Saturday, 30 April 2016

JAGO STONE - PART 3: A WEEKEND WITH THE ARTIST MERLIN PORTER, SON OF JAGO

My two earlier J.S. blogs may have given you some taste of this online detective story - my search for the identities of Jago Stone, artist (1928-88). Jago is the subject of the biography I am writing as my next literary venture. From the Skinny Latte blog that I'd discovered as I googled 'Jago Stone' came the name of a son who is an Oxford artist complete with website and impressive portfolio of achievement. He is Jago's youngest child, born in 1981.

I made contact through his website and an email correspondence developed that has led to Merlin and his partner, Bethany, coming to St Ives a couple of weekends ago and staying in the excellent Old Vicarage at the top of our road. Merlin brought the watercolour of St Catherine’s College, Oxford that I had commissioned him to paint at an early stage of our email trail. Back in the late 60s, both my father-in-law and my mother-in-law had commissioned oil paintings from Jago Stone. Following the passing of my father-in-law, Ronald, last year, aged 90, I now had a legacy I could use to commission


Merlin to paint the Oxford college where I was an undergraduate between 1967 and 1970. There is a pleasing symmetry in these events. And I love Merlin’s work.

St Catherine's College, Oxford - a watercolour by Merlin Porter - 2016

In contrast to the classical straight-edged and uniform architecture of the college, Merlin has a central focus on the sculpture that is the essence of Grecian curve and flow. Serendipity determines that the work of course is a Hepworth. For me, the two students moving purposefully and in synchronised step away from the college represent … well, that’s another story. As for that elusive shape moving in the other direction, back into college, what psychic time-warp does that suggest? Merlin and we did of course pay our respects at the Barbara Hepworth gardens during the weekend and that was an enlightening experience. The familiar transformed by the artist’s eye and observations.

What more did I learn about Jago? I am still digesting. The biography has a completion date in 2018 in my mind but so much is uncertain in a venture such as this where the shape of the book is determined to some extent by the feedback I get from those who knew Jago Stone and feel comfortable in trusting me with their memories. My promise remains that anyone who does not want to be acknowledged as part of the Jago story will have that wish for privacy respected. I believe such an assurance is necessary because Jago fathered several children and had a number of partners. There is, inevitably, a range of complex feelings within this somewhat chaotic history of relationships and endings. A lot of hurt and pain. And I don’t want my work to make that pain worse.

But I do want to write his biography. He was a talented artist. He was a good writer. He survived the corroding effects of two decades in prison well enough to carve out for himself a working life as an artist. He was a survivor too of a childhood that shaped his psychic life. His is a life worth knowing more about and understanding better.

Untitled and Undated - Jago Stone 
Our title is 'Lady on the Stairway' and the date is circa 1969 

Yet this will be a biography that will also acknowledge its own inevitable failure. All biographies limp. How can we ever get a definitive overview of anyone’s life when so much of our mortal span is shaped by the sub-conscious and self-deception?

Be that as it may, these are my issues to grapple with. Meanwhile, back in the land of the weekend with Merlin and Bethany, there the four of us are, in the Sloop Inn in St Ives, supping and eating. Merlin has his watercolours beside him and is working on a picture of the Sloop interior. Louise and I sit opposite him and Bethany.  The four of us are deep in conversation. Merlin after a while puts his brushes and pens down and holds the work he has created towards us, back to front. Then he turns the watercolour and ink around and smiles. Our mouths fall open. We are looking at the Sloop interior and there we are, Louise and Rob, in the centre foreground. And occupying the stall behind us, the small figures of Peter Ted and Sally Anne, our teddy bears from childhood that still perform their transitional object magic in the here and now.

Nice one, Merlin!   

I’ll show the blogging world that Sloop image in due course. It’s being framed at present. When I took it into the very helpful St Ives framers, Mirror Image, I was treated to a spontaneous gasp of pleasure on seeing the quality of the picture. I was also told that another of Merlin’s work had been brought in for framing that morning. I laughed. It had to be the Old Vicarage – and it was. Merlin Porter - the artist son of the artist father.