Cliff Holden, original photograph by Bryan Long

Cliff Holden

Documents: 1999


Chapter 5 - Design and Serigraphy

Silk-screen printing is a versatile medium that can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. The uninitiated tend to think of it as a cross between a painting on silk and the cinema screen. For the professional it does the job that you require it to do. To the advertiser it gives the best and brightest displays suitable for large posters or Corn Flakes packets. He can work with speed on urgent out-size jobs. For the print-maker it is the medium that most faithfully reproduces the work of the artist and for the textile manufacturer; it is ideal for short exclusive runs of 5,000 to 10,000 metres of hand or Boozer machine-printed fabrics. To the painter it is the print medium that corresponds more closely than any other to the paint and canvas. Later, I propose to explain my own attitude and need for screen-printing where I developed a process through print which is akin to painting in being a mobile technique (in this sense, similar to Action Painting) and which can be used for making large murals or small one-off variations on a theme or which may be used in the evolution of a form, using the screen in a similar way to the way a mono-type is used, the difference being that the image can be preserved and printed if required.

When applied to design, the great advantage of using the screens is that you can design on and through the print medium, exploiting all its possibilities, instead of making small drawings, which are then blown up bigger mechanically and translated into print terms and which lose vitality in the process.

We believe that good designing, like painting, is complete in itself and none of the parts can be subtracted without the whole disintegrating. Therefore, we dismiss as bad those designs which are anecdotal, illustrative, or which can be split into parts where any part could be taken away and blown-up to made another design. We believe the essential relation of people to design is physical. We believe there is a profound connection between the man and the certain kinds of marks which he makes - just as there must be a certain response to those marks from the public, irrespective of the literary or geometric meaning that can be read into the marks. When the surface of a fabric is split by marks and colours, then the surface is excited and a simple space begins to operate. The marks relate to the material of the fabric, to the dimensions of the fabric, to the architectural space around and to all the things in it, like the furniture etc. There is also a space relation which is controlled by gravity. Thus the design and decoration in a mural will create a simple space, not only embellishing but also extending the architectural space which is the actual space.

By comparison the painting proper has a complex space which is protected by a frame from the architectural or actual space. Design and decoration have no meaning other than what they are. They are oriented to the pleasure principle. Painting activity, on the other hand gives rise to a complex space and a meaningful image which, in order to communicate to the consumer, must be protected from the environment. Paintings should never be used as decorative elements. This is like using a metre of books on a shelf for a splash of colour in an interior (as often happens in England), instead of recognizing that both the paintings and the books are not made to be looked at but to be read. We have rejected the limitations of the geometric motives which gives rise to boredom. Mathematical proportions are also repetitive and limited. We believe the essential organic qualities of lines and marks are not necessarily to be found in their straightness; circles are not more harmonious because they are a closed unit.

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What I think I gained from Bomberg was an approach to the manipulation of space and light and, above all, the use of movement. This, for example, set us apart from William Morris. It was not directly from Bomberg because he never taught us graphic, but I think his ideas influenced me greatly when I started to work with silk-screen. Bomberg had never mentioned silk-screen and I don't think that he ever used it himself, but it was from his attitude to painting that I developed the idea of manipulating the screens and using them in what I have since called 'action printing.' I have described this in a little more detail elsewhere and I think this is a good example of Bomberg's ideas stimulating and liberating one's activity to something totally different to the kind of activity that he himself was restricted to.

But it was much more than a technical development. When we freed the screens from static printing and when we found that it was possible to combine print with the paint stroke then everything became possible. Then we found that such a freedom gave rise to the use of chance and hazard and of accident and, thus, happenings occurred. Our son Thomas took part in this activity and it became like a game of chess. Each made a move and the move either continued or contradicted the previous move. Of course on some occasions there was a certain conflict, a clash of wills, which came from differences in taste and, in the case of Thomas, a striving after the illusion of perfection. This kind of push and thrust gave rise to endless possibilities. Every move was countered with another move. The endless and unlimited decisions taken inevitably gave rise to unpremeditated images and something of the mystery of painting came back into our murals. I think this contributed largely to our success. The elimination of anecdote, illustration, and repetition made the final product less boring than most murals.

In painting we were concerned always with the mass but, with other decorative patterns, we were more concerned with the movement in nature, with contours and with detail. Although quite often we would use the same motifs, the composition was always different. If we used leaves or trees, it was obvious that they were leaves and trees. But when it came to using the motif of birds, we manipulated them in such a way that they could be interpreted either as birds or as clouds or as sea and sometimes a combination of all three. The ingredient common to all the motifs was movement and it was through movement that we established our colour and tone. The painted image on the other hand, came about through the relations in movement between the artist - the painter - and the object and also with a great dependence on the movement of light which was exactly the opposite way that Monet worked before 1890.

In modern times silk-screen has, for the most part, been associated with mass-production commercial techniques. It is not, however, an essentially modern invention. It was invented some 2,000 years ago in China and in all its manifestations it can be said to be a development of the simple stencil. In recent years, especially in America, France and Scandinavia, many painters have recognized the value of the screens and the process has reverted to its original function, a print by-product of the artist, which can be bought comparatively cheaply by the general public. With this in mind, Fernand Leger, just previous to his death, was issuing 1,000 copies of each print. In England they were sold at Liberties.

Briefly, silk-screen consists of stretching a piece of silk or synthetic fibre on to a frame similar to stretching a canvas. You can do everything yourself and, compared to other mediums, it is cheap. Stencils of paper or film are stuck on to the silk surface. But a more fundamental and basic way of working is to draw directly of the screen with lithographic chalk, a photo-engraving glue or bees wax ... in fact anything greasy. I have even used margarine in an attempt to simulate brush strokes. There are various mediums one can use to stop out the surface ranging from photo-engraving glue to the German photo-light Astra-Sol method (the

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Japanese have an even better solution). When the surface is dry you wash out the drawn parts with paraffin, turpentine or thinners. Then the image is fixed and colour is then pressed through the open parts so that this produces the printed image. Any number of screens can be used in coordination to extend and build up the single image. The great advantage of the screens is that every image can be preserved; you take another screen to continue or extend the image. Thus one avoids over-working as can be the case with an etching or a dry-point.

Silk-screen has not been used extensively by painters in England, partly one suspects because they do not realize the immense creative potential of the medium and this is in spite of the fact that I was responsible for introducing it to London in the mid-fifties. John Coplans plied me with drink and then he plied me with questions all night on my way of using the screens, all of which, with the help of a hidden microphone behind a curtain, he recorded. Then, without my permission, he sold the idea to Robert Erskine of the St. George's Gallery, who incorporated Coplans in a film of graphic techniques. Unfortunately, Coplans completely misunderstood my ideas and interpreted them the opposite way round so that what he described were commercial techniques. Erskine did not help to popularize the medium by stressing in the press the cheapness and ease of printing and pointing out that so much of what had been done could have been done better in lithography, etching or wood cut. This was largely true, of course, regarding his own exhibition but what he should have said was that silk-screen was such a versatile medium that it could do what all the other mediums could do and more. Here is Erskine's review of the exhibition 'British Serigraphs' which he organised at the I.C.A. in 1956:

'Serigraphy' (Institute of Contemporary Art)

Serigraphy, or silk-screen as it is more descriptively called, is demonstrated in this exhibition, through the work of artists whose temperament is concomitant with the capabilities of the medium. As a collection of prints it needs yet to be supplimented by the work of other artists: it is partly the purpose of the show to interest the tyro printmaker in this branch of print-making. This is not to say that what this exhibition has to offer has not quality; for the artists represented show prints of a fine standard, both in their conception and their execution. For they have realised that silk-screen has both its advantages and its limitations, and accordingly have striven to retain the full benefit of a new and volatile medium.

Elsewhere in the world (and frankly in Britain silk-screen has arrived rather late) artists and dealers have seen in silk-screen a method of making prints cheaply and easily, so that much of what has been done would have been doen better in lithography, etching, or woodcut. But I am glad that silk-screen has such a well-tempered introduction to the British public in ths exhibition.

The exhibition is due to John Coplans, who has set up a workshop for silk-screen in the hope that artists may be attracted to experiment with the medium. Coplans himself shows two prints of great strength, in which the blacks are deep as velvet, and the edges of the colour areas crisp as toast. Frank Avray Wilson shows two brash prints which powerfully exploit the dry opacity of the thick ink. William Turnbull has found unexpected subtelties in his images through silk-screening them, and Alan Davie has been enabled to work maestoso without the tedious limitations of a more painstaking medium. Cliff Holden, who seems to be the pioneer in England of silk-screen, shows a shadowy image which demonstrates yet another, more mysterious, indigenous quality.

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Coplans had set up a printing studio and made a small fortune printing editions of the images of other artists. The only image in the exhibition that did not come out of Coplans print-shop was my own. This was one of 50 prints that I left with Erskine on sale or return, without written contract, together with a few other images. They have never been returned to me and neither did I receive any money even for one that I had proof was sold to a professor at University College.

Despite the efforts of the St. George's Gallery, galleries and critics in England do not recognize it as a distinct graphic medium and there is no commercial or official encouragement as in America or Scandinavia. In America, the National Serigraph Society holds exhibitions and competitions and generally promotes sales and interest. Critics when faced with silk-screen usually describe the work as lithographs or mono-types and even as water-colours or oil paintings. It has not been taught in schools and only in recent years has it appeared in art schools (but in a commercial form as an adjunct to craft, advertising and industrial needs) and, of course, Warhol's playing around with the photograph of Marilyn Monroe's head continues to confuse the issue.

The film 'Artist's Proof,' produced by Erskine, sets out to explain to the lay-man the kind of work involved in the various graphic processes. Unfortunately, the section on silk-screen is fragmentary and gives an altogether erroneous idea of the value of the screens to the painter. As the information was supplied by Coplans the emphasis was on the cheapness and the industrial and commercial applications, ranging from advertising to fabric printing. It also emphasized the modernity and speed of the method whereas in reality it is just as laborious as any other graphic method. A textile is shown as an illustration of the way the screens are used in industry. The next shot shows Coplans drawing a stencil on the screen with fish-glue. Thus one is left with the impression that Coplans methods are synonymous with the procedure for the printing of fabrics in industry. In fact they are opposite methods. Coplans is drawing with glue which produces a negative image whereas in industry, a photographic method is used which is invariably printing a positive image. Together with most painters I use both positive and negative images combined in several processes to produce the final meaningful image. The film showed to advantage the intense colour values that can be produced and the way proofs can be made with colour variations of the same image, but no indication is given of the immense range of the medium; the precision on the one hand, as in newspaper photographs and extremely delicate etched line drawings which can be printed, or the possibilities latent in the medium for the continuous development of the image by the artist during the work on the screens. The aim is not, as in most graphic mediums, to reproduce by copying an existing image, but to use an existing image as the jumping off point for continued exploration and development, or, better still, to use the screens as the canvas on which the first marks of the evolving image are made. Thus the screens are used not as a copying printings process but as a creative process in the way that paintings are made. This is my approach.

For some years I had had a certain frustration in painting; a concern with mass, space and movement led me to think of time elements. This led inevitably to thinking in terms of film, moving film and cinema. My dream was to extend painted images into actual movement. But I lacked the necessary expertise and, above all, I lacked the capital. A year or two later, I saw the films of Luciano Emma. Emma made use of the actual paintings by Goya and Piero della Francesca by merely selecting areas of the painting and simulating movement by a movement of the camera. But I wanted to use my own images directly on or through the film, editing thousands of related images in a dramatic continuity; a grand combination, a symphony of virtual and actual movement of forms. There would be no narrative, no decor and no music but

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only pure form and pure film. I had already found parallels with my work and that of the dancer and choreographer Noa Eshkol. About this time, there were people working directly on film, either sketching or painting, but this was confined to advertising or cartoon films. Creativity was confined to the caricature and the storyboard. In the late sixties, Clouzot used Picasso in a film of his paintings. Again, however, he used existing paintings or Picasso doing a circus act drawing on glass or with lights. Picasso's clowning had little to do with the creative process. As film was too expensive, it was necessary to find a substitute. There is an old Chinese saying which goes ... "when the student is ready, the master appears." It was thus with me. Almost by accident I was introduced to silk-screen by Torsten Renquist and Sven Olof Ehren. They were using the screens as a conventional reproductive medium but they soon tired of it and reverted to making etchings, wood-cuts and lithographs. For an hour they taught me how to construct a screen and how to manipulate it.

My first print was a copy of a Picasso lithograph. I immediately recognized that the medium had unique qualities; more fluid and mobile than the etching and lithograph, and more durable and capable of constructive development than the monotype. It could also be a partial substitute for the film, not in terms of movement but by preserving the countless images that are lost during the creative process while painting. One of the major problems in painting is that after the first marks, that split the canvas to form the first elements, a simple space comes together to produce the first simple image. In continuing, the space relations become more complicated and sophisticated and thus a series of elements come together to form a unique image which the painter has difficulty in recognizing. Not only is he unaware of its significance but he is often shocked, so that he quickly destroys what he has made, in favour of a known clich_ without import. Thus vital images are lost simply because a created image is difficult to recognize. Bomberg always said that it is not your creative potential that needs developing by the master but your critique. The critical faculty always lags behind your creative potential. The painter invariably preserves the image he recognizes which is usually a repetition of himself or an imitation of somebody else. Images so easily evaluated are contrived and made rather than created. One works within a set of known values so that it is no longer an art activity but a craft. The aim is towards perfection but there is no perfection in art; even truth is illusive. As R.G. Collingwood puts it in his book The Principles of Art (Oxford University Press, 1938): "First we direct our attention towards a certain feeling, or become conscious of it. Then we take fright at what we have recognized, not because the feeling as an impression is an alarming impression, but because the idea into which we are converting it proves an alarming idea. We cannot see our way to dominate it, and therefore shrink from persevering in the attempt. We therefore give it up and turn our attention to something less intimidating." In fact we turn to the security of something we recognize. It is therefore in order to preserve vital images that I use the screens, not as a reproductive or print process but as a tool, as another kind of brush and canvas, drawing directly on the screen and laying the colour on, as with another kind of brush, which is impossible with the static character of other print mediums.

Later instead of blowing up a small sketch to make a large design (which was the usual commercial practice) we developed the use of the screens for designing textiles directly on the screen so that the design arose out of the activity with the materials and the medium. Then we applied the same principles in making large scale murals. Because the screens are cheap and relatively easy to manipulate, one is able to control the whole process without being at the mercy of the craftsman's interpretation. The countless variations of colour and form would be almost physically impossible and certainly uneconomic to do in paint. One is able to prove the kind of colour and tone peculiar to the image until the image is destroyed by the force of the colour in favour of a new image. Thus new forms demand new colours and new colours seek a

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new structure. Therefore the primary object of the work is to clarify the problem. The cheap print is not the primary aim but the by-product of the activity. The disadvantage of the screens compared with painting is that the mechanics tend to make one self-conscious which mitigates against spontaneous feeling.

The vital image is always in the proof-print and it is a curious fact, which bares out the previous remarks concerning the critical faculty, that faced with a choice of images to be made into a numbered set of prints one invariably chooses the least vital and the least interesting. The dealer tends to isolate the repetitive aspect of print and in fact elevates it to a basic virtue. Sameness is quality whereas in art differentiation is what it is all about. The dealer thinks he is responding to public demand ... Mrs. Brown must have a frock exactly like Mrs. Jones, forgetting that even fashion demands change and differentiation. The discerning collector regards the proof-print as a valuable addition to his collection. Apart from its quality, it is a better investment. But, of course, if one makes a large number of proofs, the price need not be higher than one of a numbered set.

There is a notion prevalent today that an artist can be a draughtsman and therefore a graphic artist without the necessity of first being a painter. Like the opposite view that many minimal artists do not need the discipline of drawing or painting, this notion is truly contemporary and it has no precedent in history. The result is that many graphic artists are really technicians producing prints with literary, illustrational and anecdotal mannerisms which have no relevance today when there are so many other mediums that can do the job better. Some graphic artists use black and white graphics because they are intimidated by colour forgetting that black and white is colour. There should be essentially no difference in approach between drawing in black and white and the whole gamut of colour. Painting is essentially drawing with colour; designing, building, constructing the form and then the colour fits together like a glove on the hand. Delacroix said colour is nothing if it is not right for the picture and, as Collingwood has pointed out, Cezanne was right when he said that painting was essentially a physical activity; a man does not paint with his eyes but with his hands. A painter paints what can be painted and what can be painted must stand in some relation to the muscular activity of painting it. It is this physical aspect of silk-screen which establishes it as the medium for the painter today.

Question 2.1: I draw a sharp line between Art and Designing. Why? Well, the short answer to this is that art is one thing and designing is another. Art is idea giving meaning - a meaningful idea - whereas design is not an idea and it doesn't mean anything. It is merely a titillation of the senses. But I also make a differentiation between design and so-called decoration. I don't like the word 'decoration' but we have to use it for want of anything better. Then, of course, there is a distinction between art and craft. Craft is something which is designed and executed for a particular use, a particular function, whereas art has no function except as a form of communication dealing with the spirit and the senses. Nevertheless it should be remembered that all work on a flat surface is designing, composing with marks, and drawing is the basic activity common to all, whether it be design as such or decoration or painting. But as I hope I have made clear, it is the intention and the eventual function of the marks which determines their character and relationship.

Now I propose to deal with Question 2.3 regarding materials of painting and whether they are important for me or merely a means to an end. Well, the simple answer is that they are a means to an end, but of course you do have to choose the material that is most suitable for what

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you intend to do. There are limitations to any of the mediums but we do have the dubious advantage over the old masters in having a much greater range of colours and new mediums such as acrylics. The obvious advantages of acrylics are outweighed by certain disadvantages in relation to oil painting, for example, in oils, mixing ultramarine and crimson makes a rich black and then by adding white one can have a whole range of pinks and purples - this just does not work in acrylics. This is just one example among several so that one has to have a totally different attitude depending on which medium one decides to work with. I work with a somewhat basic attitude and I think I have said elsewhere that I invented - well, perhaps 'invented' is the wrong word - but I discovered or found out that certain things worked in a way that no one else had used before. For example, I found that I could print with acrylics so that the resulting print could be formed into a laminate. Furthermore I discovered by experiment that I could paint rather thick impasto paintings with acrylics which could also be laminated. This is possible because, when the acrylics dry, although the moisture evaporates and the cells come together, nevertheless, the cells remain porous. The chemicals (used under heat and high pressure in the process of lamination) are able to penetrate the acrylics as they should do. They are not blown back, as would happen if a sweaty thumb mark or an oil spot or any other solid matter had blocked the chemically impregnated papers that are used in this process. Many of my technical innovations were a result of observing accidents; for example, in using the screens as a palette, I would mix the colours directly on the screens, using wet and dry mediums, and I would dispense with the squeegee by using rags instead. So, by these methods, I could control the wetness or the dryness or even the different pressures required to produce different qualities of print.

Of course, this wasn't really using a means to an end; it just meant that it opened up all kinds of possibilities which could not be obtained by ordinary static printing. It is difficult to describe the process but one can say that I was using the Japanese kind of mark which resulted in what one could call action printing. It sounds like a contradiction in terms but it does function as a way of drawing, and what this really means is that you are composing on a flat surface within the four sides of the picture plane. They are the two limitations, the flat surface and the four sides; you then begin to play your game.

Flat surface design comes about by an arrangement of lines, forms and colours on a flat surface. These marks are eventually transformed into patterns for wallpapers, carpets, curtains and paper wrappings and these kinds of design have a myriad of different uses. They are even useful for the rag trade which some people call fashion. In terms of interior design, a simple activation (or titillation) of any visible surface will alter the relation of that surface to the architectural space of the room and, if the space relations of a room are harmonious, then it will feel more comfortable. So, if happiness is a measure of our lives and happiness is induced by release of tension, then design can contribute to that release. But people tend to associate happiness with security and they feel secure by being surrounded by bad design, that is to say, the sort of design filled with forms which are nostalgic with happy memories. In this respect good design often disturbs people. Because, all their lives, they have been conditioned by bad design, which has given them good feelings in the past, they feel insecure at first with any design if it is unfamiliar. But good design can give new delights for the senses and new harmonies whereas bad design can irritate and create nervous tension, because it encroaches and contradicts the architectural space.

Decoration and ornamentation is designed to give pleasure by direct and simple contact with the senses. This happens when we look at a flower, a sunset, a beautiful nude or when we are taking a glass of sherry and this is what I have called "the cakes and ale outlook." The

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marks that make up a decoration are meant to work out into the room and, thereby, not simply add an embellishment to the architecture but make the architectural space itself feel larger. Bad decoration diminishes the space and, again, people become nervous.

When we come to 'art proper' in the making of a painting, the space relations become very complicated and sophisticated. We are now dealing not with a relation to actual space but entirely with virtual space. The primary concept of virtual space comes at the first stroke of the brush. This concentrates the mind entirely on the picture plane and, by composing with a design and a rhythm, the act of painting can produce complicated results in terms of space relations. Then there is an idea which is brought into consciousness and gives meaning. In other words it communicates and what it communicates is the content. The painting must be protected and so the idea must be enclosed in a frame to separate the marks from the architectural space. The emotion generated by a work of art is not practical and it does not necessarily, nor often, give pleasure. In painting, we are concerned with the mass but in the decorative panels our interest is almost the opposite. That is to say, we are concerned with detail, with contours and with movement, but what the two activities have in common is a concern with movement. In the decorative panels the movement is the movement of the form in nature, but in painting the movement is the movement not only of the object but of the relationship of the object to the painter and this is further complicated by the movement of light.

I have no interest in the ideas of truth to material. There is no truth in material. Similarly, I am not interested in form expressing function or that material should be true to itself. In their time, the members of the Bauhaus were intent on making a revolution against classical architecture, against the baroque and even against art nouveaux which they considered to be false. I think the Bauhaus ideas resulted in a dreadful confusion between art, design and handicraft which has permeated the art schools in England since the early 50's. I prefer to use materials which are suitable for the job, which function, and in other words are efficient. But this efficiency cannot be demonstrated and must depend almost entirely on the integrity of the artist which brings us back to the moral question. As someone once pointed out, abstract thought withdraws from the world of concrete things as it becomes more efficient in describing reality.

The American philosopher, Marcuse, commenting on the mysterious link between so-called inner thought and outer reality, said that according to psycho-analytical theory - which I never quite believed in - there exists a mental plane of fusion between the self and the environment, where the boundary between the internal and external world is no longer certain. The outer perception and the so-called inner fantasy become one. At this point of fusion I like to think that an individual may have a precious opportunity to be true to himself. Truth to materials per se has nothing to do with it. I use materials that are necessary to further my intentions and not for their own sake.

The biggest problem for any artist is to accept a brief. It can be said that briefing is a kind of prostitution, that is to say that in 'art proper' there is always a full blooded, meaningful love affair. On my fiftieth birthday I was interviewed by the art critic Bernt Eklundh of Goteborgs Posten and during the course of the conversation I gave my definition of the term 'prostitution' in terms of design and its relation to 'art proper'. I refer to my design activity as a form of prostitution because as I have said it means that "I work to order to give pleasure for money." But when Eklund wrote his article he added that he believed that "Cliff added a large measure of love together with his prostitution." I was a little astonished about this, but when I thought about it, I thought this must be the reason why we have been able to succeed with design and

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large scale decoration which is directed to a very large public. We gave them more than they asked for. We gave that little bit extra. But it is always something they are hardly aware of, as if it were subliminal.

Because the product must appeal to a very wide audience in all kinds of situations, one is forced to use marks, forms and colours that on the one hand are more generalized and in another way more scientific than the ones used in fine art. Because you know what these marks and forms are required to do in terms of manipulation of space for the public, this has more to do with the pleasure principle than with the muse. Working to a brief leads to compromise, the art of deception, and the technique of pretending to give what is required to people who know nothing of their own desires or the quality of their needs.

One would think that a very independent spirit and artist like Michelangelo would not readily have taken criticism from a patron. Edgar Wind (in Art and Anarchy, Faber and Faber, 1963, p.92) has pointed out that, nevertheless, Michelangelo "explained to his pupil Condivi, apparently with considerable warmth, that Pope Clementi VII had an exceptional understanding of the artistic process. It is evident that Michelangelo felt the pressure of his patron's will as beneficial, but it requires the resilience of a forceful artist to transform such an impact into art; weaker spirits might well be crushed by it." This refers to the planning of the Medici Chapel when the patron, who eventually became Pope Clementi VII, changed the plan many times. Even at the point when Michelangelo was in the process of cutting the stone, it was changed completely once more and the project started all over again.

However, there were times when Michelangelo found it necessary to overcome opposition in a subtle way. This is what we tend to call fooling the client for his own good. That is to say we give them something better than they deserve and something better than what they ask for. The patron came up to Michelangelo when he had almost finished his 'David' and objected to the largeness of the nose. Michelangelo immediately said he would reduce the size of the nose; he jumped up the scaffolding but on the way picked up a handful of dust. He hammered away at the nose carefully letting the dust trickle from his hand and then he came down and asked the patron what he thought of the nose now. "Excellent," said the patron and of course Michelangelo had not touched it. That is fooling the client for his own good.

Concerning working with textiles and decorative panels for buildings, I have often been asked whether I like working within these disciplines and these mediums and with which commissions have I been most pleased? I can't think of a single commission which has really pleased me. In nearly every case, by the time we have finished the commission, we nearly always want to start again. On completion, we know so much about the problem and, when we place it in its right situation, we can immediately see the strengths and the weaknesses of our work. When we work in the studio from architects' drawings the measurements on these drawings do not give any indication of the amount of light available and yet, if we had this information, it would influence the kind of marks we would make and we would work with a different tone and strength of colour.

In one way, this wanting to start again and make a new work is similar to the point where you leave a painting and start a new one, but the reasons are different. In the case of a painting, it is because you have come to the point of bringing an idea into fruition but to continue the painting would turn it into another idea; therefore you leave that canvas and take up a new canvas. But the desire to re-work a commission has nothing to do with idea. It has to do with practical things; with scientific analysis or whether you have performed functions most efficiently.

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Sometimes we are fortunate in being able to continue the work when it is in place but mostly you have to deliver when the time is up. So invariably the point where you stop the work is not the point where you are satisfied but the point where there is no more time available. The most extraordinary thing is that when we are given one year to complete a work there is nearly always a rush at the end for completion. But, if the same work was given two years there would still be the same rush at the end. Of course, the same is true as of painting - perhaps if we had stopped after six months the result would have been just as efficiently executed.

Question 3.4: Do you like working with textiles and panels? This is one of those questions where one can answer 'yes' and 'no'; 'yes,' in the sense that you can enjoy the activity, 'yes,' in the sense that you have a feeling of satisfaction on doing a good job, but 'no,' when that good job involves function and efficiency instead of feeling and meaning. It is like the difference between the whore, the housewife and the lover.

Most other successful artists do not seem to have experienced this conflict to the same extent as I have because their economic problems, sales questions and contracts are taken care of by their agent or dealer. With this level of support there is nothing to hinder their relationship with the muse. With my work in design and decoration I have found that there is no time for the muse and only about ten per cent of one's time can be devoted to creating and executing a project. The bulk of the time is spent with contracts, telephones, meetings, planning, preparing the material, transport and the final setting up of the finished product. Curiously, as a result people that hitherto would have been uninteresting and quite alien to one's way of life have now become all important. One must face meetings with directors of industry, architects, engineers, carpenters, house painters, manufacturers of various products, planners and bureaucrats. Then there is the constant struggle with tax assessors and the state bailiffs, on which a separate book could be written.

Even before the contract is signed an enormous amount of time is spent in talking on the telephone, attending conferences, writing letters, making offers, working out costings and making drawings, prototypes and models. Many artists charge for this activity and for the sketches and models but we never do that as we have found that it relieves the architect of many problems in his relationship with the client. Neither do we add traveling expenses or delivery charges. The offer we make is inclusive and final.

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[Page last updated: 11th January 2006]

© Cliff Holden 2004-2015