I hauled a painting out to trash
and was surprised to find it pleased.
Not for the first time I had the wish
that paintings could be stored on microfiche.

I have been tidying up my studio recently. My problem is that I have an idea for a painting, a print or a visual poem and want to get down to it immediately, but the table – which in my case is a reasonably small item topped with a sheet of chipboard – is piled with cuttings, workouts, books and deposits from other parts of the house which have been unceremoniously dumped there due to my tendency to extend my working area into other parts of the flat. I constantly try to create a place for everything so things can be sorted quickly, but the process has been going on for many years and never seems to be completed.

The biggest storage problem is, of course, paintings, and worst of all those that you think have something but are not quite successful. I spend as much time, even more probably, looking critically at work than actually painting. You can’t make final judgments quickly, either to exhibit or to destroy. Thus, I have propped-up canvasses everywhere that impede access to cupboards, bookcases and other storage. When you come to a firm decision, it’s best to slash the canvas quickly before you change your mind. Alternatively, I might cut out a piece that works on its own as a memento of something more ambitious on which I have spent weeks of my life.

Most painters I know could make much more money than they do if they ditched integrity, if they produced Mediterranean scenes in bright colours executed with a painting knife, or, a particularly Scottish equivalent, semi-abstract landscapes or still lives with lots of red, presented in gold frames. They may be deluded in what they are doing – we all have thoughts of that kind from time to time – but they can only continue with what they do. Many artists worry about what sort of problem they are leaving for their partners and children. A colleague told me that he has instructed his wife that if anything happens to him, she must seal up the attic, crammed with his unsold paintings. Otherwise, she will never be able to sell up and downsize.

The Vatican Tapestries

Waldemar Januszczak, The Sunday Times’ art critic has become very excited at the Pope’s lending four tapestries from the Vatican to be exhibited beside Raphael’s original cartoons. Januszczak even joked that we may risk eternal damnation if we do not go to see them. I am afraid (well not really afraid) that I’ll be risking hell’s fires. Certainly, the tapestries which use gold and silver threads in parts, were very expensive productions, requiring the skills of many weavers over an extended period. But when were man hours an indicator of aesthetic value? After all, Greek sculptors were paid more for a relatively short piece of egg and dart frieze than for complete figures. The pricy threads are only a reminder of the sybaritic lifestyles of Renaissance popes.

In fact, the tapestries are a dreadful travesty of Raphael’s work. The weavers took terrible liberties with them. Accustomed to works where every inch of the surface was covered with intricate designs, they introduced inappropriate detail. The worst example is in Christ’s Charge to St Peter, where Christ’s robe is covered with gold stars. It is as if the Son of God had breakfasted on a dozen or so runny eggs and dribbled them all over his attire. In other tapestries colours were altered upsetting the balance of the compositions. Generally the orchestration of the works is destroyed and Raphael’s powerful compositions are further diminished by the addition of broad, narrative borders of indifferent design.

Raphael was unfortunate that his major mural commission to decorate the papal apartments meant that he had to work with awkward spaces. He did this with great ingenuity, but even his School of Athens, painted on a great vaulted area, forced on him a symmetrical composition. Designing the tapestries, he had no such constraints and could give full scope to his genius. The cartoons are undoubtedly his greatest works. We are fortunate that we can see them at any time as they are on permanent loan from the Queen to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Turning High Renaissance paintings into tapestries wasn’t really a good idea. Anyone wanting to see tapestries that are great works of art in themselves, should seek out the mediaeval millefleurs pieces. The Lady with the Unicorn in Paris, the Tapestries of the Apocalypse, Angers, The Winged Stags, Rouen would do for a start.