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My lease is up in Exeter and I’ve decided that I’m ready to leave this city.

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I spent over 10 years ‘living’ in Norwich.

10 years of my life spent hunting for scraps of food and rubbish, whilst desperately trying trying to forget how I’d got myself into such a God almighty mess. It all happened so quickly. Life passed by so quickly, I should be glad that my Mother found me when she did.

At the age of 34, I’m still relatively young. You can bet that I’m no spring chicken, but if you’re going to live like a slob and consume nothing but Steak Bakes and Lager for a decade, it’s best to do it whilst you’re young. I remember feeling terrible every morning when I woke up, with a God-awful hangover and a terrible hunger. Of course the Greggs would never fully satisfy me and the lager would only make me thirstier.

spain-1561698_1920Those 10 years should have been spent travelling the world, instead of creating a reclusive one of my own. With no real career plans, plus a little bit of cash that I’ve picked up from selling real art, I’ve got the will and the ambition to finally leave the country and travel. I want to breathe in air that smells different. I want to experience seemingly endless days of sunshine. I want to eat authentically cooked food from another continent.

My first port of call and home for the next year will be Toledo in Spain. Moving from the UK to Spain is no mean feat, I had to do some extensive research online before I felt comfortable with cancelling my lease in Exeter and finding a place to stay in my new country.

Why Toledo?

One reason:

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El Greco

One of the major precursors to both the Expressionistic and the Cubist movement, El Greco was an artist – much like me, that sought a new home from home. Born in Crete, he trained to become an artist and left for Venice at the age of 26 to find his fortune. He was not truly appreciated back then, his use of surreal elongated characters and oddly fantastic pigmentations confused art lovers of the time. As much as it is tempting to drop him into a niche or a school of artists, the truth is that his work at the time belonged to no particular style. His output was of such a unique and individual nature that it’s impossible to place him within a particular group of contemporaries.

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Amongst many of the great works that this man produced there are many that still remain in the city of Toledo.

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to visit and learn much from gazing up at these works with my own eyes. The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is one such example of these works that can still be found in this city at Iglesia de Santo Tome. Considered to be one of his only true personal projects, the painting is notable for being completely free of any stylistic features that link him back to his home city of Venice or artistic training back in Crete. A one of a kind piece that has remained intact for well over 400 years, I can only dream that the work that I produce will be remembered and preserved as well.

Through following this great man’s footsteps I’m hoping not to imitate him, but to find a sense of how he became the great painter that we all remember.

It’s time for me to see this world with my own eyes.

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The time has come to consider leaving the sewers.

That’s what they are really – my studios. If you’ve not picked up the coded messages that I’ve been leaving throughout my posts.

exeter-photoFor the past 10 years I’ve been living in a sewer. It feels good to say that. I know I like to project the impression that I am a successful artist – living a vagabond’s existence, scavenging for art supplies – but most of the time, I’m simply scavenging for food. Although I would never say that I was homeless, I live relatively comfortable for someone who doesn’t technically have a roof over his head.

There’s a bridge in Norwich, walk down the bank next to it. As you start to approach the riverbank, trace your fingers over the rough brickwork until you feel them become smooth. The smoothest of these bright red bricks have the roman numerals ‘MMVI’ engraved on them. This is the year I moved in.

exeter-riverKeep edging along, closer to the river bank until you can creep under the bridge itself. Embedded into the curve of the low arch is a wooden door, no taller than 4 foot. Go there and push that door open – discover the life that I left behind.

My Mother traced the call I made last week from the phone box. She’s been searching for me for years – although we’ve been talking regularly.

exeter-artistsI was woken on a Sunday morning, with the weight of 8 cans of Fosters Lagers on my brow, by a knock on my front door. Lifting the stitched blanket of designer fashion clothes from my fully clothed form, I stumbled to the small portal and pulled back the bolt. If I hadn’t been drunk still, I would’ve had the good sense to not answer it. But I was – so I did.

She looked silly there, dressed up in her waterproofs and woollens – always prepared for the worst.

“Hello, Hugh. It’s time to leave here.”

Despite my decade of independence and years as a working artist, I was tired of the sleepless nights. The rattle of the cars, screams of the students and endless hangovers.

art-spaceMy Mother, who I had abandoned 10 years ago – had found me. To birth me anew, out of the dark of a dank, damp existence and into a bright new world – where I could learn to live again.

She’d found me a home, a place to live. Away from Norwich (I never got to say good bye to my saving graces at Greggs!), in the peaceful city of Exeter – far away from my old life. A beautiful artist’s residence, filled with creatives and supplied with all of the materials and tools I would ever need. Occupied by fellow creatives, in a purpose built apartment block – this is my home now.

Instead of living in an abandoned space, alone and cold. I can fall asleep in a bed, in a room with heating. In a building designed by people for people, instead of a squalid hole that I’d simply gotten used to. I met the gentlemen from Architectural Emporium, the designers of the space. They told me how they’d designed the spaces inside to be the ideal situation for creatives. Airy spaces, natural materials and plenty of light – so that only the soft glow of a lamp would be needed to add texture to the comfortable rooms.

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I’m glad my Mother found me. My decade long self-exile had ended as abruptly as it began and now I’m slowly recording over the memories of my past life. It’s surprising how quickly you can abandon the habits of the past.

The cans of Fosters Lager, the daily Steak Bakes, the endless blogging.

 …

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Winter is settling in and I’m beginning to regret throwing away those excess art supplies.

I always forget how quickly the chill can enter my studio once October truly gets under way.

It’s the folly of youth, I suppose, that only looks to the present predicament; thinking not of the ever approaching future.

winter-norwichAt the age of 34, I suppose I’m still in the throes of my own personal development and prone to make the odd mistake from time to time. The temperature here in Norwich can drop to as cold as 8 degrees Celsius; so the breeze that blows in through the drains of the streets, into my studio, can wake me from my peaceful slumber.

Even after a few pints of Fosters Lager, I can still feel the chill through my tweeds and no amount of furious painting can keep me warm. The amount of oils and pints of water that I’ve wasted on night-time painting, furiously scrabbling the walls, in the dark – is ridiculous. Of course the quality of my work is going to suffer when I’m so tired and yet so cold.

It’s times like these when I regret throwing away all those damned art materials.

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So many pieces of cardboard, precious plywood and MDF. By themselves, plain, cheap pieces of wood. But, applied to a handy bit of newspaper kindling, with the strike of a match I have a cosy blaze that can keep me warm the whole winter through.

Last year I had the good sense to stock up before October. Thanks to a local festival leaving a veritable treasure trove of detritus – I had enough wood and cardboard boxes to keep a fire lit the entire year round.

Although, the smoke that drifted up through the drains, and out the back of the tunnel entrance, did cause some people alarm a couple of times – they had no idea a hard working artist was merrily burning a trash-fire for warmth.

phone-boxesOften, when I’m talking to my Mother from the only phone box in Norfolk town centre (such an oversight, these things are integral to our communications systems), she tells me that she is worried that I’m not living in a proper house – or that I might be eating out of bins (utter nonsense, the girls at Greggs always have a Steak Bake for me in the morning times).

She says that she reads my posts and wonders how it’s possible for me to not own a mobile telephone, but still regularly update a blog that quite clearly needs an internet connection. I’ve told her countless times that, although the library’s computers have a strict half an hour time limit on them, I can still easily get around it by moving from computer to computer every half hour.

Most of the the time it’s empty, and there are no problems. From time to time I am forced to use some kind of coercion: whether that’s offering some little scamp a swig on my can of Fosters Lager or simply pushing someone out of their chair.

I’ve only been kicked out of there once and they know not to do that again.

For weeks after, whilst I served my computer ban – a lot of books started to go missing and the smoke rising from the sewers grew stronger than ever.