Monday, July 31, 2006


Sunday I felt like a bag of s*it after a particularly excessive 'Thursday-thru-Saturday' which I've no wish to bore anyone with but nevertheless struggled to the Publish & be Dammed self-publishing fair at Arnold Circus in Shoreditch.

P&BD is a annual gathering of independently produced fanzines, journals and various other ideas on paper, with assorted posters, stickers, badges and manifestos and all points inbetween. The fair was held at Rochelle School with stallholders attending from far and wide.

Visited my favourites 'Arty' and 'Garageland' published by Transition Gallery and Karen D'amico's 'Tangent' (I did some pages for the 'Inter-national' issue the other month). Sarah Doyle was there too with her beautiful paper jewellery and drawings and badges.

Needless to say it was fanzine heaven and I discovered a tonnage of new material... xeroxed little books of wisdom I had not previously been aware of. I'd not made it to previous fairs and I gather that this year was the busiest yet in terms of participants. The stallholders set out their wares outside in the play area and in the alleyway, in the school hall and classrooms. The variety was pretty amazing. Stephen Willet's 'Control' looks like a far-right political pamphlet from the '70's, whereas others look like hippie rags. Some follow a long standing narrative like Olivia Plender's comic strip 'The Masterpiece' (Episode 5: 'The Road to Ruin') or the hard-hitting psychogeographic exploration 'Savage Messiah' by Laura Oldfield Ford. Savage Messiah is beautifully produced and a labour of love incorporating hand colouring. Some are highbrow but accessible, some not so. Some are literary like 'Pen Pusher' which I'd not come across before, and some are just great fun and a bit silly and most things only a quid or two.

There is a 'Publish & be Dammed' archive at Canal for the next few weeks, weblink below.

Monday, July 24, 2006

In Search of Art...

On Saturday Crazy G and I decided to explore South East London in search of cultural interest. We headed to Temporary Contemporary, who've been going a couple of years, but the space wasn't open. Then we discovered the excellent new gallery 'Mashed Potato' in the same building as TC at the Old Seager Distillery Building. Their current show is 'Muscular Pet', an exhibition of work by an artistic collective of recent graduates called Black Cube.

Our favourite piece was by David Atkins, who makes sensitive plantlife out of tissue paper and watercolour. It was fragile and tiny, sprouting from middle of the floor and only about 20cms high. We were so busy chatting to one of the artists in the show, that we almost missed it. In fact we would have missed had it not been pointed out (just in time... it was in danger of being destroyed by G's big clumsy feet).

There was no info on the artists though. It was a big room full of interesting work but no information on who was who or even a mention of the collective's website. I guess you had to ask (which I happily did) but a lot of people wouldn't.

Wandered to the Bear Space gallery up in Deptford High Street, which according to the listings opens at 12 but we were there at 12.45 and all was locked and dark. Galleries being closed when they're supposed to be open actually make me quietly furious. It's a crime against artists in my book because the gallery can never second guess who's planning to pop down. I've been lucky a few times with reviewers for example with no inkling or notice that any luck was on the cards (it's an odd sensation opening The Independent on the tube and seeing that you're 'Pick of the Week'... one of those pinch me moments) . Not opening the gallery when you're supposed to removes any sort of lucky chance for the artist and gets my goat, frankly.

Anyway, thankfully APT (Art in Perpetuity Trust) were open. I've seen the place listed for years and often thought 'Creekside' sounded like a cool address: sort of dropsically dickensian and narrow, lots of old wood, with willow trees and tidal reflections (in reality it's a dusty slip road through an industrial estate).

APT is huge, with a long-standing block of artists studios attached that subsidise the gallery space. We enjoyed Alex Ramsey's exhibition 'Nowhere Special'. Alex lives and works in Ladywell and teaches at Central St.Martins. His paintings are big and dark, lots of paynes greys and inky-stained backgrounds with strange signs and symbols scattered all over in waveringly unsteady white chalk. The chalkings falter and fade in and out across the large canvases, like snippets of stories or chattering voices struggling to be heard. Alex was invigilating his own show (a braver man than me) "I'm the artist!... can't you tell by my scuffy t-shirt?" so we had an interesting chat about South East London. Talking to Alex reminded me how much I enjoy talking to older artists.

After that we had a look at the Laban Centre which I thought was mildly terrific (but not blow-your-head-off terrific) then continued towards Greenwich into more familiar territory, but unfortunately it started raining and we decided to cut our Cultural Exploration short. Greenwich is definately a sunny sort of place, or an autumnal one, so we went round the sales in Canary Wharf instead. I purchased a veritable bounty. A 'tootal' blue and white stripy silk scarf with tassles, a skull and crossbones tie from Cecil Gee (I'll buy anything with skulls on, it's the goth in me), and a pinstripe waistcoat (a bargain at £12). I also toyed with the idea of a panama hat from John Lewis but decided it might look a bit silly.

I must admit artistically speaking I've given South East London a wide berth for several years. There used to be a superb project space called Gallery Fresh on Greenwich High Road in about 1999. They did some great group shows called Disaster, Concrete Jungle, Go Girl Show Girl and Diamond Geezers and were always in Time Out. I did two solo shows with them. The first was practically a sell out, with the great and the good beating a path to the door, but the second kicked off (or rather spluttered into life) with a lacklustre private view on a dark and rainy October night in 2000 with a grand total of about six people over two hours. The opening was inexplicable and an omen of things to come as I sold one piece for £500 when I needed £5,000. Living solely off my work at the time meant that I lost my flat in the aftermath and art and South-East London have not sat well with me ever since!

I intend to resume cultural explorations into South East London again soon; if anyone has any suggestions of venues I might not have come across I'd be grateful.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

New Work and Explorations

This is a large mixed media collage called 'The Boscastle Flood (or the Death of Memory)'; it's about my memories of our childhood holidays in and around Boscastle and the recent destruction of the place in the flood that swept it all away in August 2004. It's made up of a repeated image of the flood damage overlaid with the same image torn and painted. There are also details of family photos blown-up and incorporated and all worked over in paint, charcoal and pastel. If you look closely you'll see the 'Witch's House' (actually a long-standing Museum of Witchcraft, now restored), various wishing wells and gnomes, there's also the 'Pixie House' from Boscastle Harbour (now a clothes shop). My brother is at the top left of the picture inexplicably blinding himself with a couple of ginger nuts and my sister is on the right hand side being trodden on by my brother. All the images apart from the flood damage are from my parent's photo albums. I've not been back since I was a child although my parents visited the place last year. They sent me postcards "so many lovely memories here", and I might use them in a piece of work.

This is 'Teenage Lightning'; an obsessive portrait of the young East End boxer Kevin Mitchell:-

I've painted Kevin before for my show 'London Youth' in Clerkenwell in 2004. It's a picture about teenage energies and ambition, and Kevin is for me a tough summing up of that one chance you get before a bigger picture starts to take over. This piece made me think alot about the direction of my work at the moment. I abandoned my own painted East End Teens for making work based on my own personal history... and I was interested to find myself drawn to teenage life again, but I think it's all the same subject really. It's all about young life and the battles therein. The title comes from the Coil song of the same name. The piece also incorporates Kevin's autograph to me 'For Stephen From Kev'... and four large bloody hearts which go nicely with the red boxing gloves.

God knows what the boy himself would think. We didn't actually meet when I painted him a couple of years ago: I made the pictures from Harry Borden's contact sheets (he'd photographed Kevin for the Observer and gladly lent me his material from the shoot). I did write Kevin a letter, with an invite to the private view (his portrait was on the card) but he didn't reply. He probably thought it was a bit wierd, being painted... I remember Harry saying that it was odd to think of such a handsome (dare I say 'pretty'?) baby face being attached to such a dangerous body, and it was that thought that stayed with me while I was painting the crackling electricity that surround the multiple barechested Kev's. The idea that he could inflict serious disabling damage or even kill with his bare hands captivates me.

Talking of dangerous boys (and I never tire of it), I was strongly attracted to a sad news story a little over a year ago, of a teenage bully who murdered his classmate. The photos in the papers of both boys affected me deeply, it seemed such a sad loss of energetic young lives. The murderer in particular, Charles Manson eyes and pretty boy looks, struck me. I attempted to explore this 'look' by way of a repeated image that I wanted to look kind a kind of psychological study, with small nuances of mood brought about by subtle collage and little twists and adjustments.

I also did a number of single studies, overworked in paint, and mostly of the blown-up press photo staring out of darkness or splattered with blood. They all catch the eyes, but each one's different. Lost child here, blood drenched little assassin there.

Other small projects I've been working on include a series called 'Fragments' being repeated images and single small pieces of inscriptions from inside the front pages of my Doctor Who books from when I was a kid. One in particular is called 'The Sad Day', and the inscription commemorates the day that Tom Baker turned into Peter Davidson. I've also been exploring Merlin's Cave with a series of painted studies largely based on old fashioned postcards bought off ebay. Merlin's Cave was a very magical and special place for me as a child, as was all of Tintagel and Boscastle. I've also made a small series of cut-away photos, where fragments of place, lifted from family photos again, are suspended in whiteness, as though lost and distant.

I'm hoping to make a small film which records my emotional reaction to a film I used to watch as a kid that still provokes a strong reaction in me, but having little knowledge in that direction I may need a collaborator. I want to record my grown-up reaction to remembered sadnesses and joy, in real time; my reaction being the full length of the film.

I've also been working on some paintings of the 'Witch of Wookey', from Wookey Hole in Somerset, another important place (you've probably gathered by now that anywhere involving witches, demons, buried sleeping Kings and the like was pretty much guaranteed to fire my attention as a kid). The Witch is actually a frozen stalagtite(mite?) formed in an oddly unsettling witch-like form that sits underground in the caves. The legend was that she was turned to stone by a parson for having eaten a child from the village. Needless to say I believed it.

This is a snap shot of the studio, or rather a corner thereof.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Power of Paint

On Sunday I made the pilgrimage to ‘Ye Oldie Tatey’ to see the Constable show. It’s the first and potentially only chance to see Constable’s ‘Six Footer’ landscapes alongside their corresponding full size preliminary canvases.

The difference between the finished pieces and the worked up studies is immense. Where the finished canvases are majestically detailed and highly finished, the sketches are vigorous, with a rough-edge. They are as compositionally correct as the finished pieces but the studies look more like real life. The skies have a distance and movement, and because the brushstrokes are unpolished and racing all over your eye travels around, like in real landscape, rather than a stilted hopping from detail to finished detail and thinking how well painted they are.

The big sketches make the finished paintings look as dull as old boards. Maybe at the time the sketches would have been seen as unpracticed and messy but the life is there. Amazingly (or rather perhaps not) the ‘Constable Shop’ hasn’t got a single postcard of one of the sketches, but loads of the dullards. Extraordinary.

I scrawled some notes about the sketches on my ticket:-

“View on the Stour”
White Paint Hurtling Out

Roaring Skies Eating into the Landscape
The Sketches are Alive

“Sunlight on the Lock”
This is Noisy Countryside, there is WORK going on

the Muscles of The White Horse are ready to move
Toiling; Smell of earth; Dappled Sky

in these Autumn Afternoons

Then I went round the Hodgkin. I didn’t enjoy this show as much as the one the Hayward did ten years ago, mind you its worth going to experience the shock of the slightly muddy-salmon-pink washed walls that make the first room look like sort of Mediterranean themed café. HH picked the colours himself apparently but why someone so interested in colour would wish his pictures to sink into the walls is beyond me. I didn’t think the walls did anything to assist the pictures at all. They sort of sucked them up.

I’ve never met him but have an idea of his temperament and sensitivity and I think that the fact that he’s a shy and emotional man is a good starting point for these paintings.

I think the earlier work is interesting as information but it’s only in the late ‘80’s that he really hit his stride and the shapes and dots became fluid and free. I admire him for sticking to his guns. He’s a definite example of hitting on a language, developing it and keeping to it.

One of my favourites is the ‘Sad Flowers’ painting, where I think that his curious language comes together successfully. I also like ‘Lovers’, which I call ‘the fucking picture’ or the ‘Spermy Fried Egg’. Amazing that it took him eight years to paint a lustful lunge that would have lasted only moments. I also like the smaller studies that seem like rememberances of love affairs or dinners in far-flung hotels.

As if by magic, as he got more celebrated, the paintings got bigger and he got quicker at them, and I thought the last room was deeply disappointing. ‘Come Into the Garden Maud’ makes no sense to me, it doesn’t tell me anything. I wouldn’t have remembered it if it wasn’t for the title. It’s very big, and a sort of sketchy not quite there garden, with odd shapes in charcoal and some faint gestures of grass and roses over almost bare plywood. Perhaps that’s Maud for you, but it leaves me feeling flat.

I cant’ remember anything much about the other paintings at the end of the show. On the other hand, the pictures in previous couple of rooms are heavyweight emotional slabs.

More notes:-

Personal Memory Art.
Remembering the glint of an eye
Reflected Restaurant Walls in Glassware
Loving Abroad

Only he knows the origination of the green surround in “Clean Sheets’,
or the gash of tulip red.

Some are easy to read
Venetian glamour
The colours are his but most mean nothing unless you were there

Romances are played out in the Plazzo Albrizi
Whose are the shorts in ‘Bermudas’?

Whose indeed!… in fact I realised that the paintings made me think more about HH’s life rather than considering them in the light of my own, which I think most good emotional painting does because it can jolt you into remembering.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Great Outdoors

No blog activity for about three weeks... It's not often that the job du jour overshadows my artistic practice but June is the busiest month in my particular line of (day)work unfortunately.

I've been doing 12-hour days, in at 7am and often not leaving the office until 8 or 9 then falling out onto Bishopsgate exhausted and into a cold vat of rewarding lager. The idea that some people work like this all the time horrifies me. Deskbound and necking pints... it's doing wonders for the waistline but at least I'm keeping the 'Wolf from the Door'.

Luckily, amidst the awful day-job drudgery I sold four paintings last week. The studio is so near the City I met the buyer in my lunchbreak (changing out of the pinstripes first), did the deal and was back at my desk at 2.15... talk about a double life! BTW not that anyone probably gives a toss but I wanted to post a batch of new work on here a couple of weeks ago and on the site (currently being overhauled having been advised by my web man that it had got ‘nonsensical and sprawling’). But then my camera bust and Sony have yet to finish mending it so fat chance of photographing anything at the moment.

In other news we went to see the wonderful Depeche Mode at the O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park. That David Gahan looks pretty good though doesn't he!? …all things considered. I’d not seen them before. Fave tunes were 'Enjoy the Silence' and 'Photographic'. No probs getting a drink on demand and all very well organised and civilised, as were The Cure and REM on other Hyde Park visits. In fact *makes thoughtful face* is it a sign of getting old when you like an nice orderly toilet queue and you appreciate being able to get a drink without having to join in any pushing and shoving?

We also saw the Pet Shop Boys at the Tower of London last week. Day-job-horror threatened to cause a cancellation but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

It was classic old fashioned PSB full-on DISCO SHOWTIME with some great tunes, great sound and stunning visuals. They had a big square white cube that opened out and up and housed lights and projections, including a disco-dancing soldier (an echo of Jarman’s promos). They’ve got a new book coming out called ‘Catalogue’ all about the visual history of PSB and I can't wait. They've always had an interesting, artful stance.

The 'big white cube' must have evolved into twenty different backdrops, and even had dancers high within it for one song. I liked the way they incorporated some of their own early video imagery into the films too. It was lucky it was busy visually because the only problem with the nite was the fact that the stage was quite low and the seating area was flat. Even though we were reasonably near the front it was still difficult to see the boys themselves even though everyone stood up (although I am short). We would have been better off in the cheap seats in the raised area cos everyone rushed forward into the aisles anyway. In fact at this Tower lark you can safely see all from the pavement on Tower Hill itself if you’ve half a mind. Quite nice to have a gig 15mins walk from home too and we bumped into loads of familiar faces and some friends who’d been picnicking on the grass (but don’t fancy the idea of that especially).

Favourite tunes were Minimal / I'm with Stupid / Suburbia / Rent / Shopping / Where the Streets have no Name / Opportunities and Dreaming of the Queen. Loved those ‘80s ones. Anyone got a Vid of 'It Couldn't Happen Here' to lend? Or Derek Jarman's 'Projections'? I’ve fallen back in love with them.

So, horror of horrors I've decided at long last that I like outdoor music things (as long as it's not raining and/or muddy).

The idea of mixing music and mud always reminds me of watching Magenta Davine on Network Seven at Glastonbury in the '80s. Dressed up the nines and picking her way around a sloppy field like a dowager in disgust. She SO couldn't wait to get back to her winnebago. She coloured my opinion of such things right there and then (I was only 13) and it's held firm ever since. Mud just doesn't equal 'good times' and/or 'nice outfit' but as long as the weather holds I may be ok for my FIRST festival type experience at 'V' next month. Bring on the sedan chair!