Michael Coombes - Keep Calm and Carry On - The Open College of the Arts
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Michael Coombes – Keep Calm and Carry On

Michael Coombes, Age 75, is now retired having worked in the photo-mechanical processes for photogravure printing for forty five years producing books, magazines, and colour supplements. This career gave him making skills in photography, film, impositions and layouts and obviously also trained his observational abilities to a high degree, particularly his eye for detail and composition. He worked alongside designers and artists in a period where graphic design was done without computers, using layout paper and an awe inspiring degree of technical draughtsmanship and that atmosphere seems to have been absorbed by Michael and be reworked in these more personal drawings.

Michael is very modest about his contextual understanding and is looking at how he can use a learning log effectively without struggling to be something he is not. What strikes me about these drawings though is that they are so redolent of context. For a start Michael’s own history in graphic design and printing is apparent, but also there is a Britishness here which reminds me of Stanley Spencer and even Alan Bennett and Phillip Larkin. There is a maturity of intent which may just be an honest translation of Michael’s own state of mind. Figures and objects are waiting, casting long shadows. People glance away or stare straight through the viewer. Spaces are left unoccupied or incomplete. These drawings seem to me to speak of a life lived, memories both fond and regretful. The compositions of course are splendid, and Michael’s manipulation of the rectangle seems effortless until you try to do it yourself. This must be his layout skills kicking in! But ultimately the observational and other technical skills are in service, in my opinion, to the atmosphere of these drawings which is powerful and moving.

For an artist like Michael, who doesn’t enjoy writing but can communicate so powerfully visually, a learning log does not need to be wordy. It just needs to set the context for the work by signposting the relevant influences. When I first ‘met’ Michael I immediately mentioned Stanley Spencer, and got the reply that he is a fan and had used a Stanley Spencer painting as motif for a piece of his own on a previous course. Seeing a student make those kinds of connections, looking at artists who are directly resonant and who can help the student push their own work further is ideal. And a slim log full of urgent, self directed research in note form is worth far more than a lever arch file crammed full of random Wikipedia downloads.

Posted by author: Emma Drye
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13 thoughts on “Michael Coombes – Keep Calm and Carry On

  • I’m assuming Michael is a student? It would be nice to be able to see these drawings, but they don’t enlarge when you click them. Any way this can be rectified? I’d love to look at them.

  • Hello Louise, yes Michael is a student with OCA. I did mention it but very slightly – I should have been more explicit. I uploaded the images that Michael sent me of his work so perhaps they were very small file sizes. I’m sure Paul Vincent will help us out if there is anything to do. Otherwise, a solution might be to revisit Michael’s work later on when I am able to take photos myself of a larger file size.

    • I was being a bit facetious Catherine – your tutor will let you know if your logbook needs pruning – don’t start chucking stuff out on my say so!

  • A very interesting post, thank you… and congrats Michael.
    ‘..Spaces are left unoccupied or incomplete..’ This is something I find very beautiful in the pieces shown here. I wonder sometimes if the ability to create (sketch / paint / photograph) in a way that the spaces are or can be left unoccupied or incomplete, exactly because they are best in this way, doesn’t speak of an internal calmness or quiet, that we who do not have this, often try to fill with something which is most often better left out, and in doing so, carry the clutter and noise from our lives and selves into what we (I) create… It believe this is ability and decisive skill, is so valuable, and wonder if it can be learnt, or whether it can only be reached.

  • It is really interesting for me to see someone else’s work , who like myself is a bit older, not that I think age really matters in art ,or in any other field of study, but it does help me feel a sense of inclusiveness, I particularly like the sense of connection which comes across in Michael’s work. I have just started with OCA and am looking forward to the course and comments from other students.

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