Patrick George is arguably the best artist you’ve never heard of. He’s been described as reclusive, although this implies someone reluctant to talk in public and this certainly isn’t the persona that comes across here and it is not borne out by his teaching career. In point of fact, George is really more of a teacher than he is an exhibiting artist, most of his life having been spent at the Slade School, latterly as Professor.
The film takes the form of an extended narrative of his life, working methods and musings about the creative process. It’s a considerable tribute to the producers that this comes across as seamless, even though what appears on screen confirms that it is in fact several sessions stitched together. The sound quality is the same across all of them, even when filmed out of doors. This may seem like a small thing, but it means that while the film is by no means a talking head, there are none of the jumps in audio quality that can mar a dissertation such as this.
The film itself is compelling viewing. George is an engaging speaker (as you’d expect from a teacher) and he has plenty to say. His appearance belies his 90 years and there is a twinkle to him that conveys enjoyment both of his subject and its presentation, in which he is aided by his wife and muse, Susan Engledow. Watching the DVD, I was reminded strongly of the Louis Malle film, My Dinner With Andre, for its candid content and engaging character. Frank Auerbach’s comment about his painting (“responsive and cohesive … engrossing and admirable”) could equally apply to the film.
Artistically, George is the master of tone, which he frequently uses to define areas of the painting. He also works with a limited palette and in thin layers, so that his oils have a watercolour-like transparency. Every brushstroke is applied carefully and thoughtfully and his images, while eminently recognisable, are much more than simple representation. As he puts it himself, “… most things, when you look at them, become interesting”.
Anyone involved in the creative process any way should regard this as compulsory (it’s certainly compulsive) viewing.