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Twitter Art, Conceptualism and a new art form

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

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

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

And you can look at the actual tweet on Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

So I explored the idea in the next two works.

 

#untitled2 looked like this:

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

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

So somewhat inevitably #untitled3 looked like this.

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

And lastly #untitled6

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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This tweet is a work of art

 

You can see it here.

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Storage, Back Catalogues and Saints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Art & Language: Social media and conceptual art

I am deeply divided over painting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personally I don’t buy it.

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

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

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

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

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

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Cruciform painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Working again. Maybe.

I have a confession to make. I struggle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Damien Hirst at The Wallace Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Collecting Art

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

sze

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

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

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

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

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

BUT.

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

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

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

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

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Trying out the acrylic paint

Christ

I want you to get more value from my paintings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Talking Art with @solobasssteve

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

Listen!

Listen!

Listen!

Listen!

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So here I am!

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

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

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

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

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

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First Day at Urban Art 2009

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Free Art: O Sacred Head

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

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

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

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

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

It will be great to see you. 🙂

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Urban Art Fair 2009 on Saturday and Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Another quote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another New Painting: Oh God

I finished another painting today.

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

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

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

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The Myth of The Artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A New Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Secateurs

secateurs

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

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

He’s also a gardener, hence the secateurs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Free Art from a Turner Prize winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mark Rothko at the TATE

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

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

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

But don’t let me put you off.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Turner Prize 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Turner Prize

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

Despite the hard seats.

Did anyone else go yet? What did you think?

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Arty House Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hanging art in a house

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

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

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

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

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My own paintings are scaring me…

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

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

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How (not) to Gold Leaf

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

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

And here’s part two, the tricky bit:

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Painting With an Overhead Projector

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

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Showing Art in a House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Art studio: The one disadvantage.

They call me Quasimodo.

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The Art of the Saints (ongoing)

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Guerrilla art

This was too good an opportunity to resist.

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

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

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

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Beyond Addiction

Hmm.. this is frustrating….

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

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

Oops.

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

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

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

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

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PAX target

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

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

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Evolution of PAX

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

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In the studio

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Ethiopean PAX

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

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

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

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

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PAX Update…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Urban Art Fair 2008

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

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

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

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

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PAX

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

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

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

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

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

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Ronnie Radcliffe 20th June 2008

11 days old.

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

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We make money AND art

Beyond The Wilderness in the stairwellJane looking slightly manic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just got back from =SPICO= Private View

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

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

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

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

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

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How to curate an art show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beyond The Wilderness. It’s up and on.

I just got back from my own private view, and I am absolutely exhausted.
The night was a triumph, and I was very happy with how it went.

However, although I am too tired to blog it myself, the venerable Jonny Baker has blogged about it already. So (for now) I’ll just send you there:

Lenten journeys

Also – he took some great photos which you can also have a look at here.

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Beyond The Wilderness. Setting Up. Day 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The address is:

12 Cardinal Place,
Cardinal Walk,
Victoria St.
London

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

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

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Beyond The Wilderness. Setting Up. Day 1.

aaaaaaaargh….

And so it begins. I started hanging the show today.

I forgot what this is like, as its been so long since I last hung a show.

I swear to God, I think sometimes people think the art just sprouts legs, runs to the gallery and leaps on the wall itself, all level and flush with ready-written labels next to each piece.

And they probably think that the works will shuffle themselves about into the right order so that everything can be seen, nothing gets hidden in a dingey corner of the gallery, and wherever you stand in the place, none of the works jar against each other, are too close together or make the other works look bad by comparison.

So, despite a nice start to the day, its been a day of people telling me they can help out, and then not doing so on the day.. People throwing extra work at me last minute, when we we’ve had months to sort it out.. Sorry Mike, I need that now, rather than sometime over the next 3 days like we already agreed… Sorry Mike, I’m not around tomorrow after all.

It would be nice to be able to get to a Private View with energy to spare, and able to talk to all the nice people ready to push the artists and the various events involved with a smile on my face, but HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL no.

I will be flush faced, sweaty, and un-able to string sentences together, whilst floating around opened bottles of wine, that I won’t be able to partake in because if I do, I will nose-dive after 2 sips. Even though alcohol will be exactly what I need by that point.

No wonder half the artists I know are on the Colombian Marching Powder.

More of the same tomorrow, no doubt…

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Beyond The Wilderness. Work-in-Progress. I call this progress.

I have made this part of the work by projecting a photo I took up onto the white canvas I was made earlier this week.

I had to work on the photo image a little bit first – I put it on the laptop, and worked on it with Photoshop to get it to three shades of grey. This gave it the strong graphic image, almost a bit like a screenprint. I then made up the different shades of paint using acrylic paint mixed with cigarette ash and soil.

The soil and ash have added to the tone of the paint, but have also made it really lumpy, making it impossible to paint a straight line, giving it a more organic feel, which is quite nice. You’ll have to see it in the flesh at the private view next week.

I can’t believe it’s only 5 days away!

Here’s the finished painting part:

Stuck in a traffic jam..

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The Big Bang Circus

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did a little extra work today…

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

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

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

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

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

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Why are artists so damn flakey?

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

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

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

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

So far we’ve got :

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

Tim Dendy
My Good Self
Adam Boulter
My Dog Sighs

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

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

Details are on the Moot Community Arts Website

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