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Sunday, June 17, 2001

Jack Rollo: This Is Your Life

8.40 a.m.

OK so it's bright and breezy. What piece of music do you put on to enhance the day and bring the spirits alive ? Why Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin - what else ? The first movement perfectly captures the soaring birds, rippling flowers and bushes and the swirling pizza boxes and rubbish which glide down our street. I'm not entirely sure that this urban scene was quite what Ravel had in mind when he wrote the thing but this morning, it seems like it was tailor made.

Yesterday's visit to the Hatton gallery went off almost according to plan. Apart from the half an hour where Sam, Tom and Joe got separated from us as we met up with my mother. There were no serious worries about their being lost as Sam is a sensible lad and the wonders of the mobile phone meant that a testy conversation between brother and sister ensured a joyous reunion.

For a good hour or so, we trouped around the Hatton which is situated within the art school itself. The degree show has well over thirty students exhibiting their final work and the entire building is utilised. So, the whole thing becomes akin to a treasure hunt as you wander cautiously around the boiler rooms and storage facilities wondering if the large piece of buzzing machinery in front of you is either the central heating system or the product of three years hard labour by a student. In truth, there was only one artist whose work stood out. Last year there were several. A drop in standards or just the furring up of my art-eries ?

The place was busy with plenty of visitors. As we ambled around, we were shadowed by four students - one of whom volubly criticised each piece. It was obvious from what we could hear of their conversation (i.e. everything) that he (Jack Rollo) was showing his mates around, setting up the opposition before showing them the fruits of his own enquiries with the muse. His three friends were enthralled by his witty condemnations and critical disection of the work of his fellow students and his opinions seemed to be delivered not so much for their benefit as the imaginary camera crew which he clearly believed was documenting his every word.

Our gang (eight of us) found ourselves in Jack Rollo's part of the show. A dozen or so medium sized boards, each with densely wrought and finely detailed abstracts. However, they all had vertical stripes running down them - suggesting prison bars. I thought they got in the way of the paintings and undermined what would otherwise be an interesting collection. Somebody else thought so and had expressed their opinion by writing on the little price list - "THESE ARE RUBBISH."

As we stood pondering, Jack and his chums entered, one of them saying "Ahhh, saving the best till last eh Jack ?" Jack smiled munificently and bathed in the approval of his admirers. By now only my mother and I remained in the room, the rest of our group having moved on. One of the Jack Clan noticed the comment and nervously pointed it out. Jack exploded with fury. He was outraged. He was angry. He was dismayed. He was disappointed. The anonymous author of the comments was a fool. A charlatan. Stupid. Blind. Ignorant. Incapable of understanding what the paintings conveyed. They were jealous of talent. Jack's entourage readily agreed adding their own tart rejoinders.

As Jack spluttered out of the room, he said, direct to the imaginary camera, "I mean, why would anyone expend so much energy being so negative ? If you don't like something why not keep it to yourself and move on ?"

In his three years at art school, Jack had just had the opportunity to receive his most valuable lesson yet. My guess is that as he stormed out of the building - the sound of banging doors echoing up the long corridors - he'd just missed the point.

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