Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Graham Ovenden Appeal to be Heard by High Court

It was announced today that the Court of Appeal has agreed to hear the appeal by Graham Ovenden of his convictions under the Indecency with Children Act 1960. Although no date for a hearing has yet been set, the Court has indicated that the hearing will be held in open court, rather than "in camera," as is often the case with such convictions.

This blog has already discussed some of the issues on appeal. In the coming weeks, we will present additional issues that are likely to be considered by the high court.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Graham Ovenden Not Guilty of Indecency Involving Witness JB

Most people (other than those who read this blog closely) falsely believe that Graham Ovenden has been found guilty of a "string of sex offences against children" that supposedly included dressing up his models in Victorian nighties, then blindfolding, disrobing and subjecting them to fellatio. None of that ever happened and Mr. Ovenden wasn't convicted on those charges or anything even remotely similar. Absurdly, he was convicted of five counts under the Indecency with Children Act 1960 for the "indecent act" of taking photographs -- not taking "indecent photographs." The two should not be confused, because in Mr. Ovenden's case, the supposed results of the "indecent acts" -- i.e., photographs -- were never shown to the jury. Indeed, in the case of Model X, the photographs that were alleged to have been taken "indecently" didn't even exist.

To be sure, in the case of both Model X and Maud Hewes (the only two former models involved in the indecent photographing counts), there existed photographs that, although not shown to the jury, could have been found to be "indecent" were the jurors to apply the lowest common denominator of current opinion regarding photographs of nude minors. However, convicting Mr. Ovenden for "indecent photographs" was not the objective of the prosecution: that is, the Crown Prosecution Service did not want to open the door to criticism from artists, photographers and indeed, the entire art establishment for condemning works of art. So instead the CPS based its case on phony sex charges (prompted for the most part by the police), and the novel theory that merely photographing nude minors could, in and of itself, and without any visual evidence, be an act of child molestation. Think about it: Model X testified that she "remembered" being photographed while nude and blindfolded, and on another occasion, while lying back, splayed out on some rocks. The fact that those photographs never existed (because the incidents never occurred) was irrelevant to the charge. The mere allegation that photographs were taken was sufficient to secure a conviction. Photographers should be very frightened by this expansion of the Indecency with Children Act 1960 and the mischief it is sure to bring to others besides Mr. Ovenden.

That brings us to the two remaining charges involving a third model, JB. At the outset, JB alleged three incidents. First, she claimed that when she was six she had a bath with Mr. Ovenden and another girl. Allegedly, Mr. Ovenden asked her to wash his "John Thomas." (The alleged incident involved no touching, just an invitation.) Second, JB claimed that when she was 7, Mr. Ovenden blindfolded her and played a "tasting game," culminating in his putting his penis in her mouth. Third, JB claimed that when she was ten Mr. Ovenden came up behind her, grabbed her breasts through her clothing and said "come on, let's have a feel."

Allegation number two, the tasting game, was disbelieved by the jury, while Mr. Ovenden was convicted on the first and third allegations. The discussion of these charges should be prefaced by a few facts that were not fully explored at trial, but which are salient nonetheless. Within a year of the alleged "let's have a feel" incident, JB asked Mr. Ovenden to photograph her naked, which he did. She was very proud of her breasts and a photo of her naked from head to toe appears in Graham Ovenden's monograph States of Grace. When she was asked about the photography session at trial, JB said she didn't remember it, and the photograph was never introduced because Mr. Ovenden's legal team were determined to keep States of Grace out of view of the jury. But her insouciant facial expression and open pose are not those of a girl who had to fight off an attack by the photographer not long before the photo session.(One can argue that it was a mistake not to introduce the book into evidence, but hindsight is always golden.) There is also evidence of a motive by JB to give false testimony. Long before the trial, JB and her mother took sides with Mr. Ovenden's ex-wife, Annie, in a bitter dispute over the Ovendens' collapsing marriage, Edmund Ovenden's misappropriation of equity in Barley Splatt and the removal of valuable photographs and other documents from Mr. Ovenden's possession. In fact, JB worked for Annie Ovenden: in 2010, she registered the domain for Annie Ovenden's website and thereafter remained the registrant and technical contact. (This fact was discovered after trial.) A friend of the Ovendens also witnessed a conversation between Annie and JB's mother regarding how they would "get" Graham. Mr. Ovenden's legal counsel must have felt strongly enough about how fraught the charges were that they didn't wish to air this dirty laundry.

In any event, there are ample grounds on which to appeal the convictions on these charges. Let's begin with the bath allegation, which JB said happened when she was six years old. There are three possibilities: 1) JB was willfully lying, 2) JB had a memory of an event that never occurred, or 3) JB remembered a real event. Facts already mentioned above suggest that JB was lying, but assuming, for sake of argument, that she actually had a memory of such an event, the task is then to determine whether the memory is true or false. This is not simply a matter of listening to JB's testimony and deciding whether her story is convincing. As memory expert Daniel L. Schacter has observed, "[p]eople incorrectly claim -- often with great confidence -- having experienced events that have not happened." (See, The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, Houghton Mifflin, 2001.) This is especially the case when witnesses rehearse their testimony with police officers, prosecutors and others (e.g., their mothers) and become "extremely confident about what they say -- even when they are incorrect." (Schacter, Searching for Memory: the Brain, the Mind and the Past, Basic Books 1996). A great deal has been learned since the early 1990s about how memory works and much of this knowledge flies in the face of the common understanding of the man on the Clapham omnibus that a memory is like a tape recording of what happened. For this reason, the British Psychological Society (BPS) produced its Guidelines on Memory and the Law: A Report from the Research Board of the British Psychological Society, written expressly for consideration by the CPS, police and defence solicitors. The following principles, designated as "Key points" in the Report, rather speak for themselves:
  • Remembering is a constructive process. Memories are mental constructions that bring together different types of knowledge in an act of remembering. As a consequence, memory is prone to error and is easily influenced by the recall environment, including police interviews and cross-examination in court.
  • Recall of a single or several highly specific details does not guarantee that a memory is accurate or even that it actually occurred. In general, the only way to establish the truth of a memory is with independent corroborating evidence.
  • People can remember events that they have not in reality experienced. This does not necessarily entail deliberate deception. For example, an event that was imagined, was a blend of a number of different events, or that makes personal sense for some other reason, can come to be genuinely experienced as a memory, (these are often referred to as ‘confabulations’).
These points are particularly salient with respect to adult memories of early childhood, which is why the Report warns: "Detailed and well-organized memories dating to events that occurred between seven to five years of age should be viewed with caution." JB's alleged memories of the (non-existent) event were nothing if not detailed and well-organized. Her memory was sequential and complete, told from beginning to end. It included where she sat in the bathtub, how Mr. Ovenden got in with an erect penis, how the other girl was asking to wash Mr. Ovenden's beard, how Mr. Ovenden repeatedly said to them "No, no, wash John Thomas. Go on, Go on," how she felt "uncomfortable," how the other girl washed said John Thomas a couple of times, how Mr. Ovenden then got out of the bath and came back with a camera, and how he took photographs of JB and the other girl in a green towel. (If you thought perhaps that there were photos of JB and other girl in a green towel, you would be wrong.) If the highly detailed nature of JB's "memory" didn't give the CPS pause about proceeding with that charge, then the age at which the event was alleged to have occurred should have. As the Report plainly states:

In general the accuracy of memories dating to below the age of about seven years cannot be established in the absence of independent corroborating evidence.

There was no independent corroborating evidence in JB's case. The "fact" of JB and her mother agreeing that JB disclosed the alleged incident when she was fifteen or sixteen (assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is true), does no more than corroborate the existence of a memory, not whether the memory is true. Independent corroborating evidence means evidence that is adduced or discovered contemporaneously with the alleged event and that directly supports one or more aspects of it. It does not mean a supposed conversation ten years later. Simply put, the CPS should never have prosecuted Mr. Ovenden on this charge.

What else is wrong with the two JB-related convictions? They are inconsistent with the acquittal on the third allegation, the so-called "tasting game" incident. The standard on voiding a conviction due to inconsistent verdicts is an exacting one. The burden is on the defendant to prove that the verdict is "unsafe," that is, that there is both "a logical inconsistency between the verdicts" and "no explanation" for the inconsistency. Dhillon [2010] EWCA Crim 1577, par. 33. There is no universal test for determining whether a verdict is "unsafe." However, in R v. Cross [2009] EWCA Crim 1533, the court found that verdicts would be inconsistent where:
They cannot possibly be explained by any line of reasoning which the jury could have adopted looking at the evidence as fair-minded ordinary people. The appellate court has to apply this test in the context of the issues which were presented to the jury, but that does not of course mean that a jury had to view the evidence bearing on those issues in the way that was argued for either by the prosecution or the defence.

Here, one needs to view the allegations by JB in the overall context of the case. First, the counts of conviction (the bath and "let's have a feel" incidents) were completely different from any other allegation in the case. Second, the only allegation by JB that was supported by a similar allegation -- the tasting game -- was thrown out by the jury. These two facts alone make out a prima facie case for "inconsistency."

Another factor to consider is that JB's credibility was at issue, since Mr. Ovenden denied that the three alleged events ever occurred. It might be argued that the testimony of JB's mother swayed the jury as to the bath incident, but it could not possibly explain the conviction on the "let's have a feel" count. Moreover, the convictions on these two counts came only after the jury had been deadlocked for four days and Judge Cottle instructed the jurors that they could convict by a majority. Consequently, the jury's decision has the hallmarks of a "compromise" where the jurors split the difference -- acquitting Mr. Ovenden on the more serious charge (one that was potentially corroborated by a similar allegation by LD), but convicting him on the two minor ones.

The closer one looks at the case against Graham Ovenden, the more one sees its vindictive heart. The case is replete with official corruption, from the coercion and coaching of witnesses, to novel applications of law, to bringing charges that should never have been brought. It is a rich irony, indeed, that in his petition to the Court of Appeal to put Mr. Ovenden behind bars, H.M. Attorney General cites as a consequence of Mr. Ovenden's supposed "abuse," the turmoil that the police and prosecution caused Model X and Maud Hewes -- turmoil, it must be said, that these witnesses never felt either when they modeled for Mr. Ovenden or when they looked back on their experiences in their twenties.

It is now up to the Court of Appeal to see that justice is done by reversing Mr. Ovenden's convictions.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What Her Majesty's Attorney General Doesn't Want You to Know (Part 2)

Blindfold WattsWhen Graham Ovenden was convicted in April 2013 on two counts of “indecency with a child” with respect to photographing the witness identified here as “Model X,” the charges, which the police filed on her behalf, did not relate to any existing photographs. Rather, they related to imaginary photographs that exist only in Model X’s false memories – false memories that were created by the police during their interviews with her. This is no mere speculation.

Model X did not come forward years later when she figured out what had happened to her. This was a lie that the prosecution fed the press and which the press dutifully reported. In reality, the police paid Model X an unsolicited visit in 2009 and attempted to get her to say she was blindfolded and molested. (The source for these allegations was Minty Challis, a/k/a Donna Berry.) Although the police never got Model X to allege molestation of any kind, they preyed on the inaccuracies of her memory and the clinical depression she developed in later adulthood to convince her that Mr. Ovenden had done something wrong. So how did the police find Model X in the first place? Mr. Ovenden gave them her address. He was obviously naïve to think that the police wouldn’t have their way with her.

The contrast between Model X’s written statement for the introduction to States of Grace at age 27 and her statement in 2009, at age 46, testifies to the power and will of the police to invent crimes where none exist. Here is what Model X wrote in her own hand in 1990, when she knew that several of her images would be reproduced in Graham Ovenden’s States of Grace:
There was a freedom about it -- not just being myself, but it showed other possibilities, different from everyday situations. It was nice to be accepted on the level that I was myself and he didn't used to say “this is so-and-so and she is 10 years old.” In this sense, it was very adult....

Graham didn't pose me that much. He used to just let me do things and he used to say “that's OK.” It was quite spontaneous. Sometimes he might have said “pick up your chin” or he might have said something emotive, like “look far away” or things like that. I never felt that he took away “me” as a person.

One of the things that's very important, I feel, is that the work is very honest. However erotic the pictures are, however they are provocative, they are honest pictures. We were there. We did those things. It's not like someone's faked it. I know that Graham's an artist, and not to take anything away from him, of course, but the thing is, the people are there. So, it exists and you can't pretend it doesn't exist and that sexuality doesn't exist. So the honesty, I think, is really important and I think people are just stuffy and have a lot of fears about what's okay and get confused about what's okay.... It was a very safe environment.
Blind MillaisNow compare this resolute declaration with paragraphs 36 and 37 of the prosecution’s opening statement about what Model X would say when called to the witness box. (These paragraphs were simply regurgitated, complete with typographical error, by the Attorney General in his “Reference Under Section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988,” recently submitted to the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division. Evidently the Attorney General couldn’t be bothered to find out what Model X actually said at trial.) The reader should keep in mind that these paragraphs are supposed to make out two separate “offences” of “indecency with a child:”
"[Model X] was about 10 years old when the defendant took photographs of her at a time he was still living in London. This took place in a studio in an empty bedroom of the house. [Model X] remembers the defendant telling her that he wanted to recreate a ‘Little Blind Girl’ and he told her a story about a blind girl. Susannah was sitting on the floor. She was naked. The defendant put white sticky tape on her eyes. She couldn’t see. The defendant pushed the tape down. [Model X] didn’t know what the defendant was doing through she could hear him breathing as if he was holding his breath and then exhaling.

"When the defendant moved to Cornwall, [Model X] would visit the Offender’s home address with her family. The defendant photographed her outdoors. [Model X] remembered there being rocks up the hill from the house where the defendant photographed her naked. She remembers the rocks digging into her back as she lay across them. She can recall be [sic] stretched out in certain poses and feeling vulnerable."
Model X 01As mentioned above in this posting and elsewhere on this blog, the prosecution did not introduce into evidence any photographs showing Model X fully naked with tape over her eyes or lying down on rocks. The authorities had dozens of photographs of Model X, but none of them fit the descriptions of these two alleged events. However, they did have photographs by Mr. Ovenden which plainly demonstrated that Model X’s memories were confabulated – that is, her recollections were based on true events, but contained crucial details that never occurred.

Model X 04Model X testified that her eyes were taped, that she was totally naked, and that she was blindfolded only when she was alone with Mr. Ovenden. However, photographs in the possession of the authorities, reveal those details as false. Reproduced here are three photographs of Model X posing with another model on the day the “blindfold” photographs were taken. The blindfold is cloth, not tape, and Model X is wearing a white dress, open at the top. (One of the photographs served as the source image for a drawing about blind Justice that Mr. Ovenden made for a patron.*)

Model X 02And if Mr. Ovenden told Model X a story about a blind girl, it would hardly be sinister: blind and blindfolded figures are not uncommon in the history of art. (See paintings above.) Still other photographs in the possession of the police show Model X seated, never lying, on rocks at Barley Splatt. When one of those images (shown above right) was introduced by the defense, Model X commented under oath that it was “lovely.” The implication that someone stretched Model X out over rocks is pure invention.

Model X 03This is not to call Model X a liar. She undoubtedly believed that what she testified to was the truth. (The defense failed to confront her with her statement in States of Grace for reasons unknown to this writer.) But her memories – so graphically in conflict with both her recollections at age 27 and the photographs that Graham Ovenden actually took of her – are clearly false.

The phenomenon of the confabulation of memory is well known, as attested to in the following précis by Dr. Ian Anderson, a Chartered Psychologist. Although Dr. Anderson did not consult in the Ovenden case, he clearly should have, as his observations would have helped the jury to understand how someone could have one set of memories of certain childhood experiences at age 27 but a drastically different set at age 46:

A lay view of memory function might well be characterized as a belief that memories are recorded and stored rather like an archive of video recordings to be retrieved and replayed at will. Research over decades has demonstrated that this is not accurate. The general view that psychologists hold of memory is that memories are stored not as whole narratives, but as fragments. Fragments of memory are reconstituted into narratives at the time of their retrieval. I would note that functions of memory are clearly much more complex than the description I have just given; but I believe my description represents a simple overview that accurately contrasts with the lay version of memory noted above.

Whatever the mechanisms of memory, most of us believe that our memories are more or less accurate. We also believe that we are better at remembering important events than trivial events. Research has consistently shown, however, that our memories are probably far less accurate than we believe them to be. Our memories are sufficient for most practical purposes as demonstrated by the fact that we can function in our day-to-day lives. But there are occasions when normal people in normal situations ‘remember’ things that have not occurred.

This ‘remembering’ of events that have not occurred is known in psychology as confabulation. Confabulation is also referred to in more general contexts as ‘False Memory Syndrome’ and sometimes ‘Recovered Memory Syndrome’. Confabulation of memory is one example of our brains/minds filling in the gaps of missing information in order to make sense of the world. Both our visual system and our auditory system also routinely perform this task, and indeed sometimes get it wrong.

I want to be clear that confabulation is a normal artifact of memory that happens to the healthily functioning brains/minds of most people at some time or another.

Some people are more prone to confabulation than others…. [T]here is a plethora of publications devoted to this phenomenon. I would draw attention to an article published as recently as 5 August 2010 (Mazzoni et al., 2010). In this study as many as one in five of the 1,600 participants reported clear recollections of incidents that they knew had never taken place. Most of the false memories reported by the now-adults in the study related to events between the ages of four and eight years old.

If a memory is confabulated a person who experiences that memory has in a sense invented the memory, although that person will not in any way be aware that it is an invention. In other words, confabulated memories are experienced as if they are the truth. Indeed, one of the ways that researchers are able on some occasions to identify clearly confabulated memories is by the certainty with which those who report those memories maintain them in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

Once a memory has been confabulated it is impossible to separate it from a real memory. Therefore, if a person can create a confabulated memory he or she can certainly maintain it consistently even though in a sense the memory is fabricated. Not only can the individual who experiences the memory not distinguish between a real memory and a confabulated memory, but research has also demonstrated that without external reference psychologists are no better at distinguishing confabulated memories from real memories than are others. However, there are some contextual factors and features that properly raise doubts in relation to the veracity of a memory when it is considered.

The research above also demonstrates that there are specific circumstances that are likely to increase the possibility of the creation of confabulated memories. “One set of circumstances that has been associated with the creation of confabulated memories is when a person has been the subject of certain types of psychological counselling or other interventions of psychological therapy.

There are many types of psychological interventions, sometimes known as ‘talking therapies’. It is by no means inevitable that a competently delivered form of psychological therapy will necessarily create confabulated memories. However, in order to comment as to whether a particular therapeutic intervention has the potential to create confabulated memories, it is necessary to consider both the style of therapy and the details of the ways in which the individual therapist delivered that therapy. “As I imply above in relation to potential for any therapeutic intervention to create a confabulated memory, the devil is in the details.

For completeness, I will add that the potential for confabulation as a result of therapeutic intervention probably arises for no better reason than the fact that talking therapy typically involves an intense interpersonal relationship between therapist and client focused upon specific problems in the client’s life and sometimes the reasons for those problems. In other words, although therapeutic interventions have a high potential to create confabulated memories, the fact of the matter is that any such conversation, interview, or discussion has this potential, and ‘talking therapy’ is merely a special case of this type of interaction.

Another set of circumstances that has been associated with the creation of confabulated memories is the investigating process itself, particularly the methods of interviewing used by, for example, the police. Such issues as interviewer expectations, specific types of questions (particularly leading questions), summaries that confirm interviewer expectations and omit or deny contrary information provided by witnesses, etc. are all things that have the potential to pollute memory.

I am not suggesting by the above that interviewers would necessarily intend to distort accurate recall; in fact, it may be the very intention to elicit accurate recall that sometimes creates the circumstances for confabulation. A lay person considering such interviews would not necessarily be able to point to specific interactions that have the potential to create confabulation: this requires an expert analysis.

In light of the fact that Model X has suffered from depression in adulthood and given the interventions by the police, who swooped down on Model X with a fury to “get” Graham Ovenden, it is clear that Model X’s testimony consisted not of accurate memories, but confabulations.

One can also sense just how deeply Model X was manipulated by the police. The Attorney General notes that in her victim impact statement, taken in 2013, Model X said that “giving evidence had been the worst experience of her life” and that “she had struggled with vague feeling [sic] throughout her life that she had been taken advantage of; throughout her life she had felt loneliness and isolation and felt very alone in her relationships.” These claims (quoted here from the Attorney General’s brief, not the victim impact statement), were, like Model X’s testimony, embroidered by the police. Applied to real child abuse, they might be believable, but here they are just tropes.

It’s no wonder that giving evidence was the worst experience of Model X’s life. She had her memory irreparably damaged and then discovered on cross-examination, when she was confronted with the photographic evidence, that something was truly amiss. This is something for which the police should be punished, not something for which Graham Ovenden should be held responsible.

*The title of the drawing is “Justice conducts the choir of innocents in her new anthem” and is reproduced here.

Monday, July 15, 2013

What Her Majesty's Attorney General Doesn't Want You To Know (Part 1)

In April of this year, Graham Ovenden was convicted on three counts of “indecency with a child” for taking unspecified photographs of Maud Hewes, who vigorously defended Mr. Ovenden's images of her -- and her experience of being photographed -- well into her twenties. (See, Trial Fails to Rewrite History of Graham Ovenden's Art for complete statements by Ms. Hewes, which are only summarized in this post.)

In March 1992, at age 18, Maud Hewes told Robert Atkins, then a reporter for the Village Voice, "When I modeled for Graham, I’d make up the poses and he’d shoot them. He never asked me to be sexy and I never tried to." Two months later she filed a sworn affidavit in the United States District Court in New York, stating that her image alleged to be child pornography "is a portrait of me as I was eight years ago. I am not acting in a sexual way in the picture and Graham never asked me to be sexual or treated me as a sexual object. The accusation that the image is 'obscene' is, to me, an accusation that I am 'obscene,' something to which I take offense." (The US government promptly dropped the charge on the day she would have testified in favor of her photo.)

When Mr. Ovenden was being persecuted by the Metropolitan Police in 1993, Ms. Hewes made the following declaration to police in one of her two sworn statements: "I decline the idea that any of the images of myself are indecent and emphatically state that I was never abused, or photographed/drawn by coercion."

Her interview together with Emily Ovenden in the documentary "For the Sake of the Children," showed throughout the U.K., confirms her earlier statements. Only in 2009, after the police came knocking yet again, did Mr. Hewes change her mind and decide that she shouldn’t have been photographed. No one pressured Maud Hewes to defend Graham Ovenden in the 1990s. To the contrary, she was under pressure to denounce Mr. Ovenden for 20 years.

At Mr. Ovenden's trial, police testified that they "lost" Ms. Hewes's two sworn statements to the police in 1993 that would have put the lie to at least three of the charges and undermined two other charges related to another model. Conveniently, the police and Ms. Hewes testified that although they knew she had been supportive of Mr. Ovenden, they didn't remember the specifics of what she said, and thus her statements that are reprinted here from secondary sources were inadmissible as evidence. Judge Cottle ruled that there was no harm and no foul.

That Graham Ovenden’s conviction on these charges is unjust, unfounded and a product of police mischief is patently obvious. Oh, and that "indecency"? It was merely for taking photographs when Ms. Hewes was naked. There wasn't any other "indecent" act on the record. The judge made that perfectly clear in his instructions to the jury.

An small (but highly relevant) excerpt from "For the Sake of the Children," which was part of the Channel 4 series Films of Fire, can be downloaded here, courtesy of Pigtails in Paint. The film was made in late 1996 (when Maud Hewes was 22) and shown on British television in 1997.

(Youtube took the clip down within 24 hours of being posted, probably due to the image of Emily Ovenden and Maud Hewes (nude in profile) or Ms. Hewes alone (from the waist up). Never mind that the the photographs are plainly legal in the United States (no genitalia displayed) and the film showed on broadcast television throughout the U.K. Mrs. Grundy is alive and well and working for Youtube...)

Graham Ovenden's suspended sentence was set to be reviewed by the Court of Appeal on Friday, July 26, 2013, but the Court of Appeal has now determined that it will reconsider the sentence only when it decides whether to accept the appeal of Mr. Ovenden's conviction. Of course, anything other than a reversal of the conviction will be a failure of justice.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Laurie Lee on Graham Ovenden's Art and Photography

Ovenden A Memory of MorwenstoweLaurie Lee was a novelist and poet who is best known for having written Cider with Rosie, one of Britain's most popular books. A film version was produced by the BBC in 1971 and has shown on television on numerous occasions. It was Laurie Lee who gave the Brotherhood of Ruralists (of which Mr. Ovenden is a part) their name. Mr. Lee was an enthusiastic supporter of Graham Ovenden's work from the early 1970s until his death in 1987. Mr. Lee wrote the Forward to Graham Ovenden's eponymous monograph (Academy Editions/St. Martin's Press, 1987). It is reproduced below, along with the text of a brief introduction to an unpublished photographic monograph which was superseded by States of Grace.

Laurie Lee
Ovenden CamilleForeword to Graham Ovenden (London: Academy Editions/St. Martin's Press, 1987).

Graham Ovenden is a natural-born artist of acute originality and grace who has captured regions and perceptions unmistakably his own. Nor are his intense appreciations of the world restricted to a single medium: best known as painter and draughtsman, he is also freely involved in the practice of music, poetry, photography, design and the precise discipline of architecture.

Ovenden Alice, Was It Only A DreamOvenden was an instinctive and self-directed artist from his beginnings; whilst still a child he was filling sketchbooks with both imaginary and direct drawings from nature. Amazingly, by the age of twelve -- having heard Wanda Landowska on the wireless -- he had built for himself a full scale harpsichord in good order and decorated it lavishly in the Claudian manner. This could, perhaps, be one of the earliest examples of his particular obsession: a love of harmony, yes, and of light and form which he has steadily perfected throughout the years. He is a man who not only reflects a world he wishes to see, but has also created from it keen and personal perspectives. It was some fifteen years ago when I first came to know Graham Ovenden's work, at a one-man show at the Piccadilly Gallery. I had wandered in by chance and was immediately entranced, not only by the brilliance of his landscapes, but also by his audacious explorations into almost forbidden territories -- among them a series of paintings of young girls, some nude or semi-nude, veiled by bands of shadow and light, whose faces, neither blossom-pretty nor waif-like wistful, showed that they were wiser in their brooding provocation and contained sexuality than any of their adult observers.

Ovenden Alice ( Jo)The reproductions in this book show some of these, together with the whole sweep of Ovenden's other skills and affections. We see here the full range of his landscapes, unexpected, unsentimental, but arresting for their luminous passion; studies of trees, the form of their roots and branches surrounded by a radiance of leaves and light. These landscapes belong to no other painter. Most of them are of the far West Country, many of them idyllic, others bearing the mysterious imprint of early man's presence on this land and the former life of the rocks.

Ovenden Betty (1986)Ovenden persuades us that these landscapes are also portraits -- there is mood and character in them. But it is the changing flow of light, set against the steadfastness of tree and stone, that seems happily to engage the artist, so that we see expanding cloudscapes, sweeps of water and waves, and often that brightest rural goddess of all -- the fertile and inconstant moon.

Indeed the occasional presence of the full moon, basking above this rural amplitude, reminds one of the artist's acknowledged indebtedness to the oblique influences of his youth, Samuel Palmer and William Blake, and later, Graham Sutherland and Paul Nash. Even so, he is not an artist overstamped by influences. The world he offers comes from his own original vision, a romantic classicism wrapped in well-tempered truth.

The collection of works shown here, spans roughly thirty years, beginning with darkly observed photographs Ovenden made in the late 1950s reflecting the damp light of Rotherhithe and the East End, and an age of aproned street-children playing ancient games none of which will ever be seen again. We also have his figures in landscape, his superb portraits and his nudes which, as he says, are also primary portraits. Most nudes in art are little more than cyphers, bloodless clichés of complacent technique, all similar as garden gnomes. Ovenden's nudes are portraits, in that they are acutely observed studies of personality at exact points of time, each subject separate and caught in a moment of fate. They have names and faces, and the faces are often trapped in the suggestive stance of the body, as if not yet belonging to it, or not ready to acknowledge it. For the most part they are studies of young girls, at the time of questing, calculation, uncertainty and power, when the fluent prepubescence of mind and body has not yet been locked into a stiffened maturity.

Ovenden Duska as Ophelia (1978)This is one of Ovenden's outstanding gifts, the way in which he delineates with such tender perceptiveness the wayward witcheries of some of his younger models. Whether in pencil, paint, charcoal or conté, this lightness of touch and originality of view is visible throughout his work. In his Alice and Lolita prints, for example, a series of slumbers surprises, neither pretty nor shocking but haunting in their sombre assurance -- young visitors of night and dream; while his book illustrations, particularly those for Wuthering Heights, are of dimensions the book only hints at.

His work in pencil can be as light as gossamer, but often conceals darker shadows beneath. This poetry also has an assured lightness of touch which sometimes hides far deeper implications. Graham Ovenden is a masterly enigma. There is no one like him. He is an artist of penetrative innocence who still rules his own private island. And this book is part of its treasure.

Laurie Lee
Introduction to Graham Ovenden Photographs (unpublished)

Ovenden Anoushka Harris (2005)Graham Ovenden's photographic portraits and nudes of the girl child are in all probability the finest examples in Western Art.

I remember autographing a copy of my Two Women for Graham in the mid eighties. I did so as a humble student to his masterful and utterly honest depictions of girlhood. Like his mentor, William Blake, Ovenden stands as a unique and powerful reminder of an authentic vision that has not been sullied by the neurosis and falsehoods of popular culture; nor that of the obsessive and immodest dictates of the law.

During one of the many discussions we have held together, Graham rightly pointed to the fact that within the foundations of our culture, the Humanism of Ancient Greece remains as a bedrock of sanity and rational behavior.* The total body of self is that of the Gods and what more so when depicting the wholesome beauty of our childhood. I well remember when my own Cider with Rosie was first published how some moralists picked on the natural sensuality of girlhood and tried their utmost to defame this series of essays based on my boyhood experiences. I hardly dare write this, but I now wish I had been more forthright in showing certain members of the public their puerile actions and minds, for they are the true pornographers.

God bless Graham Ovenden and his enigmatic art, it enriches us all.

- Laurie Lee, 1988

*[An example of that sanity might be seen in the words of Protagoras, a Greek philosopher and teacher who lived around the 5th century BCE: "As to gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or do not exist. For many are the obstacles that impede knowledge, both the obscurity of the question and the shortness of human life." -BW]

(Mr. Ovenden's nudes have not been reproduced here, as blogspot is in the habit of deleting blogs containing images of minors (even non-existent ones) under the guise of banning "child pornography," regardless of what the actual images depict. The importance of this blog lies primarily in the defence of Mr. Ovenden and his work, which is not child pornography and does not advocate or in any way support child abuse.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Guardian's Yellow Journalism

This post is in response to a piece of hysterical vitriol by Deborah Orr, published yesterday online at The Guardian, Society's lenience belongs with Graham Ovenden's child portraits - in the past. Artist on Trial attempted to post a comment (leaving out the commentary below regarding Ms. Orr and reporter Steven Morris, and not referencing this blog), but each time the comment was deleted within a few minutes of posting, despite the fact that it in no way violated The Guardian's "community standards." One would have thought The Guardian was a serious newspaper, but in fact it has proved itself -- through opinion pieces like Orr's and reportage regarding Graham Ovenden over the past six months by Mr. Morris -- no better than the gutter press, passing off prosecutorial posturing and accusations dismissed at trial as "facts" and leaving the actual facts of the case unreported. This is the type of journalism that one can now expect from The Guardian: to be accused is to be guilty, and any defence, whether based on fact or in law, must be silenced.

The "indecency with a child" charges brought against Graham Ovenden (under the 1960 Indecency with Children Act) was a sinister ruse on the part of the Crown Prosecution Service to turn nude photographs, taken with the permission of the models and their parents, into "molestation" charges. But there was no molestation in connection with the photography. 5 of the 7 charges of which Mr. Ovenden was convicted involve ONLY taking nude photographs, with no touching, no coaching into poses, no undressing the models. And the two models whose images were the basis of those 5 charges strongly defended Mr. Ovenden during that liberal era, the 1990s, when they were in their 20s, stating plainly that they chose their own poses and Mr. Ovenden was only there to witness it.

When it came to the jury instructions on those 5 charges, the question put to the jury was whether or not they believed "that right minded people" would regard the taking of a photograph of a child while she is nude to be "something that was obviously indecent towards her." These were plainly trumped up charges, as the law requires a second limb, about which the jury was never properly instructed: "That the Defendant did the act intending to derive sexual satisfaction from the knowledge that the child was watching him." (R v Colin Francis 88 Cr App R 127, emphasis added.)

As any intelligent person will perceive from that latter language, this law was never intended to apply to mere photographing, but to indecent exposure or perhaps some act during photographing involving plain manipulation of the child -- of which there was none alleged amongst the 5 charges, as adduced at trial from the models themselves. It is a non-sequitur to ask whether a defendant who merely takes a photograph of a nude child intended to derive "sexual satisfaction from the knowledge that the child was watching him." Obviously the charges against Mr. Ovenden relating to photographs should have been brought (if at all) under the 1978 Protection of Children Act for "indecent" photos, but the CPS chose this route for two reasons. First, the photographs of one model were created prior to 1978, so the CPS would have been limited to charging Mr. Ovenden with possession of those images unless it could prove that he had printed them post-1978. Second, the CPS chose to proceed under the 1960 Act in order to brand Mr. Ovenden with the modern equivalent of "the scarlet letter" and so that moral entrepreneurs like Deborah Orr could rant hysterically about child abuse and rhetorically spit on Mr. Ovenden by calling him a "paedophile" -- thereby (so Ms. Orr believes) uttering the final word on the matter and condemnation of the artist for all time. In fact, Ms. Orr's call for an end to "leniency" is nothing more than an attack on ideas, a cry of paranoid intolerance that is characteristic of what has become an almost permanent state of panic surrounding child abuse. It has nothing to do at all with the actual protection of children.

As to the two remaining charges of conviction, Mr. Ovenden maintains that these are false. They involve a single model. One of the charges involves getting into a bath with her (at about age 6) and asking the girl to wash his "John Thomas." The other is cupping her chest from behind while she was clothed (at age 10) and saying "come on, let's have a feel." There are good reasons in the context of the trial to disbelieve these accusations -- reasons that will be elucidated during appeal, and of course discussed on this blog. In the meantime, Mr. Ovenden the artist is very much alive.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ovenden Sentence to Be Reviewed, But a Sentence for What?

The Attorney General announced today that his office would be reviewing Graham Ovenden's sentence, which some have complained is "unduly lenient." As previously discussed here, "leniency" is not in itself a reason to revise a sentence. Rather, as the CPS guidelines regarding sentence review state, a sentence may be revised upward only if "it falls outside the range of sentences that the judge could reasonably have considered appropriate."

Those who complain about leniency do so either out of sheer ignorance as to the counts for which Mr. Ovenden was convicted or as a matter of political advocacy that has the unfortunate effect of moving the U.K. ever-closer to the vindictive mentality that prevails in the United States with regard to sex offenses - a vindictiveness that is, one should not hasten to note, not embraced by any other member of the European Community.

Previous discussions of the counts of conviction on this blog were somewhat in error and will be corrected shortly. They were nothing, however, like the errors committed by the mainstream press, which has consistently claimed that Mr. Ovenden dressed up his models and undressed, then molested them while he painted or photographed them. These were lies advanced by the prosecution, but they did not prevail at trial.

Five of the seven counts were in relation to Graham Ovenden photographing two models, Maud Hewes (Counts 10, 11 and 12) and the model who will be referred to as Model X (Counts 1 and 2). Model X is the one who was photographed with a blindfold on for drawings that Mr. Ovenden was preparing. (The photograph is reproduced as Ref05 here.) She is also the model whose written statement was reproduced in the introduction to States of Grace (reproduced here)

What happened during these photography sessions? According to the evidence, and the judge's instructions, NOTHING HAPPENED other than the taking of photos. There was no molestation, no allegations of touching, no manipulation of the models into particular poses, no inappropriate comments.

The Photography Counts

Count One (Indecency with a child, section 1(1) Indecency with Children Act 1960 ("1960 Act"))

Judge Cottle's instructions: "Count 1 relates to a particular occasion [Model X] recalls when Defendant stuck tape over her eyes and photographed her naked. To convict Defendant of the allegation in this count, you will have to be sure that such an event occurred and secondly, that the act of taking a nude photograph of her in those circumstances was an act that right minded people would regard as an obviously indecent act towards her. Defendant says that he never stuck tape over her eyes, although he may on one occasion have blindfolded her and taken a photograph of her clothed and blindfolded in the process of pursuing an artistic project. ... Therefore you have a question of fact to decide. If you are not sure that the event described by [Model X] occurred you will find D not guilty. If you are sure it did occur, are you sure that Defendant committed an act towards [Model X] that right minded people would regard as obviously indecent. If you are sure of that you will find Defendant guilty."

Verdict: Guilty (unanimous).

Supporting evidence: The model's testimony regarding a photographic session that allegedly occurred between 22 August 1972 and 21 August 1973 was the sole evidence on the count. There were no photographs evidencing this alleged act. As to the photograph of Model X with a blindfold (and in which she is not naked) , the judge instructed the jury that: "You will recall that when being cross examined a photograph was produced and shown to [Model X]. This is not a photograph upon which this count is based; this photograph is not a photograph of the event that [Model X] was describing."

Count Two (Indecency with a child, 1960 Act)

Judge Cottle's instructions: "In relation to Count 2 there is no dispute that Defendant took a photo of [Model X]as a young child lying on her back across the rocks, naked. Defendant says that this was not indecent. The question that you must ask is whether or not you are sure that right minded people would regard the taking of a photograph in those circumstances as something that was obviously indecent towards her. If you are sure of that you will find Defendant guilty; if you are not sure you will find him not guilty."

Verdict: Guilty (by majority, 10-2).

Supporting evidence: As with Count 1, this conduct was alleged to have taken place between 22 August 1972 and 21 August 1973. There were no photographs introduced that supported the theory that the model was photographed lying on the rocks. In fact, Model X was photographed sitting, not lying, on the rocks. Two of those images (one published in States of Grace), neither of which showed her genitalia, were submitted to her during trial and she described one of them as "lovely."

Counts Ten, Eleven and Twelve (Indecency with a child, 1960 Act)

Judge Cottle's instructions: "There is no dispute that over a number of years when [Maud Hewes] was aged between 8 and 14, Defendant took photographs of [her]; they included naked photographs and her genitalia were exposed. You have been provided with two examples of such photographs.; [Hewes] says that she was between 8 and ten when these particular photographs were taken. Count 10 relates to the period when [Hewes] was aged between 6 and 8, Count 11 to the period between the ages of 9 and 11 and Count 12 to the period between the ages of 11 and 14; to convict Defendant of the offence alleged you have to be sure that on at least one occasion during the period particularised Defendant committed the offence. The issue on each one of these three counts is the same as in relation to Counts 1 and 2, namely, are you sure that taking a photograph of a young child naked with her genitalia exposed was an act that right minded people would consider to be obviously indecent towards the child. If you are sure it was you will find Defendant guilty, if you are not sure it was you will find him not guilty."

Verdict: Guity on all 3 counts (unanimous)

Supporting evidence: The two photographs exhibited by the prosecution show Ms. Hewes sitting with her legs open. These photographs were printed by the police from Mr. Ovenden's negatives, and in such a manner as to emphasize the genitalia. Mr. Ovenden himself never printed those images. The jury did not view the image of Ms. Hewes that became famous after it was determined not to be child pornography under U.S. law. (It is reproduced here.) In the late 2000s, while the the police were busy visiting Mr. Ovenden's former models and pressuring them to testify, and while the CPS was trying to decide what charges to bring against Mr. Ovenden, that image of Ms. Hewes toured Europe as part of a show mounted by the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. It was also published in the European edition of Controverses: Une histoire juridique et éthique de la photographie (2008).

In cross-examination, Ms. Hewes agreed that she consented to the taking of the photographs and was not ashamed by them. She agreed that she was supportive of Mr. Ovenden and his work for many years, including into the 1990s. She agreed she made statements supportive of Mr. Ovenden to the police in 1993 and in a television documentary in 1997, but she could not remember specifics. The defence did not introduce these statements into evidence. (The police claim they lost the file containing her statement from 1993 and the copy of that statement reproduced on this blog was not then available to the defence.)

The Alleged Molestation Counts

As previously recounted on this blog, JB alleged two incidents of "molestation." I use that in quotation marks because they are incidents that are wholly invented and arose not because she only realised many years later what had happened to her, but because Mr. Ovenden was locked in a battle with his soon-to-be-ex-wife and his son, Edmund Ovenden. JB is married to Edmund's best friend. She is the web master for Mrs. Ovenden's website.

Count Seven (Indecency with a child, 1960 Act)

The Alleged Crime: indecency with a child between 29 October 1980 and 28 October 1981, when JB was six years of age. The count alleged that the Defendant climbed naked into a bath she was occupying with another girl and that he was aroused and invited them to wash his "John Thomas."

Verdict: Guilty (10-2, by majority)

Count Nine (Indecent assault, section 14(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956)

The Alleged Crime: indecent assualt between 29 October 1984 and 15 September 1985, when Mr. Ovenden was alleged to have approached her from behind and cupped his hands over her breasts (although she claimed she was clothed at the time) and said "come on let's have a feel."

Verdict: Guilty (10-2, by majority)

Supporting evidence:
Although the count stated that she was six years of age, JB testified that she was actually unsure when the bath incident was supposed to have taken place. Also, she testified that she didn't realise until some years later that Mr. Ovenden was erect when he got into the bath. Even if one assumes that JB believes the incident to have occurred, this manner of "recollection" has all the hallmarks of a confabulation, which will be covered in a separate post. The British Psychological Society has also stated that recollections to alleged events below the age of 7 should not be the basis for criminal charges unless there is corroborating evidence. The fact that JB's mother testified that JB told about the bath incident (but not the breast-grabbing incident) when JB was around 15 or 16 is not corroboration that the bath incident did in fact occur.* Indeed, JB and her mother told different stories about the bath incident. The only point of certainty regarding the second incident is that within several months to a year following it, JB voluntarily posed fully nude for Graham Ovenden. We know that because the image, taken in 1986, was published in States of Grace. No allegations were brought that Mr. Ovenden committed indecency by taking photographs of her.

*(It was previously mentioned here that JB's mother testified that JB told her about both incidents, but the draft of Prosecutor Ramsay Quaife's opening argument clarified that point: "[JB] did not make any complaint at the time [of the incident]. However, [JB] says that she did tell her mother, [ ], about the bath incident when she was about 15 or 16 years old and you will hear from her mother than she recalls her daughter saying something about it to her." Thus, JB didn't claim to have told her mother about the breast-grabbing incident or the tasting game -- both indecent assaults, had they actually occurred -- and JB's mother didn't testify that her daughter mentioned them. Presumably that would have been entirely too much for the jury to swallow.

The Dismissed Charges

The allegations made by JB and another model, LD, that Mr. Ovenden tricked them into performing fellatio (via the "tasting game") were rejected by the jury. There were a handful of other charges, including child cruelty and indecent assault, but when the alleged victims were called to testify, they denied the prosecution's claims and Judge Cottle was compelled to dismiss those charges. There were six different indictments in the case, the final one being brought in mid-trial, when Judge Cottle suggested that the indecent assault charges denied by Ms. Hewes should be converted to "indecency with a child" based on the mere fact of photography. Finally, there were allegations made by a fifth alleged victim, Donna Berry. She made all kinds of wild claims, but not even the CPS believed them and so they never went to trial.


The charges of conviction that Judge Cottle was faced with at sentencing are the charges of conviction fully described above. Although there is much to criticise in Judge Cottle's behavior both at trial and during sentencing, the sentence he handed down was well within the appropriate range, taking into consideration the nature of the charges, sentencing levels at the time the incidents are alleged to have occurred, Mr. Ovenden's age, and the fact that he hasn't photographed any children in over two decades. Judge Cottle was correct not to consider the agenda-driven hysteria of the so-called victim advocates and the paranoid rantings of neo-Nazis like David Icke, Chris Spivey and their followers. One wonders whether the same can be said of the Attorney General.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Art of Graham Ovenden: Anatomies of Innocence, Part 3

Graham Ovenden Lise (oil)Anatomies of Innocence (Part 3 - Final).
by Jerrold Northrop Moore.

Copyright © 2009 by Graham Ovenden. Reprinted with permission.

10 Graham Ovenden Tree near Combe (1977)From 1975 the Ruralists had shared their holidays. They took two or three Landmark Trust cottages in the remote hamlet of Coombe, fifty miles north of the Ovendens' extending house, and close to the Cornish coast at Morwenstow. This new place showed Ovenden a new luminosity. The softer brightness of sea air extended his painted lights again. A watercolour, Tree near Coombe (1977) evokes a rain-washed tree stem rooted amid rocks whose wetness reduces them (with a few middle-ground bushes and distant hills) to soft near-planes of colour.

11 Graham Ovenden Morwenstowe After the StormHe also began making camera studies of sea and land at Sharpnose point off Morwenstow. Most of his photographs there show the sea at flat calm: that affords greatest contrast with the headland's rocky profile. Flat calm water also offers a maximum reflection of light.

This formula was soon enriching Ovenden's oil paintings. A rough sea, like a thick impasto of paint, would break up and disperse the light which it is always Ovenden's goal to preserve. His only pure seascape without any land shows its flat calm water with shapes, confined to the clouds above. (Painted for a 1984 exhibition devoted to Elgar, it is called The Enigma.)

Painting land directly at the flat sea's edge, he often faced a strand equally flat. That would need something further to make a picture. And here came an unusual case of Ovenden's landscapes touched by his reading. In 1982-83 he found himself enthralled by Walter de la Mare's The Connoisseur and other Stories. One story was called “All Hallows” after a lonely cathedral rising beside a western sea. Its landward side is guarded by nearly impenetrable hills, through which a solitary walker makes his way in late afternoon. Descending, he enters to find the vast interior haunted by a single verger. In the gathering darkness the verger shows him secret places in the fane - where ruinous masonry seems to be under repair by forces not at all divine.

Ovenden All Hallows ( The Sea Cathedral) (1983)Ovenden painted a large All Hallows (The Sea Cathedral). Sharp angles define dead­white surfaces with slits for windows - all deeply shadowed in blue back-light from the western sea and sky. The building's hardness elicits by its contrast some softness in the surrounding horizontal planes of nearly treeless ground at the coast. So it shows man's monstrosity imposed on nature.

Ovenden A Sea Tower (1985)A series of seaside monoliths followed. For a London show the Ruralists were to paint Biblical subjects, Ovenden chose The Tower of Babel: on a canvas four feet by six and a half, a blank windowless shaft rises on a green but barren coast (1984-85). A Sea Tower on a purple strand (1985) sharpens the building's intrusive profile to a brutal point (left). A second Tower of Babel (1986) halves the canvas dimensions of the first, but doubles its tower bulk in a shaft of stark blue and stark white. The monstrous point finds faint enlarging echo in clouds above it – hinting perhaps that the artist feels himself amid mirrors.

Ovenden Residence of the Philosopher KempeA better answer had already suggested itself in another de Ia Mare story from the same book. In 1984 Ovenden had painted The Residence of the Philosopher Kempe. Kempe has spent his hermit's life seeking to prove the existence of the soul. He is sought out, in his all-­but-inaccessible tower behind high coastal hills, by another solitary traveller through the evening. Ovenden's painting shows Kempe's tower house not on the sea strand but amid hills above. It is thus set between the earth and sky, day and night – almost lost amid darkening hills whose far sides hold last sunset rays from an ocean sky. The painting technique is as broad as in the seaside monoliths. But now that the land has regained hegemony, dark shadowy blues and greens hold touches of red below the pale sky.

Ovenden The Druid's Grove (1983)And thus the colours of light, near the centre of Ovenden's art almost from its beginning, are re-enthroned. It is the true way for this painter to integrate the sea into his landscape, because it is the true counterpoint: nature's erections, more than man's, illuminated by the flat calm sea. These years had also seen Ovenden's development of a land-theme which rooted back to his student expeditions about Dartmoor: more than one tree stem sharing a common crown. In The Communion of Trees (1980) two tree stems lean towards each other – a virtually supernatural sight. He would return to it again and again. In The Druid's Grove (1983) several trees support a single pyramid of foliage (left). The co-operative stems grow again from a single area of colour.

Was there, in all this merging, a subconscious attempt to reconcile and repair the integrity of the Ruralist group? It had partly fragmented in 1981, when Peter Blake's wife Jann Haworth had suddenly left him. Blake was so devastated that, on the edge of a nervous breakdown, he felt himself forced to return to his own roots in London. Now David lnshaw wanted to follow Blake. It left the Ovendens and Arnolds to fly the Ruralist flag.

Ovenden Dartmoor, Evening (1983)The next years saw Ovenden's rich colours explored through later and later lights. Dartmoor, Evening (1983) travels back again over his old painting grounds to explore last panoplies in a rich red field held between foreground and middle-ground. It emerges grandly from surrounding areas of mauve, orange-browns, and greens ranging from light to dark: all but the red field seemingly back-lit from the pale sky.

And so to an exploration of darkness and moonlight. A nocturne of 1982, Sentinels of Silbury, showed its moonlight behind clouds. The next year brought a direct confrontation in Full Moon, superbly luminous below a canopy of trees. Finely painted though it is, several distant fields and the top of the foreground tree canopy remain too highly coloured for nature in the fullest moonlight.

Ovenden The Orchard Moon (1995)A dozen years later, the problem was memorably solved - by applying the formula seen in many of Ovenden daylight pictures. Orchard Moon – now recognised as an iconic image of Ruralist painting – keeps its distances in softest blues, gradually increasing colour intensities and contrasts as we come forwards. Foreground colours may still exceed what the eye would see in actual moonlight. But the formula is true, and therefore powerful.

Ovenden Red Moon (2000)Ovenden's moonlight reached farther, to touch the surreal. A small Red Moon (1999) shines supernaturally just above seaside hills. This moon's harvest red illuminates a distant solitary tree in gold which also touches another hill top farther off. Here is no hint of Pop art (which this picture could so easily have projected) but the lights of earth momentarily transcending diurnal experience.

Ovenden Gloaming Towards the Cornish CoastThe Philosopher Kempe landscape led Ovenden to another superb series, painted over many years, of distant sea lights illuminating coastal headlands. Gloaming towards the Cornish Coast (2000) recomposes his late evening, Morwenstow photograph of 1997 with colours of astonishing subtlety. It was dubbed by one too-casual observer 'The Black Picture'- until Ovenden pointed out that there is not a stroke of black anywhere. Close examination reveals minutely variegated glazes of shadowy blues, deep greens fringed with light as the eye moves back and back to pursue the light's source. It comes from a low sun hidden behind the nearest hill, yet still enriching the visible sea as it bathes a distant headland opposite and the sky in glazes of ivory, lemon yellow and faintest orange, pink and purple.

Soon after of The Red Moon and Gloaming towards the Cornish Coast were finished, the writer was lucky enough to witness the kindling moment of another vision. In April 2001 the Ovenden's visited me at Broadway, on the edge of the Cotswolds. Late one afternoon our car emerged on a short stretch of road crossing a high hill. To our right, between trees, opened a vast prospect westwards over the Vale of Evesham. Yet our attention was taken by a colour of sky I had never seen (and have not seen since): an unbroken sheet of grey cloud turned pink by a sinking sun behind – whose lower edge just emerged in dull gold.

We stopped to look, and I said to Graham: “There is an Ovenden vision if ever I saw one. What a pity we haven't a camera with us.” He answered: “Let's just look at it for a couple of minutes.” After perhaps ninety or a hundred seconds he said: “That's all right. We can go on. I have it here,” pointing to his forehead.

Ovenden Evening Fall, Broadway (2002)I saw none of the painting's progress. The finished picture appeared in a Ruralist exhibition that September as The Evening Fall. The foreground trees and distant hills are of Cornwall. But the grey-pink sky with its lower edge of sun are exactly as we saw them above Broadway. The artist's memory had held that unique colour – to recreate it perfectly for us to enjoy again and again - and to share with those who never saw the sight in nature.

Ovenden Receding Rain, Bodmin Moor (2003)Later years have brought excursions less physical than spiritual. One is seen in broad strokes of rain against rain-soaked moorland and sky in Receding Rain: Bodmin Moor (2002), refining a small oil study of forty years earlier. Another lies in plenary developments of deliberately limited colours. Barley Splatt Pond, Early Morning (2006) reveals a breathtaking range of blues through morning mist backing crisp trees of gold (actually orange-yellow-green) in image and reflection (below).

Ovenden Barlysplatt Pond, Early Morning (2006)
*     *     *

It is not for an observer to sum up a career still evolving. Final thoughts are best left to the artist himself. In a recently recorded conversation he speaks of the kinship of vision to technique:
I'm an old-fashioned craftsman, and I believe that the doing is all-important: doing as well as it's humanly possible to do it. In a beautiful piece of cabinet-making this is an immense pleasure. When you reach the levels of Rembrandt and Michelangelo, there you meet a very very potent alchemy of technical virtuosity with human communication.

It's no coincidence that the great works of the world are also consummate works of technical virtuosity. If we were able to listen to Mozart playing his own music, or Chopin playing his, I'm certain we would feel the same thing.

Music of all the arts has the greatest perspective. I'm talking not only about Claudean visual perspectives in landscape, but spiritual perspectives. People sometimes talk about playing music to death: but I think you play it to life.
So Graham Ovenden has played and continues to play on his perceptions and experiences, and his memories of them, to create the visions which infuse his landscape painting.


Green FuseJerrold Northrop Moore is the author of Green Fuse: The Pastoral Vision in English Art,1820-2000 (Antique Collectors' Club Ltd, 2006). The book analyzes the lineage of English pastoral art from Samuel Palmer to the Brotherhood of Ruralists.

Available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com, among other places.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Art of Graham Ovenden: Anatomies of Innocence, Part 2

Graham Ovenden MabelAnatomies of Innocence (Part 2).
by Jerrold Northrop Moore.

Copyright © 2009 by Graham Ovenden. Reprinted with permission.

Graham Ovenden’s formal education began at an old fashioned Dame School in Alresford, followed by large schools in Southampton. There was no art instruction until his parents accepted his destiny as an artist and allowed him to enter Southampton College of Art at seventeen in 1960. His most valued teacher there was the head of print making, James Sellars (1927-2000). Sellars was also a considerable painter in tempera, pastel and gouache. His teaching bore directly on the landscape side of things. Ovenden recalls:
Like all artists of true substance, James Sellars held to his inner visions. His intellect was well honed both in writing and in teaching, yet there was no dry formality. The richly and intensely observed “portraits” of his Test Valley temperas are as seen and felt as any in English landscape. (Below right.)
James Sellars (landscape) He always did his own work with us, so you became part and parcel. Quite stern: that was something I thrived on, because I was always a hard worker. But he would also listen to criticism - for I didn't stand shoulder to shoulder with him in certain areas like Matisse, which he deeply loved.
One Sellars enthusiasm struck deep in the young Ovenden: the art of Samuel Palmer. (Years later Ovenden was able to return the favour by securing a commission for Sellars to write the first full-length biography of Palmer to appear in modern times.)

Ovenden's first surviving oil paintings reach back to his time with Sellars at the Southampton College of Art. Their subjects already occupy the ground his landscapes have held ever since: hills and valleys, trees and fields, skies and horizons entirely lonely. From the first (and in marked contrast to much Sellars's work), Ovenden's places are glowingly coloured - as if they would relight the golden glow of gas-lighting in the first house at Alresford.

06 Graham Ovenden (untitled landscape)Two small oils from around 1960 hold reflections of Sellars's bicycle expeditions with his pupils westwards into Dorset and the moorlands of the Purbeck peninsula about Swanage.

05 Graham Ovenden (untitled landscape)Both are hotly coloured, to catch the brilliant sunlight near the coast: yellows concentrate towards orange, thence moving into reds and light purples. The estuary picture shows a presence hardly ever to reappear in Ovenden's mature landscapes - the sails of a tourist boat. Both pictures follow the broad brush work of Sellars's art. But the mound in the estuary picture reaches towards the “stumpwork embroidery” textures of the early Samuel Palmer.

Several tiny landscape studies in oil, around 1962, extend experiments in finer brushwork. One uses colours in very soft focus to shadow forth larger forms. Others contrast Sellars's long brush-strokes through foreground grasses with middle-ground trees and bushes rendered in Palmerish dappling; while Ovenden’s softest focus is kept for distant hills, horizons and skies. A Landscape with Moon of 1963 (the year before he left Southampton College) moves more deliberately towards Palmer's contrasted areas of worked textures.

Ovenden spent 1964-65 as an enforced gap year while waiting for a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. He supported himself by employment with a builder's merchant. The head of a section there was a man of some sophistication, who introduced his wife and daughter Lorraine. The 10-year­ old Lorraine, with her parents' consent in that less guilty era, became Ovenden’s model for a new series of formal nude camera studies.

07 Graham Ovenden (untitled landscape)Such photographs, as well as his pencil drawings of girls, celebrated discoveries in smooth tones and textures. To bring them to his landscapes, in the same year Ovenden began a series of monochrome studies of Dorset moorlands in pen, conte and wash. Looking at these drawings one could, if so inclined, read a mons veneris breaking one horizon, a penis head dominating the hills of another. The mature artist retains no memory of any deliberate sexual presentations in these drawings: but the artist who drew them was twenty-one.

08 Graham Ovenden (untitled landscape)To expand his landscape for vision, Ovenden turned westwards to Dartmoor. Putting his bicycle in the train to Plymouth, he headed out of the city to stay with his mother's aunt and uncle in their large house on the southern edge of the moor. Its reaches of secret valley and distant tor opened new chances to extend his landscape towards the female figure - this time in maturity. Graham's visits to Dartmoor, for a month or six weeks each summer, were to continue until the end of his time at the Royal College of Art in 1968. Several tor-studies around 1964 - 65 take his brushwork back in rougher directions- beyond Palmer's 'stumpwork' to the threshold of Van Gogh. Aggressive brush work was much in fashion. But it could nullify a quality which Ovenden was coming to value above all others: luminosity, in the reflection of light through colours.
I discovered that if you use impasto - thick, three-dimensional application of oil paints - to any great extent, then when light falls on the picture, it is broken up by falling on the various angles of the impasto surface. That reduces colour values. The impasto painters then try to remedy the loss of colour by increasing crudity.
Ovenden wanted unimpeded colour through unimpeded light. It is the luminosity which meets the eye when looking at the sky - the source of light. Here his teacher was Turner:
Turner's impasto in his oils was never hugely thick, and so his oils achieve luminosity. His oil painting really comes from watercolour techniques: probably subconsciously, his watercolour techniques guided his oil painting. Ovenden's first written paper at the Royal College of Art was on Turner's watercolours.
He sought the same luminosity in his paintings and drawings of figures: “To draw a girl child, you have to be able to draw almost like Holbein.” The goal of such drawing had been defined by the young Samuel Palmer in a sequence of contrasts noted in his sketchbook:
1st, the firm enamel of a beautiful young face, with

2nd, going down from the forehead smooth and unbroken over the shoulders, Hair, wondrous sleek, and silkily melting...into

3rd, a background of the crisp mosaic of various leaved young trees thinnishly inlaid on the smooth sky. Everything in this sequence springs from the bright skin of youth.
Palmer's note met Ovenden's eye only later. Yet it encapsulates something his art had recognised from at least the time when the boy had begun to photograph East End children. “Light and luminosity,” he observes today, “are the symbols of our spirituality.” Spirituality has always about it the hint of innocence. Allowing any insistent technique to overtake light stands for Ovenden as an ultimate perversion - equivalent to harnessing innocence to the demands of mature sexuality.

The entire ensemble of Ovenden's mature techniques is directed to the service of light and luminosity. He applies his oil colours straight from the tube. For the past thirty years and more, his whole “palette”' has consisted of five tubes of permanent colours: cadmium red, cadmium lemon, titanium white, viridian, cobalt blue (with occasional use of cyrillian blue). Having laid in his design in watercolours, the best translucence and reflective power lies in applying each mixed hue as a thin glaze. That is allowed to dry thoroughly before he applies any further hue (also thinly) over the first.

Some of this understanding was already his when the twenty-two-year-old Ovenden entered the Royal College of Art in 1965.There he found opposite counsels prevailing. He had no wish to trowel thicknesses of premixed colours in the fashion demanded by nearly all the College teachers then. Several of them were quite ready to use Ovenden's paintings of girls to bolster their discomfort with his unconventional techniques - and their disapproval of his insistence on subject matter before aggressive technique. Standing against the prevailing winds turned Ovenden into a fighter when necessary. It sharpened self-reliance and self-knowledge side by side.

The outstanding exception to nay-saying among the Royal College teaching staff was Peter Blake (b.1932). Blake's own painting was influenced by Pop art: that gave prominence to subject matter in his work unusual among the College teachers. Beyond this, Blake's soft deep voice and his quiet presence exuded strength and gentle judgment. Soon he began to play a vital part in helping Ovenden to hold onto what he had already achieved – in the face of most persistent cross-questionings aimed at denigrating his ideals.

Blake was certainly interested in the girls of Ovenden's subject matter. But it was Ovenden's landscape painting that began to turn teacher-pupil formality almost inside out - as Blake looked over Ovenden’s shoulder saying: “I have to keep coming and looking at the way you paint landscapes.”

Altogether, Ovenden remembers, Peter Blake gave him the courage not to be afraid of being precise. It was less any specific technical training than a reassurance that subject matter remains at the centre of visual expression. The human presence - whether shown in landscape or rendered only in the high finish of the artist's work - is a traditional English formula. Blake's interest throughout Ovenden's three years at the Royal College served as a constant reminder of the tradition.

Less than a year out of the Royal College, in March 1969, Ovenden married the artist Ann Gilmore. Soon they started a family. By 1973 they judged that he had gained sufficient presence with the London dealers to be able to move to the country. “I'd wanted to get back to the country ever since I'd stepped out of it,” he recalls: “I need to be surrounded by nature.” The choice fell on Cornwall, at the edge of Bodmin Moor. It extended the inspiration of Dartmoor.

In the upper reaches of a small valley with its own stream, Ovenden set about building his dream house. Much as he valued the chances his parents had given him, there were to be no more cramped quarters. The new house would be a mansion – the only major Gothic Revival house raised in England since the Second World War. Much of “Barley Splatt” (the traditional name of the property) was built over the next decade from Ovenden's plans – a lot of it with his own hands.

Sophie and Jenny Dyke (1974)Within a year of the move to Cornwall, he began to paint pictures of a kind new in his art. A double portrait of their friend Jenny Dyke and her six-year-old daughter Sophie is dated 1974. Smooth skin framed with long hair is matched by a long-lined Cornish landscape behind them – all worked in clear luminosities. Two or three solid blocks of colour about them nod towards Cubism. Ovenden observes now:
If you look at my figure painting, you'll notice there's a lot of structure - verticals, horizontals and that type of geometry goes in. As often as not, the figures will stand into the geometry. The geometry is also there in the landscape, but more subtly.
Graham Ovenden The Old Garden (1976 78)These hints of abstraction opened ways between Ovenden's figures and his landscapes. Yet no mere formula could challenge his subject matter. Cubism recedes into a dark hedge (end-stopped by a gatepost) in the most famous of his early ensembles of girls in rich landscapes. The Old Garden (1974, 1976-1978) juxtaposes its excluding hedge-front with wild moorland grasses (across a shadowy stream (right). About the stream two girls raise their own contrasts of expression, dress and undress, fingering their melodies as finely as any Lewis Carroll photograph. (Alice in Wonderland has proved a theme of lifelong fascination for Ovenden.)

Graham Ovenden Peter & Juliette Blake (1976 8)The most celebrated Ovenden portrait-in-landscape was shown at the Royal Academy in 1976. Behind that exhibition lay a remarkable story. The subjects in his double portrait are Peter Blake and his daughter Juliette. Blake had moved with his wife, the sculptor Jann Haworth, and their young family to Wiltshire. There he had been welcomed with exhibitions in Bath and Bristol. For a mixed show of “Peter Blake's Choice,” he sought out other artists in the area including David lnshaw, Graham and Ann Arnold. Those three shared the wish to paint country subjects with fine techniques, and they often used thin glazes. It was so contrary to prevailing fashions that lnshaw and the Arnolds had formed a tiny “Brotherhood.” Blake's mind instantly went to Graham and Annie Ovenden in Cornwall. In March 1975 they all met at Blake’s house, and that day formed “The Brotherhood of Ruralists” (a word chosen by their friend, Laurie Lee).

Peter Blake, recently made a Royal Academician, was to hang the Academy Summer Exhibition for 1976. He half-promised the “Ruralists” a wall of their own work, if each would paint a picture to show his feelings for the group. Graham Ovenden so valued this extension of his own ideals that he made his Academy picture a double portrait of Blake and his daughter – in their Wiltshire garden before an old brick wall overgrown with plants and weeds and flowers.

In all of Ovenden's portraits-in-landscape, both elements are rendered with equal richness. Yet the balance could not be kept. His landscapes were more and more made from diverse impressions, remembered and reshaped toward new syntheses. The girls in his art, by contrast, remained mostly prepubescent or on the cusp. So their ideal, in the nature of things, steadily opened a distance from the artist's accumulating years and experience. Thus pressure mounted for Ovenden to separate his figure-paintings from his landscapes. Since the later 1970s he has painted only the very occasional girl in an elaborated landscape. The majority of his paintings are firmly one or the other.

09 Graham Ovenden The Burning BushStill human anatomy lent its lines and volumes to Ovenden landscapes. In The Burning Bush (a small intense oil-with-chalk of 1975), one of the main roots extends an astonishing likeness of human leg or even full-length figure towards the rich stalks of a Samuel Palmerish harvest.

Palmer had been especially forward in using paper itself as a base of luminosity in his watercolours. Paper provides Ovenden with an equally effective luminosity through the thin glazes of his oils. The Burning Bush shows secret lights everywhere. They appear in the upper corner of blue sky and fleecy cloud merging to softest horizon. Increasing definition leads the eye downwards and forwards to a climax in the brilliant yellow of the bush.

Graham Ovenden The Obelisk (1979)Sometimes an Ovenden landscape half fills with a single colour (thus far reminiscent of the solid colour blocks in some of his portraits). Such an area appears in The Obelisk (1979, the first of several paintings inspired by an obelisk on Bodmin Moor). Here richest yellow spreads up, in soft buttock-like shapes, through nearly two-thirds of the picture. The yellow is so powerful that it calls out purples in the middle ground to mediate back to the greens of trees and blues of farthest hills and sky. Atop the last horizon the needle-like obelisk rises as if to mark a point for new definition.

(End of Part 2.)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Art of Graham Ovenden: Anatomies of Innocence, Part 1

Graham Ovenden Lollie whistles for the windAnatomies of Innocence (Part 1).
by Jerrold Northrop Moore.

Copyright © 2009 by Graham Ovenden. Reprinted with permission.

Graham Ovenden's memories reach back more than sixty years now; and he celebrates memory as a creative resource. He recently observed to me: “Once a memory is engaged by the imagination, you can make it concrete and very vivid. Time-scale is not something which has a great deal of relevance to it.”

His first home was on the edge of the little Hampshire town of Alresford – “still one of the most beautiful English county towns,” he reckons. The house itself was a two-down, two­-up end of terrace cottage, already too small for the growing family. Graham had arrived as a second child in 1943, after an elder sister. The small spaces inside the cottage encouraged outdoor adventure from the earliest:
"If you went down to the bottom of Dene Road, where we lived, it comes to a dead end at the shallows of the little River Alre. I can remember as a child being most intrigued by the beautiful clarity of the water flowing through that chalk country: every morning with the water weeds – very very beautiful forms continually ebbing and flowing. There's a physical freshness about it.

"Now I am an insomniac and suffer from headaches. When I look into those crystal clear streams, I return to a state where my head wasn't like that – when one was unfettered, unburdened, and could simply accept.

"I still do, indeed, every day I look out the window. There is much that is joyous, much that is ravishing. But the mature obverse of that is a certain degree of anguish.

"The little river flowing past the bottom of our road branched round in a large arc. It was, and still is, basically as it had been for centuries. If you walk along the bank to the right, you come to a fulling-mill, a black-and-white structure built across the water. Then it was almost derelict: that's terribly romantic."
Romantic because it invites visions of what might have been.
"If you walk to the left - the adventurous rout – you eventually reach Fob Down, and then right the way round past watercress beds to the Eel House: another building crossing the river on brick arches. Here they trapped eels in season (and still do).

"So the commerce of the country was brought home to me very very early. A child of that age doesn't understand the aesthetics. One accepts things for what they are – their beauty. At Alresford I was the child in grace, totally."
He explored these places first in the company of a grandfather who had been a country baker. Soon Graham went alone:
"They always talk about the 1960s and 1970s as the opening of freedoms, particularly sexual freedoms. But I can tell you that the freedoms one had as a child just after the Second World War have had no equal since. No traffic on the roads: if you went anywhere, you cycled. And I was a great cyclist from the age of six onwards. So one got around and probably saw far more than the average child does today. All they see is from a television screen."
His early settings were not all pastoral. Opposite the Ovendens' cottage was the gasworks, busy but unguarded. Graham recalls:
"You could just wander in - even to where they were stoking the retorts. There was no internal lighting, only the great hell-fire glowing red retorts. To see them, and even to help pull the clinker out with the rakers, was excitement indeed to a young man of six.

"I look back on it and see the beginnings of my fascination with vivid reds and oranges."
Later he would use these hot colours to climax his visionary landscapes.

The Ovendens’ cottage was itself lit by gas. It gave a warm, golden light – less searching than electric bulbs, more conducive to shadow – contrasts of every subtlety. Graham was in the last generation to know from his beginnings this special interior light.

Inside the cottage his mother, an accomplished pianist, taught music through keyboard skills to each of her children in turn. “It was,” Graham remembers, “a necessary part of one's childhood.” He enjoys it still through his own playing of Bach and Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann. But when at seven he was given a set of oil paints in little round drums, he found his own expression.
"I can remember the joy of being able to manipulate a body-colour, and to do things which you couldn't do in any other medium. Oil paint was a special revelation.

"I remember being told to go to bed about nine o'clock in the evening, having sat there the whole afternoon and the whole evening painting away in a state of real excitement. I was painting landscapes – the slightly romantic things that children will do."
In 1951, when he was eight, the family moved to the northern edge of Southampton. The new home was larger, and lit by electricity. Here the boy encountered a new emotion – some loss of his own past. “I've missed Alresford, certain aspects of it, all my life.”

The Southampton house lay along another unpaved road leading to industrial remains. It was an abandoned brickworks with pottery kilns. This site was vast, yet here too the children explored at will – from underground tunnels to slides down forty-foot cliffs remaining from the clay extractions.

Graham's father, an engineer who had worked for Barnes Wallis during the War, was in need of new employment to support his growing family. Taking Graham down to the Docks, they met an unforgettable sight: the last of the great four-stack transatlantic liners, the Cunard-White Star Aquatania, in her final call on the way to the breakers' yard. Here was another aspect of the past – previously unknown to Graham, yet like the country of Alresford slipping helplessly astern.

“At the age of eight, nine, ten, this is where me begins to come to terms with art.” The first of these terms was a dawning understanding that art was more than simple transcripts of experience. It began when his father brought home a book rescued as war-salvage from a bombed-out rectory. German Romantic Artists contained black-and-white reproductions, among which Graham picked out the pictures of Caspar David Friedrich. Handling the book now, he sees first hints of his own hill and moorland visions:
"Friedrich is the great master of painting mountain landscapes. I'm quite amazed that I can look at them and be inspired and awed in the way that I am when I look into Palmer's 'Valley of Vision.' (It's a different vision, but he has a personal identification with that sort of terrain.)

"Friedrich still has an identification with that time in my life: the great mystery – the great seeing beyond the horizon – the edge of the sea. All of Friedrich's finest paintings have that very poetic quality."
01 Graham Ovenden (1954, age 11)In 1954, when he was eleven, Graham painted a fully-fledged landscape – and sold it. (It is reproduced here at left, lent back for the purpose by the son of the original purchaser).

The eleven-year-old's picture shows fully for the first time an influence that was to dominate his painting for the next half dozen years, and that is with him still - the art of Claude Lorraine. Here is Claude's formula of foreground trees, with a space opening between them.

In this very early work, the distant goal is perhaps less hidden than unresolved. Nonetheless, the young artist's pathway stands open, and his painting technique is fully up to rendering the multifarious tree forms, their lights and shadows.

The mature artist reflects:
"Claude is one of the most seminal figures in landscape painting. His paintings are profoundly wonderful experiences. There is the image of the Golden Age, the Garden of Eden, held and made concrete - almost as if one's most ecstatic dreams were caught and held.

"From childhood I was aware that painting had this quality about it. Though Friedrich was closer to my own physical ideals of painting, Claude had the more potent influence on me. He taught me that painting is not just about picture-making – that there are other levels lying within the painting which you could express.

"I think that's a point of departure for any artist. Roger Fry and the whole of his philosophy doesn't really do that. It stops at the marks you make on the canvas – rather than the marks becoming an entrance, a gate opening into the great paradise..."
With pocket money from delivering newspapers on his cycle, he found his way into second-hand shops with stacks of old gramophone records. He was so electrified with Bach performances by the great harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, that at twelve, in 1955, he built from scratch his own harpsichord. Its lid and case he decorated with ideal landscapes painted with some accomplishment in the manner of Claude Lorraine.

He began to ask where Claude Lorrain's inspiration had come from, and who had preceded him. Looking back, Ovenden observes:
"There are certain precedents to Claude. One of them is Leonardo. Leonardo paints the most amazing landscape - an artist whose sense of eye and understanding of structure in nature was second to none."
He cites The Annunciation, thought to be mostly an early work by Leonardo: “both figures and landscape painted with great delicacy, precision and refinement.”
"Though it's a very formal landscape, I feel one of the most breathtaking passages in the whole of Western art. It's a profoundly moving, mysterious landscape, where the veil of atmosphere lies.

"I love the formalisation of it. It's the sort of thing you get in Flemish painting - where the Garden of Eden has been organised, if you like. One feels very safe in those paintings. (In the art and the world we live in now, there's so much static going on: so much news – bad news usually). Safety in that sense is a very difficult quality to achieve."
02 Graham Ovenden ( Untitled) (1955, age 12)If art meant more than transcribing nature, it also meant more than copying the work of predecessors. The year of the painted harpsichord, 1955, saw Ovenden beginning to glimpse a goal for himself. A smaller square painting of 1955 (left) shows new unity and strength. It comes through more assured brushwork, leading away from tight classical formulas through bolder contrasts of light and shadow for the first time to a new dynamic composition which he still identifies as his own.

03 Graham Ovenden (untitled photo, age 12)04 Graham Ovenden (untitled photo, age 12)
A quicker means of fixing his impressions had come with a Kodak Brownie camera given him when he was nine. At twelve he took his first photographs known to survive, developed and printed at home. In one composition an old harrow stands half buried in weeds: the huge spoked wheel makes a foreground focus for thick summer air over fields back to their horizon of hedgerow trees. It is, the mature Ovenden reflects, “probably an example of my enduring fascination with nature encroaching on man's works.” Nature taking back her own – a healing process. Another photograph of this time gives the vegetable world a strong hint of the animal. His close-up study of a huge ancient tree-bole is trimmed at the edges to enforce its resemblance to a gigantic torso: raised on squat bandy legs, with huge arms pollarded by the print-edge, it powerfully suggests a great ape rejoicing in its strength.

Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p23Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p15Around this time the budding artist was taken to visit a cousin in the East End of London. Here terraces of ruined dwellings and warehouses still showed the War's bomb damage. Yet against those wrecks of the past came lively girls playing - from toddlers to adolescents like himself, with knowledge beyond their years:
"They seemed to be the logical foil for those vast and monumental works of man in the East End.I couldn't have been less interested in the great buildings of the West End. It was the back streets, the perspectives of long-terraced houses intermingled with factories and strange derelict back yards. The child fleetingly passes in front of it all: the melodic line against the great architectural structure of the music."
Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p32Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p43The fourteen-year-old in 1956 felt an irresistible wish to take his camera there. He was earning enough from his newspaper rounds to find the return fare (and to pay a friend to do the weekend rounds):
"I used to catch the early train on a Saturday. I would sleep rough over Saturday night – factory vents are valuable places to sleep because of the warm air coming out – and come back by the last train Sunday. I went at all seasons – probably twenty to twenty-five weekends a year."
(The photographing weekends were to go on for eight years – until his admission to the Royal College of Art made living in London obligatory and “negated the mystery of visiting it.”)

Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p47Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p57The mystery may have had its roots at home in his own childhood. When Graham was six, his next younger sister Lesley had died of pneumonia. Asked whether his fleeting impressions of her could have touched off his interest in photographing little girls, the mature Ovenden answers:
"It's not something I have ever sat down and analysed. As a very young child, one doesn't understand the nature of death: children appear, and then they go away. But I think, with the sense of loss as one grows away from the state of innocence and 'grace', it could well be. It could well be."
Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p59Lesley had not followed him and the younger Ovendens as they moved through childhood and towards maturity. The half-ruined East End neighbourhoods where the little girls still played sharpened the edge of innocence.
"I think probably from the earliest age I was partly aware of ghosts. I don't mean ghosts in the sense of gothic horror-haunt: but the fact that life was a passing, fleeting moment."

Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p62"Every landscape and every environment in which I find myself is haunted in that sense. I am aware of the presence of past individuals – not specifically, but as a whole. When I'm in a landscape, one is aware not only of the physical perspective, but the perspective of the time. And also the timelessness."
Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p65As he became expert at anticipating momentary compositions of the East End girls in constant animation, the adolescent photographer found himself more and more attracted to the smaller figures. They were the girls farthest from his own age: so they might revive in his camera an innocence already appealing to the adolescent artist as belonging to his own past.
"Nobody ever said to me 'You're too young to be doing this.' There was none of this stupid political nonsense that goes on now - that behind every dark shadow is a paedophile. It’s one the great corruptions of the last two hundred years."
Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p75Graham Ovenden Childhood Streets p90The mature Ovenden identifies the real guilt “not in him who takes the fig-leaf off to reveal nature's truth, but in him who puts the fig-leaf on to conceal it.”
"This passion for girls in their season of spring begins very very early. I think I can understand the sort of imagery Dickens had of women – the angel child."
Soon his photography of the East End girls led him back to his first medium:
"I suddenly realised it was possible to expand the instant of time to something other. By the age of fourteen or fifteen I started seriously drawing them.

"I had to work hard at drawing the human figure. I still had no formal instruction. I simply sat down and worked away at it, throwing acres of paper away in the process. It's the way I've done everything: if there was a problem to be solved, there was only one person to solve it.

"As an artist, one becomes quite excited when one is sufficiently accomplished actually to be able to put down one's thoughts and responses in pencil and paint. So the photography and painting were growing side by side."
Laying side by side the two themes in his art – landscape and the figure – the young man began to explore their interconnections within himself. The mature Ovenden reflects:
"One's art is bound to change formally as one gets older: but in essences, no. Not one iota changed since the days of tiddler-fishing in the shallows of the Alre.

"One of the reasons I draw and paint little girls is that I love long hair and its rhythms. The parallel to that is looking into those wonderful trout streams which you get in chalk country. The water is clear as a bell: looking at the weeds in it, one sees the continual ebbing and flowing rhythms. And as I say that, immediately the child running down the road with its hair flowing behind it comes to mind."
So the fascination of other childhoods deepened the landscape of his own life's beginning at Alresford. The innocence of earliest consciousness, lost in gathering experience, could be recaptured through memory and imagination. In their expression, past and present – innocence and experience – might rejoin each other as two halves of the apple. Why reconstitute the apple? To see life whole from its beginning.

Ovenden's upbringing included regular church attendance (twice on Sundays), with frequent chances to ring the bells. But his art from earliest times was and is about earthly life. In his Garden, life touches full maturity only when remembered innocence finds its place within growing experience. It is not the “fortunate fall” of Milton's Paradise Lost – nor any unfortunate fall either. There is no fall in Ovenden's art, because there is no guilt. It is a diptych where either panel matures understanding of the other.

Here is an English understanding older than Milton. Graham Ovenden's art revives in secular terms an apposition seen in the contrasting panels of the fourteenth-century Wilton Diptych. Innocence is there on the right, taking form in the Virgin Mother and Holy Child surrounded by angels and attendants (one of whom holds a standard bearing the Banner Cross of St. George). The Child looks and gestures left – towards his mature form as Christ, opposite.

On the left panel the mature Christ presents - to the image of his own innocence opposite – the kneeling figure of the King of England in the person of Richard II. The King is supported by the English royal saints: Edward the ring-giver to St John the Baptist in front, Edmund the martyr behind.

So innocence and experience face and explicate each other. It is the achievement of Graham Ovenden's art to have renewed this old ideal for our time.

(End of part 1.)