art

President Obama, In Seven Days & Greenbelt

 

Once again I find myself writing a once-in-a-blue-moon blog, and once again I find myself at the Greenbelt Festival, hanging artwork for the Visual Arts stream. It’s been it’s usual slog, but the work is up, the punters are trickling in, and the visual arts team nervously wait to see whether the work is as enjoyable to everyone else as it has been to us choosing it and working with it.

One of my particular favourites this year is Nicola Green’s “In Seven Days”.

Nicola had the great privilege of being able to follow Barack Obama’s journey from accepting the nomination as candidate for the Democratic party, right through to his inauguration as President of the United States.

The images are a distillation of various key moments along that journey. At first glance the images appear to be very simple but as with most work that reduces the various elements to distilled constituent parts, the volume of significance increases dramatically.

The gestures, poses and symbols are versatile enough that they can stand rigourous enough interpretation. The cruciform gesture in sixth image (“SACRIFICE/EMBRACE”) is particularly loaded with messianic symbolism, the air-punching fist of the second image (“STRUGGLE”) echoes both olympic triumphalism and black power – all lend a tension to the seven works taken as a whole, almost a narrative journey. The work, as Green says become about more than just him, and are the story of the people of America.

Questions of power are particularly pertinent at this point in Obama’s second term of office, as the tide of opinion turns, and the legacy of his time as President domes into focus. Will it be “Yes, we did” or have the NSA, drone flights, Gauntanamo Bay blotted the record too far? And what place does this have within the Greenbelt Festival’s remit around social and political justice issues?

It’s not often that you get works like this that see-saw well between political concerns and art practise concerns, but they do seem to hit a moment in time. And like all the best work, there is a timelessness to them that is more than just about Obama, America and now, and become about power, kingship and you and me.

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How I (Nearly) Made It as an Artist (or “What Not To Do”)

Back in 2001, I had what was essentially a major solo show at The Custard Factory, a large space in Birmingham, the UK‘s second city. I’ve not talked about that show on this blog, and it’s high time.

I was going through my storage unit the other day where I archive a lot of my old work. It brought back memories of this show.

It was a big deal for me. It was everything I’d ever wanted – a show that I could use to build my audience, credibility and client list.

I’d been invited up there by a friend of a friend, and it was a great opportunity, so I grasped it with both hands. Showing at the Custard Factory was and still is a big deal. It’s one of those big spaces that you can hire if you have enough money. And for that time I did. It was a gamble.

At that time, I had a studio space in South London that was sub-let to me by another artist friend. I went into full overdrive mode for 6 months, and pretty much took over the space making 12 works two metres high that were to form the centrepiece of the show, as well as other smaller works, plus I had built up a pretty good inventory of older works that I could put in. I could never understand so many artists that I knew who had so much talent, but wouldn’t put the hours in. It took me years just to get to the point where I had a studio space, and I wasn’t going to waste a second of it.

To my mind I just had to have the biggest show possible and sell all of the work, which would get the ball rolling – I could re-invest the money from the sales to bankroll further shows, and so the snowball would start. I knew that I wasn’t great at meeting people and charming them when it counted. The idea of schmoozing at Private Views is not something that comes naturally to me. I’ve got better at it over the years, but back then it was a relief to know that I was being invited up to do a show and that someone else was going to take care of all that side of it for me.

I didn’t realise that in order to get going, you had to keep going. One show doth not make an artist. You have to keep doing more shows like that over and over, repeatedly lining them up, doing other things. You probably need to start smaller and build up to it. I wanted to take the shortcut to the fairy tale gallery dealer coming in out of nowhere unexpectedly and throwing his money around, and of course it wasn’t going to happen. Looking back I can’t believe how naive I was.

Not only that, but the guy who I was relying on to get people to the show had a genuine series of misfortunes that meant that very few people came to the opening night. The magazine he had invited to cover the show went under the day before. Several people he’d lined up to come along were no-shows. I could blame him for it all, but that wouldn’t be fair. I could see that a most of it wasn’t his fault, and to be fair it was just as much about me trying to put all my eggs in one basket. I don’t hold a grudge and we’re still friends to this day.

Instead of being lined up to do the next one, I came back tired, un-sold and broke. The last thing I wanted was to put myself through the same experience all over again.

The (as I saw it) failure of the show knocked me for six and I don’t think I’ve ever recovered. I didn’t know it then, but I was pretty much at the beck and call of severe forms of anxiety, that came from what I now know to be Emotional Disregulation.

It’s fairly normal to have ups and downs in life – highs and lows are part of what happens, even the low lows. However, in Emotional Disregulation those highs and lows are magnified out of all proportion. Very innocent and innocuous comments made by people off hand, for example, can land and hit heavily with the sufferer. Lasting depression, uncontrollable ruminations and worries stagger on for days often from very trivial matters. Anxiety spirals are an issue of their own that follows on, but the simplest thing can be a trigger. When a genuine catastrophe occurs, the anxiety goes off the register, sometimes leading to total emotional shutdown. Even very small distractions render me totally un-able to concentrate. It’s one of the reasons why I like working on my own. No-one else is there, and the work is more likely to get done if I have some peace and quiet. Emotional Disregulation or Hypersensitivity is often linked with Borderline Personality Disorder. Thankfully I’ve never had that diagnosis, at least.

The show that I had wanted for so long, that I had put far too much faith in, invested a lot of time and energy in not only affected me deeply (as it would) but the hypersensitivity that has been a constant feature of much of my life magnified my sense of failure a hundred fold. I can remember driving a hire van back down the motorway with the contents of that show in the back. I thought I hadn’t screwed it all down properly and every time I hit the brake I could hear this clattering sound. I thought that by the time I got back to London, my work would just be a pile of wood fit only for the scrapheap. (It wasn’t)

Since then, I’ve gone from the boy who wouldn’t miss a day in the studio to the man who can’t get it together. Work is slow, almost to the point of imperceptibility at times. There’s a part of me that still can’t get over that show, even though I’ve had shows since.

 

Maybe writing this post will be cathartic. I certainly look back with the thought that through social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, that side of generating interest in your artwork has become a lot easier in recent years – it certainly eases the sting out of social interaction, and leads to the real-life connections in a way that’s a bit smoother and that I can cope with better. This makes organising things like private views much simpler and easier to do.
Somewhere, somehow though, I’m not done yet. I’m still going, even though at times progress is so slow it almost appears non-existent. Even though right now, I don’t know how or when, I’m still going. Just be patient.

 

Publicity shot for the show at The Custard Factory

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Twitter Art, Conceptualism and a new art form

I’ve been having a lot of fun this week creating some art pieces using the social media platform Twitter.

Although people are quite keen to promote their art on Twitter, very few make their actual tweets into artworks (“Tweet” being a status update of 140 characters on Twitter) On the face of it, it sounds rather facile, but the works have become an exploration of ideas of creativity, authorship, existence, privacy and tangibility. And before too long, the process of the Art Tweets became REALLY complicated. Then it became even more complicated again.

So the first one went like this, as I blogged at the beginning of the week:

And you can look at the actual tweet on Twitter.

There’s nothing tangible about the work to pick up, or touch (or not touch it if you’re standing in an art gallery with security guards and “do not touch” signs everywhere). There’s no recorded piece of information as such. It’s only existence is what is known as a “Digital Footprint“.

However, it has intentionality, creativity, a creator (me) and we can talk about it in terms of it’s existence. What makes this a work of art? It’s akin to a Performance Art piece, but the closest thing I can think of is the drawings of Sol LeWitt, who created drawings straight on the wall without actually doing them – he wrote specific instructions and maybe a few sketches and then got his technicians to draw them for him, writing a certificate of authentication at the end.

The other thing is that it’s visual nature changes. The image you see above only looks that way because I’ve altered the background on my profile page of Twitter. Other people will see something entirely different, depending on how they’re viewing it. If I look at the tweet on my phone it will look different, not to mention all the different apps you can use to look at the tweet with, such as Tweetdeck, Plume, dabr, and so on. And yet it is visual in that you need to look at it and read it, and all of the different visual representations of the tweet contribute to it, and make it.

Adding further layers to the work, people can “Re-tweet” your tweet. So in other words, they can take what you’ve written and re-post it to everyone who is following them. It usually has an “RT” followed by your name at the start so people know where it has originally come from. And of course, people actually did this: @DaisyCarr, @jcalverttoulmin @omgitsridley all re-tweeted it very quickly.

So did that make them co-creators? Is it still a tweet and still the same work of art or is it a print or an edition? Traditionally a work of art is a work of art because the artist says it is (I chose the wording very deliberately).

So I explored the idea in the next two works.

 

#untitled2 looked like this:

To some degree of surprise everyone respected this, and did not re-tweet the work. So at the time of writing, this work still exists, and it does so because I, as the artist, defined the parameters under which it exists. It also says something about the position of the artist in society. People are very compliant when it comes artistic endeavours. It also give the lie to the idea that Twitter is some sort of “digital wild west” and raises all sorts of questions about contemporary issues around so-called illegal downloading and perception management in terms of political lobby groups. Not to mention the demagogic potential of artistic deification and how that operates on social media platforms.

However, this piece only works because it subverts the platform. Twitter is social media. It only works because people interact and talk to each other. By denying people the opportunity to re-tweet, the work runs counter to the spirit of Twitter. However, in a kind of moebius loop, clearly people have interacted with in it. For people to respect the boundary created, they will have had to read the tweet and respect it, thus interacting with it. If a tweet is not responded to, is it still social media? Is the act of replying using the “@” symbol what makes social media social, or does the unknown response of the “lurker” also social, in that they reflect and/or act upon the tweet? Is the social a chain of unforeseen events, or is it more akin to a stalker’s silent phonecall? What is it about social media that makes it social?

So somewhat inevitably #untitled3 looked like this.

 

Once again the parameters of the work were defined at the start, and once again I could be said to be the author, but a condition was specified that the work only exists though the act of co-creation with other people. This embraces the idea of social media much more, and indeed many people obliged: @joanl, @mattbassg, @GeorgeV69, @solobasssteve, @tref, @IAmKat, @SteveBickle and @danielsladen so far at the time of writing. The work is still there, so feel free to continue become part of the work and co-create it.

However! A couple of weird things happened in this case. If you look at @IAmKat’s re-tweet, the wording has altered.

It’s quite common, when re-tweeting, to find that the ensuing tweet is then longer than 140 characters. It then requires editing to reduce it down to 140 characters – the wording changes but the gist of the tweet remains and the same idea remains. So Kat in fact tweeted “This tweet is NOW a work of art called #untitled3” So in making Kat a co-creator, did I also give her permission to alter the words, or has she created a new work? Is it within the right of me as the originator (without whom the work would not have existed) to stipulate what happens to the work, or does the artist leave the work to run like a clockwork toy, wound up and left to spin? To what extent to we alter any work when we look at it? When we go to see a Turner and create our own view of the work, regardless of (and sometimes contrary to) what the artist intended, do we alter the work? What about if we persuade other people that our interpretation is the correct one, and other people come to accept that that interpretation is correct?

 

Also – @danielsladen re-tweeted the tweet, but with an edition number at the start (Ed.1/9) I pointed out that I hadn’t specified that there were to be a limit on the number of re-tweets, or what would happen to any re-tweets beyond Ed. 9/9. However he explained that in fact he had used my tweet as a ready-made, and that in fact his work was a separate piece of work of which he is the creator. I like this idea a lot. It collects Marcel Duchamp into the fold of references around the work, and I’m pleased with the association as these untitled works definitely follow in the tradition of conceptualism that he in many ways fathered. Feel free to re-tweet @danielsladen’s tweet and with the next edition number – I don’t think (at the time of writing) that anyone else apart from me has collected the further editions he has left open for you to co-create with him.

 

#untitled4 was not a tweet but a hashtag, which is another feature often used in Twitter.

Explaining what a hashtag is and what it does is outside the scope of this blog post, but I remember a few years ago one guy started a hashtag and got quite annoyed about the fact that people were’t using it “properly” as he saw it, and wanted some sort of recognition of his place as the creator and guardian of it’s use. Cue hoots of derision from the twitter community. Once a hashtag is released in the wild it is in use becomes defined by users implicitly but very rarely explicitly. By defining parameters, I still have to relinquish control and yet essentially any tweets further down the line have been co-opted – not only those related to the work, but any future tweets that use the hashtag for other purposes (such as an event or a conference, etc.) also become part of the work, despite drastically changing the nature and function of that hashtag. Once again we call into question the nature of what constitutes a work of art and the extent to which viewers can alter the work. Also a new category of art consumer has been created – the art user. Art is often defined in terms of the fact that it has no function or “use” but by taking the term “user” (a computer term), and applying it to art, the parameters not just of art, but of consumption have changed.

I was also hoping that people would use #untitled4 to discuss the work in some depth. So far only @omgitsridley has stepped up to the plate, but there’s still plenty of time.

 

By the time you’re reading this, #untitled5 should no longer exist, except in reproduction form, as I will have deleted it.

It is in the great tradition of temporary works of art. Personally I see it right alongside the work of someone like Andy Goldsworthy, for example.

However, can anything that is on the web truly be deleted? The work will still exist in some form or other beyond my control – perhaps in cached form. I was hoping that someone would re-tweet the work to preserve it. In the end I re-tweeted it myself because I wanted the work to join the long list of works that are “lost” but can only be seen in the form of a reproduction.

Again, the artist must relinquish control of the work and let it be stored in forms outside of control.

However, in a further twist, @Danacea “favourited” the piece. Twitter users often mark tweets as “favourite” either because they want to remember them and at a very basic level simply like them. However, they can also use it a way of marking tweets to remember them later. I haven’t yet asked @Danacea why she favourited that tweet, but my guess is that she wanted to see 1) if I would be true to my word, and 2) whether a tweet that has been favourited will disappear once deleted. A form of preserving a disintegrating work of art? Another attempt at reproduction?

 

And lastly #untitled6

In Twitter, it’s possible to send Direct (or Private) Messages to other users. Known as “DM”s #untitled6 took the form of a DM mailed to the first people to respond to my previous works. All were sent, but it is not possible to DM people who aren’t following you, so @omgitsridley didn’t receive his.

I think the DM piece raises questions about privacy. Normally when DMs are sent in this way it constitutes spam, as the tweets are unsolicited. I deliberately sent the DM to people who had been previously involved in the works to give it a spammy feel. However, again the work succeeds in subverting internet mores, in that the recipients (certainly in the case of @datainadequate, @joanl, @ponor, and @IAmKat) were very happy to receive the work.

#untitled6 addresses elitism in art in a very visceral way. It deals with notions of exclusivity and closed networks in art, and exposes them for what they are.

 

This is the last of the #untitled series for now. There will be more in the future, but for now I feel that the six works so far stand to raise some serious questions about a whole load of things, and to provoke thought.

@datainadequate and @benjiw have taken the concept of #tweetart in a whole other direction which I also think is quite interesting. I’m looking forward to see how this might develop further. I hope to continue this debate within the work #untitled4.

 

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This tweet is a work of art

 

You can see it here.

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Greenbelt 2011: Final Round-up.

So finally the dust has settled on Greenbelt 2011 (almost). Si Smith let me have one of these “Where The Wild Things Are” figures as a nice little gift for helping out with the Visual Arts team. I suspect if anyone needs a gift it would be him, though. He was BUSY.

 

The Hub is a part of the Visual Arts programme that I often have the least amount of time to devote to – mostly because there’s just so much of it. It’s the hands-on part of Greenbelt where you can get in and make stuff – printmaking, mask-making, that kind of stuff. Thoroughly worth a visit.

The second night of Pecha Kucha presentations was fantastic. Both nights were as good, but by the second night, the whole thing found it’s rhythm, and there was some fantastic talks. I decided to take a different approach to recording these. Instead of having a “grab what I can” mentality, I recorded all the sound to the talks, and have uploaded them online. I’m also getting the images into a Flickr set, so you can entertain yourself as the nights draw in by having your own Pecha Kucha moment at home. They are actually astonishingly good, and this was definitely a festival highlight for me. They were all brilliant.

Here’s Steve Lawson‘s musings on music and the state it’s in:

Slides used during the talk

Audio:

And Simone Lia‘s illustrations and thoughts on carrots, sausages and parables:

Audio:

 

Negotiating rights for all the images is going to take time though, so for now here are the audios of the rest of the presentations, and I’ll let you know when we get the accompanying photos sorted out.

Illustrator Brent Clarke talks about what happens to you after you spend your teenage years with a horror poster above your bed:

Anaesthetist Helen Morant talks about… well, the art of being an anaesthetist, which on paper may sound dull, but was both hilarious and interesting – one of the best in fact.

And lastly Dan Thompson, who was utterly brilliant – Social Artist, creator of the #riotcleanup hashtag, and who I have had the good fortune to work with before.

Being the father of two small children I had occasion to spend quite a lot of time in Messy Space. This was an area set aside with a shed-load of toys, painting stations and the like. Much like the ballponds you see in leisure centres, I often think that these areas look a bit like one of Brueghel’s paintings of Hell. Decapitated heads, people being thrust into boiling cauldrons of oil, that sort of thing. Much has been made of the fact that you’re no longer able to leave your children in spaces monitored by qualified childcare people (as you have in previous years). It’s been a step that was highly controversial, as parents now don’t get any time to themselves at GB, BUT..

…when it was explained to me that it was just too expensive to run the old way, then naturally I’m happier that the festival continues, even if the child care facilities are somewhat reduced.

It was fun though. The kids would have spent every minute of the festival in Messy Space if we hadn’t attempted to drag them away from time to time.

 

I was also able to grab a few quick words with Willie Williams. He brought his fantastic installation “Lumia Domestica” to Greenbelt. It’s basically a light piece: Various coloured lights shone through cut glass objects, which then cast beautiful dancing coloured shadows on the wall/ceiling etc. He had a room to himself to install them in, and used the space well. The result was an incredibly calming room, almost meditative, almost (dare I say it) Chill-Out. You can find the work online on his website, but it’s worth having a look to see when he’s next showing it, as online video doesn’t really do it justice.

I was incredibly nervous as you can probably tell by the camera shake. Not at all his fault – he’s a lovely man, very funny and charming. But I suppose it’s easy to allow yourself to be intimidated by the size of his oeuvre, lets just say that.

Finally wrapping up the Visual Arts for me, I videoed the Photo Flash Swap. Basically people brought printed photos they had taken along this year’s theme. The photos were then hung for the duration of the festival, and at the end of the weekend, you could rush to grab whichever one you liked (provided you’d supplied one of course). The ensuing scrummage can be viewed here:

Greenbelt Photo Flash Swap 2011 from Michael Radcliffe on Vimeo.

This left me free to enjoy Foy Vance‘s surprise gig in the Performance Cafe – a triumphant end to a great Greenbelt. Roll on next year.

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Reasons to be Greenbelt Part. 3

So I’ve been at Greenbelt once again, the annual festival that takes place on Cheltenham racecourse once a year. It’s always a joy to take part.

This year has been busier than ever. Once again I’ve been helping set up the Visual Arts, and producing various bits of social media along the way.

I arrived in the pouring rain – a flash downpour that drenched me in about 10 seconds flat the minute I stepped off the bus. In order to combat my damp spirits, I used the time before our venue was opened to record a quick Audioboo. I took the Ian Dury song “Reasons to be Cheerful Pt. 3” and turned it into “Reasons to Be Greenbelt Pt. 3”. Just opening up the programme and randomly fitting in various things from it was an easy gag (it kind of writes itself) but it was a lot of fun finding a quiet space and tapping out the rhythm myself. have a listen.

Reasons to be Greenbelt Pt. 3 #gb11 (mp3)

Thursday & Friday were quickly spent building one of the gallery spaces called “Angels of the North” – a lovely little show curated by Carla Moss.

As always, it’s a privilege to get to know the artists, and this year I quickly made friends with Phill Hopkins. His work is a mixture of sculpture and frame charcoal drawings. I was really struck by the deft-ness of the drawings, and their impact is heightened by the subject matter.

In the room next to the Angels of the North show is The Methodist Art Collection. It’s pretty huge and there are some amazing works in there, including Roualt and Craigie Aitchison. I helped hang the collection some 18 years ago when it was first rescued from a basement by Meryl Doney – the Methodists didn’t quite know what a treasure trove they were sitting on (“Is this stuff of any interest?”), and Meryl being Meryl was good enough not to go “Err… not really…” and run off with them. (Well, I would have…!)

The Methodists have started collecting works again now anyway, and the collection is burgeoning. Here’s a chat I had with one of the trustees:

Friday Night, the show was finally up and open, and after consuming much wine with Grace, Derek and Simon I went back to my tent feeling palpably knackered:

Last night we ran a thing called Pecha Kucha. I’ve never heard of it before, but it’s one of those simple ideas that works really well. It’s essentially a form of presentation. You can show 20 slides (with no text), but you’ve only got 20 seconds to speak in front of each one. And someone else is changing the slides for you, so there’s no cheating. Quite a task for some people! The format is astonishingly clever, and each talk was spellbinding. I manage to grab a couple of them live. Not great quality but good enough for you to follow:

So here I am on Sunday morning. There’s another Pecha Kucha tonight, and I might get some more. Tonight’s feature @solobassteve and @artistsmakersDan was the guy responsible for setting up the #riotcleanup hashtag in the wake of the national riots that happened recently, so that promises to be a corker.

See you there.

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I’m painting a brain.

So I recently started painting again after a long hiatus….

This time I’m doing paintings of brain scans. I often wonder what it’s like for people to follow my paintings. My work has taken so many twists and turns over the years, that there isn’t always a continuous thread, or a recognisable style. I quite like it that way.

It would be boring for everyone for me to just decide at the start of my “artistic career” (awful concept alert: “Artistic Career” I hate that idea. You’re either an artist or you aren’t, from the moment you popped into the world. But I’m hoping you get the drift of what I mean) that I was going to have this or that signature style and spend the rest of my life putting finishing touches to it. And anyway, no-one is One Thing their whole life. You change and respond to your environment as you develop and grow. You’re life’s work as an artist should reflect that. The day you stop doing that you’re dead.

So anyway. Brain scans. I wonder how many art college tutors up and down the land roll their eyes and go “Not brain scans again!” every time a wide-eyed student brings their latest offering to a crit. Probably quite a few.

But this is my starting point. I haven’t a clue where I’m going with brain scans. And that is sometimes the best way. Recently a friend of mine on Facebook posted the legend “Well THAT time spent pondering was a complete waste of time, wasn’t it?” I was horrified. I believe that nothing is a waste of time. Life is all about the dead-ends and finding the limitations of what you’re good at and not good at. If at first you don’t succeed, etc.

Anyway where was I? Brain scans! There we are.

So I’m painting on an old discarded piece of shuttering ply that I found on the estate where I live. I got the image of the brain scan off the internet. It will (eventually) show the part of the brain that lights up when you experience fear. An emotion that I’m more familiar with than most.

I’m sure that many of you out there are wondering “Why doesn’t he use scans of his own brain?” (I’m sure you are. Oh yes). Well, I can’t afford it for one thing. I’ve never understood why some artists put themselves into huge amounts of debt for no good reason. Like most artists, I live below the poverty line. Literally. And this artists isn’t going to get himself massively in hock. To some extent that is what the work is about. I’m all for reducing the costs of production. Nothing wrong with good art made cheaply. Why run a scanner with all that that involves ecologically when there’s already someone brain scan sitting out there on the internet waiting to be used.

A stranger’s brain scans. The fear of strangers is something I experience regularly. I’ve also used colours that one associates with African Masks. Not really African Masks, but the sort of african masks associated with Tinga Tinga Tales. A sanitised version of African-ness cleaned up and made safe for the children. Discuss.

I like the idea of painting something that is quite scientific and cold, but imbuing it with an emotion and pathos in the way that it’s painted. It’s not there yet, I’m just blocking in the colour at the moment. In fact even the ideas in it are a bit half-baked.

But.

That’s.
The.
Point!

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Storage, Back Catalogues and Saints

I spent most of last Friday sorting through the storage space where I keep a lot of my artwork. I’m on an economy drive and need to downsize my storage costs for the New Year. Start as you mean to go on and all that.

It sure was an interesting day. It seems I’ve kept EVERYTHING. There are paintings and drawings right back from my days as an art student into teenage stuff I did at home at that time. I’m really glad I had the foresight to hang on to a lot of it. It’s been a trip down memory lane, and an unexpected re-evaluation the things I’ve made over the years. Some of the works were things that I’d almost forgotten about, but I was also pleasantly surprised by how good almost all of it is.

One piece that got my attention was the one in the photo above. It’s pretty huge – about 2 metres tall (I didn’t have my tape measure with me). It’s called “NOT St. Jerome” – a dreadful title. Something to do vague notions of me trying to create more positive images of good people engaged with life, as a kick against plaster saints in ivory towers. Or something.

The image is from a photo I took of someone who I was working with at the time. A really lovely guy called Sammy – someone who deserved to be known as a saint. It’s got no details of his face, but anyone familiar with him would recognise his silhouette in an instant. It pulled me up a bit, I have to admit. I hadn’t seen Sammy for years, but the news came through on Facebook through mutual friends that he passed away last year. It was quite a shock. He wasn’t much older than me, and had gone into a diabetic coma.

I thought about donating the piece to his family as I was tidying. I have no idea where they live, never met them before, much less have any idea whether their place is big enough for them to have the painting on a wall, or even if it would be appropriate.

The piece once had pride of place in a major show I had at the Custard Factory in Birmingham back in 2001 (I think). I may blog more about this show one day. It was an audacious attempt at a solo show, filling the space entirely with my work and mine alone. No small feat, if you know the space.

I remember one guy stood in front of this piece for a good 20 minutes, looking the work up and down, yammering away on his mobile phone – I misread the signs and missed an opportunity. I really thought he was going to buy it, but he didn’t in the end. In these situations, we tell ourselves that maybe the sale wasn’t meant to be for a reason.

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Greenbelt (Coda) 2010

Now that Greenbelt is over, I thought I’d share some final reflections with you about my time there.

Being a little disorganised this year, I forgot to bring a mug with me to drink my tea with. Anyone who knows me well, will be aware that this is a potentially calamitous state of affairs. I’m a deep believer in the regular morning ritual of tea. Without it my day is screwed. Fortunately, the Greenbelt shop (G-Store) had a copious supply of mugs made especially for the festival.

However at some point during the festival, a crack appeared in this mug. I’ve no idea if it was because I had unknowingly cast it to one side with a little more casual abandonment than I was aware of, or if one of my kids dropped it, or if it was poor workmanship in the first place.

Anyway, this year’s Greenbelt was it’s usual set of enjoyably cracked rituals. (See what I did there). It was one of the busiest in memory for me. For the first day and a half, I was helping set up plinths and hanging paintings as I have already mentioned in my previous post. I then had three services to do with my home community of moot. They went down well, and the last service especially was very well received with people spilling out of the venue and onto the grass behind the tent.

Mike Radcliffe: Greenbelt 2010 Video Diary #1 from Greenbelt Festival on Vimeo.

I was also doing some media capture for the official Greenbelt website. I was given a small HD camera to diary parts of my festival, which were then to be uploaded to the Greenbelt website. Unfortunately, I’m told that there was some problem with bandwidth, and not very many of my vids got uploaded. It’s a shame, because there were some lovely moments, including a nice one of Shaeron Caton-Rose’s broken mirror installation, which I helped set up. I might see if I can get hold of the various vids on DVD and upload them somewhere else myself.

Anyway, here are some of the ones that did make it:

Mike Radcliffe: Greenbelt 2010 Video Diary #3 from Greenbelt Festival on Vimeo.

Mike Radcliffe: Greenbelt 2010 Video Diary #2 from Greenbelt Festival on Vimeo.

Aside from all this, I got to see the fabulous Dodge Brothers in the Performance Cafe, and I met many good friends that I haven’t seen for years, and it was a real pleasure catching up with people.

The Dodge Brothers from Michael Radcliffe on Vimeo.

However, to continue the cracked theme – I’ve had a few thoughts about what was missing from Greenbelt for me, and how I could make I could make it a better experience both for me, and for other people. So in no particular order, I thought I’d compile a wish list for Greenbelt 2011:

– Do something different. It strikes me that it would be very easy for me to keep coming back and doing the same things at Greenbelt every year, and get stuck in some kind of rut. In order to keep Greenbelt alive and vital, as a contributor I think it’s important to come up with something quite different every three or four years, otherwise it becomes stale both for me as a contributor and for the Greenbelt punters. I’ve had a few thoughts for what that might be, but I need to work up the ideas a bit more and see if they fit in with the theme appropriately, and whether there’s a space for me to do them.

– Meet new people try new things. I’ve found it far easier to hook up with old friends, and listen to people who think similarly to me. Nothing wrong with that in some senses, but it’s important to challenge that from time to time. I think I met about 5 new people in a festival of 20,000. I need a better conversion rate. I also would like to hear about new ideas from talks that I wouldn’t normally go to. Travel broadens the mind, even if that travel is walking in someone else’s shoes for 1 hour. Although I would probably crack an ankle if they were stilettos.

– Come back in a campervan. I’ve done tents every year since 1993. I would like to do Greenbelt with a little more style next year. The kids have become addicted to campervans, ever since I borrowed one for the Urban Art Fair a couple of months ago. For all their faults, they look cracking.

I’m Dreaming of Home already.

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Greenbelt 2010 so far…

OK, so here I am. In the first of what will probably be quite sporadic posts, I thought I’d update you on what I’ve been doing at the Greenbelt Festival this year.

After arriving on site at about lunchtime yesterday, I built some plinths for some video projectors, and built a shed. As the band Shed 7 are playing, we thought about painting a big “7” on it. Plus all the other shed jokes you can think of. The shed will have a photograph in it covering one of the walls. Here’s us building sheds:

Today I have mostly been hanging up paintings by Bobby Baker. She’s an interesting one – she’s a performance artist mostly, but this show is all about drawings that she made when she went through a long period of mental illness. I interviewed her here, and it’s a fascinating interview:

Last thing I had to angle all the video projectors for Shaeron Caton-Rose‘s installation, which I also filmed. At the time of writing this, I haven’t filmed anything of the completed work, but I will go back and have a natter with her later. I’m palpably knackered after the set up, so I need a little time off now. An artist’s work is never done.

Lastly I was quite chuffed to open the programme and find a picture of my work had made it onto page 25, opposite an interesting essay by Mark Vernon called “the art of unknowing”. I’m flattered to be i such august company.

More news to follow as it happens…

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Greenbelt 2010

Greenbelt Visual Arts from John Peter Idris Bowen on Vimeo.

Once again I will be attending the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, UK this year. And once again I’m looking forward to it.

This year I’ll be doing about 3 different things. I’ll be helping out with the art gallery side of things – as well as setting up part of the art school and building a shed (!). I’ll also be helping set up and run services for moot, my home community in London. And lastly I’ll be filming various short videos for Greenbelt in an official capacity, which will be uploaded to youTube everyday. And of course, I’ll be tweeting and video throughout, so you can follow me there.

If you’re going yourself, it’ll be great to see you. Do come and say hello.

Also – Greenbelt are organising a photo/flash/swap/thing. You need to bring a photo you’ve taken that you think is good and bring it with you to the festival.

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Back from the Framers

I’ve just got this piece back from the framers.

I’m immensely happy with the way this has turned out. The framing was done by GX gallery in Camberwell, South London. I found them quite by accident – I’d gone to King’s College Hospital for a Physiotherapy appointment, and arrived a little bit early. While wandering around to pass the time, I happened upon them. They were very helpful, and Richard gave me some good advice while I was trying to decide on a frame. Their building is amazing as well – it’s an old converted bakery, with loads of underground space, as well as some of the old features that have been preserved for character.

The frame is pretty hefty, which is exactly what I wanted. I wanted something clean, smooth and imposing to contrast with the free-flowing nature of the painting (I’m all about the contrasts). I’ve called it “Bound To Fail”, to connect it directly to Bruce Nauman‘s work “Henry Moore: Bound To Fail”

I’ll also be putting this work in the Urban Art Fair, which I’m exhibiting at on Saturday and Sunday this weekend. (Provided I get my car back from the garage. Long and annoying story). The other work I’m putting in is this one:

Called “Globus Cruciger”, it’s acrylic paint on paper, and it’s also a work that I’m very proud of. I’ve blogged about doing this before – it’s a football that I found abandoned on our estate. I did think about bouncing the actual football on the face of this painting 3,253 times – one bounce for every day that I’ve lived here. I liked the idea it could have a narrative to it, as well as a therapuetic side, and I was curious to see what effect it would have on the paper and the paint. However, I think I like the painting too much. If you click on the image and look at it a bit bigger, you’ll see that I’ve really put a lot of work in on the fine detail of the painting.

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Empty Shops and YBAs

I seem to have got myself involved in a rather exciting project this week. On Wednesday I’ll be going to do some work on a project called “Seven Days in Seven Dials” for the Empty Shops Network. Although I’ve already blogged about the basics of Empty Shops elsewhere, I thought there was another connection worth exploring.

Waaay back in the early 90s, about the time that I was leaving college, Damien Hirst and a few other were organising art shows in derelict spaces. Fresh out of Goldsmiths College, they were doing what the Empty Shops Network are doing now – taking a derelict space, and turning it into an art space with the support of the landlord, for little or no money as a means of showing off the space. Bringing life and excitement to an otherwise run-down area. Creating space for artists to show. The most well-known and well documented of these was a show known as Freeze.

Of course, as a young, newly graduated artist, this was music to my ears. Find an empty space, do it up yourself and bypass the need to find a gallery to represent you – galleries being a notoriously closed system that’s hard to break into.

BUT. What I kind of glossed over at the time, was that it was gallerists who were invited to Freeze. A lot of the talk was of democratizing the possibilities of arts exhibition spaces, and a part of me was excited that I could bypass my anxieties about meeting gallerists, by just doing it myself. However, I didn’t realise that if I was truly going to follow the plan, I would still have to talk to gallerists at some point. They weren’t just going to walk into my tarted-up space without any kind of connection just because the lights were now on and the space looked pretty. Of course, with a wide circle of friends, I could always guarantee a rent-a-crowd of mates, but most of them were as poor as me, and weren’t likely to buy anything.

But there was a further problem. Putting a derelict space to good use is all very noble, but what are the long term benefits? Did I really care about the area I was exhibiting in, and the people who lived there? Let me put it this way – was it fair of me to go in, put on a show, take the money and run? Wasn’t this a hit-and-run? A cultural form of rape, pillage and plunder?

Clearly I wanted and needed to be paid for what I was doing. That’s not an issue. But could it be possible to genuinely do some good as well?

It’s now some 20 years since the Freeze show, and most of the artists that were involved it are now mega-rich former YBAs, (What do you call a Middle-Aged former YBA? An MBA?)

But what of the idea of exhibiting in derelict spaces? I’m very proud to be involved with “Seven Days in Seven Dials” this week. I’ll be working with them all day Wednesday. Here’s a brilliant example of artists giving something rather than taking away. Working with unemployed people on work experience at some of the major institutions around London (Create KX, Design Council, English National Opera, Exhibition Road, The Hospital Club, National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House, Somerset House and the V&A Museum), it gives them a chance to build their own picture of the area, and a voice to be heard. They’ll be creating psychogeography-style podcast audio tours around the area, as well as taking photos and creating art for an empty unused shop space.

Today has been the first day of activity, and I’m already excited by hearing that the first team of seven people have been sent out to do their stuff around and about. Lloyd Davis has also shot a few photos and uploaded them to Flickr.

The thing will develop and grow over the next 7 days culminating in a show which will run from Saturday 10 July until Friday 23 July 2010. You can go in right now though, and look at it all before then.

If you want to keep up with things online and can’t get there in person, then best way is to follow the #7days7dials hashtag. If you search that hashtag out on Twitter, you’ll find all the people involved (including me) doing their thing and there are plenty of interesting people to follow.

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Art & Language: Social media and conceptual art

I am deeply divided over painting.

When I was at art college, the idea of “skill” and “technique” was definitely a no-no. Ideas were everything. Concepts. Deep discussions with furrowed brows. That sort of thing. “Skill”, so the argument went, is something or someone that can be hired in to execute the idea for you. You don’t need to learn technique, and you should be more like a CEO, calling the shots and making the work happen. At push, you could actually paint with your own hand if you wanted to – but that was really just another stance; an idea about statement of intent. No one was interested in how amazing it was that someone could paint like that. The discussion straight away became about why you would want to do that in the 20th Century (yes it was that long ago that I went to art college).

Indeed, many major works are fabricated by Mike Smith, who I met on many occasions when I worked for a Fine Art storage firm back in the 90s.

When people used to ask me what sort of painting I did, it was never an easy question to answer. My favourite gag, and what I used to tell people, was that I did painting in inverted commas – I did “painting” rather than painting. To that end, I never really got down and sharpened up a technique. I’ve made a good fist of using a paint brush over the years, but I could have been a whole lot better at it if I’d made more of an effort to brush up on the skills required, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Part of the reason I’ve never really got the painting down as well as I might is that to some degree I agree with the above thesis. Ideas are important to work. I always wanted to be able to have ideas and concepts that I could do in any medium. I wanted the final works to be dictated by the idea, where ever it would take me. You can see, I hope, that if one had an idea that required a photographic representation of something, then one should probably just take a photo, rather than trying to paint like a photo (for example) purely because one is A Painter, otherwise it becomes about something different.

More than that, I didn’t want the skill of applying paint to a flat surface to be my schtick. Part of the allure, I think of art, any art, is that it takes you off into uncharted waters emotionally, intellectually, all sorts of ways – to the point where you should be able to forget about how it’s made. I would imagine that most people, when they’re listening to a piece of music, don’t spend the whole time listening out for the individual instruments or working out what notes are being played when. Rather, you let it wash over you as a cohesive whole.

However, as I’ve been involved in conversations with other artists online, I’ve noticed another perspective. Coming from a marketing point of view, it’s worth noting that using esoteric language is a classic example of “positioning”. It’s quite common to add value to something by talking it up. Put crudely, the more high-falutin it sounds, the more it’s considered serious and worthy of discussion. Clearly taken on this level, high-concept discussion add value to art works, and this could and does get used to increase the value to an artist’s work. The more sophisticated the better.

The flipside, of course, is that esoteric language is also a good way of keeping people out – anyone who doesn’t speak the lingo can quickly find themselves on the outside looking in, rather than the other way around. On the face of it, you might wonder why anyone would want to keep people away (surely you want to sell your work?) However, in fact the reverse happens – it makes people more curious. Like a group of people gathered round an accident, more people will come over to find out what it’s all about if they can’t quite make out what’s going on. Human nature.

A lot of the artists I’m meeting online seem to want to eschew the whole high-concept thing. Part of an Old Boys Club, they say. In a time when the internet is blowing open opportunities for artist to get their work out there and get on, its as if anything that indulges in deep concepts is “The Old System”, as if to say we need to be free of depth as well as the restraints of a closed system.

Personally I don’t buy it.

What I aspire to (and we can talk about how successful I am later) is that the same piece of work can be as complicated or as simple as you like. It should be possible to be able to look at work on a straightforward visceral level, but also to be able to go deeper should you want to – as deep as you like.

I’ve no doubt that using language to create a closed shop goes on, just as I have no doubt that that same language is sometimes used for “positioning”. However, I would argue that some people come to art FOR the depth, rather than in spite of it. It’s part of the allure, and there’s nothing wrong with it per se. Social media and art are both about connecting with an audience, and if that is your audience, then you’d be a fool to avoid it. Art should be more universal than that anyway.

Where does that leave me on the technique/conceptual continuum? I honestly don’t know. In fact I was hoping that I’d have a clearer idea by the time I’d finished writing this, but my suspicion is that it’s a false dualism/polemic/dialectic/dichotomy/how ever you want to put it.

Many artists such as Tracey Emin (check out the monoprints – much better than the tent or the unmade bed), Gary Hume, or Chris Ofili (who I recently reviewed here for his show at the TATE) have been very successful by developing a signature language – their own recognisable style that comes from skill and hard work (I recognise that all these people have technicians working for them, but the style is theirs, and was more than likely developed by their own hand to start with). Many of these artists also are able to talk about their works in quite a sophisticated way, too. All of them have been able to cross the boundaries between High Art, and the Common People (and no, that is not MY dualism).

As for me… Now, where did I put that paintbrush?

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Cruciform painting

I had a good day in the studio yesterday. It took a while for me to get the confidence back, with me spending about 2 hours in a state of extreme agitation, staring at a half-started work before even being able to pick up a brush.

However, this work was one I started last year, so it helps me to know that I can do work when I get there.

This is based on a photo I took of myself. The image was then taken into Photoshop, and broken down into simpler colours. I then painted the simplified version of that photo. Once it was dry, I re-did the picture in Photoshop again, this time with slightly more complicated colours, and then repainted the whole thing over the top. This means that there was lots of nice underpainting that gives the work a healthy complexity and a “glow” from below.

I then repeated this process again a few times, building the painting up layer by layer. This is not the last layer, but it is the penultimate layer. The whole thing is done with acrylics, and the paint is quite thin – I like the flatness of the surface, rather than the built up thickness that you get with oils.

It’s painted on a piece of board that I found. I really think that in order for a work to exist in the world, it needs to justify its existence from an ecological point of view. There are already too many objects in the world – too much junk. So from now on, I’m going to start painting on and with stuff that I’ve found. There’s enough of it lying around where I live – people dump all sorts of rubbish (wardrobes, cupboards, etc.) with lots of flat surfaces to paint on. While this painting that I’m doing looks rather traditional, it won’t be when I’ve finished with it. I’ve barely started in fact.

Now I just need to order those red LED fairy lights for it…

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Art, Social Media and Art Institutions

One of my particular bugbears about art shows is the amount of information that is often to be found crowding the works.

The TATE is particularly guilty of this – each room has a wall of writing, in addition to the leaflet you’re given to take with you round the room, and the catalogue to buy, as if the title of a work next to it wasn’t enough. And then there’s the little knee-high fences, that are supposed to stop you getting too close to the painting, while the jumpy security guards shuffle around following you in case you breathe too heavily.

I went to see the Chris Ofili show at the TATE Britain last week, in the last few days before it closed, and the levels of control reached a new and irksome height.

Before you even got in the show, there was a sign saying “No mobile phones, No cameras.”

Now, the issue with all this stuff is that it prevents the work from breathing. At the end of the day, a description of an artist’s work is essentially one person’s interpretation, ie. Not Yours. Straight away, we’re into a massive contradiction here. The TATE is supposed to be a public space, and yet there is an issue of neutrality around an interpretation of a work, especialy when the organisation hosting the show belongs to the state. Couple that with the fact that you’re being charged to get in to that part of the public space as well, and the mixed messages start to pile up higher than the Duveen Gallery’s cavernous ceiling.

Coming back to the “no mobile phones” sign. I quite like to use Twitter when I’m walking around a show. It’s a good way of collecting my thoughts with regards to certain paintings, it’s also a record of those thoughts that I can refer back to when I get home, and you can end up getting into some nice debates with other Twittists while you’ve got the work in front of you. Now, of course the idea that someone might use that camera phone to snap a picture of the work does creep in, but there’s a problem right there….

As I tweeted at the door to the show @tate (BEFORE I went in if you’re reading this Mr. Serota), tweeting about a show will make people more interested in it, and ultimately lead to more people through the door of the TATE, more bums on seats of the café, more catalogue sales, etc., etc. To stop people getting phones out in a show is a stupid shot in the foot for the gallery. And let’s (briefly) address the subject of taking photos in art shows. Instead of preventing people taking photos, why not default to the usual public space idea of no photos by anything that requires a tripod? That way, people would still take photos, and although the quality of those photos might be lower, it would necessarily draw people to come and look at the art, as everyone knows that no photo comes close to the actual experience of standing personally in the prescence of a piece of work – to actually be physically in the same space as the work. Also consider – if you took one really good photo of one of Chris Ofili’s paintings, reproduced it, and mass-distributed it for free, then I would lay a bet with you that that show would be more talked about, more on people’s fridges, workspaces and personal environments than ever before, and more visited than any other show in the history of the TATE. If I was to take a photo with my cameraphone, and make that picture my desktop, then every single one of my friends who saw my laptop would want to know all about it, and most likely go and see the show.

However, I know that this idea, should anyone from the TATE or any other major art institution be reading this, will probably be met with derision for very deeply ingrained reasons. Part of the drama, allure and value of the art world as it stands, is the fact that it is a secluded, hushed, and esoteric space that only the elite can sample. Art is a poker face. Art is method acting – the theatre and illusion, much like the actor who pretends to be something special for an audience, but goes home to a very ordinary life. The bigger the stature of the artist, the more essential it becomes to maintain that poker face.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the sense of drama, and I think that’s what people like about art and art shows – aside from some sense of visceral enjoyment, there is a kudos it gives you from saying “Oh yes, I went to an art show the other day.” It’s a social marker, an attitude, a crowd.

Any attempt to take a picture by the public bursts that bubble. It undermines quality control (how good is that image you taken? How many megapixels does your camera have?), and the proliferation of interactions by you and me, brings art down from it’s lofty heights (and dare I say it from the lofty prices of private collectors and high-end art dealing) into the Real World.

My point is that essentially this spoilt the show for me. This maelstrom of information overload and heavy-handed officiousness made it very hard for me to look at the work with a clear head, as the intense level of control essentially de-mystified the work – it had the opposite effect to the desired one! I was somehow reminded of the pieces’ construction and humble beginnings, somehow belittling them, drawing attention away from their drama and theatre instead of adding to it.

I tried really hard to shake myself free of this, but once something has been demystified in such a crass, un-thinking and haphazard way, it’s hard to get the genie back in the bottle.

The other part where I have a problem is the political intrusion of the TATE’s writings. Remember the TATE was founded on the back of the sugar industry. Sugar from slave labour. Much like the British Empire as a whole. The descendents of whom own the TATE gallery. The irony of one of Britain’s greatest artists, indeed a black artist, being mediated by writings by this British state (responsible for some of the most heinous crimes known against black people) in this way is so heavily loaded in so many different ways it gives me a headache. And no, I don’t think it’s just my white guilt.

It’s a shame, because I KNOW that Ofili’s Upper Room is a good piece of work, but all the other political stuff spoilt it for me, which is not Ofili’s fault at all. I’d love to be able to review this show, but I can’t clear my head enough to do so.

All of this leaves me wondering about my place in things, and how I want to proceed with my own working practise. Clearly I don’t have the clout to position myself in the same league as Chris Ofili. But a part of me wonders why I should want to? I can’t think of a good enough reason to want to be owned by an elite group of collectors other than greed. I could walk the walk and talk the talk, ring fence my work and talk about it in hushed, elevated tones, or I could try something else.

I’m not sure what I’m driving towards, but there’s something about the art that is more powerful when it’s found in the ordinary. In the act of sharing work and the stories behind those works, in proliferating them by re-sharing those extraordinary artistic moments as they happen through the channels available to me. I’d really rather that, than letting my works ossify in some glass cabinet somewhere.

As for the Chris Ofili show – it finishes tomorrow. A missed opportunity for a great, great artist.

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Working again. Maybe.

I have a confession to make. I struggle.

Being an Artist. I hate it. I have always found it hard to even start working. To make the first mark – any mark. I don’t know why this is. Well, I do know why actually. A mixture of anxiety issues, mental health stuff, and too many other commitments going on. I have a show in Brixton later this year. In July. It’s the Urban Art Fair that I did last year. July is not so far away now, and yet I haven’t done any work for it. Every fibre of my being is screaming inside my head “DO SOME DRAWING! START SOMETHING! ANYTHING!” and yet every day that passes is filled with a mixture of the genuine demands, procrastination and avoidance. And still no art appears.

I’m not one of these artists that thrives on being a “disturbed genius”. In fact it’s one of those myths that I despise. The reality is that having mental health issues prevent you from working and creating. They don’t feed creativity, any more than any other life’s work. Being anxious wouldn’t help you be better accountant, and it certainly doesn’t help me make art.

I wish I was like a Hugh MacLeod or a Hazel Dooney. Hugh’s prodigious output is a part and parcel of his expertise and it shows. He’s put the hours in. Hazel has battled far worse mental health issues than I ever will, and still keeps getting up and fighting on, like the true prize fighter she is.

If I had a shred of their determination, discipline and drive, I would be much more successful than than I am. I take great confort from stories of Douglas Adams’ working method. As a writer he was the most painful of procrastinators. He was renowned for agonising up to the last minute. He would not put one mark on a piece of paper until two weeks before the deadline from his publisher, then he locked himself away for two weeks and dashed out some of his most well known and famous works, and even then he had to be cajoled and coerced into it. Stories like this give me hope.

I’m being honest about this in the hope that the humiliation of such a public declaration will drag me out of this torpor and start me working again.

The football in the photo above was left outside our flat, by the kids that play on our estate. I’ve already done work about the various issues surrounding the place where I live, which you can read about in various parts of my blog.

They often leave things behind to collect hours, even days later. They see the area as “theirs”. I commandeered the football early one morning – long before they were up to notice – at 6 in the morning. I’m going to draw it, paint it and photograph it. You can’t invent a football like that. It has so many stories and possible meanings, especially with the upcoming football World Cup in South Africa this summer.

When I’m done, the kids can have the football back.

We’ll see whether this will get me working again.

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Damien Hirst at The Wallace Collection

Today, I finally managed to get to The Wallace Collection in the heart of London to see Damien Hirst‘s latest show, “No Love Lost”

The show marks a departure for Hirst, as he attempts to paint using oil paints by his own hand, rather than the style that has made him famous – usually executed by a trained army of technicians. As such I had high hopes for this show, as I was interested to see where Damien, a sculptor in the broadest sense, could take my discipline (“painting”).

Sadly I have to say I was distinctly unimpressed. I don’t say “unimpressed” in the throwaway sense, I mean that i was waiting for something about his paintings to impress something upon me. Nothing did.

I was not impressed by his draughtsmanship. There was nothing about the trees in particular that suggested any degree of mastery, the lemons looked flat and impact-less, and the best-rendered objects (the skulls) had no impact on me at all.

I was not impressed by any conceptual thinking. There is clearly some attempt at memento mori going on here, and the recurring motifs of his previous work suggest a man reflecting on the vanity of his career. But that’s about it. Not enough to sustain a body of work, not even for a whole show. There’s more than a nod to the work of Francis Bacon here, but to what end?

I’m not impressed by his technical ability. Some of the priming underneath the paint on one or two of the canvases has clearly cracked and curled in away that strikes me as too inept to be intentional.

I wasn’t scared by them, I wasn’t intimidated by them, I wasn’t amused by them… nothing.

My feeling is that they’re not good enough to show yet. Given Hirst another 5-10 years of painting, and then they might be good, but for me the only work worth looking at was the one labeled No. 2 Title: “Small Skull With Lemon and Ashtray.” You could quite conceivably walk in, look at that painting and walk straight out again. It would tell you all you need to know about this show, without you having to be disappointed by the rest of it.

Many years ago, the artist Gary Hume had a pop at Hirst’s inability to understand a few home truths about his work. With a wink and a smile, he said something along the lines of “Well, he’s not a painter, so he wouldn’t understand!” On the strength of this show, I’d have to say that Hume is right.

I have to confess to being a bit of a fan of Hirst’s work, and I really wanted to like this show, but I didn’t. I’m happy, though, for him to continue working like this in anticipation that he’s going to get better at it. Here’s hoping.

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Collecting Art

For Christmas this year, I got my first ever original work by an artist. It’s a signed lithograph by the artist Sarah Sze, called “Funny Feeling” from 2004, and it looks like this:

sze

Actually that’s not quite true. It’s not my first work. About two years ago, my brother-in-law got hold of a piece of work by Bill Drummond for me (for free) and at the Greenbelt Festival 2009, I managed to get a limited edition lithograph by Billy Childish.

However, the Christmas present feels like the first “proper” attempt at getting someone else’s work, as it was bought and paid for (although not by me) rather than a freebie. And it was a first conscious effort to get start “A Collection”. Does 3 works count as “A Collection”? I’m not really sure.

I really like this piece. A lot. I like lithographs very much – there’s something about the resulting image that only lithography can deliver. I like the mark-making. Sarah Sze’s work often displays a deftness and a delicacy which is exquisite. It also has a precision which is quite mechanical in a way that I can’t put my finger on.

It’s hard to know where to start when buying original work. Clearly it has to be something you like first and foremost. If you take nothing else away from what I write here, at least take that to heart. It doesn’t matter why you love it – that’s up to you. You may like the marks the artist makes, the over all look of the piece, you may like the ideas behind it – you may just like it because it goes with the wallpaper in your living room. It doesn’t matter. Just don’t buy to speculate. Speculating is a murky water that is tantamount to betting on horses. If you’re good at betting on horses, and you would like to branch out into art – good luck. I can offer you no advice in that direction.

In terms of where to start looking, I noticed that a lot of big name galleries were selling limited edition works by reasonably well known artists. I got my Sarah Sze lithography from The Serpentine Gallery, who have a number of works for sale, but from there I noticed that the Whitechapel Gallery were also doing some and, to a lesser extent even the TATE were getting in on the act.

BUT.

Before you part with your hard-earned cash, there’s something I think you should know. I’m sorry to spoil this conversation with talk of Mammon, but most galleries take a cut from the sale of any work, and it’s a pretty big one: 50% of the sale goes to the gallery. No that is not a typo error. You heard me correctly. In some cases it can be as much as 60-70%. There are all sorts of reasons and justifications as to why that is, and the best summary/justiciation of that that I’ve read can be found over at Ed Winkleman’s blog. I don’t actually believe that that level of commission is justified for various reasons but I will save that for another blog post. Feel free to agree or disagree.

Back to Sarah Sze, though – I got her work not to speculate on the art market or anything like that, but there is something that feels a little more “valid” about getting the works from such august institutions. You can go to something like the Affordable Art Fair, or the upcoming London Art Fair and find a rather than being bewildered by the array on offer there, but clearly there is an “aura of the art world”, and what is considered to be culturally significant. It raises all sorts of questions about who says what’s valid, and why. All I know is that I feel that “pull” as someone who is immersed in the culture as a practitioner.

There are, however, plenty of artists that I know and respect as friends who do some outstanding work, and I would love to own a piece of theirs – I’ll endeavour to do so as soon as funds allow. I would recommend this approach, especially if you don’t want to support the gallery system. It puts money straight into the artists hands, and you’ll also have the satisfaction of being philanthropic and picking up a bargain before the value of the work goes up. There are some great people out there, and most if not all would appreciate a studio visit, if you want to look at the work in the flesh.

So there you have it. Now I just have to save some pennies to frame the one I’ve bought, and we’re away.

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Linocutting and the Cutting Edge

Happy New Year, and welcome back to the artbizness blog for 2010. This year, I hope to be doing a lot more paintings, and branching out a bit more into other media where I can. I also have a few large projects that I’m thinking about. More of that soon, but here’s what I’m thinking and doing at the start of the New Year:

This Christmas I got some Lino-cutting tools as a present from my Mother-in-law. i haven’t done any lino-cutting for about 20 years, but I do remember really enjoying it when I did. I suppose I’ve avoided it for a long time, as it seems quite retro. Here’s an example of a linocut work:

As you can see – it’s a great piece, but it’s not exactly my style. Like a relic of an old dead media, it seems a bit too much like a “craft”, and is a world away from anything by someone like Damien Hirst, for example. When I was at art college the idea of the “cutting edge” art was drummed into you. Words such as “vanguard”, and “avant garde” were banded about without being really questioned. Likewise, words like “craft” and “creativity” were dismissed. I think you can still see these ideas having a lot of currency in the contemporary art world and its culture.

However, those old ideas of what’s “dead media” or not interest me less and less. I think with anything, you have to throw yourself in wholeheartedly. The idea of the avant-garde is a great way of trying to convince yourself why NOT to do something. It stifles action if you’re tied to this idea of only doing things that are cutting edge. It leads you to dismiss avenues that are not cutting edge enough, rather than just trying things out to see where they take you.

Of course this brings up all sorts of ideas about what is “good” and why, and who decides what is avant-garde, but that’s out of the scope of this blog post.

So I’m going to give linocutting a go and see where it takes me. And that idea feels quite liberating already.

Here’s how it works: Get a piece of lino, and some sharp sharp lino cutting tools that look like this:

lino

As you can see from the photo, I’ve already cut my thumb just trying to put the sharp nib into the handle, so take great care when you’re using these things.

Decide what image you want to print and draw it onto the lino mat. Just remember that the image that you are doing will come out in reverse when you print it. Also – the bit’s that you’re gouging out will not print, so you are sort of creating the image in negative, if you see what I mean. It will print out “not-in-negative”, as it were.

When you’ve finished carving out your piece of lino (mind your fingers!), you roll some paint onto it, then carefully place a piece of paper flat on top of it.

Now. At this point you will either need a massive lino press, which is a specialised piece of equipment and jolly expensive, or some very heavy books and something to weight them down with. So which ever it is, press the paper onto the lino.

When you’re done, take it out of your press/weighted books, and peel the paper off the lino. There’s your printed masterpiece.

Now, if you really want to get clever, you can use a few linos to build up a complicated composite image with lots of different colours. But that’s fiddly and requires a bit more skill and planning.

So there we are. I’ll be trying that soon and posting my results here as soon as I’ve done it.

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Trying out the acrylic paint

Christ

I want you to get more value from my paintings.

Sometimes I wonder what you see when you look at my work. Do you see years worth of experience accumulated in the work? Do you see master craftsmanship? Do you have an un-nameable emotional reaction when you see my work?

This piece of wood has been kicking around my apartment for months now, and the other night I started painting on it. It’s the sort of piece of wood that you might throw away when you’ve finished working on your house. A nice offcut. Flat and smooth, with some nice grain patterns on it.

I have no idea where this work is going – it’s more like a practise piece. I’ve taken a photo of myself (and no, I have no messiah complex, but I do seem to be crucified every time I do anything) then pulled it into Photoshop. If you use the “posterise” feature, it reduces the number of colours in the photo.

So I thought that if I reduced the number of colours to 4, and painted that, then reduced the number of colours to 8, and painted that over the first one, then eventually I could build it up over time, so that it looks dense and translucent when you look at it.

This is all done pretty freehand though, with a vague attempt at gridding it up, and sketching it out in pencil first.

If you yourself ever put brush to wood/canvas/board, you’ll know that making a work is a voyage of discovery. When drawing your arms, you just couldn’t believe you are that muscley, as in your head, you’re always the skinny kid from school. You realise you can’t draw hands. You notice that the paint soaks into the wood if you haven’t primed it in some way, but you then think that it might be fine because it gives it a ghostly feel. And so on.

But I think that you the viewer wants to know that for every painting that you see from me, there are probably hundreds like this one, that may never see the light of day – that are the duds, the throwaways. That the ones you do finally get to see are the best of the best.

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Talking Art with @solobasssteve

Just been having a long chat with @solobassteve at Greenbelt. I enjoyed doing these audioboos, despite the fact that I don’t always respond very well to being put on the spot. Exciting! Must do more…

Listen!

Listen!

Listen!

Listen!

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So here I am!

Greetings if you are joining me for the first time. I have now officially moved my website here from my old blog.

It’s been quite an effort of will to build this site, involving many hours of squinting at code that I barely understand, but here we are.

I feel like there should be more of a fanfare or something, but if you have stuck with me thus far, then thank you so much, and I look forward to you sharing the rest of the journey with me here. Just remember to change your feed readers so they point here, instead of the old place.

If you have no idea what a “feed reader” is, then a) don’t worry and b) google it.

Anyways, here’s another short video of the Urban Art Fair I was at two weekends ago. it gives a good flavour and feel of the event.

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First Day at Urban Art 2009

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Free Art: O Sacred Head

This is a piece of work I finished recently. It’s called “O Sacred Head.”

I have put the work directly onto a scanner, and scanned it in order to offer it as a free piece of artwork for all my blog readers.

No trick – just right click and save, or click and hold if you’re a mac user.

I reckon it would make a good dekstop image, but you can do anything you like with it – print it out, put it on a business card, anything you like, just as long as you’re not making money directly from it.

Of course, if you want to buy the original in all it’s tangible glory, you’ll have to come along and to the Urban Art Fair tomorrow or Sunday, where I’ll be showing it (along with my other paintings), hung from the railings in the street.

It will be great to see you. 🙂

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Urban Art Fair 2009 on Saturday and Sunday

Well, it’s finally almost here. The Urban Art Fair is upon us on Saturday and Sunday this week. I’ve made all the work I have time to make, and it’s now out of my hands – just packing everything up ready now. Below are some examples of the work I’ve made, which will all be in the show.

I’m looking forward to it, and also praying for a sunny day. I’m especially looking forward to meeting my lovely blog readers. See you then.

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Why Are Artists Poor? Pt. 3: The Gifted Artist

Continuing my ongoing series of posts which are partially a review of Hans Abbing’s brilliant book “Why Are Artists Poor?”, I’d like to talk about the concept of the artists as the “gifted individual”.

It’s fairly obvious that most people view artists, musicians and writers as being talented or exceptional, and I would suggest that the hysteria around a certain recently deceased mega-celebrity bears this out. I would also go further and suggest that this couples with the idea that the work of art is some kind of mystical object or moment that transports you to elevated heights – be it a painting, a poem of a piece of music. Artists therefore tend to have a higher status than their professional peers, regardless of how successful he or she might be., and it’s true in my experience that people display a degree of excitement and sometimes jealousy that I’m an artist (Abbing also says that the host of any party he may attend will often take great delight in introducing him to his friends as an artist – more so than if he says he’s an economist!)

Another quote:

“…over the last one hundred and fifty years artists and the arts have become symbols of an alternative to the bourgeois lifestyle. It was a romantic, not a realistic alternative; and this probably added to its allure. Since Romanticism, society has worshipped authentic and sacred art.
Art consumers often try to identify with one or more of their favourite artists. By listening to their works or by surrounding themselves with their works they share a little of the artist’s uniqueness. Artists are adored. In the market, this tends to lead to extremely high prices as well as high incomes for a very small select group of artists.”

However, Abbing shows that this idea is fundamental to how the economy of the arts keeps most artists in actual poverty (even taking into account the 2nd jobs, and financial support from their families, as well as government subsidies, grants and donations, the result is still actual poverty).

The key is at the end of the last quote, regarding the “high incomes for a very small select group of artists.” The idea that no price is too high to pay for such mystical heights keeps prices high, but in a celebrity obsessed culture where Damien Hirst et al are hugely financially successful and renowned, wannabe artists sign up for art college in their droves, hoping for a shot at immortality or fame, hoping that they can be one of the “winner-takes-all” crowd. The reality is that there are far too many artists:

“…’mental shelf-space limitations’ also contribute to the emergence of winner-takes-all markets. Earlier I spoke of a ‘limited star capacity’ . This means that people tend to remember the relevant details of only a limited number of products such as product names or the names of its authors. Otherwise, a consumer’s life becomes unnecessarily complicated and unpleasant. It generally pays to remember the names of artists who are already renowned. By listening to others one can save on so-called search costs. Moreover, being familiar with the same artists adds to the pleasure of communicating about them with others. For the average art consumer it makes sense to limit one’s energies to a small number of already famous artists. The ‘limited star capacity’ of consumers helps explain the astronomical incomes that some artists fetch.”

Abbing then goes on to offer some killer explanations as to why incomes are low in the light of this. he expounds them in greater details, but in summary:

“1. The Winner-takes-all principle: Winner-takes-all markets are important in the arts. They attract many competitors.
2. Unfitness for other profession: Because artists believe they are unfit for other, non-art professions, they believe they are better off in the arts despite the low income.
3. An orientation to non-monetary rewards; (a) The average artist is more interested in non-monetary rewards than other professionals, while (b) such rewards are (thought to be) available in abundance in the arts.
4. An inclination to take risks: (a) the average artist is less risk-aversive than other professionals, while (b) high stakes, in the form of both non-monetary and monetary income, are (thought to be) available in abundance in the arts.
5. Overconfidence and self-deceit: more than other professionals, the average artist is inclined to over-estimate his or her skills and luck and at the same time, ignore available information; therefore they overestimate the rewards available to them in the arts.
6. Wrong information; the average artist is less well informed than other professionals; therefore they overestimate the rewards available to them in the arts.”

If you are an artist of any stripe, I’d now like to throw another quote at you, but I would advise you to sit down and pour yourself a stiff drink first. Ready? Here goes:

“..the overwhelming majority of artworks end up in a garbage dump. This might happen in part during an artist’s lifetime and in part shortly after his or her death. Within fifty years of an artist’s death, some ninety percent of his or her manuscripts, scores, compositions, and paintings have disappeared into the rubbish bin. These are averages of course. A rather small selection of artists still has its work intact but for the vast majority, their work has all but vanished. (..also worth noting is the fact that…) of all the works hung on walls in the Netherlands during the Golden Age, less than one percent have survived to the present day.”

You can be the most gifted, talented individual, you can work tirelessly, devoted to your craft, with determination and zeal, but not only is there no guarantee that it will pay off in the long run, it’s extremely likely that it won’t.

The number of times that I’ve read or heard even people that I respect in the arts say: “You just need to believe in yourself and work hard, and everything will be fine’ or somesuch similar nonsense, it makes me want to throttle them on the spot. This is patently not true. Of course you need self-belief and determination, but to suggest that these things alone will get you a successful art career is at best irresponsible, at worst deliberately cruel. But then, I suppose that “successful artists” have an interest in maintaining their position by peddling this rubbish.

The reality is that gifted or talented as you may be, you need to realise that it can be a curse as much as a gift, and sometimes the price you pay is one of economic disadvantage. And there’s nothing romantic about that.

So assuming that you’ve made your peace with this, that I haven’t depressed you too much, and that you have balls of brass and want to carry on anyway, there’ll be another post along in this series soon.

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The Myth Of The Artist: Gifting

This is the second post in an ongoing series of thoughts sparked by the brilliant book “Why Are Artists Poor?” by Hans Abbing. You can read the first part here.

One of the notions that Abbing explores is the idea of “gift” or “gifting”. I think he’s spot on when he suggests that the art economy is a mixed economy.
By that, I mean that a certain amount of “normal” market transaction goes on (I pay for this work, you sell it to me) but in a very veiled way. the dirty business of money is seen as just that – dirty. A necessary evil. Art doesn’t sully itself with Mammon, because it’s aims, subject matter and reason for existing is supposed to be loftier than that. It is supposed to reside in the “gift-giving” sphere.

Consider this excerpt from Abbing:

“…when artists and art lovers resist money, this seldom means money in a literal sense. After all, the arts welcome large sums of money received in the forms of subsidies and donations. Therefore, money (or the world of money) represents a type of measurement in the market, and is not directly associated with donations and subsidies.
It is obvious that art is bought and sold and thus measured in monetary terms. But because art is considered sacred and because the sacred doesn’t rhyme with commerce, one would expect commerce in art  – like other “evils ” in art – to be relatively unimportant.”

So to be clear, free market trade does go on in the arts, but in a veiled way, out of sight, and with the dealer’s assistant – long after the dealer has left the studio. It’s worth noting that in the big name galleries, you never see a “red dot” sticker to denote a sold work. It’s considered amatuerish and un-professional.

Gift giving is supposed to promote “…other virtues like sharing, generosity, selflessness, social justice, personal contact and respect for monetary values.” (Abbing). It extends to collectors, dealers and benefactors donating cash and works through the back-channels of the art world.

Abbing again:

“The value system in the arts is two-faced and asymmetrical. Although in general the market is oriented towards money and profit, the arts cannot openly reveal this kind of orientation when they operate in the market. This approach would certainly harm artistic careers and therefore, long-term incomes as well. It specifically harms the profitable affiliation of the arts with the gift sphere, and is therefore punished by the art world. Thus, profit motives are not absent, they are merely veiled, and publicly the economic aspect of the arts is denied…. (the gift sphere)…emphasises selfless devotion to art and condemns the pursuit of monetary gain.

….In this respect, it is noteworthy that it is often commercial to be a-commercial. Expressing anti-market values can add to one’s success in the market. Artists, dealers, or editors who exhibits a lack of concern for money may well enhance their market value. This implies that the economic sphere and the gift sphere are related.”

I’ve simplified his argument for brevity somewhat, but having worked for a fine art removals firm (a big one – not MoMart, but the main rival), I met pretty much every big player that you could think of. Coupled with my own experience of trying to get gallerists interested in my own work, I can tell you that his assessment is pretty much spot on.In practice what actually happens is that the notion of gift-giving props up the most disfunctional set of relationships I’ve ever seen, from gallery owners playing the benevolent parent to the artists they represent, to all sorts of dubious tax-evading shenanigans, all passed over in the name of donations or gifts to the arts. Eric Berne would have had a field day. And don’t get me started on the 50% commission that a gallery dealer takes on every work sold (and no, that is not a typo, 50% is standard).

I appreciate that every industry has it’s fair share of disfunctional politics and people management, but I don’t think this is enshrined and legitimised as an internalised value to the extent that it is in the art world.

This gives the lie to the idea that the arts are somehow “liberated” – art is not an exciting alternative career that is somehow better than the drudgery of a “normal” (sic) rat-race job, it’s just different. Of course, many artists have no idea that this nonsense goes on, and the British art system singularly fails to educate its students that the gift economy exists, let alone that it’s a much abused notion. It’s mostly dismissed as irrelevant, or at least “something you can worry about when you get into the big wide world.”

However, it doesn’t end there. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with the idea that the artists is a “gifted” individual, and I’ll talk about this in the next part of the series.

in the meantime, I’d be interested to know whether anyone else has a take on this and whether it’s something that rings true, either from art professionals, or outside observers.

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Another New Painting: Oh God

I finished another painting today.

It’s made again with Japanese endpapers, and with acrylic paint, spray paint, felt marker, varnish and dirt.

The figure is based on some random photos I took from the window of the bus, as I passed through Brixton on my way home. There was something about the way he was looking that seemed to work really well with defacing of the paper. The defacement could be graffiti, but it also fits with the whimsical marks of abstract expressionism (with a nod to Cy Twombly’s mark-making).

If there is a recurring theme in this series of paintings, it’s the contrasts along with the surprise of the incongruity of things.

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The Myth of The Artist

I’ve just finished an extraordinary book called “Why are Artists Poor” by Hans Abbing. It was recommended to me by my Twitter buddy Ivan Pope. Although I think the book has an awful title, it has been so enlightening for me and has lead to a series of “lightbulb moments” about my profession. So much so that I’m going to write a series of blog posts that I hope will be useful for both artists and art-audiences alike.

I’d go so far as to say that this book should be required reading on all arts courses (especially the UK degree courses), as it’s a real wake-up call containing many home truths that all wanna-be artists would do well to take heed of.

The book argues that the economy of the arts is an exceptional one, and that it systematically keeps artists (of all types – painters, musicians, writers, etc.) poor, and that it is a cruel economy with no one culprit, but a series of relationships and values that maintain the situation as it is.

Abbing suggests that central to this economy is a series of myths that are so universally internalised, that they aren’t even consciously acknowledged. Have a little think about them. Do they stack up? Are they really myths or truths? Do you find that you think about artists this way?

I’ll write later about which of these myths I think need debunking, and which I think are not actually myths but reality. Some of these are contradictory, all thought provoking, but for now, here they are. If you want to add your thoughts in the comments box below, I’ll happily engage in discussion with you.

1. Art is sacred
2. Through art, artists and consumers relate to a sacred world
3. Art is remote and superfluous.
4. Art is a gift.
5. Artists are gifted.
6. Art serves the general interest.
7. Art is good for people
8. Artists are autonomous; other professionals are not autonomous.
9. There is freedom of expression in the arts
10. The work of art is authentic, and the artist is the unique creator of it; in other professions such authenticity does not exist.
11. Creating authentic work gives one endless private satisfaction.
12. Artists are selflessly devoted to art.
13. Artists are only intrinsically motivated.
14. Money and commerce devalue art.
15. Artistic quality can only exist if it is independent of costs and demand.
16. Artists have to suffer.
17. Talent is natural or God-given.
18. Everybody has the same chance of being gifted or talented.
19. Certain talents in the arts only appear later in someone’s career.
20. Because extraordinary talent is rare, only a large pool of artists can provide society with a few extremely talented artists.
21. Success in the arts depends on talent and commitment exclusively.
22. The arts are free. The barriers that exist in other professions are absent in the arts.
23. Successful artists are often self-taught.
24. Given talent and commitment, equal chances exist in the arts; the best is victorious.
25. Because the best win, the arts are democratic and righteous.
26. The high incomes earned by some artists are fair.

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A New Work

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It’s amazing what a good morning in the studio can do for your confidence as an artist. The results in the photo above speak for themselves, I think. Click on the image, and you’ll get a much better look at the work.

I’m not sure what to call this yet, but it’ll be something like “Awe” or “Shock & Awe”. Or maybe even “AW!”

Dimensions wise, it’s (h)50 cm x (w) 35 cm x (d) 5 cm, or 19 1/2″ x 13 1/4″ x 2″ in British.

I’m really really pleased with the way this has turned out. A few months ago, you may remember, I bought some Japanese end paper (the sort that goes in the inside cover of hardback books) with the idea of doing something with it.

I’ve spent ages making a frame, and glueing the paper to it nice and flat using wheat starch paste. Wheat starch paste is what the pros use to put in Japanese end papers. It’ll basically last for ages, and is about the best quality stuff there is. PVAs and other cheaper glues tend to dry out in no time, which means they go yellow, and stop being sticky. You don’t want your painting falling off, now do you?

Anyway, it seemed fairly obvious to paint something contrasting on the top, and I like the humourous play of the guy being awed by the flock of cranes (I think they’re cranes. Maybe they’re swans) in the background. This is also quite unusual for me, in that I don’t usually paint figuratively (awful word, but you know what I mean). I’ve hand painted the figure in acrylic, and paid a lot of attention to detail. I didn’t project it and trace at all it this time. I cut out one of my own photos, and used it as a stencil for the outline, but the rest was completely freehand.

I think this is the start of a very good series of works. More to come.

By the way, don’t forget that I’m moving this blog shortly. RSS readers and bookmarks at the ready now. I’ll tell you when and where soon. Not long now…

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Secateurs

secateurs

The commission I’m working on is coming along nicely. I’ve been quiet about it, because I’ve basically been doing all the boring stuff – making up the board, priming it with gesso, layering up the base paint colour to get it nice, dense and solid.

But today I started painting the main part of it – a pair of secateurs. The guy who commissioned me is a film maker called Rob. He came and filmed me in my studio at the end of last year, and really liked the works I had on my wall.

He’s also a gardener, hence the secateurs.

My old art teacher once told me Vermeer said that when you paint something you should “start with a brush and end with a pin”. So, you start with the broad brush strokes, and get progressively more detailed as you go on. Art teachers are full of nonsense like that.

So I began with the bigger brush, and got something that I was reasonably pleased with. Having got this far, I thought it best to leave it, sleep on it, and come back to it tomorrow. Besides, it was so cold, my hands were shaking. That was when I took the photo above.

However, I couldn’t resist, picked up a smaller brush and cocked it up a bit. Nevermind. Fortunately, I’m using acrylics, which are quite easy to overpaint. They dry really quickly. I’ll return to it tomorrow with warmer fingers and renewed vigour.

A word about acrylics. Please don’t ever ever EVER buy Rowney or Windsor and Newton acrylics. If I hear you even mention the word Spectrum, I shall never speak to you again. It’s alright, we’ve all done it, but you must repent. If you use Liquitex, then do so very quietly in a corner, but if I find out about it, there’ll be trouble.

There is one name, and one name only, in acrylice paint, and it is Lascaux. Lascaux acrylics are colourfast (I mean REALLY colourfast), nice weight on the brush, deals with watering down much better, and the gloss and matt mediums are MUCH more fluid and better than anything else.

I get them from Fitzpatrick’s in Cambridge Heath Rd., London. I think they’re pretty much the only UK stockist (Lascaux are Swiss).

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A painting and a commission

Hello everyone.

I haven’t blogged much in January, but I HAVE been busy.

At the end of 2008, I was interview and videoed for the BLMF. The guy interviewing me really liked two small painting of household DIY tools that I had done, and were hanging on my wall. He’s a gardener, and wondered if I’d do him something similar, but with gardening-related tools instead of DIY tools. Naturally I obliged…

Below is a photo of the panel I’m making up (not huge, about 25cm x 25cm), held up in between the two paintings he saw.

20012009381

I’m also working on a painting for my Grandpa. It’ll be his 80th birthday in March. It was my Nan’s 80th over Christmas (his wife), and for her birthday I put together a little book of silly poems, drawings and personal memories – drove to streets that she had lived in and took photos, googled old photos of South London (she was born and raised there) The resulting book was very well recieved to say the least. You can see it here.

Anyway, I’m preparing a board for Grandpa’s painting. That’s the photo below.

20012009382

I prefer to paint on board. Canvas has too much “give” for my kind of work, and I often have to take a scalpel to it to cut masking tape, which would go right through a canvas surface.

So what you see is a test of my woodworking skills, with a little help from some two-part filler. Panel pin heads are touched in with gloss paint to stop them popping back up again.

I also got hold of some Japanese end-papers (the sort that get put just inside the covers of hardback books). There’s a shop near my studio called Shepherds Bookbinders, and there’s a veritable treasure-trove of these papers there. I’ve liked them for years, and I thought I might get hold of them and do something with them – the next stage of my work. So more wooden boards to make up.

Below is a photo of the one that I bought. It’s A1 size and absolutely beautiful.

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A Free Print for my blog readers

sorrowsthumb

Happy New Year everyone. I hope you had a good Christmas, and I apologise for not posting more regularly.

To make up for it, I’m going to start the year by offering some free artwork.

It’s a print of my most well-known and well-liked piece of work, called “Man of Sorrows”

Here’s the link.

There’s no catch. Just download it, and print it off.

Or turn it a postcard or a mugs or a t-shirt, or use it in a powerpoint presentation. Do what ever you want with it, as long as it’s for personal use. (I mean: no sneaky making money directly from it. That wouldn’t be fair now would it? I’ve just given it to you for free. Thanks 🙂 ).

The best thing I can suggest is that you take it to a printshop, and get them to print it (best size at A4 but no more than A3), then buy a nice frame for it, and put it on your wall.

Why am I doing this? As I said before. I’d far rather you had a piece of my work than not be able to afford one.

I want you to be able to have this in your space if you want it, and for it to move you, like it has moved me.

I made the work but it forced me to think about poverty and spirituality, and where those things can be found. It sat in my thoughts even when I wasn’t looking at it, a changed the atmosphere of every room I hung it in for the better. It made me think about transcendence and immanence, about art and life, and about sacred and profanity, and what am I doing about those things?

I guess that’s more important to me than being paid for the original. If you want to buy the original, then that’s a different story, but this is about the best quality photo I have of it, and I think it will give you all the things it gave me and a whole lot of other things that are specific to you.

Have a good 2009.

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Free Art from a Turner Prize winner

Last week, I managed to get hold of a limited edition work of art by former Turner Prize winner Keith Tyson.

I was alerted by way of The Guardian, that his website was sending them out on a first come first served basis. Basically I had to enter a few details, and then it instantly downloaded onto my desktop. 1 of 5000. Checked against my IP address so I couldn’t apply for more than one.

I would have told you all about it when it happened, but I’ve had a nasty case of manflu, and haven’t blogged much.

I think the free art idea is a brilliant idea for all manner of reasons. It’s very like Hugh MacLeod’s idea of the social object. Well – it’s probably not his idea per se, but he has brought together the principles in a unique way, and applied them to art, so I’m going to call it his idea.

As an artist – do you do it for love or for money? Would you do it for nothing if you could? It increases the kudos of an artist like Keith Tyson, who has never really cared what the establishment thinks anyway. It gets people talking and generates interest in what he’s doing. People talk about it, and so the meme spreads. It spreads much more than any amount of knocking on doors, showing works in galleries, or chasing lazy over-blown art dealers will ever do.

In fact I’m thinking of doing it myself. I’d far rather you had a piece of my work on the wall for free than not have ANY on your wall because you don’t have the money.

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Mark Rothko at the TATE

I finally got to see the Mark Rothko exhibition at the TATE Modern last week.

I have a bit of personal interest in Rothko’s work. I loved it when I was at art college and I still do. My personal response to them is that they are works that are that much maligned quality: “spiritual”

I definitely reach a sense of transcendence when I’m nose-to-canvas. The way the colour has been laid on and built up over time. As an 18-year-old, his work had a deeply needed sense of gravitas for me, and I still feel them as very heavy works. In fact I felt depressed when I came out of this show even today. It doesn’t surprise me that he committed suicide. I would have hated to be him. The transcendence is probably part of the problem. All transcendence and no immanence makes Jack a dull boy. As I’m fond of saying over the dinner table.

But don’t let me put you off.

They are works that you can just sit with and chill out near – almost like painting’s early ambient music, and I think in a fundamental way, these works are interpretive – your response to them is as good and valid as mine, and I’d be intrigued to know what other people think of them.

With regards to the curating of the show, I have a few issues though. We all know about the shenanigans surrounding the Seagram Murals and whether they were hung the right way up, but for me, they were hung far too high. The rest of the works were not.

I know that they TATE says that he wanted them hung high in the Whitechapel Art Gallery, but anyone who knows that gallery also knows that it is a tall cavernous space. The room they are currently being shown in in the TATE is not. They were hung too high in the room for me to make any kind of response, other than that the room looked like a cathedral.

It also seems clear from the maquette right near the entrance of the show, that the works were meant to be hung low and near to the floor despite what how the TATE might want to spin it.

It seems that despite their best efforts, the works are still being politicised to this day – but that’s a whooooole other discussion. 🙂

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The Turner Prize 2008

I went to see the Turner Prize today (finally).

The first one, Goshka Macuga was mildly interesting. The sculptural elements in the room were thought-provoking – like a Mies Van Der Rohe set of parallel bars for the Paralympics. The glass sculpture was a visual treat to walk around. The fuzziness create by the conflation of glass at it’s centre was something I could have stared at for hours. I can’t help feeling that I’ve seen this sort of thing elsewhere by a different artist, though. Can someone tell me who it is? It’s really bugging me. I’ll get back to you when I remember who it was. I thought the collages were a little half-hearted though. Not nearly as well executed as they could have been.

My favourite piece in the show was “I Give You All My Money” by Cathy Wilkes. On the face of it, it looks like the detritus from an over-zealous shopping trip to Sainsbury’s – two conveyor belts, half-opened jars of “stuff”, abandoned pushchairs. On closer inspection, It looks poignant, surprising, scary, curious and I’ve always wondered what the back of the conveyor belt in Sainsbury’s looks like. Probably my favourite this year.

Runa Islam‘s work was fun enough. I think she’s supposed to be the favourite. The Turner Prize is supposed to be a bit of a snapshot of contemporary art. the problem with someone like Runa Islam or any of the others, is that this year, it’s not exactly cutting edge. Projected image – film, video, photo or otherwise in a darkened room is a bit old hat, and painting the walls a different colour isn’t going to make it any less so.

And also: I have a question. Why are the seating arrangements in video installations always so bloody uncomfortable? I’m trying to concentrate on the content of the thing, and all I can think about is my numb ass because I’ve been forced to sit on some wooden cube. In one of the installations, the seats were furniture sponge/stuffing cut into cubes. The one I sat on had the most godawful lean. A video installation should be a place where you can sit and drown in the experience. I really can’t see the value in having something that drives you out of the space purely because you don’t want to sit down. Is it just me? Someone tell me I’m not going mad, here. When I went to see Music for White Cube by Brian Eno at the White Cube Gallery back in the nineties, Eno stuck the most comfortable white couch in the middle of the room that I have ever sat on, and it made it much easier to take in what was going on. I still remember that installation very fondly.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Turner Prize

The last guy (Mark Leckey) I really don’t remember, except that there was ANOTHER projected film/video in a darkened space of the artist giving a lecture at various colleges up and down the land on a subject. I don’t remember the subject either. In fact, I find a lot of art theory turgid, boring and dull. I was reminded of endless lectures at college that pretty much sucked the life out of enjoyment of the arts instead of giving it life. I remember falling asleep in most of those lectures, and I fell asleep in this one too.

Despite the hard seats.

Did anyone else go yet? What did you think?

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Arty House Party

So the show is over and been and done and dusted.

It was a definite hit on many levels, and I’m very pleased with how it went.

I gave out 50+ business cards. It was a good party and a fun time was had by all – some 120 people came. They did seem to like the work very much. “Junia” and “Baptism” were particularly commented on. The general feedback that Naz got from the event that it was great art of a high quality, and lots of interested noises – there’s been a real buzz about the whole event, and the idea of a party with art on the walls. A lot of those people would be willing to come to any other shows I’d want to organise, so if nothing else, it has been the best PR. There seemed to be much “We’ll talk. SOON!” from people. We’re going to leave the work there for a week or so.

There have been no sales – yet. Although this is not a gallery art show, and it’s a well known fact that most of the sales are done on the opening night and not after, I remain optimistic. It’s hard to get people to interested at a party – people need time to go away and think about it before they’ll commit to buying anything, which is fair enough. I shall take the favourable comments away and ruminate on them, whilst waiting for the phone to ring. And those people can still get in contact with me through Naz. Or e-mail me on giddy@f2s.com *ahem*

There were some conversations that might have lead somewhere, but something happens when I get put on the spot. My legs turn to jelly, my mind goes blank, and my ability to speak and function like a rational human being, much less the highly focused salesman that I need to be, goes out of the proverbial box-sash window. Like the American Democratic party, I seem to have a phenomenal capacity for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. So it’s probably best that I didn’t get too involved in conversations at the party. I’m all ears now, though. Hehe.

I’ve never done a show in a house before, so I’m really not sure what expectations I should or shouldn’t have for such an event. I’d definitely do one again though, as I suspect that the impact is something that will become apparent afterwards. I’m sure my work will sit in people’s minds to ponder over. It does that.

In the meantime, you can watch the party in full swing on this video:

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Hanging art in a house

Would you allow two artists to take over your house? I wouldn’t. Primadonnas, artists, the lot of them. They don’t wipe their feet or wash their hands after they’ve been to the bathroom, and if they stay, they always leave a dirty tide mark around the bath. Beastly people.

My friend, the long-suffering Naz, however, allowed us to not only hang a show in his house, but allowed us to move all his furniture around to accommodate the work, and threw a big party to invite loads of his friends around to show the work – and helped us hang it! I think he’d wanted to do this for ages, and as he’s selling the place, it was a spur for him to get it sorted. Although, with perfect comic timing, the house sale fell through 2 days ago. Ah well, a perfect chance for me to say those immortal words: “…In the Current Climate™…”

If you feel that you would like a similar show in your house, and you have lots of rich, art-buying friends, then feel free to e-mail me on giddy@f2s.com I’m always up for it. You might want to watch the video below first, though, as it shows myself and fellow artist Joanne Vance hanging pieces of our work around his house, and some of the sorts of discussion and decisions that go into it. I hope it doesn’t put you off…

Another post will follow, to describe the aftermath of the event.

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My own paintings are scaring me…

There are times when a painting will really leap of a canvas/board/piece of paper in a way that sometimes surprises you. Call it what you will, but there’s a really vivid “prescence” to some works that is hard to either define or ignore, and is more than the sum of it’s parts.

These most recent works of mine have just that. I really feel like these are the best things I’ve made in years. But they are a bit spooky. Well, actually a lot spooky.

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How (not) to Gold Leaf

OK, here’s a couple of videos showing how I put gold leaf on my latest painting. I have actually blogged about this before, but I thought I’d show some videos this time. It’s always sheer comedy genius doing it, so enjoying laughing at my efforts.

Here’s Part One, which gets quite funny around the 5 min mark:

And here’s part two, the tricky bit:

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Painting With an Overhead Projector

This is a good way of transferring a photographic image onto canvas. It gives the image a strange quality as you’ll see..

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Showing Art in a House

In about 2 and a half week’s time, I’m going to show some of my works in a friend’s house, instead of a gallery or an open studio.

I’ve never done this before. They bought a piece of work from me earlier in the year, and I agreed to let them have a it a little cheaper, provided they put on a little soiree to “welcome” it into their home.

That’s now kind of metamorphosed into a party with a DJ and plenty of guests. Best of all, I’m sharing the space with another artist – Joanne Vance. She’s good friends with the owner of the house, and I had a look at her website recently – it’s all very good work. We met this morning, and thrashed out how we are going to hang the work, and how best to use the space.

The owners of the house are thinking of selling it soon, and so they want to have an art show there – something they’ve been intending to do for sometime. It’s a good way of a) showing off the house, and b) showing that the art looks good in a home setting.

I’m also trying to broaden the circle in which the work gets seen. I have a good group of friends who will pretty much turn up to everything I do, but they don’t have the funds to buy art works – and even if they do, they’ve already got one or two and don’t have the space for more.

I am slightly nervous about this – its a bit of an unknown quantity, but we’ll see how it works out. I’ll be blogging how it goes…

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The Art of the Saints (ongoing)

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Guerrilla art

This was too good an opportunity to resist.

I’ve been walking past these breeze blocks for a few days – I go past them on the way to the studio. They’re right outside a homeless hostel, and no-one has claimed them. It looks like they’ve just been dumped there by some builder who had them left over from a job.

I decided to transform them (with a few simple additions from a marker pen) into little characters with their own personalities. They are the Breeze Block Family.

They are still on the street where I found them. Free art again, just not on a Friday.

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Beyond Addiction

Hmm.. this is frustrating….

For a while now, I’ve been toying with the idea of setting up an online shop – a central place where you can buy anything I do – and have been working quite hard at making some work to sell for a few days. Simple.. I thought.. Paypal.. no problem..

However, having just posted it all here, a friend has just pointed out that it’s a rather large violation of the Terms & Conditions of wordpress.com.

Oops.

So, I have had to set it up somewhere else at short notice. Better that than a deleted blog, hmm?

“Beyond Addiction” is a new, limited edition work by me. There are ten of them, handmade, each signed and numbered by the artist (that would also be me). The piece is made of cigarettes, pins, card, and emergency keyholder frames. The dimensions are: (h) 119mm x (w) 119mm x (d) 33mm, and come with fixing instructions and a couple of screws and wallplugs.

It’s been crazy precision work with a scalpel for the past few days, and I am cross-eyed, sore of hand, wrist and elbow, as I’ve basically made this work about 3 times more than what I needed to, just to get everything to be perfect. I spent a whole afternoon just trying to get the white card to be the right size to fit in the back of the tray. Another day spent cutting them (I threw about 15 away because they were too ragged). And so on.

Anyway, we’ll see if this works. This is my first attempt at selling artwork online, and I’m quite excited by the thought of people owning a piece of original artwork by me – so it’s a bit of an experiment to see how it goes.

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The Artist’s Studio

My journey to work in the morning:

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PAX target

This is my next Free Art Friday work that I’m leaving out tomorrow.

The last one was smashed up, and the previous one had bricks hurled at it. I figure that if they’re going to hurl stuff at it, I might as well give them something to aim at. At least they’re not hurling stuff at the cars or each other, and it might help improve their aim.

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Evolution of PAX

I’ve done another work to leave out for Free Art Friday first thing tomorrow morning. I thought it would be easier to post a video as it’s so long and thin.

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In the studio

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Ethiopean PAX

Following on from two weeks ago, where I left a piece of work called PAX out for collection, I thought I’d give Free Art Friday another go.

This piece was made from one of those ramps that are used to keep cables tidy and stop people tripping over them. I don’t know what you call these things – perhaps someone will enlighten me. Anyway, it had been knocking around the estate for months, so I thought I’d use it.

I thought it would be nice to paint an icon, and I thought it might be nice to paint it with a black face (much more representative of the area I live in) – so I based this piece on icons from the ethiopean church, which has a really interesting history, if you’re aware of or interested in church history.

We’ll see what reaction if any this one gets. It’ll go out first thing on Friday 31st July 2008.

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PAX Update…

It’s now a week since I put PAX out as part of Free Art Friday, and in an effort to
to create a sense of calm and influence my environment in a small way.

It’s gone. It went sometime on Wednesday, although bizarrely the candles were left behind (although they’re gone now too, I think).

I feel a strange mixture of happy and sad. I got quite attached to it being there – I could see it from my window, and I would find it strangely reassuring as I glanced up from the laptop to look at it while working (click on the photo, and you’ll be able to see it – very small in a big space). But I’m glad that someone has them. I hope they’ve gone to a good home.

It was interesting to see people interact with it. On Saturday, two early-teenagers dressed from head to toe in chav pink came and sat there chatting and looking at it. A bit later a couple came and sat there whilst the girl combed and platted her boyfriend’s hair.

A little later in the week someone came and moved them slightly further apart, another stacked them all up into a pile, and finally they were gone.

I was sort of hoping they would stay there and colonise the space a little bit. It was nice to feel that I’d somehow claimed the space in a peaceful way – instead of it being a place where people come to hurt people it was a bit more calm.

I haven’t had time to make another thing to take it’s place, but I will. It’ll be Free Art, just maybe not always on a Friday…

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Urban Art Fair 2008

This weekend (just gone) was Brixton’s Urban Art Fair – an annual event in Josephine Avenue/Helix Road, in South London, UK.

The idea is simple – divide up the street into a series of “pitches” for a weekend in the summer, and rent out each pitch to artists to sell their wares to the general public – It’s one of those strangely idiosyncratic and anarchic things for which the Brits are justly famous.

Fairly inevitably, there’s a mix of the very very good, and the absolutely awful, but if you fancy yourself as an art collector, it’s definitely worth a visit, as you’re bound to find something to your taste. It’s a bit of an annual pilgrimage for myself and the family, and my children are usually placated with a slap-up meal in the brilliant Negril – a Jamaican barbecue/restaurant across the other side of Brixton Hill. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a whole year for the next one, but sign up on their website for updates.

Like many also-ran artists, I knew of it’s existence but I’m kicking myself for completely forgetting to enter myself for a pitch this time around. Pitches are extremely popular and competition is fierce, so if, like me, you’re going to register for the next one, do it NOW and stay sharp!

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PAX

After a long week starting with a rather horrific incident on Monday, I thought I would try my hand at doing a Free Art Friday effort.

Free Art Friday is simple idea – artists leave out a piece of their work on the street for anyone to take on Fridays – some lucky sod gets a nice piece of work to hang on their wall for nothing. Art for the masses. Its a great idea, on lots of levels.

I thought I would take some of the rubbish that gets left on our estate, and make it into artwork. It might stop the yoof throwing it at each other or hitting other people with it or throwing it at cars – something I see pretty much nightly outside my window. This particular piece of board was once all in one piece – part of a table I think – that someone left out about 3 months ago. The local council with their usual efficiency have yet to take it away, and it has been dismembered into about four pieces in that time.

This is fine for me, as it leaves me the raw materials for a triptych. PAX is almost a prayer on my part for peace, which is something we could really do with for the Summer here. In an area where even the wardens are dreading this coming weekend (the first weekend of the school summer holidays), I’m hoping that art can create calm. I’ll leave it outside in the derelict playground in front of my apartment, where the kids often come to drink and smoke, and sometimes kick each other.

Of course, PAX could still be used for hurling at people and cars, but I’m an artist, and this is probably the best I can do right now.

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Meanwhile, back at the studio…

I had my first day back in the studio after a looooong time, yesterday.

I thought I’d go in and check to see if the creative spirit is still alive, or has gone off to go and haunt some other poor soul.

I can tell you that I can still make frames, and that the possibilities are endless. The ideas have come and created a log jam in my head, as there are so many of them. I don’t know where to start, which is a relief of sorts.
I once saw someone on TV (who paints as a hobby) saying that she has so many ideas that they are snapping on the heels of each other, and that anyone who is “sitting around waiting for inspiration” is either a liar or lucky to have that much free time on their hands.

Unfortunately the person who said that was Anneka Rice.

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Ronnie Radcliffe 20th June 2008

11 days old.

I haven’t done any drawing for ages. Seems like a good way to relax these days.

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We make money AND art

Beyond The Wilderness in the stairwellJane looking slightly manic

After much wrangling, haggling, and placing sealed bids in envelopes from 2 potential buyers, I’ve finally sold “Beyond The Wilderness”.

It’s not so much the thrill of selling the work, or even making the work per se, but the satisfaction of knowing that this life does work – that it’s possible to make a living doing the very thing that you love the most.

I’ve sold it to some patrons who are also good friends of mine (and who’ve also bought my work before). Most work gets sold through previous clients. I agreed to sell this work at a slightly reduced rate, provided that the client threw a party to welcome in the work, and invite 15 of her richest art-buying friends.

It’s funny – whenever you talk about art in relation to money, it always makes people laugh incredulously. As if artists shouldn’t soil themselves with the dirty business of money. It’s true that I would do it for free if I could, but the reality of life is that you can’t do it for free and pay the mortgage.

Anyway, it’s interesting hanging artwork in someone’s house. It’s a different thing to hanging work in an art gallery, as the work takes a different life. What I’ve always liked about this work is it’s physicality, and how you have to move around to look at it. The stairwell was the most obvious place for it, as it’s a place where people move, as well as look up/down at. It’s in the right place for being able to see glimpses of the work from a distance, as well as being able to get right up close. Jane was very accommodating, asking where I thought it would look best in the house. How do you answer a question like that? It’s not my house!!!

If you would like to commission me to make a piece of work for you, then feel free to e-mail me at giddy@f2s.com.

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When I were a lad, the internet was in black and white…

..and it would go off for two hours at midday, and we’d all stand up and sing the national anthem.

Hat tip ffffound

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Just got back from =SPICO= Private View

…and a great night it was. He’s put a lot of work into the show and it’s paid off. I’ve always loved Nic’s cartoony/street art characters. At first glance they look quite cute, but the more time you spend with them, the more unsettling they become – just like good art should be. The images have got a slight manga-y feel to them and are a mixture of painting and collage, some with newspaper, and others with post office stickers. My favourite was the one called “TING” – there’s something about the mania of it, with the gesture of the hand and the word “TING” in large letters that really appeals to me. Stupidly I didn’t get a photograph of it. Although it’s not easy shooting framed works with a camera flash anyways, so perhaps it’s better that I didn’t.

The show contained various small framed works, but the centrepiece of the show is the end wall of the room. It’s taken up with a floor to ceiling mural (in the photo above) that Nic did for a commission, which the owner has thankfully lent back to the artist for the show.

Apparently he’s sold about 5 of the works with another commission in the bag, so the kid done good. It might be worth picking up one or two of these before he takes off, as I really think he has the ability to go far. I wonder if he’ll bater a painting for one of mine..

Also – I had a nice chat with one of the co-owners of the venue, Paul Dungworth. The Fleapit is one of those lovely venues that London is all about – a real find, slightly away from the Hoxton crowd, but still unmistakably Old Street. As well as free Wifi, good food, good art, and good music, they have a great selection of unusual ales, which is right up my street. I had the Power Station Porter beer (never miss a chance to sample Porter beers if you can). I also bought my mate Tim a rather unusual Mexican dark ale. It came in a bottle that was possibly the most phallic I’ve ever witnessed. You’ll have to ask Tim how it tasted.

The show runs from now until 15th of April, so go see.

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=SPICO=

My good friend and co-designer of t-shirts, Nico Yates has managed to get himself a solo show at The Fleapit, a bar/gallery venue in Old Street.

He will be exhibiting under his tag name, “=SPICO=”.

The Private View for his show is tomorrow night and he has asked me to let you all know about it. Not only is his work very good, but he will also be responsible for the music and general ambience of the whole evening at the Private View. During the rest of the show’s duration, you’ll only be able to see the works in the bar area, so for the full =SPICO= experience, you’ll have to be there tomorrow night. It’ll be a great event for all you Londoners who haven’t managed to get away for the Easter weekend.

The venue is The Fleapit in North London (details here.)

Nico’s Flickr Page is here.

He is also one of the artists who exhibited in Beyond The Wilderness.

The show is on from 6pm FRIDAY 21ST MARCH until TUESDAY 15TH APRIL, Private View Friday the 21st March 6pm – 11pm

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How to curate an art show

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OK, It’s been a couple of days since the start of Beyond The Wilderness, and so the dust has settled somewhat.

We’ve started a Flickr pool of photos from the weeks activities here.

The workload in the run-up to any show’s opening is always stressful, and exhausting, resulting in late nights, arguments, and last-minute emergencies. That’s the nature of this job. If anyone else is reading this who sets up art shows, or has set one up for the first time, then take heart – it’s not just you.

It culminates in the opening night, which is when you have to be nice to people, when you have the least energy to do so. If you don’t sell any work, it can be very dis-heartening. But that’s life. Keep going. You need to do more of these, and eventually it will start to work for you.

I’m now in the eye if the storm. Everything is pretty much up and running. And needs very little to maintain the day-to-day running of the place. The SW1 Gallery has it’s own staff in the form of the lovely Heidi, so I don’t need to be there every day. And because this is a team effort, there are some wonderful people willing to sit in on the show every day, and be a smiling friendly face.

The bulk of the sales of work tends to happen on the opening night, so we’re now relying on a certain amount of passing trade, to sell more.

I have to say, that there is a great deal of satisfaction from just showing work, aside from any sales being made. If I could do it for free, I would. The opening night was a great success, in terms of the lovely comments I got from people about how good they thought my work was, and how impressive the show is as a whole. The other artists were honoured to be asked, and had a lot of fun inviting their friends, and being complimented on their work.

Aside from that, people get to stand in front of works and think new things, and go new places. As an artist you can have people listen to what you’re saying (in the form of art) with undivided attention. People get to have a new experience that you have provided. You get the chance to meet new people.. The list of benefits for you the creator, or you the viewer is endless.

Earlier, I said I was in the eye of the storm. The other end of the storm is the set-down next Friday (the day after the Cabaret). Basically its set-up in reverse, but a lot faster. We had 3 days to set up. We have 1 day to set down.

Set down is generally a lot faster anyway – you’re not hanging stuff on the wall, and carefully judging where it goes, lining it up, making sure it’s level, lighting it accurately etc. You’re just taking it off the wall, wrapping it, ripping the screws out of the wall, sanding, filling and painting the remaining holes, and taking home the works that you haven’t sold.

It’s also the saddest time, as the show that you have put your heart and soul into is at an end. Until next time.

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Beyond The Wilderness. Setting Up. Day 2.

Well, today went a lot better than yesterday. I’m still absolutely wiped out though.

I was thinking of posting a photo of the works, as we managed to finish hanging the show (pretty much) today. But if I did that, you wouldn’t come to the Private View tomorrow night. Ha!

So, I just have to line up the lighting track so that the works are well lit up, and drop Jonny Baker’s photo down by about 5 cms. And then we’re done.

Oh yes – and label all the works. And tidy up this lot:

Fortunately, I’ve had the help of the lovely Doerthe Rosenow. She doesn’t normally look like this, but I think I’ve broken her spirit:

If you’re thinking of coming, then I look forward to seeing you tomorrow night.

The address is:

12 Cardinal Place,
Cardinal Walk,
Victoria St.
London

Basically come out of Victoria Station, head for Victoria Street. Look for the big glass building with the roof that drops down into a point at ground level. Go in past the shops, and up the escalator. The gallery is the SW1 Gallery, next to Wagamamas.

Private View is from 6 – 9pm. drinks are free. Readers of this blog are most welcome.

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The Big Bang Circus

I caught up with a friend of mine today, called Michael Teasdale.

Michael is a fellow artist who has been working away on a massive project for about ten years.

Well, it finally has a web presence. It’s called the Big Bang Circus. It’s still very much a work under construction, but I couldn’t resist telling you about it, as he deserves more recognition than he actually gets.

It’s an absolutely awesome work that threatens to take over his life (and more importantly yours) very soon. There are intentions to make a book/film/cartoon/universe/etc. The hook is that there’s a bit of a maze-like story to it, with hidden depths that you don’t find out about until you’re well and truly lost in it.

You can also see his other work at michaelteasdale.com (also under construction), which I’ve not seen before. Don’t be put off by the mugshot of Mike, though. He’s really very nice…

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Beyond The Wilderness. Work-in-Progress. Still.

I did a little extra work today…

I sprayed the paving slab some more. I used the line-marking spray that surveyors use to mark the services and hidden pipes on the road before they dig it up. Presumably to stop some dullard workman putting his pick through a water pipe.

I also laid a couple of coats of white acrylic on the board for the painted image I’m making as part of the work. Acrylic is weird. If you’re using a good one like Lascaux, then it should settle and cling quite tightly to the surface you’re painting on.

This is quite normal for acrylic paint. Its hard to know whether to pile it on thick, or build it up slowly over time with thinner layers. I think the first layer I put on was a bit patchy and uneven. And settled down really well in some places and not so well in other places. So today I put it on quite thick. It’s settling down again, but is retaining the lines from the brush it put it on with (a $30 4in. sable brush, in fact).

It’s nice like that – it is paint after all, and the physicality of the paint is.. not important, but its a part of the work, and I’m not ashamed of it, so to speak.

We’ll see how it progresses. Tomorrow is going to be a big day for the drawing part of the image.

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Beyond The Wilderness – Work still in progress

I started work on another element of my commission for the forthcoming Beyond the Wilderness show in London, UK.

It’s a stencil, spray-painted onto a paving slab. I think it will go on the floor, tight up against the wall below all the other elements that I’m adding in for this piece. I like the idea of having something resting on the floor.

There’ll be more to it than just the white image though. I’ve bought a load of floor-marking paint – the sort that surveyors use to mark out all the major services on roads – electricity, water, cables, that sort of thing.

And as for the rest of the work – you’ll have to wait and see…

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Why are artists so damn flakey?

So, re: my last post: I’ve been chasing up artists to appear in Beyond The Wilderness – the show that I’m curating..

Time for a little rant: Way back when I was a young artist straight out of art school (far too long ago..!) If someone had presented me with an opportunity to exhibit on a plate, then I would have jumped at the opportunity like a grasshopper off a trampoline.
So why are people so reticent now? Some of the people I invited to exhibit have known for months that we’re doing a show, and now – 1 month before the show starts – I get:

“Ermmm… uhh.. I haven’t really ummm got anything to show..uhhh.”

Well, fuck ’em.
There are plenty of other artists out there queueing up for the opportunity to show.
Good people.
Who know what they’re doing.
Like this lot:

So far we’ve got :

Jonny Baker
Clayton Sinclair
Alison Lilley Berrett
Jo Paul
Nico Yates
Geoff Plant
ASBO

Tim Dendy
My Good Self
Adam Boulter
My Dog Sighs

I think its shaping up to be a great show. My only worry is that its mostly men, and mostly all white. It would be nice to get more of a balance. If there’s anyone out there who can fulfill the brief of the show, then let me know.

Remember, readers of this blog are most welcome to come to the Private View on Wed. 13th February, 6-9pm

Details are on the Moot Community Arts Website

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Beyond The Wilderness: Lenten Journeys

This is my next project:

I’m curating an art show as part of this event in Central London, UK for moot. It should be interesting, and I may diary the experience here if I have time. Curating shows is something I’ve done before, and there’s a real knack to it, which is difficult to pull off. Plus I’ve gotta make my own piece of work to go in somehow. Oh yeh, and I’ve managed to talk myself into doing part of the poetry workshop.

Should be fun! Readers of this blog are welcome to the private view on Wednesday 13th February.

Press Release:

Moot Community Arts in association with the SW1 Gallery, Victoria bring BEYOND THE WILDERNESS.
Identify your hidden desires, your soul’s yearnings and your long held hopes and dreams in the heart of the city.
Join us for BEYOND THE WILDERNESS – LENTEN JOURNEYS – end edgy collection of visual and performance arts taking you on a Lenten voyage of discovery.
AND IF YOU WANT TO BE THE ARTIST –
it’s your chance to unleash the poet within, the artist inside and explore your spiritual hunger with others on a similar path.
BEYOND THE WILDERNESS comes from Moot Community Arts and contains:

  • A two-week Lent spirituality course, Tues 12th Weds 20th Feb 08
  • An Art Show, 14th to 21st Feb 08
  • A performance Cabaret, thurs 21st Feb 08
  • A Poetry Workshop day, Sat 16th Feb 08

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Leonardo’s Helicopter

Leonardo da Vinci, being the sketch book fiend that he was, invented a helicopter. Clearly the man had far too many ideas, and not enough time to make them all. (The experts think it would have worked, by the way).

The other day I was stuck in traffic on the A3 in London, and I thought… If Leonardo had been stuck in traffic on the A3, he would have made damn sure that he had time to build that helicopter, and get it working.

Come to think of it, he would also have sued the ass off Dan Brown for writing the bloody DaVinci Code.

Asshole.

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Finished Commission


So the moot icon finally got its first outing last night.

I think it looks ok. It looks better in the dark…!

There’s still a bit of tidying up to do – some of the lines need dealing with, and the impact glue that I used to stick the chalice on with has has oozed out slightly, but otherwise, its fine.

I’m not averse to altering it further, actually. The initial reactions to it have been favourable, but I think it may need a little evolution as people get used to it, and respond to it.

We didn’t process it out into the mass like I’d hoped, but we will. For now, it’s just good that people get to see it and get used to it.

Here’s how I made it:

Intro, Pt.1, Pt.2, Pt.3, Pt.4, Pt.5, Pt.6

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Moot Icon Pt. 6

I was going to title this blog post “Loss of Perspective”…

I’ve found it quite difficult to decide where to put the perspective, and tried it about three different ways – first with the centre somewhere in the middle of the table, then in various other places before finally deciding to centre it on the head of the figure in the middle. Which kind of make sense, thinking about it.

Now that’s finally settled, I just have to paint lots of very straight white lines, and frankly I’ve got performance anxiety.

And there was me thinking it was going to be finished within a week…

Still – I’ve photographed it without the overhead lights on this time, which gives you a better sense of how it looks. Nearly there….

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Drawing Restraint – Matthew Barney

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I went to see Drawing Restraint, a show by Matthew Barney, at the Serpentine Gallery in London this afternoon.

Matthew Barney’s work is very good, and I’ve been a fan for a long time. Its the kind of work that you can keep going back to over and over. It never gets boring and each time you go back there’s something new that you didn’t notice before.

It has to be seen to be believed.

Try this – one of the biggest pieces is a series of 30 – 40 foot slabs of petroleum jelly in various states of solidity, lying on, under and around 1-inch 8×4 slabs of plastic, topped with a great big long thin chunk of ambergris (or whale vomit) encrusted with prawn shells, speared with a plastic harpoon trailing a plastic rope that runs off to join up with other works in other parts of the gallery.

Confused?

Spend some time there. Walk around it. Smell it. Once the full force of its physical impact has registered you may find that other ideas and thoughts appear. Barney’s work often has mythological links and references, sometimes using masonic symbols in his work. Its quite intimidating if your not familiar with the lexicon, but its a great incentive to go and find out more, and I find his work thoroughly thought-provoking and educational.

If you’ve never seen his Cremaster cycle of films, I recommend that you watch at least one – they are the most heavily laden symbolic events that I’ve ever seen, and there you’ll get a true feel for his work.

The works in this show make me think in terms of whaling and the various ethics involved, of Moby Dick, and of oil-industry by-products. Whaling was once a much-used resource that has fallen out of favour. There are also interesting thoughts to do with escapology in this show. Much of the work focuses on the physical act of attempting to draw drawings whilst being prevented from doing so (hence the title) – trying to draw on the ceiling by bouncing on a trampoline or scaling the wall with climbing gear, or trying to draw on a boat that is being tossed about in rough seas – all of which are documented on video, and the results displayed for you to peruse – alongside Barney’s trademark photos of satyrs.

I’m always intrigued by artists who create a whole environment rather than just a finished work on a wall that stands alone, and Barney seems to be able to do this well without resorting to huge projected images in darkened rooms, un-like many other artists.

You know what? I’m going to give up trying to explain this to you, because I can’t. It’s too awesome for me to describe. If you only go and see one show this year, then please, please see this one.

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Doris Salcedo’s Crack

I’m sitting in the main turbine hall of the Tate Modern, looking at a giant crack in the floor. This is the new work by Doris Salcedo.

The first thing you notice about it is it’s very obviously made. It looks quite cartoony. Not at all natural. It runs the length of the entire turbine hall, right from the door-post to the other end, and under a glass wall out of sight, maybe into some office space that we don’t know about. In fact, it runs right under Nicholas Serota‘s desk. Probably. When you look into it, it’s got bits of metal buried in the concrete. I don’t know how much concrete you’ve seen in your life, but normally concrete has stones and “bits” in it – with steel rods for re-inforcing, so it’s obviously not the real floor.

I’ve already seen some dumb student land flat on their face because they tripped over it, and I’m wondering how long it is before health and safety come and put barriers everywhere. It’s a very physical presence, and slightly disturbing (how did she do it? Did they raise the floor? Is the structural integrity of the building compromised?)

So, we’re in a turbine hall, that’s now a museum of modern art… turbine hall… power…? Dividing between those who have and have not…? Am I warm…?

On picking up the leaflet, I’m told its about racism. Huh? Well, the turbine hall was built around the time of the greatest imigration into British society (rebuilding after the war, 1947, etc.) Its called Shibboleth, because the word “Shibboleth” means “a word used as a test for dectecting people from another district or country by their pronunciation; a word or sound very different for foreigners to pronounce correctly.” Modernity is a European construct that excludes non-Europeans, etc..

Oh, and the bits of metal in the crack, are suppoesed to be like the chains of slaves.

Right. This is a particular bug-bear of mine. How are you supposed to get that? The problem is, some one at the Tate has written that as an interpretation, and it becomes the authoritative one. There’s the fascism right there. The leaflet says “Walking down Salcedo’s incised line, particularly if you know about her previous work..” Well, I don’t.

It’s a great work for people to walk around, trip over, drop things in, sit by, and so on, and so on. That’s ok. It doesn’t need a leaflet to tell you what to think about it. I’m also a bit pissed off with the security guard jackboots that have been pacing around me since I first sat down and open this laptop up. Grr.

I’m going to start a new tradition. When you see this work, come and drop a coin in it, and make a wish, like a wishing well. I’ve already dropped the first pound coin in, as you can see from the photo above. My wish is that art would get better, and that people would stop crowding work with their own interpretation. Heal the cracks, you might say.

On a lighter note, I just can’t resist a good innuedo. I’ve been trying to hold back for this entire post, but I can’t contain myself, so here goes.. I’ve been to see Doris Salcedo’s crack. Her crack was a lot of fun. Lots of other people had fun too. At the same time. It’s quite a deep gash. It’s huge. I could spout forth on her crack forever. I saw right into it. Etc., etc.,…

If you think of any other good ones, let me know.

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Moot Icon – Work-in-progress Pt.5

OK, those of you who are following the progress of this work, (it’s the icon I have been commissioned to make for the moot community) will understand what I mean when I say that I think I’ve got this back from the brink of disaster..

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you can chart the progress of this work here, here, here, here, etc.

I dealt with the issue of the table and seats being too vivid with a black wood patinating wax. I realised that the colours need to be more muted in keeping with the tone of the work. Its tempting to think that bright colours can be wonderful and eye-catching, but sometimes a more sombre tone can be better – in this case, if I’m doing an icon that is going to be used in a reverent and quiet way, then it makes sense to have more muted colours – its much more sensitive to the end use of the thing. So the wax has made the colours look a little less obtuse. The blue fairy lights are enough colour.

However, I also realised that the whole thing had become a bit too floaty and ethereal, and that it needed something a bit more solid about it. So I’ve picked out the edges of the table with white gloss paint. Obviously, I’ve just tried out a small part of it – the table needs feet, for one thing – and I’m going to paint the edges of the blue cube “seats” that the figures are sitting on, too. The lines will be a bit more stricter and straighter when I’ve finished with it, but I think I’m finally back on track, and I’m well pleased (as Chas ‘n’ Dave would say).

The white paint kind of looks a bit like chalk marks on a school blackboard, which I suppose could raise issues about didacticism in religion. Nice thought.

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St. Thomas

On a good note, I think I’ve finally finished this work on paper.

It took a while. The thing looks quite stark, but I like that. It’s very arresting. Supernaturally so, I would say. A photo doesn’t really do it justice. Its impact is much greater in the flesh. I’m going to frame it sometime soon.

To me, I can see Thomas’ desire to measure everything, and test. I can see the struggle for perfection, and the route there. I can see St. Thomas in a contemporary way.

If you’d like it on your own wall, let me know.

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Moot Icon – Work-in-Progress (Pt.4)

There comes a time in the life of every painting when you think you’ve gone too far and buggered it up.

Today, readers, was that day.

Sometimes its just a perception on the part of the artist due to getting out the wrong side of bed that morning. Sometimes you really do bugger it up.

Anyway, its usually the biggest obstacle to getting a work finished. You like what you’ve done so far, you know you have to do a bit more, but you’re petrified of doing anything to it, because you’re scared of making the wrong mark. To the point where you don’t want to touch it. Ever again.

I think the saving grace is that the figures are so strong and threatening, that I’d have to do quite a lot to it to destroy their impact. In fact, its almost worth trying to tone them down, to leaven their impact a bit so that they’re not so overpowering.

I’ve also got to find some way to put bread and wine on the table that they’re sitting around.

Maybe it’ll look better in the morning.

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The Turner Prize – And the nominations are….

The Turner Prize has gone wierd again.

This year’s nominations include Mark Wallinger, and Mike Nelson, who have both been nominated before (and whose work I’m quite fond of), Zarina Bhimji, and Nathan Coley.

They’ve moved the whole she-bang up to Tate Liverpool.

There’s a retrospective show of past winners at Tate Britain.

Does any one know how much a train to Liverpool costs? Or should I just watch it on TV?

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Jochem Hendricks Show – Haunch of Venison

Just got back from the Jochem Hendricks show at the Haunch of Venison Gallery.

It’s a great show. The ground floor has a series of works on paper made by one of those machines that draws a line that follows where your eyes look.

On the second floor there are glass baubles that are half-filled with sand. They look like individual womens’ breasts, which is quite funny. There are also artificial diamonds surrounded by feathers on plinths.

However, on arrival on the top floor I realised very quickly that it was probably just about the worst show possible to take a 2-year-old to. It has 8 stuffed dogs all poised and looking straight at you as you ascend the stairs (see photo).

Our 2-year-old is very good though. She didn’t touch anything. Honest.

Generally fun though. He’s put together some things in a nice contrasting way, juxtapositions that make you feel lovely. Things created versus things that are natural. Its an interesting thought. Discuss.

One of my friends who came was wondering whether I was going to talk endlessly for hours about the work (like his other arty friends), but I don’t really like doing that. Good works tend to need bit of time for you to think about them. You can keep responding to them or getting new things out of them for a long time, but I prefer to walk away and come back another day – leave things time to settle. And this is a good show to do that with.

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Moot Icon – Work-in-Progress (Pt.3)

So, inevitably when you’re making paintings, the (literally) sticky topic of gold leaf comes up. I often put haloes on the characters in my painting, so I can’t really avoid using the bloody stuff. Its basically small squares of gold that have been beaten flat into sheets that are so thin, if you sneeze, they’ll disappear.

You think I’m joking. The first time I bought a book of gold leaf sheets, I cautiously peeled back the first page to look at one, and it disintegrated in front of my eyes, purely as a result of being exposed to the vapour in the air.

The process of adding gold leaf is called gilding, and there are two ways of doing it – water gilding and oil gilding. I don’t really bother with water gilding, as oil gilding is a lot easier – although if you can get good at water gilding, it goes on a lot more smoothly.

Basically, if you’re oil gilding, you put a liquid called gold size down exactly where you want the gold to go on your painting. Leave it to go a bit dry (so its sticky like scotch tape, not wet – usually after about an hour), then put the little squares of gold on. Getting the gold squares from the book to where you want them to go is usually pure comedy. You can’t pick it up with your fingers. It’s too thin. You have to get a big wide, flat brush about 15cms wide, breathe on it so it gets the vapour from your breath, pick up the leaf with that brush and then dump it on the painting in the right place. It will detach itself from your brush, and sail through the air like a feather in the wind about 4 times before you finally persuade it to go WHERE YOU BLOODY WANT IT TO!

For this work, rather than just put a perfect circle on the painting for haloes, I thought it would be interesting to dip the bottom of a paint tin in the gold size, and then put it onto the painting (that’s what I’m doing in the photo above). It’s still a circle, but it bleeds like when you put a coffee mug on a table. So now its got gold leaf on it, its a much more ragged circle, which is in keeping with the work.

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Gary Hume – American Tan

The new Gary Hume show opens today, 5th September, at White Cube’s Mason’s Yard gallery premises, right in the heart of Picadilly. It’s called “American Tan“, as are all the works are in the show.

I’m actually blogging this from the private view, as someone has rather generously not password-protected their wifi. I also wanted to take some photos of the inside of the gallery – more to capture the general ambience of the place, than to take photos of the work – but a very nice young fella told me I wasn’t allowed. No famous people here yet either, apart from Jake Chapman.

I like Gary Hume. I like him because he is a painter (and so am I). I like him, because, unlike so much work out there, his work is really playful. He clearly enjoys colour, and messing about with paint. I like his work because it has a sense of humour. Slightly cheeky, and sometimes a little dark, but there’s always something to raise a smile. I like his work because unlike many other works at the moment, its not made by ticking the right boxes, its not made by having a smart idea, and then phoning up fabricators from the Yellow Pages and “getting it made.” In fact, I like him so much, you might notice a small trace of influence in my own work.

I don’t know what he’s been up to since I last saw a Gary Hume show, as I’ve been away from the art scene for a while. Apparently, he’s been doing other things – things that you wouldn’t expect from his work. However, this one contains the sort of stuff that he’s known for, and then some.

The works are all great – I couldn’t single out one for praise. They’re basically sheets of aluminium painted with household paint, layered on really thick, but done to look like paintings of figures (ballerinas in this case). Very colourful. The surfaces are almost mirrors, they’re so glossy. There were also some works on canvas, which is a small departure – but these were lovely too… wonderfully rendered, soft and delicate somehow.

And then there were some simple sculptures – like ballerinas legs with cheerleaders pom-poms attached to one foot.

Go and have a look. It’s FUN.

And sometimes, its OK for art to be fun. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Bloody hell! I’ve just looked up, and in the time I’ve been typing this, its got REALLY busy. If I see anyone famous, I’ll let you know..

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Moot Icon Pt. 2

Aren't blue LEDs lovely?

Meh heh heh…

Oh yeh.

I did actually put the LEDs on temporarily the last time I was in the studio, but I wanted to surprise you. I’ve taped them on a bit better now – with a lot more of it. Making a feature of the gaffer tape also adds to the feel of it, I think.

Apparently there’s something about twinkling lights that encourages people to spiritual visions. I’m sure that Richard Dawkins would suggest that its all part of the way the human brain has evolved, and that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about God, yadda yadda… But there you go. It is what it is, and I’m happy to go with it for the moment.

Since I was last in the studio, the black electrician’s tape has come away from the wood a little bit. I’m slightly concerned, as I don’t want this to keep happening every time. It might just be the damp air – my studio has a lot of moisture in the air, which has lead to all sorts of problems in the past – and its impossible to heat it up sufficiently to deal with the problem.

I like the idea that the icon could look like a piece of wood found on a building side – with boot-prints all over it, coffee mug stains, etc. There’s something about the urban-ness of it that suits moot‘s ethos. The burntness is part of that. I don’t know how to depict the table, wine-glass or bread in that vein, though.

With chewing gum, maybe.

More photos will be added as the piece changes and is worked on.

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Sacred

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I went to the “Sacred” exhibition at the British Library in North London today. The show is basically an exhibition of Christian, Jewish and Islamic texts alongside each other.

Its a nice idea that puts together the 3 warring Abrahamic faiths, and you can see visually how similar the traditions are without needing to understand a word of Arabic, Hebrew or English. It was a great chance to see some really early manuscripts, and get a sense of touching history. Texts that are so close to the source of faith.

It seems to me, that broadly, the older and simple the texts were, the more of God seemed to shine through. I think the lesson is that its tempting to think that opulence and verbosity are no less than the deity deserve – that we can somehow communicate or apprehend God by being garrulous – but actually, for me God shines through the simplicity of the Kufic Moroccan Qu’ran in a way that is out of this world.

Funnily enough, it was the Islamic texts that (visually) allowed God to flow out more than any other. The Islamic prohibition on the use of images has lent a kind of purity to the visual, that is not quite present in either my own Christian tradition, or the Jewish texts.

The only Christian texts that really breathed God for me were the Armenian “Lives of the Desert Fathers” (that figure is one of the most alarmingly striking images I have ever seen) and the Ethiopian/Coptic rendering of the Trinity for similar reasons. Both had an unfamiliarity about them that was refreshing, and inspired me to dig a little further into the Desert Fathers history. Although bizarrely, I can find a link to neither on the British Library’s own website. Maybe I’m just being blind. Put a link in the comments box if you find them.

As to the drawbacks of the show – Its amazing how easy it is to “gag” art by talking about it. The clutter of signs, explanation and multi-media is so excessive, that it really distracts from the things you’re looking at. Both the Mizrah and the Islamic marriage contract were partially obscured by signs telling you what they were! Its only a matter of time before you might as well have stayed at home and read about it instead.

As a whole the multi-media experience was centre stage. The actual texts themselves were scattered to the edges of the room. What the hell was the blue LED cone for? Such wizardry displays a lack of faith in the objects we’re supposed to be looking at.

I’m a firm believer in making things accessible to all, but sometimes there’s a fine line between being helpful and patronising people. Some like having the explanations nearby, but the things that tend to get written on these placards don’t help people develop confidence in their own responses to art. In my opinion, it’s just as ok to say: “its nice.” and move on, as it is to just sit there and stare for half an hour because you can’t take your eyes off it. If you’re someone who derives pleasure from knowing how things fit together historically, then a bit of explanation is fine – or just buy the catalogue.

The moral of the story?

Keep it Simple, Keep it Sacred.

UPDATE: I got a nice response from Rob Ainsley from the British Museum re: the texts that didn’t make it onto the Sacred website:

“You’re right, there isn’t a page for the Lives of the Desert Fathers on the website. We only had time and resources to put about half of the texts on display on the website (67 of 150 or so). There’s a complete list at
http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/sacredtexts/sacredthemesall.html

However, of the texts that were in the exhibition but are not on the website, we *may* be able to add some of the ‘most requested’ over the next month or two. (Not a trivial business, because we have to do things such as taking high-resolution pictures of the text). If so, LoDF will be on our shortlist.”

Its brilliant that the British Library interacts with the punters, and it shows that they have a real love for what they’re doing that is forward-looking. Cool!

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Moot Icon commences

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So, I’ve finally started the icon for moot. Whether it gets finished in time for Greenbelt is a moot point, but at least we’re underway..

I had the idea for drawing the figures by scorching the wood for quite sometime. It looks much better in real life than in the photo here (but then I do only have a crappy point-and-shoot camera).

Since I started it this morning, I’ve realised that it fulfills a lot of things – the first figure (top photo) looks really scary and intimidating on its own. God the Father. Very foreboding. It also sidesteps the gender/race issues that I mentioned before – not in a bad way, but in the sense that you can read things into the figure without those issues becoming an obstacle.

I also remembered that many of our images of God revolve around fire – the Holy Spirit’s “tongues of fire”, the burning bush, the pillar of fire by night, etc.. This touches on the idea of abscence and prescence – the prescence of fire, but the abscence of it too – the scorched wood that is left behind having been visited by fire.

It also reminds me of the Hiroshima figures – the dust shadows of bodies left behind having been vapourised by the atomic blast – literally blown away.

I’m not sure that the figure on the left works as well as the one in the middle – and the combination of the eventual three may not work at all, but we’ll see. I did think of doing a white line around the figure of Jesus, to make it look like a murder scene – sort of like the chalk line on the floor where the body laid before it was taken away.

But then, that might just be something that only happens in Columbo films, which would make my icon look a bit silly…

But then a sense of humour is useful in a painting..

Oh sod it, I don’t know what to do now.

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Pyromaniac tendencies

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One of the great things about being an artist is that, if you want to, you can legitimately set fire to things for a living…

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I Got A Commission!

Hurrah! This doesn’t happen often. The moot community has paid me some money to paint an icon for their use.

I’m really looking forward to doing it actually. It takes a lot to get a commission right. Enjoying doing it is key. There’s nothing worse than doing a commission that becomes a drudge or an obligation.

Its also important to have a clear idea as to how the commission will work out. Rublev’s icon of the trinity (pictured) has a long history with emerging church groups, and especially many of the mooters, so it seems only right to do something based on this icon, as a trinitarian understanding of spirituality is so important to this group.

I have an idea to make the “Father” figure a black man, as this is important for moot – we live in a city that has had a spate of shootings recently, and many are suggesting that the absence of father-figures in the lives of black families is a contributory factor. So I want to paint a positive role model of the black father, also to show inclusivity and acceptance.

The Holy Spirit figure will be a woman, as its known that the Holy Spirit is in some way a representation of the feminine side of God. I want this icon generally to reflect the inclusive nature of the community, and of God.

Problems: The image only has 3 figures in it, which limits how you can show inclusivity.

The inclusion of the black father figure could be a statement about the absence of God, which could be two-edged – it can be seen negatively as well as positively.

The use of a woman for the Holy Spirit could also be seen to be reinforcing negative stereotypes about women, though (quiet and hidden, there to support men, etc.).

You have to think about these things – If you get it wrong, it can be an albatross both for you as the artist, and for the client. (Think Graham Sutherland – Winston Churchill)

Its a bit of a minefield really, but whatever I end up doing, I think I’m going to stick with Rublev.

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It’s getting worse…

The photo I showed you of my “sliding painting” the other day has got worse – it’s starting to ripple all over.

Whilst this is ok up to a point and has given me some other ideas, I am going to need some flat area to paint on, or I’ll have to start again – which will then be my THIRD attempt to get this bloody thing finished.

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Now this is just spooky…

The darnedest thing happened when I was working on this painting….

I’m not that keen on the idea of art as therapy, or art as self-expression. I don’t think these concepts make for good work, and I think that the artists who espouse those ideas are being thoroughly disingenuous.

When it comes to making work, I have a different  approach – I tend to allow things to present themselves to me. As a consequence, the work that gets made is often far better than anything that I would want to make.

Anyway, I had just finished painting the carpenters square for the second time for St. Thomas (trying to find the composition). I stepped back from the drawing board and looked at the image and this weird sense of “presence” happened. Both from the painting, around me, between us and in the room.

I’m not sure that I’ve described what happened very accurately. That’s the best way I can really explain it, though.

You can’t always explain experiences like that, and sometimes you shouldn’t try.

So I won’t.

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Damien Hirst’s New Religion

If you’re not doing anything in London, UK, there’s an exhibition of works by Damien Hirst that is worth checking out.

The show is called “New Religion”, and can be seen at All-Hallows-On-The-Wall Church in the city of London until April 4th. The priest at All-Hallows-On-The-Wall is the Rvd. Garth Hewitt who I know quite well, and the show has been organised by a friend of mine.

Its a great show and a bit of a coup for them. Apparently after they’d hung it, Damien liked the show so much that he created a brand new triptych especially.

I noticed with a certain amount of chagrin that Damien has done a series of works on paper of the apostles, which is exactly what I’m doing at the moment.

Ah well. Mine will just have to be better.

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Square Tom

First attempt at St. Thomas.

This is going to be quite tricky, as the elements are so simple (two straight lines at a right angle) that you have to be really careful to get it right.

You have to keep trying until it falls into the right place, and you have to watch carefully so that when it finally does fall into the right place, you don’t carry on and paint all over it.

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The Perfect Screw

After much trial and error, I’ve finally got the screw exactly how I want it. Now I just have to make each screw as good as the last, 30 times over.

I wonder how much more innuendo I can fit into one blog post…

Watch the stats rise…..

Sorry I haven’t been here for a while by the way. Have been busy painting.. more to follow

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Sliding Paint

Flickr: Photos from Mike6

I’ve made up this wooden board by pouring black household gloss paint onto it, but its been lying flat in the middle of the room drying off for a long time. Its also been getting in the way.

I thought that it would be ok to stand it up ready to paint, considering that I did it 2 months ago. However, it has sunk on one corner. I might have poured it too thickly, hence the little problem.

Though actually, I quite like it, and it might work with what I want to paint.

We’ll see.

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Two screws

Flickr: Photos from Mike6

So I did a couple of screws today – properly. With silver leaf and everything. They’re quite hard to photograph, as the flash goes off, and just reflects from the silver leaf.

The screws are ok as they go so far, but they don’t look quite as good as the one I painted yesterday, and it was only when I uploaded this photo that I realised why – the previous one had a little glimpse of the bugle shaped part at the top of the thread. These ones just look like bizarre screw/nail hybrids.

Still – just another 28 to go. By the time I get to the last one, I’ll probably be getting it about right.

And then I’ll have to go back and start again and do them all properly. I think this one is going to drive me properly mad. I wish I’d start St. Thomas now – it’ll be just a square.

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Work-In-Progress (Judas Iscariot Pt.2)

Flickr: Photos from Mike6

Let the screws begin…. All 30 of them.

This is also on graph paper, but the graph paper is in imperial measurements – all the other apostles will be on metric graph paper.

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Work-in-Progress (Judas Iscariot Pt.1)

Flickr: Photos from Mike6

So now I’m doing Judas. I want to do 30 screws, and silver leaf them. I did the 2 versions of a screw that you can see above, and then went downstairs to the office, to test them out on people.

“Which one looks more obviously screw-like?”

2 people said “The one on the left”, and 2 people said “The one on the right.”

Funnily enough, it was the British who said the one on the left, and a Russian and an American who said the one on the right, so I wonder if that says something about UK sensibilities.

Probably not.

However, on further consultation, the general consensus was that although the one on the left could be seen to be screw-like, 30 of them on a page would somehow detract from their screw-like-ness. The one on the right would make more visual sense, so that’s the one I’m going with.

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Why I kicked a painting

Flickr: Photos from Mike6

Finally I’ve finished.

This work was started last year, and its taken me until now to finish the thing. If you go here, you’ll see me kicking a painting. I was kicking the bottom part of this painting, which is made of stainless steel, before spraying it and bolting it on to the rest of the painting.

It’s painted with a very glossy household paint, which is why I had to photograph it at this funny angle – shooting a glossy surface is like photographing a giant mirror – the flash goes off, and all you get is your reflection.

Junia is mentioned by Paul in the New Testament as an Apostle (Romans 16:7). She is believed to be a woman by many, and yet this is the only biblical reference to a female Apostle in the Bible.

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Work-in-Progress 6 (St. James-The-Less)

Flickr: Photos from Mike6

Ok, I think we’re there. It looks better this way up, and I’ve added screws. It will need a bit of tidying up and precision. Then all I have to do is save up enough cash to frame it.

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St. James-The-Less (Work-in-Progress Pt. 5)

Flickr: Photos from Mike6

My wife said “It looks a bit short….” But on this occasion, she was referring to the length of the saw I had painted. The last one (below) had the blade of the saw off the page, as I had centered on the handle, but as she quite rightly pointed out, it just looks like a saw with half a blade.

So…. Another resize, and repaint, and there it is. I’ve started to make it a bit more definite, too. It looks quite cartoon-y but that’s ok.

I’m also wondering if it would look a little better the other way up: vertically (portrait) rather than horizontal (landscape). It is a portrait of St. James-The-Less, after all.

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Work-in-Progress Pt. 4 (St. James-The-Less)

St. James-The-Less 4 on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

There – measured accurately from a real saw and scaled up. I like the idea that you can see the previous versions underneath. Now the work really starts.

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Work In Progress Pt.3 (St. James-The-Less)

St. James-The-Less on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

My first stab at accuracy. You can see it’s better, but it’s not quite right somehow.

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Work-in-Progress Pt. II

Today was a good day in the studio. I’ll post some photos in a second.

After trying not to be accurate, I tried instead to be very accurate, and the thing looked a whole lot better straight away.

I then realised that trying to paint a picture of a saw from memory was not going to work, so I walked across the studio, picked up a tenon saw and started measuring it and drawing it on the graph paper in perfect scale. Three times bigger than the real thing, of course. The only thing I don’t like is that its a modern plastic handle one, rather than a wooden handle, so it takes a couple of seconds for people to go: “What the hell is that? Oh yeh, I see it now.”

Of course, I’m not that accurate at the best of times, so it came out with lots of “personality” (for “personality” read “lines that aren’t straight”).

It still needs a lot of work, but we’re on the way.

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St James The Less (second attempt)

stjamestheless2.jpg on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

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