Brighton and Hove mayor can go hang … but not in the town hall

Posted On 17 Jan 2014 at 6:40 pm

Brighton and Hove Independent editor Greg Hadfield has a brush with bureaucracy in his free weekly newspaper today (Friday 17 January).

He paints a portrait of municipal procedure that means the freshly painted mayor can go hang … but not in the town hall.

He wrote: “It began with a moment of serendipity, not an act of vanity.

“The Mayor of Brighton and Hove found herself in the seafront home of Paul Tash Ostrer, a professional photographer turned portrait artist.

“For Councillor Denise Cobb, the gathering in September last year – connected to the appearance in the city of Sir Terry Pratchett, the author – was just one of countless civic engagements in her year of office, which ends on May 15.

“Inspired by the many self-portraits hanging on the walls of the artist’s flat, Councillor Cobb had an idea. Why not reinstate the tradition of having a portrait of the mayor painted for hanging in an appropriate public place.

The portrait of Brighton and Hove Mayor Councillor Denise Cobb painted by Paul Tash Ostrer

The portrait of Brighton and Hove Mayor Councillor Denise Cobb painted by Paul Tash Ostrer

“It is thought that the last one was completed more than 30 – or was it 50? – years ago.

“She mentioned it briefly – too briefly, as it turns out – to her officials. She thought little more about it. After all, she was paying for the commission out of her own pocket.

“She was not even distracted from her duties by the need for studio sittings. Mr Ostrer was content with painting from a well-taken photograph.

“Fast forward to last week and the sizeable work was complete and framed. All that was left was to decide was where – in Brighton Town Hall, outside the council chamber preferably – it could be hung.

“A meeting with officials was organised. And that is when the project ran into trouble.

“There are rules. There are processes. There are cross-party discussions to be had. So Councillor Cobb was told, in no uncertain terms.

“A late-night six-point email from Paula Murray, the Brighton and Hove City Council assistant chief executive no less, explained the obstacles

there was no discussion or agreement before the commission

there certainly was no agreement about it being hung in Brighton Town Hall, about which there would have to be ‘some decision-making process of some kind’

there would be the risk of precedent (every future mayor might want one!)

there had been no information about ‘the nature, content or quality’ of the portrait

hundreds of other local artists would ‘quite legitimately’ ask why there was no proper tendering of the project

“And so it went on.

“In brief, as things stand, the oil painting – a photograph of which we are publishing for the first time – is not going to brighten the walls of Brighton Town Hall any time soon.

“The dark and dirty images of long-dead mayors, aldermen and town clerks – all men – that dominate them can look down from on high knowing that no arriviste intruder will disturb their mothballed quietude.

“Councillor Cobb is disappointed: ‘I am not doing it as a big-headed thing. It’s very disappointing. It’s spoiled my whole year.’

“There is, however, a bright spot. The official – or is it semi-official? – portrait will be unveiled at 7pm this evening (Friday) at The Naked Eye Gallery, Farm Mews, Farm Road, Hove.

“And Councillor Cobb is determined to press her point with councillors and council officers.

“If you are unable to make it tonight, you can see it as part of a ‘Reflections’ exhibition of Paul Tash Ostrer’s work, which runs until Friday 31 January.

“The exhibition is sponsored by Graze Restaurant.

“In this exhibition, the artist is showing his self-portraits that represent the emotive key stages in his life.

“He said: ‘We all paint ourselves in one way or another but the images are not necessarily of us. Introspection is a necessary process not to be confused with narcissism.

“‘Also, being conscious of my own mortality, self-portraits leave a reference behind, more lasting than photographs in a cupboard.

“‘Added to this, with self-portraiture you choose your own narrative, you’re unrestricted by someone else’s constraints.’”

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