Eric Idle – My Art Critic

A few years ago, while living in Provence I had the dubious fortune to meet a fellow francophile and temporary resident Mr. Eric Idle, who is now counted amongst the many admirers and collectors of my work. Some six months ago he kindly consented to write a foreword for one of my exhibitions.

Not having heard anything from him since, John Robertson tracked him down in a small bar near Cricklewood and recorded this interview with him.

Mr Idle, I believe you know David Napp? Napp? David? Uhm… Yes I remember him. Artist chappie, in Provence.Could you tell us a little about him? Well I met him in the good old days of Provence before that advertising wally sold it out to Sunday Times’ readers. Peter Mayle? What a load of garbage. Provence isn’t full of charming, pint-sized characters eager to convert a cheap cow shed into a chic bucolic paradise – it’s a hornet ridden, mistral swept, semi-arid, gastronomic desert, plagued in the summer by fires, wasps and nude German tourists, and in the winter by drunken, dog handling hunters who shoot anything that moves. Surely an ideal home for Sunday Times readers? Yes it’s a hell hole, only an ex-advertiser could gush out sufficiently imprecise adjectives to turn it into a real estate heaven.I don’t think David Napp ever quite captured that aspect of Provence? What, in his pickies? No, course he didn’t. You know artists. Always trying to make life look more attractive than it is.

So you knew him well?
Seen him drunk and sober.
Tell us a little about him.
He has a very good use of Pink.
Really?
Yes, I’ve seen him drink gallons of the stuff.
Our readers are rather more interested in his work.
Work? He doesn’t work, he’s an artist.
I meant his work as an artist.
As a piss-artist?
No no. Obviously people expect artists to be somewhat extreme in their private lives.
Extreme? He’s worse than a bloody cabinet minister.
Yes I’m sure he is.
Young, handsome, gifted. Makes you sick.
Tell us about his gifts.
Well he just brought a bottle of wine and some cheese.
No. his artistic gifts.
Oh well he’s going to give me a painting for doing this interview.
It’s not a painting, it’s a chalk drawing.
I think I’d rather have the cheese.
You’re not taking this seriously. You don’t get the picture unless I agree and I need to know something about David Napp as an artist.
Oh, well, I spotted him twice at work. Once labouring on a spectacular view of the village of C.
Where exactly is C.?
Between B. and D.
Thank you. What happened?
I stopped the car and yelled abuse at him in fractured English. Didn’t turn a hair. When I quizzed him about it later he said it happened all the time. Well I suppose that’s vaguely relevant. Anything else?
Once he was painting (not chalking for a change) some roses in a field of vines. I stopped to pass the time of day.
Give us a character sketch?
Oh I can’t draw to save my life.
No, a character sketch in words.
Oh, sorry. Erm… Semi-naked artist, very tanned, sitting working fast at an easel, Bowie on the tape recorder, cut-off jeans, smoking, back of the car piled with junk, smell of turps, that sort of thing.
And the picture?
I’d like a nice big nude girl please.
No the picture he was working on.
Oh, roses, vines and a sweet smudgy little chemin. I bought it and it looks very nice on my wall in London reminding me to stay away from Provence.
Its an oil of roses then.
Yes. You want to buy it?
No thank you, we really have quite enough of his stuff to shift. You’re not really helping. You’re supposed to be getting people interested.
Oh. I’ve got some pictures of him with very little on.
Not interested in that way.
Please yourself. Can I go now?
Uhm, no. There’s not really enough for a foreword. We had something rather more interesting in mind. Could you talk about his brush strokes?
Well his back hand lets him down badly.
His what?
Can’t play ping pong to save his life. I beat him badly over five straight games.
No I meant his painting.
Oh. Well at least you can see what he’s looking at. None of that subjective, mushy, wishy washy stuff.
Would you say that he compounds reality by heightening the structural tension between colour and form, isolating the individuality of being and revealing the connection between what the eye sees and the brain imprecisely senses?
No.
Why not?
Because it’s pretentious drivel and just the sort of guff that art critics are always banging out.
I see, well, thank you very much. You’ve been really helpful.
What about my picture?
I’ll see what I can do.
I’d like a big nude girl with huge knockers.
I’m sorry but there aren’t any.
You promised me a picture.
We were expecting something a little more interesting.
You Gallery owners are all the same. Two a penny. Living off the back of starving artists. Taking the bread out of their mouths.
Yes, thank you.
Why don’t you get Peter Mayle to write something then?
He’s too expensive.

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