The small gallery private showing of a new exhibition is a ritualised set-piece in middle-class English life.
The smart invitation (always featuring the most colourful picture) the glass of warm wine, the canapes, the attendance of the artist, little red dots, the wit and wisdom of one's own critique, the frightful banality of comments overheard.
The occasional coincidence of marital taste and an unexpected purchase.
Mrs B and I have been to two exhibitions recently - Louise Braithwaite, at the Conservatory in Battersea, and Maria Tribe at the View Gallery in Thames Ditton; both paint bright, colourful and allusive portraits of cheerful middle-class life.
Louise Braithwaite's theme is real-places / unreal people. A typical picture contains a recognisable backgound (Wandsworth Common, Big Ben, Padstow) before which a host of blocked-in people cavort and dance. I like them (we own one). Comparisons with Lowry are inevitable, but studying this new collection the startling lack of perspective in the backgrounds, and the strangely-blank expressions of the zombies in the foreground reminded me unexpectedly of medieval art. Nevertheless the paintings are fun, and it would be churlish of me to even consider the possibility that the choice of comfy suburban / holiday-home locations might considerably increase the chance of recognition sale in Braithwaite's target market.
Maria Tribe's theme is journeys, and so again a sense of location is important in her work, which is more abstract than Braithwaite's. and with more restricted palettes. A typical painting features a fashionable juxtaposition of images, text and ideas all collated from a place, or a journey, so in other words it's Blog Art (and what's wrong with that). Her pictures contain figures, riddles, puzzles and hints and are about 60% per sq inch cheaper than Braithwaite's. I like them (and - now - we own one. In fact this one).
There's nothing like buying a painting to enhance enjoyment of the opening-day-exhibition ritual. The quality and beauty of the chosen painting (and hence one's own good taste) is immediately and immeasurably improved by the little red dot and with one simple flourish of the credit card your glass is refilled and you are free to eat all the canapes you damn well like.
You also have purchased the right to chat with the artist, in fact the rules positively demand it. But this is not always the enlightening experience one might expect: whereas Braithwaite professionally exuded charm and chat to customers and potentials alike, Tribe came over all Charles Ryder when asked to elaborate on her painting (our painting now). 'Well, it's a diving picture really", "Yes?", "Yes, I like diving and, well, I've started painting it.". "The red blobs on the left struck me as poppies?" "They're coral".
Well, I don't know much about art, but I know what a show is supposed to be like, and that 60% gradually started to make a little sense: after all even the artist - especially the artist? - should know to follow the opening-day, private-showing ritual.