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.
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.
I live down here, out on the raggedy edge, in Penwith — witchy and wild, beautiful and hard and a long long way from any metropolis.
Why would I try to evoke the atmospheric landscape, why would I want to wallow in expressionist, material, slippy sloppy slidey, sweeping, oily paint. It’s all too easy and all too hard — impossible. Been there. Got lost and lonely and felt the strength draining from my hand.
Sunrise can take your breath away, the thundering surf can inspire real awe, the hard undertow of riptide and granite batholith beneath your feet can unnerve you, one false step … the wind can scour and the wide skies drown you, beauty is real and terrifying, so what can I do, say, about that? And why would I want to? There’s more to life than this.
Be honest. Be simple. Be modest. How modest can you be?
I make things. Decorative panels to decorate. That’s all. And that’s a lot. I am confident, skilled, still and hard. I know what I’m doing. I think. And the subject matter is arbitrary. Stuff. And not. Surreal in that it bubbles up, crystallises, makes real dream images. Nothing, no-one is blank … we can’t pretend to be … we are moved by forces bigger, deeper than us. I deal with it, OK. I want to be blanker so I take what I’m given. Then work.
It can be grand in terms of culture but does anyone care that the Lamassus were the guardian spirits of Mesopotamia? That Reapers are hunting them down?
What do I think about our alienation from the natural world, “real” food, “authentic” poverty? How do I react to the fetishising of weapons, to the visceral fear and hatred of the dispossessed? How do I feel about the abuse of power and the immunity of privilege? It’s complicated. I am furious and raging and impotent and confused … glamour is glamour, power is power, the world as it is is all we have, and we are just what we are. I want to look it all in the face … and try to understand, not lash out and condemn — I know what I believe but who am I to judge? The English are implacably binary: if it turns you on it’s porn, if not it’s erotica. If an image of heroism doesn’t inspire, conjure up, illicit heart pounding, wide eyed pride, what’s the point. If an image of fear and despair doesn’t unnerve you, disarm you, crush you a little, what’s it for. If an image of something powerful doesn’t give you a moment of swaggering, arrogant superiority, why bother? Good drugs make you feel good, no? I am ambivalent. Implicated. Guilty. And sad. And angry and full of joy and fear like all of us. And busy … making images.
Banksy does what Banksy does and does it brilliantly but I have no interest in easy scores, in polemic, lectures, stand-up … one-liners. All I ask, I suppose, is that you stop.
Stop and think. Question. Pause.
Every minute you spend with a painting, a work of art, is a minute you are not being bought, sold to, exploited, working for someone else … it’s a minute for you, your time. So precious.
And so I’m drawing like crazy. Searching for a theme, a guiding star.
I’m so unsure that I need a head of steam, can I do it, is there enough, does it make sense, is it strong and true, does anyone care? And so … getting there.
So the plan is … a sketch a day … a theme will emerge. Ideas are already accreting: Doing, Women … we’ll see.
And then … today … I didn’t get to finish anything.
Just the second BBQ of the year but on a very special evening as Spring turns to Summer. Clearing away a shed load of the detritus from the old year.
Spring lamb Kebabs to die for … a glorious feast culturally appropriated from the wide fertile crescent and cooked on an American BBQ in a Cornish field … whatever … it was nommy.
With the stars above our heads, in a beautiful clear sky, and the earth beneath our feet, faces burning in the heat of the flames and the wind in our hair … and, very much, life bursting, bustling, snuffling all around us.
We even carefully, hurriedly, anxiously, carried the burning embers inside to rekindle our home fire … and it caught.