Home is where the art is: Rod Jordan

Sophie Jordan ventures past her grandfather’s notecards only to come back to them

'Buzz Lightyear takes off', Rod Jordan

There are two sides to Roderick Jordan’s work: first, his hand-drawn cartoons for the BBC and the Rugby Football Union, his large paintings of Trafalgar square and a couple of early collaborations. Those are, in fact, Rod Jordan’s.

Then there’s the stuff I know, all by a man who was only ever called Roddy: the majestic ‘Buzz Lightyear takes off’, many Corsican landscapes and years of princess birthday cards and comics. There’s also the recurring ‘B.’ — my grandma, Roderick’s wife: B. in the garden, B. at the beach in Wales or Cornwall, B. sitting in the sun with the girls.

Eyeing the artist’s sketches on our walls has made me too short-sighted to see his figure in full. Having always been exposed to the works of my grandfather and his less-known harmonica-playing, I have a fragmented, story-like image of what his bio would look like.

The fact that it isn’t on Wikipedia and that portraits of my rower-cousin are easier to find on Google than my grandfather’s, comforts me in my possessive approach to his paintings. Although I can’t easily complete this bitty bio, at least there is no one to contradict it.

He went to the Royal Academy so he could learn the rules and painted a fresco on the walls of a tunnel through the London Zoo with a bunch of friends. He got bored of naming parts in the army until a superior offered him to design the decorations of their dancehall, and this was his main duty until the end of his service—so I’ve been told.

Somewhere towards the middle of his sixty-year career, he made humorous and grotesque animations for the BBC and published a cartoon coaching series with the RFU. Commissions, paintings of muddy horseraces, and a special kite-flying day in Belgium which gave birth to ‘Buzz Lightyear’, all came before my time.

What I see and what I know of Roddy’s work is contained within a few portraits of bright young women, and the contrast between some series depicting intense, fast movement in richer tones and the ones which show wide-open skies covered by immobile clouds.

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A trip to nearby Cliveden will be chopped down into a dozen small-sized canvases just as well as every one of his travels to the South of France, and none of these landscapes is left without a wondering pair of characters.

This is a difficult exercise, because when the art is in the same place as the home, the scribbles on its fringes become distracting and the harmonica along with the hours of jubilation in front of Looney Toons cover up the screeching of the knife-sharpened pencil.

The absence of the concentrating effect of exhibitions, which place an arbitrary bullseye right in the middle of the artist’s works and spin around this one point, is an invitation to colour in those angular frogs and bouncing, Oocha-ma-chooching badgers instead.