Do watch this very interesting 30-minute video documentary called Sargy Mann. To do so, you have to click on the underlined name “Sargy Mann” below the picture:

Sargy Mann from Peter Mann Pictures on Vimeo.

I came across it in an article in last Sunday’s Observer, but I first came across Sargy himself in about 1972, when I started at Camberwell Art School, in London. I never knew him well.  He was one of several of my painting teachers; a quite intense 35 year-old with black-rimmed pebble glasses who invariably wore a blue French artisan’s jacket and carried a portable easel.  For some reason, he lived with Kingsley Amis and Elizabeth Jane Howard on the other side of London.  He’s mentioned in passing in Martin Amis’s dental autobiography Experience.

At the time I was there, Camberwell was a school that taught its first-year students not much more than learning to draw from life.  The school thought it was the best way into the visual arts; to Camberwell, it didn’t matter whether you ended up as a conceptual artist or a glass blower or a stage designer drawing was the tool you needed.  I still believe that’s the best way.  Sargy was only interested in painting.  He thought art was about looking and seeing, but in colour: learning to see colour relationships (from life).  He was especially keen on the Impressionists, Bonnard and Matisse: peering over the portable easel he painted violet-coloured oils on small pieces of board while his students learned to see.  I remember one afternoon he got very excited on the Thames embankment when he saw a double reflection of the sun; first off the windows of a building and then bounced back to us off the river.  He hardly had time to comment on it and get it down before it was gone again.

Sargy had terrible, blurry eyesight — rather like Monet, if I’m not mistaken — but after I’d been at Camberwell for a year, he had a cataract operation.  He was very worried, he didn’t quite know the effect it would have on his work; but he coped and the paintings became clearer and bluer.  Later, his eyesight deteriorated again, and by 2005, during the making of the film, he ceased to be able to see at all.  But he didn’t stop painting; and that’s what the video is about, because he isn’t just sploshing on random patches of random colour.  It shows that if you paint from life every day for fifty-odd years you will have enough painting information stored in your brain to be able to continue working after you go blind and, what’s more, you’ll  continue deriving satisfaction from working.  Who knows: like Sargy Mann, your work may even improve…