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Transcript of Nicholas Middleton 'Protest, 1st April 2009' podcast

Host: We’re very privileged to have Nicholas Middleton here with us today. Nicholas painted this fantastic piece ‘The Protest’ and some of you may know that Nicholas actually exhibited in John Moores in 2006 as well. So I think there is very little more for me to say and I will welcome Nicholas to the podium.

Nicholas Middleton: Thanks. I’m going to try and not to just read the stuff I’ve written but there’s quite a lot I wanted to cover so I’ve actually given myself quite copious notes here.

When I was asked to do this talk inevitably I actually thought back to the talk that I was asked to do four years ago in the John Moores in 2006. Now the painting I had selected on that occasion was similar in style but very different in content. The painting was called ‘Scenes from a Contemporary Novel’ – I don’t know if any of you saw the John Moores four years ago – and in my talk I referenced Victorian art at some length, in particular the sort of anecdotal narrative strain of Victorian art, which seemed to relate to the actual subject matter of my painting there. And I began the talk four years ago apologising for the terseness of the statement in the catalogue, which was just one sentence long.

I don’t know if any of you have seen the catalogue for this year’s John Moores but my statement in the catalogue this year is dryly factual and I wanted to simply calculate the total cost of the bank bailouts which inspired the protests. However, I found it quite difficult to actually come up with the exact figures. I went onto various Government websites and tried to get figures from official sources rather than just looking at what the newspapers were saying and I actually had to dig down into the Office of National Statistics and so on, the UK FI website, which is quite a tedious process but I did try to get an accurate picture of what the numbers then were in terms of how many billions of taxpayers’ money had actually been spent on bailing out the banks.

So that was basically my statement this year. Obviously there’s a lot more to the painting than simply the protest which happened on the 1 April last year.

So I ended my talk four years ago with the notion that the narrative aspect of that painting opened the painting up to further interpretation, enabling the viewer to have an open-ended subjective response to that painting. However, I would argue that the subject of my current painting here is fairly circumscribed in terms of the interpretations of the subject matter. I would suggest that the content of the painting is fairly unambiguous except perhaps in terms of what exactly everyone is protesting for or against. And as you can see there are some banners in the painting but it’s not entirely clear what any of them say.

I’ve called the painting ‘Protest’ to stand in for the idea of protest as a whole, yet the dates in the title, the full title being ‘Protest, 1 April 2009’ ties the painting to the specific protest depicted.

In contrast to my last picture, strict interpretation of the subject pretty much closed down. This painting had a different function from the earlier one. I intended it to have a documentary function primarily and in doing so embodied the idea of bearing witness.

Painting really doesn’t have the power it once had to bear witness. Photography and cinema have stripped these image making powers away, which I feel as a painter is actually entirely appropriate because these mediums do it better. You know painting isn’t the same as photography or the moving image; they are much more accessible and less elitist and with photography and the moving image, the idea of photographic truth, which is quite a tenacious idea despite digital manipulation and so on, still clings to those technologies.

And despite the documentary look with the painting which I try to achieve, the role of the documenter in being a detached observer isn’t really appropriate because I did after all go on the protest to actually protest and I will touch on that a bit later.

Despite that, I hope the painting attempts a level of objectivity, which is partly thanks to the angle of view of the original photograph although it is necessarily sympathetic to the idea of protest as a whole. The distance of the crowd, which is a kind of middle distance except for the figures right at the lower left and the dancers here, it helps to heighten the sense of having a detached overview. So you’re not inside the crowd peering out as such, you are slightly raised up looking over the crowd. So the clarity of viewpoint is important for the effect I wanted to achieve because it doesn’t look like you’re actually in the middle of the crowd.

And as a little aside, when I sat down to write about what I was going to say for this talk, there’s a strange detachment I also had for myself from the painting because I’d actually lived apart from this painting of mine for many more months than I’d actually lived with it. It went off for the second round of judging in May this year and then apart from the opening of the exhibition I hadn’t seen it since. So as I was actually sitting down to write what I was going to say on this talk I had a postcard from the Walker propped up on my desk to remind me what was going on in the picture.

So I’d like to say a few general words about how I work from photographs, which I do almost exclusively. There are two different ways that I work, the more complicated one is the one which produced my work for the John Moores in 2006, in which I tend to have an idea of a subject of a painting beforehand and then take numerous photographs to combine in the final painting.

The second method, much simpler, is I select a photograph or photographs that I have taken previously and I just tend to take a lot of photographs generally of things which interest me. I tend to always have a camera with me at all times and I build up an image bank of photographs, which I use for reference. And most of the time I’m taking these photographs without actually thinking that they will turn into a painting one day.

In the past this kind of store of images was used as material for paintings which took on a more collaged appearance, so I’d have different elements and different photographs coming into paintings and that informed the work I was doing up until about 2004, which was the first time I was selected for the John Moores. My painting from 2004 was very different from the kind of stuff I’ve been doing recently.

So having taken photographs previously, I look back at them again and something strikes me about a photograph and it’s sometimes quite difficult to define exactly what, although not in this case, and something makes me think it would make a good painting.

Now the current painting is a case in point in that I didn’t actually go on the protest specifically to take photographs to do a painting from. It might have been in the back of my mind at the time and it would have been the kind of occasion when I would have wanted to have had a camera with me anyway. So it might be worth pointing out at this point that I work with film almost exclusively and you don’t get that immediate feedback that you get with digital photography where you get to see the photograph you’ve taken almost immediately you have taken it.

So most of what you can see in this painting is based on a single photograph. Now some people have asked about this. The whole scene that you see here is almost from one single photograph apart from a couple of narrow strips down either side because I just wanted to kind of expand the viewpoint to make it slightly more panoramic, but generally speaking up to about sort of here on each side it is actually taken from a single photograph.

Now as soon as I had developed the film and saw the frame that I used for the painting, it looked like an almost perfect composition. And again I may well have thought so at the time of taking the photograph but the day was so full of incidents that afterwards I couldn’t remember taking many of the photographs that I did.

And what struck me about the composition was how classical it was almost with the shape of a pyramid using the statue of Wellington of which you can see the plinth and only just the hoof of the horse that he’s mounted on just in the top of the frame.

And the centre of the protest sort of naturally formed around this plinth because the building you can see on the right hand side is actually the Bank of England and so this is a traffic island in the middle of where the roads join. And because the plinth is actually on a kind of raised dais there, it gave everybody a good viewpoint to look out over the crowd. And what it also enables me to do in this painting is it gives a sort of sharp drop away to the background which helps to kind of bring the figures forward.

When I took the photograph I was standing opposite on a low wall around the flowerbed, which actually gives me the height over the figures.

Now within the general sort of pyramid of the composition the figure in the centre drawing makes a good focal point, partly due to the whiteness of the paper on his drawing board. Essentially I was lucky in the way all the figures were arranged when I took the shot. There is an almost freeze-like nature to the composition, which enables one to look across it almost as if the picture unfolds in time as you’re looking at it. So as well as expanding the field of view slightly by adding bits onto the sides of the photograph I did also edit the foreground a little to tidy it up to make it a bit more comprehensible because there were a few people’s heads right at the very foreground, which were too close to the picture plain to really make too much sense in terms of the actual painting.

So on seeing the main photograph that I used for this piece, it reminded me of nothing so much as classic mid-Victorian paintings by William Powell Frith. I don’t know if anyone knows Frith’s work but his best known painting is ‘Derby Day’, which for those who don’t know, it’s a panoramic view of the crowd at the Derby on Epsom Downs, roughly a similar size to my painting here, which is coincidental. In Frith’s painting the race appears merely as a detail in the far background of the picture while the artist’s attention is focused on the many incidents in the crowd in the foreground. Frith’s success was partly due to a newly literate middleclass gallery going, newspaper reading public and his genius partly resides in his ability to depict a broad range of social classes and types all interacting within the new modern spaces of public life.

In academic circles so called history painting – I mean in academic circles in the 19th century when Frith was working – history painting, which in practical terms was largely confined to biblical and classical subjects, was held as the highest branch of art, whereas landscape, still life and genre painting were officially held in low esteem. And subject paintings in contemporary dress such as Frith’s were colloquially known as hat and trousers pictures. The Victorians had a real difficulty with the idea of portraying themselves in any kind of serious intent because there was an aesthetic idea that their dress, their hat, their trousers weren’t actually aesthetically beautiful, which is the reason there was a great emphasis placed on making work based on story from the past because the costume used in it appealed to them more, which is why contemporary images in the Victorian time were known as hat and trousers pictures.

But part of the popularity of paintings like Frith’s ‘Derby Day’ is no doubt due to the fact that the Victorians as a whole liked to see themselves represented in such works of art being easier to relate to than some of the higher minded moralistic pictures which were intended to impart some kind of noble lesson on the humble viewer.

And as a footnote, talking about Frith, I’d also like to mention the fact that he used photographs as reference for ‘Derby Day’, which was generally looked down upon in the 19th century and led Oscar Wilde to quip ‘was it really all done by hand?’

Now having seen the image and having related it in my own mind to William Powell Frith, the germ of a tempting idea was planted in my brain to do a modern Frith and what was tempting about it was simply the idea of how gloriously anachronistic it would be, in the true meaning of the term meaning literally out of time on the one hand, but on another hand it felt like a natural step to take this image, which already reminded me of a certain kind of painting and to make a painting out of it. I actually felt like this would be stupid thing to set myself to do, stupid not only in terms of the sheer amount of work involved but stupid in terms of the very contrariness of making a painting like this, which in itself felt like sufficient reason to do the painting. And I was also pretty sure that there wouldn’t be anything like it entered into the John Moores this year.

Having referenced Victorian painting in my talk four years ago and having just referenced it now, I don’t want people to think that I have an uncritical love for it because a great deal of it is pretty terrible. But there is an interesting intersection of art with the society it reflected; whereas subsequently the way art developed there was a self-conscious idea of the avant-garde, which caused a split between more progressive artists, which appealed more directly to an elite and then a more demotic art appealing to the masses, which is a massive over-simplification but the way art developed after the invention of photography, artists were freed from depicting the natural world yet obviously the masses generally speaking still wanted to see things recognisably depicted. Which is an entirely appropriate response because again with photography, cinema and now television, there are more relevant art forms in relation to society as a whole, so painting could then be freed from those functions that it used to have.

However, as you can see by my painting, it is still very much concerned with representing the world out there. I don’t think that I’m a populist by inclination necessarily but I seem to have accidentally become so. I mean I’m just trying to paint paintings that I like but given the fact that the last time I was in a John Moores I did actually win the Visitors’ Choice Prize gave me some kind of ideas to how other people see my work.

In thinking about subjects appropriate to painting I suppose my work is partly informed by a genealogy of ideas originating from Baudelaire’s essay ‘The Painter of Modern Life’ from 1863. This was recently referenced in the title of a show at the Hayward Gallery in London called ‘The Painting of Modern Life’ three years ago. And in conversation with Mark Lawson on Front Row, Gary Hume referred to this painting as ‘a history painting but more like a flat screen history painting. Maybe it’s the right proportion for a time of people not caring very much’.

I think Gary Hume’s observation is quite apt, it’s a history painting or rather its conceived in a style deliberately intended to remind the viewer of history painting. But its not the painting of a grand narrative of heroic deeds or moral lessons, going back to ‘The Painter of Modern Life’, part of the project is to reflect how we live now, to tell stories about ourselves in a form which is neither too obscure, nor too divorced from everyday life, which goes back to working from photographs, it’s a visual language that people are familiar enough with.

Now I realise a demonstration like this isn’t everyday life as such, but I’m talking more about reflecting experiences that many of us share or are able to empathise with. Many of my other large-scale paintings feature single figures caught in an absorptive moment, where I intend the viewer to empathise with the figures and how they feel to be in this particular moment in this particular space.

Apart from its documentary aspect, this painting differs from many of my other large-scale works in showing multiple figures. So it’s got more to do with dialogue, a coming together of diverse people. There are about 30 odd portraits in the painting and actually since the exhibition has been opened I’ve had an email from somebody who was recognised in the painting. He didn’t actually come to see the show himself but somebody else saw him in it, told him about it and he sent me an email just to let me know and it’s the man here playing the violin, so it was quite nice to hear from somebody who unwittingly turned up in one of my pictures.

Looking at the relationships of the different figures within the painting, you can notice the people who seem to be together, you can interpret their various facial expressions. There are a couple of people actually looking out towards the viewer in the painting, which again is partly an accident due to what the scene was in front of me when I took the photograph, but it does help to draw the viewer in.

So the whole arrangement of all the figures gives a general impression of the movement of the crowd, which is a sort of swirling coming together of diverse people who would otherwise be atomised, separated and divided. It may only be a temporary community with many different aims but there is a feeling of togetherness in the crowd, a spontaneity and a feeling of agency, a way of expression in parliamentary democracy other than the casting of a vote every four or five years.

One of the striking things about the picture is the sheer number of different kinds of recording devices visible, digital and film cameras, video cameras, mobile phones and interesting in that the figure right in the centre of it is using the sort of oldest recording method, drawing. I would be quite interested if anybody actually recognises him because I don’t know what his drawings are like and it would be quite interesting to see his perspective on the day.

Part of the reason that there are so many recording devices, other than the fact that with digitisation, people are recording everything in still images or video all the time these days, is the necessity of demonstrators and the police to actually have the ability to record these kind of events, protests and demonstrations, to provide evidence from conflicting claims as to the veracity of eye witnesses.

I did want to mention the death of Ian Tomlinson in my catalogue statement but due to the strict word limit we were given I cut this reference as well as references to the 86 arrests on the day and the 15 injuries. It was no surprise to me that the first response by the police was to deny any contact with the dead man had taken place and so the official line might have remained had not someone come forward with a video showing an officer of the Territorial Support Group striking Ian Tomlinson and pushing him to the ground.

Now although this was a tragic episode from the day of the protest, which was rightly given dominance in the subsequent press reports of the demonstration, I didn’t actually want this to dominate ideas around my painting. So in some respects the fact that it isn’t mentioned in the catalogue statement is perhaps apt, although the fact that everybody is taking pictures in the painting is in itself quite important.

And perhaps the lack of police in the picture is also somewhat problematic because an important part of the experience of everyone on such a demonstration is the police presence. However, everyone in the picture at this point is doing a good job of policing themselves. Judging by the clock in the background it was 24 minutes to one when I took this photograph, which I used for the painting, so still quite early on in the protest and very good natured at this point. The police lines had only just closed or were just closing and if anybody really wanted to leave at this point they were not prevented from doing so. So most of the violence later was when people had been kettled for several hours within a small space and not allowed to leave, which I realise the police have their reasons for doing so but as somebody prevented from leaving somewhere for several hours, it does feel quite antagonistic.

So part of the reason that I’d taken the photograph from the vantage point that I was was also being right in the middle of the crowd you’re quite a long way from the police, which makes this a rather more comfortable experience than being right up against them, particularly once the Territorial Support Group arrived in full riot gear because when the protest started, most of the police were simply in their normal uniforms with high visibility vests on but then after a while when they decided to actually cut off all the roads the Territorial Support Group arrived in full riot gear which immediately makes people on a protest feel like something’s afoot.

So I suppose if the painting is about bearing witness, I should mention my reasons for actually being on the protest. Now I didn’t really want this talk to be about me just bashing you all over the head with my own particular brand of politics but again, because it’s what informs the reasons for being on the protest and so on, I’ll just give a general sort of overview of how I felt at the time.

Now at the time I felt like the banks should actually be allowed to fail. Through the Thatcher-Major-Blair years the mainstream political parties had embraced the ideology that the free market is the most efficient way to run institutions. So when market forces are going to be applied to everything from the railways to the NHS and now universities and the Royal Mail, I couldn’t see why this did not apply to financial institutions. Supposedly the invisible hand of the market should take care of everything and if people running the banks aren’t very good at it, why should taxpayers’ money be used to prop them up.

At the time of the protest I thought that those banks which needed Government help should simply be allowed to fail. Having read more on the subject since, I do think that the Government was probably right in stopping the banks from failing because they are all too interconnected to fail, so the banks which had bad debt would have taken down other banks with them and so on. On an ideological level it might have been nice to see what had happened if we’d let a number of banks collapse but it’s probably too big an experiment with everybody’s livelihoods to actually enact in reality.

However, I do disagree with the way the bailout was conducted because if the country is going to de facto nationalise banks by taking majority shares in them, then maybe they should be actually run as nationalised institutions, i.e. run as a not for profit public service.

On top of that there should also be some kind of protection against this kind of thing happening again. Now its two years on from the major financial crunch and there’s no legislation to actually stop it happening again. Exactly the same thing could happen somewhere down the line.

And a lot of the reading that I have done since then is kind of crystallised beautifully in John Lanchester’s book called ‘Whoops! Why everyone owes everyone and no one can pay’. In his book he pulls off a neat typographical trick when informing the reader that in the next paragraph he’s about to survey all the recent relevant legislation passed in the two years since the crash to stop it from happening again and you turn the page and there’s a blank space. So it’s entirely possible that the whole thing could happen again.

So going on a protest I’m well aware that the Government policies are unlikely to change through protest. There are a few exceptions to this rule, the Poll Tax Riots being one. However, that was largely backed up by a massive public non-cooperation in the tax by the simple fact of people not paying. And there were also strategic protests like the relatively recent Fuel Protests where by strategic action by a small number of people you can, as the press would put it, hold the country to ransom.

Governments in democratic countries generally rely on apathy to pass unpopular legislation and then they rely on the public’s short term memory between elections not to get kicked out at the next one. At its least efficacious, demonstrations and protests visibly act out non-compliance in that apathy. I also have no illusions about the efficacy of political art, it doesn’t change anything and one is generally preaching to the converted if anyone is listening at all.

Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ is a arguably the greatest political painting of the 20th century and it didn’t stop Franco from ruling Spain for 40 odd years and nor did it stop both sides in the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in the Second World War, which to my mind is what its really about.

However, having said that, at the same time I feel the need to do something to avoid feeling impotent. As an individual I am unable to change anything and yet I’m unwilling to be silent. My painting as a documentation of that, of bearing witness, of being able to say I was there.

I don’t know whether documentary is a useful function for painting anymore, which I’ve already covered, but I feel that there is a danger of kitsch, of producing something with no lasting relevance, something which is only really interesting as a historical document and yet we’ve seen the biggest economic crash for 80 years and you have to wonder what its going to leave behind culturally.

And while writing this talk I thought back to the cultural products of the 1930s after the Great Depression and the Wall Street Crash and to be honest I couldn’t actually think of any paintings, certainly from the UK off the top of my head. The most obvious things which came out of that decade are perhaps literary like George Orwell’s ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ or Walter Greenwood’s ‘Love on the Dole’. The situation in America was very different but they had a different response to the economic times.

So I’d like to say a few things about my ideas as an artist about what I’m trying to convey in general with my work in that I like to give the viewer plenty to look at, I like to make something akin to the kind of painting that I liked when I was younger, the kind of work you could stand in front of for minutes and not something that you could get instantly.

When I first started thinking about being an artist with any kind of serious intent, and I’m talking about before I even went to Art College, amongst the works that inspired me were paintings I’d seen in the National Gallery such as Joseph Wright 'of Derby', ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump’, artists like Caravaggio, the best of the Pre-Raphaelites and then later on artists like Velázquez and Vermeer.

At the time I couldn’t ever really feel my way to producing the kind of work that might be comparable, by which I means paintings, which were about stuff for want of a better word. At Art College during the 90s identity politics seems pretty prevalent amongst my peers and as a result I felt like I didn’t really have any subject matter that I could command. Instead at the time I made a lot of aesthetically pleasing but meaningless work. So the work I was doing at Art College was essentially decorative, which in itself isn’t problematic but I wasn’t satisfied with this.

For years I struggled with the point of making a painting that looks like a photograph and then I decided not to worry too much and just enjoy a painting. It took me about five years out of Art School to actually get to this point because my Art School education in particular seemed to be quite good at diverting me away from the kind of stuff that I actually enjoyed doing.

As an aside I should also mention that I didn’t study painting at College, instead I did three years of printmaking, which might have given me a slight diversion but at the same time I don’t think I can put a linear progression to my career. Those sorts of things always applied retrospectively. However, having spent three years not studying painting might have actually helped me become the painter that I have, although you don’t really know what the alternative route would have taken you down.

So the reasons for painting like this are mainly because I can because I can get away with it and it’s also about not being able to be taken seriously as a photographer.

And another aside is the work that I had in the John Moores four years ago actually existed as a straight photograph beforehand and I’d entered it into a number of competitions and didn’t get anywhere. And then I laboriously spent several weeks making a painting of it and it became sort of one of the most successful works I’ve ever done.

I find if you actually paint an image, even if it does look a lot like a photograph, the very act of having painted it makes people look at it again, which is quite important and I hope that viewers can also see the attempt to engage with art history with these kind of works because personally I don’t like to think of there being a historical rupture around 1900, whereby painting from before that date doesn’t really speak to us anymore. And if you don’t accept that rupture then the whole history of painting is something that you can both take as inspiration but also as a challenge to your own work as well as contemporary work being produced now.

Obviously I still acknowledge painting has a different function now as it did then because we live in entirely different times with different social and technological circumstances.

I want to just say a few practical words about the painting itself. It is the size that it is to be a scale of history painting, but the particular size is basically determined about how big I can make something and still get it out of my studio, which if you know Francis Bacon’s works, his paintings are the size they are because it’s the biggest size of canvas he could get out of the door. So you know artists, while being ambitious, are still constrained by very practical considerations.

I find it difficult to say too much about the process of actually painting itself because it’s fairly prosaic. I generally just work wet in wet, one section at a time and most of the actual creative part of the work I feel happens before I actually put the brush onto the canvas.

What I’ve wanted to achieve with my technique is a certain transparency to the work and so the effect of making the work shouldn’t get in the way of the subject matter. I’m not actually concerned about fooling people into thinking that my paintings are photographs; that is just an unintended consequence.

In the John Moores four years ago I won the Visitors’ Choice Prize and the Walker were kind enough to photocopy all of the many voting cards with the visitors’ comments upon them, which is a bit of an eye opener in terms of public feedback because its not something that I’d had before. On first reading my way through the comments I did feel a little deflated by the sheer amount which simply referenced the skill, disappointed that many comments were expressing disbelief that it wasn’t a photo or that it had momentarily fooled people into thinking that it was one: ‘Lots of detail, could be a photo’, ‘I was astonished to discover it was not a photograph’ and so on.

However, my immediate response was wrong, I was wrong to be disappointed in this because I don’t think you can underestimate the pure quality of visual pleasure at simply just looking at something which is ‘painted well’. Despite the work subject matter as well, you can’t insist on viewers’ responses and in accepting there is no right response, the pleasure in viewing itself is innate to each individual and if the appreciation of technical skill is a foremost response or even the only response, then at least to have done so and to have got a response is to actually touch someone with something that I have made, which is really the most that we can ever hope to achieve as artists.

Thank you.

Host: Thank you, gosh that was fantastic, thank you very much.

I’d just like to thank Nicholas and I’d like to invite any questions from the floor if there are any questions that haven’t already been answered. Does anybody have any questions?

[Inaudible question – off mic]

Nicholas Middleton: Well the photograph was taken some months before I actually started the painting, but I did actually tot up exactly how long it took me because I partly knew I was going to get asked this. It took me 316 hours.

[Inaudible question – off mic]

Nicholas Middleton: This man here? Yeah. I don’t think so, yeah he looks very serious. That’s part of the interesting thing about all the various figures in the painting is obviously you know some people are just having fun there, other people are more contemplative and some people look very serious but I don’t know if there’s a particular reason.

[Inaudible question – off mic]

Nicholas Middleton: I mean I certainly think that the people in the foreground who are dancing are probably responding to the violin player. Actually on the day it was pretty noisy so you had to be quite close to the man playing the violin to hear it.

[Inaudible question – off mic]

Nicholas Middleton: Well the reason that a lot of my paintings are black and white is simply that I actually develop the films myself and I only use black and white film because it’s easier. So then I end up taking a picture to do a painting from and so naturally it ends up black and white. But that does also relate to giving it a kind of documentary feel in black and white as well.

[Inaudible question – off mic]

Nicholas Middleton: The driving force really was to do a painting which wasn’t going to be like any other painting entered into the John Moores really. I mean I did actually make the painting specifically to enter the John Moores this year.

[Inaudible question – off mic]

Nicholas Middleton: The politics come into it insomuch as I actually went on the protest and I took the photograph there. If I hadn’t gone on the protest I wouldn’t have the photograph to do the painting from, but my politics don’t actually make me paint, I would be a painter anyway I think.

Question: I’d just like to say something about that because there’s a fella in the Guardian the other day, he’s crying out for artists of any kind to actually do something to make some kind of fight back against the bigger banks that have got away with murder. And you know whichever politics you are, all these public services being cut, which is absolutely outrageous. So you know I do like your politics right, but then I was a bit disheartened at the end like that you were quite happy that someone’s comment was oh was it a photograph or not you know.

Nicholas Middleton: Well my comment at the end was really just to recognise the validity of anybody’s responses because you know each individual has a different response and I don’t think it’s my place to say somebody’s response is wrong. You know whatever their interpretation, whether they like it or don’t like it, you know whether they just think, sometimes people say well why couldn’t it have just been a photograph, why did it have to be a painting. I don’t want to be in the position of actually saying to someone you know your response isn’t the right one because there isn’t, it’s an individual kind of response and I think you have to respect that.

On the political side, I do think that contemporary art as a whole probably isn’t very good at representing contemporary sort of current events, which might change when the cuts actually hit home perhaps.

Host: Okay, do we have anymore questions?

Question: Well I have a question just about your technique, you know you mentioned that you weeded out sort of on the view that you had from the photograph. Did you start with the background and work up or did you start by choosing the key figures and then adding in the background?

I just add on just from my own comment, but I have the same political kind of views of the current economic situation. I find it ((?)) because initially you know as you say in the programme that the subtext is that it was kind of anarchistic side, which was a ‘Fools Day Celebration’. What’s interesting is that all the banners that are on display, it may be purely accidental given the viewpoint, but they don’t actually express any... they don’t contain any political symbols, they don’t contain you know clenched fists or shake of arm, they don’t say anything like the words the banker, initially I was like ‘once a banker’ and then I figured out it was a joke ‘once a banker, always a banker’ and you know.

But the other thing is that you mentioned the 19th century in that, the other thing that occurred to me when you were talking about it and then somebody just commented there, was the whole idea of the village green because this is cement, this is, for those of us who know it, it’s the old lady, it’s the heart of London, it’s the heart of the capital, it’s the heart of capitalism and here is this village green in a way being taken over by the people. And by having a musician with the dancers it creates that whole sense of people’s power.

Nicholas Middleton: That’s one of the things I liked about the image and about the event is you know we’re so kind of separated from each other in our everyday lives most of the time and then to actually be in the middle of the City of London and there to be several thousand people just taking over this small space. And for most of the time that I was there it was actually incredibly good natured and there was perhaps just like a temporary feeling of community but it was there you know and it is partly because it’s the protestors against the police as well. So you do feel like you’ve got something in common with all the people there which does as I say, give you that sense of community.

The technical side, well I usually do start off with the figures, so the background was the bit that I painted afterwards. For this painting I started actually with the plinth in the middle and then just sort of worked down, worked across to the right hand side and then started on the other side and worked across to the middle; just generally worked from left to right so you’re not smudging the paint from like the previous day before it’s dry.