The last few weeks we have been filming in collaboration with our dear friends at Film Duo, working with Clarendon Fine Art. We have already had the privilege of working with Mr. Brainwash, Sherree Valentine Daines and even Mr. Mike Tindall. The team behind the dream at Clarendon is impressive, and CEO Helen Swaby’s story is inspiring, to say the least. (We hope one day to have her speak on our Purpose People podcast.)
For me, although I’m not an art collector, art holds special memories.
At twenty-seven years of age, I moved into a shared house with my brother and a few friends, and after a complex negotiation (and because I was the oldest), I obtained the largest bedroom. The only drawback was that the room was pink. So, like any twenty seven year old bloke would, I enlisted the help of a few volunteers, and we painted it white (after gaining permission from the landlord, of course).
It took a while, as we had to cover the walls with multiple coats in order to drown out the pastel shades. Eventually the room was transformed into what looked like an art gallery with no art! At one end of the room was my drum kit, a great conversation starter, and at the other was my bed. In between, the walls shone a dazzling white.
At the time, I knew an artist who led a double life. By day, he was a courier for a design agency that I had left, but with whom I remained in touch through various social activities and the softball team.
Weirdly, I didn’t have his mobile number, and I didn’t even have a mobile phone as I was quite a late adopter! Why? Instinctively, I felt it would rob me of interaction. I’d been a gamer, and I knew how it could make me absent while I was present.
So, anxious to fill my white space, I got John Buchanan’s number and texted him. I must admit that I felt strangely pompous, planning to buy art. It was a sense of embarrassment that I wasn’t rich enough. All this aside, those walls were not getting any dimmer, and I needed some colour to boost my mood. My life was busy, stressful and demanding.
It was on a Sunday evening, late in November 2000. John and I decided to meet at The Merchants Arms in Hotwells to discuss options and the possibility of commissioning a piece or buying something from his existing collection. I was already feeling out of my depth but ready to roll with it, as I sat alone in the bar. I watched the woman working behind the bar while I waited for the artist to show up. It was a great view, and between sips I tried my best not to seem like a stalker, creep or weirdo.
John arrived and ordered a drink, and we discussed the proposition. He had many pieces to sell, and his passion came across in a fresh way. His courier job was a means to an end, because the real John was an artist. In some respects, he made me feel, as an art director working in a design agency, that I had ‘sold out’ the artist in me to the dark side. In fact, that thought continued to grow, long after our meeting, and led to me making a life-changing shift.
Anyway, we wrapped up in the pub as it was time to head to the gallery (John’s home). As I cast one last glance over my shoulder at the barmaid, I pushed, rather than pulled, the door, instantly distinguishing my aura as that of a cool purveyor of fine art. I also mentioned to John that I would have to pay the pub a return visit as, although my main mission had been art, someone behind the bar had caught my heart.
We headed to his basement flat, where John showed me his paintings propped up against the walls and shared his heart behind his art.
The one that I took to instinctively had flashes of colour that I knew would look amazing on my wall. This was the one. John was pleased that I had found ‘the one’, (in more ways than one, in fact), and he said he’d come and help me instal the canvas. He asked me for £75 but wouldn’t take a penny until I had lived with the painting. He suggested installing it immediately.
We arrived at the shared house, with my mates and my brother wondering what I was doing collecting art. We entered the bedroom gallery and picked the right spot. A few nails and hooks later, and there it was.
John said that he’d text me in the New Year and, if I still liked the painting, then I could pay him. The payment delay was quite unexpected, but welcome! To be honest, £75 was an investment that I was ready to make at the time, but he insisted that I wait. With the operation complete, we said our goodbyes, and the room looked amazing. The piece of art lifted the stark walls and filled the room.
Then all heaven broke loose.
One week later, I bumped into the same woman who had been behind the bar, but this time in a nightclub. Actually, she approached me! That meeting changed the course of events in my life and the trajectory of my career, for the better, even though few would fully understand.
We started dating, I quit my job in the design agency, I didn’t move to London, we married, we went on mission trips, we had three beautiful children, and we started our own design agency, Cre8ion. The painting produced so much more than £75 could ever do, and yet, to this day, I have been unable to track John down to pay him.
The call never came, my calls were never answered, and I heard that he had moved away. I have always wanted to share this story of transformation and what he did, but I still haven’t been able to. I’ve searched the seas of social media and asked friends, yet my story remains untold.
Someone once said a picture paints a thousand words, and in this case I have to disagree; it has painted a lifetime of positives, limitless in description. For this reason, when I think of art, I always think of the heart behind it. And John, if by any strange coincidence you’re reading this, I want to thank you for helping me fall in love, and, of course, I’d love to pay you that £75!