March 1st 2018 (St. David's Day) After some banter regarding the relative merits of the English and Welsh rugby teams, I manage to get round to commissioning John to design a logo for our press (Openings-Closings). I sense some reticence but go home to add more information to John's website. Meanwhile, John is producing some architectural drawings from buildings that he saw in Normandy. Despite his stroke, John is determined to keep working and it seems to me that the quality of his drawings keeps improving week by week. He says he is not short of ideas so I hestitate to suggest more! We agree, however, to complete the series of cigarette packet artworks that began in Venice. The cigarette packets were discarded on the streets and, on being 'rescued' by John, they were converted into artworks that 'riffed' on the theme that 'smoking kills'. The cigarette series are worthy in my view of being collected together in a slim volume for publication by Openings-Closings. This work continues John's belief that nothing should be discarded and everything is available for making art. Moreover, he likes using the detritus of contemporay society as a comment on the status of consumerism.
March 2nd 2018 John is delighted with the prospect of showing at the Calouste Gulbenkian exhibition in Lisbon (see NEWS). John wouldn't want to describe himself as a Pop Artist, although the principle of taking everyday materials and popular culture is never far from John's concerns. An early painting of his, Homo Cyberneticus - Homo Statisticus, perhaps comes closest to the aesthetics of the early Pop Artists and has the incorporation of graffiti material that was evident in early Hockney paintings. The work exhibited in Lisbon is called Flashback and is a wooden framed construction made between 1972 and 1978. It is so entitled because it recaps various themes that has occupied John (e.g., the image of Samuel Palmer, the design for a catalogue 'Ten Sitting Rooms At ICA', the Big Rocking Umbrella (BRU), Rus in Urbe). Flashback was presented for an art prize in 1972 but failed to impress the jury. However, the Arts Council purchased the work in 1976 and thus, on a back panel, is enscribed: 'The Judges Decision is Reversible'!
March 9th 2018 Although John has lived in or near Nailsworth in Gloucestershire since the early 1960s (with interludes at Gramat and Honfleur in France), his thoughts sometimes stray back to his childhood and youth in south London. During the past week John has been drawing a map of the streets where he played as a child and where he went to primary school. The names of the streets were given by the builder, who chose names related to the names of his children. John lived at No. 11 Francemary Road and his school was just several yards down the road at Gordonbrock Road. The shape of the map pleases the artist and the names of the streets evokes not just nostalgia but a confirmation of his interest in the sounds of the unusual.
March 11th 2018 The Wittgenstein series of drawings/montages, began in 2012, was presumed to be completed in 2014. The series consisted of six, double-sided, artworks (see Archive). The name of the series comes from the first drawing in the series, Huit Coins pour Ludwig. And now, in 2018, John takes up the pen again to continue the series. The front side of the seventh Wittgenstein drawing is titled A Matter of Life, although the words Death, Au Revoir and Exeunt Omnes feature prominently. The back side is called Venus Out to Defy Age Gap! and is a collection of words and phrases related to classical mythology. Although the work is well-advanced in its execution, John has for now put it to rest to allow his thoughts to be refreshed. So, the finished product could eventually look quite different!
March 16th 2018 For the past four or five years John has been working on a project that he calls Weighing One’s Words. This involves constructing a series of word-sculptures, each consisting of a weighing scales with pans full of letters and words that he has drawn in ink on scraps of card. The project was inspired by a quote from one of John’s favourite composers, Erik Satie:
“What I am - Everyone will tell you that I am not a musician. That is correct. From the very beginning of my career, I classed myself as a photometrographer. My work is completely photometrical. It is evident that musical ideas played no part whatsoever in my composition. Science is the dominating factor. Besides, I enjoy measuring a sound much more than hearing it. With my phonometer in my hand, I work happily and with confidence. What haven't I weighed or measured? I've done all Beethoven, all Verdi, etc. It's fascinating. The first time I used a phonoscope, I examined a B flat of medium size. I can assure you that I have never seen anything so revolting. I called in my man to show it to him. On my phono-scales a common (or garden) F-sharp registered 93 kilos. It came out of a fat tenor whom I also weighed.”
John might well have written: “Everyone will tell you that I am not an artist or a poet. That is correct. From the very beginning of my career, I classed myself as a logometrographer ...”
John began following Satie’s example by weighing musical notes, but he soon realised the great potential of this branch of science to show the world the importance of “weighing one’s words”, particularly when there is ‘slippage of the signified under the signifier’ and loss of identity in language with ‘word salads’, ‘macaronic language’, ‘neologisms’ and so on. Come to think of it, hasn’t he always been on this track?
March 22nd 2018 A funny thing happened on the way to the châteaux.... I was approached in 1985 by Peter Willis, who then lived in Nailsworth, seeking advice about his idea of producing a set of prints depicting the wine producing grand châteaux of Bordeaux. The enterprise was to be called 'Wine Arts'. He had already approached Patrick Proctor and Kevin Jackson & Rima Farah, who had accepted the invitation to contribute. I suggested that he should also include Norman Ackroyd, Tom Phillips, Terence Millington and, of course, John Furnival. Given that each artist was to produce a set of prints for 4 or 5 châteaux and have their expenses paid for staying in Bordeaux, who could possibly resist the 'challenge'! John was assigned Château Latour, Château d'Issan, Château Ausone and Château Malescot St. Exupéry. Colour etchings, derived from John's drawings, were printed at Corsham by Jack Shirreff, considered by many to be one of the most influential atelier master printmakers of his time. John's sense of humour shines through in the images but events in Bordeaux, recounted today by John, are a match. Unluckily, and unlike the other artists involved in the project, John was not offered any wine by the owners of the châteaux. Instead, in a display of great hospitality befitting the English owners of Château Latour, he was offered a nice cup of tea! This after being admonished for sitting in the burning sun and being offered a conical raffia hat that had more in common with road cones than millinery. He was also commissioned as a transporter of animals... moving several ducks in his car from one château to another (see the ducks swimming in the print of Château d'Issan). The ducks were not caged but flew around inside the car, quacking furiously as John tried to stop them interfering with the car's controls! To add insult to injury, although now the prints can fetch up to £500 each, at a recent auction they went for just £45 the set! Oh, how fickle is the art market.
March 30th 2018 (Good Friday) An Easter Egg.
John was invited to organise an Easter 'eggshibition' at Thornbury Castle (Severn Vale), a venue that then had a restaurant said to be the best in the U.K. outside London. Not one to turn down a pun (good, bad or curate's eggish), he readily agreed and invited artist friends to contribute (including Nick Cudworth and Terence Millington). On this page are illustrated some of John's drawings for this exhibition. John's expectations were great, considering this was a posh venue but regrettably they found that the wall space they were given for the show was in a corridor leading to the lavatories!
John's eggsploitations continued with a visit to the Furnivals' home in Woodchester of the American composer, John Cage. Cage's visit was the result of knowing dom Silvester Houédard (dsh) and of the two Johns mutual admiration for Erik Satie. After much talk of art, music, Satie and mushrooms, the gathering got down to discussing topics such as ghosts (there seemingly was a ghost at the Furnivals' home, although the Furnivals never saw it) and breaking of eggs. John Furnival was adament that, if pressed in a certain direction, an egg would not crack. Taking the scientific approach, John proceeded to demonstrate this fact by pressing an egg hard above John Cage's head. Unfortunately, he had the wrong direction of pressing and so the egg broke and John Cage was smothered in raw egg. To the relief of all present, John Cage took this in good humour and the evening ended in good spirits (over a ouija board). Apologies for the awful puns (John's and mine).