Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation meets Ilya Repin’s Volga Barge Haulers, Poussin meets Hergé, ancient myth meets Mary Shelley.
Blind Orion drags the 200,000 ton mega rig, Berkut, into the Arctic Dawn.
Orion, earthborn, the most beautiful of the giants … the childhood of mankind. Innocent but insatiable: took whatever he wanted. Was blinded for raping Merope. Forgiven and restored. And still boasted that he could kill all the animals of the earth. Horrified, Gaia created a giant scorpion on which he trod. And that was the end of Orion.
Not that you could stretch beautiful or innocent to include Trump, Johnson, Bolsonaro, Putin or their moneyed master giants.
Everything must change … we cannot just go back … we will not just go on, we have relearned what we had forgot … sheesh, how naive can some people be. Don’t worry your little heads, they won’t let you get ideas. The people who created this disaster by dismantling even our prepared response, who had already dismantled so much, the value of which we are now rediscovering are spying new opportunities, new horizons as we hunker down, reconnect to our communities and fall in love with peace and quiet and clear skies and birdsong … though the boring, sour dough cruelty of lockdown has been denied to so many who had no choice but be our front line.
They knew they would not be forgiven for spending to avert a disaster but know they will never be forgiven for not spending to rescue us from it either — so they spend. The bill will be so much higher in money terms, never mind human, but so will the upsides too. Clear the decks, reset, game over, on to the next level. You cannot argue with a divine dispensation. But they didn’t just stumble because they were short-sighted short-termists. They are thick and stupid, greedy and selfish but they also do not care at all. If we die, if we get sick, if we go hungry, if we are fired, if we are homeless, if we are afraid, it simply does not register as valid feeling never mind pain. It’s not just that some animals are more equal than others, it’s a nineteenth century dichotomy: we have eternal souls, they do not. If it means anything at all to them it is a moral lesson to the dead — you, individually and in isolation, failed the rest of us, you failed your family and yourself. It must be so — black or brown skin, underlying health conditions, poor housing, hard work, low pay — these are lifestyle choices after all. It is right that you paid because everything must be paid for. Except what isn’t.
Baffled and frightened, angry and … helpless and just so fucking angry. Is it too drippy a retreat to wander the glades of Mount Latmos or wherever? I think I love Poussin because I am intrigued and entranced but not intimidated. And like Beethoven with Diabelli’s trite little waltz, you’re somehow liberated. Eee — you grandiose … Whatever.
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.
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.
Lovely day in Kassel, at about 4:30 am, workers from a local construction company began dismantling Olu Oguibe’s “controversial obelisk made for Documenta 14, titled “Monument to Strangers and Refugees,” (“I was a stranger and you took me in”: Matthew 25:35) with two heavy cranes.
By 9:30 am, the obelisk was entirely gone, strapped to a flatbed truck and sent to a construction site on the outskirts of the city (where it now remains).
Because the premise is a lie … was always. Because family feuds are worse, civil wars not and because antisemitism is not exclusive when it comes to who the semites are … because Trump is, Netanyahu is … not …
And so people die. And live without hope … and now less … if that’s possible.
And not to aesthetisise anyone else’s pain, and not to ignore the ancient greek’s misogyny … why is this shit still going on … I’m not naive, just sad and angry.