Monday, 13 August 2012

Drawing Pandemonia

The paparazzi shots of Pandemonia don't prepare you for her breathtaking sweep into the room.

Flawless, kind to animals and sought-after for the front row - Pandemonia is a post-modern fairytale princess. I have been invited to her airy white central London penthouse, where the clear light bounces off her milky skin.

She shakes hands delicately. I feel gormless but Snowy is an ice-breaker. Pandemonia was enchanted to find him left on her doorstep one day. 'His bark is worse than his bite,' she purrs. 'At fashion shows you never get a squeak out of him. Even people who are terrified of dogs are not scared of Snowy. He is an ambassador for the canine world.'

Is it possible to make acquaintances in the front row? Pandemonia gently refers to Jake Chapman, Harry Blain, Margo Stilley, Agyness Deyn, Livia Firth... 'Brix Smith and I swapped dogs. She has a little black pug which got its grubby pawprints on me! I was glad to get Snowy back...' 

Pandemonia is a stranger to dishevelment. Her plumptious hair inspires envy. She has ambitions to create an eponymous scent when time allows: 'It will be an improvement on nature, more perfect than perfect can be.'

I ask how much Pandemonia owes to Hitchcock blondes.
'Of course, blonde hair shows up better on film. I've been offered a few roles but so far they haven't been quite right.'

She glances down from her penthouse window and sighs: 'I am a walking logo.'

'Look at that Burger King logo on the poster over there,' she adds alarmingly. 'Blue, yellow, red - you can see it right across the road.'

I admire the simplicity of her accessories and she points out: 'My blue handbag is a symbol of power.'

Does her disciplined chic owe something to an earlier icon? Pandemonia is reluctant to go down this road.

I am using the wrong materials to draw her. I think of Jane Eyre, when her self-esteem is at its worst, forcing herself to draw her glossy rival Blanche Ingram:

...draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully, without softening one defect; omit no harsh line, smooth away no displeasing irregularity; write under it, 'Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and plain.'

Afterwards, take a piece of smooth ivory...mix your freshest, finest, clearest tints; choose your most delicate camel-hair pencils; delineate carefully the loveliest face you can imagine; paint it in your softest shades and sweetest lines...

Pandemonia surveys my lumpen drawing: 'Are you overcooking it?'

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

On the pavement with the chewing gum man

Ben Wilson paints enamel miniatures on the flattened discs of gum defiling our pavements.

When he meets me in Notting Hill I'm in attention-seeking mood. I suggest setting up outside an embassy. 'I want a quiet life,' says Ben, so we compromise on Bayswater Road, near the Russian visa office. Two policemen approach.

Are we in for a rumble? No chance. One officer beams and hails Ben: 'Hello! I'm from Haringey!' He tells his colleague that Ben is well known for his street art there. Ben wants inspiration. 'Ah,' says the colleague, 'if it helps, we've just won our first gold medal. Ladies' rowing.'

Ben prepares his white enamel ground: as he sets it with a blowtorch it blisters like frying egg white. He builds up layers of colour fixed with a cigarette lighter and car lacquer. We don't know how many women are involved, so Ben paints six naked ladies. It turns out there are just two - Helen Glover, Heather Stanning.

'I'm trying to make sense of representative art in the twenty-first century,' says Ben. 'I thought about hiding a little Russian in the picture but I can't be arsed.'

We have fish and chips at Portobello Gold. The barman glances at Ben's Jackson Pollock trousers and asks: 'Did you manage to get any of it on the canvas, sir?'

Then we settle outside Themes and Variations, a furniture shop in Westbourne Grove downwind of the in-store fragrance pumped out by Ralph Lauren's air conditioning. A pair of tourists pounce on Ben: 'You're famous in Italy!' A uniformed Olympics volunteer from Lincoln bounds up: 'Wicked! I've seen your programme on BBC3!' A Dutch couple admire his work: 'Here's something for a cup of coffee,' says one.

He has notebooks filled with requests for street miniatures. The people asking range from teenage boys in graffiti gangs ('If I don't tag the pavement they tag me - I end up with tags all over my clothes') to the bereaved seeking to commemorate the dead.

'I get to know everyone,' he says. 'If I get on the bus I know all their stories.'

Ben paints on bricks as well. His next exhibition is at Julian Hartnoll, Duke Street St James's, in October.
Westbourne Grove