For a long time, I didn’t realised this expression was an insult: to me, oil paintings were dark, gloomy, varnish-stained portraits of a long forgotten sitters and if one wasn’t an oil painting, one could be something more modern: a bright, colourful photograph or print. This had to be good!
The expression is used, of course, to refer to a someone or something that is not conventionally attractive. A pelican, for example: all beak and throat pouch, without the grace of a swan, the comedy value of a duck, or the baby delivery skills of a stork. And their peculiar eating habits can even provoke sympathy for a pigeon.
Why this bird was chosen by Penguin Books as the icon for a new non-fiction series is a mystery: yet from 1937-1984 thousands were produced, many with distinctive blue covers.
In the age of mobile internet, where up-to-the-second facts are accessible in an instant, such books are mere nostalgic relics. But I miss the certainty they offered: where common sense reigned, questions of Beauty and Ugliness were tackled, and where modern crazes were avoided.
So how better to celebrate ‘What is Art?’ than to make it into art!
Find a deep frame, some black mounting board and some archival tape: the result lies somewhere between those ubiquitous penguin mugs (identified by Grayson Perry is signifiers of middle class-ness) and the super cool oil paintings by Harland Miller.