I recognise the curve of your spine
screwed up over your favourite screen
carpace forming against any possible
onslaught of early bed time
clean teeth or curtailed pastimes

You do it well. My own defence.
Drawn out in-between my past’s
open handed clout about the head
and my unwanted open armed embrace
nearly being what we both need.

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The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XVIII

The vantage point from sitting on a beast
like Geryon, (the one I rode before)
gave us an overview of things – at least

this circle, made of separate levels. More
like looking down a spiral staircase or
the atrium of a department store.

They’re marching single file on every floor,
alternate clockwise/anti-clockwise all
without a stitch of clothing (as before).

All levels joined by bridges through their walls,
all bridges head towards a central well,
all draws us through the fires and sewage falls.

Horned devil’s eyes surveyed this sewage Hell,
in Hi-Viz orange, holding scaffold poles
and cracked them over anyone who fell.

“I’m sure that guy is someone who’s well known.
A politician maybe? Let me ask…
Err… could you tell me why you’re here?”
“Er. No.

Not really.” Eyes unblinking, cold and hard
until he breathes: “Well maybe then I guess.
I compromised a politicians star

by blackmailing my sister into sex
with her to get her out the way. She begged
me not to make it known.” He smirked and said

I’m not the worst down here by any stretch.”
A devil said “You’re still a fucking pimp.”
and swung a scaffold pole down on his neck.

They ushered him away before I blinked
as Patrick tried to guide my thoughts elsewhere
and walked us to a bridge down through the stink.

“You see that figure? Royal looking? There.
That’s Jason, as in “Argonauts”. Not like
the film though. There’s a story section where

he lands at Lemnos Island where he strikes
up with the Queen there, fathering a child
then starts his quest and walks out of her life.

Madea too.” But Patrick doesn’t smile.
A deep red triangle blush has grown
on both his cheeks beneath that frown he styled

for TV. “Jason. Is he someone known
to you?” A beat. Then curtly: “No.”
“I feel
like you’re annoyed with me or something.”

Then silence. “This is where they punish me.”
I’m not sure what to say. I knew it laid
there somewhere near that frown’s temerity.

He mumbles that “It’s just the way I’m made.”
It’s more though lack of insight that I’m loathe
to speak, and hear the things he needs to say

“I had two families at once back home
and other things besides that no-one knows
but that’s enough of that.” I force a groan

from him by asking: “What did they think though?”
“They seem to learn to live with it OK
I s’pose.”
“What really? No-one minded?”

of course they struggled. Things were tense some days.
It was my curse to bear, and I’m cursed here,
but everybody copes in different ways.

But that’s enough for anyone to hear.
Let’s put that smile back on our faces now
and head on over to the next one near

that bridge that leads towards the groaning sound.”
The next concentric circle, full of crap
and people writhing on the shitty ground,

so full of folk, so covered in it that
you couldn’t tell if they were priests or not.
One face looks up. “What are you staring at?”

I looked at Pat. “I go to church a lot.
You learn that there are certain types of priests.
To break a dull routine becomes their God.”

I shout down: “Tell us why you’re here at least.”
“It’s my own fault!” Regretfully he slaps
his forehead which explodes with shit and grease.

“I needed things and flattery became a trap.
I could be overly obsequious
for bishopric…” But Pat has turned his back

observing something else. “Oh look at this!
My old friend Thaïs the whore! You two must meet…
Just lean a little over the abyss.

You’ll catch a sight of her, but be discreet.”
At first I see her shitty nails. Hands grip
a horizontal scaffold pole. Defeat

behind her eyes, she turns to me and squints.
I see her, feet apart. She’s squatting up
and down repeatedly. I hear a wince

escape my throat, as Patrick looks me up
and down. And also her. He laughs to log
my obvious disgust. “Oh, what the fuck

is wrong with you? For fuck’s sake Patrick. God…”

Copyright © Michael L Radcliffe 2018

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The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XVII

“Ah there he is!” says Patrick, beckoning
the creature over gleefully. “He’s knocked
some walls down, this one! Kicks up quite a stink!”

I couldn’t see him landing on the rocks
the way that Patrick did. The creature looked
a lot like one of my old clients – Not

that old. A young guy, glasses, face that puts
you at your ease and makes you think of him
as much like you. His tail had a hook

(I mean the creature, not the client), thin
and pointed, venom tipped. His body had
a scaly texture, claws and paws and fins,

the lot. I see some people as I scan
across, while Patrick shoots a short sharp sigh.
“I’ll head towards the creature. On the way

You have a look at them and satisfy
your curiosity alone, then join
me after near the creature.” Just as I

attempt to answer, off he goes. Un-bouyed
by my abandonment, I head towards
the sort of folk I generally avoid.

I’m sure they’re people I’d not seen before.
They clawed themselves as fire hit their skin,
and hopped from foot to foot and screamed and swore.

I noticed each one had a lanyard swing
around their necks while hopping up and down.
I grabbed the first to try and read the thing.

The first said: “Trader. UBS.” Around
their neck, the next along had “CEO
of Ticketmaster, followed by this: “Sound

Archivist (John Peel Archive).” “COO
of An Estate Agents I Shall Not Name”
was after that. Some nameless lawyer, though

there were some others. I forget. The same
dark suits they all have on. You know. “Hey You!
Just what d’you think your doing here?” he brayed.

“You’re not supposed to be here.” All consumed
by his attempts to get a taxi. “Send
my cab to her if he comes into view.”

I laughed him off and left him to descend
towards my guide. I didn’t want to piss
off Patrick anyway, but as I wend

towards the man, there’s no way you could miss
the famous “Patrick’s Frown”. He’s sat astride
the creature yelling “JUST. GET. ON.” The hiss

escaping from the creature’s spattered hide
exhumes a gag and heave from in me, I
decide to mount the thing. I feel it’s side.

“OH HURRY UP!” snaps Pat. And so I find
myself ascending it to sit behind
the fella. “NO, YOU GO UP FRONT.” he cries

and as we shift around the whole thing slides
and starts to fly. There’s nothing I can hold.
My sweaty hands slide on the scales. We ride

up higher just as Patrick grabs the folds
of my Hi-Viz to stop me falling off.
“HEY GERYON! SLOW DOWN!” The truth be told

I feel a bit like Icarus. All hot.
Or Phaëthon maybe. Just imagine their
two Dads. With hands on hips they’d stare and scoff.

“Don’t muck around. You shouldn’t be up there.”
“No why are you behaving like a dick?”
they’d say. And then announce how they despair.

The drop from creature down into the pit
was fifty foot or so, I’d guess. The flames
had made it hard to see the floor for shit

until the creature lands in it. I’m not
about to lie. It was a thrilling trip.
The creature snarled as Pat and I got off

and shot away when we were clear of it.


Copyright (©) Michael L Radcliffe 2018

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The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XV


The concrete river’s mist makes harder work
of walking through the burning sandy plain.
Carcinogens in concrete tend to lurk

for days and lodge in paranasal veins.
But nothing else protects us from the fire.
It barely keeps our narrow route maintained.

The dams of Holland’s Delta Works are higher
than flood protection anywhere UK.
You think the past few Cornish floods were dire,

you wait till London’s Chelsea floods one day.
From Ranelagh Gardens up to Holbein Place
and Eaton Terrace – flood plain all the way.

But still – there’s more protection there than here.
We’ve next to nothing keeping us from burns
(The forest now has all but disappeared),

when from the fire another group emerge,
and one guy in particular affects
a mocking campness as my stomach turns

in recognition. Just how I’d expect
he taunts: “Ooh ‘Allo, Curly!” (though my hair
is straight and Curly’s not my name), detects

my obvious discomfort, smirks and asks me where
I’m going. We don’t have a choice. He comes
along beside us. Hiding my despair

with lack of interest, he starts to run
ahead “You shouldn’t stop here. If the coals
land on your head it fucking ‘urts, old son.

You plumbing still these days?” I start to fold
my arms and tell him yes, and now am lost
somewhat before he cuts across me cold:

“It’s Dog Eat Dog, mate.” Does he give a toss?
I think. He strides ahead, his shoulders straight,
exactly as he was until he crossed

from life to death, as if we’ve made him late,
like we’re the ones who can’t keep up with him.
“I’ll sort out anyone who tries it, mate.”

His cold eyes blink as coals land on his skin.
“I said to one guy “I will fuck you up
the arse” and then…” (the coals sink further in)

“…I knocked him out.” I hope that we’re not stuck
with this bloke that I knew too well, but stop
and looked around as Patrick has slowed up

without a warning making my jaw drop,
unzips and takes a leak right there and then.
The other guy has cocked his head and knocked

me on the arm. “This fella – He’s your friend?
So is he gay? No, is he? Is he gay?” I can’t
help thinking that his punishment won’t end

because he has an unexamined slant.
He keeps on saying “That’s so gay.” As though
to insult people by it. Then this plants

a thought he wouldn’t want his wife to know
and I’m too scared to say in case he flips.
“Well when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go!”

says Patrick, running, trying not to trip
to catch us up. My mouth is dry, but wide
and open, leaving concrete dust to strip

the moisture from my throat. I have to try
and ask a question. “Don’t you wonder where
you are?” But though he doesn’t break his stride

I know this bloke reflects on being there.
“No. When you’re dead, you’re dead. I don’t know what
all this shit is.” He scratches at his hair

and flicks a cinder out. “No, that’s yer lot.
You’ll learn.” He doesn’t look at me, but stares
at something far too far away to spot.

“But what d’you think it is?” I think I’m spared
an angry snap. He sees three people come
towards us. “Oops, I’ve got to go.” He tears

himself away. “Learn lots. Ta ta.” He runs
the other way from them. Amazing how
a man can move like gilded lead from guns

as soon as someone bigger can be found.

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The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XIV

It’s a gas

A photo posted by Michael L Radcliffe (@artbizness) on

A plumber’s blowtorch, soldering a tube,
will reach about 2000 centigrade.
Cleaned copper, fluxed, when heat pulls solder through

should make a joint that’s good enough for trade.
You’ve got to flush the flux out quickly though
to make sure all the chemicals will fade.

When spending all your days on quite a few
you fold yourself in spaces tight and cramped.
The flux will turn your fingers green and blue,

the chemicals make sure some pain is stamped
in hidden cuts across your dirty hands,
and make your cigarette feel greased and damp.

You do enough and find you cannot stand
that shit, and rest a while to catch a break
even though behind on what you’ve planned.

But rolling cigarettes is a mistake.
The paper slides in fingers stained by grease.
This isn’t quite how long you meant to take.

They say it takes about two minutes’ peace
while you’re away and staring at the sky
for fire to take a hold and then increase.

You only have to once forget to try
to concentrate and put the blowtorch down
for it to fall and end up on its side

from one foot flames that barely leave the ground
the smoke will fill the ceiling space up first
the top third of a room a toxic brown,

until you see the flame flashover burst
before the walls and carpet start to strand
with fire like a waterfall reversed.

And this is where we are. On burning sand,
emerging from the Forest into heat.
The popping ember blizzards come to land

on melting naked flesh, the pain repeats
it’s endless rain – some people curled or crouched
and rocking back and forth in lost defeat,

some lying on their backs try shouting out
at every glowing piece of grit on their
bare skin, still others pacing out their doubt –

as if in unknown war zones, anywhere
the rest of us have never heard before
or passed the opportunity to care.

I ask about one guy there on the floor,
whose folded arms, crossed ankles, staying mute
as if all this is easily ignored.

I question Pat – “That guy seems resolute.
Who IS he?” Pat’s already done this once
so says nothing. Just looks down at his boots.

“My NAME’S Dave CAPANEUS.” He is blunt
and blasphemous. “Oh Jesus FUCKING Christ
I don’t care. When I leave I’m going to punch

the living crap from God. I’ll do it twice!”
Ignoring bunker busting bombs nearby
he scrambles to his feet to start a fight.

Now Patrick’s not a temperamental guy.
I’ve barely seen him say an angry word.
But slowly growing redder he lets fly.

His “DO SHUT UP!” is louder than I’ve heard
from any other person. Comical
somehow, yet leaves a silence undisturbed

that only he can break. He then recalls
that Capaneus lost it with a guy
who wouldn’t pay for plumbing he installed.

He tried to climb his building when he died
from falling form the second window sill,
to hurt his client cowering inside.

“Let’s just keep going. See that river filled
in over there? With concrete that won’t set?
Go round the Forest’s edge there if you will.

This is as amazing as it gets.
Above this stream there isn’t any flame,
so we can wiggle through but don’t get wet.

A London island near here that’s un-named
abandoned in the middle of the Thames
and made of concrete, has the odd remains

of aggregate that’s piled up in tens,
and at the centre of the tallest mound
they say an unknown builder there who spends

Eternity, but faced towards the town,
is buried there. His head is made of gold
his arms and chest are silver, further down

his arse and legs are brass, but then I’m told
his left foot’s made of iron, right one clay.
The right one takes his weight but doesn’t hold

and so this builder’s cracked in every way
(except the gold which somehow stays there whole)
and concrete pours out every single day

from every crack and orifice. It rolls
to fill these flowing tributaries you see.”
“How come I’ve never noticed (if it’s “Old”)

this island and the streams. They’re new to me!”
“There’s lots you haven’t seen and more to come.
Now follow down this stream from near the trees.

Another twenty cantos, then we’re done!”

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Canto XIII. The Forest of The Suicides



We left behind the Nessus and the blood
but new oppressive feelings followed on
while hiding in a sickly blackened wood.

Above the trees, the Harpies sing their song
the Forest of The Suicides below –
those female tropes are still not dead and gone.

When more men kill themselves while sinking low
often where’s there’s lurking shame, there’s blame.
Down there is where tomato plants will grow.

“The best tomatoes grow here,” Pat explains
“in sewers being fertilised by shit.
They’ve been through several people. All the same

they’re different, better, but… No, DO NOT pick
them. This is why your stomach’s always wild.
You work with waste and keep on getting sick.”

I pop a fruit off anyway. The riled,
resigned tomato plant responds: “Dear boy…
You have the maladroitness of a child…

The omnipresence of my gout annoyed
me less than your behaviour at this hour.”
I mumble “sorry” quickly to avoid

the mood becoming any further soured
I try to speak without appearing rude
discovering tomato plants can glower.

He sighs, “My many years of solitude
are better than your facile questions, sir.
My placement here, to which your words allude

is from a suicide attempt referred
to often (though it happened in my youth).
I shot myself while feeling quite disturbed

while in Marseilles (though I’m a Pole in truth)..”
from River Enoch Powell. “How uncouth…”

Tomato Plant goes silent in the moss.
Despite my prompts he sullenly stays mute
“Are you OK mate?” thinking that I’ve lost

him, then he shudders gently “Savage brutes…”
I small-talk gently, asking “What’s your name?”
“While Konrad Korzeniowski won’t impute

a meaning, that I’m Joseph Conrad, famed
for writing might.” “Oh yes, I’ve heard of you,
but not your suicide though – that’s a shame.”

“I didn’t die from suicide. My view
is that the gout contributed to death
at 66, depression it is true…

But such self pity! Why should we waste breath
on foolish youthful misadventure now?
Intemperance in passion should be left

behind us.” “Isn’t talking better? How
are feelings processed if you never speak
about them?” “But I simply won’t allow

unfettered caterwauling, not unique
in darkest Africa perhaps, though…” “WHAT
did you just say?!” I realise the reek

of British Empire hangs around his hot
and stinking space. And while I sympathise
about his being ill, it’s what is not

acceptable to me. Dismantle lies
to get to somewhere better, yes, perhaps,
or do I bother venting my surprise?

He splutters, clearly taken quite aback:
“But I detested that King Leopold!”
I’m sensing his defensiveness has tapped

a nerve beyond an explanation, old
and baked in Empire’s sunburn hardened boats.
“You haven’t BEEN to Africa!” he scolds.

I realise his generation floats
along a tide that never should have been.
I must refuse his navigation notes.

He died before Frantz Fanon had been seen
to write about an overtaken world
colonially creased, depressed and screamed.

Now reason, whispers, shouts and silence hurled
between us doesn’t seem to make a case
or let our hidden prejudice uncurl.

I have to go. There isn’t time to waste
when suicides have so much more to teach
than how to reinforce our thoughts on race.

I look along the row of plants at each,
their fruit uniquely glowing in the fug –
communities of people out of reach.

I ask: “What was it forced you to unplug?”
“It isn’t really like that”, ventures one.
“You can’t just cure us with a few more hugs.”

“Before I’d even tried to to aim the gun,
I’d lost all sense of what was down or up,
but I was clear what needed to be done.”

“It wasn’t that I didn’t give a fuck”
another speaks “about my family
and friends. You don’t see straight.” I cup

my hands to catch tomato juice and see
how late I am for them. “And how’s things now?”
Then nothing. Silent. Waiting carefully.

The silence breaks “Well when I’d left the house
I’d left some notes of course. For Mum
and Dad, my sister, friends, and feeling proud

that I had got control back from the hum
of pain, I walked to Hornsey Lane (the bridge)
and looking at the cold and grey A1,

(it’s easy climbing up the fence’s ridge)
the way I’d planned so carefully ahead,
I jumped.

It isn’t so romantic being dead.
That second past the point of no return
a final shift takes place inside your head.

There’s something then that isn’t often heard,
that in that moment, you don’t have control,
ironically the lesson that I learned

that everything that tore away my soul
I had the power to act and change it all
but couldn’t now. The choice I had, I stole

from my own self. And now that I recall
these things for every day I’m here a plant,
I’ve lost a better life there after all.”

There’s more I want to understand here, but I can’t;
a Cane Corso dog full coloured coal
has sniffed his way across the mossy slants.

As he begins to tear and chew and roll
tomato flesh and stems and fibres break
between his teeth. Their screams unfold

their form of living death while still awake.
“OH GOD. PLEASE. STOP.” amongst the gurgled chokes
arise and land too sharp and hard to take.

We have to plug our disappearing hope.
But as we leave somewhat to my surprise
I feel Pat’s curiosity is stoked.

“So how can those plants photosynthesise..?”
he asks, “There’s total lack of sunlight here.”
The question isn’t answered, but he guides

my thoughts in what I always knew and feared.

Copyright Michael L Radcliffe 2016.

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Canto XII

While sliding down a steep escarpment, scree
and faeces twisting ankles while we try
to slow ourselves enough, though hard to see

it’s possible to feel the lime applied
by builders from Victorian times preserved
by fetid air for years and trapped inside

the sewer made it hard work and unnerved
us way before we saw the Minotaur
along by where the blood red river curved.

he thundered at us never blinking, pale
for someone bull-headed and rendered poor

and stunted, but particularly male,
conceived by non-consensual sex with bulls
as if his violent nature never fails

but due to someone else’s failing pulls
away his own responsibility.
But here he is in Hell. The fault is full

and his and his alone. He rounds on me
“YOU FUCKING GAY” and comes at me to punch
me in the head. I totter back and see

his half-drowned van, still white but scraped and crunched,
embedded in the river bank, and hide
behind it, neck and shoulders pinched and hunched,

my throat is catching on the left hand side
and sharp as if some food has caught and stuck,
my legs slo-mo, my stomach tightens dry.

his bradawl focus doesn’t see our signs
between each other hoping for some luck

we start to run along the bank behind
the wide perspective from the van improves
the further on, the running calms our minds.

Until we hear the sound of horses hooves.
Three centaurs canter over drawing bows
and one says “Back in the River before I lose

my shit with you.” Though somehow Patrick knows
we’ll be OK, a centaur trots up close
and shoulder-barges us then smirks and slows

enough to smell the alcoholic boasts
he fires at us; me noticing my flank
already sore with tension stress the most.

“He isn’t dead, we’re travelling this bank
of River Enoch Powell. Let us pass
– and you’re obliged to guide us, being frank..

I know about your Father being crass,
his love of horses…” “Let me give you him,”
he points to Nessus “He’ll be good. He’s fast.”

The anxious toxic sting of breathing thin
that comes to my attention in the lull
is crawling like a poison under skin.

Distracted though, by Nessus; “These we cull
with arrows every time they bubble up.”
He points at River Enoch, at the dull

lit feet and heads and body parts and muck
of mostly men of violence below
the surface of their bloody stinking rut.

“There’s every kind of violence here you know
from anger disproportionately done
to physical but also mental blows

and through to those who torture just for fun
to see you crumble in emotions terms
or break you with the barrel of a gun

when psycho bosses pushing till it burns
while smirking like your empathy’s a crutch
and for the weak as far as they’re concerned.

when those who think that non-consensual touch
is not a problem: punished here as well
for sexual violence even once too much.

when blackpowder will leave an acrid smell
when skull meets pavement, single punch, and cracks
when blood will clot before the final bell

when eight police will knee her in the back
when IEDs throw Humvees in the air
when slavers must ensure the boat is packed

when threatening a child with a stare
when neighbours dogs have jumped the fence and bite
when dragging somewhere hidden by the hair

when doggedly insisting on a right
that’s luxury by any other name
from oil and sweatshops working through the night…”

“Please. Stop.” I beg. The slow encroaching pain
from waves of nausea start to amplify
the background hum of violence that drains.

“Who are these people?” I begin to cry
“I don’t know where I am or what to say.”
“We’ve crossed the Enoch to the other side.

You’re on your own.” He slowly trots away.

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The Plumbing Cantos: Canto XI

We slosh along through sewage to a smell
so full-on that we’re forced to catch our breath.
The rising currents from the holding cells

much further down escarpments; smells of death
are emanating from the nearby tombs.
“So who is buried here? Says on the left

it’s ‘Major Walter Clopton Wingfield’. Who…?!
Was he a heretic?” “Depends on what
you think of ‘Real Tennis’, I presume.”

he chuckles “While we’re waiting on this spot
acclimatising to the odours here,
you’ll need to occupy your mind while hot…”

“Well there’s another tomb that’s also near:
it’s Henry Edward Manning (Cardinal
to you!) A heretic?” “Err… We appear

to be quite sidetracked now. If I can pull
your focus back to where we’re going next
and let the reader Google him in full.

Dear boy, I see that you are quite perplexed.
So let’s describe this in a verbal map,
before the story’s flow’s completely wrecked.

It’s Circle Seven next beyond this crap
containing three concentric circles like
Matryoshka Dolls are tightly inter-wrapped

together, packed…” he squeezed his hands up tight
six inches right in front of me and stared.
“The Violent go well beyond a fight.

Tradition says the Violent have dared
to act against a neighbour, God or self…”
The conversation twists. I’m un-prepared

for poems stigmatising mental health.
The Violent I fully understand,
but suicide is one alarming bell

of ethics baked and cast in clay-less sand
– a rigour mortis logic long since dead
and slipping through the fingers of my hands.

” and then beyond that further on ahead
the Fraudsters – even worse than Violent.”
“Eh?!? Fraud is worse?! Not Violent instead?”

He glowers at me. “You’ll see what I meant.”
“Go back a bit though Patrick, let me grasp
this Violence you told me: Re-present

that argument again before the last
and final circle that we hit. Un-pack
it some. For me you’re going much to fast.”

“Well also Usurers are at the back.”
“Wait, Usurers are Violent? How come?”
“It seems to me your taking the wrong tack.

Not knowing in advance won’t make you dumb.
Your writing this progresses, then you find
your way through things. Just try to let them run.

The point of Art is finding things from blind,
and making things works through the unknown mess
you’ll piece it all together in good time.

Move on against your apprehensiveness.”

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Canto Ten


“D’you think it’s fine for me to have a look
inside the tombs and see what’s there? The dark
and void-like space becomes an addict’s hook

to someone curious like me.” The stark
response from Pat is that I can
but when I speak to think before I start.

But interrupting me, a builder stands
inside his tomb and orders me to “Go
back to where you came from.” He understands

Nothing. In best South London I explode
“No you fuck off, you wanker.” Not the calm
I would have liked, I started down the road

of self defence, and wishing on him harm.
“So where you from? I bet your relatives
aren’t English.” What is this? I’m often charmed

by people thinking they can friend me with
some nationalistic shit, but this is not
what I’d expect, as if I’m somehow his.

We’re interrupted by another lot
of “Tell you what – the Polish plumbers took
away my work, those bastards broke me, stopped

me earning.” This second guy has looked,
his burning hair and melting flesh that slides
across his neck, his body slowly cooks,

pipes up: “I met you once before I died.
I put a water valve in by mistake.
It should have been a gas valve.” Then he cried.

“That installation blew. I’ll always hate
myself for that. I took out half a flat
and half a family because of late

the night before I’d got quite pissed and sat
up chatting up this chick. I did the job
hungover tired and feeling flat

and died in the explosion when the hob
ignited. DId the girl survive? I hope
the daughter didn’t die.” A life well robbed

became a little worse, when how I groped
for words convinced him that the worst he’d feared
was true, inferring words I never spoke.

Affecting those his story was, my tears
ran though I never knew him or the girl
before the broken moment he appeared.

“Ahem.” The first guy desperately unfurls
his England flag and wipes the shit away.
“So did we win that vote?” he sweeps and twirls

the flag despondently, his face is grey.
“You mean the referendum? Yes and No.
We’re out of Europe, yes, but that’s to say

the country’s now in free-fall. You don’t know
the racist stuff that’s happened since that vote.”
“But what about the immigration though?”

“I’m not a racist though.” He adds. I note
his body language changing – subtle shifts,
defensiveness and shades of winner’s gloat.

“So come on mate. Well, why do you resist
the immigration thing?” My body tense
like I’m the one who’s dead, my feelings drift.

“The numbers coming over are immense.”
I know they’re not, but tension in my throat
has cut me off “…it doesn’t make no sense:

We’re full. The housing shortage form the scrotes
who come here, don’t pay tax, so NHS
is fucked by all the refugees in boats…”

There’s tightening in my struggle to express
my feeling that he’s wrong. He is in Hell.
But where to start? The way that you address

that argument, and making it go well
that immigrants are not the ones that kill
the NHS or housing stock that fell

to ruin years before an overspill
of people smaller than a town from here
is not the problem, unconvinced him still,

that all of life i valued and held dear
sounds hollow if you think that someone’s thick
and treat them with contempt and silent sneers.

While valuing the Other isn’t quick
but takes a special place inside your walls
when other countrymen won’t let it stick

the argument continually stalls
when seeing “Them” as “Other” is the fault.
I kicked the fucker right between the balls.

Well what was I supposed to do? I thought
a lot, but this frustration takes me out
and all those clever words are being fought.

I realised there isn’t any doubt,
the chances are he’d do the same to me
without a second thought and twice the clout.

I felt no better for it but believed
I had no other choice available.
I checked there’s nothing else to be retrieved.

He muttered something else contemptible
about his Postal Vote he couldn’t change.
I found that part most risible of all.

Rejoining Patrick, thoughts and words ingrained
in my expression, asking me my thoughts
I laid out my conflicted mind, explained

my obviously being out of sorts.
“Remember this dilemma that you faced
and all the things you feel this story taught.”

The smell had drawn us to another place.

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The Plumbing Cantos: Canto 9

Tyburn Mouth

I must admit it’s hard to trust a guide
whose face is drained of colour just like that
as if your fears are also justified

As nervously he smooths his coat down flat,
then seeing how he’s worried me, perks up
“I’m waiting for the messenger…” says Pat

“Do people get through here?” I interrupt,
“from further back along the route we’ve been?”
“Not often, But I’ve done it once before.

Yes, someone that I’m not sure if you’ll see…”
Before he’s finished talking I break off
the conversation. Up above, a scream

From Furies; shrieking, blood stained noisy coughs
and firstly (though I jump a bit), I calm
myself and then I make the journey stop.

“So here’s a thing I just don’t get.” Disarmed
by this, old Troughton stares and waits for me
to carry on, but nervous rub my palms.

The Furies pause as well, though testily.
“The Furies in the stories always seem
to be a woman: Vengeance, Endlessly

and Jealous. Ancient authors often dream
up women just to load them up as tropes.
They’re just portrayed as jealous vengeful screams.”

“Are solecisms coming soon?” Pat jokes.
“My grammar’s not as bad as that. But still.
I want to write a poem that, I hope,

is not for denigration or for thrills.”
As if on cue Medusa then appears
“Don’t look at her! One glance alone will kill..”

“…me to stone, yes, yes, they’re fears
from myths I know. But this just proves it’s true…”
“Oh Zoe, please don’t look” says Pat in tears.

“My name’s not Zoe! Look it’s just like Who.
The women screamed and ran from everything.
I want to write this differently. Don’t you?

I bet Medusa doesn’t really sting
us all by turning us to stone. It’s time
to look.” And slowly, carefully, I bring

my head around to see her face with mine.
She didn’t turn me into stone at all.
I looked and blinked through London’s mist and grime.

Instead I saw her face. She stared. I stalled
my male gaze for once, and realised
she’d taken on the brunt of being called

an Evil Woman. Why was I surprised
she looked so tired? But then I looked again:
a human being buried by our lies.

I saw we didn’t have the right as men
to judge her on appearance or describe
her, criticise her look, or clothes and then

I realised I’d stared at her, and tried
to make it seem less awkward but instead
she looked at me a while, then laughed and sighed

“For fuck’s sake…” she smiled and shook her head,
and strode away without a further word.
We heard another sound that stopped us dead.

Another woman came and then I heard
her saying “I have agency, I’m not
a cipher just to move the plot – some “bird”

appearing randomly. I’ll tell you what:
I’ve got a load of jobs on, but I can
just grind these bars out. Careful while they’re hot.”

She ground the bars with glove protected hands,
controlled the angle grinder like a boss,
and leaves the bars exactly where they land.

And off she tramples through the Thames bank moss,
the hi-vis vest she wore said “Mercury”
I watched the logo disappear across

the water’s edge. So now our way was free
of obstacles (at last) to Circle Six,
with yet more tortured people left to see.

“These – I suppose, you’d call them Heretics.”
said Troughton, pushing on, “They make a show
of being good at plumbing, but their tricks

for cutting corners/cheating: most don’t know
about the orthodoxy tradesmen say
they have, while they explain the rates of flow

unvented cylinders will need. It’s all display
to charge a little more, and then ignore
all that and do it different anyway.”

An England flag is lying on the floor
amongst the sewage, burning hot near tombs.
And I could hear the cries of pain were raw

and open screams, and tombs like open wounds.

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Plumbing Canto VII:

This Canto ups the pace a bit now, as we squeeze in two Circles of Hell: Circle Number Four, where the Hoarders and the Spendthrifts are punished (ie, those who are really bad with money), and Circle Five, where the Wrathful and the Slothful are punished. If you remember, the last Canto (VI) ended with us meeting Plutus guarding the gate of the Fourth Circle.

Canto VII

The tension takes a hold within my gut
as more confusion hits me once again.
A scream puts my behaviour in a rut.

I’m glad of Patrick showing him disdain.
He tells me not to worry with a wink.
He says to Plutus “Get this in your brain.

This man’s allowed to be here.” Plutus blinks.
“This journey’s his. You MUST not take control.”
As Plutus calms right down, I start to think.

There’s bloody loads of people in this hole.
They’re going round in circles pushing weights.
They bump each other as they start to roll

but seem to be in couples, filled with hate.
They wave a piece of paper in their face.
He says “Too dear! A waste of money!”, waits.

But always the response: “It’s NOT a waste!
We’ve got the money, why d’you hoard it up?”
then circle round again with little grace.

This paper that they’ve waved is all screwed up.
I try to steal a look, and I’m surprised.
A Quote I wrote is in their hands, all cupped

up tight, and this is work that they deprived
me of ten years ago when I was skint.
But now I see the problem un-disguised.

They’d never even given me a hint
of these extremities within their world.
They never called me back at all. My stint

of waiting was a memory that curled
around my confidence; a mix of fear,
alarm, frustration, dark emotions pearled

along with one good thought becoming clear
that only letting go a love of things
can start to make these things all disappear.

I’m drawn towards a doorbell ringing out
from nearby paper shops. A queue has formed
of people clutching giro cheques, no doubt.

The Lotto ticket counter being swarmed
by people spending every penny, blown
the lot. Despite the times that they all have been warned

by people meaning well who’ve never phoned
a single hotline helping destitutes.
We traced the riverbank, and heard the groans

from fighting and foul language that pollutes
the Thames, and we forgot our thoughts on luck
and just how dumb it is and how it mutes.

a bloke has shouted at another guy
who scalps him with a bottle in the ruck,

and lots of people brawling in the mud
are fighting. Each one naked, as before,
and there a lad I knew once, drenched in blood.

I saw him once on Plumbing Module Four.
He’d boast about some fight he’d had last night.
But here he won’t be drinking anymore.

No alcohol to numb them from the sight,
and pain and shame and rage they might have felt
before from kicks and punches, stabs and bites.

“There’s two types punished here.” As Patrick knelt,
he spoke and pointed at the Thames, or Circle Five.
“In here the Wrathful pay their dues. They’re dealt

with on the surface, here you see, alive
with writhing bodies, but below as well
they keep the slothful, even though deprived

of air, you’ll still detect them from the smell
as passive and aggressive words float up.”
And sure enough I listen and can tell.

A larger bubble pops and sounds a muted “fuck”
and “bollocks” or “it worked before, you twat”
and other things that people say when up

in arms, but say it just behind my back
or out of earshot with a smiling face.
We head to Vauxhall bridge to stay on track.

I feel relieved to leave them in disgrace.

© Michael L Radcliffe 2014

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Plumbing Canto 6: GLUTTONY

Though knocked unconscious ONCE AGAIN by this,
this utter sadness “Lusty Man” exudes
I’m woken by the smell of inch-deep piss.

I’m in another circle now; squint through
the browny rivers running round my boots.
Disheartened folk, submerged, and yet protrude

from underneath a mouldy sewer’s fruits.
The place is like a massive manhole bench
that’s blocked and backed up hard, because it suits

as punishment for Gluttony; a stench
that rises from the turds and tampons thrown
down toilets; items lost. There’s my old wrench!

It’s guarded by a fat old worm who groans,
his three heads barking, snarling, rip & spit.
This Cerberus will tear us to the bone.

So Patrick Troughton scoops up clumps of shit
and slaps them quickly in his open gobs
in hope his hunger satiates a bit.

In fact it works! He settles down and bobs
about a little while I look around
and see a guy who’s sitting up while gobs

of fecal matter drop and trickle down
his neck. I hold my nose and ask his name.
“It’s Cérdez.” Not a name I know. I frown.

“Should I remember you?” My frown remains.
“I used to live around near Stockwell tube,”
he says and wipes the waste away again.

“I’d never cross the river ever, dude.
I’d never travel North, lived always South
of Father Thames that Bazalgette has screwed.”

“But will the Thames flood London’s people out?”
I ask: “Is there a future for my work?”
While Troughton shovels shit in Cerby’s mouth

“They want the Super Sewer built to lurk
below the Thames to process all the waste.
The Tideway Tunnel (as it’s called) won’t work

No matter where the access dig is placed.
The NIMBY-est of people win the fight
to stop the work from being in their face.

The irony. They don’t want this in spite
of being gluttons making waste at will,
indulging just because we had the right

to lay a block-paved driveway that will fill
a skip with turf that soaks rainwater up,
and even at the bottom of a hill.

The politics and arguing are stuck
while poorer people, drowning, wash away
ignoring that our climate there is fucked.”

“But what about my mates who live today?
What happens in their future? is there hope?”
The guy turns back; there’s nothing more he’ll say.

The smell of crap has now become a joke.
Dejection settles in, and seeps through clothes,
as if you’re in the shadow of a rope.

“You shouldn’t be so nosey”, Patrick crows.
“Oh come on Pat, you’re not for real.” I growl
“That people like their privacy, I know.

But yet, to me, this place is way too foul
to carp about the dignity they’ve lost.
If you could lay the Guilt on with a trowel

you would” as, wading through the dross
I ask “Who’s punishing the people here?
The “Good” v. “Bad” distinction makes me cross.”

I feel the conversation being steered
away to things I do not want to say.
I’ll tell you sometime over pints of beer.

But then we find that Plutus blocks the way.

Copyright 2014 Michael L Radcliffe

Back to Plumbing Canto 5

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Plumbing Canto 5: LUST

My toe















Bewildered, my reaction comes too late.
A piece of paper hits me in the face.
I try to peel it off, the wind inflates

the picture printed on it. Then I place
the image. It’s Page Three, a topless shot.
from countless building sites, disgraced

I throw it in the wind again to rot
and try to think of something else instead
Now Patrick says: “That thing you’re thinking: STOP.

Eject that daft idea from your head.
‘Confessions of a Plumber’s just a film.
No sexy client wants you in their bed.

But just in case you think they one day will,
you need to meet a chap who thought the same.
We’ll find that man in Satan’s hellish kiln.”

I’ve seen a fair few things while rodding drains,
but never seen a hardy plumber cry.
And this guy wouldn’t even say his name.

I asked him what he’d done, and so the guy
began to tell me all about the wives
of clients that he’d shagged and said goodbye

by leaving them to face their shattered lives
and husbands, children, littered in his wake.
And sure, it takes two people’s sexual drives

to start a fire as people tend to take
advantage of the momentary surge
forgetting all the jetsam in the wake.

But anyway, his punishment was merged
with what he did in life; and so
it’s punishment that physically hurt.

“But what does it consist of really though?
I can’t help noticing your lack of clothes…”
I try to cope by staring at his toes.

As hard as it may be, the lack of clothes
is part of punishment, as every pain
is multiplied across his skin, he groans:

“You know when one day after touching drains…
you catch a stomach bug and diarrhoea…?
…and every hour it all begins again…?”

“And THAT’S your punishment?” I scratch my ear.
I know that feeling well, the pain it brings.
“It doesn’t really sound all that severe…”

“But constantly, and also other things.
You know when cutting copper pipe that thick?
The cutter leaves a burr around the rims…

…that cuts your skin in semi-circle nicks…
…and flux gets in it, stings, and makes you scream..?
…but everywhere, and even on my…” “Really?”

“Well, yes, it worse than all your foulest dreams…
..And plus… you know when crawling through a loft..?
that’s barely room enough, and hit the beams…

your head and shins and elbows battered soft…
while insulation made from fibre glass
and dust gets in, your mask keeps knocking off…

it leads to rattling in your lungs that lasts
while constant rubbing makes the whole thing worse…
…and glassy fibres scratch you up the…” “Right,

I think we should be off…” His tone is terse
“You know the times you’ve trodden on a nail..?
without your steel-toes boots on, and you burst

with anger, throwing tools around and hail
expletives just because you’re tired and ache
from running up and down the stairs and rail

against the bleeding radiators, baked
to death for hours, then drained to freezing cold,
then going up the loft again, you’ve raked

your back across a batten, feeling old
and bent and tired…” I try to sidle out
and still he talks. His eyes are closed and cold

his voice becoming fainter, I go out.

Copyright 2014 Michael L. Radcliffe

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Post Rage

Post Rage Now. Coming down.
Throat worn sore, drying rasp,
teeth clenched hard, slackened jaw.
Your nine lives, eight too many.

Feel that burn, after terror,
halted grief, worked too hard,
aching arms, scorn and scorched,
locked in anger, keyed right up.

Solid resting, gathered up,
apprehension, stretched ahead,
horror waiting, sometime later
ready or not, come again.

© Michael L Radcliffe, 2014

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Field Notes From a Catastrophe

All it took was One Stern Word
Turns my legs to mush, my heart
beating out my bursting chest.
Like you want my fury stuck.

That’s the way it started back
then, I think. It takes me days.
Stopping not a choice. But you
wouldn’t know. You never ask.

Setting up my life for me.
You had no idea at all.
Never even knew me now.
Grown to be the man I am.

Now you’re nothing. Fading out.
Nothing left but lashing out.
Sins have come to find you out.
Sitting, watch you peter out.

Soon to be an echo down
ages, gone to meet your saints.
We will still be Living Lies
Loving you in spite of that.

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The slow black dog chased the car.
The car ran on paranoia’s gasoline.
The Winter Equinox an ancient time
to figure out a sense of what it means.

Advent runs past pell mell –
A canter into Christmas Day above
reflection. Time to put things right again
and pray for sun returning, light and love.

Cuts take their time, seeing how
to fit things together, making whole
before the Brussel Sprout sulphur masks
with humour all attempts after all.


©2013 Michael L Radcliffe

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Happy Birthday

Today’s the day to celebrate. I. Am.
I’m. here. I made it. I’m alive and loved!
I’m 43 today you know. I am!
And that’s enough to party every day.

Today is not a day to celebrate
your ego: have it stroked some other day
And please don’t cry that tempus fugit, or
let tempers fly about the things not done.

Today is not a day to celebrate
your past achievements or the lack of them
You’re more than anger, shame or guilt or fear
of what you did or didn’t build or do.

Todays the day to celebrate just this:
That you are loved and cherished by your friends
and family, and self-respecting. You.
Are. You. Won. Der. Ful. You have to know that.

Michael L Radcliffe Copyright 2013

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Plumbing Canto IV

Canto 4 tools















I slowly woke to Patrick’s ashen face.
A muggy thunder stirs me from my nap
and taking in the God-forsaken space

I see I’m standing knee-deep in some crap
(as plumbers often do) but can’t see far.
Though catching Patrick’s eye, he turns his back.

“Now follow me, as I’m your Guiding Star.”
“Are you afraid?” “Well, no. You fear the worst.
Just pity makes me somewhat under par.”

Then finally we enter in the first
and foremost circle mostly hearing sighs
from people I knew well, but never cursed.

“Now what’s the deal with this? This just denies
my expectations, feelings, let alone
the thoughts I had about my clients lives.

The people here were nice! I want it known
that these ones paid on time, and more than asked!
Not like the stingy ones with hearts of stone.

And she was one who listened in the past,
and he was one who left me with a beer
and these ones found me extra work at last.

I do not understand why they are here.
If this is Hell, then where’s the justice Pat?”
He looked me in the eye. A smile appeared.

“I’m sure you’ve got a list as long as that,
of people that you’d love to put in Hell,
consign them, mark them “trash” from where you’re sat.

But learn and understand this lesson well:
The thoughts that some are wholly “bad” or “good”
are concepts that you really must dispel.

Just put the nasty ones in here? You would!
When really all of us are mixed up mess
of motivations, circumstance and “shoulds”.

So don’t be so surprised or get depressed.
Your clients will surprise you every time
And knowing this will save you much distress.

I pointed at a man: “Ah! Was his crime
to treat me with suspicion from the start?
He watched that “Cowboy Builders” all the time

He couldn’t see me honesty and heart.”
“Ah no. For watching way too much TV
is why he’s here. I know it’s hard. Now please

We have to reach that castle. Follow me.”
This castle was surrounded seven times
with walls that were the highest I had seen

and once inside I saw a well designed
and tended meadow, somehow feeling wrong.
We found a little alcove, hid behind

some shrubs where we could watch it all go on.
I saw some people who I do respect
and idols who I thought could do no wrong.

Old Patrick, staring hard at me, detects
the conflict in my feelings: “Let me hear
and help you work things out as you reflect.”

I ask if Pat’s in here (to make things clear)
He nods. “So what’s your crime? What are your sins?”
“But tell me why should I tell you my dear?”

“Look when your plumbing clients ask you in
by all means take an interest, BUT don’t pry!
You’re in their house! They’re other people’s things!”

I took his good advice, so while I try
to write this down I won’t be naming names
although it’s true and carefully described.

Then Patrick stands and shuffles down a lane.
I follow him and try to read the signs
towards the place where there’s a constant rain

and let’s just say that nothing really shines.

© Michael L Radcliffe 2013


Read the previous Canto or Read  All The Cantos

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All The World Is Now Richer at Greenbelt

Good morning from Greenbelt again! On day two and with a decent night’s sleep under my (Green) belt, the dust has settled somewhat and I am now able to look at the art that we have spent 4 days hanging with a more detached eye.

Each artist’s work is genuinely great this year, but one of the highlights has to be Sokari Douglas Camp CBE‘s set of sculptures entitled “All The World Is Now Richer”.

The work consists of a series of six figures made from steel, a little bigger, taller and prouder than life-size.

From Sokari’s website:

” ‘All the World is now Richer’ is a sculpture to commemorate the abolition of slavery. The sculpture hopes to show that the people of slave heritage are brave and have dignity and strength.”

The series shows the journey from indigenous robed figure, rich in ancestral heritage, to contemporary person in jeans and t-shirt via plantation workers and everything in between. However, as troubled and complex as all those issues are, the work is also about strength and survival, even dignity.

Politically engaged on a social and racial level, Douglas-Camp is Nigerian, trained in Britain from a political, high-born family. Drawing on a culture that utilises masks, masquerades, dance, and uniform, her work shares a part of Nigeria, that has to deal with oil companies, and live with the memory of Ken Saro-Wiwa. The work comes from responses to a series of poetic words which can been seen on a maquette, also included in the show.

Most importantly, I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from various people who have been through or past. I’ve already met many people who have walked past and drawn into the room.They have told me that it looks AMAZING and want to go back and spend some more time there. Bringing an art show to a Racecourse, and especially making it look good within a festival is not easy. However I think we’ve achieved it, particularly in this case.

Fine Art venues (especially when the weather is good) don’t always get a big crowd, but conversely that can be their greatest strength. The room becomes a provoking oasis of calm when you want to escape the festival crowds.

I may well see you there.

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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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The Plumbing Cantos

Hello everyone.

I thought I’d create a single page for the Plumbing Cantos where you can find links to them all in one place.

I’ve started writing a series of Cantos about my experiences of being a plumber, based on Dante Alighieri’s description of the 9 circles of Hell in his “Inferno” poem. I am drawing heavily on Dante for guidance, but setting it in the modern world. It is peppered with real and imagined experiences, a smattering of plumbing references, allegory and humour. Oh, and Patrick Troughton.

Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental of course.

So here they are:

Plumbing Canto 1

Plumbing Canto 2

Plumbing Canto 3

Plumbing Canto 4

Plumbing Canto 5

Plumbing Canto 6

Plumbing Canto 7

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Plumbing Canto 3

Last one for the weekend. This is the 3rd one in an ongoing epic poem series, based on Dante’s Inferno. You can read Canto 1 and Canto 2 first if you’d like to get a sense of where I’m going with it.

This is my favourite so far.


Plumbing Canto 3

The legend written just above the gate
said: “Either this or living on the dole.
Through here you’ll get to see the people’s fate

who made Themselves the only worthy goal.
The closest thing you’ll see to modern sin,
your last remaining chance of staying whole,

Abandon Hope all ye who enter in.”
“Take courage, lad” said Pat “No turning back.
We’ll fortify ourselves with shots of gin.”

And in we went; the air was blue and black
with languages and angry voices, next
to plumbers’ vans of every type all stacked

along the River Effra’s banks, with text
of every type, and stickers everywhere
in every livery that you can get

with plumbers’ numbers, Gas-Safe stickers, large
emblazoned names in clashing colours loud
as dodgy typefaced scattered business cards.

The sun was coming up behind a cloud
revealing everything and more besides
and in amongst the massive plumbers’ crowd

were posh and chavvy standing side by side.
Some spiky crew-cuts, male & female, all
the races represented thin and wide.

And every single person, big or small
was absolutely naked. Every one.
There’s every type of tatt and piercing, all

were glinting in the light, the rising sun
had brought out midges, biting everywhere
and bruised and open wounds began to run.

“Excuse me love” I said “Don’t mean to stare.
But why’ve you got no clothes on? What’s the point?”
“You dirty little bastard” she declared.

“I’m after 15 mill compression joints.
The Plumbers’ Merchant on the other side.
We’re going over there” she says, and points.

A boat approaches. Squinting and inside.
the Mayor of London brings the ferry there
and moors and waits to give them all a ride.

“Well HE can’t come aboard” the Mayor declares
“It’s fine” says Patrick “He’s a special case.”
At this the naked plumbers shout and stare

The Mayor of London hits them round the face.
He’s found an oar and grabbed it, swung it round
and beat them on the boat, and took his place.

“Get on” hissed Patrick “Do not make a sound.”
I’ll tell you things about these people here.
What goes around does truly come around.

And if you’re plumbing well, then have no fear
Don’t pay for advertising like they do
‘Cos if your work is good, then people hear.

It’s word-of-mouth that brings the work to you.”
By then, the smell, the wind, the heavy sun
had got to me; and Troughton’s words rang true.

I passed out, tired, and feeling overcome.


© Michael L Radcliffe 2013

Second Canto    All The Cantos

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Plumbing Canto 2

Last night I published the first of my “Plumbing Cantos”, with a brief explanation of why how and what they’re all about.

It seems I’m on a bit of a roll, and have now written the second one:


Plumbing Canto 2

The night ahead felt long and daunting now.
I tried to get myself together. Please
bear with me trying to write the whole thing down.

A muse to help my memory, I need
to get across the weight of these events.
“So Patrick” I began ” Some answers, please.”

“Why me? I’m no-one special. Were you sent?
D’you think I’m up to this? I’ve got some doubts…
This journey may just be at your expense.”

“My name’s iambic, fitting (just about)
Tom Baker would have fitted, too, it’s true.
But Tom’s alive, and my name has the clout

And Bill and Jon would not have worked for you.”
“Nor David Tennant?” “No, he’s still alive.
But this is not about a Doctor Who.

I represent the power you derive
from idols, rock stars, father-figure types.
All archetypes that formulate your “tribe”.

It seems to me that something’s come to light.
These second thoughts you’re having make me ask:
D’you want to make a living fixing pipes?

Before you answer that, I’ll cut in fast
by telling you who sent me at this time:
The spirit of a client from the past.

A woman who you worked for heard you whine.
She had concerns about the things you wrote.
The plumbing work you did for her was fine.

She read your poems. Liked ’em. And she hoped
you’d be successful. Truly she believed.
So when she saw you struggle, then she spoke:

‘A friend of mine (though fortune’s not his friend)
has got himself a little stuck in life.
It may already be (for him) the end…

For those in his profession, doubt is rife
but cheerleaders are there to spur him on.
He also quoted me the cheapest price.’

She sent me. This is why I came along.
Take comfort from this every single day
whenever things may look like going wrong.”

I carried on the journey straight away.


© Michael L Radcliffe 2013

First Canto    All the Cantos     Third Canto

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Plumbing Canto 1

I’ve had an idea for a series of poems that I’m going to write called “The Plumbing Cantos”. They will be based on Dante‘s description of the 9 Circles of Hell in his “Inferno” poem which forms part of the Divine Comedy.

The Plumbing Cantos will form my first attempt at an epic poem, and will take a lot of inspiration from my experiences of plumbing in the real world, while at the same time attempting to be universal and allegorical at the same time. They may remain as they are or be re-written on the fly. I may take comments as a sort of informal “Reading Group”, and I reserve the right to take them on board or ignore them completely. Don’t take it personally. 🙂

Here we go:

Plumbing Canto 1

I came upon a mid-life point in stealth
Like many other people: Forty-Three,
Not living, working hard at something else.

I’d lost myself in darkness. Hard to be.
Un-certain how I got there. Hard to say.
I’d felt there was a better life for me.

A kind of sleep-walk brought me day-by-day
that kind of living death we all despise.
I stopped to wonder how it got this way.

A tower block! And then I raised my eyes
To see my home; the window’s light a hint
Of warmth and comfort made my spirits rise.

A woman dressed in onesie, leopard print
had stood and blocked the entry phone to me.
She sucked her teeth and flicked her purple tint,

her hair across her face but not for me.
Her children, feral, kicking footballs near
My legs, some windows, cars and OAPs.

“Oh will you shut the fuck up! Keys aren’t here.
Serenity, you’re doing my head in. God!”
My chance to enter in did not appear.

Instead I turned around and left and trod
the broken glass-strewn path the way I came
towards the dark and cursed the little sods

And so I tried another way in vain –
the route was cordoned off by thin blue line
“We’ve had to make arrests” Police explained.

It’s not the kind of night I had in mind,
with feeling overwhelmed and under-slept.
A leash-less, snarling Staffy dog behind

began to bark and chased me till I wept.
I sat on fencing, gathering my strength.
I couldn’t work out where to go and yet

A man appeared. We talked of things at length.
“Have pity on me, sir.” I rubbed my eyes
“I don’t know who you are. I somehow sense

that you can help me.” Looking up he sighs.
“I have to say you’ve seen my acting kids
on TV shows, dear boy.” To my surprise

he says “the biggest role I ever did
was Doctor Who from ’67 on.
Now can we talk about the things YOU did?”

“You’re Patrick Troughton? No, you must be wrong.
He passed away in Georgia, USA.
I just need help. This Canto’s got too long.”

I’m meant to go, tonight, along the way
to quote for plumbing work at half past eight.
I’m also meant to invoice by today.

I’ve lots to do before it gets too late.
I’m feeling overwhelmed, this job’s too much.
I want to be at home on my estate.”

“Well ‘Leopard-printed Onesie Girl’, as such
Won’t let you pass; you’re in a kind of Hell.”
He paused a while, my shoulder felt his touch.

“I think, dear boy, to get you feeling well,
I need to guide you on a journey through
the circles that describe your Plumbing Hell.

Perhaps in facing things, you’ll be renewed.
There’s happy, well-intentioned people there,
Or possibly you’ll realise you’re screwed.”

A chance. This opportunity is rare.
An unknown path, a chance I’ll take, of course.
To be a better man or live Despair.

He lead the way. I went without a pause.


© Michael L Radcliffe 2013

All The Cantos   Second Canto 

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Bass Gods














Almighty God of Thundering Bass from above,
The water torture of drip-feeding, shaking and pain.
I tried to pray thee once “Would you turn it down, please?”
You poured your scorn and fury on my unworthy head.

And just because I dared to approach this Great God
the gates were shut and bells removed, stopping ingress.
I supplicated other Gods, like Noise Pollution.
who couldn’t use the powers given, and impotent to act

They couldn’t even name the Gods above, but calling
it “bass” like “ass”, not “bass” as in “ace”, and so still
the Bass Gods who pounded away, punished my sins
that served to anger more, and compounded the hurt.

I tried to understand why the scorn had been poured
with oaths and cursing. Nights that I needed some sleep
or illness overtook me. But answers did not appear.
I called the God of Housing, the Only Remaining.

A Call and Answer Prayer that ran backwards and then forth
had yielded some results: It appeared that the threat
of homeless life gave pause. And the Pause was employed,
but not for long. The Bass Gods returned victorious.

I caved. Abortive, tries to retaliate. Nothing.
Accepting omnipresent capriciousness. Sad.
A growing cancer lingering in the background
prohibits growth in every way possible.

Lord Have Mercy.

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Thoughts on Thatcher

"White Riot" by Marcus Harvey.

“White Riot” by Marcus Harvey.

In an effort to draw a line under the (too) many words said about Thatcher I have written my thoughts. I love Twitter and Facebook, but sometimes the continual posting drags things out rather, and I’m aware that my own tendency to drip-feed my thoughts through social media can be wearing for people listening to it, so here is my chance to state it: long-form, baldly and plainly, and be done. And maybe for you to get some sense of why I think the way I do.

It seems to me that there are two areas: Personal stuff and Political legacy, so I’ll break it down to those two.

1) Political Legacy.

Really. What is all this nonsense about her being a “Conviction Politician”? As if having a conviction is a virtue when it’s applied to a politician. I could name a few other “Conviction Politicans” – Pol Pot, Mussolini, Stalin, the list is fairly endless. Equally Tony Benn, Anuerin Bevan and Winston Churchill were “Conviction Politicians”. That fact that some people are trying to laud Thatcher as a “Conviction Politician” says more about the state of politics now (and then) than whether she was good at her job or not. Having a conviction is pretty much a baseline requirement for a politician. Talk about Damning With Feint Praise.

Oh, and don’t tell me “but she was voted in.” So what? So were the Nazi Party in 1930s Germany. What did she DO with that power? That is the point.

Yes, I grew up under a Thatcher Government. Her time in office straddled my transition from childhood to adulthood. I remember my school-friend’s Mum reluctantly voting for her. I also remember visiting Edinburgh Art College when I was looking for a college to go to, and chatting to a vociferous student who couldn’t afford to pay the Poll Tax that was being trialled in Scotland at the time. I remember the panic in halls of residence as people were wondering how they were going to pay the Poll Tax, and I remember the jeering in the Student Union Bar as the TV displayed her tearful exit from office.

Honesty time. I grew up in the affluent South of England. The place I lived benefitted pretty well from her policies. But call me old fashioned, it’s a fairly bitter happiness if people up the other end of the country end up worse off as a result. I don’t and didn’t want comfort at someone else’s expense. This kind of “Alright Jack-ism” is utter poison and I want nothing to do with it, thanks. This was her legacy: a level of individual wealth at the expense of someone else. There it is right there in practise. No such thing as society. Bollocks to that, I say.

Also rather ironic that despite being an advocate of free-market economy, and despite being well off enough to die in the Ritz, in wealth that shielded her from the sort of suffering that victims of her policies will and did suffer, she’s getting a state-funded funeral.

Some people seem to find it obtuse in me, but I’d rather stand with people who need support and have been treated unfairly than rest on comfortable middle-class laurels.

And as for putting the “Great” back into “Britain”? Please.

Breaking Unions with violence didn’t and doesn’t help anyone make a transition to a modern society. Many other European countries have modernised without pitch battles that belong in the Middle Ages. Psychological damage from victims of violence, whole cities, towns and villages that have never recovered (how about putting in some support structures if you’re going to remove the nearest local job market?), and it’s pretty well documented how sending police officers from other counties into such “battle zones” changed the mentality of those officers when they returned home. A culture and a change for the worse that we still haven’t properly shaken off.

There are a million and one ways to make a transition from a manufacturing based job market to something different, if that’s what you want. Most of them don’t involve violence. A bit of creative thinking and a can-do attitude built the NHS, and it can certainly overcome any problems you might have.

Plus I haven’t even got time to start on Clause 28, Immigration Policy, Northern Ireland, South Africa, deregulation (esp. of the CIty of London), privatisation sell-offs that benefitted her extended circle, and I could write a whole other 5 blog posts on the Council House Ownership debacle that is still affecting not only the very property I live in now, but also the construction industry I work in now.

So there you have it. Remind me what was positive about her political legacy again? How did any of this make Britain “Great” exactly?

2) Personal.

Alright, yes.

Like many others, I sang “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” (which is now charting at about #25 on last checking). How can I do such a horrid thing? Well, if my paragraph on her political legacy got me part way there, I will say this:

She suffered from Dementia in later life. During her time in office, she would often get no more than about 4-5 hours sleep a night. They say that not sleeping enough is a major contributory factor towards Dementia. There’s a kind of irony in the fact that while she was staying up putting together policy that was doing irreparable damage to the country, she was doing irreparable damage to herself. I don’t believe in karma, but lack of belief in it has been sorely tested over the past 24 hours.

Can you imagine almost daily re-discovering that your husband of 50 years, who you loved, has died? Continually? Having to go through the physical exhaustion of grief that often?

I can’t.

And yet I did react that way. And I feel disgusted by my own reactions. Always be wary of anything that brings out your supercilious side. (That goes for you too). Especially anything that becomes self-loathing, that worst and most useless part of the human condition. I feel disgust at the reactions on both side of the political divide, on various social media networks, and I feel disgust at the political legacy.

Everything about her has left a foul aftertaste.

The only thing I can think of is to spend some time standing with the various victims of her odious policies, in the hope that we can build something better than what she visualised, and better than what we have now. I’ll remember her only as a fine example of how to get it wrong.

Look at this instead.

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Paper Bag

Harry Baker's Twitter Profile photo

Last night I was lucky enough to catch poet Harry Baker do his thing at a private party.

If you haven’t heard any of his work, do go and look. He’s won various poetry competitions and is (or was) the Poetry Slam Champion 2012. You can follow him on Twitter as well.

He did a great poem called “Paper People”, which you can see on YouTube with him performing it either in Palestine or at the Bikeshed Theatre Live review, where the sound is a little clearer. But it got me to thinking. What happens when you drop out of the Paper Society?

I thought there would be a good poem in writing a response to his poem. So I wrote it this morning. I’ve called mine “Paper Bag”

Here’s my response

Paper Bag

I dropped out of your paper society.
The paper people didn’t want to see
me anymore. I fell down papered cracks
to live in Cardboard City. Out of sight.

Your paper currency is no good here
We only take card. My descent is lent
some extra weight, I contemplate my bent
and battered box, it’s GSM too low.

See, once the papered over cracks are there
you cannot see them. Madness stops me now
from joining in your madness, mental health
has taken out my means of joining in.

I found this in a bin. The one I slept in.
I fashioned it into a house of sorts
Its printed surface sports a wendy house
a child is looking out the window smiling.

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I’ve reached a middle point in life, I think

where if I stretch my arms out either side

my finger tips can very nearly reach

the boy I was and older man I’ll be

and treat those two imposters just the same.


I realise, of course, that I’m the One

who cheats himself the way that those two can’t

and if I stretch my arms out either side

of life, the universe or anything

I’ll be the only one that I can blame.

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Will you breathe with me please?
Can you stand still? Just as still
as I slow down life in this place.
Can you taste the air, cold
like the first time ever again?
Can you feel in a way
that is new, some old things?

Will you look? Please. And breathe
in the cold air of Autumn
Can you live as if skinless
where the touch of another
is what lives with you, hurts
for more days than it should?
I suspect that you can’t.

So you war. Making life
much harder than it is.



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September On

The crisper mornings, clearer somehow
Sharpen focus, lighten up the air
As sun will contrast frosted grass
with heat that doesn’t work at all.

Some will find a kinder meaning
come alive than warmer seasons,
fight against your natural gloomy
scrabbling brain that is trying to cope.

Nature starts to close things down.
Early nights are better, lessened light
before the Christmas season’s cultural
testcard blocks transmission.

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Fukushima, the Greenbelt Festival and performance art

At this years Greenbelt Festival I’m privileged to have been asked to be involved with a performance piece by Kaya Hanasaki, a performance artist who is a resident of Fukushima, Japan. She’s been over in the UK as a part of a respite programme by another artist, Kaori Homma. The idea is to get artists to spend some time away from Fukushima for so respite from both the stress and the very real physical danger.

It’s been a year and a half since the nuclear accident at Fukushima occurred, and now that the incident has to some extent faded from the media spotlight the people who live there have now somehow got to get on with their lives.

It turns out that the situation is not good at all, and that they’re still not sure what exactly to do with the power stations.

The group of artists based around Project Fukushima have started to hold a festival that “will let the entire world know about Fukushima as it is now, and as it will be in the future. We are determined to turn Fukushima into a positive word.” It’s well worth digging into their website and finding out about what’s going on over there, both within the festival and in Fukushima at large, as I suspect that the implications of Japan’s attempts to find a future that somehow deals with the implications of nuclear fuel and a strong desire to do without it are worked out, will have an influence upon all of us.

I’ve seen some video footage of Kaya’s performance, and it is at once very moving, emotional and loaded with imagery and symbolism. It’s certain to be a Greenbelt highlight, and I’m involved in trying to live stream the performance back to Japan. This could be tricky as the event is on Saturday at 2pm, so getting anything to stream smoothly when everyone is hammering the wifi will be a bit of a task, but we’ll see how we get on.

See you in the Hub on Saturday 25th August at 2pm.

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When I called, she told me that you’d gone out.
but I thought that all of you were best friends.
I mean mine, and not your own exclusive club.
I was left to think that it was our hub.

I could see from then that it was my mistake
That in fact you weren’t having a fun time
at the times when I was on the centre stage.
It was this that began a lifetime’s rage.

So I cycled over to confirm that
where I knew you’d be, having a fun time,
(And I caught the lot of you from out of sight)
I was not a part of your divine light.

It was then that one of you just looked up
And she caught me looking as I darted off
But I paused to stop, as a kind of nausea hit
with the sadness, shock, and my world split.

Then the return journey from the crime scene
seemed a lot slower from the new baggage.
For a week you let our friendship stall
until 7 days’ worth of guilt made you call

“Maybe now, perhaps, you’d like to come
to the pub and drink with a number of us.”
Did I say that I would? I should have been stronger
And I should have confronted you all head on.

But instead (and all the more sad)
Things dissolved and nothing was said
and I knew that for us all to stay alive
I would have to find a completely new tribe.

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Dr. Dee

Last week I had the good fortune to go and see the new opera Dr. Dee at the London Colisseum.

Performed by members of the English National Opera, it was co-created by Rufus Norris and Damon Albarn.

I’ve been keen to see this for a while as I’ve recently read Benjamin Wolley‘s fairly comprehensive biography of John Dee, and I’ve found him to be a fascinating character.

He was a courtier to Queen Elizabeth the first. A scientist, a visionary, a clairvoyant and so on – almost responsible for the birth of England as a scientific nation.

I found the production incredibly moving. I’ve had the CD of Albarn’s soundtrack in the car, and have come to know and love it. It has been developed and re-worked a little since he recorded it which, though the original record was fine enough, fits really well with the story and visuals of the production.

Albarn sits on a kind of “barge” (with the rest of the band) that starts on ground level, then raises up to allow the action to take place. For most of the show he sits above watching the show unfold like a sort of spot-lit sprite, singing songs that colour and underpin the narrative.

And visually sumptuous it is too. There is most definitely a “followable” story, but the presentation is an astonishing visual feast, with concertina books sliding constantly across the stage, forming screens for visuals to be projected onto, as well as cover for the actors to change clothes and shift position. There are also other visual tricks, including live ravens flying across the stage, but I won’t spoil it for you….

The story as told by the opera does leave a lot of the finer detail of Dee’s life out, but somehow this makes the opera more impactful. It allows the emotion of the story to breath and land with you.

John Dee’s story is an amazing one, and one I can relate to in many ways. Very much a talented man, he came from an age when science and mystery were not so very far apart – a time when the spiritual realm was not something that was dismissed out of hand, but rather seen as part of science and complementary to it. More to the point, he hitched his wagon to a rather unsavoury character (Edward Kelley) who not only was not what he seemed, but was essentially very bad for Dee in the long term, destroying both his credibility and his marriage. Dee went from being the alchemistic golden boy, to second fiddle to Kelley, to financial and intellectual ruin, finally dying with his reputation in tatters. It’s a moving tale, and the opera brings this story home and to life, in a way that has sat in my head for days now.

For me, Dee’s tragedy is that there is no “happily ever after”, that in the exploration of complexity and nuance, he asked the questions that people didn’t dare to ask, and took risks, that ultimately undid him. Surrounded by political power and pressure (Walsingham) he buckled under the weight of expectation of others and himself. A tale for our age.

The opera raised many thoughts for me, and I’ll leave you with these questions:

Firstly around mental health. Was Edward Kelley schizophrenic? Was he a con man? How easy is it to allow yourself to be deceived? The play writes large the idea that you can be extremely talented but have your life derailed by another. In the liner notes in the show’s programme, Norris and Albarn talk about Dee’s pride blinding him to the reality of Kelley’s impact on his life. I’m not so sure. I think there was a loyalty of friendship, and a naiveté on Dee’s part, fostered by pressure from the political powers-that-be, that he could not really believe that Kelley was making it all up.

Secondly: About science and mystery. Modern life puts logic and science as a dualistic opposite of mystery, myth, religion and emotion. I think that rubbish, frankly. Nothing is that cut and dried, and Dee came from a time where such a dualism was unheard of. Have we lost something in the modernist separation of these disciplines?

Try and get to see it if you can. It’s worth it.

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Violence & planting in a window box

Every so often I decide it’s time for me to do my bit to make our shabby estate more beautiful by attempting to plant some flowers in the planter on our balcony. (Don’t be fooled by the pictures in the link. Most of the estate does not look like that!)

Many of you who know me will be laughing at this point. I’m not at all green-fingered, and when I plant things and nurture them they tend to die.

In the times that I have attempted this before, the plants in question have been:

1) Choked to death by the most voracious weeds I’ve ever come across.

2) Massacred by some form of greenfly that clings to the stalks of any plant that’s planted there.

3) Dug out and shat upon by the cat from downstairs.

However, this time around I have attempted again and learnt a few things in the process…

I do want to be able to plant a few herbs to use for cooking. (Boring bit: I’d heard that begonias are good for diverting the greenfly away from things, plus they have a lovely colour that should look great when they grow. So I planted some parsley in the middle of the planter, and two begonias either side.)

Well, the voracious weeds are back. It’s astonishing – I always pull the little buggers out by the root, but they start growing out again, sometimes with little green leaves within the space of 12 hours.

And for some reason, the two begonias on the right are flourishing, but the two on the left are dying! Why?!? I treat them exactly the same!

At the risk of sounding like some rubbishy “Thought for the Day” monologue, this does feel like a bit of a metaphor for estate life and perhaps life in general.

To try and establish a bit of creativity and beauty, to push back the ugliness, is immensely hard, especially when outside forces are so intent on destroying it. Where did these weeds come from?!? There’s hardly any greenery round here! Is it from other people’s un-tended flower boxes (every flat has one)? Did it drift in on the wind? Who knows. All I know is that within about 3 days, if I don’t do weeding, it’s virtually unmanageable.

Also – to establish a critical mass of change in a place requires an effort from everyone. My one window box is not going to change the world, and certainly not going to reign in the daily anti-social behaviour that is a feature of our lives here. If all 13 flats made the effort, we might stand a chance of at least looking a bit nice. We might even get a bit of community spirit.

I’ve been thinking about the lad who was stabbed at Victoria station in rush hour 2 years ago. He’d fled into the ticket hall, as you should, thinking that being in a crowded space would somehow protect him. This is the advice that is generally given. But there was just too many of them. A big crowd of tooled up kids did what they did, and there was nothing anyone could do.

So here I am. Against the critical mass. Just me and my window box. Will there be an army of people come to establish something beautiful? Can my example of a beautiful window box make a difference? Will other people follow suit, in the face of rampant anti-social behaviour and a housing association that couldn’t care less, to try to make the place at least pleasant to look at? Or is the critical mass with those who like to smash things up? Or are too depressed to even try? Or can’t see what the point of trying is?


What do you think?


I think sometimes all you can do is pray.

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14 Life Lessons That Snooker Has Taught Me

Some of you may know that Snooker is my favourite sport. In fact it’s about the only sport I like.

I had the good fortune to get up to Sheffield this weekend to see the semi-final between Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire. It was a fantastic experience – my first time inside The Crucible Theatre, which hosts the annual World Championships.

Not everybody likes Snooker, but it has taught me quite a few valuable lessons in life, so I thought I would share them with you. Here they are:

1. Sometimes there is nothing more beautiful or dramatic than the simple pleasure and pure physics of coloured balls pinging around a big expanse of the colour green.

2. No matter how good or talented you are at something, there are always people who think that what you do, or are into, is boring and stupid. Do not let this put you off.

3. No matter how good or talented you are at something, there are always people who take great delight in lining up to TELL you that what you do, or are into, is boring and stupid. Do not let this put you off either.

4. Patience is a virtue. Possess it, cultivate it, and practise it.

5. When you put a shit load of money on the table it changes things immeasurably.

6. Being on TV magnifies everything. In every sense.

7. Only about 16 people in the world are capable of concentrating and still being great when a) there is that much of money on the table and b) they are on TV with millions of people watching.

8. Being physically fit helps you to concentrate for long periods of time.

9. The older you get, the harder it is to concentrate for long periods of time.

10. Don’t keeping thinking about what you did wrong or what you’re going to do in the future. Just do what’s required in front of you really well, instead.

11. When you’re sitting in your seat, there isn’t much you can do.

12. Sometimes only a referee can create the respect that something deserves.

13. Always admit it when you do something wrong. Even if the referee didn’t see you.

14. The people of Sheffield appreciate talent when they see it.

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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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A New Blog

As you can see, I have given my site a bit of a facelift.

Alas, I can’t take all the credit for all of it. Huge props must go to Manish Gori at Themezen, for supplying me with this template, and putting up with my constant requests for suport via e-mail. He got me there in the end. Also, the wonderful Joel Baker designed some icons for me. You should check out his webspace.

All photographs are mine of course, as is the writing. The re-design puts the focus on the images of my work, whilst allowing me to work on other projects and display them here. On the home page, I can feature up to five of my strongest works with a little bit of writing about each of them. It also keeps my Tumblr, Blog and Shop centre-stage, whilst having some space for other dedicated areas for the side-projects I’m engaged in.

I hope you like the newness, and I shall endeavour to be more regular in my updates.

It’s always a difficult one re-designing a website. You know that when you push the button marked “change how everything looks”, it creates a whole lot of work for yourself that you don’t need. However, this needed doing. My previous blog template was an adapted template from the web, and although I’d put a lot of work into it, and was pleased with the results, I knew that it wasn’t right about a month after I’d done it. It just looked too amatuerish somehow. The new template, I’m sure you’ll agree, looks much better, allows a lot more scope for future updates, while also being something I’ll hopefully be able to live with for a lot longer.

Thanks for stopping by.


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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


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



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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They say you shouldn’t judge another person
until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
But how are you supposed to feel about
a person wearing YOUR shoes?

– who walks a thousand miles and more but does it
with much more grace and makes it look so easy?
They don’t display the same sloping shoulders
despite the same decaying, creasing footwear,

pronating, though, they still can find the power
to run, and not to trip and fall while others
decide they will not laugh, but help you stand
and others still look on and sympathise.

Yes, who can do that? What are they like these
extraordinary people who don’t appear
to have the same restrictions, cut the same way,
but still they leave me wondering how.

And – trying to find my motivation
I put my hands behind my back and stare
down at my shoes.

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Goodbye Nokia

So I’ve basically got myself a new phone. After years of being a dyed-in-the-wool Nokia supporter, I have changed to HTC.

I don’t consider myself to be a social media maven/guru/etc., but I do use social media, I base a lot of my work on that kind of thing, I do a lot of it with my phone, and I do feel that I have something to say about my choice. And I would be interested to see if people disagree with my reasons.

Like most people I know, when the Nokia N95 came out, I goggled, marvelled, and was envious. I’ve been using a Nokia N86 8MP for the past two years (the one in the photo at the top of this post), and when it came out it was the dog’s nuts. It came with Nokia’s Symbian operating system, and one of the features was that you could download any updates to the system direct to the phone via SIM card or Wifi – you didn’t need to log in to OVI, or any of that malarkey.

Well, reader in two years of owning that there phone, I got one upgrade and then they stopped making the phone. I felt that the build quality was appalling. It crashed repeatedly and moved at a snails pace. It shipped with a dodgy battery. I spent 2 years wistfully gazing out the window and typing #*0000* in the hope that more upgrades would come. In the 4 years since the N95, and especially since the advent of the iPhone, Nokia’s Symbian looks and feels clunky and clumsy. It’s a complete ball-ache to use, and I can not find any easy way to make this system to interact with my MacbookPro.

You see, I’m a simple user. I have shit to do. I do not have time to partition my Hard Drive in order to get my phone to do all the things it can do, when most other phones will just plug in and get on with it. It is shockingly criminal that Nokia have never worked smoothly with OSX.

And now I hear that the Android Operating System offered to work with Nokia, and they turned it down. Not only that, they’ve decided to jump ship and make Windows Phone 7 their new operating system. You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

If I were to go and get a Nokia N8, I would be going with Nokia’s Symbian, which they are abandoning. Based on my experience of updates and fixes with the N86, do you think they’re going to bother making sure my N8 works tickety boo? No, me neither.

It’s a shame. I’ve wildly supported Nokia over the years. And yep, that N8 has lots of good features. The aforementioned camera, an FM transmitter, DAB radio to name but three. But for the reasons I’ve outlined, as they say on Dragon’s Den: “I’m out.”

So why not the iPhone? Why not the iPhone? Get an iPhone. Ah, but you haven’t got an iPhone. The iPhone‘s better.

Or so several very annoying people say.

I am a complete Apple fanatic, and they do make exceedingly good laptops. But sorry. That camera? Still not great, despite what they’ve brought to it recently. And really there’s nothing on that phone that you would need and can’t get on any other phone just as smoothly.

And then there’s what a friend of mine refers to as the Jobs-ian Fist. If you want to listen to an MP3 YOU BOUGHT in iTunes on any other non-Apple device, you can’t. At least not without a lot of faffing around which is totally unnecessary. Back to the “life’s too short” issue you’ve got with things like partitioning hard drives for a Nokia.

Seriously guys, it’s like phones are stuck in the late 80s. We went through all this “getting one piece of equipment to talk to another” malarkey before with PCs and we dealt with it. Now can the rest of you catch up again please?

So I bought the HTC Incredible S. It’s got an 8 megapixel camera. Not 12, but still a good enough compromise.

And the operating system is Android. God, I can’t tell you what a relief that is.

All the Apps I need to do my Social Media shit.

It does have it’s disadvantages for sure. (What? It still all runs in the background? It kills your battery life and murders your family while you’re asleep? No, I made that last bit up. You can’t tell, can you.)

But really, it just. Does. What. I. Want. It. To. Do.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a life to return to.

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My Jumble Sale Mind

My Jumble Sale Mind

My mind is like a Jumble Sale
where people come to rummage
amongst the chaos, clothes and things
and nonagenarian scrummage.

The day had started out so neat
with tables laid out nice.
But now it’s piled-up, pushed-around
and no-one’s looking twice!

A tumbling hall of bric-a-brac
and long forgotten clothes,
descended on by everyone
all treading on your toes.

You’ll offer things at 20p
and still they’ll barter you down.
They’ll say the object’s not worth shit
then wear the thing uptown!

The things you thought would disappear
have stayed and not been sold.
The worthless crap you didn’t mind
was grabbed and bought as gold.

And so it ends, it’s packed away.
Tired, deflated, late
you’ve only empty feelings now
and ten pounds eighty-eight.

Image ©

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All I need from you is something
like concern, and being gentle,
empathy, the loving touch of
hugs, or questions like: How are you?
My God, that must be terrible!
To show me that you care or just
believe in me would bring me some


Life is hard, and so are you
Making life much harder still
sad, I’ll look for all that stuff
somewhere else. I’ll find the fuel
Love brings. Someone else believes
somewhere I’m a good person
who’ll reach fifth gear sometime soon.

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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.



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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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Time goes on. I watch the seconds, minutes
and hours tick away like passing cars.
I haven’t noticed. Except the odd
peculiar detail. And then they go.
Within a moment unremarkable.

The stacking up of urgent tasks. Ringing
phones. Impatient e-mails won’t bring me round
because I’m hit by high demands and
damage done has given way to lower
thresholds and expectations than before.

Simple tasks are incomplete. My eyes are
red and heavy. Short breaths. Heavy limbs. Days
long; as if I’ve over-reached. Stung by life
half a search for serum. An antidote
to cancel out this strange unwelcome poison.

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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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Breaking Through Your Creative Blocks

For quite a while now, I’ve been an avid follower of the blog over at Lateral Action.

Lateral Action is a brilliant resource for anyone working in any kind of creative industry (as I do) – a treasure trove of useful information, running series of posts on various topics, and links to stuff designed to help the often difficult process of birth great works of art. Even if “great works of art” ain’t your thing, you would do well to take a look as I’ll bet most people could do with the extra skills needed to get by in the world of work no matter what you do, especially at the moment. This blog provides great food for thought, and is run by the very lovely MarkMcGuinness, who I’ve had the good fortune to meet a few times.

Like most artists I experience various “creative blocks” along the way as I’m trying to do my work. Everyone gets them, and they tend to manifest them in personal ways. However, recently Mark asked for people to submit their own particular “creative blocks” in order for him to tackle them head-on in a series of blog posts. I’d never turn down the opportunity for some free coaching, so was very pleased to find that Mark and Marelisa Fábrega (another some-time contributor to Lateral Action) picked up on both the creative blocks that I sent in. You’d be surprised how many other people share your particular creative blocks…

The two I sent in in particular are these:

Creative Block #4 – Creativity v Cash

Creative Block #6 – The Inner Critic

However, if you want to read the whole series (and I would thoroughly recommend that you do) then you can go back and read through the list of titles – they’re all there:

  1. Tell Us Your Creative Blocks – and We’ll Help You Smash Through Them!
  2. Creative Block #1 – “I’m Not Creative”
  3. Creative Block #2 – Fear of Getting It Wrong
  4. Creative Block #3 – Lack of Time
  5. Creative Block #4 – Creativity v Cash
  6. Creative Block #5 – Being Disorganised
  7. Creative Block #6 – The Inner Critic


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Richard Gilbert and The Stations of the Cross

The fourteen Stations of The Cross are a motif that have occupied many an artist over the years. There’s something about the variety of interpretations that often has a profound impact. Perhaps its the serial nature of them that forces you to go on a mini-pilgrimage, as much as the sometimes random juxtapositions that artists come out with. My particular favourites are the Eric Gill ones in Westminster Cathedral, as well as the ones round the corner in STMW where my studio is housed.

Richard Gilbert is showing 14 sculptural heads at the Wallspace in London, here in the UK. I had the good fortune, not only to go and see it on Tuesday night this week, but I was also lucky enough to be able to meet the artist, ask him a bit about his work, and get it all on Qik. My phone kept seizing up unfortunately, so the videos are a little bit random at the top and tail, but you get a good sense of what Richard is passionate about, and it does capture the great vibe of walking around the works.

All the works are for sale, but Richard seemed curiously cavalier about that side of it: For him it appears to be more about the exhibiting and showing of the work, as well as the enjoyment and experience of the viewer. The show is on until Easter (appropriately enough) so make sure you catch it before it comes down.

Richard Gilbert Part One:

Richard Gilbert Part Two:

…and walking round the show, where you get much more of a sense of the beauty of the works. However, there’s no substitute for actually going and seeing them in the flesh!

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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:


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.


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:


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


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…





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Psychogeography at Greenbelt


Listen to this – I’m somewhere that I shouldn’t be….


Daniel Defoe, author of “Robinson Crusoe” also wrote a book called “Journal of the Plague Year” It’s a book about the experience of navigating your way through London at the time of plague.

In principle this sounds a very simple task, but in the days before the A-Z, and before streets had names, one would navigate one’s way via the known sights and landmarks of the area. When the plague struck, however, various streets and buildings would be quarantined and closed, making the usual paths un-navigable, and forcing oneself into unknown territories, rendering the capital city un-recognisable. And of course, just as quickly as new routes sprang up, they would be quarantined again, forcing yet more new passageways to open up.

The book documents these journeys, as well as the experiences and impact on the person as the city develops. Along with William Blake, these two seminal authors are now thought to be the earliest forms of what has now come to be known as psychogeography, a term coined and and formalised by Guy Debord and the Situationist movement.

I think it’s important both as a spiritual and emotional experience and a politically transgressive tool, as a means of resistance and re-gaining control of one’s environment, and becomes more vital as space is increasingly privatised and gentrified in contemporary society.

For years, psychogeography languished in obscurity, but more recently it has been revived as by many psychogeographical societies (google them, and you’ll find a whole host of organisations) and the authors Will Self, and Iain Sinclair, who is speaking at Greenbelt this year.

I was very pleased to find that Iain Sinclair is at Greenbelt this year, and hope to catch his talk.

If you miss it, you should be able to get the talk from the Greenbelt shop. Should be a good ‘un.

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Billy Childish at Greenbelt 2009

I’ve just got out of a talk by the artist Billy Childish, and frankly it’s the best talk I’ve ever been to. This things he said were so honest and refreshing, and I was especially pleased to hear him talk about a sense of play in art being missing in a lot of contemporary work, which is EXACTLY what I’ve been saying for some time now. YES! YES! YES!

I managed to stream some of it, but you should be able to buy his talk as a download from the Greenbelt website soon. Awesome stuff, embedded below. Sorry that the image goes a bit foggy after a while, but cameraphone goes a bit doolally on a low battery.


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Greenbelt 2009


Every year, about this time, I go to a festival called Greenbelt. Tomorrow I shall be doing so once again. I’m nearly packed. Nearly.

For those of you who know little about it, it’s a music and arts festival that happens at the Cheltenham Racecourse. It is a Christian festival, which inevitably puts some people off, but don’t let that deter you. It’s very welcoming and accepting, and there’s something for everyone here.

Every year I go, I never know what to expect. It’s different every time. It’s inspiring, exciting, thought provoking, maddening, relaxing, stressful and exhilarating all at once. I’m kind of wishing I’d gone down there early today like a few others, but life stuff prevents.

From an artists point of view, there’s plenty to look at, and plenty of thought provoking material. I’m quite looking forward to see Billy Childish this year. Plus I get to see some wonderful people that I see sometimes just once every year.

I shall be going in my capacity as a social media person. You’ll be able to follow me on Qik, Twitter, Audioboo, possibly some youTube and Vimeo as well.

Last year I did a few videos, with the running theme of “Is it possible to do Greenbelt with a 3 year old and a 3 MONTH old?” Which you can see here here here here here..

This year I’ll be working more with the others as a cohesive team, so I’m not sure what my role is yet. I may do interviews with other artists, and walk around some works talking about them like a sort of tour guide, or something like that. It might also be an excuse to indulge my new found love of psychogeography.

We’ll see. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some of it here.

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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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Via Dolorosa


I finished another work in the series of paintings I’ve been doing with Japanese endpapers today. Very pleased with it too.

The work is called “Via Dolorosa”, it’s acrylic paint and spray paint on board, and it’s 26cms x 34 cms x 5cms.

The figure is from a photo I took of one of the kids who play outside my window on the South London estate where I live. One day, one of their games took a particularly violent turn (more so than usual), and the lad in the photo fell badly on his wrist. I couldn’t tell if it was genuinely serious, or if he was playing it up to gain sympathy. Either way, he seemed to be ok after a while.

As an image though, I thought it was quite poignant, in that it could be about vulnerability, brutality, school memories, survival, and so on.
The image also works really well as a contrast with the leafy pattern, the soft focus – I don’t have much time for romanticised notions of either childhood or socio-economic dis-advantage, and art has a way of backing you into a corner and forcing you to think about such things. Especially when you’re making it yourself.

The flash from the camera has washed out some of the colour in the picture, so some of the detail is lost. If you come along to the show I’m exhibiting in next month, you’ll be able to see it a bit better in the flesh.

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A New Work


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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Building websites

A photo of what the website looks like

Hello out there.

I’m emerging blinking into the sunlight, as I have spent the past week or so constructing websites. It’s been an interesting learning-cliff-face, as I put myself through various crash courses in html and css. And no, before last week, I didn’t know what that meant either.

I’m thinking of moving this blog. I dearly love and have enjoyed it. However, there are some things that I can’t do with it that I would like to. This blog is basically hosted by wordpress. I need to self-host in order to be able to tweak things and put new things in.

So I’m going with!

Huh? I hear you cry. Didn’t you just say….?

Go back and read it more carefully. I can’t do what I want with wordpress.COM, but I can do what I want with wordpress.ORG. The .ORG version will sit on my own private webspace, and allow me to alter things how I want.

In fact, I’ve already tried a test run. Not everyone knows this (and I don’t generally talk about it here) but when I’m not being an artist, I’m a plumber. So I thought I would build a static website using as a sort of dry run for re-vamping artbizness.

The plumbing website is called That’s a photo of it at the top. Go take a look and let me know what you think.

In the meantime… I’ll be working on artbizness. I’m not going to move it just yet, but hopefully sometime over the next month. I’ll tell you where and when soon.

In the meantime – I will still post here. But consider yourselves on notice. 😀

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The Turpsichord

Designed and built one Saturday,
when I was very bored,
I made a brand new instrument
It was The Turpsichord.

Church organ-like, and very tall,
with keys and stops and throttles,
it made a sound by blowing air
through different turps-filled bottles.

It made a lovely warbling sound
that drew the sharpest breath
rendered all more poignant by
the player’s possible death.

I gathered friends to hear me play.
They coughed and choked and gagged.
I castigated one of them
who nearly lit a fag.*

And soon recitals were performed
to many gathered throngs
to hear selected medleys of
White Spiritual songs.

Performing indoor concert halls
became a thrill again
until The Turpsichord was banned
by Health & Safety men.

I suffered much for all this art.
I played when I was bladdered.
The drinking took my mind off it
this massive fire hazard.

I planned a last performance then,
a swan-song, if you will.
The weight of suffering for my art
had made me very ill.

It had to be an outdoor gig
with careful preparation
to find a way to get around
the government legislation.

And so I played it one last time
the people came from far.
I poured my soul into the songs
then lit a big cigar.

That’s how you end an arty life –
you go out with a bang.
I left the earth for worms to eat
but with a turps-ish tang.

*For the benefit of our American cousins – “fag” is English slang for cigarette. I do NOT set fire to homosexuals.

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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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Altermodern at TATE Britain


I went to see the new “Altermodern” show today on it’s first day of opening at TATE Britain in London, UK.

I went with some trepidation. I’d read a pre-amble in the TATE magazine, and I have to say that I find the movement back to modernism is one that I find alarming to say the least. However, there’s a big difference between an idea and a show, which in this case turned out to be just as well.

I went into the main hall at TATE Britain and was distinctly disappointed by what I saw. The work was OK, but not great. Subodh Gupta’s saucepan tower in the shape of a mushroom cloud was quite spectacular, and I always have a soft spot for Mike Nelson, but the rest of it left me pretty cold.

However, I’d missed that there was another, main part to it that you have to pay to get into. It’s not very well signposted, and there’s no little hand-held leaflet guide to tell you where you are, but with a wave of my TATE members card, I swished in for free.

I was straight away confronted by Franz Ackerman’s profusion of colour that was strangely calming despite it’s luridity. Piles of disused flags and an empty cage signaling the escape from shackles of nationhood into a bright new global modernism. Yes, I get it.

However, before long I came to see the idea of Altermodernism as a conceit of the curator – an idea to hang a show on. He’s coined a term, but will it catch on? I hope not, but in any case I found that once I’d manage to detach and forget about the idea of altermodernity from the actual works I was looking, at the show became much more enjoyable.

The first few works perversely helped me do this. Olivia Plender & Joachim Koester’s works felt more like plundering the past than a trajectory for the future. Firstly in “The Hashish Club” the hemp-heads unite to remember halcyon opium-filled days, and then the work on the Kibbo Kift Kindred completes the appropriations.

Thank goodness for some humour in the form of Charles Avery’s work (especially “Untitled (Head of an Aleph)” ” I really enjoyed his new world, almost inventing a past and describing a present that never actually happened but should have. I thought the drawings were perfectly executed, and the stellar maps drew me in too.

For the chillout enthusiasts, my old mucker Darren Almond exhibited his moonscapes, and I was quite happy to collapse on the scatter cushions in Gustav Metzger’s LCD projections – Liquid Crystals projected and altered by the heat, a bit like lava lamps. More than a nod and a wink to the abstract expressionists who, of course, we tend to associate with modernism. Very good works all.

Walead Beshty Fed-Exed a load of glass boxes around the world packed with little protection. The resulting damaged cubes are shown. Raised a smile and some thoughts about travel and handling. Very engaging – like little people with their own story to tell.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself standing in what only can be described as a room full of vibrators. Shaking the floor and humming inside my head. The possibilities for innuendo are endless, but you will not think about that at all when you stand in that room. Spine tingling – literally.

Those are the works that stood out with some brilliance for me. Like all good shows (and it IS a good show) its one that I will need to return to many times, and I may like completely different works for completely different reasons.

But I guess the biggest obstacle of the altermodern idea for me is that if you’re saying that you’ve learned from the postmodernist critique, then why would you exhibit the majority of artists from OECD countries? It’s not exactly a record of the marginalised and at worst smacks of imperialism.  And I suspect the “creolisation” that Bourriaud talks of as a part of altermodernism leaves no room for the poor or marginalised.

But then, I never like feeling that I’ve been “steamrolled”.

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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.


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.


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


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 questioning the actions.
The reading subtle signs.
The analysing stupid things
that aren’t between the lines.
The only option possible
is one you have in mind.
The only truthful answer is
the one you’ll never find.

The “Nothing’s wrong!” that never works
and never satisfies.
The way it feels and compliments
a lifetime’s worth of lies.
The friendships that are twisted
are never quite the same.
The playful dance of quiet thoughts
perpetuate the game.

The way forgetfulness forgets
the way it started out.
The non-existent whispering
imagined as a shout.
The tapering of friendliness
that ends in being alone.
The rarer sound of human voice
that follows ringing tones.
The justifying arguments
repeated every day.
The bubbling resentment
that never goes away.

I seem to have fallen back into poetry again, after my last rather intense bout of art show work. One of the advantages of being multi-disciplined is that when you burnout on one artistic form (painting), you can fall back on another (poetry).

This latest poem is one that has tumbled out amongst a whole host of others over the past few days. I tend to write nothing for months and then finally a whole lot of poems will come out at once. I’m currently writing another one that’s very long and story-like, provisionally titled “The Ballad of Facebook”, so it might be a while before I post it.

I appreciate that paranoia is not the most livening of subjects, especially while most of the world is celebrating right now, but I’m aware that I owe you all a post as I’ve fallen silent for a little longer than normal. This poem has just been completed. Ink barely dry and all that.

I’m wondering if anyone else can relate to that feeling of paranoia. Have I described it accurately? Is your experience of it different? I wanted the poem to have a slightly naïve air, as I think paranoia stems from naïveté. (Did I put all my accents in the right place there?) I’m sure there are some cunning linguists out there who will be able to tell me…

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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 *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 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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Art studio: The one disadvantage.

They call me Quasimodo.


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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


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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