It was Ant Riviere, my sister and the producer of Beautiful Colour who suggested we make a film about the artist Ian Partridge. Ant met Ian while working as a facilitator at Barrington Art Barn where Ian spends a lot of his time.
Many of us are aware of the difficulties of disability, but less so the moments of brilliance, ingenuity, joy. Ian is an artist with a learning disability who paints, stitches and draws and has been doing so for many years. His work is in several private collections.
To begin with we thought we might contextualise Ian’s working process through interviews with those who support and collect his work. But because of Ian’s complete absorption in the painting process we chose to follow this exclusively, focusing on his decisions about the emerging motifs in the work. Ian prepares to paint with great attention to detail. There is the careful washing of brushes, the cutting up of paper towels ready for the blotting process and the placing of the painting trolley. As he works images emerge, are drawn out, elaborated and then covered up. The surface of the painting thickens, becomes richer. After a number of days, colours and forms stabilised and the painting was nearly complete.
Throughout, Ian maintained an unselfconscious dialogue with the work and with those around him, including the camera and myself. I have long been interested in observational approaches to filmmaking. Observational cinema has been criticized for a supposedly detached camera that objectifies and dehumanizes the subjects of its gaze but observation can be a form of participation too. As the filmmaker Herb di Gioia used to tell his students, this participatory observation requires the filmmaker to “choose a subject you love or want to come to love.” To film Ian painting meant using the camera with affection.
Spending time with Ian and witnessing his access to what is sometimes called ‘flow’ has had a profound affect on me. Amongst other things, it has reminded me that what I’m really interested in is learning to be co-present with other people, materials and places.