Narrative painting is anathema to me. Absolutely. Totally. The curse of English Art as Francis Bacon believed. He never painted a narrative painting in his life. Bollocks. All of it. Literary painting, yes. Illustrating limp tales of limp knights and soft porn nymphs and moist snaggle-haired witches on damp nights. Yep.
Great Art is great because it is universal, self-contained, self-sufficient … sounds like self-abuse to me.
But I never thought I would make an image that was set somewhere, never mind one that took in time. Cave paintings, royal hunts, bible stories, Buddhist monks, manga, rebellious Gauls … OK, fair enough — it’s all been there all along.
But these people seem to have taken charge, writing and directing, choreographing, improvising, playing games. My job is to just record. OK, fair enough.
There I was about to write an erudite, apposite, and any other sort of ite, post about the ways in which social media are corrupting our relationships and poisoning our conversations, if not actually having much real effect on our political world, (with quotes and percentages and all) while paradoxically enriching our connectiveness and widening our world views … and then I thought: I’m tired, I’ve had a lovely relaxing day, thinking of nothing more strenuous than chickens and how to enrich their diet and ironically a new twist on chicken chasseur, which worked beautifully by the way, and luxuriating in cheap wine and warm fire and good company and I thought: sod it, I’m going to read a book and fall asleep and dream of paradises as yet unimagined, works as yet untried, triumphs as yet untasted and … well … that’s private.
Sleep well. Sweet dreams.
Oh, and I’ve added this sketch to my rolling page too. Enjoy.
I not been slacking, been working hard, just have no idea to what end exactly. Flotsam adrift on a rising tide of meaningless madness.
Politics, well, politicians, seem absolutely determined to make themselves irrelevant, terrifyingly terrible, twatty and tangential, redundant reactionary, solipsistic narcissists.
Left and right.
Hello? There are things need doing, need dealing with, need facing, there’s so much shit we never got done and you act like it’s all tweaking and finessing like plastic Tony Blairs or teenage revolutionaries or S&M nazis … voguing and dancing on the edge of a fucking volcano.
There is still one person sleeping on a street tonight, there is still someone, this afternoon hiding from a bailiff, there is still a man who fears he is about to be deported, there is still a woman who’s afraid to go to the doctors because she’s sure that what she suffers from isn’t covered by our universal health insurance, there is still a child who didn’t want to go to school today because she knew that bully would be there, there is still the person who was crushed by the man who dismissed them for just being what they were born, there is still the family who can’t pay the rent, mend the car, pay the leccy or buy enough food for tea, there are still people who live in fear and pain so that other people can live in decadent luxury and empty boredom and we fuck about around the periphery. All in one of the richest countries on earth. We all know these are just choices.
There is still so much to do and we … I … try to make shit, make art. It is what I can do. My skill, my craft, my contribution. A fart in a strong wind.
The difference is that the right are in power all over the world and they’re poisoning our conversations, polluting our stories, shitting in our wells of wisdom, feeding our fears and numbing us with laser light show, gladiatorial glitz and vacuous apocalyptic glamour and horror trope nightmares.
And almost all of the institutions that we built to counter this shit (hello, BBC) have appeased and capitulated and lost themselves in irresponsible gurning, ironic, giggly posturing and suicidal anti-elitist role playing, we’re left to fend for and defend ourselves and our communities and our inheritance.
And so many fight, so hard and so beautifully and I laugh and cry and then curl up and die inside when I see how it flickers in the dark and is snuffed out. Or is just drowned out or not even heard or seen in our wonderful pluralist pathways and long tail logic, throttled by the algorithms of greed.
And so the brightest and the best (and I DONOT include myself in that list) disengage and focus on the craft, the art, the long game, the dreams we shared and keeping the flame alive, focus on their own, what matters and lock down.
And this is not the black death, the hundred years war, the slave trade or the holocaust, the genocide of the Wild West or the monstrosities of empire, covid-19 is not the Spanish Flu of 1918 and Andrew Windsor is not Harold Shipman … but it ain’t a competition either is it? And that’s not incense.
But this is our time, our responsibility, our world … what are we to do? Us, people? We do what we do. What we can do. Physical, psychological, social, economic, educational, temporal, emotional constraints being given. Well, we don’t give up, we live all our allotted days and then we die.
And I make pictures: it’s what I do. It’s all I can do. I’ve tried. And every hour I spend doing that is not spent feeding the insatiable machine of capital so I not making things much worse. And I like to see my drawings a certain size. One of the reasons I paint them. My computer’s monitor fills my field of vision at 50cm, my paintings take up about the same field at 150. So, if you’ve come here from Facebook or Instagram on a phone and you’re using a lap or a desk top, you’re in for a new experience … not exactly a surprise and not exactly transcendental either but, hey.
So I’ve made a sort of rolling gallery of my attempts, sketches, ideas — Here. I’ll update it as I make more stuff — please comment, argue, advise, check in regularly or look at my stuff on Instagram or just enjoy.
I have no idea what I’m doing, making it up as I go along, as are we all, but I do believe it matters. It will make a difference; like the beat of a butterfly’s wing. There will be consequences, however small. Maybe I just choose to believe.
Not comfortable with them. Don’t trust them.
That’s why I paint.
If you want to win an argument, if you want to change someone’s mind, if you want to change the world, you need words. I’m sure of that. And I stumble and forget and get confused but when I paint … it flows.
Art, music, a painting never changed anything. Never changed anyone’s mind.
The greatest paintings, individually, they’re 4 minute pop songs. With all the triviality of that and, sometimes all the deep connections and lingering emotional charge and potential of that. We hope.
But they can grab you for those 4 minutes. For those 4 minutes you’re not alone. We can commune. Us. Share. Dance together in our imagination.
And at my opening on Friday people kept asking questions … derr … of course you did … I would.
And so …
Take my piece: The Adoration of the Golden Calf.
I started with the “civil” war in Syria.
Guilt and shame tearing at me.
And I look to Nicholas Poussin’s painting.
Because it’s embedded in my cultural world.
Because it’s in “the canon” — so it’s embedded in others’ worlds too.
Because it’s shared in our stories, the stories that still, almost, bind us together.
Because, when I started on it, we were “commemorating” the end of the First World War.
And because it was Aaron what done it. Fucked up. But he still got to lead us to the promised land. How does that work? It was a little bit personal.
OK, so we need an altar, a plinth. And I take Edwin Lutyens’ cenotaph on Whitehall. An empty tomb (a kenotaphion).
And then I need Wilfred Owen’s poem, written during the first world war, quoting Horace: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (It is sweet and right to die for one’s country), yeah, right, whatever. English lessons at an English school. So it goes on the plinth.
And then we need a golden calf. And so I take Arturo Di Modica’s tacky and revolting Charging Bull from Wall Street as an appropriate stand in. What drives this sort of international politics after all? Money … wars.
And we need a place for it all to be and so I steal the mountainous landscape from Poussin’s own painting.
And in the sky, tracer fire over Damascus.
And I put it all together and make a drawing. Lots of drawings.
And do you need to know this shit? No. But does it help? Maybe. Maybe it always did. It did then, in the 17th century. And maybe we shouldn’t forget the way our culture grew and consumed and subsumed new ones and can now welcome new stories and bind us all together in a shared dreaming.