full of beautiful linocuts. Then it happens. This picture jumps out at me. I’m a sitting target, having once built an installation of (empty) golden syrup tins on the window sill when  I moved into my new office, to remind me of life outside.

The artist himself greets me. The idea for Mire and Clay came from a conversation with a cousin in the kitchen making biscuits. When asked, she said she’d like a painting of a hungry lion. Here it is. I know almost nothing about linocuts and when he began to describe what goes into making such a beautiful picture I became dizzy at the thought of so many processes.

Why is it called Mire and Clay, I ask? Tate and Lyle tins have a text which runs along the lower half of the white egg-shape encircling the lion. It’s from the Old Testament:
 ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness, (Judges chapter 14, v 14) and is indelibly fixed in the minds of countless small children who ask at the breakfast table what on earth the lion thinks he’s doing..
But here we have a verse from the Psalms, which in a modern translation runs like this:
 ‘He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along’. ( Psalm 40 v 2).
‘Clay’ instead of ‘mud’ comes from the King James translation.

‘My’ picture is number 2 of an edition of 30. Why did I buy it? Because it is a beautiful work of art; because I could (just) afford it; because it’s witty; because it reminds me of warmth and food and being cared for; because it glows as brightly as the Bible text which speaks of quiet and confident and hopeful footsteps.  

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