work-in-progress

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

tomatoes

CANTO XIII

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)..”
“YOU FUCKING POLISH BASTARD” floats across
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: VIOLENCE

violentatm

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.

“WHAT THE FUCK YOU COMING THIS WAY FOR?”
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.

“YOU FUCKING FOREIGN CUNT COME HERE YOU FUCK”
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

cantoxi
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

tyburnplaque

“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.

“OI! WHATCHO LOOKIN AT YOU STUPID FUCK”
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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Tribes

 

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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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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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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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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Trying out the acrylic paint

Christ

I want you to get more value from my paintings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A New Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Building websites

A photo of what the plumbizness.com 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 wordpress.com 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 wordpress.org!

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 wordpress.org as a sort of dry run for re-vamping artbizness.

The plumbing website is called www.plumbizness.com. 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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Secateurs

secateurs

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

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

He’s also a gardener, hence the secateurs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A painting and a commission

Hello everyone.

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

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

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

20012009381

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

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

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

I did a little extra work today…

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

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

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

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

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

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Beyond The Wilderness – Work still in progress

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

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

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

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

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Beyond The Wilderness – Work-in-Progress

I forgot to mention – I got commissioned to do another piece of work for this show. This is what I have made so far.

The frame is one of those “In Emergency Break Glass” frames, adapted for the purpose. I carefully cut up 3 cigarettes and stuck them together. Then I used some dress-making pins to hold it in place – a bit like butterfly collectors do.

It took me about 3 goes to get the cigarette thing right.

This is only a small part of the piece, so there is more to follow.

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Moot Icon Pt. 6

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

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

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

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

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

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Underground

You think you know, but do not know me well
I found another place, another hell
It’s mine, and mine alone, you cannot touch it
The secret place where only I can dwell.

My thoughts were pure, no mediation needed.
Concerned that all my thoughts would go unheeded
I ran away and hid in public places.
How ignorant. You’re proud that you succeeded.

Acceptance only happens when you’re solo –
you’ve got the time to play it back in slo-mo
and realise you made the better choices
than those accusing you of greater lows.

A confidence appeared from God knows where
a loneliness that’s hard enough to bear
and friends appear, concerned, and bring temptations
as power shifts from things no longer there.

This is my first attempt at a “rubai” form of poetry. The form grabbed me, as its origins came from the need to pass around subversive information without being detected. I think there may be more verses, and it needs a little work.

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