Monday, April 17, 2006

Intimidation in One's Own Back Yard

A reasonably quiet Easter weekend. We're normally away (last year was a riot of Catholicism and Vino Tinto in Madrid) but this year having just been in New York we decided to stay at home. We wanted to go to Kew Gardens on Good Friday but we had to abandon the idea due to dismal rain and Crazy G feeling a tad 'under the weather' and went to Borough Market instead.

I spent most of Saturday on new work including a montage of large blow-ups of the inside covers of my old Doctor Who books with inscriptions I made when I was about 8 years old, they will form the backdrop to a portrait. I'm also working on a huge montage of a repeated image of the Boscastle flood damage, the basis for a work about childhood holidays (the destruction of magical memories by natural forces). Another piece I'm working on is called 'Kev's world', a collage-based work of young boxer Kevin Mitchell who for me is like a summing up of teenage power and ambition.

I enjoyed watching Doctor Who in the Retro on Saturday, this Doctor has the otherworldliness that Christopher Thingybob lacked. Duckie was excellent on Saturday nite at the new look smarty tarted-up Vauxhall, and Dawn Right Nasty's 'New Look' incorporating heavily beaded drag queen eyelashes set a glamorous tone (although I'm convinced she couldn't see a thing poor love... but as Quentin Crisp once said 'there are others to look where I'm going..." ).

Last nite I repaired to the bar du Retro but sadly no games of Uno were in the offing. G was in merry mood as were many having sat through Twin Peaks all afternoon.

On the way back we popped into Budgens for late snacks and I foolishly remarked (sarcastically) to a woman who had pushed in front of me in the queue 'thank you for being polite' as we moved our stuff over to the other checkout to be served. I didn't of course see her big burley cockney husband who was standing ten feet away minding their tatty luggage. They were probably just back from some holiday. She of course went straight up to him and duly complained. ''Ere Terry you'll never guess wot e just said" I then had a punch-drunk 6.5 foot tall maniac in my face (or near to my face him being a foot taller than me and a good deal broader). I was so shocked I couldn't say a word but my face clearly riled him and he decided there and then that he was going to smash me to pieces. I know i've sometimes got a pouting self-satisfied snottiness about me (as Crazy G has remarked many times during rows and bust-ups) especially if I'm feeling under attack. My accent doesn't do me any favours either (good job I was too stunned to speak) but I've never been called 'Cunty' before (or at least only affectionately by Joan Dairy Queen) and asked whether I'd like 'to be fucking killed' by someone who, in that moment, meant it.

Luckily, and thankfully, Crazy G stood between me and Chalky the Punch Drunk (or should it be 'Battling Burrows' out of Broken Blossoms with Lillian Gish? I'll be Lillian) and calmed him down. The staff did their best but they probably get that once a night being on the Whitechapel Road.

I've been beaten up a couple of times, largely due to unwise East End wonderings. The worst was on Burdett Road, and I'm still a bit deaf in one side from being kicked in the head outside Lidl supermarket by a drunken man shouting homophobic abuse. I've also been mugged by several teenagers at once (those kids are impossible to fight off en masse) in an estate off Brick Lane, but again my own fault for taking shortcuts in a pin stripe suit twirling an umbrella like Burlington Fucking Bertie. I was pleased they didn't have a blade as the mugging was in such a remote side turning that I may not now be alive.

Other than that I'm pleased to say I've only had a few bits of money stolen by no-good rough trade boyfriends (an important lesson in fantasy versus reality!) which I suppose is a sort of domesic mugging minus the high drama of being slammed against a wall (although not always). I've been roughed up in Aldgate for my mobile (happily surrendered and with relief) and I've also had money nicked as a result of drug taking, being too strung out to neither know nor care. But this is all my fault, for looking for adventure when I should have been looking over my shoulder.

So having been in London for around 15 years it's not often that I've encountered violence or come face to face with potential violence, and this guy scared the shit out of me or, more correctly, us.

We naturally gave them a few moments to leave, and leaving that shop was terrifying, being at the mercy of quiet Whitechapel back-streets. But he'd disappeared thank God.

I'm left feeling that I should do something about it, but i don't think there's anything I can do nor would it merit it. It felt like an assault of sorts but I was in the wrong in the first place and shouldn't have made the sarcastic comment I did. God knows what would have happened if G hadn't have been with me.

There are worse horror stories of course, and perhaps I'm feeling sorry for myself, but the overriding feeling I have today is why didn't I keep my fucking gob shut. Lesson learnt.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


'The lord chisels still, so don't leave your bench for long'....
Gilbert & George

Studios are powerhouses, workshops that should be about research and focus.

I can work anywhere as long as it's a dedicated space, and often if it's not, and I've had several fantastic studios. My favourite was in Pixley Street in Limehouse, in the next street to my old flat. I had 400 square feet on the roof of an industrial building off Burdett Road, with an amazing outdoor roof terrace. The bills were paid by my then gallery who were selling my London paintings like hot cakes; I didn't have to do anything other than get up in the morning and walk round the corner and paint, and barely saw an invoice for anything... but then the work took a change of direction and I was dropped like a stone. My next studio was at Cable Street Studios. An enormous Victorian former sweet factory at the corner of Cable Street and Butcher Row and amazingly its still in use as studios and hasn't been turned into posh flats (yet).

These days I have to live-work due to having the job du jour. If I had to schlep up the wrong end of the Hackney Road everytime the muse descended I'd never get any work done. I need to open a door to a room and 'go to it', not hang around hatless looking for a fast black.

If you've been reading this and my other blog for a while you'll know I painted about the East End for years, only recently discovering the subject of my own childhood memory; all those paintings I made of bengali teenagers now seem like a dress rehearsal for the exploration of my own young life.

But the workroom was full of these earlier involvements, all my East London interests (Ackroydian romances) in some way diluted by recent images but not enough. I needed clearer space, and current research to hand.

So I set about destroying my work.

Frenzied canvas-slashing feels both violently wrong and strangely satisfying and the photo is of unsold work, paintings that went wrong, numerous try-outs, rejections and explorations and just sheer crap and frustration stockpiled over about six or seven years.

A couple of people have been horrified that I would wish to destroy my own work, but its my work and I can do what I like with it and I'm glad it's gone: it was absorbing energy like a fucking sponge.

Now the earlier involvements are deleted I feel free and I have plastered the walls with my brains in preparation for new paintings and object-based work.

Doctor Who books, Family photos, Cornish travel Guides, letters, leaflets, maps, drawings, texts, pictures of my brother, my sister, caravans, beaches, sunsets, my teddy bear, cornish postcards sent by my parents last year saying "so many memories here...".

I am cocooned in my current obsession.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Last Weekend

What an exhausting few days.

On Thursday we went to the Royal Albert Hall to see Razorlight. I'm not a fan but G wanted to see them and it was for charity and the lead singer is rather decorative so I didn't mind one bit. According to my pal big-nose who saw him in a pub the other week he's only about three foot tall. Ah bless!... a pocket sized pop pixie...

It was a good job we trundled into the Le Bar du Retro for pre-gig lager-beers otherwise we'd have completely forgotten that it was Duckie's tenth birthday party at the Fridge in Brixton on Friday. I couldn't for the life of me remember when I was last at the Fridge but it must have been at least 13 or 14 years ago... I love Duckie special events and I've got so many fond memories of them. Always interesting to take the Duckie spirit elsewhere and the agenda for 2006 is more fulsome than ever. Prior to Brixton however we popped in on Indo, the best bar in Whitechapel, for a chinwag with the proprietors and Keith the Sculptor, before heading for the Whitechapel Art Gallery for the Wigwam gig (Alex James and Betty Boo), which wasn't really a gig more two songs prefixed by Alex James' soundscapes and space-films. We didn't hang around after Wigwam but there were DJ's in three rooms at the Whitechapel so I imagine a good nite would have been had by all. Big mistake for them to let people stub cigs out on all that art-gallery paraquet tho.

The performances for 'Duckie Decade' included the Featherstonehaughs (I think it was them) semi-naked and and draped, twirling on podiums all nite and very much setting the scene, and an enormous white stallion (yes, really) ridden through the crowd by a semi-naked lady in full vaudeville headdress and tit-tassles.

David Hoyle (the artist formerly known as 'The Divine David') firmed up his return to the London stage following a psychological hiatus (six years in sealed retreat in his native Manchester). He's a legend as far as G and I are concerned and G lambasted a bunch of stupid queens who insisted on chattering noisily more or less all the way through his act. G said something along the lines of 'Shut the fuck up or go and stand at the fucking back!!!!'. It worked. Wankers. David's got shows lined up throughout the summer including at Soho Theatre so he'll be on here from time to time. He was still confrontational, and slightly terrifying and it was great to see that the old 'Divine David' artful nihilism alive and very much active. He threw daffodils into the crowd but for some of those silly tarts they should have been hand-grenades. Duckie's not an ordinary club and sometimes people should listen.

We on the other hand would have listened to Hazel O'Conner when she sang later on but we could barely hear! God knows what happened to the sound, but it didn't matter too much.

Simon Strange, Duckie founder and curator extrordinaire, had Can's of Kronenberg at £3 ferried in for the Duckie punters due to the venue only being able to provide bottled beers at £4.50, but then I think the Fridge is the sort of place where they normally only serve water). Various personalties got hammered and Readers Wifes DJ'ed superbly as ever.

On Saturday we enjoyed early evening drinks with Joan Dairy Queen avec charming boyfriend Grant mulling over the previous nite's events and mending our heads with bloody mary's. Mr Justin Bond joined us for a natter then it was time for a fast black to the Royal Albert Hall for The Cure. I love the plushness of the place and going there always reminds me of the Banshees' historic two nites there in 1983, recorded for 'Nocturne'... (ever wish you had been born a few years earlier than you were !!????)... The moment on that album when Stravinsky bursts into Steve Severin's bass on 'Israel' has to be one of my all time favourite moments in sound. The Cure's intro meanwhile was long and choral with blinding blue lights. The last time we saw them was at Hyde Park a couple of years ago when Robert Smith was swigging from a pint glass of what looked like red vino and got plastered at alarming speed. He seemed to have put on a tad more weight this time, or perhaps we were just closer.

The back catalogue got a rigorous plundering with Play for Today, M, The Drowning Man and at least three tunes off Pornography including 'The Figurehead'. They also did 'Shake Dog Shake' off The Top (probably my favourite album) and 'The Blood' and 'A Night like This' off The Head on the Door, the last Cure album I really loved. These songs always make me feel like I'm 14 again (don't laugh, it's true). At the end they did Fire In Cairo, Three Imaginary Boys, Boys don't Cry and Killing an Arab (with a new lyric).  I always enjoy the earlier album tracks and these are the ones I go mad for.

The Cure are one of those long stinting bands that attract about six different generations. Teenage kids with their Dads, hardcore goths, young couples, old couples, gay, straight. I guess everytime they release a new album there's a whole bunch of kids who find out about them. I couldn't believe that they played for nearly three hours but with a back catalogue like theirs I guess you could go on all nite. Loved Simon Gallup and his low-slung bass... he looks like an 18-year old from the back (cut off t-shirt, pert buttocks in tight black jeans) and like a ravaged old goth from the front.

They played three encores and the last tune was 'A Forest', which was great in Hyde Park when they lit all the trees up in hallowe'en green, and just as powerful at the Royal Albert Hall only the real trees were replaced by filmic ones.

Marvellous feeling afterwards walking to South Ken feeling as though one had had an injection of one's favourite tunes... Our only gripe was the fact that you can't take alcohol in the auditorium and we should have remembered this from Razorlight two nites before... Next time we're taking loaded hipflasks!

Sunday ended with a mammoth game of Uno with Retro Wendy until about 3 in the morning. It's my new favourite game and even though I do say so myself I was rather good at it... Even beating old cleverclogs Crazy G on several occassions although it has to be said it did take me some hours to get 'into the swing' of what was actually going on. W however remained firmly convinced that I had no clue whatsoever... and I shall of course be using this to my advantage in future bouts... On Monday at the Job du Jour I was not at my best and/or prettiest and needless to say a half day was duly booked. The effort to appear spritely and focused having got the better of me by about 10.30am....

The Art of New York

Our second visit to NYC in 6 months and the first thing I enjoyed was the cabride from JFK into Manhattan; a journey I've decided will always remind me of 'Two Divided by Zero' off the Pet Shop Boys 'Please'.

It was great to see the Chelsea again. Different room... same ramshackle deal, things not working, shabby, but bags of atmosphere and we're rather in love with the place. It’s perfectly clean but most definitely NOT to everyone’s taste... It occurred to me as I was trying to undo the curtain tie-backs (held on to loose screws by worn holes and strings of damaged thread hanging off said tie-backs), kick the air-con into life and unglue the rickety shutters, how shocked some people would be paying over $200 a night for such bedraggled bohemia… but then you are slap bang in the heart of Chelsea and you can walk everywhere. I like the corridors best… endless art-filled passageways, brown and dark, smelling either of joss-sticks or weed, or just plain musty and old. Every door is different… painted signs and marks. People have personalized the place over decades and it does feel like an apartment block rather than a hotel and that was the original intention. It is currently 50% residential I believe. The owners describe it as ‘a rest-stop for rare individuals’… How marvellous! That’ll be us then.

This visit turned into a mammoth art-trip… We kicked off on our first morning with Edvard Munch 'The Modern Life of the Soul' at MoMa and although the premise of the show was different it did rather piss on the last year’s ‘Munch by Himself' or whatever it was at the RA.

I was looking forward to Robert Rauschenberg's combines at the Met and wasn’t disappointed. My artistic practice is changing at the moment, and I’m hungry for object–based work that invades the room. It’s a massive show and it’s thrilling. G hated it, and it’s true the work is scruffy and patchy, using as it does appropriated junk and detritus, but he really shouldn’t have burst out laughing at the stuffed goat through a tyre on a wooden pallet. SO embarassing...

The Rauschenberg catalogue is great, and as the work is so heavily collaged the flat photographic details of clumpy paint / silkscreen / newspaper work really well, and could almost be works in their own right. The work is completely different in print. The detail photography also reminded me how unarbitary the work is… it’s an opportunity to see the work closely and it’s not as chancey as it looks, the content pays off on closer inspection and if you take notice of what’s actually on a sheet on crumpled newspaper he’s included it becomes a signpost to the broader meaning.

We decided to give the majority of the major commercial spaces a miss, i.e. Mary Boone, Gagosian and the like (but not before popping in at Sonnabend who were showing Rona Pondick's unsettling half-beast half human, chrome and fur sculptures) as we wanted to visit the smaller Chelsea galleries that we knew were clustered around 20/21st 22nd streets but weren't quite prepared for how many... several buildings are 9 or 10 floors of galleries so we spent a morning and half an afternoon dashing up and down stairwells.

Feigen Contemporary (535 W 20 St) are showing 'Blessed are the Merciful', a group show including the immortal Annie Sprinkle. The premise of the show is 'blessed are those who are sensitive to the misery and misfortune of others'. We loved her '40 Reasons Why Whores Are My Heros' ranging from 'Whores have the ability to share their most intimate body parts with total strangers' (No.1) to 'Whores are rebelling against the absurd, patriarchal, sex-negative laws against their profession and are fighting for the legal rights to receive financial compensation' (No.40)... and quite right too.

Other highlights of the Chelsea forage included Phil Collins' video installation 'Dunya Dinlemiyor' at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (521 W 221 St). I'd not come across Collins before. His work is largely photo/ film based and originates in areas of conflict and political difficulty. The gallery info sets out that 'Collins' installation and live performances appropriate the documentary tradition and elements of popular culture to establish an immediate and humorous connection with the participant and the viewer'... I'll say. We LOVED 'Dunya Dinlemiyor'; it was shot in Istanbul in 2005 for the Istanbul Biennal and features various 'disaffected youths' singing karaoke Smiths songs. Some are clearly fans, like the camp young shirtless teen with plastic roses (in lieu of gladioli) sticking out of his back pocket who flounced his way through 'Ask' (and was actually rather good). Some however have almost certainly never heard a Smith tune in their lives (like the two girls who stumbled through 'Panic')… At first sight it's deeply, rivetingly hilarious, but a few songs in and the lyrics and vulnerability of the singers come together to make a deeply touching piece.

The New Museum of Contemporary Art Chelsea (556 W 22 St) has quite possibly the best art bookshop I've ever come across. The standard stock but more fanzine material than you can shake a stick at. This place is a hub, and I look forward to seeing it again when it moves to the Bowery in 2007. The new building looks set to dominate the Bowery district... however for the moment Southern Californian artist Andrea Zittel's show 'Critical Space' left me feeling frustrated. It comprises so much over fabricated sheer stuff in blond wood that it's very hard to move round. There are 'Survival Pods' (irresistibly 'Spy who Loved Me'), screens with painted graphs recording her daily functioning (15% computer time, 40% sleep etc), and wooden house-like shells and shelters all crammed in with barely a couple of feet of space between. There's too much of it, but I like the idea of work questioning how individuals function in society, and perhaps the intention is to pack in so much sheer structure that the viewer feels as though they are moving through a mini metropolis. I wanted to climb into the pods and dens but with 16 security staff there was little hope of even poking a head through a den aperture to see inside. They were all completely bored off their heads waiting for you to get just a tad too close to said blond treehouses. They don't quite pull out guns but I’m sure they'd like to. I got barked at for attempting a photo. Ms Zittel, have a word. My first thoughts on entering the show was that it looked like an explosion in an Ikea factory but having spent time in there (and had 'high- level discussions' with Crazy G who loved it) I actually ended up liking it.

Upstairs however I instantly fell for Belgian artist Didier Mahieu's 'A Day Elsewhere'. Painting, sound and installation that aims to throw the viewer in a complete alternative environment. There are groups of discarded studio sketches, a table of tablets of plaster or clay with miniature photographs attached, a huge house structure in the centre of the gallery, indistinct projections, small coloured paintings like snapshots of the chemical life of our interior bodies and brains. G thought the piles and piles of seemingly discarded studio sketches and ephemera meant that we'd stumbled in on a hang, but I got the idea. The studio sketches were charcoal traces of portraits; it was as though a cyclonic wind had drilled through a suburban life-drawing class and this was the rescued wreckage. They reminded me of bodies and lives, crowds of experience. But this was only one component of a multi-faceted exploration.

We also saw a HUGE installation of thousands and thousands of paper cups arranged like a gigantic slab of undulating landmass by Tara Donovan at Pace Wildenstein... The gallery's info goes on a bit, lots of 'primordial mystery wrapped in ritualistic assemblages' and the like (God, I really can't be doing with all that)... the installation is just great FUN. It's FANTASTIC!.. it makes you think about landscape and the world, your place in the great grand scheme. It reminded me of looking out of a plane window going over Las Vegas and the desert on the way to LA and feeling tiny, or the wonder of weather-maps.

Other shows we enjoyed were 'Rat and Bear' at Matthew Marks Gallery or rather G did. He only really likes things that involve animals or mobiles... Two loomingly huge statues motionless in black glass boxes of, well a Rat and a Bear, both about 8' high. The gallery is almost completely dark, the only light coming from a strange film projected in a far corner of two men, dressed as the Rat and the Bear, chasing each other across a rocky featureless landscape. I got the feeling that the Rat and Bear statues might suddenly burst from their perspex and I was reminded of the terror that I used to get as a child at the Doctor Who Exhibition in Blackpool, that the stuffed monsters would break free and that I would be chased along the golden mile by Abominable Snowmen.

The streets in this district are unforgivingly industrial. The galleries are generally hidden away, single glass doors with tiny lettraset signs give way to large white-walled spaces. Many of them make White Cube look small.

Other galleries we visited included R. Duane Reed, Hasted Hunt, Denise Bibo, Kim Foster, Kravats/Wenby, Jack Shainman, ATM, Josee Bienvenu and probably about 15 others. We also saw a new show of Nan Goldin, but I can't remember where it was. It’s a great area… but imagine our more familiar Shoreditch explosion of recent years x100… and it’s a similar story. The artists got there first because it was cheap, the gallerists followed (like ‘lice on their backs’… who was it who said that?)… then Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney opened shop (no joke). Needless to say the artists have gone... and on our next trip we'll seek out the artist-run spaces: my guess is we’ll be beyond Brooklyn.

I was interested to see so much lively new work en masse, and given that my focus is currently shifting from painting there was an accord with much of what I saw.

Foodwise, we had a blast. Sharaku is my favourite restaurant ever (see earlier NY blog for location), the sea vegetable salad is actually quite astonishing. We showed willing with enormous steak frenzy at Franks (not as good as the Old Homestead), diners for breakfast were Moonstruck (10th Ave and 23 St) and New Venus (9th Ave and 23 St) – there is of course no restaurant in the Chelsea, not that we’d probably wish to stay and eat in the hotel if there was … anyway, you’re lucky if your fridge works got knows what the restaurant would be like…

We had Gay Burgers at ‘Better Burger’ (on 9th Ave somewhere near about 20th St), a sort of upmarket organically healthy Macdonalds, mildly cruisey (lots of passing trade) with ‘air fries’ which I think are baked. They were soggy but the burger was excellent. Americans do some things very well and food is generally one of them. As is Museums… And bookshops. Ah…!!!! The bookshops… as previously discussed on here: Strand books is my idea of heaven, and Shakespear & Co., but I didn’t come away with a tonnage of tomes this time, just a few Truman Capote’s and ‘Popism: The Warhol Sixties’ and ‘From A to B and Back Again: The Philosophy of Andy Warhol’… which amazingly, having been a fan since my early teens, I’ve never read before.

What better place to buy Warholian material than in his own backyard! Popism is in Warhol’s own voice but heavily transcribed and edited (of course) by Pat Hackett, his friend and confidant who also edited the diaries. It’s interesting on many levels and works as a portrait of that dreamlike decade when everything seemed possible. It is also the first hand account of Warhol’s rise to fame and it’s interesting to read how difficult it was for him in the beginning… he was shunned by virtually all the dealers in New York City but then he was already famous as a designer and illustrator.

I read it in one sitting on the plane home. Interesting to read about so many now familiar places. It also occurred to me that although the personalities are different much of the Chelsea has probably barely changed and I like that sense of continuity.