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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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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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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Big Bang Circus

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

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

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

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

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

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Finished Commission

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how I made it:

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

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Untitled – a poem


The thought has come to me before
at times I want, at times of stress
like now. I look at flowers grow
too beautiful for words, I think
about their death. And mine. Amongst
a thousand others. Hidden here
this garden quietly grows between
the city’s noises, roads and buildings,
as if some grass could halve the pain
we know we have to carry knowing
that death will bring us to a stop.
I sweat blood.

The thought has come to me before –
my life has been a gamble, not
on rolling dice like these two here.
I’ve understood experience
as something bringing change to this
short life. I might be wrong. I think
of everyone I’ve known. The women
are here. My friends have gone away.
Their lives are finite, too. And how
remembered will we be? Too late.
There’s nothing I can do about
it now. My breathing is erratic.
I’ve finished.

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Chess Pieces Do Unspeakable Things. On a T-Shirt.

And finally….

We’ve launched our t-shirt range.

Mik-a-Nik t-shirts was founded in 2007, when textile designer Nico Yates and artist/poet Michael L Radcliffe started doodling on Post-It notes with a felt marker. To see the resulting t-shirt, click on our webshop:

The t-shirts are all 100% cotton, except the Fruit of the Loom t-shirts which are 95% cotton, 5% lycra.

We will be keeping an eye on the site, and if there’s anything you think we could improve, we’d love to hear from you. If there’s any special orders you’d like, then let us know and we’ll try our best to accomodate your wishes.

We hope you enjoy them!

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Rum Royals

Their skins are taut, their eyes are bright – they’re royals.
I bet the most expensive balms of man
are slathered on each night, preventing boils
from ruining the smoothness of one’s tan
whilst one’s on horseback flouting hunting bans.
For this and other crimes, you’d best take note –
Republicans are desperate to vote.

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Moot Icon – Work-in-Progress (Pt.4)

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

Today, readers, was that day.

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’ll look better in the morning.

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The Turner Prize – And the nominations are….

The Turner Prize has gone wierd again.

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

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

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

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

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Minor Altercation

But I’m not avin time for people like
that. D’you get me? Scuse me bein rude but
your bike’s there. How’d I get dis up the step?
I don’t think you got no sense. Thank you.

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My one and only Haiku

What is the point of

English poetaster tricks

by cunning linguists?



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Moot Icon – Work-in-Progress (Pt.3)

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

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

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

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

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

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Gary Hume – American Tan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go and have a look. It’s FUN.

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

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

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Current Affairs Couplets II

It’s sunny now that autumn has arrived
The kids are back at school – and we’ve survived!

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Current Affairs Couplets I

The London Public Transport system sucks
The summer was nice weather for the ducks.

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sacredbooksdisplay.jpg (JPEG Image, 384×153 pixels)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The moral of the story?

Keep it Simple, Keep it Sacred.

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

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

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

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

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I made a little film for a service that moot did at the Greenbelt festival on Saturday night.

It uses the track “F.E.A.R.” by Ian Brown. This track is an old favourite of mine, and I’ve been wanting to do something with it for a while – it suggests so many things, the lyrics are really clever, and the music as a whole is very powerful. If you don’t have anything by Ian Brown, then I can recommend that you make a start with his Greatest Hits collection, as the man is an understated genius.

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Moot Icon commences


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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