Alexander Creswell

Chaos in The Studio: ‘The Silent Piano’

The Silent Piano, watercolour on paper 22 x 30 inches

This forlorn and chaotic image gives a fairly accurately impression of how life in the Creswell household has been over recent months. Not the sadness and the silence, but the general chaos and absence of harmony: since the beginning of January we have had builders in our house, creating a glorious new studio space for me out of the anarchy of demolition. This also goes some way to explain the absence of a Painting of the Month for February.

‘The Silent Piano’ dates from a much earlier period in my career when I had just completed my first book, ‘The Silent Houses of Britain’. I discovered this scene in a derelict castle near Loch Rannoch, Scotland in the 1990s. In the silent snowy landscape the castle appeared like a filmset and the discovery of the smashed piano was shocking. I remember describing it at the time as the jangling contradiction of stillness where there should be movement, silence where there should be sound. Like a corpse. I had always felt that in a ruined house the spirit of the place flourished as a direct result of the absence of Man. But not here. In hindsight my evident sadness in the painting was probably due to the realisation that I had finished my great project but couldn’t let go of the subject. Don’t stop the music.

Now decades later my dances with ruins continue, and to an increasing scale. My tenure at G F Watts’ Great Studio extended during 2011 from six months to nine as I thrived in the benign shadow of G F Watts, painting large studies of monuments of Rome, the paradigms of civilisation. In the spirit of Watts’ concepts of magnitude and greatness I had specifically used my time in his studio to explore the limits of watercolour. I had exceeded those limits, I had created the largest watercolour I had ever attempted, working up in increments of larger and larger sheets of paper. At ten foot by five (3 x 1.5 metres) my Redentore Fireworks, privately commissioned and not yet published, was an achievement both artistically and technically, not least for the engineering difficulties involved in painting on such a scale. When it was finished I made plans for something even more ambitious.

Over the weeks I became conscious that my otherwise benign and inspirational period in Watts’ studio was actually finite, and it would be a mistake to become too accustomed to such a capacious and noble space. I would have to make provision for a better studio at home in perpetuity, and I had drawn up plans which sacrificed a number of rooms within our house (designed in 1907 by Christopher Turnor – architect of Watts Gallery) to form a studio offering a similar space to that which Watts had afforded himself at Compton. This meant two months of being in two places simultaneously, breaking my thought processes and covering everything in dust. My own private pandemonium. Not ideal for someone who needs total immersion and single-minded concentration in order to produce a successful piece of work on a large scale. With one hand, it seemed, I was painting the interior of the Pantheon at Watts while the other was trying to salvage Edwardian bricks from the rubble of what had been a spare bedroom at home.

Now the work is complete. I have an extensive modern space, with an elaborate daylight replication system, clever picture display lighting, a huge hydraulic drawing table and a dramatic music system! I am delighted to continue to have the privilege of working at Great Studio on my more conventional sized works, but my larger pieces can now be developed in isolation in my new space.

By way of exhortation, ‘The Silent Piano’ hangs in pride of place in my new studio. Play on, play on!

DON’T MISS: GF Watts: The Hall of Fame – Portraits of his Famous Contemporaries

I recommend superb exhibition highly and it’s on until 3rd June 2012