To commission an artist
PUBLISHED: 15:05 23 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:04 20 February 2013
Davina Prudence Williams shares the agonies and ectasies of commissioning a very individual piece of artwork
The Cotswolds has long played host to artists, and these days particularly that very particular of beings, the glass artist. Perhaps it is the landscape that they use to drag the creativity kicking and screaming from their tortured souls, maybe it is the folk of these parts: notoriously welcoming, with an accent that hints of all things sweet and sticky and wickedly bad for your waistline. Whatever it is, it works.
Well, it would seem that the otherworldly charm of this corner of the realm has bagged us another one: enter David M Flower.
The thing about this artist (he insists on a small 'a') is that he is commissioned the world over by the Globe's elite. He is the secret that they have been protecting from the rest of us for the past five years, and I found him by chance through my daughter, Emily. Emily is studying for her Fine Art degree and, like many thousands of other students, had to write a dissertation. She chose to write about the work of an artist that I had never heard of - David M Flower.
Her first step was to send off the ubiquitous questionnaire via email which was duly returned in a few days bearing an apology: David was sorry that it had taken so long but he was flying with one of his sculptures on his lap to Riyadh to ensure a safe delivery. It was only when I saw the work in question that I realised why he goes to such lengths to deliver his work. I, like Emily, was hooked and began to take more than a motherly interest in her Degree studies. My daughter's dissertation became my next project.
It was the mystery that fascinated me most. You see, I like to think that I have a finger on the pulse of contemporary art; my husband and I have collected for many years and we are particularly fond of glass - our home is a nervous wreck stuffed full of the very things that one goes out of ones way to avoid at exhibitions for fear of breakages and the resulting pain felt in the wallet area. So who was this pretender?
Similarly, our friends, those who share our passions, were perplexed as to the provenance of this artist who had slipped through the net. Emily had tried unsuccessfully to meet with David on many occasions, the artist citing that he was simply either too busy or out of the country to meet. So, I did what any sensible girl would do... I commissioned a piece.
It took a further three months to get my meeting so that we could discuss the piece, and being a hands-on sort of person, I was so hoping to meet among the fire and brimstone of a glassmaker's 'hotshop'. The closest I was to get to anything remotely warm this time, however, was a cup of coffee on Stroud's high street.
I have commissioned many artists in my time, but this was something special. David had told me that a piece of his work is created by holding communion between three elements: him, the glass and me. He talks of the glass as if it were a person, he describes the act of making with hot glass as 'a conversation', saying that the material itself has an opinion on the work and that it has to like the design... or else. Quite frankly, I am sceptical to say the least, but there is a sparkle in those deep brown eyes, a self-belief and an honesty that is beguiling.
Our meeting lasts for about an hour and at the end I am left feeling as if I have been interviewed. All the questions that I had to ask (sorry Emily) just never came out, David wanted to know about me, my life, my loves and my hates, best holiday, favourite smell, favourite season/colour/time of day...my life came out. Then he was gone with a promise to bring me initial sketches within two weeks.
When I saw the first sketches of 'Post Meridian' I was struck dumb. Here was the embodiment of all I had told him about myself, some elements gently hinted at but present and masterfully sewn into a cohesive whole. The piece portrayed my love of long Sunday afternoons where, at the end of them, one feels contentedly sucked dry by the experience while the sun slowly withdraws its warming stain from the landscape. As a child I felt as if Sunday afternoons were the invisible crutch upon which I leaned, the last glorious moments of complete freedom before school which I dreaded so. This man before me with his scruffy little sketchbook had isolated, caught and preserved one of my feelings from childhood and I was speechless. He then left to 'go and have a conversation with glass'.
Two unbearable months passed before the email came saying simply 'It is ready. See you Sunday afternoon. David'.
All day that Sunday I was transported back to my childhood. I was excited, so full of energy that I was up with the lark walking the dogs. Woke the whole family with the aromas of baking, rode my bicycle, tended the garden... spent the whole Sunday just being, and doing. It was 5pm when I heard the car on the gravel and I actually squealed; it is one of the most exciting things ever to have a commission delivered. Like the film says 'it feels like electricity'.
'Post Meridian' came out of the car incarcerated in a huge box which was man-handled to the garden room, where it would live. The moment that the lid was prised off I was in love, and that feeling has not waned a jot in the six months that I have lived with my piece. When I look at it I feel like a little girl; there is something captured in the glass that has the power to take me back 30 years.
I never got to ask any of the questions that I had ready for David. He said, "Enjoy the mystery, just as you used to do." And with a wink, he was gone.