One damp and cold winter’s evening on a family visit to London, Michael’s attention was captured by the lights, colours and activity in a hairdresser’s shop in Soho. He stood outside the door, sketching with oil pastels until he had enough information on the page, but not before his three small children had loudly stated their utter boredom with waiting for him to finish. The black panel on the right side indicates his constant testing the boundaries of composition and also prefigures his experiments with dense blocks of colour that we’ve seen in Picturepost 1 (Closed Visits) and Picturepost 3 (Grantchester Meadows).
The Poll Tax Riots exploded onto British streets in March 1990 in response to the introduction that year of the Community Charge. The widespread newspaper coverage provided plenty of images for Michael to begin a series of works, which culminated in a large oil painting of a rioting crowd, which will be the subject of a future post. This b/w gouache sketch captures the intense anger many people felt about the imposition of what came to be called the poll tax. He was naturally attracted to the challenge of conveying emotion and energy in his work; sometimes the atmosphere would be calm and quiet but with events like this he was inspired by the energy that drove the action. He always tried to remain apolitical, but actually he was strongly against the policies of Margaret Thatcher’s government, believing that the existence of the working class was threatened by their policies.
This dramatic landscape depicts the top of the cliff at Highcliffe in Dorset; many family holidays were spent on the beach below. Michael’s favourite place to paint was looking east from the cliff, towards Lymington, with the Isle of Wight to the south. With this series he was interpreting landscape more simply than he’d done before – the question was how to strip the image down to its most basic shapes, without losing the essence of what he was seeing. The paint is thickly applied, which gives the painting a tactile surface and lends depth to the sharp white arrow shape.