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My Throat Closes Up

My temper stirs against unjust
behaviour. Anger, Fear and Needs distilled
begin to form a yell, but in the shouts
my throat closes up.

Rehearsing thoughts through whispers strained,
decanted into empty rooms where no-one hears
dissolving sentiments to try to solve
my throat closes up.

As if in some peculiar way
the universe or target hears and answers “YES”.
though mostly it or they return a “no”
my throat closes up.

So parched and routed, stopped at birth,
instead I write the strangulated words;
a poem should be read and heard
my throat closes up.

©Michael L Radcliffe 2015

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Breathe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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Greenbelt (Coda) 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dodge Brothers from Michael Radcliffe on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

I’m Dreaming of Home already.

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Greenbelt 2010 so far…

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

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

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

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

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

More news to follow as it happens…

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Art & Language: Social media and conceptual art

I am deeply divided over painting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personally I don’t buy it.

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

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

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

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

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

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Cruciform painting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Art, Social Media and Art Institutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Working again. Maybe.

I have a confession to make. I struggle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Richard Gilbert and The Stations of the Cross

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

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

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

Richard Gilbert Part One:

Richard Gilbert Part Two:

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

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Damien Hirst at The Wallace Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Collecting Art

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

sze

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

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

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

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

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

BUT.

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

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

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

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

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Linocutting and the Cutting Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lino

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trying out the acrylic paint

Christ

I want you to get more value from my paintings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another quote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Myth Of The Artist: Gifting

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

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

Consider this excerpt from Abbing:

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

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

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

Abbing again:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Another New Painting: Oh God

I finished another painting today.

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

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

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

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The Myth of The Artist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A New Work

20042009498

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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The Turpsichord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Altermodern at TATE Britain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Paranoia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Turner Prize 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Turner Prize

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

Despite the hard seats.

Did anyone else go yet? What did you think?

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Arty House Party

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

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

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

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

My journey to work in the morning:

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PAX target

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

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

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Evolution of PAX

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

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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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White Van

She wasn’t very young. She’d had a life of hauling
things around. Her latest beau’s a fitter
that’s working hard enough to leave her keys
inside her un-attended. Then she went.

Abandoned and gashed along one side
she crashed out right in front of council flats –
a hidden part of Southern London – rare
that someone comes there just to hide.

And then the raping starts as kids break in,
go in and out her sliding door that’s on
the side, and open up the back with ease
before they rip the innards out and spread

the contents everywhere. The carpet tiles
and underlay, the grip-rods, scaff poles, tools
and spray paint cans all arcing through the air
and sometimes used to mark surrounding things.

Her owner came and rescued what he could.
He brought his brother’s bravado – useless when
the kids had gone for tea. The men could not
save her. Insurance men were called. They couldn’t

turn her over. Turn. Turn turn.
Turnturnturnturnturn.
Turn. No. Battery: dead.

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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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They came.

They came
straight in, no pause
“Now this I’ve got to see”,
she said and carried bags and
some coats to keep them clean from blood
and then the sound of someone being
kicked. A sound like sandbags. thud. thud thud. thud
as fifteen people set about him, trainers rain
the thuds along with “FOK”, “You FOKing FOK”, “You do
that for?” And probably he knows or doesn’t think he
don’t deserve it as he collapses on the floor
he needs to be supported by his mates but
instead they pick him up and take him with
and off they go and drain away. It’s
dark and quiet – peaceful now there
is nothing left to show for
this entertainment. Close
the blinds and up the
fear for all
concerned.

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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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e e cummings

e e cummings

I came across a good poem by e e cummings today.

I’m reading a compilation of his selected poems, and to be honest it’s been heavy going. I like the idea of reading something that is mutilayered, but in his case, it’s possible to have too many options.

As you may have surmised, I wasn’t looking forward to whiling away my journey in his company, but earlier today I read a poem that was so good, it made me feel bad for cussing him on Twitter this morning. I thought I’d share it with you:

hate blows a bubble of despair into
hugeness world system universe and bang
-fear buries a tomorrow under woe
and up comes yesterday most green and young

pleasure and pain are merely surfaces
(one itself showing,itself hiding one)
life’s only true value neither is
love makes the little thickness of the coin

comes here a man would have from madame death
neverless now and without winter spring?
she’ll spin that spirit her own fingers with
and give him nothing(if he should not sing)

how much more than enough for both of us
darling. And if i sing you are my voice,

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At last! I’m in print!

I got my first copy of my first ever poem to be printed today. Cool! As you can see, it’s been put into the book opposite a reproduction of the icon I did for the moot community, which is good all round, and pretty exciting.

It has been published in a book called “The Becoming of G-d” by my mate Ian Mobsby. He went off to the States yesterday to embark on a speaking tour to publicise the book.

He’ll be at The Episcopal Book Store, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017 later today from 4.30pm to 7pm, (if you’re reading this from anywhere near there do drop in, he’d love to see you) and then on to other parts of New York, followed by Montreal, Canada, Jamestown NY, Chicago IL, Denver CO, Vancouver in Canada before ending up in Seattle WA on the 1st of July.

If you want to catch up with him, check his full itinerary here, and be sure to say Hi from me.

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Esau

Two Brothers

I am important. To me
you don’t seem bothered. At all.
You don’t put time in – with me
it’s all work and business like.

I’d love to rescue a piece
of something useful from this –
the history shared by us then
has made us men, and shattered us.

I’m not important. To you
I’m part of brokenness. Trying
to live a better way. But
just tell me how you’re doing.

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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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A sonnet

I wrote this sonnet ages ago. I needed to find it again last night, so naturally I came here to look for it (hey, I don’t store these things!) and couldn’t find it.

I realised that I hadn’t actually posted it. Horror of horrors.

After frantic digging through old notebooks, I finally re-discovered it. So here it is:

The park I take my kid to every day
has always got a scar or two from nights
before when older kids graffiti spray
between the scooter runs and knifing fights
and bites were taken out of children’s swings
by fighting dogs to sharpen up their teeth.
The morning’s fallen leaves and other things
disguise detritus lurking underneath.
My little girl knows nothing of this world.
She loves the slide, the sandpit, climbing frames,
the roundabout from which she’s often hurled –
just innocent equipment for her games.
And over there beside the broken fence
she’ll carve a better space through innocence.

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Three Corners Music

Hi All! Sorry about the lack of blog posts – I’ve been on holiday for the past week, down in Frome in Southwest England, staying with relatives..

I stayed with my aunt (Caroline) and her family – I mention this because they are a very musical family who a) I don’t see enough of, and b) I haven’t done much music on this blog, so I thought I’d share their music with you:

Caroline and Nick have a CD out at the moment under the name “Three Corners”, a beautiful melodic work that is a mixture of acoustic pop and jazz, which you can check out here.

I remember reading about their band, The Impossible Dreamers in Smash Hits when I was about 14. The reviewer compared her vocals to Tracey Thorn, which is both flattering and accurate, in my opinion.

They also have a myspace page.

Nick also plays trombone in a band called “Blue Midnight” which you can find here.

And when they’re not doing all that, they’re hosting Acoustic Plus – a music night for various local talents to play. If you’re down that way, you should definitely check it out, as the quality of acts is very high.

Say hello from me when you go.

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Women’s T-shirts

OK, I need some help here please – a quick straw poll.

I’m looking into different t-shirt styles for the chess-piece designs for women. What sort of t-shirts do women like to wear? Do you like:

a) the racer-back vest style like this:

b) a strappy top like this:

c) or one like this:

or d), none of the above.

e) something else entirely (please describe!)

What do you reckon?

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Just got back from =SPICO= Private View

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

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

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

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

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

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=SPICO=

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

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

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

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

Nico’s Flickr Page is here.

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

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

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Robbie

They called you Robbie.

That wasn’t what I called you back at school.
You had a different tag back then, with friends
and you and I were eight. You played the fool
at my expense in front of all the kids.

I want to hurt you

and now I have the chance. You’ve no idea
how often I returned to your assaults
that time. The sound, the looks, the memory’s clear
from frequent re-rehearsals ever since.

And now we’re older

I stop. Your face has sadness. Looking coolly
you don’t see me. I see your life is written
on your shoulders. A life of being a bully
with humour made you suffer more than I have.

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Perichoresis

I’ve just submitted my first poem for publishing. It’s going to go in to a theological book, by a friend of mine called Ian Mobsby – the book is called “The Becoming of G-d” and will be published soon.

I’ve read a lot of the book, and it focuses on recovering a better understanding of the Trinity. It gave me the idea for writing a large chunk of the poem in dactyls, which have a kind of ONE-two-three rhythm, which I could then break up with iambs, as the idea of interjection by writing takes hold.

A dactyl consists of three syllables, with the first one being slightly stressed. Some example of where this crops up naturally in the English language are words like “Happiness”, or “Perfectly” you would naturally say “PERfectly” rather than “perFECTly”. Trying to construct an entire poem out of dactyls is a bit of a task, but I think it has some merit. Here it is:

On Friday nights we went to clubs
until we noticed something that
night when the three of them came and took
over the regular dancing. So

Did the Creator throw shapes on the
dance floor whilst dancing a salsa that
turned all the heads of the punters there?

Vogueing away while the other two
scattered. They took up their places but
somehow remaining together there

How the Companion perfected that
fight in a way that was calming them.
Making them friends from thereon until

Now. The Revealer is reveling
showing us all just a little too
much how its done by his lead for us

Dancing together while beckoning onlookers
come on and join us, and have a good
time. Doesn’t matter it’s happening.

Keeping the rhythm up copying
maybe looked easy as no-one would
dare to reject their advances then

in pairs we couldn’t make it work
and groups of us tried sussing out
as individuals put together
were fitting triplets into four time.

We stopped the dancing, getting going
on paper noting down what happened
as dancing disappeared while writing
and scrapping round some bits of paper.

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How to light an art show

A lot of people have commented to me how good the show looks, and how great the paintings look in their space. One of the great things about the SW1 Gallery where Beyond The Wilderness is showing is that it is properly kitted out with lighting track.

If you’re showing work, then lighting can make all the difference. There’s nothing worse than having a piece of work on the wall that’s stuck in a dingy corner. The piece doesn’t get seen, and the artist gets offended.

The joy of the lighting track is how versatile it is. In this case, the track is made by ERCO. If the piece of art on the wall is not directly under the light, you can slide the button round on the side at the top of the light fitting, pull it out of the track, and move it somewhere better.

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Of course, the fitting itself pivots and tilts, so you can point it right at the work. It can be quite dramatic if you do that, but it does make the work look good.

At the SW1 Gallery, there are two types of light – spots and floods. The floodlighting (in this case the square ones) will light up the whole area that you are pointing it at. It diffuses the light over quite a wide area, so whilst the light is not intensely bright, you can give it a general flood of light that helps.

Spotlights concentrate the light in one particular place, which draws the eye to the work nicely.

If you look at the photo below, you can see how the spotlights light up the work nicely. For bigger works, you would probably want to put a few spotlights on different parts of the work, to make sure it is well lit-up, rather than just have one spot right on the middle.

The other thing about lighting track is that inside the track, there are 3 separate circuits. What this means is that you can basically have some lights on separately to others – and turn them on and off as you please. If you want to light up one side of the gallery one day and turn it off another day and light up the rest, then you can do so. Certain lights can be made to come on when you switch on Track 1, others on Track 2, and the rest on Track 3. You get the idea. To select the light to come on with a certain track, you have to twist the round button near the top which is mark “1”, “2” and “3”. Easy-peasy.

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In practise, every time I come to do one of these (it doesn’t seem to matter what gallery I work in), the switches seem to bear little or no relation to what tracks light up with which light switches, so you end up experimenting until you work it out!

The only thing you need to be careful of is that you don’t put all the lights on one track, which will overload the circuit.

It took me just over half a day to get it all looking how I wanted – up and down a very tall ladder. Make sure you allow enough time at the end when you’re hanging. Get someone else to sweep the floor/write labels/touch up the wall while you’re doing it.

Have fun!

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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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Manflu


My body’s wracked with never-ending pain
I try to swallow through a swollen throat
another cup of honey, lemon – hot,
my bed is soaked and heavy with my sweat.

I shuffle sadly to the nearest doctor
with all the sadden pathos of an opera
to plead my case for need of medication
and hope I do not need an operation.

I’ve watched through every DVD I have
and then again with commentries. I blow
my nose again and clear away more snot
that exits from my nostrils day-glo green
the likes of which is normally not seen.
My scrunched up tissue tower nears the ceiling
and no-one understands the way I’m feeling.

I crawl back into bed to sleep again
I don’t believe I’ll ever feel the same
my body’s wracked with never-ending pain.

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