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.