2020 Grateful 50: The art form of giving

A month ago, floors were littered with wrapping paper. Presents had been opened. People had spent upwards of $1000 buying things for family, friends, coworkers, even the postman or woman. Roll on to January and how much of that stuff has been binned? Consigned to the attic to be binned later? Marked for regifting? A fair chunk of it, I’d say.

Back in 2012, George Monbiot wrote a piece entitled The Gift of Death. In it, he mentions Annie Leonard’s short film The Story of Stuff. She makes the point that

… materials flowing through the consumer economy, only 1% remain in use six months after sale.

Doesn’t bode well for all that Christmas stuff.

We’ve all done it, at some stage in our lives. We’ve all bought something silly for someone, something that is good for little more than an initial laugh. A fart cushion. A desktop pool table. A glow-in-the-dark table tennis bat. We’ve all partaken in the mass-consumerism that epitomises twenty-first-century living.

This Christmas I was asked a few times to exchange presence rather than presents. I asked one friend what they’d like and they said supplements as the good stuff is bloody expensive. Another asked for some preserves. I duly obliged. When I was asked what I’d like, my list was practical: a long-handled zester, a decent potato peeler, a Millionaire’s Lotto ticket.

I’ve noticed an increasing reluctance among my friends and acquaintances to give presents. Christmas and birthdays and anniversaries are becoming giftless occasions. But I like to give gifts, and I’m a fan of regifting. I’m all for not playing the consumerism game but calls for people to stop buying presents go a little too far methinks. By all means, don’t buy crap that’ll be binned or stuff that has travelled thousands of miles (unless you packed it in your suitcase). Buy handmade. Buy local. Think of all the artists and craftspeople out there who make a living from what they make, what they create – they need customers.

I’m a big art fan. It can be difficult buying art for other people, but it’s not impossible if you think a while. I just got off the phone with a mate of mine in Wisconsin. They told me that they loved my Christmas present – a miniature painting of a bird by a Hungarian artist Ágnes Szolnoki who donates a percentage of her sales to BirdLife Hungary. My friend was happy. The artist was happy. The birds were happy. I was happy. That’s what gifting is about.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the painting will scream the name of someone you know, like a recent purchase of a watercolour of cyclists taking a break in Balatonberény. I saw it and thought of a mate in California who loves biking around the Balaton and Balatonberény in particular. The artist is a mate of ours, too. So again, everyone is happy.

About the artist

Chris Evans is a child of the 50s who lived his first two years in a caravan in West Wales. He credits the caravan experience for the nomadic lifestyle that would ensure. As a chartered surveyor, he worked his way around the UK and ventured stateside for a while, to Florida. He’s painted since he was a child but has had little by way of formal training. His experiment with watercolours began in his 30s and now, in semi-retirement, he has time again to dabble.

He moved to the Hévíz area in 2010 and is a big fan of the Balaton. For a landscape artist, he says, it’s a cornucopia of vistas, from mountains to marshlands, from small villages to bigger urban environments, all with a backdrop of the Balaton and its ever-changing light and hue.

Painting satisfies my creative side, enabling me to interpet my view of what I see around me. Trying, and often failing, to capture on paper the beauty of a familiar scene, the magic of a moment witnessed, and to present that to another person… that’s what inspires me.

Chris began posting pictures of his paintings on his Facebook page last year and was a little taken aback by the reaction. [Did I mention that he’s Welsh? They’d give us Irish a run for our money when it comes to self-deprecation.] The reaction was very positive and encouraging. Old friends were glad to see he’d picked up his brushes again. New friends were impressed by this heretofore hidden talent. Without exception, everyone liked what they saw.

Himself came home one day with a present from the artist – a boating scene from Balatonmáriafürdő, a place we’ve visited a few times and love, especially in winter. It’s now framed and hanging on the wall in a place we pass dozens of times every day; it never fails to elicit a good vibe.

Watercolour painting dates back to the cave paintings of palaeolithic Europe. Think, too, of the heavily illustrated manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Wikipedia tells me that its ‘continuous history as an art form began with the Renaissance’. It has a fascinating article on the history of watercolour, from it being a ‘distinctly English national art’ to the various watercolour societies in the UK. I hadn’t realised that it gained popularity as a form of personal travel journal in the 1800s, when

cleric William Gilpin wrote a series of hugely popular books describing his picturesque journeys throughout rural England, and illustrated them with self-made sentimentalized monochrome watercolours of river valleys, ancient castles, and abandoned churches.

I’ve heard watercolours described as insipid, usually by those who have a lot of vivid abstracts on their wall. Of course, they’re not to everyone’s taste. I’m a fan of these particular watercolours because they’re of the Balaton. I find the familiarity soothing and like the translucence, the sense of transience.

Chris specialises in scenes of Lake Balaton and the towns of the region. His paintings are recognisable. They’re evocative. And they’re the ideal present for someone who lives or has lived in or visited the area.

In addition to painting his favourite places by the Balaton, he takes commissions. What a great way to chronicle a big renovation. Or commit to paper a favourite view at different times of the year. Check him out on Facebook or drop him a line at chrise512003@yahoo.co.uk

Me? I’m grateful that I can satisfy the demands of my consumerist self by supporting the arts.



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