When I want to wee and I cant start, for some reason, I think about Little Langdale and then I do. Little Langdale is not the name I've given to my penis, it’s a gorge with waterfall and freezing blue plunge pool.
I start a piece like this, don't know where it will go, if anywhere. Am I really going to write about weeing, or my Little Langdale? Let's see. I don't flush things out like grouse, they come out as I keep writing/painting/making/talking. So far it's not working, I thought that Little Langdale would trigger important memories and I could relate that to a waterfall, toilets flushing, but it's too predictable, So I'll find another angle, wait for something to come. Dum de dum, when you're ready, Little Langdale? Nothing.
Pike v Roach
In summer clear water
Fresh blue wrigglers
Swarm in the marina
Warm and wombed
Clouds of goggle eyes.
The older roach drift lower
Look like sergeants
With bright red fins
A red flag to a bull?
Or grand parental sacrifice?
Because the Pike
Is hungry for blood,
Eye, fin or brain disease
A few already have white scars
Some armor lost but not life
Some have vital chunks missing
Or they're just cut clean in half
A murder switch flicks,
When the pike decide
To kill everything.
In the distance
A crack splash
In the night
In the morning
In the day
Struck from below
By a river of teeth.
The Roach try to run and hide
But they are in bed with a monster.
Their only defence
Is the clear summer water
And their prolific
You disappear when the river is green
You arrive with the colourless chill
The water black white
Shivering molten lead
Where've you been?
You were everywhere,
Over and under
Stitching the sky to water
Half sunken Pterodactyl
Wet black hair
Beak like gaff
Throat like snake
You don’t kill the fish
So you must feel
The pregnant kicking
Till your sulphurous
Phoenix bowel snuffs
Strangles and crushes,
Magiks the bones back
To the underworld
Before fluffy birds tweeted
You decided to
Jam the whole world
Down your neck
When you get old and knackered and are made mad by human habits, you rush things, get lazy, because your time is suddenly limited. For me now, there is today, look at this open book that needs to be read and written, it is very nearly completed, you can feel the pages thin to the right and weigh you down on the left. It's hard not to panic, piss yourself, over the last few pages, but the best writers/artists do their damage early on, get damaged early on and no good book can be tied up neatly at the end, it's only the bad ones that need a nice exit, it's a relief to leave those, no great loss.
If you're not talking about cosmos then you're just worldly. The people in cars are moaning over the bridge, I hear them from the boat in grinding wave procession, they are me off somewhere, in the past, in the future, or now, they are me on a boat, writing, dissolving.
I got mugged by the cosmos, it was very slow motion, so slow I didn’t notice. A sloth might have warned me if it could. Now, suddenly, I'm old, and someone has started to draw thick lines on my face. I'm returning to the cosmos now, It's my last sloth job. I'm writing, leaf chewing, trying to see the child, old, new Neal combined, he's all warped and gone, into cosmos. No home, no old world to retreat to, gone into you. Your leather face is reading. I am you as I write. I am you reading, you are writing, leather faced, poor gone you. What has happened to you, Reader? I'll tell you, you are the leather faced cosmos. Cosmos has happened to you and you are gone into it, it's written all over your face. You have happened to cosmos, written on it's face. We write on each other in order to feel less alone and lost, we bump into each other biologically and philosophically, and this is the wrinkly consequence, electrical energy or heat from the friction.
All great writers get written on, and get to write back, sit on wrinkled sofas in the end pissing themselves, now they're gone. The cosmos has them now, dissolved, it had them early on, dissolved, and when they noticed they were hooked, they wriggled a bit but gave themselves up happily. It might be the best way to go, to say yup, that's me gone into you, and so as you write a nonsensical note to say thanks and bye, and as the lines come deeper onto you, you let yourself get wrinkled more and stolen from daily. It's not revenge to write, it's getting madder in love, cosmos bangs into you, makes your head ache more and you want it to.
Today has hit me, and the night is coming with a mallet, I'm cooking fresh mysterious shit, drinking Primitivo, this is when all my words come out, is it panic? Or is it cosmos sending the bill? How much does this cosmic time cost? It wants another gene soul or two from you to chew on, or if not, It will chew you alone then file you under DICK in the library of beaten fish. You will give up eagerly, you will hone your retirement speech as respectfully as you can get it, because you want to make final friends, some sense, some peace, like an ancient idiot. You can't ever win, hero, because your big boss is the lonely mirror of you, you're both chatting like heated family rubbish, homeless, pissing. You can punch the cosmos as ideal youth hard if you like but then it hits you back, it's your own mountain punch, and so you stop, little flesh worm, dumbfounded, you're seeing stars, but you rally and notice everything is wobbly, not because of you're stupidity, but your mad wealth, it's all beautiful, melting, serious, pissing. Connected to all life, all cosmos, we needn't be fractured or made afraid of cosmic interconnectedness by microcosmic thoughts dear reader/writer/cosmos.
Walk with me
The history of art
Is the history of money
It takes time
And time is money
For a week
On the boat
Our hearts are clocks
Pickled in Rioja
And everything else
sugar clown dancing
Until tear blobbing
And hate behind glasses
Faintly percussive still
Remember that storm fun
and sun stupidity
Boat pollution is OK!
Captain leather face
ropey museum curio
perch on benches,
Slowly in time
people will newly arrive
Deer to my puddle
M. sweating limping
In so much pain
With polio rests
Is a vetenary researcher
Off to Hatfield
Glass fell on C.'s head
a stitched scar in his hair
Says I'm living the dream
I coax a mum
With an organic carrot
to sparkle and laugh
She gets my stupid carry on,
On and on and on,
Walk with me,
I can't text and walk,
The new blind
Reality is filthy
Poverty is scum.
A grey man asks
Do you have 20p?
I say sorry,
He asks for a hug
then sticks a wet tongue
in my ear, clamping me.
Says: How's the wanking going?
On and on and on
A rich man who
Used me as a slave
Says Hi, how are you?
I'm wiping my ear
Apologize for tramp tongue
He's eager to scarper
With bulging organic bags
He looks really well
I've gone a bit deaf
Want to hide/write
But need to walk on
On and on and on
In rivers of oil
In dour northern monologues
Sugar clown dancing
Walk with me.
I can only see you when you get close
Otherwise you don’t exist
Black fluttering on black
Only smokers thrown outdoors
Get a glimpse.
Bat reveries are hard
There's no colour
only a silent moth spirit
Swallows without music
Or a cheering audience
Harder to comprehend
Sightless skin winged
fishing with sound and vibes
maybe there are creatures that come out
after the bat
we never see.
Sea monsters that rise up briefly at 3am
Shy things that can only look out
When we can't see them
Or monsters that tidy the world
Readying it for us to wake
Cleanly with our favourite primary colours
The ugly poem
Without form, metaphysical nuance
Might be the prettiest!
Keeping up with the Jones
You're too slow, I'm ahead of you, I've dug my first potatoes, I'm chopping wood for winter early while it's dry. Look at my shoes, ready for Autumn, I'm waxing the ones that are ok, throw away the two pairs with holes in the bottom, paint those old ones that are paint spattered with fresh black gloss, make new insoles out of carpet, wash the old ones. Cut the wellies I never wear into slip-ons so I will. I'm washing my feet then put vinegar on them. Helps them stop smelling, it’s a cheap anti-fungal remedy! I'm so smart and ahead of the game! I'm making myself cycle, for my body, which is my mind, it's hard but it's beautiful, it's the future for you flabby car cattle.
I'm thinking what to plant/sow in autumn. Garlic. What's the difference between a good and bad gardener? About two weeks, keep up. I'm thinking of what to grow for next year in September: so advanced. The Jones. I'm looking at my writing, editing, stone carving till it's a total me/me-less thing, backing it up on untrustworthy broken computer, putting it on a key, will put it on blog later: Smart!
I'm podding my dried French beans to store for winter, it's boring, takes time, but it's beautiful, all different patterns, and the soup I'll make deep in winter will feed my spirit, people here think I'm an idiot, I should be riding a water sausage behind a speedboat, giggling. You can get dried beans in Sainsbury's for £1! What is being connected to the world, to people across the world, to your ancestors, to dried beans, to the seasons changing, worth? It's better than a day trip to a museum. Keep up.
I'm losing money like sweat, ahead of the game, you'll work it out one day. Look at all this, smell it, you are alive, if you are alive enough to see. You can show off to me the dull baubles you have paid for with your life, I'm showing you this, a big twinkling home grown potato, it's not about MY glory, pointless, dangling.
The Jones is living on a boat, instead of getting a mortgage for a million pound house that would mean me working full time till I croak. So smart: I'm childless and alone, will freeze to death this winter, I'm writing to drink and breath in, talk to myself as cosmos, which has always turned me on more than my SELF. The Jones not the Neal, or the other way round, neither seems sensible.
Those black word poems on white paper I read as a boy, that intent, to fill a little boy book with condensed wonder 100 years on, do you understand? It's all meant to be funny this, LIFE. It's how you approach it. Where you place your SELF or how you get rid of your SELF. Who or what are you keeping up with? For the current, morphing Jones I'm only curious, losing all the races, smiling at all the comedy and history and mystery of my cosmic stupidity. Keep up!
The boozy river is bombed
And machine gunned
Big rain drops bubble
Some shoot up big water stalks
Some make hardly a speckle
They're all landing on roofs
These random ammunition families
Landing on mixed grass blades
On cars going to weird homes
On chewing evening rabbits
And hunched bird feathers
On old rusting scrap
chucked crisp packets in hedges
On plants growing out of wood
On workers laundry
Chilling all as it comes
I'm falling, dribbling
So many friends have dried
And so many have sunk
The river says its all surface,
It's champagne rain!
You would say that.
I'm not oiled for it yet!
I'm still in thin summer skin,
Winter is a boney death threat
And winter thoughts
Bubbling, bouncing, stalking
Is no wholesome cosmic theory.
Unless war is surface decoration?
From a distance
Thinner than the others
Steps too short
Or too long
He is coming.
I always want to see,
Say something admiring
With my eyes at least,
Nod to dear human.
But when he comes
With shoes too big
And no socks
With hair wild
In winter coat
Buttoned in summer,
That's just poverty?
But the eyes!
When they come!
Too small and white
above the chattering jaw
referencing nothing happy,
settling on me,
referencing nothing happy,
My nod is an attack.
And when he flinches
From my love,
My flower power
Greys then dies
My shoes fall off
3 months now of NOT working, smartish enough to live one summer at least as lazy king, after 30 years of trying to be a good, honest, hardworking fool, I've decided a life of crime may be the way forward. Easy money. I put 3 loose garlic's in my bag at the self checkout a few days ago, not sure why, but to be honest I've always been on the snaffle, usually street stuff, out of skips, down alleys by the bins, some garden centre cuttings, dead men's abandoned stuff at the allotment and now rubbish rotting at the boatyard. Always things of dubious value, with legally some way out, nothing cruel, always debatable. Everyone's out for a serious snaffle at the boatyard, they know R is ill and barely present, neither am I, nor is anyone, it's a ghostly place, so vans drive slowly round and things disappear, they think well, that's left out and going to waste so, I'll save it. The greater leap is to say that it is definitely not cruel to snaffle over that gate there, that loved, well defended thing, but they're not using it, don't need it, but you do! What if you believe things have been stolen from you, your hope say? Breaking gates/windows/doors are a sign of desperation, it's not easy, it's hurtful stealing, that's not for me, yet. Alarms would go off, with people watching, the consequences are clearer, you'd have to be sneakier, more precise. Present yourself as locksmith, surely the criminals go-to mate, have a snifty, get pally, spare key. Bish bash bosh. In out job done. At the boatyard you can tell a crook, they are looking at stuff on the ground more than you and you sense you're just in the way, an annoying inconvenience. Non thieves look apologetic, look at faces, not stuff, looking for fun or help with spending their cash. Snaffling is not pleasant, it's like hedge picking, it's a thorny issue, but kinky, even righteous and politically correct sometimes.
I'm getting in with the wrong crowd, I see D snaffling little bits at the boatyard, like me, recycling we call it. Abandoned rubbish, it's free tidying up we say. D is trying to do an insurance scam on his car, helped by his financial services mate who has a mate in the nick, as I speak they are helping a prostitute friend after a suicide bid flooded the house. Poor girl, with daughter, taught early by her uncle she was something to be used, he raped her as a youth, now she's a sex worker and has been gang raped. My parents would have been appalled I'd be matey with these people now, just as they were with my first girlfriend choice, a renowned black lipped Goth and regular teen contraceptive purchaser, but these are decent people under their fright masks.
I'm ripe for going wrong, always have been, because I was brought up clean and right, which was wrong. Others I know legally snaffle, with their white shirts, and advert masks: calling it administration charges or something. They want digits, not a half full tins of car filler that would have been wasted. Blue collars snaffle too but they get guilt, are underpaid but get caught too easily, then they die early. I'm done with that, getting mugged continually by the smooth monsters out there. When there is no fairness, no clear morality, this is what happens. Anyway prison is an ok feed up, a break from the imposed squalour out here, nothing to fear, hell is dead, survival of the fittest, free gymnasium and TV? An old Irish man who stole things at the allotment, ever more brazenly as he neared death, had a mantra: GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES. There's a neatness to this, a combined Darwinian and Biblical truth, c'mon, have it large. Life, that is. He only had one eye, didn't see the aftermath of his clear disrespect for others. But then we are a nation of snafflers, on a grand scale, the British have a warship in the China sea in disputed waters as I write, looking at the stuff, not the people.
I've been emailing New York, an artist family, we have all been ripped off, worked hard, trusted someone and been lied to and stolen from, unpaid and our work has disappeared, snaffled. I'm trying not to be a victim, suggesting to them loving instead, but I'm receiving fury. Yes! Justice is a picture of scales, it is a neat little image. As an artist you snaffle intellectual and aesthetic scraps, meanwhile someone else is snaffling your entire legitimacy. I'm not getting robbed any more, so I will rob you? It just needs rephrasing somehow: NEW ECO LOVE SOAP, it's Chernobyl effluent with rose petals in. You fuck me, I fuck you. This is what weak governments and free market capitalism creates, a chain letter of corruption, multiple losses, injustices, revenges, with the danger of wild snaffling consequences. Or it's just a simple human trait barely mentioned in our animal nature, we take, what we can away with, we snaffle. More so when we are threatened? When you start to glimpse a skeleton of yourself instead of flesh, everything is suddenly yours. If only there was something you wanted and had the energy left to take it!
The boat is called Buzzard.
It's neat how the meaning flies over it.
If you hear a cat mewing over your head,
If you see a biggish bird with feather fingers,
Gliding in circles, then turning in an odd way
Fighting with crows, looking a bit scraggy,
It's a Buzzard.
It's the most common bird of prey.
It looks inelegant and badly dressed.
No sleek Merlin or Sparrow hawk fashionista,
It looks like a fatty rabbit killer.
For the next ready meal.
They bag 'em up
And walk out without paying,
Dump it in their cheap 4x4's.
They watch little TVs in the trees afterwards
With their talons up.
Fuck the preening,
That's for those who can't handle
Being beautifully common.
When I'm traveling I've started to listen to radio 5 on my non digital portable radio, just because I like the regional accents. What people say on the radio or tv is all pretty irrelevant now. You have to just choose a station that isn't too dumb, or make you feel sick or cry even. I listen to radio 6 music when I'm on the boat, cos the music's good and the dj's are dry, non London and silly, and it is about good commoner music, made by a rainbow of talented multi ethnic and economically varied artists. It is meant to flow, like a river, a rolling landscape. 5 live is similar when its fixated with incomprehensible sports, you can get away from yourself, your fears, the horrible news, and you melt into the microcosm of sport and its intoxicating enthusiasms and miseries.
There's a type of programme that appears on both 4 and 5 and everywhere else, and is a nasty radio trope, that fills the air with talky talky talk talk. With phone-ins, celeb interviews which are actually adverts, and attempts at serious debating with weird qualified or just posh people. Today Homelessness is the topic, wow I get sucked in, and almost switch off with satisfaction. Oh cool, things will be ok, were getting somewhere by debating this. The day before was Immigration, and the day after violence against men, then: are dogs better than cats? Have you ever lost some fruit on public transport? It's Alan Partridge with no irony but the reason I'm writing is I noticed how these magazine programmes, with their rolling subjects, were impacting me. I became passive (dog's are better than cats btw). Where did homelessness go? It's still a massive issue but today it's Prostate cancer so…Nothing is addressed, nothing is sorted. It's just an endless river of chat, trending sometimes, subjects linked into a new book sometimes, or a historic centenary of something. We think we're involved but we are in fact shepherded by radio priests to serve their own narratives. Seems cruel, as they are good intentioned people probably, these professional chatters. But it’s the lack of focus I find interesting and when applied to newspapers, tv and the internet it becomes a tornado of noise, and induces mass tornado sheltering, mass cowering and mass inaction. Where are the Let's DO something programmes! There will be a march on parliament about this on this date to change things programmes, let’s start a petition on this subject, and make our voices heard programmes. They don't exist, the mass is fractured, frazzled by news storms, made mad and silent by the mediums.
Pretend you are in charge, you have the mic, the air waves, you may as well, no one’s saying anything from the top, why would they? So, what would little old you do then, be funny? That's a good start, because comedy comes right out of seriousness. What if you did homelessness as topic for a month or until it didn’t exist? Pick a subject and stay with it, stay with it. Sleep with it, be infected by it, till you act on it, till you're on fire with the burning rash of it. Stay with it, stay with it, change it, get deeper into it, deeper still, fight it again and again, till you die if necessary. Don't fob it off because you hear Trump has been a dick again, or a mouse has learned to dance! Fuck that, be a king, not a worm, stop being a victim, take control of your brainwaves. It is your world and your children's world, are you going to just bend over and let Boris infect you, or the dancing mouse? It's your brain! Look after it. This is a medium war, and you are all losing, while you are listening. What would happen to you btw: DJ Ethix, is you'd get the sack, for not being upbeat and varied for your audience or advert demographic, get those F. Mice back, people will get bored and need some good news! Yes but not that sort! That’s just how you keep a workforce distracted and benign, while you pickpocket our power, minute by mouth zipped minute.
I've decided to find my own news, since I can't stand any more bridges falling down killing everyone, crazy people blowing up stuff, beheadings and governments calling their opponents silly names, threes a tornado over there and a forest fire burning people alive. I'm not fucking divine! I can't handle information about everything about everywhere! So I go out like intrepid news hound on a canoe every morning and evening, to sniff out what's really going on. I see a family of water skaters all different sizes sheltering out of the wind between the trees. The elder berries are ripening and they look like ink blots or little bits of night cosmos, weighing down the branches. When you drift silently you can get really close to the birds, and a deer with its foal. BREAKING NEWS: SWANS EAT BLACKBERRIES! And less surprisingly: SERIOUS LYCRA RETIREE ROWERS HATE DRIFTING ROMANTICS! Little bits of morning mist were clinging on to the river banks like teenage beards, barely perceptible. BACK ON THE NARROWBOAT: Neal uses a chisel to take off paint, a wire brush for rust and red oxide to prime the bare metal! I didn't save any sausages for today, I scoffed them all last night! OMG, have you heard: River News has gone bankrupt! 1 person has been made redundant!
A knife head hangs over the river
Watching the fish and you,
Retired politician or
Reanimated gothic masonry,
There's something Westminster about you.
You're always up early to avoid the punters.
10,000 years of them
Must have ruined your peaceful spot.
You're looking well despite it,
How do you keep so slim?
At your age?
Oh its just clever tailoring
Don't patronize me grandad,
Do you have a fishing license?
I've owned this river for centuries
You pink lump.
Why don't you ever see a baby heron,
Are they at private school with Stork as nanny?
Why should I tell you?
And with that it lifts itself like a posh umbrella,
Blown away from your low company.
Foreign air dandies,
Tiny cream waistcoats
Under Prussian blue
Velvet dinner dance
Scoop tailed jackets.
They waltz around in 3's
Skimming over our rivers,
Sitting on our telephone wires
Giggling in the morning.
They take the piss.
Little arced souls.
They know this place
Is a bin of flies only.
Till they fuck off
When it gets slightly nippy.
Laughing little shits
Of fly goo left on our cars,
To herald the long maggoty winter.
Lodged in cold mud,
Like unexploded ordnance,
I'll look out
For half a dead year
With my dancing hand out.
Don't dilly dally
Or be silly over the hot dunes,
Come back soon darlings.
Mock me again.
Where no word is, no thing may be. Stefan George
My lungs are bad, it's so hot, I can hardly breathe or move in this heat wave, so I'll write. I write to the poor, and the poor burned environment. Are you listening animals? I love you, I mean I like the blingy botoxed plastic sex people in central London too, the tartistry of the wealthy can be high octane visual fun and the conversational narcissism Royally hilarious. Like the liberated folks in £2,000 shorts mincing wildly in velvet and diamond slippers. Ignorance from anywhere is prehistorically funny, a swan pulling a hose pipe continually even though its attached to a tap, an artist swanning around the world thinking they're evangelizing while they're obfuscating, a kitten falling off a slippy kitchen work surface, a berk in a massive yacht with bikini babes not knowing how to steer and looking like a poached salmon salad as they all sink, Lewis Hamilton etc. What can you do but laugh when you're surrounded.
I drove to London, I hate driving, for environmental reasons but the train companies are leeches and a lumpen cattle coach wont get close to my allotment, anyway my van is my snail shell, I can sleep in it if my housesit gets cancelled or doesn’t come at all, I can't imagine a train or coach company providing this free service. So you sit there in your space pod and watch the melting planet moving around you as you engage your stinky diesel boosters. It's not pleasant apart from the Thetford forest section, which is curvy, shaded and open. A little hint of British history that's gone from most motorway journeys. Mostly mega fields of dry impersonal hyper crops now, but you're mainly looking at the lorries, will they crush me today? Dicks coming out of slip roads without looking, you're looking at your fuel gauge too, will I break down, is the engine overheating, why are we not moving, is that overturned car full of bloody gore, how can I avoid that ugly section that's always hateful? It's not funny doing this. When you get to the M25 you know you're near because the pod's ugliness gauge hits the danger mark, I go in regardless and onto the north circular road, This grey doughnut bit is where the poor people live, in the ring of stink, 3 miles around it and I haven't seen a porky white English face, It's just car fumes and a kind of desperate minestrone sucking it all up. When you aim at the core it gets whiter by the inch, first old and fat ones then you see the first London slim in turned up shorts and flip flops in Bounds Green and then more come steadily, with lattes, jogging, with prams, soon everyone is all white and slim, there are some tidy manicured open spaces now, the houses are bigger and looked after, with garages, they even have some empty space and a healthy tree! It all starts to get healthier, white women are jogging, you go in a bit further in and white men are jogging. I stop at Camden, I'm house sitting. The white slims are sitting outside cafes and pubs sharing images on their phones, they're cycling forcefully with yoga mats, or to therapy, they're displaying in pretty clothes, twisted hair, in tattoos. Everyone looks at ease, the only jobs to do are finding which place to meet at later. They flip flop into supermarkets, where the black folk serve them, then they go on artfully to something white and liberal, they talk about the wrongs of racism and misogyny, colonialism while tweaking their property portfolios. It's performative, the truth is they hate anything fat, ugly and poor. There are no insects, animals or birds here or they would hate them too. We're evolved and beyond smart they are saying. They'll get a self driving car soon. While milking the low paid scum like in Apartheid South Africa or redneck America and totally fucking the environment too. They can't see it though from here, they're only looking at themselves, doing stretches and poses: so sexy, so cool.
I don't want to dwell here, I'm uncomfortable because I'm staying in a kind friends spare flat, going to my allotment, eating fresh greens and staring at the birds and bees I've nurtured there. I'm lucky because I'm blonde, arty and white, educated and slimish, but I notice the poor still because I'm poor. I notice the sick trees because I am a sick tree, I see the poor environment because I am the poor environment. In slim central London the debate cannot comprehend any otherness, because it is not there, it only exists as slavish supermarket exotica, or a distant M25 bad smell.
Every time I come to London I have arguments with the slim gentry, the time before I got accused of using empirical evidence rather than some government swindled statistic, this time I mistakenly use the term girls for young women, but I was using the term deliberately disparagingly about 2 people being too young to have power, still my deep rooted misogyny was assumed not analyzed. Because I'm poor and no homeowner, I shouldn't be here, but I'm white and not stupid so I'm a threat to the warped virtues of the Planet Organic of central London. Here there is an inner policing of language that denies any off message deviance. London is a purified corporate realm and the aim is the serve the affluent bubble and live gated and cleansed from the wider ugliness. Bins are spilling with crap from Planet Organic, rather than MacDonald's, London has evolved! Nah the poor people have been cleansed out of view, and because you don't see it, like the bin lorries bursting at 4am, and your recycling that's exported to china and dumped or burned, and your new clean slave made clothes imported from India, none of it is your fault.
Empirical evidence is valid when looking is treated as a serious job of cubist realism.
My London hot terrace neighbour chain smokes and drinks like a fish, like me, were gasping in the heat with a concrete drop between us, she's writing a novel and goes to writing groups, I like her because she swears and she's honest, she says her job is killing her and when I say I'm an artist and live on a boat she openly swoons. She comes round with wine and sits on my terrace, then her husband comes out on hers. Why do some people swoon about the poverty of artists, because it is unattainable for them? Because it is rude and free? She wants me to read her unfinished novel, I tell have to have confidence in herself not me, but she goes instead to her writing groups and someone is rude about her writing, obviously. I want to explain a writing group is designed to defy not encourage real hammer headed writing. Writing and art is lonely and unsuccessful and the better you get the lonelier and group-less you get. She doesn't want that loneliness though, nor do I. When I say death is life she waves me away, says: I cant hear this, likewise when I say Trump is interesting and just may be useful for outing absurd power mongers as media noise only, playing image cards, she can't tolerate anything positive about Trump or anything ok about Brexit. It's a liberal dinner party on separate balconies only I'm no liberal, I'm a dying eye, looking for realism, broken hearted, too weary and impatient for diplomatic finger foods.
It's too hot here, the suns constant burning radiation is beating me down and I want to beat this winey affluence too, I'm comfy but stifled, so I drive off towards ancient Wales. I can't remember much but I remember the mosquito that got me up in a sweat and out of the flat by 5am, I remember getting lost on some wobbly roads and locals driving up my bum because I didn't know the bends, I remember It took ages. When I got near Borth I remember getting some fuel in a little unbranded service station and the raw pink welsh man had totally Black hands and was dead to my lost tourist chatter. I really didn’t know what I was doing there and he could see.
Later in Borth I remember an old man shopkeeper said you look like a man on a mission but you don't know what it is. A perfect observation well put. We talked in the otherwise empty shop of tourist tat about our varied life choices since I trusted his judgment, but on reflection, maybe that's a tag line that can be applied to anyone going into a shop that sells random tat? I bought some decorative fishing hooks for catching mackerel and a lead weight, partly to pay for his sweet nature and false teeth, but I did go fishing after all, caught nothing but realized again after avoiding fishing for 30 years, that casting a line into strange distant water is not all about fish, its you being in a relationship and thinking and caring and touching the cosmos deeply from a lonely landlocked lumpy position. It enables you some time to comprehend otherness and sense the multicoloured hungers and murders of under and over water life.
I land my loser space pod in a gravelly car park by the sea wall, next to a golf course, intent on bedding there but some blood faced oldie comes over with jack russell and tells me I have to pay, but I don't want to so he kindly tells me where it's free, so I go there, next to some public loo's that smell of a bad kidney infection, but only when you go in there, which I didn't do twice. I buy amazing fresh fish and chips and eat them and drink white wine on the sea wall and watch the sun sink over this fragile spit of land.
Eventually I get back to the boatyard, the owners throat cancer looks like it's come back, bits got chopped out and he had radio' and chemo' and looked dead, then when the poisoning stopped he came back to life, so I went away, but he's swollen up again now and is as scratchy and angry and ignorant of other people as when I left. Do you have to get angry and selfish when you're in pain? Thankfully my pains are not so bad yet, but I'm determined that as they get worse I will only get sweeter, and more generous.
I talk to Dan about how no one will pay a decent wage for his oily engine work, since it has become devalued and disrespected, and then we get onto other historical diminishings: notions of primitivism in ancient cultures, his ex wife is an archaeologist and she drew ancient artifacts when they lived in a bus. People who lived in tune with nature are always ridiculed and portrayed as people in poo stained clothes doing sacrifices and dribbling yellow foam. Primitive: it's a simple insult, but all the evidence is that people before the brutalism of Rome and The printed Bible were sophisticated boat builders, astrologists, inventors, farmers, craftspeople and environmental engineers, using technology and entertaining arts and narratives to explain their survival, as we do now, only now we choose to go without any grounding in natural wisdom and evidence based decision making. Old fashioned people, who know things and get dirty hands are the new worthless primitives, hippies or romantics . They are continually discredited as stinky thugs although they are always more sensitive, playful, hopeful, helpful and inventive than the lazy selfies decorating London's lovely gilded and gated, hyper unreal, selfish new Planet Organic.
About ten years ago I made a contract, thinking of what to do with this life I have left, instead of knocking myself out for good which is what I have wanted to do ever since I was a teenager, I set myself a job that I could always rally to, and be with, on my darkest days, when I'm tempted to leave the gas on overnight or take buzzard and me out to a watery grave.
It is a endless unpaid job, an unattainable goal, which is perhaps a good idea in terms of my fending off a death wish. The way I saw it was that I had a decent body and mind and that I should put it to work while it was here. I would work full time and not be floppy about it. Take on a workload that might counteract my body's environmental damage, food and housing needs.
I would try with my little breaths to change the iconography of our culture, from one of privileged portraits, power mongering and narcissism, and focus instead on creating a new, more open narrative to celebrate the unheard earth species (including the human poor) and bring them all into view. How I would do this was, and is still, unclear but I noticed that it kept me interested, furious and alive. It seemed as I studied, to become clearer that the historical narratives we always refer to are now unfit, and the images and stories that have been projected on us for generations are in fact deeply corrupted and unhelpful.
I nearly died last night, I woke up coughing but couldn't inhale without a real pulling strain, like my throat had closed up, got glued together? It was frightening, I spent the night sweating, in a panic that my stupid plan had ended in speechless strangulation.
I've tried so hard: argued for awareness of materiality and environmentalism, a less surface based and divisive representational form, I've touched on raising lower art forms like carpentry and furniture to a fine art, and taken the piss out the pompous art narcissists. Some people laugh out loud at my paintings and that’s a pretty good start. As I'm writing this out, not just thinking it privately, it sounds disgustingly pompous. I know I am no genius, I'm just trying really hard, to be super engaged, stupidly. It definitely makes sense that I find myself on a cold boat alone now, with my phone entirely inactive and no one eager to save me or even ask how I am. I've made my mad bed and I will lie in it, and if tonight is like the last then that may be another poor sod gone, for what? D here says I should go and live somewhere warm and have more fun. P suggests therapy. What about my private deal with life and death? Maybe trying to stay alive is part of the contract? Maybe I've done enough trying so it's ok to quit now? Maybe I should set myself a new task? Get a low paid job and smile as the homeless dudes wither and the fish get poisoned, not haunt myself with stupid ideas of a cleaner happier place. I should instead remember that some things are getting better despite my stupid input. I mean, old people are now living longer! Women are getting as equally selfish as men, and soon we'll have driverless cars!
It was 4 degrees in the boat this morning, with a thick white frosty fuzz over everything outside. Funny I didn’t feel so cold, probably because of the face burning whisky I had the night before. I have it with milk. I top up from the boat and do about 5 trips to and fro during an evenings painting, the walk is a blackout cavernous trip through old grounded boats, across freezing puddles, avoiding slippy railway sleepers and general junk. I throw a log on the studio fire and when I get back to the boat I do the same. I cut the wood in the daytime to prepare for this hungry double mouth feeding performance. The whiskey makes it fun and painless, it's my favourite time of day, the boatyard is empty and the stars are as crisp as frost.
In the morning I cough out the fumes from both smokey starts and start over, chopping wood, splitting, piling. And get one or both started again. It's crazy, repetitive, mundane. I go into town for more pigment. I get cadmium red or scarlet lake, cadmium yellow and ultramarine, tit white. I put off thinking about dentists. There are no dentists here who'll take any new patients so I just suffer jabbing pains. They reach into my eyes now and then.
I've stopped buying paint, I'll just use what's left, typing is cheap, maybe I'll do that instead like all the righteous internet trolls: "grrr why doesn't anyone think like me? I'm SO ENLIGHTENED!"
So far I hear I've sold 4 things in new york and about 7 at frieze. Should be about £15000, 3 months later I've been paid £3925 for the last 2 years work. Are you listening dear artists? I work from 9am to 9pm every day and do nothing much else, it's my choice because of my pact with life/death, and maybe this is why people don’t care to pay promptly, they know I'm a tickled trout. Galleries complain of high costs and competition and say the rich folk pay whenever they feel like, its all about trust. Meanwhile I'm homeless and freezing to death, it’s a funny joke. Since it's so funny I make work on this subject, It's my job while I'm still alive.
The marks are coming from the cold a bit now, my hands are stumps, I have to paint stupidly with them. I'm trying to make marks from the cosmos, from everything, not just me, the marks look too dumb, but I put the brush exactly where I want, I know it better than my stumps, I know the paint load, know the amount of intermixing, know how it will fall and weld if wet, how it will ride and skip if dry, how it will ripple if the last coats are still drying. These are not accidents or shows of ineptitude unless I want them to be. If an accident occurs, I question it and if it is good I'll leave it. And if it is left it's for a reason, it becomes meaningful, and it is no longer an accident.
Moving off the boat/studio is a drag, my routine goes awol, I'm all over the place. This suicidal working for me is an attempt to talk clearly, which isn't spewing socially, it's the hewing of a crystalline thing and the hope of saying something worth keeping. If other people nailed these subjects for me conversationally I wouldn't have to do any of this rubbish, I'd get a proper job instead or I'd do elite stuff for money. Till then I'm warm enough tonight, a strange partly documented species is still here, talking to you.
It is August now, apparently, I decided to stop working 2 months ago, the studio is packed away and locked up, I don't want to go in there anymore. My Art died of natural causes. My contract has been torn up, burnt, stamped on. I'm only looking after a few rare jewels that are dear to me from now on, including myself. I'm not freezing or burning for anyone's amusement anymore. It's time for someone else to freeze and die early. Another silly fool can study image culture and battle silently while you millions who have watched idly for decades, with your swords firmly sheathed, are watching telly. You don't deserve any new ideas for you to piss on, you deserve no more than what YOU are fighting for: 3 more followers on twitter/laminated floorboards/kids new trainers/telly/crap art/a poisoned planet. I know you're not all stupid and hateful, you're knackered and stuck, like I am now, with no will to fight anymore.
THE ROYAL WEDDING
THE ROYAL WEDDING
THE ROYAL WEDDING
MORE PLASTIC UNION JACKS
CHUCKED IN THE SEA
Great Crested Grebe
The Great Crested Grebe has some dragon DNA.
Rock 'n' Roll flame hairdo, greased back or spiked up.
The head shaking mating ritual, fast side to side is like,
absolutely not, not in a million years, you're just not my type,
They dunk underwater sweetly without a ripple,
body pellet engine to the dart head and ceramic neck.
They disappear, looking for fish, or repelled by you.
You will see them in the distance with good taste!
They are truly divine and you will pray per view.
They are called grebe, which is an excellent word.
Other species are a great escape from homo sapiens.
Glinting at something elusive, prehistoric, friendly.
A father and daughter are found poisoned in Salisbury, victims of the most sophisticated and deadly nerve agent ON THE PLANET, that could only be manufactured by Russia! The daughter was out of hospital after five days, I know three people just at the boatyard who were seriously ill in hospital for over two weeks with life threatening FLU this winter. This popular panic news nugget and a film of people being poisoned somewhere gave a rainbow USA, Fr, UK coalition license to bomb the evil chemical weapon stores in Syria. This act was telegraphed by agent subtle: D,J Trump, then soon after he goes..ooh, ooh, you don't know when we'll do it though, then like a terrible party clown trick, it happens the next day. Theresa and Boris, pierrot and crusty, then cite the Salisbury poisoning and the chemical film as definitive legal justification. Does this mean I can now use similar hunches and phone films to dispute my parking ticket and tax return?
The sick custard pie to this supported action is how these 100(?) piles of lethal gas or powder have now been BLOWN UP successfully. Into the AIR! Do they know bad things don't just vanish like in a dream? The only sensible conclusion from here, listening to this nonsense, is there were no lethal substances, but what was wanted was to get involved in the mass land grab jelly fight and the only emotional and legal invite they could get, was by using the old chemical weapons gag as used in Iraq so effectively and bogusly. OR is it that there's something more secretive going on here that we don't know? Let's hope so. Perhaps more government funding is needed for some future military projects? Maybe they were making some nice new empty spaces for a Starbucks or 100?
Please MI5, CIA etc. can we have better lies? You know the ones that make sense? With the world watching: the dog ate my homework is just not good enough.
I remember looking at an atlas and seeing diagrams of global population growth. I made a quick estimate and it was clear there will be far too many people here on earth very soon. I thought then age 12, that as species, we're doomed! But now I see that only some of us will be, because before we all strangle each other for a crumb a lot of us will be bombed under some bogus banner or poisoned by some baddies. World leaders look at some of us like garden pests, to flick away or incinerate as they see fit. Their problem will be how to justify future extinctions in a new interconnected world without the clear: goodie/baddie, cappy/commie narrative. Perhaps the simple solution is to have clowns for leaders who accidentally exact random pinpoint comedy bombings?
Sweet brown bomb,
that floats like fluff.
Peek a boo, I can't see you.
Till you invade its patch.
Then like ticking tin toy
it lifts its tail like a finger,
and lets out a tirade of abuse,
like a domestic diva!
Boris Trump poem
same Roman, offensive,
clowning media foghorns.
Same fat blonde in toga
Its still not warm enough to work on the boat, and I don't want to paint or make furniture anymore. I need a home now, I can feel myself deforming from the lack, it's been 30 years now of ducking and diving. I've exhausted all the options, being on the boat and making art is no longer viable. All this wasted time is killing my spirit now. Skimpy art survival is too brutal, pointless and lonely. I would like to build myself a place to live: a modernist folly perhaps, with straw bed, but I cant afford the land or the materials or even buy a wretch of a ruin. I'm stuffed. I want to fly and squeal, I don't want to die like this.
What to do? I just don't know, so I'll write then, with no hope. I'll write about anything to stop the ache, I'll give myself a random subject to pass the time: Kingfishers. OH SHUT UP, GET A JOB you indulgent fop, who cares about your yogic self pity, and your time-wasting, jigsaw-pondering writing? Yeah I know, look, I will be topping up the sandwiches in the Co-Op soon but can't I have a hiatus before? Can't you just leave me alone for a bit and let me reflect on the muddy hole I've made for myself. It's actually quite hard to get out of a hole when you’ve dug yourself deep into it, and even laid a few arty eggs. I can't just jump out of here with new iridescent wings straight into a happy new supermarket life. I need to sit on a branch and wait, be still for a bit. Things will settle I hope and I will plunge wholeheartedly back to you: my hungry, semi-ethical, budget brothers and sisters. Soon, soon, but not yet please. Can't you let me fly around for a bit longer: free, over water, shy and jewel like. Let me strike my sword beak at a young Perch or Roach, mercilessly, like a gas-flame-winged god. Please? Is the Perch in the meal deal? I dunno I'll ask the boss, I think it's just the fatty rubbish that's cheap, the niche ingredients are more, but I'll check. Yeh the Perch isn't in the meal deal, but it says meal deal here, look, oh yes I see, I'll check, yeh the label is wrong so the manager says you can have it in the meal deal today, but we'll change the label tomorrow, because they're not really in the meal deal.
The Kingfisher squeals as it flies, its not a pleasant noise: like a rusty bicycle wheel or fingernails scraping down a blackboard. It fires itself rather than flies, straight and fast, like it's not really enjoying it. It doesn't swoop or glide pleasurably, its all manic and desperate flapping. EEK…EEK…HELP ME…it sounds like. LEAVE ME ALONE: it acts like. It's so beautiful, and colourful, so unsuited to being in this country, it's too exotic, it should be in India or Africa but it got stuck here, it got invited into the art world court because of its plumage but got sick of the company and so it flew away to be shy, and hid from everyone. It excavates little holes in steep muddy riverbanks to disappear into. It makes its nest in places where there is no light, and nothing to see. It knows deep down in there that there's no comfortable home for a colourful flame. So, slowly it pulls on a damp beige jumper, rents a fungal bed-sit above a shop and gets a job in the Co-Op. EEK…EEK!............................................................/
Radio 4 cough.
I have to turn off radio 4 again, I used to be so comforted, semi-addicted to the morning murmurings and evening thoughts. Now I turn off at least twice every day: or don't even switch on. It's question time, but we get Stanley Johnson instead: rah rah ha ha, I mean if you're going to put some random posho on then put some random pooro on? This will never happen of course. So we can only hear the rich folks eh? Nice, well done BBC. It's embarrassing, it used to be a rounded treat listening to the variety of views, now it's a festival of Elite blubber. Get rid of the fucking in house dinner dates, like the cloistered Westminster villagers: YOU ALL NEED TO GET OUT MORE! What has happened to diversity at the BBC? Where are the northern voices, the workers, the poorer voices? It's like we don’t even register, perhaps only as occasional idiotic vox pop to ridicule us all now and then.
Every day on the TODAY programme the Royals appear somehow, like they're sponsoring it, as do the limp priests who have a big thought for our little day. Something pious is stapled loosely to a current event to make their weird narratives feel relevant. Then: Prince Harry's wedding guest list is a guarded secret was news yesterday! Kate Middleton smiles at something will be tomorrow. It’s a slow embedding of status and state control into the public consciousness. Drip drip, this is the real world from the BBC. Not for me, Beeb m8.
There's a series ongoing called Only Artists, my god it's inane. Already the title defeats any enthusiasm. All Fine Art coverage on the BBC is appalling but this is particularly ripe. A shoe designer talks to a choreographer. Both self satisfied and philosophical: the moon is round one says, ah yes so round! With my work I'm trying to get some publicity, Yes some airtime on the BBC: this means we're interesting. These are the most boring possible artists, makes me think the BBC wants all Art and vivacity dead, and aims with this series to demean the subject, and all raw creative spirit, then kill it dead. They are saying effectively: listen to these Arty wankers: they're so boring and pretentious aren't they? Exactly like you knew they were, but, ho ho they're wearing funny clothes. If it's whimsical and cloud headed, it must be artists talking to each other eh? Nod, Nod, wink, wink. OFF SWITCH. The programme Saturday Live is the funniest for me, I'm religious about it, as the bleeps go beforehand I rush to the OFF so I don’t hear even a half note of the theme tune. It's a magazine programme desperate to be quirky. I remember when John Peel used to present a version of this in the same slot, it was a rare opportunity to hear dry and funny regional intelligences on the radio. Now we hear more of the most bland z list London advertisers, all AHHH pronouncing types: I went to the pahhrk and fell ovahhr, My new book is an explorahhtion of the fahhlling in a pahhrk experiahhhnce, and my subsequahhnt recahhvery. No-one is from the North on radio 4 anymore, maybe were just too stupid to fall over and make money from the gravitas?
Radio 4 has become rotten, but the thing is if the BBC gets switched off fatally then there's only more populist shite to come: Simply celebrity adverts, strictly come flashy colours, I rarely want to switch off the comedy, how come that's ok still? Regional voices critiquing elites, being delicate and britishly silly? It's so strange how '4 can be good AND appalling at the same time. Hey comedians, invade the news and art department and take over, they're toooo shit!
What most folks don't know is decent artists are not quirky little dream flowers: they're funny, intelligent and are skilled at other stuff too, like comedians, who aren't funny by accident, or because they have a goofy face, they think about things and craft something meaningful from it, they are usually philosophical and scientific, and are serious people doing something especially difficult and new. It's the overpaid News presenters who are truly talentless and lazy. We have talented, lively people here in Britain but I guess the bland producers, presenters and newspaper idolaters need to eat too, I just cant bear listening to them chew anymore.
An oven baked penis is inserted into melted vagina, pubes push together like Velcro. Pizza cheese dribble. What follows is the most boring piece of writing ever written, it's about fridges! I will need to insert some moistened lusty moments to keep you from drowning in the yawning vacuum.
Apart from connecting ropes, a boat is a miniature island, and all supplies need to be imported. Once aboard, the boat is engineered to be separate and self sufficient. It's a monk of a thing. Like virtuous guide it makes you notice what you need to live, and the exact energy you need, and the appropriate amount of food you need, and you see directly what you produce in waste. Nothing is done for you by the state, you are responsible for everything, it is your island, where you govern. Wobbling, maternal breasts, unsucked yearning in the supermarket, pushing and pulling, daydreaming of alleyway fucking. Not bent over this bagging area, bottom unnoticed.
On the boat no milk is delivered, no gas or electricity is freely given. There's no post, no junk mail. What is needed then? Water, heating, lighting, cooking, cleaning, washing, a toilet. These are the basics, some comfort is needed for sleeping and other things like good books, good tools, a phone, this computer? Luxuries are helpful but can also drain essential supplies. Energy usage must be managed and a boat teaches you what uses what, and especially how wasteful and damaging are the fridges. A breast is loosened from silky bra constraint, slipping goose pimpled with cold it bursts into life like a morning, pointing like volcano for wolverine fireman.
On a boat a fridge runs off either gas or 12v electricity, generated from batteries kept charged either from solar, wind or regular running off an engine, the alternator changing kinetic energy into electrical energy and recharging a main battery and maybe 2 leisure batteries. These batteries give the boat light, power water pumps, bilge pumps, the fridge and phone chargers etc. In summer the interior lights barely go on, but fridges do. The fridge is the energy killer. It's on all the time, and needs quite a lot of juice to do its silly conservative stuff. It keeps things fresh we think. A leathery hand cups the buttocks and a brutal mouth attempts to glut. Bums are no longer walking devices but flesh fruits designed for pulling up and grappling with, maybe in the preserved meat aisle. Gorging devouring, pissing on churches. There's a blood smell, a tongue bursts the doughnut packaging.
I don't know if I read this or imagined it. Buddha said you should not eat stored food. I have always lived in small spaces and this rule has suited me quite well. It has become more interesting with industrial working hours, with globalization, and enlightened science about freshness, taste and the health benefits of fresh, local food. With the miserable facts about mass food waste, I blame the fridge. Fridges do not keep things fresh, they speed the rot, the things we eat are rarely fresh in the first place and the illusion of cool safety makes us fill them with plasticy crap and then we watch them go black as mouldy slime moves in. Fine white fingers reach down to find a grotesque veined stick, it flings out like rubber kosh. The epitome of unsophistication, suddenly the elephant is in the room, probing doggedly.
Why not buy fresh food, then eat it? What about milk? Why not buy it then drink it? But what about meat and the attending flies etc? Why not buy it and then cook it and eat it before the flies get wind of it? What is this mystical belief in the death defying powers of the fridge when we all know it is the mother of all wet salad mould? If the fridge was cool, dry and as sophisticated as say a larder we might celebrate its omnipresence and energy demands, but it’s a wasteful rotter and should be abandoned as inventive error, it's a dumb fat blob of a thing, it pretends to help but actually just makes things worse. Legs and arms wide and tightly pinned on sweet, sweat scented leather seats.
From year dot excess delicacies were stored in oil, wine, vinegar, or salt, since then we have invented a costly electric wastrel in which to rot semi fresh purchases. Ok, it's kind of convenient to do 1 big shop then store it in the fridge perhaps, which you need to pay for a car to heave away, but after 3 days the packaged shit looks like gruel and is so unappetizing it is left and then it is wasted. And then this ridiculous cycle is repeated. The penis teeters over the anus and nudges it, asking a question.
Freshness in plastic does not exist, anything in plastic is not fresh, any cut plant needs to be moist with light to persist, otherwise its dead. Meat could be coated in oil and put in Tupperware, remembering that the longer it sits the more pointless it is to eat. The fridge is a badly designed appendage, bedfellow of the supermarket, its ok to cool milk and not much else. Keep a cupboard instead, eat fresh and save energy and money. Oh, fuck it, I can't be arsed, and you don't care, you're too busy wanking.
As a boy I always loved abandoned building sites. On Saturdays or Sundays I would adventure out and slip through barely defended metal barriers and wander intoxicated, looking at the mud and plastic sheeting and bags of cement, wires and pipes wet in dug foundations: these places had a very potent acrid smell and aesthetic, not romantic in reality, but for a squeaky clean TV child I wandered around them like Wordsworth. Miserably unkempt chaos: a kind of gross untidiness that was wild exotica in early 80's pastel coloured Blackpool. Here, away from my family, was a place of secrecy and anti-social freedom, unformed, unowned and, at the weekend, unpopulated by frightening bully builders. I would get a kinky kick from sneaking in then going into the unlocked, unhygienic portacabins. With rotten boots, muddy invoices, fluorescent coats, newspapers, cigarettes and an animal rawness. There was a smell of dirt and sweat, it was if the men were still there in their biology and bacteria: in half tea slurped mugs, fluorescent jackets hung and fag butts bendily stubbed. Here I wondered first that I might be gay. Here I tried my first bit of fag and nearly feinted, here I found my first close up images of naked women, sometimes just on the bosses table as the Daily Sun, Star or Sport, or on the wall as a nipple based exotic Pirelli calendar, or most excitingly as heavy, biblical wads of slippery hard-porn. Razzle, Men Only or something more niche, often stuck together with some kind of glue, from the extreme damp or just mud and rain? I would carefully try and peel the pages apart so I could follow one of the spicy stories or keep the papery body of Katie or Mandy intact and see more of the generous stripping narratives of Linda or Suzie. All these smiley women were being really nice and friendly with their bits and bobs.
All with different boobs, some big and mooning like Emu eggs or rugby balls, grapefruit halves, some freckled, huge nippled, some bending out like bananas, some flat as a man with just a poking cherry nipple, some with a very hairy fanny, some hairless, some with fanny skin dark tan or pale tea coloured, some beefy reddish, some bright liquid pink. The format was always a kind of lame stripping story, if a man was involved he would be shown with flowers entering a door, then kissing boobs, bum out, fanny revealed, penetration then a variety strange poses with the dick going inside, then a spunky one at the end. Here in the portacabin I would wank and come out and then wander off back into the sexless public world, the possibility of being caught was part of the thrill I suppose. It felt like I almost had no choice. As soon as a step had been taken through the half open barrier, it was almost inevitable I would be led via vast reels of barbed cable, diggers, cranes, cold iron and steel, and into a shelter to become jelly-legged over some shiny pink magazine. Looking back it was a classically wonky folk story or quest with fair maiden and happy ending as pinnacle. It was also a pretty sick introduction to low paid working squalor, the empty spray function of men's dicks, the perceived cultural lowliness of women, the sickness of heavy gloss paper, and the Artful and addictive power of pink glamour photography. All combined: as effective and addictive as tobacco, as repressed and English as warm sugary tea.
My Sainsbury friends
They keep changing, Sophie has gone. There's a young guy who gives me a cool nod, he's pretty, with bum fluff as beard, fresh faced. I know he's aware of me because when I look round he's staring and smiling, he also jumps to my assistance when I need alcohol approval before I've even finished at the self service check out. There's a courteous chunky young man who almost bows when he's assisted me. We nod when we see each other like 2 old miners clocking in. An older lady with nobbly teeth always smiles and chats to me, she swipes her hair back when she talks about it getting colder. She must be 60 but I like her because she recognizes me and makes a beeline to say hi and chat. She stands behind me at the self service, is she looking at my bum? I have 2 smile only relationships that start very matter of fact. A hefty man/woman and a small man with a deformed arm. When the money has changed hands we give each other a sparkly eyed smile, it's become a thing. No expression for the transaction bit, get change back, alive sparkly eyed smile, thanks, bye. It's something about the horror of this plastic place, it's a silent saying: we're actually alive under here. You know why we're here, and that we're not going to be total victims of this place! We're nobbly outside people like you, we just have to do this bleeping thing for survival, then we'll get out of this fucking orange place and back to our intelligent selves. Most of the other Sainsberry's do the dead eyed thing beautifully, the fake: how are you's? The accusatory almost sadomasochistic: do you have a nectar card? They don’t want to look at me or waste energy enquiring, they just see another consumer thing passing by with consumerables, I'm a big pink bottle of Lenor or in summer a charred baguette. They're not there, I'm not there, we're too embarrassed to be, so killed by and covered over in Sainsburyness. We are the job done, no more.
I worry about those dead, shark eyed types, maybe they're never there, even when they're not here? When they get home they won't be there either? Maybe they are always switched off, or perpetually on standby? I prefer to think they're saving themselves for their satellite designing workshop, or future business project, a niche hobby or a more fun life elsewhere. When I worked in a supermarket I was always hungry for any present ness on offer: always up for a flirtation with a colourful mum, a nod to a man with a funny walk or smell, any oddness was a relief from the tedium. A pram malfunction, a bearded old lady, an enquiry about a niche product, all this was dead interesting. A break from the foreground bleep bleep. This desire for interaction can of course backfire: the eye contact, the smile or the dangerous vocalization can make the supermarket friend into a daily threat, they could make daily comments and you'd have to react to them jovially when you're feeling depressed and wordless, that could really slow you down when you just want to get the thing over ASAP. This is the beauty of the supermarket business: you are drawn in with funky Ads and fruity smiles (and a lack of any alternative shopping venue): JOIN IN OUR FUN, but kept at bay at the same time: FREE PARKING, for an hour. If this were a more social place, everyone comfy and laughing by the worms of minced beef, no money would be made, if plainly robotic and colourless, no money would be made. Like an effective restaurant you're made comfy enough and best mates enough to fatten up, then when you’ve finished spending you get the ice face, the get out we hate you.
When you're lonely you talk to yourself, or people at Sainsbury's. For a writer or an artist the conversation is mostly tight lipped. The interior self chatter is nauseous, certain statements repeated uncontrollably, some things just random, mysterious and unprocessed, waiting for words. Half dreaming: images and people come to mind, some long dead, like ghosts, old cars, gone where lovers, holiday landscapes, novels, paintings, the voices drift and melt. Questions, ideas, self doubts, a check out persons face: were they friendly? Were they there at all?
big apple eats maggot
It was hard to agree to this show, I'd have to gather 3 shed loads of my found and reassembled scrappy environmental bits of Art and send them thousands of miles over to the other side of the world, then send my flesh over to reassemble, titivate then stand by it all, like a lemon. All this done alone in a massive apple, no doubt fruitlessly (hmm). No artist can turn down a New York show? Everyone was saying how exciting! Pooh-poohing it would be like demanding my grubby career to be over. So, well, fuck the ozone yay! I'll go and see what all the tall building and baseball cap stuff is about, maybe my carbon footprint will get balanced by the environmental message embedded in the work? All my earnest ideas will get flushed away fatally soon enough, maybe it'll be glamorous and fun, or surprising somehow? Ok then, let's go, I don't know.
The flight was horrific, the getting to the airport, the case labeling, the shepherding into aisles, the plastic bins of stuff, the bleeping, being humililiatedly searched, the bit where you all sit staring and squaring each other up before boarding, the being shepherded into the wingy tin can, people squashing huge bags above yr head, the hideous food, the hours of your short life pissing away watching shit films, the stuckness in a cramped seat, then more excruciating, animalistic corralling on the other side, waiting half dead, being questioned like a crook, the bag collection misery go round: with no quick exit we all do the plane goon shuffle. Murmuring constantly like a sickly giacometti, why am I doing this? and, what am I doing here? But there was a minor smug feeling afterwards: I was so scared, but I did it! I didn’t thrash uncontrollably or cry or kill anyone with claustrophobic panic! The heroic artist wins, again! ;(
Finally we slowly get parole, and get let out, with our tags dangling to show everyone we've been in the clink: the air is different here in America: warm, close. The light is vast, brutal, dispersed as if by a sand cloud or pollution, or decades of gun smoke.
Freddy found me, a broken winged insect smoking a fag, and picked me up quizzically in a massive black shiny mega lux 4x4, and we went off from JFK towards Nwoo Yak. Clapperboard Dutch style little houses led to dead road emptiness and some junky industriana. Freddy was from south America, an idyllic island apparently, where there was no work, so he came here. He seemed relaxed but said it was exhausting and non stop to pay for living here. We passed a massive cemetery which appeared familiar from films, everything appeared familiar from films. You can only really see Manhattan from a distance, as you get closer it becomes just big walls with different bricks, metal, glass, you see the details, the labour, but none of it was shockingly weird, it felt like going into central London or Liverpool only pumped up into absurd bouncy castle popping point. The grid thing predominated the drive, it confused me for a long time that an organic churning city should be so perpendicular: all those dizzy sharp corners. That all this was shoved onto a little island, a totally fucked up island, confuses me still. It felt civilized that water was always nearby and seeing little boats moored up and circumnavigating the whole mega city. The water though was brutish and the swell made those small boats act as if in permanent storm. The sky was always blue and it sweltered airlessly for 2 weeks, still the boats slapped and careened at scary angles all the time. It felt like no great serenity to get to the water as it usually feels here in Britain. All the river walks were rammed with joggers day and night so there was no quiet escape from the grid, it was a full on flesh storm everywhere, there must be something nice about this place I'm missing? Everyone says NYC is great.
My hotel was really nice, happily low lit, romantic but in a shagged style, cool even with Neal Cassidy smoking on the coasters. Still a bit deaf from the flight, mainly nice black staff tried to bond about Shakespeare instantly, oh shit. A little clean room, no comment, I went straight, well left right left right, to the gallery without even a tea break, my works were laid out all around a big room and they looked embarrassed, almost angry at me: what have you done to us? yes I thought: this feels wrong. I started assembling and editing and placing: still deaf, still dizzy, it was only 1pm here but I should have been going to bed.
This panic editing would go on for a week, I just wasn’t ever happy, so I had to come in daily, I'd be sitting on an air vent across the street waiting for the staff to open up, I'd leave when they did. No time off for sightseeing, I didn’t really care, this place was clearly made for thugs. It became miserable, lonely, id go back to the hotel after work with a bottle of wine and a cold ready meal to save money. Then up again and Left right, left right, start again. M invited me to Long Island to get out. I got on a bus and things opened up and started to make more sense. I got dumped by the sea. The sand was sand, but the sea was abstract to me, a flat beast, an unknown thing, massive, little Britain was over there somewhere, with it's little wobbly waves, here they beat in with indifference to a human scale, WAVE hating WAVE, here the cosmos had a threatening aspect and it made all the solid American defences more sensible. I started to understand America here. Dawdling, waiting for M, I walked past a little insignificant marker on the floor saying something about Native Americans.
The pv came and went and was bleak, we had a perfunctory gallery meal and then after recovering I was due for the painful return trip. But a spare bed came up and I decided to stay longer, and after a few nights in a skyscraper with a neat roof terrace over looking the river, ground zero and almost everything, I started to relax into seeing the NY weirdness from above, and doing no more than looking, walking and drinking with Phillida.
That's it really, things repeated. Meals at the Odeon, saw the best little show id seen for a while: Sotsass at the Met Brauer, a building made by one of my favourite designers. I took quizzical walks into the poor areas, partly to get away from the rich ones, and partly to look for something REAL. The friendliest and funniest people were always black men, I wasn’t expecting that. A New York cop, looking at me exhausted and eating a mayonnaisey sandwich on a grungy bench, said hello brother, I wasn’t expecting that. I really liked all the big gas guzzling pick up trucks, I wasn't expecting that. No one was smoking, I wasn't expecting that, and when I puffed it felt like I was smoking crack the way people moved away and tutted.
I watched TV sometimes, it was mainly groups of people with hair from Friends and teeth from Church, all sitting on sofas being pally and jolly about something or other. All the adverts were for healthcare and whiter teeth, and a disease Id never heard of with sad man as example. I definitely have that I thought, but couldn't afford to google it, just in case I needed the expensive treatment.
Was it worth it? I don't know yet. It's the problem with karma, which event are you paying for and how long does it take to come back?
Abbv. A chip shop
Coll. A carpenter
Adj. feeling aggrieved, usually applied to a constantly sour-faced moany working class person.
I'm a chippy and a chippy painter, and sometimes after work I go to the chippy but I don’t get chips I just get a small fish. Now aged 49, I've only just worked out that the childhood treat of fish and chips makes me feel fat and poor, and then chippy. Chips are cheap, that's what's nice, but now I'm wary of the bargain even though I'm poor and empty. When you're poor you're taught you deserve greasy scrapings, it's you're wallet and because you're taught that neither you or anything else is worth looking after. When you're poor you have to fight you're way out of a bin bag everyday. You're trapped, since your non-history and poverty pressure keeps you locked into a weird sense of traditional deprivation, like working till you die for next to nowt, like drinking 20 pints on a Friday night and smoking fags, being sexist and racist and bleak, like gambling on the lottery and the grand national, watching football and listening to the Queens speech. All these habits are comfy and respectful to our forefathers, but when we wave the red white and blue, when we thank God for our daily chips, we're killing ourselves early, making ourselves perennially stupid and passive. If you don't have any money stashed offshore and you defy these rituals of self harm then you're uppity, unpatriotic and chippy. The rich people we're servicing aren't worth any more, only more money, but then if you say things like this, like Oliver or Jesus it's lonely, you lose your poor roots and any kindness from the gentry, but you can't stop standing up and arguing for better. Thing is, you just sound CHIPPY! It's so unBritish to say FUCK THIS cycle of deference and serfdom. NO MORE POVERTY, NO MORE OVERLORDS AND OVER LIES, IT'S NOT HEALTHY: walking the streets with high environmental and social ideals but only a bit of wet timber out of a skip under your arm and a massive chip on your shoulder.
I decided to interview you because you've said that you're thinking of giving up Art, so I thought I'd try and get some of your thoughts down beforehand, is it true you're giving up and if so why?
Every show I've done in the last five years has felt like my last, you get a very pale whiff of legacy if you do something you feel has worked, but generally it’s a very flat, empty existence. Only the studio thinking and playing is payment. What's happened recently is an extra hopelessness, exhaustion, and a disgust with the business that has got into my bones. It feels like I've said what I wanted, and got ignored enough, enough, enough!
It must be hard watching the corporatization of art, and the armies of wannabees get further on than you. Your work is not a neat proposition though, I mean I like it, it's more mature and poetic than we see in the homogenized mega galleries but ignored perhaps because it comes across as being a bit cottagey and shit, is that deliberate though?
yes, when you stand in front of the sea or go for a walk in the country then look at my work it's really shit, although I'm aiming at getting as loving as those cosmic landscapes. If you live in the city and like Art my work appears raw and rude, I think in a city any old art is like a breath of fresh air. The vibe of my work tries to access a primal beauty/ugliness. Life is dead interesting, but cruel and a bit shit too so any good art should say so I think. The shittiness also comes from the scrappy recycled materials, which makes corporatization impossible for me. Because of these things I'm unable to make the big shiny stuff people put in office foyers or mega galleries. I'm also unwilling to be a total arty twat.
The white backgrounds, the cartooning, the ugliness reminds me of Lowry a bit?
Funny you should mention him, I think Lowry is the greatest British artist, although I only like a few of his paintings. The close up figures on white mainly. All his work is real and touching I think. As I watch many in our society including myself return to Dickensian levels of poverty and powerlessness he has become more alive to me recently.
Lowry is so unsexy, sexiness should be included in your ideal painterly soup no?
I started getting into art again after recognizing my persistent joy in the complex and cosmic. Human narcissism has always bored me, the idea of a painting of a posh sod with shiny face is absurd to me, the whole of the high renaissance could be put in a bin bag and there would be no great loss. Power and money and sexiness is too often the subject in art. Anything that speaks of only these things is not great, and if it's sexy then it's a pretty perverse sort. Lowry speaks directly about being a human without pomposity or skewed art history. He is part of a dorky line that comes straight out of cave painting through folk or ethnic art to Malevich, German expressionism, arte povera etc. This line stays very dear to wholistic, cosmic and honest representations of life on earth without bling. He did do some odd fetishy drawing but yep you sense he's not wanking about paint or money or himself, or being naughty in any way. I prefer to get a little kinky element into my stuff, a sort of seductive and repulsive element.
Some people think your work is childish and unsophisticated, like Lowry, and like naïve or outsider art.
I'm fond of art that has a childlike attack, it's to do with directness and the noise of life. Children are cute little animals, unready to make nuanced philosophical comment, but good at being alive and direct. I have never done a picture of mummy and daddy at the zoo, there's always something seriously traji-comic and existential in my stuff. If a work says nothing but clumsy lines and colour that’s not enough. I once said to a student: skill is not my subject. I could draw and paint photographically from about age 8 and people were impressed, but it was like a trick, I wasn't doing anything other than showing off. That’s not what I want now. I don't want to be laughed at, but I do want to be funny. What I'm doing now, in the marks, the composition, the harmonies and discords is way more skillful and difficult than just showing off.
You have to sell your work to survive, how do you deal with the art world?
I find it really uncomfortable but funny at the same time. I'm ready to die now so fucking up my career is not a big issue. In a way art world hate should be encouraged I think, so many artists are living in art market slavery and this affects the work, you must be free to let rip I think. There's a misinterpretation of art history in the art world I think. Art is joyful, poetic communication, its not money. The art world is super educated, and super wanky, and super stupid: it’s a mix, but the banking side is not interesting at all and I'm happy to be away from those sorts. Some artists are entirely happy playing at power. The art world describes a bunch of people who are visually and politically attuned, but that’s not always good.
What do you think the art world thinks of you?
I don’t think it thinks anything at all. My name might get whispered now and then in a cheap restaurant by a niche geek.
You've been doing this a while and still no great fame or reward. Do you ever feel defeated?
Yes, doing this job means you can never win, but maybe by continuing you can never be truly defeated, but it always feels like failure.
If you had money would you buy art, and if so what?
I am homeless, if I had a house that needed decorating with stuff, I might buy or swap something by an unfashionable sort, or I would invest in my own work, which is what I do now.
To have a Goya or a Van Gogh I'd have to be a different person. I could have a Van Gogh or Lowry drawing and tell myself it was a print, It would be too worrying to be custodian of seriously valuable things. I think id rather buy top quality crafty home stuff, I might have something by Sotsass that I could use.
You appear to be interviewing yourself, are you lonely on the boat?
I am always alone, though I've rarely felt lonely, until recently. I'm surrounded by life here on the river, much better than a deadly concrete monoculture. I find humans exhausting and I don't think there's anyone that can comfort my complexities, I have to do that for myself. For now I don’t want to pour my life contents into another fragile human glass again. And yup, I'm only doing this interview to make me think about what I'm doing and have something written down before I forget, or pack it all in.
Shall I break for tea?
Don't mind if I do.
Since you might stop, maybe we should talk about how you work: the process. You've mentioned you use recycled materials, how does it work, does the found thing inform the final piece?
Well only in that some bits of wood are too good/strong for painting and perfect for chairs/tables etc. They define what they could be. With a painting sometimes I try and keep a beautiful patina visible, but it rarely stays, I have to edit and over paint between 10 and 50 times so it always ends up being like a knobbly tree trunk of paint, the original wood is way down underneath.
You work on a boatyard now, has the process changed since you moved away from your allotment?
It's the same, but the stuff I find is a bit different. The studio shed is bigger so I can make slightly bigger things and see them together, which is new, although I don’t get to live with them, which is what I did in London, to test them I would take them home to look at. Now when they're done I have to take them to a storage unit till they get shown. The subject matter has changed: less domestic warfare, more boats, homeless men, painted furniture and a series about the art world and being an artist.
How do the subjects reveal themselves, just by being there?
I suppose it feels best when I'm accessing what's most real, below the surface, what I'm seeing but mostly what I'm thinking. Often it helps to paint things that are grotesque to me and I can make peace, make something good/funny or just something honest out of it all. I try and avoid being a victim of my horrors, I try and make them palatable, funny ideally.
Do you feel like a victim?
That's complicated, the simple answer is yes, as well as being a master of my own destiny. Also yes in that I have more empathy for victims. I associate more with animals, wildlife etc. and get upset at seeing down trodden people similarly.
Are you religious/ethical/philosophical? All or none?
Ethical probably best describes me, but my ethics always shift, as I move and think.
What's the worst thing about yourself?
I'm brutal sometimes, about ethics. I'm dismissive of people, partly because I need them to be off my mind for me to concentrate on work, and partly because they are needy and annoying, I'm fucking needy and annoying! My teeth hurt and I'm a coward, especially where stainless steel blades and pulpy flesh and bone meet. I have a tendency to be occasionally rude for a laugh. What's the worst thing about you then nobhead?
I'm vain and impotent, I'm essentially boring but I use writing to make me seem more than a big bag of nothing. What's the best thing about you then oh wise one?
I don't like seeing suffering, I want to help every living thing, stupid I know, but there is a way, I believe, that's much better environmentally and socially than what we've allowed to happen. I'm a dick but I'm a nice dick I think. What about you then clever clogs?
I'm trying, like you I think, to re-make some human nonsense, with my writing I'm trying to be similarly direct without being boring, shoehorn a poor northern voice into the elite debate? I dunno. To answer your amazing art genius question: tenacity, doggedness, stupid bravery maybe?
What about a whisky?
Ok then. Why are your paintings so mushy/rural yet the chairs and furniture reference the severity and unadorned utility of modernism?
With the paintings, despite their animalistic appearance, I'm making similarly economical order, but the formula is way more complex, with the chairs say, they need to be strong enough for human stresses, gravity, and be pleasing to look at while using the limited materials I have at my disposal, it's interesting but essentially a near-closed debate, I just need to find the right answer, like a math's problem, The paintings are the same math's problem, but with image history and meaning, it's a different kind of gravity, the result needs to be the same, they need to hold weight, be jolly and economical, but they need to communicate and that can be horribly complex to weigh up.
Paintings are weird things now, especially if you're working with figuration, the cinema has made narrative painting look cloddish and irrelevant.
Well yeh, but then the cinema is similarly lumbered with bling, like painting, the shiny hero thing. Cinema is running out of ways to convince us of that childish idealism. The electric dirtiness of life can't be done by the cinema, it also needs masses of money to me made, so there needs to be a fluorescent subject. The little painter doesn't need to get box office returns, just one or two minor sales, they pursue their lonely shit and can be as crass, gross and blank headed as they like. Painting is still a really good free space for intimate tactile narratives.
The whiskey is kicking in, got any snacks?
Where do I piss?
I go in that jug there but since you're a guest best go outside and do it in the river
The stars are mad out there!
Yeh, it’s a nice aspect of being out of London, its cosmic here in nowheresville.
Do you miss London?
I miss the rough knockabout of old London, but seeing the facebook friending trendies trying to nail it with beards and Nordic knits is a boring performance now. The rich kids are plastic organic, the poor kids are organic plastic. The homeowners are pious snobs, I'm generalizing but the vibe is a place of tolerated gross inequality, slaves are killing themselves to pay the rent, landlords are luxing with their money. Everyone is twittering their branded selves, playing at power. Oh maybe all this is shit, drinking makes you vomit words.
I'm feeling blurry
The clouds are flying thin and fast under the moon, a three quarter full miracle. It's monstrous this world and full of charms, we agree to stop this silly myth making and melt back into the unbidden and unanswered world.
Neal Jones is a writer on art and poverty, his second book of essays KATE MIDDLETON'S FACE, published by L-13 is out now
Neal Jones is a 'Fine' Artist and furniture maker, he has exhibited all over the place but is thinking of doing something else now.
I have 4 pairs of gloves since 1 or 2 are always wet, I dry them by the wood burner. Likewise since my shoes are all cheaply made or old and cracked I need to use 4 pairs in rotation since they all get soaked 1 by 1, and then get dried 1 by 1. It's the same with socks and everything else. I'm constantly getting changed. I suppose I should fork out and get 1 pair of super immune mountain boots for £300, 1 expensive wick able waterproof, waterproof socks, mountaineering thermals and Gore-Tex this and neoprene that. That would be at least £1000 gone and I'd look like a right tit getting this branded fluorescent shit straight away covered in oil, mud and paint. The small but not meaningless amount of money I have earned is being left to charity and I have to weigh up as death gets closer whether it's mine or already theirs? Do I spend it on me, me, me or save it for them, them, them? I'm still alive and I want to make me and them more money, so I look for the cheapest way to keep me alive and working. I'm doing all this budget self preservation for some peace of mind, or is it a perverse challenge even? At least I don’t think its narcissism and maybe that's the main thing, especially when I'm surrounded: it’s the Christmas period and everyone is bagging up sugar fluids and wheaty sugar things and big dead animals and colourful plastic junk, and maybe a Blue planet DVD or 25. No one cares about my ethics or loneliness in the supermarket car park, my injuries and concerns are my fault, my genetics, it's a Darwinian competition and they are whacking up the thermostat and winning the survival thing big time. I'm only just surviving. One of a growing brigade of OJS's. These handsome shopping stags are making us thrift shoppers look like pious monks! We're really just broken horses, without fixed doctrine, we just suffer quietly, shyly trotting away from the consumer twits. I met Rick outside the library, he didn’t look homeless till I saw his enflamed hands and brown tobacco fingers. He had opened his council house to some other homeless folks who turned out to be heroine addicts and they got him kicked out. He said as the snow fell what my mum used to say, think of those starving in Africa, there is always someone worse off. I admired his serenity and as I told him how cold my hands were, he exclaimed how nice it must be to have a boat! He knocked me sideways, since I'm often fuelled by anger about the injustice that keeps him in the library all day to keep warm, how he has nowhere to go but there. Id like to be grateful, and when I think of Rick I'm glad we talked and I'm glad I have a small metal boat, I'm lucky in lots of ways, but I must also speak up, its my job.
This morning I lay uncomfortably in the dark, it was too cold to get out, too black, a drip of condensation from the ceiling plopped on my face, I moved my head, I heard another get the duvet. There was a gurgling animal scream outside. Weird, but then its always a bit prehistoric on the river: elemental, squawking, splashing, yobby fishermen larking about. I watched the windows get lighter so got up and looked out of the window. In the water 6 feet away a cormorant lay on its back-still, dead. A flat faced brown otter was diving around it, giving it an occasional biting thrash like a shark. A random feather composition was sprinkled on the river, a shocked armada sailing around the morning war zone.
I lift the canopy, which is frozen stiff, it sounds like it might snap as I try and fold the heavy weight back. everywhere is sleet that has been welded onto ice, on boats, on the ground. It is both white and clear like spit also like that slobbery ice rock you get in yr freezer compartment that slowly oozes out jamming the door. I go to the studio but come back sharpish, the cold is too sheer, impossible to warm with mere kindling and coal. I have a rare day off and mostly inside, I wash some clothes by hand instead, keeps my hands warm at least.
Next day the ice has gone from the ground but remains thick in some open dinghy's, my hands are still freezing while I saw up some dusty floorboards, then split them with an axe, some short bits for the tubby little wood burner on the boat and some longer ones for the bigger old TV shaped one in the studio. I stack it all up, I make hay while its dry and not so brutal, knowing it will get worse again, I know I will get ill and all this will become hideous. I haven't been really ill yet (touch wood) maybe because there's no comfy place for bacteria to bloom around here.
My working rhythm has to change again, its too cold to work into the night now, I wake. Reignite last nights crumbled coals with those floorboard splints, add a few coal nuggets, drink some coffee, have a cigarette then walk over to light the studio fire which is always dead, I use diesel to soak the wood since paper alone wont do it. When its lit I run back to the boat to get warm and wait for the sun to rise and the studio to warm up. The suns radiation is brief so I need to be ready before it comes and prepared for when it goes. There is only one comfy way of doing this, so I do it the same every day. I work till an hour before dark go to get the evening meal, do half the cooking before dark, keep working till it gets impractical, then retreat, cook eat then get to bed. My bed stinks, I sleep under two thick duvets, sometimes wear a hat. Sometimes the fire stays warm till morning, sometimes it goes out.
The morning stars are sharp as razors this morning, I can feel the cold burn my swollen fingers, in the half light I can see the river is dull, motionless, frozen. So I sit by the fire and write this and wait for the sun, If I go out now I will slip on the gangplanks or get chilblains. I appreciate my little metal house more and more. I used to live on a much bigger boat and although the wooden hull was more insulating the deck was a mix of metal and concrete, terrible at insulating, the scale of it took much more to keep warm, I remember I ended up just living in one section. I worked on an old ladies house a few years ago, it was a museum to the 1950s with bomb shelter in the garden, outside loo etc. anyway, she also lived in one room, near the kitchen. The ornate front room and dead bedrooms upstairs were ice cold. This year I've noticed how buzzards steel hull is both cooled by the river in summer and warmed by it in winter. The ideal houseboat I think would have a steel hull and a heavily insulated ceiling/ deck. God this is boring, maybe useful though for the growing future generations of homeless academics.
Near a field that held a pretty pony but is now filled with effluent, a pair of black tights hangs in the hedge, face height. They have been hanging there all winter and are becoming more sordid as multiple holes form in them, the legs still dangle but are blown even more akimbo daily. When they arrived I understood slightly the idea that they were thrown off in a fit of sweaty passion, down a dingy lane, but now I'm not convinced, since they are so fixedly and artfully festooned that they were instead placed as flag to remind me of my sexlessness. I look at them as I cycle by. Yup they fucked merrily that time again, black flag.
I cant take them off, middle aged women walk their dogs down the lane daily and they cant touch them either it seems, but we all see them. Little boys driving to school see them, the men who work on the boats see them, birdwatchers see them, husbands and wives see them. Am I just going to watch them slowly turn into threads and then enduring elastic tree ring? Will I let them catch my eye every day? Tomorrow I'll grab them and chuck them out of the eye line, they'll be over there instead, and I'll remember me grabbing them and chucking them, and the fear of being caught, and that turn in the road will always be 'tight corner' either way, but when flags are lowered we can quickly forget they were there? I must take down the tights tomorrow. What happens though daily, since it's trivial, is I ride on. I can never be bothered stopping and disentangling. Do I maybe even like them there? Someone got so excited and animalistic and that’s nice to remember? Why throw them high though? Surely you would just push them out of a car window, or without car, kick 'em off shin level? I don't get it. Why throw them at all? Covered in spunk? Because they were ripped? Maybe one of the the boat men wore them as thermals and one day just said: "fuck this is weird". Maybe they were a rag to clean their windscreen but they got dirty and then a failed fling over the hedge caught them? I've just remembered that nearly at the same time I found a card insert with comely seductress photo, advertising a world war 2 navy sexpot uniform nearby. So someone bought the uniform in advertised package, came to the dyke, put it on, threw away the packaging and then the tights? Or brought the package and emptied it's contents all in a fury without sex or wearing it at all? This is doing my head in. I'm writing about this. The nhs is being dismantled, communication between people is becoming near impossible, and I'm spending this evening on a pair of rotting tights.
A night and the day later I cycled up and down the lane twice and I didn’t notice the tights, they're probably still there, but could it be that by writing I have exorcised them and made them less powerful?. Mouldy tights today? Who cares-I don't. Maybe useful as starting point to write something? Could we replace the union jack with them? I can picture them with lottery funded sports victor below weeping sentimentally. When the Scots get their independence and the Welsh get jealous and follow suit the rotten black tights will be hoisted aloft for brexit brits and church leaders will adjust their pious narrative to include them as symbol of hope, love and freedom, christ's suffering, the sins of humanity etc.
Tonight the mosquitoes are in a fury, the spilling effluent that has made a huge field into damp scum nearby is bearing fruit. After a killing winter of gales, sideways rain and a frozen river a new trench warfare begins. Its funny how there can be no rest. There is more light and I can work more-that’s good. I looked for the tights today, I had to search, but they were still there: the legs had blown into abstract expressionist composition, enjoyable. I have made them benign by writing/talking, they are a tool for me now, to use or not use: embellish my hum drum jazz with base note.
I go to Sainsbury's daily and I look at the purple clad ladies. I fell in love last year with an orange foundation faced girl there and courted her then missed my slim chance when she subtly offered something. She's gone now. There's only Sophie now that makes me quiver, she wears a leather jacket and bosses the others around because she is ambitious (I asked her). She has the most beautiful skin and orange/auburn hair: she has a pre raphaelite hint with ruler straight nose. She has the smallest legs, verging on dwarfism. Whatever, swooning is part of my make up, I need it. Pulling off Sophie's tights, by a hedge: the image is hopeful for an old man. One day very soon I will no longer consider it.
The tights have gone, the water board came en masse, vans akimbo blocking the road at tight corner, they said that there's been a massive breach and the whole river could be polluted. In the higher emergency panic the tights and some of the hedge itself has been cleared. I'm glad. I can stop thinking about rotting tights, but where did they go? I've started looking for them.
Walking away from the river where the spectacle of water and sky dominates, past wild red dotted hedges with birds scattering, I find the slick concrete road and follow it back to the world of people and images. Car shapes, haircuts, clothes, shoes, all with an offensive/defensive flavour. Here comes an advert with happy model smiling with product, or little miss perfect with a LOGO next to her fat lips. Its not like I can shut my eyes, especially in the supermarket. Just like when I hear political shit on the radio, or coming from mouths, I can't close my ears,. Thankfully reading the newspapers and watching tv is not a habit of mine (they're prescriptive, predictable, and insulting to REAL life) so here's some relief, some defence, but the shit still goes in through word of mouth drivel, and so I have to clear out regularly then rearrange what's real or good. Someone was killed or an asteroid is coming, this is all fine, but then opinions interrupt and suspiciously appropriate adverts follow, it's as if the media, by directing the public consciousness, acts a vehicle for advertising only? As if everything we see and hear is advert? For a passive, image fed way of life.
We are bombed with images daily, sugary and addictive, product and power pornography. Because we see no blood we think images are innocent, glittery, fun, but they drown us, demean us and sometimes even kill us. Mainly they make us tired and confused, insecure, ugly and speechless.
It is no accident painting and power has walked hand in hand. From magical ceremonies, church sermons to Renaissance banking and the religious banking of today's images, these cozy stories and the resulting friendly 'artwork' predominates.
Painting privately, without patron, and barely a product, I can see something closer to myself and be more admiring of myself. By painting it becomes possible to take control of what goes into my eyes daily, and consequently what I think about, and how deeply. Paintings are no more innocent as images, and dictate a specific narrative similarly. There is the possibility though that they wont rip you off, or hurt you, sell you something, scream at you noisily or become addictive. There is the possibility that they could send you love, educate you perhaps, and lead you away as if to return to a floral retreat, towards a quiet escape. They could love you so much that they could take you around this earth garden noting all the successes and failures as they stand, the life and the death, glory and misery, with serene equanimity, without retreat or attack, as friend.
Painting is a way of taking back image control, put upon us from birth and spun out daily, everywhere. We are surrounded. Painting is no less innocent, and we receivers should be wary of the power of these images too.
We are involved in an image war, dominated by mass media, governments, the internet, cinema and even galleries and Art Barons. Defend yourself well, then fight: for a more real world with cleaner, more meaningful images that could be made for our mental health, and our lusty and hopeful selves. We must paint ourselves out of the media and towards a new world.
Art is not nice
I looked at art as a boy. I saw colours and shapes and stories and paint. Exotic people invented by exotic hands. Pictures of people floating about and pointing at things. It felt cosmic: mind expanding and a great relief to exit the grotesque, toxic present of Blackpool. It felt rich and sexy. My eyes became addicted, hungry for more secret shine and colour.
The artless real world is a right mess. It's so big, its so complex: it's beautiful, it's frightening. What does it all mean? There's so much stuff: soil, weeds, plants, animals, ourselves, sky, stars, cosmos. That's the sort of vast abbreviation we have to make, otherwise we would go mad. In the soil are fungi, viruses, worms, eggs, tiny flies, moles, layers of sediment, rock, dead forests, fossils, underground rivers. The plates of the earth are shifting and lava is spewing and burping up unseen down there. I could go on just thinking about the soil under my feet.
To survive its best not to daydream like this for long, we must munch on things and keep ourselves protected from the elements. It’s a much smaller world this sheltering, munching world: there's here and there's over there, which doesn't really exist. This is the caterpillar like microcosmos of a squirming human. Munch, munch, burp munch.
Oh no, here comes an artist. It looks like the other caterpillar humans but a bit more organized, it places an easel in a nice spot, with a folding stool and a flask of tea and looks around. It sees something, and then paints it. It looks hard to do since it's frowning and having little thinks now and again. Eventually it says: "look at this".
But hang on, that's not real, it's not moving, it's bright and funny though. It's like a puppy rolling over sort of reality, you can even tickle its tactile tummy if you like. This is friendly magic, here's a tree that does not die, a friend who smiles all the time. There's a buffalo that I don’t need to be scared of or chase after. It just stares at you like a parent.
Hang on again. Ok it’s a tree that doesn’t move, so its not really a tree at all. So why look at this tree shape thing instead of a real tree? Because you get to keep it? Is it like you can control crazy reality and not be a victim of it? Is it just bright and funny company? Ok, but then what do you choose to look at instead of reality? A tree, a naked lady, some people flying and pointing, some reminder of someone who has gone?
What an artist does is MAKE you look at something very particular. They control your eyes and your mind for as long as you look: the real world fades away and then you're hypnotized. The most stared at images are in Italy. They come from a period where vast amounts of money were spent on these funny things. Many people have been hypnotized by them and more are planning a trip there. These are not images of a sad dog drawn with a blunt banana. They are full of expensive pigments and gilt, pretty people and pretty clothes, painted by people who trained to do this art-jewelry since they were young. They took ages to make. They cost a fortune to make, and now they're priceless apparently.
Every bit of art seems to roll over for you, look and love me. It is more fun than staring at soil I suppose. Art appears generous, passive, innocent, but it is not. It is a deliberate organization, manipulating yr eyes, brain and body, sometimes mockingly so. It is a reciprocal seduction though: we want relief from chaos and art demands your attention.
Some art is nice and some art is nasty. You have to talk to it as if it were alive: as it is. Ask it, "what are you infecting me with?". You are big aren't you, why? What's that bit of you making me think there? Isn't this a lazy, meaningless bit? Are you a cliché? Are you just showing off or are you showing me something new and delicate? Or are you a nasty piece of work: making me more blind or even threatening me? Talking only about how pretty and clever YOU are: how wealthy, how narcissistic and humorless? Or are you trying to help me see something neccessary: sharing joy and offering a universal handhold, and a better chance at accessing nutty reality?
Same thing only shorter
You have a choice: a burger or KFC. Its fun, like succumbing to kittens and googling people. But when you do it all the time, you get fat, grey and greasy. You, grease ball, might think you need to cleanse yourself and see some high culture instead, so you go and goggle at the sistene chapel, or the last supper: appropriately. What you are seeing are the same adverts that hooked you into finger licking, sick battery chicken limbs in a sugary fat crunch. These are not free range artists expressing healthy philosophical stuff. They are paid off admen of the church or any wealthy patron who wanted to buy themselves some power. Why do we look at adverts continually? Because they are everywhere? Yes, but also because they are super fun, and we can absorb the information easily and with some pleasure. Look at the funny royal family, are they for real? No they are adverts. See footballers and their ridiculous hairdo's: adverts. Look at the politicians: adverts. Look at facebook: adverts. Look at contemporary art: self conscious adverts? Look in the mirror and adjust yr advert. It's totally sexy, its total bullshit. Images are toxic and way more powerful and invasive than is generally known. Governments and powerbrokers on the other hand are well aware of this secret drug and seemingly innocent aggression. Images are sugary and addictive, comely and pornographic, relating to reality in a mostly underhand way.
I'm not part of the scene because I don’t don’t live in London. I can't afford it, but I visit now and then and get to glimpse some of the the extraordinary people there.
Have you noticed how oxbridge media-types continually ascribe extra value by applying the word: extraordinary whereas poor people use the opposite term for decency: he was one of us, just an ordinary bloke. The pseudo literati state with confidence on the radio: what was EXTRAORDINARY about it/them/whatever was…then they say this horribly predictable thing. Fascinating, gee thanks from us worm-like taxpayers. Can we start using the term correctly: everyone and everything is extraordinary, or we're ALL ordinary? Can ordinary even exist? Can we stop dictating our preferred hierarchies with this divisive non-adjective?
The word amazing is also a constant gentrified nag. We went to the park: it was amazing. We saw some ART: it was amazing. We saw so and so: they looked amazing. Well perhaps if you live in a small room, get on a bus, go through grey London streets of multinational monoculture, anything else looks amazing? If it's any good, Art for instance, is not amazing at all: it's real and familiar and a great relief. Saying amazing describes nothing, or if anything, a me-versus-you mentality. I bagged this and you didn't.
Both these words are bullies, endeavoring to tear apart and seperate the chosen ones, not unify and make us all feel included, which we are. The cultural marketplace loves this excessive agrandisement. It's the overuse of these words that bug me. Save them for when something truly knocks you sideways, not just amuses you slightly? Or perhaps this is part of the new London portrait: a US import perhaps, that nowhere and noone else exists except the more evolved types. We know here, you don't know there: sadly. Or perhaps London people are so in the habit of selling something, they cant help themselves advertising everything?
In New London the cultured kids get vigorously onto a tube or cycle in lycra to see the other cultured kids culture. Ordinaryness is definitely off the menu. London is certainly big enough to keep you busy with platters of entertaining stuff. Organic live-lemming massages, a cat wee coffee served in a house made entirely of bananas, someone has exhibited a ground up a jet engine here, organised a state funded naked football match there. These yawning rich kids are fucking about artfully with everyone elses money. It’s a proper spectacle for sure.
When I lived in London, now and then a swank curator would reluctantly venture into the heart of darkness to visit me. A dangerous and disturbing 3 mile trip into the dark foliage of suburban North London. Now I'm 110 miles even more North, 2 hours on the train, that's way out of range for people who get in cabs to planes to New York, Miami, Berlin etc. then cabs to shows and back, chewing up hectares of FINE ART, but mainly POWER. I imagine if my throbbing cv was bursting with cool upcoming shows then that would counteract such a distasteful and unglamourous trip here, but without that huge dildo crowbar it's like visiting a hospice. Why bother, to a no-power noone? Perhaps my work is not amazing enough? It's certainly true I'm not aiming for that.
When I listen to arty pop music I constantly hear innovative and authentic new sounds, new voices from Scotland, Manchester, Liverpool, Lincoln, Nowheresville, UK. Raw, rude, rock, rap: political, morose, absurd and yet in visual Art I only see bling? Visual Art names are pushed like coke, these brands of style. Sayers of extraordinary nothingness. In music there is no museum culture or state intervention colouring things. Here places like the state owned Tate Gallery and similary directed municipal Museums rule the roost and are hamstrung both by their inherited collections and mild mannered reputations. The Art world is stuck in conservative mode. Before a museum purchase, artworks must be inspected by a conservator to secure their longevity. This has nothing to with meaning or worth but with the drear stability of materials smeared on other materials. Thousands of pounds of your museum money is spent keeping hundreds of Lady Forthright Montagues relatives faces rosy and smooth, while knobbly pictures made by Dave from Brum havent got a hope of surviving time. In music we would most likely hear Dave: if he's any good, because radio waves are cheaper than white walls perhaps? Perhaps the radio reaches all us riff raff easily, whereas Art has always been a niche, elite and private magic? Art's fortune depends too much on class based legacies: it's too limiting. Like music, art has always been raw, rude and exciting: how can we get it to be as vital as music again? Burning (or selling) our cruel, racist, class biased collections would be a good start. Let new art come, become old, then let it go.
On a recent trip to see some of my few faithful London friends, who have never visited me in the the three years since I left, and after a nice dinner, and after buying them more wine like a grateful dog, and after hearing that all men are rapists and shit, I said some ridiculous things, and then received one of the most violent verbal beatings I have ever experienced, I was branded a sewer licking thing. I was not allowed to say anything after that. I left the next day. I am in the habit of saying provocative, sometimes ridiculous things, to jolly things along or make people work harder with what they say. To will out all the racism, sexism, snobbery and allow it to be heard, it all comes from somewhere afterall, from both big and domestic narratives: belonging, dicomfort, fear: it doesn't matter. We've all got dodgy things that need to come out, things we're uncomfortable with discussing. I rarely hear serious conversations about the complications and specifities of strange (probably inherited?) sexual fantasies, for instance. Here gender and power relations get really blurry: some people like being strangled, whipped, pissed on, others need to dominate. Are these the bad guys? We must ALL be allowed to SPEAK, at least, even when we say terrible and dangerous things, and then with love, and criticism, talk more. Shutting people down, silencing them for having inelegant insides or outsides, is another sad portrait of New London. I have better conversations elsewhere now, probably because people can be ugly and aren't shit scared of saying stupid, and heartfelt things.
On the outskirts of Norwich, suburban houses peter out and turn into unusable scrub, then marshland, then bog. Here there is a plastic smoke stinking up the river. Near a high 60's flyover with endless car growl, where a sausage line of seated bodies cross the tidal river Yare, oblivious to the ditch-life down here. A train clatters half-hourly 50 yards to the left. With the wide, slow, dreaming river 20 feet to the right, these multiple routes create a triangle of strange motion all around where Buzzard III is tied. We are lying low down here in a grungy man-made puddle. Moving sideways slightly, but mainly up and down as the hours and tides go by.
In slow motion the ropes saw against the wood pylons and a tyre buffer squeals as the heavy steel hull adjusts it's sleeping position. In the next boatyard separated from here by a muddy creek Terry tends the toxic fire made from laminated wood, rubber and plastic waste piled daily by the blobby white plastic boat making company. The blaze is 10 feet high and he stands most evenings like black angel in silhouette against the night sky with beer can raised elbow and stocky tan Staffordshire terrier bow-legged by his side. Today it is Good Friday, Terry has been pissed from 8am, it is still light and he has staggered off in grey camouflage jacket to leave the toxic fog to sink over the river.
Diesel slicks rainbow the water dropped from the plastic boats of Griffin marina, and other Norfolk Broads chuggers. I chuck in my jug of piss and fling in a rare chicken bone, there's a cosmic dispersion. Plastic bottles wobble past, a giant hunched body thing, some boat upholstery, a sponge, an white egg-like fender etc. etc. Despite this gunk a spicy kingfisher flashes low over the water, screaming. Swans and exotic geese cruise and nibble at the long weed hairs growing on Buzzard's sides. Great crested grebe's are nesting over there, moorhens are wandering around mixing with rabbits at twilight and early in the morning, darting among the boats perched on trailers and dodgy props. A few days ago there was a squealing and I saw a weasel, with mouse in mouth, bound under the moss fatted gangplanks. One morning I see an otter: a small-headed surface-torpedo moving smoothly then bowing down regularly. I tell one of the oily boatmen excitedly, he tells me he used to get £1 for every otter he could kill as a kid. M over there on another steel boat is drinking and smoking like me, peering out as his true self, a boy 50 years ago, in his toy captains cabin. Low and high. We will sink if we are too careless or low to maintain our floating caravans. We will sink if we're lifted too ecstatically into daydreams by this cradling underworld.
In the morning we gather and shake our feathers in the mud yard, damply talking about leaky hatches, diesel engines, propellers, lucky escapes and real drownings, gas leaks, toilet pump outs, shaggings (elsewhere) and large amounts of horse power. I nod and smile and listen because I'm a newcomer. I've been here a month, working 6am to dark on this steel creature, all pipes and jubilee clips and varnish and enamel and aluminum and silicone sealant, hinges, grease, bitumen, lubricants, coal and a kind of toxic manly filth. As a boy this grit and grime was romantic and manly-strange, now it is a very intimate bedfellow. I sleep with it. Paint and brushes are below, brass screws and bags of bungs and brass gubbins to my side, a mud weight above my head and various little jobs on the go: drying, gluing, greasing, painting and burning. A few feet away a meal is cooked, coffee grounds swilling and a soapy/oil smeg staining the plastic sink bowl.
My bed is animalistic, becoming waxy and feet smelling. I haven't washed myself for a while and when I tuck in my socks to cycle, a pile of dandruff falls out like I've been smuggling it for a geat escape. I'm not drinking enough water, maybe because it's all around-I'm put off-or I'm too busy with never ending little jobs? Funny everyone's nose is running, we are constantly breathing the river in, sitting around an olive green bath all day. Hands purple or burn red, like gaudy second hand gloves, the stalwarts all have huge thumbs it seems. Mine have frostbite I notice: penny sized blisters that weep and wont heal because they are continually enflamed by diesel, detergent and constant soapy water, they never dry out. My yard clothes are smeared with oil and sawdust etc. I choose very dark blue or black and so in my mind I get away with the gunk. I notice though I'm getting no supermarket flirtation.
The sky is huge with at least 3 different weathers battling each other. A Mallard is flying low like brass hanging then lands, clumsy and funny, in the style of a scared child on a zip line out of control. Cormorants fly by with uncomfortable frantic flapping, thrown iron crosses, or like panicked lead. I'm eating the morning bread this evening as a fire struggles to warm my left hand side, I move the logs and give them a bellow blow. I read that leaving the doors of the wood burner open depletes oxygen levels in a small space and should be avoided for sleeping on board. They are open for now and a candle burns more, I will snuff them both out soon and tuck in with the lack of light, like the geese. The day is dying and I'm watching it, I finish my planned breakfast. Luckily Sainsbury's is 10 minutes up the dirt road for the morning. It's properly black now, show's over, I'm going to walk around the junky gothic boatyard then go to bed. Scavenged wood has transformed into evening heat. There is no getting out of regular bow sawing and splitting, as it is very cold, every night, and the wood burner is essential for my survival. Sleet, buckets of rain, boat banging gales and thick frost cover the boat most days. Condensation inside the boat collects in strips of cloth I have tucked under the lower lips of the aluminum frames.
My living space is about 24 feet by 6 feet. Inside there is a shower, toilet, 2 single beds, 2 sinks, a cooker, fridge, wood burner, 2 bench seats with table between which converts to double bed (for these first 8 months that luxury has not been needed). There are some ingenious storage spaces and a tiny wardrobe. The engine compartment outside is 6 feet long, above it are 3 heavy floor panels. These panels can be left exposed to the gentler elements or covered with a fitted black canvas when it's nasty, protecting the engine compartment from rust and flood. Uncovered, the panels make a patio space, when it's covered it's a low children's den to crawl under.
Boat life is a constant wobble and a clumsy banging into things. Only with experience, intelligence and agility can you appear sober. It is absolutely necessary to be orderly to avoid injury. Shoes go here, coat there, saws and mugs hang on hooks and pans snug here and plates slid there, tools neat under the teak steps. I can find almost everything mole blind. Inside is like a miniature pub snug or a luxury coffin, wobbling. It is perhaps no surprise that model boats used to be placed in Egyptian tombs to aid the deceased occupant's easy passage through the dark canals of the underworld. I am almost there: slipping, swaying and skidding on black glass, going nowhere fast: but moving slowly into darkness.
I am home alone in the boatyard now, the owners have gone away. Mick, Chris, David and Robert have gone, Paul has gone, the Pike fishermen have packed and gone, the place is ripe for the outboard thieves and if I sink now, no one will know, till low tide. Likewise if I slip drunkenly on the night frost and bang my noggin on the steel sides. The sausage line of drivers is still on the move, the grinding noise is louder still in the night. In the empty black puddle there are a few water splashes from big feeding Pike, there are other plops I don't understand and can't see, something is tapping and scratching on the steel hull 3 feet down. Opening the hatch, bats are swimming in the air, a Little Owl has become night resident, screaming like a baby. Inside my wobbly coffin alone, I am strangely at home.
MARCH, then OCTOBER 2015
Engurland are continually unlucky at sports. Nope, we lose and will continue to lose, because we have been made too stupid and artless. Fitness is fundamental, not a feature, and discipline is obvious, not a sign of remarkable insight. It is time to wake up. Engurland needs to get educated and Arty.
When we think of great football and rugby players, we don’t remember the solid, muscular, disciplined ones. It's the weirdly bright, almost anarchic artists who really shine and continually win games. In Engurland we have no choice but to populate our teams with big, artless, uneducated lumps. So we lose, and we will always lose, because we are wooden and stupid. Art and intelligence, anarchism and intelligence: these things are connected. These things help create flair, and flair players create space, and make winning games easier. Playing against artful players solid simplicities and peasant shimmies get us nowhere, we need a box full of brainy out-of-the-box thinkers.
In Engurland we make good soldiers, and sneer at pink haired artists, ho ho - dear oh dear. Here we like to do what we are told, and find clichés very interesting. We learn about creative Monarchs at school, but that colourful world is not for the likes of us, we learn to be nobodies from the start. Or we learn nothing. Here we don't learn to play, but learn to lose that skill. Because it is dangerous. We might get ideas above ourselves, and cause trouble. Our education, especially for the poor is still in industrial mode. Shut up, get job, stay down.
Making magic is sometimes about playing the fool and making mistakes till things work better. Art is practical magic, letting new strangeness and new realities in. Battlefield Monarchs and midfield generals know about this cerebral playfulness. Battles are won with imagination more than by force.
Art and anarchism can be horribly ugly, gambling often goes wrong, but a practiced aim at beauty, and something newly better, is at least, never dreary. When we remember George Best, Johann Cruyf, Eric Cantona, Maradonna, Gareth Edwards, Jonah Lomu, David Campese etc. we swoon, and are quick to call them great artists. They are also great anarchists. The things great players do are rude, outrageous, insulting, absurd even. When you can do the basics, and are bored by them, you push the boundaries, if you are allowed, then break them: you have to, there's no option, because it's too wonderful. It is risky, almost criminal, and can be shocking, ground breaking.
This year for the first time, no Northern Hemisphere teams are represented in the Rugby world cup semi finals, and England were the first to be knocked out. This is even as host nation, with the advantage of thousands of excited locals roaring them on, and on familiar home turf. It's embarrassing. The England football team, even helped weekly by a glut of artful foreign stars and sometimes anarchic foreign managers, still struggle to get a foothold in Europe. English teams, and our island neighbours flounder because as mob we are thugs.
Only when a team is fuelled by bright intelligence, artfulness and ceaseless creativity can it be great, and be remembered. Bright skill only can conjour magic, not the supernatural or accidental, and definitely not by wishing God to save the Queen, with gusto. The devoted work horse, and the dogged can only be admired in a slightly piteous way. The peasant scrapper is what England is best known for, only now we cannot even do that, because it's embarrassing and unsophisticated - like begging, and is an especially humiliating way to lose.
It is no accident I suggest, that Spain France Germany Italy, and the whole of South America in football, New Zealand, Australia, and south Africa in rugby are all brainier, more fluid and artful. Here proximity to and with affection for Our Monarch and her insulting machinery, appears to sponsor stupidity levels, projecting out like brain killing beacon. After all, hierarchies require hoards of failures to function, and even demand dumbness before every game:
God(who doesn't exist?) save(from what?) our(who's?) gracious(for being rich?) Queen (eh?)
God(?) save(?) our(?) noble(how?) Queen(eh?)
God(?) save(?) our(?) Queen(?)
Send(?)Her victorious(why not our sports folk?)
Happy (she seems happy already) and Glorious (what for being a power monger?)
God(?) save(?) our(?) Queen(?)
What's the second verse(?)..
Art save our broken hearts
Art save our noble hearts
Art save our hearts
Send US victorious
Happy and Glorious
Art save our hearts.
DA. DA. DA. DA.
RAH RAH RAH RAH
RAH RAH RAH RAH
RA---A--AH Ah AH-ah-AH-ah
Post show fail-out, I'm bunkered in friends housesit, wondering why I bother doing what I do. I've kept away from the internet for a while, but today I google someone I spent a nice evening with the other day and it spirals into a series of labyrinthine links into the great, churning Art World gut. So many names, so many shows, so many some-ones, so many no-ones, so many stylists, so much of that white-wall-look: very well photographed. Mostly meaningless existential-entertaining chaff. Names, galleries, worthiness: some nice styles, all nice styles actually. But after an hour or so I am none the wiser. If Art is the new church then it appears increasingly like the old Renaissance one. Banking, bling and dictatorial bullying ONLY.
Fine Art-less black people, hassidic jews and weary working whites pass by my low housesit window, masked by plants and wind chimes and mirror hangings. When you get into the art world (which is mainly an internet reality and a series of clickety clicks) you encounter so much bullshit and spin its hard not to laugh. LINK: '9 artist who address climate change' so you click and you see 6 outdoorsy pornographers, and not much else. So you might go instead: '10 LA ones to watch'…then you see nothing new…so then to, say: 'Anne Uther at MOMA' it is all so blah. But it looks so fun - bouncy and delicious! Whether it's good or bad, its photographed so sexily and the spaces are so bloody porny and accommodating it's really near impossible to make anything look truly worthless and shit. To see worthless shit in fact that would be a revelation and much more interesting! This mythical ' worthless shit show' would undoubtedly be red hot, trending its arse off. The point it seems, is not the STUFF anymore but the branded NAME. Placed artfully into the internet tub somewhere. Spinning like a baby sock in highly visual washing machine.
Man, what am I doing in this business? I'm so unsuited to it, but I like making things, and saying what I think, so maybe that’s why I linger. But why am I not in the list of 'The best 1,000,000 painters NOW'?…how does that work?…Lets be clear - you pay for it - and I'm not paying so, I'm irrelevant, like the people walking past outside. Meanwhile the 'names' are out there naming each other and wanting always to be slightly bigger names. And if you get a 'really' big name then you get to have a meaningless thing in a cultural institution that almost everyone gives not a shit for, except the ART WORLD, which does slightly. This is courtly business, or just business. Take a turd, polish it, place it in cool space, maybe a museum acquires it, the Art World goes shit crazy for it and a ton of money is made. Like that Gangnam style thing, like deely boppers, like everything dumb that is excitedly spun. Oops, just googled Ai Wei Wei..I was thinking who would you say was somebody relevant in art now…I couldn't think of anyone at all…so I just googled his name out of paper thin interest...and I got a film trailer to his RA show looking like a Quentin Tarantino blockbuster. "No one can stop me" he growls. Oh god someone, or some more wine, kill me. What has happened to my stupid art dreams? What if I ever get a show at the nowheresville Lowry, or pointless Whitworth, or god knows where. My stupid sensitive dream has been so fucked up that I don’t want any of it anymore.
Now I aspire to a shed show where no one comes. I aspire to die and all my work burnt and kept clean from this business wank. I aspire to be someone walking past my window, perhaps with baby buggy: not be this lonely Art thing sadly writing this. IF Art is the new Church with iced beer bucket as eucharist, then I am destined to be a reluctant Satanist or even born again Christian. I believe in the power and meaning of THINGS whether it is art or not, but I'm disconnecting. The proliferation of media images and links that flash and flood our senses are killing quickly specific, scientific, religious, unpopular Art magic. A plague on all your gallery websites. Art is not about the space, the cv, the name, the article, the catalogue. It's about being Alive and intelligent in the world, not the internet. Wipe yr eyes, and delete yr cookies, you are being made a fool of, and made more sick headed. Make yourself clean from media spin. Sacrifice internet Art for your health and intelligence.
GOO +Day Day.
I paint and write to keep clean, it's less about social display but more about self respect and mental hygiene.
I have to do something with this nonsense I encounter, I write and paint as way of getting junk out of my brain. "We are the party of Labour". "We are the builders". George Osbourne cant help himself spraying catchphrases over us like a mad fox. These are memorable phrases, because they are mad, and knowing how pungent and weird true madness is, he continues. "I am the people's miner" will be next. Or, "We are the black women". Why not? Who cares? "I am the Walrus, he is the egg man". He's aiming for legacy, like that horrible, "u-turn if you want to" thing. He's aiming for a kind of dim-witted pub-banter hook. Stock, Aitken and Waterman catchiness. It makes no real difference to us what politicians wet themselves with, since they are mainly speaking to themselves and their journalist friends. With only these friends, family, and some old and infirmed listening, it must be like wanking in front of your parents. In the wings a few chippy masochists like myself are watching open mouthed, half-grateful for the freakish source material.
Everything GOO (his middle name is Oliver) says, like Cameron and all advertisers and business people, involves child-like simplifications, aiming for digestible interface for disinterested childish faces I suppose. These noises are clumsy and LEGO-like, supplanting in the public consciousness meaningless primary colours. Nothing they say is real or felt, like late Thatcher and Blair there is just soulless spin, with Churchillian polish. Squirming sentences full of wriggle room spill out neatly. The main intention is to win over the dumb.
The trick of acting is sincerity and if you can fake that you've got it made*.
All art and writing should not be boring, and GOO is definitely not boring, but he IS going outwardly mad and that is not like good art or politics, it's a slow motion car crash. We become voyeurs, watching his rotten soul decay before our eyes. He knows clearly what he wants, and we all know clearly what he wants, what is surpising is his own wonderment at his own puerile guile. It is entertaining how he and Day Day now move like baby-ghouls into perceived empty leftish spaces, catching more unthinking fish they hope. They are certainly right about the dismal national IQ (possibly the most successful Tory achievement) that free and powerful citizens can now only absorb political ideas 4 words long.
Only a handful of people will read what I (scum) writes, my words are niche, typed for my own sanity. My real life is elsewhere. They though, born with the vacuum of privilege desperately need to manufacture some life meaning. Getting POWER, influence, or making tons of money somehow makes a meaningful working life? This is their understanding of human grace or virtue: helping an old lady across the road would be an opportunity to manipulate for them, not a selfless gift for the old lady. These little man-boys are still staring in teenage mirrors.
For this writing, mostly spat out before bed, I ask for nothing. When someone likes what I say I feel kind of sick, I challenge them for it. All I really want is to know is that it makes a sort of sense, that it is not NAZI mad, cruel or vain like a Tory speech. Or boring, like a lazy human thing that is disrespectful to real LIFE.
All party conference speeches are meaningless, only the vibe is important, a flavour. Some are bitter, some are sweet and the worst are tasteless or dull. Osbourne and Cameron can at least be congratulated for being theatrical and farcical, like the royals, they should be applauded, but only because they are hilarious. Jeremy Corbyn is the opposite of theatrical and is for this reason a recent revelation, but he does still dress like a 'character'. The main criticism seems to be he won't do the powder puff stuff but instead chooses a Pinteresque or Beckett modernism, far too dour or miserablist for the dim flag waving middle or 'common' ground. Most of these people are addicted to shiny things, grown up telly tubby's. Bored, unwilling or too exhausted for real life. Spun into idiocy and deference from birth.
Yesterday Theresa May volleyed her sour message into the the world, trying to scoop the ukip millions. She says Immigration is bad. More madness, she has been the resident minister under unprecedented levels of Immigration, and now she says she is opposed to it! Here is a portrait either of her hypocrisy or her supreme impotence.
This Tory conference is like watching snakes shedding their skin. Shaking off the nasty right and moving nicey left, but in word and theme only. That politicians are outright liars is well known, but this conference suggests some of them should hospitalized or sued for misrepresentation. Today Cameron's next advertising slogans read: 'Generation-BUY not generation-RENT'. 'A crusade for housing'. Again its like saying vehemently what you want is the opposite of what you have done, that you are inept. Still, congratulations, what sane person would have thought the word 'crusade' could be allied with the word 'housing'. "We are the mad".
Because people don’t visit the theatre anymore, yet they still like shiny things, they are bemused by this word-dirt perpetually thrown their way, but amused also by the comic puppetry. One day I will have to stop listening to this political guff to prevent my own serious mental illness or suffer premature heart attack. Maybe this is the tories true aim: to send us all doolally, or disable us: making us even more soft and compliant?
The finale of Cameron's speech is typically slimy and laden with creepy lies. He's also hateful and cruel about his opposition, again. JC is a kindly, long-standing defender of the poor. From this apparently hateful creature Cameron's new policies are brazenly stolen. Here at last there is less madness or theatre. He reveals himself instead as real monster, in-bred with the genetics of theft and hate.
The real crime here is not cruel policy making, but the promotion by our 'elite' of transparent lying as virtue. Is it a wonder that deference is dying? This will be their legacy. Already it is easy to imagine Jeremy Corbyn cast in Bronze. Goo or Day Day can only be imagined in pink plastic or vaguely carved foam.
I've abandoned my glam-scum gallery residence. Phillida has gone to Australia and given me the keys to her nice flat in Camden for 10 days. I've been here a day and had 2 baths already. Before this I had been sleeping on the floor of a gallery for 3 weeks, no curtains and no air, but it looked nice-ish! I kept the window open in an attempt to breath. Because of this I was woken continually by restaurant air vents kicking in daily from 4am, banging doors, pigeon fights, early cleaners arriving and leaving, rat squeals and bin lorries clearing up the mountains of junk. I would then get up have 3 coffees and start smoking myself to death again. I would empty my wee pot and disinfect it, hand wash my pants and socks from yesterday and flannel wash my face and other social parts. After a few days I noticed my toes were black with some kind of fungal infection, my ears were blocked and I was in bad health with the stress of all the work involved making a show/thing: moving stuff, arranging, thinking, writing, smoking, drinking a lot of alcohol and not sleeping: Natural Selection in progress. I gave up on shaving as it was all too much work. At 10am clean and healthy looking gallery assistant Nick would arrive to start his gallery Mac book stuff, so I would talk to him about website images for him to upload, then feel superfluous: then get out: past the rat shit, the bins and human piss, and into Soho. A damaged worm squirming in the brutal cross-rail building-site orgasm. Across the business health of oxford street, up an alley to the bus stop near Boots on Tottenham court road and then wait to get a slow bus to my real home-soil: my allotment. The bus would take ages but it was a well needed sit down and quiet nothingness before getting off to walk to the allotment and wobble around there: recover, paint a bit, then bus back into the human piss-pot of Soho.
At the allotment: black, now very grey paintings are coming out, idea-less and as artless as can be. Loser Art. Partly what I'm doing is questioning this F.Arty existence of mine and everyone else who's F.Artying about these days. It's so full of lame consumer-driven, twittering half-thinkers, business people and Art peevee hedonists. How can an Art patron's head be where a real deeply frazzled artists head is at? Mostly it's all done with deer-like philosophical head-scratching and nose twitching: image love/hate and sensuous gossip. Gobbets of Art news are included in the misty brew and tiny bits of media trivia help fashion an idea of what's what in LIFE and ART. Personal circumstances and deaths don't matter: its what is made with it, and maybe that's what's especially grim: that indifference, but perhaps that's the freeing, unifying, class-crossing aspect too?
A lot of exhibited Art now is immune from addressing really serious human questions of poverty and hopeful human foresight, instead it’s a massive compromise hinting at subtle imagery progress, whilst still being saleable. A few time-rich folks are musing on the next phase and doing swaying homework to webby, hip-hope subtleties. For the few, its not about what's COOL, its about what's newly REAL.
I don’t want to attack myself as artist, but I feel guilty that I choose to paint and show, not rage more directly or comfort other worm-like sufferers outside the rarified ART church. What I like about art though is that I can still rage (as long as I'm still a bit aesthetic about it perhaps) without going to prison or deemed sluggish or overly moany. When Art gets mass attention it can side step government and mainstream media hierarchies and that's hopeful. Despite it's slow disintegration into the media realm, all Art forms are still a rare opportunity to hear strange, mystical loser voices, as well as the Big blousy Winners.
The title NATURE SCUM is still confusing: staying at the gallery I could feel myself quickly becoming feral, animalistic, inhuman. I left because I could see myself just dying there, following a Darwinian extinction script, and that was not the grand plan: though this dumb vocation will get me soon enough. The subtext was: I am 'too small to win', a worrying side effect of 'free' markets: that they have created greedy monsters that hoover us all up like dust mites. The Natural World, the small and low have no advocate, no teams of lawyers. Natural Selection generalizations are commonly used in banking parlance and business practice. How will this apply to the arts, as principles of MIGHT trickle into all institutional and personal business plans? A major aim in art and culture is to question the whole process, not blindly follow: it's important to challenge, in order to improve. Mistakes, failures and grey areas are especially valuable here, as in a fluxing garden. But they can't be tolerated in successful business practices. Healthy animal species do bully, rape and murder, but mostly there's mild, quiet fucking going on elsewhere. If bullies and crooks prosper and dominate, isn't that backward EVOLUTION? It certainly feels like human culture is being deselected as it is increasingly getting funded by immoral and Art-ignorant, banking slime.
The gallery was surrounded by builders banging, grinding and making dust clouds from 8am to 8pm: when the rats came out. The mews was a flood of them, it felt apocalyptic as grey-brown restaurant smeg was washed into the yard daily: rocket fuel for them, scuttling around the gluttonous debris: testing my green spirit and weakening my body. The stench from their strong piss and black pellets would rush through the gallery. I was breathing that in all the time.
Despite this filthiness I would attempt to beatify the place with fresh flowers almost daily, spray lavender essential oil around to mask the rat piss and keep them from keeping me closer company inside. A few mice had access to the gallery interior but only a few droppings were found so I didn’t mind that so much. Anyway aren't I supposed to love 'nature'? What was especially worrying was that the flowers and lettuce leaves that I kept in vases of water all died within a day or two, and not just that, they would dissolve into a kind of green goo the like id never seen before, mucus like: poisoned. The water was dead I realized and if rats were so widespread they were most likely in the water system too, with their particularly potent products.
My plan was to stick it out and make a point about Contemporary Art shallowness and Natural World depth and my animalistic survival within both. To exhibit some uncomfortable ugliness and uncomfortable heroism: real, unpolished and largely unseen. At the same time damn the apparent heroics of a million young toffs and their big new deconstructed canvases: bullying the market.
I became too toxic and tired so I had to evacuate. Cowardly perhaps? If you realize the beast you are fighting is too big, do you lift up your weary body from a trench and charge, then fail, or do you retreat, rebuild and come back with a machine gun?
The Art is still there: my bed, soap, towel, shoes and maybe my exit is not a weakening of my humble message but a strengthening. That Art is only pale relative of being ALIVE with the world, and the trope of art showing has become a mostly inane, affluent, smiley party. Contrary messages will get overlooked for now, like harmless but evolving bacteria, but with renewed organization, and more powerful Art irritation I might yet be a real pain in the Contemporary 'Arts'.
Now I'm living in a London gallery: in a dingy mews in Soho. After many recent house-sit shifts it's kind of amusing to make a green Art show in a place once used as accommodation for horses. That lowly ancestry is still evident here: instead of staw, manure and bad carrots, there are beer bottles, fag buts and rancid restaurant litter swilling around for the embedded party rats to glut on. As I entered today a homeless man was adjusting himself by my front door, a chocolate stained tissue left behind. A few feet away, beyond the flimsy plywood street barricade round the corner, beneficiaries of Romanesque decadence and squalor pose louchely at sensory depots and squirm with superiority as homeless people beg like rustic comedians for absolutely anything. The hairdo's alone could pay for a week's rent, an artful pushed out shoe for a month. The plywood gates are closed at night to stop both high and low using the place as drunken convenience.
I'm up on the first floor, near a window with a brick view. The building is set back from the street and feels scrunched into a corner because a developers jutting extension has been been built 4 feet in front of this place, the window is open wide but I'm sweating like supermarket cheese in this late August evening heat. I can hear all the fun out there: bottles emptied into skip continually like hourly church ring tone. Women and men squealing and shouting to be loved or fucked: 'Please make it mean something, before I go home to nothing'. A strange lone bug walks across my home made table, fuck knows how it made it here and how it will find anything even near worth mating with. It is screwed, like me, sweating and trapped: bemused by the white walls of a Fine Art galley. Itself a definition of desolation and longing for something/anything in the city. Maybe my sympathetic rustic paintings and a few plants and flowers drew it in?
I thought I might do that: plant a rich garden here and invite the bees and butterflies etc. to visit: re-invigorate this death-zone but then I thought that would be cruel, like a mirage or trap: manipulating real-life as sacrifice for arts-sake: like asking the poor to dance for a soggy chip. Instead I'm just putting a few loved, alive things here for me selfishly. An evening primrose is dug into bottle scum to shine out when it gets dark. An artichoke flower on my desk to signal fertility and determination, I shine my lamp upon it and try to focus on that, not the glowing indifference and death around here. A Jade (money tree) cutting is placed in exposed drain pipe as personal in-joke, to bring me wealth and prosperity, nah.
So, I conclude: these few natural life-forms are not abused by coming here but are brought near for company and to receive my attention: as sick bedfellows. Ah, we all know how this will end: this Nature Scum thing is a loving goodbye: a kind of very slow career suicide for me and for it. Goodbye dear scum. Only joking, more shows coming up..
Kate Middleton's Face
Kate Middleton's waxwork smile is beaming like a cat with a ton of quality cream. It is dark, I'm on a boat alone without any tv or magazines and yet her face is in my minds eye. I resent its ghoulish presence. Like Beckhams sickening toytown hairdo's: I can conjure them all now in the middle of the night, and all those shiny, happy media smilers. All hovering around me like ghosts, stars, or fluorescing flies? They're worthy of my admiration apparently. No, they're seriously apalling business people. I have never met anyone who loves the Royal family, everyone with a brain is bored/mildly amused or bemused by their existence. I have become disgusted: almost in direct proportion to the time spent disengaged with the MASS media. As nation and species we are bombarded with Royal teeth and glossy colours: being pornographic and authoritative on the radio, in newspapers, in mags, at pompous State events, on tv: the Royal profile is a persistant machine gunning: highly visual, cartoonish, flag, mug and tea towel waving and this is why I'm seeing our Kate tonight. Like Diana before her: there is no escape from the banal image-flood: it is offensively overly familiar (of them). I want to think about other things but this night thought coincides with a strange election result and I have to wake up and write something.
How did the blooming Tories do it when they are so unpopular and so out of date?
The Right benefited greatly from the fracturing of the opposition into smaller groups, the Greens, SNP, the Libs and even UKIP have all nibbled significant territory from the Left in recent years. The weight of Tory opposition has in fact grown but it has now been split into more powerless chunks. Tonight I am thinking about Cameron's decision not to appear in a head to head on TV with EM: very strange. He appeared cowardly and EM had a free stick to beat DC with: it was a perverse decision: making it all too easy for weak Ed. Cameron was not pushing for a L/R head to head for good reason. The refusal to give EM PM credence was one reason. More powerfully though, this chess move opened the door to the minor parties, and the more the minor parties were exposed and did well, the less well especially Labour would do. So the Conservative led media obliged and under the cloak of a new liberal free democracy (Ha) this election was lost for Labour - not by weird ED, or by lefty policy. ED was poor but this is not the point, poor Prime Ministers are elected on a regular basis, his message was negative say the left pundits, well so was the Tory message, this is not the point. The point is the power of the Media to control the public narrative, and how that can be manipulated to have massive power over a blinkered, media dribbling population. Or am I dreaming?
I like my friend so and so. I see them regularly, listen to them and share intimacies with them, they are reliable and ever present. This is what happens when we watch films, TV, internet titbit stories: we share intimacies and make new 2d friends: we like how they look or what they wear/ believe in: we talk about them, think about them, even dream about them.
Until the TV programme Big Brother we thought media people with their faces/hairdo's/homes were there because they deserved it: that they were special, rare: gifted actors, maybe they were good at running fast or playing snooker, singing a song or something. Big brother taught us that you can be good at nothing and still be famous and a star. The reason is not the star quality but the flashy device with image on, and the people who manipulate the images on that flashy device (it's advertising). It can be almost anyone… with media exposure this no one becomes a someone. We see them regularly, listen, consider them: its impossible not to, and before you know it you're in a relationship with them and unless they act like a pig, and sometimes especially when they do* you warm to them, for keeping you company in the night at least.
I suggest these new friendships are the reason that the Tories won the election, and these new faces and varied hopes lost it for poor old Labour. The new kids were always going to steal from the big two, but all the smaller parties needed the oxygen of publicity and the media obliged. The Tory brand is less flexible: there was very little in the way of new competition for the Right who are a seemingly fixed species: built on self assurance and self-based animalistic urges: not a wider hope, fairness or change.
These self interested Conservative animals have had a blissful period of recession: it has been a boom period for land and homeowners: there is a reason why George Osbourne calls it The Great Recession. For the poor it has been especially sinister and they should scream out when Cameron says he will now finish the job. Picture tweed cap, shotgun, lame horse. The undecided floating voters wander left and right. Even if these last minute floaters leaned left, it wouldn't have been enough: the Left vote would have still been too widely spread. In hindsight Ed should have focused less on red/blue but instead rallied a raggle taggle rainbow army, urged a braveheart sacrifice, but it was hard to foresee the extent of the split and this is the real portrait of 2015. The majority now want a different form of government: with more personality, more ideas and a more pluralistic approach. But only an unwanted, concerted unity could have prevented this nightmare scenario but now it is unlikely this can ever happen: it is a worrying predicament, especially without electoral reform.
On the up, it can't be so bad, the Tories cant run riot without backlash. With only ¼ of the population supporting the Tories and ¾ against (some opposed to the whole business) The real challenge for this Tory majority is to bore us, not bully us into inaction. `When the Tories speak the heartbroken majority hate. To prevent 5 years of marches, strikes and violence will be the real challenge for them. I hope they fail, although both options are seriously regrettable.
Keep your eye on the images and words that are now thrown at you now. The Tories are already throwing out warm leftish slogans while planning to dismantle it further. Their closest threat UKIP is being attacked as I speak. These are not JUST words, not JUST Media images. Control of the public consciousness occurs through repeated images and flashing lights, not taxes or Laws. Sleep well.
Every painting is a product of considered labour, and every sonnet, museum building, church, bridge, tunnel, country house, field, farm, fridge, frame, silk dress, shoe, meal and perfumed wig. Valuable things are born of a great education, from Low and High and in between. The enduring feature is editing and evolution: in design, philosophy or aesthetics.
We love some of our human songs, in word, sound or picture: like dear, wizened, family members and trusted guides: they can't help but define us. Others sit as historical lumps: telling us lies, muffling our intelligence and dumbing our senses. In time shouldn't we shake our feathers and move on, not glorify for eternity gold-framed imposters: stored lovingly in nuclear preservation facility? Every morning, with baggy eyes - we MUST think of the past and the future, slowly - shit and shower, make food and make sense. We will slowly remember some meaning, and slowly resolve to keep what we think we need to go on, then slowly get rid of that which is meaningless, or even harms us.
An aesthetic friend of mine is dying: an artist, gardener, typographer, book designer and concrete poet. He will leave behind a mountain of Fine Art, fine books, fine tools, fine correspondence and a multitude of arty nik naks. Most will probably end up being sold in a car boot sale. This miserable dispersion will come to all of us, and for almost all of our precious/worthless STUFF. Some things will deteriorate and disappear, some will remain, and live on, for some reason. Some because we still want or NEED to remember them, and maybe even because they are GOOD, some because they have a market value, which is more mystical. This good-ness and value of things can take many years of consideration to test for quality, endurance and depth. A fine and practiced eye/mind can speed up this process and decipher worth and quality quicker, so we tend to trust expert cultural figures to value things for us. Incorruptible historians, insightful aesthetes, and Museum tastemakers if they are skilled. Champagne troughing snobs or easily corruptible crooks if not. Evaluation is a difficult/mysterious job: easier to do nothing, wait for someone else to jump, then cash in, or just let things gather dust, unchanged, frightened to make the wrong move.
NOW is very different to the Shakespeare NOW, although his philosophical reasoning, pathos, rhythm, foolishness and wisdom still echoes around these parts. Still (miserably?) prescient, he has been fused into our bones, knitted with time, even if most of us can't recall long tracts. Phrases have been absorbed into our common tongue and consciousness whether we are aware of the source now or not, we ALL still choose to hark back, while searching for current truths. Shakespeare can only be thinly applied to the plastic nuggets in Sainsbury's in Camden in January, OR if he can, then he can also be applied to a Take That or a One Direction lyric, and thereby horribly edited into a form of slow extinction. Should we remember Ovid and Homer with a pipe next to to the meal deals, or just get a move on, fuck off and get piped back out? It would be nice to think we could remember and wonder, but this new industrialized marketplace is not built for lengthy musing in tights with skull, almost nowhere is, musing is a luxury: a dead duck seen from jobless bridge, or a temporary Taste the difference indulgence for the upper classes. Shakespeare and The Greek Classics are easy to have confidence in, to keep and buff, because they are generally inclusive, folksy and wise, good ideas often preserve themselves, but there are hundreds of thousands of blurry authors waiting in the wings for a qualitative thumbs up or down. A thumb up back then can be a thumb down now and vice versa, and this changes back and forth in maddening jig: nothing is fixed. Classics cannot exist unchanged, the term describes things that hold their value long enough to defend themselves against pulsing time. Meanwhile near our traffic jams, the soliloquies and paintings of today are being imagined behind the bins, composed in deadly serious snack bar reveries and gutter battered scum alleys. Strange NEW Art has found form in penniless Rock, POP and Rap music, hidden poetry blogs, cult books and innumerable impertinent paintings. Classics were born as intelligent FOLK. These modern edits exist far from the gilded museums and closed hierarchies, perhaps vibrating the door with distasteful force. All Art is potential noise and junk, inside and out of the Museum. As a species we continue to speak, from High and Low, to fill the void of a new unexplained world, as yet unspoken of. We NEED new, varied voices, images and words to adjust our understanding, as we might need to fix a leaky roof or broken home.
As budgets are cut Museums are treading water, acting as locked banks more than pliable cultural stores. The same sponsored and banked Art names circulate the globe in nauseating commercial regularity. MONET'S BLOOMING GARDEN>HOCKNEY IN HACKNEY>REMBRANT'S ITCHINGS>TURNER….AGAIN!! If Museums and galleries are still cultural then they often lean heavily backwards, lazing on the same comfortable chaise langue, they can only use what they know to show tomorrow or then acquire for the future, theirs is often a very cloistered and castellated viewpoint. There is the suggestion in a lot of Museum Art that what we choose to preserve continually educates us, when most Museums and Institutions persist with a very particular notion of Goodness that signifies an exclusion of anyone who doesn't have a fine nose, perfumed wig or stuffed purse. Our stacked Museum collections repeatedly glamourise the upper classes and deify images of greed, fluff, vanity, sometimes slavery and colonialism, but mainly the idea of CLASS, and that one person or picture is vastly richer than another, or vastly bigger. The POOR labouring folk always feature as scruffy footnote, ragamuffin or gollywog.
Perhaps we should even consider that painterly acumen or aesthetic judgment is a bad parent, as simplistic show of colourful good fortune? Perhaps we could choose sometimes to proudly show a bad painting of a GOOD human, rather than a good painting of BAD human? Promote less ostentatious FINISH and more CONTENT? We will undoubtedly always be unequal, but our collections are heavily imbalanced, possibly even upside down, and should be righted, in continual procession.
It is good for a Museum to keep and conserve that which is FINE, delicate, skillful, thoughtful, humane, spiritual and beautiful: but not much Art is, and certainly not all the ideas it contains and promotes. In lots of ways the swell of British museum opulence comes from an over-abundance of C18/C19th tat, which is more akin to social advertising. These works are both a portrait of worthy craft and skill as well as the documentation of rotten, exploitative Aristocracies. The nameless former should be celebrated more, but can't be, due to a continually undervalued and undercover working class. What we mainly see is a simplistic history of wealthy names and overt power houses in motion. I write this in 2015 when the difference in wealth and poverty, power and powerlessness is regaining mediaeval proportions: most workers enslaved and disenfranchised, many with no hope of job security or even owning their own caravan: set adrift in an ungovernable, ruthless marketplace. It looks doubtful this will ever be represented in the Museums we have now, even though we all know it has been, and will be, something that is here to stay. Art will always be made, and it will always fade away, what will remain, as it always has, are the works kept in perfect synthetic climate, guarded like ancient cave painting. It is hard to imagine all the great things that have been and will be lost. Hard to comprehend the crap that we keep.
We should continually reassess what is in our Museum cupboards, and clean them out now and again, since they belong to us all. Why should we pay our taxes to simply re-pink the cheeks of some insignificant or sinister Lord or Lady, when we could buy something new, alive and hopeful: cheaply, NOW? We should keep the best, sell the worst and buy better. If Museums and institutions are to remain relevant they must keep moving, as successful businesses do, as thinking creatures do. In Museums we need to see FINE examples of who we ALL were, to glimpse who we ALL are now, and what we ALL need to hold dear tomorrow: in glorious earthly and spiritual minestrone. Then we might see ourselves as nation and species more clearly, muse a little, and then be critical of that too.
I used to come here to escape my coffin sized London bedsit and unpaid Art work. Coming here was a clean sheet joy. From my sweaty grey hell I would rush to camp and breathe in this little terraced estate in the country. From here I used to marvel at the expansive ploughed fields, the crops extending to the distance, undulating slightly. The sky still uncultivated and fascinating, the light spraying upon the hedgerow strays: scattering as I cycle by. The moon and stars beating down unencumbered by street lights, as bright as daylight in the cold bedroom. As black as a burial sometimes. The flint and cobbled churches: gigantic and powerful, proliferate despite the depleted population and denuded philosophy. The coconut scent of gorse in uncut places making me woozy, the brown tidal water pushing inland into Blythburgh, sometimes with the black head of a seal enquiring for crabs and dabs maybe. A few beached old boats still curving and confusing the eye: perplexing bulks of weighty wood shells, mocking Michelangelo, propped up like rotting artifact. Sand, shingle and pebbles in crazed pointillism, blue grey, amber, black, yellow ochre, moss green, chocolate brown, bright white dissolving into cosmic sand. The sea always perplexing en masse, breaking sideways from the north or south, admittedly emptied of harvest and harvesters, but still heaving. I used to admire the sea houses, and the thin alleys for hauling up, perhaps with a salty fisherman still smuggled inside with oil lamp. But now the houses are inhabited by empty crooks, or are just empty investments only, the like of which no leathered fisherman could comprehend. The sea in all its complexity sickens and vomits. The fields become monstrous wretches too, drained of life with hedges carved and starved into dead head stones, the soil ghostly, fucked-up dust. The crops gene-painted green: emeralds poisonous as masked snakes, the ploughed fields not representing labour and healthy order but a desperate scraping by singular trucker for green backs: sick food taken for sick children. The houses once plush with rude plenty and poached poverty, with thatch roofed kitchens alive with a rotting pheasant or venison stink are now bleached, emptied and consumed to death. Over lit and over cushioned for occasional day-trip or weekend dinner party. The landscape and wonder of this place is swept up into narcissistic glitter heap: all pissed on ceremonially and then laughed about in toxic cabal. It's time to go back to the sewer of the City, to dream of an Arcadia in theory.
I'm walking alone in London, on the hunt like unburdened Masai for visual excitement, but I can see nothing of interest, even in the dwindling gardens, which are like adverts for gardens or legal arguments about gardens: this flat advertising world is spreading like wild-fire. This hard sheen, this angular expansion reflecting upon the wandering desert inhabitants: similarly shielding themselves with screens and tight packaging. The women's curves are rock hard and flawless, brutish chins forward, aiming for middle or long distance, sassy superhero wiggle, rush-walking to offer a strong arm to a cinematic, cliff falling friend maybe? Or just to get an super-urgent baby Latte. Everyone is arseing about in truth but it's ok as long as you don’t look like it. The sexless fakery and open brutality of these city people is a real surprise, since everyone looks bright and buff, but my penis is well and truly at ease: totally uninspired. I'm hunting for something to believe: for good things, sweet things, strange things, ugly things: any fucking 'thing'. Wilderness is often sexy to me: the smells, the tickling breeze but mainly the light and sniff of reality and that rich magic. Without it I'm image sick. Plastic sick. It's not funny anymore: images of images of images of images. I'm getting old, so when presented with layer upon layer of transparent advertising, more pop-up architecture and fast food stops filled with magazine people I'm heartbroken. I need some warmth, some form of shocking humane eruption: that would be worth hunting.
This place is clearly not meant for the likes of me, not made for looking and living, it is designed to feed the city workers quickly and to get them from here to there as quickly as possible then get them champagne and then commuted angrily home. Now and then, as I walk, I catch eyes with a few vulnerable beauties with ideals still intact: still alive with rude arteries beating away the fog of consumer coatings, they've probably just arrived from the country: poor sods. Entering the mall zone cathedral of Liverpool Street Station, overpriced London prices double: for me buying a drink, food or a piss is out of the question. People are slapping over a still concrete lake, from the balcony it looks like overloaded pinball machine, ball bearings protecting hot drink or expensive iphone. Everyone is in the way, changing direction, coming from behind or the side at speed, military monster faced and tutting.
Near Liverpool Street, many show buildings have risen up where there was sky and air, silky adverts outside describe themselves as likeable personalities. By the canal, Canaletto has grown and looks like every other slick architectural mongrel, the pictures outside the foyer showing a showboating interior. Clean computer generated images of a fascist operating theatre or genetic congratulation facility. If you google Canaletto, the building comes top of the list. This new empty luxury aesthetic is flooding every street in every town, into our 'normal' and as our experiences flatten so does our 'real'. What is real is what you know of the real, and it seems we will know only more of this ideal commune. We are totally surrounded by this dense consumer woodland, whispering logos are flashing like sprites, dappled and dancing over undrinkable stream. Interiors, streets, supermarkets, café's, shops, tv, in union with the internet: all variants of these sheer faced, platitudinous vistas. In Intellectual circles, and deepest darkest bohemia, this American corporate imagery used to be mocked for being corrupted and square: empty, thin and pale, quite separate from fatty history and poor fine art. In my lifetime big business has blossomed unchallenged and has had time to rebrand itself as Mother Money and trickle down plenty, rather than be seen as cruel, consumer killing zone. Now this is the only philosophy and aesthetic, it's everywhere: a global coffee consciousness with pc dribble.
In Fine Art terms these business images are given credence by a new SMART generation, advised by their slim smart phone contracts. All are trapped in social media web. Everywhere, squeezed into tight pv's are careering curators stacked, tapping clever apps, rubbing up repeatedly in Art Fairs and other regal courts. We should not be surprised that fragmented corporate and computer images become dominant Fine Art images, since there is very little alternative. Any other reading of the modern idiom seems forced, the old (phone less) left have become discredited, and practical reality labeled anarchic, uneconomic or plainly MAD. It's like arguing about honour or love with an economist…you'll just get a sharp suited shrug.
Dirtier and archaic, quizzical handmade images are now relegated to the domestic and frail: expressive, emotional or at worst, ethnic or just plain stupid and poor. Successful artists of today manipulate the tools of successful banking practice: branding, networking and perceptions of business fitness. With this text book approach they can easily communicate with the similarly cleansed and elite professionals practicing law, banking, medicine: they are all perfectly linked up: only it's not REAL.
As we are forced to become more separated from a Wild and elemental reality and having barely any free time to notice, nuanced and fierce thinking is deterred, instead we are herded into literally a fluffy kitten kind of stupidity. The hierarchy of aesthetics has shifted to serve this fun familiarity. Dirty weathered hands and dirty paintings reminds us of fire, food and hardship, allied to lowness, low pay and ignorance. Clean hands and clean art makes sense: as if in hygienic 'polish' you know more, like you're in control, but these hard finishes symbolize closed systems and closed thinking akin to a new Nazism. If contemporary Art becomes too friendly with contemporary economics there is a danger that it will become only a representation of media power and crystallized business plan: neat, manipulative, ruthless and flat as a pancake. Art historians could read this deflated development as expressive or ironic possibly, but it still looks like a low point in Art history, signaling an Art future not only unwilling, but becoming unable even, to comprehend the dark viscera of physical and emotional LIFE, and DEATH.
A DIFFERENT WALK
A different walk, same route in London, into the NEW YEAR, street men spitting, people more aggressive and uncaring, back to normal. Careering, crushing each other and ripping each other off. For what? My family v yours: my survival. Fuck You Then Desperados. I don't recognize you, I can't love you, don't know you, don't want to. Maybe we're all hung over, none of us got what we wanted for xmas, or that time off gave us time to see how poisonous and threatened we really are. Thick clouds won't shift, grey light, no colours, cold, everyone bandaged.
My heavy legs are dragging, brain melting, I've been painting and failing, just no idea how to do it. What I enjoy about painting apart from the alchemical and seductive, practical liquid reality: the material, rubbing WANK of it, is the enquiry, the HOPE. I'm after a revelation, SOMETHING NEW PLEASE, and the disturbance of what I think I know. A new image for this new day and describing this new place I keep changing into. It's confusing where I am now and so the paintings flounder as I try to work it out. Failing mostly, for months, boring myself. In my studio I talk to myself and this thing I'm constructing. It's an abusive conversation: we're insulting each other. This is TOO PUNK, or too serene, dull, too literal, too elusive and eclectic, too cool even sometimes, ha! How do you do it? Make it look Serious AND Funny. Spiritual and mundane. Hopeful and disappointed. How do you make it look REAL, and why bother? Why not choose to escape, and make it look UNREAL, like the spilling scrolls of contemporary wrapping paper?
The human condition veers close to states of grace and madness quite naturally, SO close, never managing either fully, or much of anything really. Surviving, attempting civilization and serenity somehow, and failing. It's funny. For most of us this philosophical investigation is not possible, we guzzle and slurp. Only the prosperous and healthy can enjoy education and artistic sophistication, most of us die waitressing and whitewashing. Bowing and believing that our current academic/athletic/business STAR'S smooth passage will bear fruit for all of us one day. That somewhere a wealth of ideas will eventually 'trickle down' into our mouths and brains. Let us not entertain the idea that the chosen ones are more interested in their mortgages, or that our politicians and establishment are feathering their own nests. Let us pretend that our Kings and Queens are not arranging arms deals or gathering smiling armies of wealthy courtiers. Let's say there is some bigger plot, not just anger management from above, or mere pacifying force, with pennies thrown like bread for pigeons. Somewhere out there someone cares, there is a system of fairness being discussed. There is a new plan that is looking good. I have this horrible feeling, based on my experiences and senses, that there is nothing of the sort, and I am not alone in this, so I walk with hate and am hated, and we all hate, till we get home to a bottle or imaginary lullaby. The conspiracy is not that there is nothing but something out there. I always imagined a hooded cabal of GREYS, like sweet pensioners: yogic in a smoking mountain hut, without possessions working it all out for us. Their masonic style solution so far though is not fair-mindedness or community care but laser cut power courtesy of consumption, a sugar fueled misdirection to keep the windows misted. Here on earth is only self interest and hardly any other good news. These dark days of winter in Britain are threatening, for each isolated individual and for the Establishment eager to cloak the moral vacuum. The rising sun and stars are the only real hope. Generous, clean and bloodless, and far far away.
I look down at xmas people from a little top floor flat in Camden. There are red brick estates front and back. In front is Mutton Place. There is a wide metal gate that squeaks open and closed, especially at night, letting in and out pimpish BMW's. There is a middle flat to the right always flashing with TV images, lower is a window always pushed open and lit up, an old Indian man paces day and night, smoking, back-lit like a flat puppet. We stare at each other, especially at 4am, then both look away shyly. Mostly I see walkers leaving Mutton Place and returning with plastic bags. There are smart houses in rows to the left, I rarely see those people, they fall from their comfort zones straight into their cars and slink off, shiny and well defended. Some walkers are clearly freezing, often young men hugging themselves, and trying to keep up their funny walks: skinny lizards puffing themselves up defensively. Out back and lower than the housesit roof terrace, a man claps and woops to himself and then sits staring at some moving lights, another stands behind a metal grill in the shadows: smoking, he sees me and stubs out aristocratically and retreats to safety. Other windows have fabrics draped with little dark cracks in the day, yellow strips at night. Can't see any life inside. Central heating systems pipe up "OOOOOOOO", and pump steam, then stop sharply, then start somewhere else. The houses are smoking too. Somewhere a young girls voice. I see and hear a train pass high through the estate vista, mainly the guttural "AAAAARRRGGGGHHHH" of car and van engines. A bearded man passes with rucksack, there is a solar panel poking out the top of it, it must be charging something inside, how clever? He scans the ground like a wading bird, scooping up fag butts in the rain. Mine are avoided, smoked to the bone.
I walk 3 miles to the allotment and back every day, same route. To know something you need to see it in many different lights and times. Taking different roads is for when you're sick of the one you're on, and when you don't want to see what's real. I have some mapped points of repeated interest, a tree in which to wee, a supermarket pit stop. I have always avoided the estates of London, but now I use them as topographical turning points, and nature spots. There are strange species perched on benches, lewd beer fueled jokes from The Royal Oak, fluorescent children kicking balls in Elthorne park. Distant hip-hop beats from Windermere or Ullswater and a dinosaur echo of FUK, FUK. On my walk I navigate the pavement in slalom, avoiding the snooty teenagers and righteous pram Mothers and BIG swaggermen. I give almost everyone else priority, especially the elderly, disabled, the bling bitches, the drunk, the young. You name it. Some people have to move out the way and I am one of those: not scared of contact, but neither interested in a crash, I want a smooth passage and so treat my walk as a defensive martial art, letting the street energy pass by and holding an 'inner smile'. I'm an advanced walker, predicting trouble, moving to one side sometimes 200 yards in advance. It gets complicated near bus stops, tubes and shops. People rush out, come from nowhere, sometimes straight at you: Suicidal! Often I have to get into the road to keep moving, because stopping is a real pain, for some reason, driven off the pavement, or netted in shop eddy: a beaten fish.
The pace of walking suits the body and mind, images are not forced, or yearned for, like sitting indoors, but come and go in satisfying slowness. You can stop and stare, go back even, go cross country, speed up to yuppie speed if needed, park yourself outside a palace: it's free, for the time being. It's poor though and you will see many rough and rotten things. Litter, puke, arrogance and fear, but mainly sadness. It is personified in strewn chipboard, and dumped electrical goods, bin bag mountains and some people: fallen. There are homeless people, angry disappointed people, racists, capitalists, national socialists and total wankers. We mostly avoid each other, let each other carry on what we are doing and where we are going, even if that is to the deepest pit of suffering. I tend not to look at smarmy couples in swank cafes or deli's, men in skinny jeans or beard fashions, people with piercings, teenage girls. From a distance I glimpse women's legs, their fashions and then faces and then look away quickly, I dwell too long on strange hairstyles, men wearing top hats, strange trees, solitary people, dogs. I always look in the Workman's Café, it is a rarity now: the greasy spoon. It has real, naked-faced people in the window: on Christmas day there was a woman weeping alone at the front and two Black guys scoffing burgers to the right. Today a big headed man was in her place, a builder I think? The poor are always naked-faced, and bank-nude. Here are human heroes. Beaten and beautiful.
We are all poor people. Oddly, the richest choose to become the most impoverished, they need the most to prop themselves up. Golden, diamond encrusted, finely painted, banked, turbo… crutches. The truly POOR places and peoples of the world are the treasured galleries of ancient reality and meaningful blooming places of LIFE, often battling empty handed and alone, needing no commemorative statue or souvenir pile of self-worth. Passing into death with a true feathered elegance.
I see myself 20 years ago: a pretty, blonde, grunge era cyclist. Nervous of the human trash and rough unaesthetic of the Archway drag. Rough smokers and drinkers, the doddering elderly and unpredictable tourists. Car doors open randomly, and unthinking/hopeless pedestrians step out into my speeding path, so I slow and give them all a very wide berth. I see a man in a black paint stained waterproof, dull trousers, a black bin bag of dirty vegetables at his feet, and the pale contents of a Greggs chicken bake dribbling down his world weary face. I wipe my face, light a fag and move on, thinking of me back then and how I would have dismissed me now. I walk fast, it's xmas eve, but I want to get back to write. I have been told a story that I need to get out of me because it is acting as poison in here, making me feel sick. Fran (someone, anyone) has sold her small terraced house. £1,300,000. With it she bought a 3 bed flat and spent tons 'doing it up' i.e. probably making it look like a diamond cut shit. Oh and she got a house near her daughter's too. This was a small house: no garage, no sprawling grounds. A humble dwelling that's made her a fortune. I mention to the storyteller that I might be able to sleep in my freezing van to survive and maintain my beloved allotment, my work, my self. OR I'll need to get a low paid job that should afford me 1 hour of freedom to paint per week. Meanwhile this old housing genius idly paints with multiple empty rooms and fancy emulsions and new kitchens and bathrooms when she should be busy watching TV and making ends meet. It's hard not to be driven mad, hard to comprehend how things are now. I don't want to spend my time on this nonsense, I want to feel ok about myself, wash and shave and carry on: not feel bitter, or be made aware of my legitimatized extinction.
Peter the paving stone
Peter the paving stone is a nasty piece of work
If you see him give him a good hard stamp.
Just so you know, he's grey, rectangular, and has moss round his edges
When you find him stamp on him please,
Before Peter and his friends came to town
There was grass, and flowers, little insects, butterflies and birds.
All eating each other, yum yum yum.
It was so pretty and fun, like a constant party
It went on all day and all night
It had been going on for thousands and millions of years, this funny party
With so many creatures coming and going, different plants and animals
Then Peter and his mates squashed them all dead.
Now look under your feet and count the animals, there are none.
STAMP STAMP STAMP ON HORRIBLE PETER
Consuming a day
For punks, and the punky poor, and for those who live in the moment, there is no foo-cha. There are only hours and days to navigate. This one is ending with whiskey, and hot music, I took the plunge and forked out a sum for a boxed single malt job. I was hankering after it all day, but nervous of it's spiritual power. Too late now. My god you should envy me. I'm on fire. I have a crappy van, and with it in London last, I ratted around some bins and retrieved, with some damp jazzy cushions, a bunch of CD's, and a girly hoodie, which I now wear to bed. The music is all homemade girl PUNK compilations and I love it. I drive about in my white van with Hole and L17 and The Supremes blaring, while I wave and jig inside as gay as can be, happy as Larry. The day started in a bin found fuzz, long tweed coat traipsing up a hedged road in drizzle for fags from a petrol station called PACE. Smoking is a regret and a concern, the puddles and fields are pulling at my boots. I'll skip the monstrous detail of an egg toast tinned tomato breakfast peony. I cycled to sit on a frozen posh hotel step to steal their internet then bought some cheap xmas stuff from the RNLI, and then, to prevent freezing, two epiphany-hot, soft sausage rolls from a sweetheart. I cycled back. Then soon after drove back to get more RNLI stuff to wrap, finding instead a young woman with braced teeth looking magnificent and curvy, managing a gallery next to the closed RNLI place, she let me into the dark shop and get what I wanted, I looked at her and she gave me her time, revealing unnecessary detail. I looked in skips for firewood in the dark, at the sleepy sea, then round to see her from a distance, working still: me as combined Edward and Dennis Hopper. I looked at overpriced booze shops, tasting free taster cups, and moving on through xmas shops with more buttered women in attendance. Earlier a sexy friend had described herself as an unevenly spiced bagel, and I had spent the morning chewing that over and then missing female flesh - so well described. I drove back, with looping loud girl punk, almost screeching into the wholesome farm shop where the rusty farmers wife was standing like plenty with erect xmas tree, helping an oldie. I breezed past in love with her and bought a cabbage the like of which I could not comprehend, plastic and explosive I exclaimed to all there: 'look at that' and 'that is a GREAT cabbage'. The men fixing the door smirked warmly, I drove off in a whirl back to the house and drank a strong beer. Out of fags and after the whiskey I drove back almost straight away, the black velvet night swallowing me like willing oyster again. Stars flaring and sharp shocks of a distant storm lighting up. I got fags and then the whiskey from a tall fresh faced boy with moles who must have thought I'm a candle going out. I look at her shop now locked up and bop back to The Fall, shocked by its wonder ..I'm totally wired.. Rosie texted and said she was warm in Wales, with an electric blanket. I'm so happy for the time being. Burning the latest unread Tate Gallery brochure, and watching a small piece of a tree warm the room and melt into flakey pastry. Everything makes sense when you're a rocket powered consumer with no future.
December has come and the real damp cold. Setting out, I can feel my bones nearer to the skin and they clank like armor, my warm fleshy bits are quivering far beneath, cheering them on. Winter in the country is brutal and exposing especially without bottomless funding. When it's cold like this I comfort myself at the top of the stairs, with the bedroom doors closed, herding the soft storage heat into a 6ft x 4ft trap. Laptop sits on its namesake. I hunch here, awkwardly without windows, enabled, with thanks, to the sneaky and clever little economy heater, and I write, for some reason: any old thing, which is also energy saving. It's not hard for me to imagine writers in sprawling centrally heated houses, passing the time, tip tapping, with great views over le jardin du jour, maybe there's a long vista to a private lake with little dinghy tied for musing. There are lots of rich arty typers like this around here. How do they manage it? At school we had chicks in a brightly lit incubator, they all died. Missing a mother, crushed by the fighting kiddy grips maybe, or maybe they needed some bloody sleep! Or did they need the occasional spell of chill reality? I'm not saying being uncomfortable makes great art (though we might be surprised) but perhaps there is a problem with being TOO comfortable. Not for the unfeeling, head-down, academic jackhammer, but for the convincing, worthwhile picture-painter. You can almost feel the downy smiles emanating from many written things now and it's in a lot of contemporary art too. Wetting itself about itself, and centrally heated. For FINE making and longevity it's not wise to be overly pleased: better to be displeased, though not disabling so. It's a shame, but that's how the standard of work raises. Being pleased with yourself is creepy, it is a publicists or gallery's job to be pleased with you, not yours. You needn't suffer unnecessarily, nor simulate tortuous sacrifice and martyred piety, and you must enjoy something of what you do in order to do it, just don't insulate or delude yourself too much, especially if you're loaded, because the market is tilted heavily in your favour, you can buy artistic crowns. I can see you purring with cv or back catalogue, with healthy accounting figures to hand in antique writing desk. Instead dig out with frozen hands your diseased imagination and the timeless treasure of critical faculty. Otherwise it makes it harder for raw and rude things to come in, and for you to make that new thing nuanced and newly believable. Some artists I know LOVE ART so much that they move around in cozy herds, discussing nothing else, seeing nothing else, like tennis players who just circle the earth in a never ending touring circuit. That's how those tennis players get good? No, they get good by working hard, trying and failing, and sweating hungrily and uncomfortably. Moving round like preening swans is how they draw their pensions. I'm talking about realism and clear focus, the severity and bloody mindedness. It's almost as if the fear of being absolutely un-able is primer to dogged determination. Swaddled lives and thoughts are pretty unreal, but who can say they have a strong grip on a wider reality anymore, we're all padded and protected somehow. It could be that critical realism is no longer a palatable commodity and a warm, fuzzy feeling is preferred. Like the treacle chatter on radio 4 now. Where are the bristling images and shouted speeches, with words and colours flung wide open? If you're snug it's easy to become a smooth bore, then fall asleep: emitting an echo of an echo, the image of an image of a less than convincing FINE Art.
In my new agricultural setting, and observing its slow rotations, it has led me to live more in tune with my own cycles. I cycle to the shop to get fags and booze, then cycle back fast. It's a worrying rhythm that I've got trapped in. In the morning I recover, eat something, keep warm, fiddle with my stuff, get pissed and start over. Every morning I say I must change this, save myself, it's self harm, I'm stuck here. Then the night comes like an anvil and it feels like I have no choice but to celebrate it or die. So I raise many glasses to the fire: to writing, to friends, and lost loves, and hates, and all that is in between. Tonight I will go to bed early, I need to celebrate my body because it feels like it's more than a bit peeved about all those evenings in with the multi award winners. Maybe this is why the words aren't coming out nicely: booze is like rocket fuel for my frazzled memory and subconscious: it is like dreaming, it makes my soul dance: hot headed, life-loving, dizzy and heroic, albeit in a cramped domestic way.
Perhaps because of this devastating but relatively comfortable creative rhythm: draining of £ and musculature, and with my minor successes tucked far away in cold storage, I have become a more endangered species. I realise this as I pick up bundles of woodland sticks in the dark, wine- less. I'm a faggot. I'm a target now to the pleasure of my own easy insults. There's a black rainbow of failure that stretches over me, made from my growing experiences of melted and matted, suns and rains. I am all ordinary things. But I WANT to believe in a bony hero who stands solid and still in the cold like a puffing warhorse. I need my golden boy still intact, fierce and brave, with unshakeable virtue and verve. Shivering alone here and yet battling it out with bodged wooden sword. I'm shouting out at plumped pages, castrated opposition and elite mumblings. I dipped into WHSmith to scare the staff, and reluctantly got a feel for Russell Brand and Stephen Fry's new Xmas hardies. Fry starting slightly apologetic but still smiling and wanking creamily. Brand knotted, yogic: refreshingly inelegant and snarling sweetly. At least Brand is attempting a strange spit over the high gate, before going back to throw a squeaky dog toy in the frost. Tonight I'm too weak and wounded: the product of writing itself made ever more meaningless by the constant spinning input and output. I've put the central heating on. I'm probably just too comfortable, though it really doesn't feel like it. I'm squirming. The contemporary canon is deafening, and I'm guilty too, firing out piled bin bags: from here or there. All flying out defiantly to meet the threat of an invisible man'o'war.
The dead bear thing.
I drove firmly away from lovely London again. I missed you quiet page, pretty you, accepting me, clean sheet pulled back, willing me in. I won't describe where I am or how I am yet, I will not recollect a witty story, I will not start a debate. I'm just going to spread over you cat-like, and lick you like a lonely dog. Spooned on and spread out, mixing my metaphors freely, I am writing this in celebration of seeing you again. I'm not rushing into a song of myself, although I've already started I suppose, a shame, because this little passage wants to be free, just for a moment, running around. Impossible though. JOY cannot be maintained within writing or painting, nor in ESCAPE from writing and painting. There is always friction pressing, but short moments when that is concealed. The act of writing/painting in itself suggests that the amount of life-burr is kindly enough to both notice it and forget it. I have some darling time for now. Here it is. I must set off after all, uprooted and snarling slightly. Driving away blankly, I pass a hunched man walking away from his car, to look at the view I hope from the vast height of Orwell bridge, but he probably wasn't. London is crashing in now, filthy: it's still on my skin and in my eyes, I need a bath. Into East London: elegant and being re-written, a flood of art and sex, so fluid and relaxed, with content surfaces. A place of mixed boxing stories bursting from every window and eye. Full of disguised warrior men but mainly beautiful warrior women, singularly wandering like adverts for a new beauty, chewing everything with their eyes and nonchalantly redirecting mine. Men are in barbers being sheered for the women, soon to pop out like plastic dolls. High headed and sharp the autumn women stride through London. Some queens, some princesses: eyeing new, fitting palaces or handsome pieces of meat, but mainly all the artfulness. Magnificent they are, just as the men are dog cushions, or decorative throws. In the London scrum, many heads down, I looked at the women, like a dirty priest. Some looking at wedding dresses, some networking, some striding forth with army ambition, some floating past like paintings or sculptures escaped from priceless collections. Wow, I got a smile! Was it a knowing nod to my womanly eyes, suppressing a pitying giggle, or something appreciative? I let this freak moment drift by, too shocked, I want to go back now. Sometimes I can't see women, I'm getting on with my monkish mission and then they seem fake and cruel, but not this time, with a few kindnesses to send me dizzy. Some very real conversations with brick-like engagement, wisdom and some very real sadness. A damaged woman locked in her room, a wilder hungry woman: out and about, black street women looking like glistening hunters, wieldy women pulling their bags away from me on the tube like they know my hands want to investigate. Artistry and women dominate London, they define it, not the shrunken men. Even upright hatted men attempting style, they fail and the women know it, they just look like bad women, but they tried! The women understand painting, the men understand blank stares. How does this happen, men floundering in grey/beige, beer colours. While the women look like sprites fresh from the woodland and art gallery. Better eyes? Or more education in the Power of Art which proliferates in our cities. Now women are the romancing sculptors and painters. Men are the blind moles: are they born this way, taught or do they choose? I am an undercover woman, though I mainly decline the tools of their trade, just as women are men who sensibly decline to use ours. We wake similarly, pissing and farting, flopping around…we are a fuzzy animal thing and that is clear, soon we will put on what we have received, from the beginning. Our layers return, pages telling us what to do next. What to wear and how to stand and behave. Reality is full of tabards, scriptures and tablets, led by artistry in word or look. I know if I wore a jazzy suit combo with perfumed hairdo I would wake up the women, but I can’t do it, I don’t want to, because I would feel like a fraud. I would be a terrible salesman or banker. Some kindly men understand art too, but often decline it. Choosing not to paint a pretty picture, or pretend. They are more interested in artful manufacturing, cars, football perhaps and prefer those similarly brutish images. The wholly artless men and women are brushed aside mercilessly…so you don't like Artistry?...are you blind, ugly or insensitive?. I'm driving on, and pass a dead bear thing in the middle of the road. Poor artless animal sod, or stag night loser gone awry? The road is coming on at speed and it's miserable being an Arty man in an art-less white van, it's uncomfortable for me, although I chose it for this rebalancing effect. I’m torn by the lust for, and repulsive illusion of, sexy surfaces. Right now, on this drizzling dual carriageway, I'd rather be Thelma or Louise, speeding and laughing in lipstick.
Dear Spin Dryer.
It's a white tube of metal on 3 rubber feet. I could paint that, but it does seem that these days Painting is so limited, how can it describe what a spin dryer does: the noise, the water, the lifting it up, tying its electric cord and putting it back in the cupboard. Why would anyone WANT to paint THAT? I want to, because I LOVE IT, but I can't, so I'm writing, which I like too, especially when I'm a bit ill. Writing's great for that - a bit dreary, like sitting still and doing a jigsaw, only it's better because you don't know what it will look like. R used to joke that the spin dryer was a problem of mine, like I needed to see a shrink, that it was my other woman or my secret friend. Now no longer a secret, I'm coming out. There is no washing machine in this house so everything needing a degrease or smell change has to be done by hand, sometimes in the bath or kitchen sink. Trainers, curtains, jumpers, sometimes frightening underwear and grey brown towels that were born white. Strangely I like hand washing things, partly for the slapping things about, sloshing, kneading, and setting them to drip like stalactites. But mainly because I get to use the darling spin dryer. RIDICULOUS. Or is it nuts to bang all your stuff into a hole, pour in expensive gels and tablets (like it's ill) shut the door, turn the dial like your locking a safe and walk away as if it's all meaningless and a pain? Watching a washing machine would certainly be boring, even though I remember being fascinated when I was lower, watching the clothes tumble, colours changing like a cosmic trip on too many Smarties. Perhaps they're too low when you grow up, or it should be put in the corner of the living room, and you could watch it like 'Strictly' or 'X'. It's effectively the same idea only without the strange new desires for particular shampoos and cockatoo hairstyles, but you would miss the amazing education about the cosmos, so many STARS, some SO small! It's not the distanced watching of sealed-in washing I like now. When I'm sloshing and kneading I'm almost always transported to the River Ganges where I remember the women there slapping and twisting and laying out fluorescent colours on the floor like massive butterflies. I have an affection for my clothes and I like looking after them, but because I'm fussy about choosing them: colour, texture, shape etc. I like looking at them too, in their changing states, not like a cherished possession but like an emerging butterfly. Shirt flag, denim sea or sock log. The spin dryer is sitting nearby and getting impatient, tutting at my lack of focus. Its lid is open and from its spout there is a little drip falling into a plastic basin. It's resting, it's had a busy morning. When I lug my drippy stuff and then stuff it in, I need to close the lid and pull an arm across like a mediaeval lock and then, since that is also the ON switch… ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE. If I haven't loaded it evenly it clatters and bangs loudly from side to side like R2-D2 when he doesn't like what's happening to him, hit by a TIE-Fighter blast or prodded by an invasive and insensitive Jawa. If this happens I have to reset the clothes and start again, standing over it with my legs clamping the sides and hands on the lid to steady it, then there is this tremulous moment when you don't know if its going to clang angrily or turn into silky electric harmony, water spilling out like a gushing Italian water feature. When its working well it's like my imaginary son is in the corner having a very long and satisfying wee into a bucket. It's nice for me to see him happy there.
Me and FA.
There is a famous photograph of a youthful Frank Auerbach sitting on the pavement, looking nervous with highly sheered sideburns. He is sitting awkwardly, with legs long and gangly. He's sitting in front of his work hung on the railings of a park in London. It must have been a hideous, humiliating experience. Or taken evangelical confidence. Similar to today, only it might have been a more exciting and cool thing to do back then, when Bomberg was cutting edge. Very few people continue to make a life out of their youthful artistic ambitions. When you do, it should be celebrated I suppose, and these early photographs are then given righteous, trophy-like status, just as the engineers, doctors and full-time mothers tuck their photos of embarrassing Art endeavors away, instead constructing an album with an entirely different narrative. With happier memories. If an artist persists for decades, immune to humiliating exhibitions, or addicted to them, these kinds of pictures translate as The Young Genius.
The building site paintings show London after the war, being dismantled or rebuilt. Emotive Stuff? Perhaps this is another bright flag in the Auerbach album narrative, overplayed by historians and dramatists. A building site is a building site, now or 2000 years ago: a similarly crazed phenomena. It is a place for lugging forms into formlessness and back. Not quagmire, not diamond, and not poignant flower. It is poignant when you're remembering something that has gone: there are no widows or fatherless children portrayed, and these are not trenches. FA paints the point where the form is at a critical point, crystallized AND melting, but I don't think they are about WAR, which is always too miserable to paint properly. They are about building sites, and the boyish wonder at their scale and majesty within a Romantic landscape tradition of feeling small, and watching it all with your mouth open. Intoxicating and without too much histrionics. Building sites are wonderful, dramatic and upturned. Mysterious laboured places, and he labours with them appropriately. In his public album he stands like a hero, a miner or a blood spattered warrior. An icon of old-fashioned industry. Another narrative cliché here perhaps, but handsome he is. As Giacommetti is handsome and alone in his cave. Many artists are represented in this way. It's hard not to mention classical mythology. I will try, because these grooves are so deep that I am concerned that they obfuscate, that they take you down a tunnel that needn't be dug out again and again. So we should look at the work instead and try to dismantle the pictures similarly, with an oily spanner as well as a TV guide. Hard to imagine, FA was making work as The Beatles popped out and then burst, through Vietnam, Hippies, Jazz, Punk etc. Jordan's boobs enlarged and Jade Goodie died. Alan Titchmarsh was busy wheeling earth across his rose tinted lawn in fuzzy focus. Building site London is still here though, although the mess FA enjoyed in the 50's and 60's is now shielded with boards, with maybe a little window: the romance and mountainous muck has gone. What emerges from these places now is a varied splodging of hybridized architectural cladding. The structure and dirt is tucked beneath an assortment of different plasticy coatings. Mylie Cyrus is probably twerking inside one, mass meetings about branding up there too, modeling and mad shopping on the ground floor. Meanwhile FA is in his crusty studio, a closed landscape in itself, a grotto with stalagmites of paint, and lots of tins of smeggy paint, stacked like bombs. A hermit in a fluid/solid space - in half-outdoor room or totally interior body-room. Either way he is outside of what's going on now and I am glad he is. Separate from the short-termist entrepreneurs of today, surfing current trends and doing literal transcriptions for the Muppet drumming press.
FA has become an grand icon of a serious artistic career, not a serious careering artist. He has been chipping away quietly for years but I suspect that with him, it is, and was, a day at a time, without a thought for a sweaty business plan. No time needed for self promotion, going to shows where you might meet someone influential, getting a website (and choosing the right sort), or writing about art for a worthless blog because you’ve run out of paint and rent money(!). FA was working in a Golden Age, a high water mark for Fine Art making. An Age where artists (and creative people) from all backgrounds, had some time. Then there were cheap houses with big windows and something worthwhile to see from them. Only a handful of serious artists on the painting scene, friends to each other and as serious as scientists. With time to think and play. With the miserable vacuum of a new existential Godlessness perhaps: with ideologies and bodies to bury, but with wide open freedom too. This freedom has gone now unless you're loaded, in which case you don't bother, no need. Now, if you're a serious painter, you need a job and you squeeze your paints out in the rush between work shifts, laundry and failing relationships, and because of this, the results are average: tons of it. A landfill landscape of Art, these are the bomb-sites of today.
What is left for the working life-drawer and painter? A hashing of former rustic glories or a uncertain plastic comedy? There are few empty spaces left for boyish exploration, the sublime landscape offering star-like wonder is now on the internet, and so people like Frank and his golden generation are like beacons (using real fire!) waving excitedly from outdoors, and showing off a world when dirty reality was near. Grim, yes, but still reality. Still a shock and a treat.
With the portraits and nudes, there is isolation, bodies lie like drainage pipes in dug foundations or they are like tar boilers chuffing and gurgling. Pushed and pulled off like Giacommetti's clay, and edited similarly, aiming for essence or Reality, slowly removing the fat and chat. What's wrong with chat and fat? It's trivial I suppose, it's POP, and that misses his point. Again, these heads and bodies are a form of sublime landscape painting not portraiture, not minutiae or trivia. No eyelashes or wedding rings. He is awe struck at this weighty, wobbly otherness. Look at IT! They almost scream with paint, like Munch or Bacon, but with FA it's the flesh that screams not the brain. The skin, bones and blood. The biology.
He famously has sittings that last for years sometimes, this suggests he is after something less than fleeting. More than light, yet that is what he is using. Is he worried about impressionism, that he is in fact in love with light but knows there's a problem with superficiality? Monet's Rouen Cathedral pictures hover as warning: they are not unlike his landscapes or portraits in ethos. A hulk in light, a monstrous visual fact, though the light passes pleasingly upon them - for a moment - then dying. Monet recognizes this problem by painting in varied series: which is the truest?. Auerbach paints in series too, but over and over on the same canvas. This hulking seems thematic, as a late Rembrandt self-portrait resonates with Rouen Cathedral also: light on gnarled surface: fleshy and grotesque perhaps, but still surface. FA avoids the detailed blood spots and wrinkling but they are there in the paint, rabid sometimes, with shrunken skins, piped icing sugar elsewhere. Somehow bones are implicated though they are rarely expressed overtly. They exist in the gestural marks like girders, where the under painting is sump to the archaeological dig. The great difference with FA is that he is building, not just painting. Using light and subject and paint to weld together a THING. Like all great Art in all its forms: not an illusion, and not real, but a more real illusion. FA makes his noisy, smelly, tactile, heavy. Almost raging itself with its material force back into the present. As Rembrandt did: it's death defying.
The early drawings use dark, material tone, like banging a giant and ominous Gong. Deathly and threatening. They become, much later, electric chatter: with felt tips racing like mad tachograph - Life, Life, Life. Those early black forms seem to have become a burden, in the later work they are more reluctant to appear, as if black form equates with colourless death, which it does for someone who especially enjoys process. The Process is, for the enduring artist, where it's at: it's pleasure and pain, it's company, it's intoxication and for melting into: maybe like holding hands with the cosmos for a moment, or feeling like you might be able to. Or you are child-like and still playing with the world - alone. For a while you are lifted away from the earth. The end of a painting is an end to all that. That little private war that you started, of excitement, hope, complaints, inadequacies, ideas, devastations, triumphs and insights, slows down and stops. Finishing a painting is coming back to earth, with shopping and tax bills. It's nice to have something to remember the journey, a success perhaps? Or just a souvenir, fitting enough evidence to respect that which has passed, but it's no longer good to work on. There's an awkward silence, like you're breaking up. Or walking through damp lowlands after a mountain climb.
I'm writing this in November 2014, in the countryside, without Art books or internet or Auerbach postcards even, only some strong memories. So this is about me, some him, some countryside, but mainly my portable version of him. A sketch for me to focus on while I'm ill. I know a FA retrospective is coming next year. You need to be previous in order to get a look in, because in cultural terms, the exhibition has already been curated, the catalogue written, and because of that, the narrative started, polished, closed and sealed. This coming blockbuster is already over. The 2017 shows are being arranged now, by hooded figures in an underground Welsh grotto, or by Alan and Mylie maybe, up there?
I creak down the acute wooden stairs with my nights wee pot, I need to be careful as my teeth are only held on by threads now and a fall here would be the end for them at least. The downstairs room is a surprise: with evidence of reading, writing, painting, cooking and booze drinking. It is a right mess, fire ash and some fag ash spilt, a dirty glass with wine stains and a watercolour jar filled with sludgey water. Computer and papers akinbo on the floor. Who was the person who did this? A caveman or unwanted guest just out of prison? I walk past a wine bottle and am relieved to see half left, recorked, so they are not totally uncivilized! An animal would not think ahead like that and I am grateful. I drink fresh coffee and admire the debris, look at the images left scattered by the caveman, something exhuberant and admirable in their vigour but terribly sad and damaged too beneath the warped forms and ugly chinese style brushwork. There are 2 pans on the stove: one with a strange sausage/cabbage melange and another with a forward thinking bolognese for today. Im warming to this kindly stranger. I crack an egg into the sausage stuff and fry it for breakfast. I expect the guest to intrude at any moment but after a while I relax into the fact that they have gone, for good. The wine is just there, I could drink it now? I empty the wee pot and sterilize it with boiling water, light a small fire with last nights blackened bits and drink coffee on the floor, re-read the prisoners confessions and edit them slightly, I look at the paintings and edit them too. I drift around in a daze waiting to be sharp and awake. The wine is still there. For lunch perhaps?
Many people are dying on hospital beds, many on battlefields, many of ebola or loneliness. Some people are out there having conversations with each other, working out what to do next, talking about the tinned news perhaps, or family logistics. I talk to the ghosts of yesterday, the remnants of paper and computer thoughts. Frozen conversations, more like confessions, since more imaginative leaps would be needed to understand other creatures. Understanding this morphing stranger is hard enough. This could be seen as being stuck in a sad state of affairs or certainly an indulgent one. I am doing nothing, but keeping myself going. I could be clipping an old man's toenails, mowing his lawn. Visiting a lonely old woman. Giving weird advice to a teenager, being a ray of sunshine in my community, give, give, giving. Saying to folks it will be ok dear, saying have a good day. Smiling and sharing a joke with someone in the supermarket. The possibilities are endless. But the evening has come around and the wine is out again and this is what happens. Like a timed storage heater. This is my stupid job, like selling a Twix or some Marlborough Lights, like turning some lovely land into a desert, like making a mind numbing movie, like defending a paedophile. No, I'm doing something worthless, distracting myself for the time being with some shadow hands, it's like a lullaby, like the world service at 3am. Bringing you insight into the life of a contemporary British artist? Fascinating. Nope.
The night out there is a killer with affluent police prowling. I know many people are kind and fascinating, somewhere. I know there are mountains of interesting, unread books somewhere too, films, things etc.. But for now I decline their company and churn myself instead, like butter. Comforting, friendly, it's nice and woozy, even the hopeless honesty turned inside out and mashed up. Tight rope walking is nice for some, telephone wiring for others. I am expert at this solitude and looking at half-banal things and speaking directly about them, as if from inside a clipped bush. Highly skilled at moving slowly like water over flat land. Perhaps I can provide this public service: by representing a landscape, a flat field say, wide open and sitting there honestly? I would have at least one weeping willow and a very boggy bit. No hedges, no angry farmers.
The night begins at three and the blinkers induce an interior focus. The wine ran out at six so I borrow the prisoners bike and set off into the backward village that has no shop. Mole black, the invisible rain was a gentle sound only, no wind. No streetlights, the village is lit only by the odd resident, and then into the longer field roads where there is only a bike light. No moon or stars so there's no choice but to look down at the partially visible road, hooded. Following the road almost by primaeval scent, I could smell lichen and salt and the low wood smoke falling reluctantly from a chimney somewhere. Silent, submarine, burrowing. With intense concentration the road becomes a priceless oil painting seen in raking (candle) light, and then delicious, like licking a plate at speed, all this aided by that leftover, mature Rioja. For more of that purple liquid landscape I am now pumping my thin wet legs. For more romantic melting, and friendship with all that is with me now. That will be the cause of the fallout tomorrow morning. And my premature death. It is a very focussed and intimate marriage: observant, ghostly and welcoming. Unconcerned with interior design.
I drove out to stop googling places to live, to get away from the misery of it and get firewood from the beach. I used to paint to avoid these slavish practicalities too. Quite a dull drive although the sun shone brightly and the van skipped along faithfully (I'm trying to ignore a new grinding noise, left, front). As I got further away, the aesthetic fineness of Southwold dwindled into higgledy piggledy lumps of land, unkempt buildings, lorry-ruined roads and all poorer as I got closer to the power station of Sizewell which dominates the southern view from the impossibly wealthy and good looking town of Southwold. From there it is an enormous egg sitting in a squat cup on the horizon, ready for a yummy scrummy brekky wekky. But in Sizewell it's an industrial giant that oozes its nuclear power station heat into the sea. It's no yolk (hmm). It has a car park right next to it you have to pay for, and a shitty shed café that does unlocal food for single mums and old people. I parked outside a swank grey Londoners 3rd home instead for free and walked sweatily over some rabbitty humps to the gravel and sea. The sea is quite different here, it's aggressive and pushy, deeper with big waves coming in sideways breaking like furious meringuey slather. In the water are 2 isolated broken pier-like structures: disconnected, looking meaningful. I think they are the outlets for the heated nuclear goo, I remember seeing photos of them as an eager teenage fisherman, hearing how the warm water from them attracts small fry and then bass that feed on them, there's a couple of fishermen further up there trying to feed on them and clusters of small hungry boats on the gravel piles, eyeing up the fishermen. The sea has it's eye on all of them. That's it really, should pad this out like a school essay now. My friend Paul Ewen deals with this crunchy gear shift very well, he is observant and succinct, as beady-eyed as a skillful draughtsman but with a greater talent for taking this achingly hard ground and then lifting it up like a snow globe and wisely giving it a shake. Frank Auerbach comes to mind through the snow, using his rubber again and again till a dead head drawing wobbles itself out of fossilized cliché and is thrown back into LIFE. Paul uses absurdity as rubber to get the wobble going. I wonder if FA has a giggle sometimes about his wobble faces? His public persona is Very Serious, this could be a marketing strategy as a funny artist couldn't command very high prices. Rose Wylie is funny but she is quite frank about that and thereby lacks the solid underlying seriousness that primes a decent comical wonder in things as they stand.
Re-reading this now the authors poor teeth have an orange boxers gum shield made from a mistaken Frosties purchase. With painting and writing, and cereal, a lot of it is knowing what to leave out and when to stop.. so.. bye then. Take care. Oops dropped me glove, byeeeeee. By elongating a piece in this way you weaken all those previous, hard won images, structures, flavours and connections, you demean that false simplicity, insult it even. With a good drawing by FA he must end this complex time/reality/object somehow, he has to or it would just go on and on and on. Edited into oblivion. Perhaps he has lost many great images on the way but the last gasp thread must be good enough to tie it up, and with his final darting note, get as close as possible to including the absurd magnificence of it ALL.
BONFIRE BASE THEN INTO SPACE
Bonfire night-not quite-because it didn't fall at a weekend and so the oiks kick off now with their fucking lame bombastic rebellion-less rebellion. Light a firework I dare you. OOOOOOOOh. Bang. Woo. Supposedly commemorating Guy Fawkes, a confusing figure who effectively did nothing and was probably tortured into confessing whatever. So the dullards of Britain burn HIM or rather, a weird mannequin made of old tights and floppy legs in 'wellies'. I'm sure he wore those as he stacked up the barrels of gunpowder with legs wobbling. They probably were though after weeks of torture in the tower. This floppy fellow that kids learn to burn allegedly had the guts and ingenuity to attempt massive political change with limited means, as kings and queens do with less limited means and much more dastardly. Instead masses of muck headed suburbanites spend a fortune on Chinese gunpowder, and stick it to the man? Instead just getting more selfish and anti-social and signaling moreover their own humble desires for tortuous dictatorship. Cooey neighborhood, I am the big man under my 'spaz bomb' or 'Iraqi-twirler'. The real meaning of 'Bonfire Night' is the opposite of what it hints at excitedly, now burning all revolutionary thoughts and introducing children early to the threat of royal and state power. The poorest kids are burning their own spirited hopes for change. Burning traditional garden waste has nothing to do with this miserable narrative, being instead a timeless, measured, social and philosophical practicality.
Walking along the sea shore instead, the wind broke my hood and I had to zip myself into a bacon sort of seal, keys, phone, wallet safe in a nylon zip thing. I carried with me a loneliness and despair, rare and fine, like an invisible mink coat, trailing tears or a sluggy slime I imagined. Onward at an angle in the wind, pointless footsteps sounding like a cement mixer with the pebbles churning. Going nowhere, but for a kind of masochistic health walk. Please Slap Me nature, yes that's good, screaming sand, tears flying sideways, snot rising to be shot out backwards, yup I'm alive and present. Cheers. Maybe that walk has made these words appear and so it is good to get out, otherwise I doubt I'd have written about sitting by the fire, cowardly, empty? I wouldn't have bothered. I was in a practical state then: sewing a bag, considering how to insulate my van. But now after my health walk I'm invigorated to WRITE, which is higher on the rung of things, respectable somehow. Chewy, conversational and honourable, whereas sewing and insulation are matters for the underclass, and therefore uninteresting. Sometimes I confuse writing and narrative with reality and practicality. Narrative is a dolly for bedtime, like a lawyers defence or politicians rhetoric: a lullaby for a childish dream reality. Evidence of good health, clean hands and spare time. Insulation and sewing just stops your teddy from exploding and you freezing to death. Well said Neal-author, admirable.
Most of these days I spend close to tears, I have finally realised that my London friends are oxymorons. There are virtually none, just a series or makers and shakers and manouverers. Fiends. I have spent the last year and a half trying to remain an artist, that is, almost full-time, attempted to find affordable accommodation that allows me enough freedom amidst my chosen poverty route. The options have dwindled. I have lived in a bedsit the size of a bath, in a hedge, between railway sleepers (with a plastic cover), in a van, above a launderette with drunks, in the rafters of a park building, in a shared slum, in a shared benefit scam run by a Jewish 'poet', and finally ripped off in a slum owned by a mystical and distant Mrs. T.Hief Khan. All to be able to make stoopid ART. Please, no applause, I'm trying to write. Now 15 years on I am to leave this luxury dream scenario, which was set in motion many years ago as a child in Blackpool library (art section) and now I will return to the North (but not the art section) plughole-like. I spend my days/weeks googling places in Britain, anywhere/everywhere and I try to imagine, via these weird estate agent photos, being there, being happy, or just being able to be an artist still. Weird, everywhere has a leather sofa, not much else, blank. Like this beefy object alone signifies a HOME. No, it signifies a lonely interior rodeo.
I'm so drunk now that I've had to lie on my back, I've propped laptop on it's side, feels better, light fitting appears to be moving to the right quite a lot. But this sideways writing is working, as if I'm in space, gravity gone, all spinning. Does this mean what I'm writing is worthless because I'm so alien? Ask an astronaut about reality, yeah right, what do they know. I've got carpet in my right ear and this screen imploring me ahead suggesting an important direction like in Star Trek. Ok engage boosters and secure the Omega rods. Eh? What the fucks going on. This cottage is drifting willy nilly, the gravity field has failed, probs cos I haven't eaten anything before these strong beers. Houston, Houston? Hunstanton more like, I'm code red, I'm going blue. The umbilical has become dislodged and my dream pod has come adrift please advise. Hunstanton? Got any cheap accomodation?
I remember seeing Alex Katz's trees at the old Saatchi space in Swiss Cottage, spartan and sad as life can be, especially affluent-metropolitan northern-hemisphere life. It was a relief to see to see a bit of subtlety in those whopping canvases shown in a whopping space used to displaying gross-shouty art-adverts. I saw other things there like Jenny Saville's fatties, huge, ugly and visceral. Horribly literal and badly painted too, as if readyied for a big showing off. No subtlety of colour or composition, maybe that was the point, emptied of everything good? Maybe there's some credit in this sheer ugliness. In Katz there was some breathing space familiar to lovers of historic painting, not just the brash gimmicky sort plonked centre stage. Some enjoyable brushwork albeit too slik, some good colour decisions and interplay, a reference to cinematic grandeur here and domestic life there. The woman in rain stood out, tearful without being overt. Later I would discover he painted small too, like an ordinary person, and then blew them up for the market I suppose. Why is this inflation necessary? A good image is a good image, big or small.
The size is more to do with intimidation and social ordering than visual experience. My paintings were hand sized at the time, probably in my rucksack as I walked round, but I didn't feel emasculated, I felt allied in imagery just separated from the mechanics of the market. I had no exhibitions, no catalogue essays, no glossy Monograph. It’s a painful position to be in if you are young(ish) and ambitious but it's also deliciously explorative and enjoyable being outside of gigantic financial affairs.
Katz's trees, made a decade before Hockney's monsters, were original in their frank blankness, nature indifferent and distant. Hockney never expresses anything, not even nothingness (this lack of original ideas makes him Britain's favourite artist, equal to the national dim-wittedness). Katz's trees are like haiku, Kurasawa or Mondrian at a push, that is, almost painfully composed, tight arsed to the point of strangulation and death. The brushwork is strangely alive though, painted as one might paint a wall, thin, long strokes whistling a tune.
I like little sketches, by anyone, they are always revealing and expressive. With Constable, this is where he's at, where life makes contact and passes through the stupid eye/brain/hand and comes out like a sausage of what has been seen and felt. A description of both time and place and the human that has stood noting it down. These interactions are rarely shown and we prefer(?) to swoon over the massive master-pieces, supposed a blooming of artistic philosophy, and signs of a macho/virtuoso commitment to it. But the small ones hold more, blossoming with nitty gritty, churning decisions and failures, the philosophy and time of battlefield action. The large ones are mostly over polished, overly rounded and embarrassing car sales, waxed and buffed by assistants and fresh gallery peasants. These beasts are made for holding and transferring financial currency not ideas or meaning and dsecribe their own means of production as much as the thing represented. Portraits of £.
I have resisted enlarging my ideas for this reason but can see that it doesn't help my career (which cannot actually exist in Art terms but describes instead a desire for fame and higher prices, to communicate wildly and to enter the language as an adjective, as a known commodity.) I paint small because it's natural, and it's stupid and expensive not to if all you can afford is a bed-sit and an allotment shed to work in. It's also silly when you paint from nowhere, i.e. where you don't really know what you're doing and when painting is a way to find it out. Even painting small can use over 20 layers of corrections and editing. For this reason painting large is more often like thin illustrations of these smaller explorations, unless you are Anselm Kiefer or Frank Auerbach and rejoice in, and can afford, this aggressive battle with bucket loads of stuff on a grand scale. For me this is like playing God and with some of Kiefer's 3D paintings this literally becomes creation of earth.
Art collectors have big houses with big walls and putting up little pictures would be silly and look cheap, it's almost necessary to fill the space, as tapestries were used in castles, to warm it up a bit and make the place feel less cavernous and lonely. Does a gigantist artist see, think or feel more? Are they more sensitive and worldly? They are certainly more art worldly and we know this is a rarified and slim aspect of the real world, just as history cannot help but follow big events and big things. History is lazy. Big news is lazy. Big collectors are lazy. Perhaps if they bought an occasional small house, and put in smaller, rarer things they might have a better and more visually rounded experience. Otherwise our understanding of imagery and history, often donated or bullied into our Museums and National collections and then consciousness by industrial collectors not aesthetes, will be limited only to wealthy views, built from power and describing that only.
Please Sir, can we have our houses back.
It hurts to write the word - HOUSEPRICES - the subject is so boring and overtalked, it has become a plague and a less than silent killer. Again banal people talk of nothing else, and it's sickening to hear them re-emerging from their quiet and harmless period of recession. Here we go again, shameless and talentless people accepting dirty incentives from a brazen, immoral government. Common now - people half blushing at their own rude, good health - only half embarrassed at seeing the young and poor being drained of their life-blood. Many of these young, hopeless 'failures' retreating into child-like bedsits, with only their smart phones and alcohol, quietly wishing themselves and their parents dead.
Mortgages are getting harder to get, if you want to borrow now you will need to provide receipts for haircuts and milk.
So went the radio headline this morning as a new Law is debated to protect poor people from getting into debt. AW bless, thanks SO much. Two hired voices (one called Patience) calmly insisted that what is required now is more house building and a steady, planned increase in interest rates, but "there has been a problem with lack of bricks" etc.
Please can we, now and then, have an uncalm voice broadcast at the outset of these new, unelected policies. A voice that might be affected badly by this change. A voice affected by an unprecedented rise in house prices. A voice blessed not just with the name - patience - but the experience of tolerating the nomadic, vulnerable position of recent times, a position created by an exhaustive lack of home-owning options. A voice enriched by years of this clunky life, not polished by trendy interns and networky typers.
When my parents died I inherited a third of a big house in Blackpool. I was an angsty 19yr old and in no mood to reinvest in bricks and mortar, contrary to the now (+oh so) wise, who did. When I tell homeowners this story, brows raise and there is a knowing, piteous look. They of course are now glittering millionaires, as are their parents, and grandparents, all snug in modernised 'mill-workers' cottages. "You should have bought something" they sagely suggest, as if they knew this was coming. NO THEY DIDN’T - otherwise they would have bought fifteen, so they must be idiots too!
What has happened in the last 25 years has not been grand foresight by the wise few, but free money for accidental property owners, and higher taxes for the poor - AGAIN. What is perhaps new is a willingness of the new peasant/gentry to watch their own children become impoverished as they themselves rake it in.
At 19 I inherited a third of my parents estate, with my £40,000 I could have nearly bought the worst house in a small Suffolk village, I decided against it. I used the money to keep myself alive and I tried to enjoy myself a bit too. I befriended Buddhism, and gave some £ to charity. Some drained away as a consequence of a commitment to not being sucked into the world of selfish acquisitions. I became self-employed and tried to stay alive simply. Then I became an artist (wince) I got down to £10,000 and then… I started to sell some pictures! Being self employed and having an income that can fluctuate wildly from next to nothing to a princely minimum wage, a mortgage was out of the question. Instead, for years, £6000 per annum was given to an idle landlord in Dorset. Now 20 years later, despite the draining of this rent-life-blood I now have £40,000 again and am in that same Suffolk village writing this. That worst house is now nearing £200,000. Due to this recession/boom money is worth a fifth of what it was back then, with £40,000 I can afford a garage or an old motor home, not a new one.
The 2 calm radio voices had clearly bought, and were not disinterested in the happy rise and frightening fall of what they consider theirs, just as the poor are not disinterested. They bought, without knowing what would happen, and received (gratis) tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of pounds, this helped them to consume and enjoy. Not economize and save - fruitlessly.
From this government giveaway a new industrial revolution was born, and without manufacturing a thing!
Recipe for a new reformation: Take any humble, beautiful, dusty and smoky old family home, burn its muddy history, now put in clean, plasticy wood on the floor, paint the walls brilliant white, affix strange halogen constellations above, and a flat screen advertising machine on the wall, chuck in choice items of Ikea furniture and perhaps reddish-blobbed bed 'linen'. Hang cheap, computer images instead of paintings (grass with dewy beads? or some stripes?). Rent this out for a weekly wage. Not only do you profit from rising house prices (as another property is withdrawn from sale) you also get your tenants weekly wage. Or you could just leave it empty and save the hassle of redecoration, just sit back and watch the prices rise.
The industry of property portfolios was accessible to all, but only benefited the owners and low paid (especially foreign) labourers, impoverishing the rest, and ruining our traditional aesthetic and material inheritance by the way. These portfolios of property, now plastic ruins, need to be given back, so a British citizen can have some choice in whether to rent or own, as well as re-investing time and love into this recent, ruinous pathetic-aesthetic.
The second homers.
For any citizen a proud and happy home is a good goal, something to achieve by love, work and slow consideration, neither to be bought easily or given as birthright. A good-enough home is hoped for by everyone. Children should not be born into homelessness and hopelessness, especially when so many houses lie empty and a minority of choice individuals own whole pretty villages for greedy investment purposes only. They are "assisting in the development of a much needed rental market" it has been said by D.C - shut up you unelected dick-head. The houses should be spread out fairly. They were, and are still ours, not yours or your selfish friends, however unevenly they have been dealt out in recent times.
When the houses come back, our sea-side villages will again nurture local expertise, rockpooling children, and industries of making a living and living well. The London bless-ed could still visit the seaside and stay in a local run B+B or hotel, or rent a house. Instead of lolling in flip-flops with yawning gentry-bedheads to a homogenized supermarket, nodding daily to the same London neighbor: everywhere they own in the UK. They will again enjoy (and sneer at sometimes) new and strange, locally produced foods/crafts and goods: currently alien to their supermarket-snoring-senses.
The grey gloss and sage lawyers houses that have made most of our seaside towns deserts and devoid of lusty-life must be given back. It is IMMORAL for those beautiful rooms to sit empty for months on end, nesting only an ubiquitous rigged sailing ship in the window. Soon the real, hearty coastal inheritors who have spent years lost at sea, looking for lowly, stable accommodation but getting something that a decrepit animal would not tolerate, will return riotously. Re-making nets and gutting fish.
Landscape and melancholy
Twitching by the Watch House
Arguing on the shore, arguing on the sailing dingy, arguing about life jacket straps and my steering and rope tying, we arrived at the watch house, an isolated mad house standing alone and raw on a moving spit horizon, one eager to arrive and one ready to turn back, I sat on the newly built jetty and cried about our friendship failing, below my stupid lump tiny crabs wandered into a new jelly push of tidal mud water. It was a beautiful day as I hunched there immobile, looking down. The mud bubbled and lapped up the salt water coming into the lagoon, black footprints filled in. It was dead still, no cars or voices just warm primal fudge, fat and soft, some laughing gulls and a sweet curlew or whimbrel surprise. The long gravel spit nearby hid the greedy bedfellow of the crazed sea sheet behind it. I didn't run to it barefoot but considered falling into the mud-shit face first and calling it a day. Rosie pulled me up like a rusty anchor and dragged me like a Neanderthal through a singular crack in the furze bushes. The space woke me up, huge distances all around, filled without civilization but as civilized as a priceless wine uncorked. It couldn't be ignored now, it couldn't help but be drinked in and licked with my pony tongue. My nose flared recognizing the fellow poor souls embedded here, shy and threatened, murderous and divine.
Over the gravel bank and getting in the sea it banged against you like you had the rugby ball at school, not knowing where to run, not knowing the rules, boys v teachers. The sea took you left and away from your sad pile of clothes, swimming back at your panicky best was standing still out of breath, why is it not moving closer? The death threat wakes you up here, this place is designed for low things tied down and sharp birds only.
The night would come first as an old tattered shawl over all with birds on the move into the creek, spoonbills blindly hoovering up in the dark and the little plovers scurrying here and there in short bursts. Egrets dancing goofily for little fish. I would start to make a fire indoors from driftwood and sprinkle on house coal then start to cook, Rosie knitted, drew or read out loud from an anthology of nature writing, some pieces full with microscopic detail, others more cosmic and grand, oozing with romantic notions of tiny and stupid humanity. Conrad flamed with misery, DH Lawrence longed for wide, empty spaces not grounded like a donkey with a log on its leg. Other local writers described the place where we were, or a similar hut nearby and suffering/delighting in a similarly isolated/surrounded existence. Another author made giant leaps with long sentences like unchewable fat, all were necessarily skewed and poetic since nature cannot be described any other way, and melancholic since it cannot be enjoyed without noting it's exuberance/extinction. After the suns last embarrassing display the night came down like an oilskin tarpaulin - nothing to see. Awake in a hot/cold camp bed the sea still shouted although there was no hint of a breeze. It felt unnervingly close behind our heads like it was swamping the house in the night. It had come over the winter before, there was a badly written mark 2ft up on the wall to commemorate it, but the house seemed weirdly unaffected, either the mark was written by a mischievous child or it's the advantage of a house looking naturally knackered.
Twitchers would come late and early like characters from Star Wars, desert people with tripods on their backs and long lenses over their heads: heavy and technical. Melancholy too they ruined the land to satiate their little lusts, squashing the plants from which the birds came out in a panic. Some chose clapping and simulating elephants to flush out the rare birds blown east on their migration from Scandinavia. An old spoonbill-faced birdwatcher told us of a poor overblown sod cornered by 150 twitchers, and seeing the ground the next day flattened as if by tanks. The little bird was probably left frightened to death.
Teams of schoolchildren were led out onto the spit appearing elongated and huge in the far heat-haze: aliens confused, just landed, in fluorescent space-suits turned into everyday school munchkins in lifejackets as they passed by disinterestedly.
We went for a sail, goose winged out into the pit, going with the wind is so quiet and delicious, you could LOOK and enjoy the clear water, wind luffing and filling the sails harmlessly, the plastic boat acting as feather. On the way back it was noisy, ropes slapping, sails taut, boat leaning and tacking, regimental and stressy. Unnatural you might say especially wihout a haul of fish. But it got us back to the jetty - exhausted again.
We walked to the seals over lunar rocks, a straight walk with terns diving for fish to the right, 30 feet of layered walls of pebbles to the left which eventually opened to golden sand and hairy dune mountains. The seals were like rocks or a wreck in the distance, black dots, one would worm from the beach, ugly as a slug into the sea. `Soon seal heads were in the water close by, masks raising up and sinking like signals to turn back. Walking on the sand it changed from hard pastry to soft snow, razor shells, oysters and crabs dead by the seal's lagoon. They came nearer and as it was hot we decided to go in, R looked better in her black seal swimming costume, I looked like a pink fungus in my absorbent underpants. Still they watched and we watched till it became confusing which of us was the theatre and which the audience.
Soon we would leave the watch house and separate R and I, strange to be back in a world of upright trees and walls, everything appeared floppy, a robin made such a gaudy and decadent song compared to the screams of the sea and it's harder birds. I returned to my Suffolk table of invented paintings of ponies half seen, half imagined in Wales. Back here there is always a shiny parked car nosing into my window-feet away, a motorway yawns noisily yards away. Old people flop around here like seals that have decided to slim instead and play golf, or pick up dog shit. In an enlightened and hateful burst I paint big cars over all my delicate cosmic dreams.
Who knows why its called tre-veen, all that ancient lineage has gone, warped into a bastard of a language hybridized into undecipherable goo. Forget it. It's one of those places where a druidic cloak wouldn't go amiss, you could wear a felt snake hat without a second look (they are sold here) there is a mixed rainbow culture here, timeless, rock hard in it's un-firmness, tangled with morphing landscape mysteries. It's near the ancient capital of Wales, St David's: a sunken church not far from the rude sea cliffs and still mediaeval and sunken at heart.
The landscape is ruddy with curves and stone walls that have become softened and plumped with plants and decay and soil and more plants till the stones are hidden with a mass of organic matter: high, rounded and alive. The fields curve and are mysterious and feminine in the old fashioned sense, unruly and wandering sentences of silage cut down, shining in snakes of silken hair laid out in some, others with silent cattle or giant unkempt haystacks. These small fields crazy-pave a lolloping landscape as if made by a bearded hippy-lord suggesting a 'yeah man' approach. These multi-coloured fields are thrown over an unmade bed of land that falls off a raging cliff into a blue-green floor of sea. Giants can be imagined on and within the land. Great fingers of rock reach out, bodies of furry stone in torsos and boobs and dicks rise up volcanically.
Trefin is a small community built on these rocks, some still exposed and mossy in the high street, Trefin is really just a high street, not much else, like a wild west town: empty apart from the occasional people carrier ferrying holiday-makers to and fro. There is a persistent fat, Welsh man raising his eyebrows as you walk by his rock house, there is a bus shelter with a secretive loner in it. There is an empty pub and a café/craft shop with an old hippy inside selling all the weird shit she has made, some of it perfectly representative of here, some of it as wrong and misinterpreted as can be. Now the flower children are fizzling out, just as the locals did before them.
I wanted to write really about our brief isolated nesting here since our house was away from the anywhere village cliché and shelved lower, embedded in the bay's chin overlooking a rare low entrance to the sea. Elsewhere the cliffs rose up dizzily, making the sea distant, unreachable. Making it into a blue, untouchable thing, and because you're separated, looking down; dangerously picturesque. In our bay, a fern filled wilderness took fresh water under the road, through a gorge, under a tiny bridge and into a slate filled beach then sea. Here was a sweet spot of fertility. Touchy feely fairyland on a sunny day, but within a few hours becoming impossible to leave the house in whipping rain magiked up from the sea, brought on wizardy ice winds.
Our rock hard little house was ORANGE, ridiculous there alone on the cliff edge, its bum snuggled up to a fern hill rising above the roof. The garden was a few feet of thick stubble about to stumble off the edge of a cliff. The downstairs was a dark, damp void but upstairs all windows and had a view to die for, in winter you probably would. The problem was you would sit up there looking out like a lemon on parade as tourists filed by, walkers cyclists and touring cars. When they went home it was ok and the sea and weather would again take priority, the elemental not the domestic or touristic. At night the stars were shocking, dizzying and the waves always bashing in like a giant heartbeat, all the time slowly grinding the volcanic crags into black fetishistic orgasmic writhings.
Down there in the basin was like touring the details of a giant washing up bowl, some immense bendy plates bleached and clean, other corners filled with bubbly crap and cliffy smeg, bits of weed cabbage missed while talking. High up the bucket sides made of rock razorblades were killing places littered with crab and bird skeletons where something had eaten for years, maybe thousands of years.
I'm a bit drunk and the music has gone mad on the radio, my head is churning, I don't want to write any more except about porcelain crabs, little mud-green things as flat as wafers that suffered every great washing surge under the boulders. Delicate as lace with oversized pincers frilled as if the whole thing danced with the idea that it might dissolve back wholly into the limpet clad rocks. Or along with the brittle stars, just another escaped fossil.
Almost as soon as we arrived R started drawing madly like a arty whippet, hang on, I’M THE ARTIST, and I scoured the place for something to grab onto, but I just wandered with my floppy pad and came back empty handed. Tourists even asked me smiling; "any good images" they were clearly in awe and only a dumb fool couldn't find SOMETHING here. "Not today" I tried to say without sobbing. I sulked a bit, then remembered that I didn't want touristy images, I wanted to go under the skin, be shocked and make something shocking as the reality of landscape demands. I went around slowly, patiently avoiding painterly pitfalls and came across some ponies on the cliff, dotted among the slate ruins, or in the gorse and rough turf. Instant cliché, it's a trap! Oh well, I started and straight away a dappled grey came right up and put it's long bone face in mine, it stayed sniffing and kissing, it's big hot leather lips so gentle and wary. It could have squashed me, kicked or just steered clear, but it was lovely, it felt like the land had risen up in horse form and made contact in a most intimate and shocking way. The paintings were of course terrible, but it became an exciting daily ritual, with different coloured horses coming over to make contact. I joked I had fallen in love, that they were sexy but it was true. They were almost pornographic in their curvy willingness to pose, one even had crimped blonde hair. I renamed them 'pornies' and tried to capture and mock my own sugary teenage feelings for them. I worried about them at night, 100ft up on the edge in all weathers. I imagined them to be hardy prehistoric natives, ridden by naked Celts over this blue green slope forever. On our last day I intended to add more to my woolly sketches but they were gone. My pad went floppy again and I could see nothing else worth painting. A local told me that they get moved from cliff to cliff and I felt used, another hippy-tourist fool.
My best painting came out back at the house, me slumped in love and loss over a sugary pony looking more like a girls plastic toy.
Small ones, fat ones, thin ones, tall ones, steam ones. I'm little pictures of boats bobbing about on cardboard or scraps of wood, using a pencil and some basic gloss paints. I'm a little Cornish man who looks like a rat. I'm painting for company after my wife died. An academic painter might call me 'child like' or 'foolish' or if they were really honest: 'horribly poorly-bred, uneducated and flea-bitten: a no-one'. Visual excitement is not learned in the life room, which is essentially a cattle-market for the wealthy, a debutantes dating agency. Where you learn about hierarchies. Fine Art is a class-less curse and can come early or late in life. Some say it is a privilege to paint, (often the privileged people) but it is not exotic or indulgent unless you're not very good at it. It is a language that you speak or don't. I think it's something that goes right/wrong with the eyes and brain, a dodgy synapse or an over acute lens. It makes you stare at things longer than other people, you see mad/real things, and because it is an itchy problem, it needs to be scratched. Because it's a problem it isolates you, it's lonely, most people can't see things, so how do you explain what it's like to them? You paint and they look, then they look confused, then you get lonelier, so you paint again for company.
Some say I never went to sea, and that my pictures are just like most of my fancy London friends pictures, fetishistic and touristy. If I had real experience of the raging sea would I be nostalgic? And if I had, wouldn't I sail again rather than paint, I stay indoors because I'm frail? Where are the respectful portraits of the sailors that shared months on those planks of wood with me? Either way, no matter, painting is sailing for the hand and for the too long-harboured soul.
I have a shop selling ship junk, for years I've been tied to the ground and stared out to sea. I know those old boats like good friends, like passing hopes. There are a few images I made of islands, viewed from a passing boat. What is clear though is that I use my eyes from here or there, my brain too. Perhaps there is no evidence of Odysseus or Eastern philosophy in my noggin, but I'm still a miles better composer than Mr. Nicholson and poor young Mr. Wood. People here in St. Ives are jealous of my cultured visitors, money for old rope, they'll be pleased to see me die in the poorhouse.
Hello there, John Sell Cotman here, I went to watch the England game on Thursday, it was a disappointment but I got talking to some friendly sorts, I cheekily asked someone for a roll-up and drank, drank more and had more roll-ups. Beaten by Uruguay and effectively knocked out of the World Cup, portly merchants poured from the pubs, faux glum; still fat and prosperous, full of beer and artful food served on square plates. The silent cycle home was as fresh as a watercolour; the sky high with royal blue, peachy-ness at the edges. The road faintly shone from the moonless death of day like black wax, with poor bike lights I slithered slowly home. Avoiding the pot holes was a major triumph.
I don't paint much now. My heart has been broken. London rejected me for bigger and blousier types, and so I exist here in the green-fuddled shadows of East Anglia, muddied and partly rotten-headed.
The country houses here are proud pink heads, mushrooming beside green winding lanes, often clustered, chatting. Some like old women covered in delicate foliage. Some boyish, with additions of silly plywood and constant edits. The houses I paint are not unlike my portraits. Sad broken dolls, spilling straw. People think I'm quintessentially English, stable and of my period, just a painter of nice boats and land, people dotted about, you know the sort. BUT I’M BETTER THAN THAT. I paint this flat land. I paint with my board flat, echoing the sediment of land itself and control pigment upon it like a land-owner, sometimes letting it run and mix, other times using hard-edged borders to constrain the wildness. A placed leaning plank is my signature. Compositional, symbolic of labour and building. Where Ruisdael is present always as wounded trunk, I am a plank. The result is not much to do with HERE. I am an abstract painter, my paintings are foremost my own private constructions. Not an illustration of a scene but an actualization, a welding together of my visual experience and my material experience of painting, which is a landscape in itself. I am the master of these estates for a moment, they exist afterwards as a mix of humility, some skill and my respect for the watery mechanics of painting. Watching England play I noticed a similar humility, slow and wooden, lacking flair.
Goya in Southwold
Slobbering buffoons, gold dripping down their chests like eggy goo. They look like they need a bib and nappy. The court painter Goya got away with murder, mocking his Royal patrons to this day. This is a wonder of Art, that he was paid to speak so freely. His skill was so great or his competition so poor that he was allowed to make his powerful overlords look like moronic jellies. When he willed it he could make his beloved Maja or a farm worker look present and heroic with the slightest of means. Goya is the best free painter who has ever lived. Always sensual and political. Hotly philosophical, a real corrupted human, he's never just pretty. Here in Southwold there are no kings and queens but there are many courtiers, and many aspiring aesthetes strutting around confidently. Silver-haired and dressed like teenagers: orange people with hairy whippets, prinking flowerpots, preening themselves, cruising by: critical of other peoples stuff. Aestheticising is political maneuvering. My court painter is better than yours, my holiday home, my hairdo, my court shoe. Pevsner called Southwold 'one of the happiest and picturesque seaside towns in England' and approved of it royally. Pevsner had been an early supporter of Nazism, in the end campaigning to save Victorian architecture (he was not interested in little buildings). Pevsners guides are like a dictatorial list of who's who of what's what. Fine and Fixed. Not an oozing or moving love letter as Betjeman might have preferred. What if (say) Weston church in Suffolk now has a family of resident Stoats? Or that its gun-metal grey, stoic look works well as foil for the mad, loutish aeroplanes diving sideways into suicidal landings at Beccles airport. Is this a Fine distinction? Perhaps architechture dignifies a space with its formal characteristics, lineage or scale, perhaps by its ruination and consequent environmental haven, or even by a much needed conversion into a bunch of ugly living spaces? Speedy aesthetic judgements are one aspect, and often a screen for hiding much messier details. Sometimes grandeur and observation is made to intimidate not celebrate or vivify. Fineness now would be a careful building for the empty handed. That would be especially worth pointing at.
Brouwer brown hole.
Brouwer brown hole.
One of the finest Dutch painters is hardly known, but should be the famous iconographer of boozy British life. Rembrandt collected his work, which is a slight and small body in total, and it is an ugly body. Showing teeth being pulled, bawdy pub behaviour and a brown alcoholism. The skill and liveliness outwits Vermeer's famous Hollywood photocopies. Brouwers' is the aesthetic of country chaos and emptiness. A cruel exterior and interior landscape, which is also a portrait of the gristly human body. A girl with a pearl earring is a golden age, like a flash of sunlight over the sea, a glint in an eye. Some time off.
From this beamy old cottage in Suffolk, I can see the sun hitting beef coloured bricks, a hairy green willow and clotted clouds reading right over a baby blue sky. There are no people about, just the creeping silhouette of the house. I can see the chimney shadows rising and giving me the finger. I have run out of beer. There are no shops for miles, but there is a pub. I am not a pub-goer. I met the other resident artist today. He thinks it meaningful that I am here, and have split with my girlfriend like him. He's also writing! His teeth are black around the gums, face red and peeling, some skin fell off as he introduced himself in Costa coffee. (There's no internet for miles either). What am I doing telling 'you' about this? (no one's listening Neal) I bumped into Julie later in Tesco's and laughed about a pineapple, and me not knowing what I went in there for. Peppercorns. I'm wasting your time, but then you're watching the telly so. What's my point? There is none, just this rural emptiness. Not like a city emptiness, with existential artists wearing black and blowing smoke aloft sexily. This is not showy, this is desperate. And like a Brouwer painting you might walk past my window, thinking it empty, home to your own brown hole.
There is a stick in the mud. Take out the stick and strip the bark. The idea is essence, economy, spirit. Perhaps leave it to the Zen masters and herbalists. Minimalism is not art, it is drawing attention to minor matters, a shush, supposedly unlocking cosmic secrets. At the heart though is misdirection and more poverty than attempted cosmology. Minimalism is Art hate or just impotent Art love, for this reason it is often accompanied by much hairy writing. A party wig for a polystyrene head.
When we look at Malevich, and watch his development, we realise his progress towards a black square or circle is an excited attempt at radical change and a new language. Wild to think then of Fine art for peasant farmers. Riotous and right there, like a thump. Great Art is not at all serene.
The farmers here in East Anglia know as much about Art as I do. A skew-whiff square is for simpletons and babies. There are only graduates here, and visual connoisseurs. History and philosophy is something else: hidden-mysterious-withdrawn. We all have access to sTate Art now and all wear stripey fishermen's tops, with the initial revolutionary fish scales well washed off. Now we have no fishermen! Great Art is/was a new world, an urgent green fuse: uncomfortable to watch, embarrassing in fact, like watching television atrocities. Visual war not just some Peas.
Hello my name is Lowry, I'm just back from Lowestoft. Lowestoft is an industrial-scale, down-at-heel fishing port on the bum of Britain. It's our most Easterly town! Lowestoft town centre is a long, straight pedestrianized street that lifts up gently from the harbour mouth to the old town. Near the train station, at its lower lip Macdonalds sits fat and proud on the left. Like a figurehead, like a mission statement. On the right of this is a shady bunch of grand-scale, business-less buildings. The view of the street is like Cezannes tables, lifted up to show off its bottle and fruits. As with Breughel there is a high viewpoint and from here it looks like one of my 'matchstickmen' paintings, a pale ground with bright primary colours clodhopping across. Not much black here though, these are not worker ants but clowns. In grouped conspiracy's, in disability cars, doing funny walks. It's a bit like my painting 'The Cripples'. With clowning the trick seems to be to make everything more extreme than it is, then reality becomes wobbly and absurd. There are no ideal people here. There are no supermodels. Only fatties and thinnies, big feet, tiny ears, some wearing wigs, 1 bulbous eye, one short leg, an arm instead of a leg etc. There is a nuclear power station further down the coast at Sizewell that apparently affects the fish, it is famous for warming the waters and increasing the quantity of small fry and Bass. No one fishes from Lowestoft anymore. Everyone has tattoos, smokes and limps. Some of the dehydrated faces are so deeply wrinkled that eyes, noses and mouths just sit in the cracks like raisins. This place was once one of the biggest fishing ports in England. My paintings have become very valuable now, even though they hold so much poverty and sorrow. There's not much laughing in them. There's not much intimacy. I look at things from a distance, but that thing is always very particular.
Hi I'm Stanley Spencer, I used to regularly visit Wangford in Suffolk where Neal is staying and writing this now. I came with my first wife Hilda Carline. Some of my holiday paintings made here are held by the horrid Tate gallery in London, but these are just examples of my £ paintings really, me painting like a tourist and a bit of a robot. People with money like to show off, with me it's my draughtsmanship they like to display, not my unfashionable religion, parochialism or strange sense of morality. Essentially they didn't like me. People with £ generally don't like artists, they like themselves. Art is a little temple flower to help deify themselves. But where would we artists be without the capitalist gold? We would carry on, possibly even hold court. For our aim is higher than ourselves, we try to befriend and honour GOD, and lay our flowers only at His feet. What would they do without art? Eat soup in the dark. I came back to Wangford on my own after my 2 marriages had failed. I had been deluded, saw too much of God in myself. "Wangford was you [Hilda]…the native land of our you and me self" I saw the nettles were still where they had been all those years before. It appears most of my life was spent knitting.
Hello hello hello, John Constable's the name. You've just caught me doing a bit of oil sketching in the fields. From here I can see Neal in the distance on his cobalt blue racing bike, moving across the horizon slowly like a damselfly, if he had been on a horse I might have included him in my sketch. It's summer in Suffolk, pale fields of crops are all around me like a shallow sea, dotted with dark green oaks, a bit like sailing boats(but not at all really - I'm not very good at poetry). The sky is physical, heavy grey with rain clouds, I've done them with fast and thick brushstrokes, the soil colour thrown up into it. 'Sky Mud' I call it. The whole scene is alive, both below and above are meaty and fat. Some of the smaller clouds have fallen and landed by the roadside. They look like scrunched up newspapers. It looks like someone has been painting the local fauna too, rabbits, pheasants, chaffinch, hedgehogs even a snake, they're very detailed but a bit too flat, more like a collage, and using red glue! There are also some MacDonald's mushrooms here and there. Lots of exotic roadside flowers, some called monster munch or coca-cola, they're everywhere and bloom all year round, but stand out best in the winter. Look there's a fridge! I don't paint these, I'm looking at the bigger picture. Seeing the alive-ness of the whole landscape, like a huge breathing animal. I paint the bit that goes from the bottom corner of the eye, up, across down and back. Basically what you can see in a big field around here if you keep your skull still and don't have anything too near that might block out the air and frothy sky. My later paintings, the big ones esp. look like a muddy mess, really sketchy. Like I've gone mad, bad or sad. They're almost like Jackson Pollock in places: paint flying. Leon Kossoffs recent landscapes aren't far off from these, that's how advanced I was, or retro he is. High in the majestic cloud-mountains seagulls are circling, they drift in gangs over to the same place each evening. I followed them once, getting noisier and flying low from adjoining fields like shoals of desperate fish. At my feet rats shoot across the path. The birds have gathered over a fenced quarry and are glistening all around-white blobs-the squawking was excruciating, closer to screaming. The smell from the landfill site made me gag, I had to use a scarf from the stench, I felt like I might drown from the decay.
Pretty in pink
When the sun shines it's like coming across a private sea. A blast of reflected light from acres of plastic waves. The plastic is whipped off and on daily by tanned stick figures and plastic baskets of thin green willies are collected. The groups of asparagus pickers are reminiscent of Van Gogh's migrant workers. It's the spacing and their demeanor seen from a distance, the stooped angles and their mechanical indifference to the wider world. The human body is wooden tool-only. Headless, animalistic. Just strong legs and torso, and handsome for that reason. Vincent draws them with a staccato-attack, etched with heavy life-marks, deep and fast. A balls-ed up Boccioni. A no bullshit picture of agricultural rude (+pained) health. Van Gogh famously described people as looking like 'pigs or crows', probably just how they look working in the fields. In my last pictures I painted this literally and hybridized the human and pig physiognomies, referencing Animal Farm too perhaps.
I am continually amazed and saddened by the close design of my country fellows: eyes, arms, nose, mouth etc. of pigs, rabbits, stoats, spiders, birds and bees. We share most essential characteristics. How close we are in biology and behavior, yet how distant we are from them now (and ourselves!). It's hard for me to sketch Vincent further because I have too much respect for him as a fellow painter-pig and want to keep him clean and sacred. But hang on, here comes John Singer Sargeant and some of his alien-fluffy ladies. I'm already scooping up some mud balls. The pink silks would be ruined immediately and for what? There is nothing impressionistic for them in the dumb, pig fields of Suffolk. It has a chemical stink, no amusing reflections here, not even a shiny tractor. I stopped to look at the young pigs. Fresh and pretty in pink, with a few blonde hairs. Today they're covered in mud: stupid and dirty. But it is sunny and hot so they're self prescribing cool sun-block for their poor exposed skin.
Art soldiers all popped out of the same mould, The Painters sit around in Hackney, outside on a random bench, smoking. Everyone looks like someone, big-eyed brown-haired girls and beardy boys with short back and sides. Cool accomplished Art related chat about shows in new white cubes, painters painters, psycho-fucking-geography. Funny googles on I-phones, self deprecating digs, scratch and sniff T-shirts, free cash dreams; we're the cultural professors, like everyone else. Simple human awkwardness inspiring iphone use and randomness. Embarrassed affluence masked as dumb trivia. The whole of Hackney and young London seems to be taking the global piss, putting the P into Arty. Friending, liking, linkedining, twerking, tindering, a morbid loneliness and discomfort called inner city Artiness. Financial bohemia and privileged farting about. Drinking more, maybe a flirt with a fashionista, nodding to a 10 year old cultural writer, maybe a random brush up with a perfumed money-beard or that sick curator. We'll end up maneuvering in mags if we're lucky. All the same we chatting Art machines, except some are rich and smooth and some are poor and rough, some well connected and some not. The poorest will be sieved out soon enough (they are currently serving the drinks). I am pouring myself Sainsbury's beer from a can under the table, it's shameful, it's a self portrait. Deliberately making the scene uncomfortable, I am being sieved as I speak.
The cultural players here in London are hyper aware of The Game. This is total art life max 2014 (interconnected chit chat and soft ethnic cleansing). It's all surfacey, friendly, passive and inert, till a sleepy eyed black man skims the benches for a fag - no joy. For the young army of Saturday smokers there is a stiffening mexican wave, a kindly brush off and back to their phones, all very serious and impotent. Posturing, tactical, sexy, saying something a bit funny, moving on to another bar. Mabes that's the point, just innocent cultural GOOD TIMES for all, but I don't think so. Being an artist is to choose, or be given, semi-serious play-time, holistic, organic or not. Mainly gentle self promotion and career fun. On the pub bench we softly power broke, a show at gallery zzzz or museum 4.3, I am somebody semi-successful please. This gossip is literal gold, the gallery name, the show, a who's who, words like a suit, looking sharp. This converts into cash, the perception, the Lego-built 'buzz'. This toddling artfulness, which is really just advertising, is everywhere: behind us at the bar, on the drink, on the bench, in everyone's eyes. You are an advert for your SELF if you are lucky, or you're just a TOTAL advert, like everything else that's consumerable. We make more chewy style decisions hunching over beers. Everyone covered in layers of cultural cobwebs, fake overconfidence buried under our style. Trendiness like the roll-up fumes are everywhere and penetrate everything and everyone, making our eyes sting.
I remember xmas cards with oil paintings on the front, on the back you read that it was painted by someone with a brush in their mouth - a ridiculous and perplexing triumph. Working outside of London is like losing limbs, every day something falls off. You lose touch, a connection snaps, friends weaken and slowly deteriorate, till only your head pokes out of the real sea like a half drowning dog - alone - painting for pride and a blind charity.
Opposite me in the living room is a Holdsworth. It has its original GB brakes, levers and a cyclo gearshift from 1950, in fact everything on it is from that period, even the tyres I think-barely worn. It is a beauty, like a Botticelli only better. Talk like this makes me want to have a perfumed shave and listen to hateful techno music, something anyway far away from bicycle fetishists, beards, and a sense of long lost 'quality' and the general sugar-misted good ol' days, but then that's me in a nutshell; folksy, over-earnest, aesthetic, friendly, stupid, moral (it's embarrassing) and I wear sandals sometimes.
I want to record my loving swell for the bicycle. By this I don't mean those freaky, over-designed ones with silly suspension forks, always black and called 'snake' or 'shithead' or 'super-twat'. You see them everywhere; rusting by lamposts, warped and limbless, decaying like pigeon skeletons. They are not anything like my randy, oiled Holdsworth. So good looking it needn't perform a trick or earn its keep with stories, jobbing diy or gardening. It can just lean nonchantly, looking good - almost smoking a Galuoise - so cool.
I really believe, and I regularly repeat this to myself as I ride by miles of fields, trees and churches, overtaken by noisy, lazy car lumps; the bicycle is a masterpiece of human invention. It is essentially 2 circles and 2 triangles (3 really, with two skinny arms poking out, and other twiddley bits) But compared to the car, which is like a fat tv lounge on stabilisers, powered by enviromental rape, oil wars, mass species extintion, pollution, loneliness, harmful waste and a lifetime of debt, bad health and low self esteem - the bicycle is purely angelic. Possibly even smug and sandal wearing.
Some bicycles are pretty, some are sexy, all are saintly - even the cheap mountain bikes that are ridden by hoodies with their feet pointing out like clowns. They do us no harm, they do us good. They sadly require smooth roads to function correctly, a design floor allowing the beatified sailing boat to surpass it. The road is an insulting technology in itself, a roman-dead-zone where pulsing-life has been crushed into stone, but while it remains the bicycle is the Royal inheritor. Bringer of good health, happiness, an advert for intelligence and adaptation. Just as the car is an advert for grey-cloth, sloth, farty noises, isolation, bad breath and sweating.
Avoiding car culture and its infinite costs, cycling sets us loose with time on our hands. The bicycle cannot help with repetitive robotic labours - school 'runs' and supermarket stops: venues that tie us to each other socially and financially. But that's just due to lack of numbers. It is true that an elegant design needs no extra social contract or support community for adjustments - no MOTs, mechanics, waxings or fuel stops, nor does it encourage mass morbidity, dog use or weekly shops. Cycling is spindly and vulnerable, it sets us apart from the crowd and makes us independent, It can also make us thin, romantic and existential - yet it is aways happier. It re-unites the human with its raw environment (for which it was designed), without a protective barrier. Compared to car-life it is horribly real and threatening, BUT it is awake and alive, not dreary and fearful.
Since the explosive overuse of the car perhaps the bicycle is better suited to the wandering anarcho-creative, not the smiling community of workers as was hinted at in our industrial past. Partly because it's hard now to remain smiley and united when cyclists are regularly squashed, deafened, with noses clogged, lungs blackened and generally bullied by the energy-thugs of today. It is still the 'preferred' transport of the vulnerable and poor, anarcho-creative or not.
The bicycle is a perfect poem about the human body and spirit. It is the prettiest flower of twentieth century life. Heavy industry - made light: a wholistic product unbloodied by designs on war, greed or addiction. If more of us start freewheeling there can only be happier outcomes.
Homage to Italy
The train through the alps goes on too long. Mountains raise up like Roman shields hiding wider vistas, a crushing claustrophobia sets in. Going uphill backwards for centuries I try to remain calm and romantic. This was the trip I had expected to do as a much younger man. At 19 some of my Blackpool friends were Euro-railing, seeing the wider world. Being brave and cosmopolitan. I was watching my dad decay then die in bed. A year later as they were still dancing, I was crying about losing my mum and then all sense of home. The idea of visiting the romantic heart of beatified Western painting was put off, both practically and philosophically. Discoloured by despair, I had visited Holland and Germany without any trouble, but the sweetness and muscularity of Italy had always worried me: the colour, the language, the food, the sex, the machismo, the Pope, the paintings. Something sinister lingers there. Art and Power. I packed in all painting notions for more than 10 years after college, I left early. All my tutors were heartless, only interested in my obedience to creative procedure.
God-like artists spring up from Italy's history like weeds, like boy bands: insuppressible poster-makers. The measured philosophical treatment of life's problems and pleasures sets Italy apart from the darker and wooded parts of Europe. Unlike the dark folkloric murkiness of the North it is the epitome of everything orderly and businesslike. Roman or Catholic, both pompous and following one direction. Looking around Milan, Siena and Florence there are no other cultures present, no plastic signs, halal butchers, no other foods, no other people, no dissent, no litter. It's all clean, aesthetic and considered, every detail appears policed, the opposite of British seaside slap-dash.
Italy in 2014 looks like Britain in the 1970's. Conjouring childish racist images, beautifully stable and homely. The older generations posture reassuringly like mafia cartoons. The tatooed young men pose with their cartoon girlfriends, dressed like ice creams. This is classical theatre: timeless, an immobile code unchanged for millenia. Perfectly stylish too, it feels oppressive with no variation, no deformities.
Italy is brutal and honed. Having been almost always at war and always on parade. Roman armies spread across Europe using technology and Art as tool to clobber or woo any disorganised and disparate tribespeople. Today our major cities follow this example. Governments and their orators, modes of organisation, powerbroking and peacekeeping, in herding public spaces, media ampitheatres and mega-sports. In posturing state Art. These are all Italian imports (albeit adapted from Greek beginnings). Italy invades Britain still, with aesthetics and intimidation.
Italy is a place defined by it's will to order and beatify as much as its skill to destroy and make war. Golden ages of creation are golden ages of destruction. Being an Artist has nothing to do with freedom and peace. My own teenage intolerance of ugly Blackpool and its stupid cave-people was not pious or enlightening, it was hateful and superior -this is what being Arty means. It means you are a beautiful, sensitive, intelligent, NASTY fucker. With a burgeoning will to POWER. To visit Italy is to wake up to this aesthetic manouvering in bloody sheets. For it is violently beautiful. Artistry is a power tool.
In Siena's quiet picture gallery are buried Italian jewels, empty of noisy tourists, there are modest paintings protected by high walls and labyrynths of organic stone passages. The pictures are humble, sweet, often with an accusing Franciscan lilt. Childish story telling paintings, like early TV. Magical and moral, I can understand this, signposts made by monks for the community as guide, or thanks. This is not Italian Art, but irreligious, universal exploration. What came after this is what we have now. Inflated £ and power. Florentine church bells clang like canon-fire.
Everywhere, fruit trees are still laid out geometrically like a battlefield, the rows of artichokes and partitioned vegetation, a frozen Renaissance painting background, idealized. Philosophy, architechture, and courtly music, dictatorship and control.
The Blackpool, and British Aesthetic is no aesthetic. Unclear, folksy, hybridized. It was a relief to return, myself now struggling with an uncomfortable middle age. To see again bellies pushing out of shiny t-shirts, litter and cans. A relief to see monstrous carbunkels stuck on noble beauties. A relief even to see the grotesque pvc windows again and masses of hideous wheely bins, higgledy-piggledy. I rage against stupidity: the ugly clowning boy-cars speeding in desperate town centres, full of offensive adverts and art-less fast-food logos, but I'm softer now, comprehensively divided and ruled. Still wooed by patience, Artfulness and LOVE (for whatever reason) in painting, design, speech or sound. But in ugliness and British shambles, here in a tiny rural satellite of old englishness, I cherish my crumbling disorderliness and dwindling freedom.
Hi (blush) I'm an inquisitive little boy sharing secret and (I imagine) elite spaces with smelly big men and weird-looking teenagers. In the library the old Fine Art books are dry and heavy with a smell of country mould, the pulpy papers in the books make my fingers itch and then slip over the exciting section of plates. There seems to be one paternal form wearing mildly different jackets; burgundy, black, or navy hardbacks with gold embossed names. I'm small and weak, It's hard to wrestle with these biblical bodies of work, sometimes they slip and domino, making a loud slapping hurrumph like a cow fart, I blush as if I am in church.
If a library still exists today and it still has paper-type books, then the Art section - no longer Fine - will be fat and common. It's shelves higgledy-piggledy with all sorts of jazzy papers and fluorescing fonts. The artists now represented have all been strangely active in the last 100 years, mainly in the last 20, a golden age! These monographs, sometimes many per artist, huddle and squash up next to some of the dusty Old Masters. When these Moderns fall from the overloaded shelves, making a wet thud, I don't blush - just say "Oh for fucks sake" and that seems appropriate. A few exceptions are still held in high regard, head bowed, their shine seems real, miraculously generating a religious light.
Please Gods can we separate the old Fine Art sections from modern or Contemporary Art? Not to reinstate snobbery but because they are separate subjects. Contemporary or Modern Art is, as part of its brief un-Fine. No longer rare, historic, scholarly, more democratic and inclusive, the inelegant book covers state this separation proudly. Whereas the dusty old-fashioned monographs were (probably) written by gazelle-like dandies aloof to the competitive market, and publishing in spite of it, many of the Art books of today are conceived as marriages with marketing, the hefty brochures have become adverts only, written and designed by vast networks of cultural mercenaries and dashed off for cash. It could be that neither are innocent.
All publications, like all works of Art are representations of ideas AND the blossoming of finance. Both a form of excitement and a show of force. Thrusting into public space. Gently cooing, psychological bullying. It should be remembered that monographs with their fancy papers and colourful images are willfully made at a loss, functioning instead as quoffiured dandy or pimp. Posturing with media partners they feed on beige frailties and eat young boys alive. A publication, not artistic quality, can earn an artist longevity and increased value by association and juxtaposition, helping to create a bone-fide, culture clubbed creature. A place in history is bought more than earned.
Anything can become valuable if it is packaged correctly, especially if the packaging is religiously artful. The more elegant and exclusive the wrapping, the rarer and higher the value. Today this rule is applied, whimsically and random, everywhere. Less to do with content than quick-turnover, advertising and investment. Just as a Renaissance artist might be celebrated for their draughtsmanship, narrative skills, perspective or sensitive colouring, today's are applauded for their networky manouvers, cunning or media savvy-ness. Books, magazines, radio, the internet and TV are the palette and brushes of today. As are colourful drinks in media circles, parties visited, mass befriending, linear networks of museum curators, rich collectors etc. In comparison a monograph is a slow technology, quaint and nostalgic: a cloddish old brick as fascinator. A bribe even. Like a pretty pizza advert, as well as being an environmental disaster, they're also invasive and untrustworthy.
I'm going bald fast now, I have only a dry herb on top, my face is getting bigger. I have not yet achieved Jackson Pollock's leather-look baseball head, but compared to Giacommetti or Cedric Morris with their wire wool dolls hair, thick and forceful, my head is becoming impotent. They don't have much in common those two prolific hair-makers but they probably still brushed up against each other in existential Paris back then. Manly, handsome with keel noses and seriously taut smile lines, not mop faced or marked by weariness. Practical, clever, perfect. A bristling hedgehog head comes to mind, can you get morose hedgehogs? Thin on top? They would get eaten quickly I suppose.
I'm drinking fizzy Cava in the break between deluges, it is high summer, it is cold, listening to live music at Glastonbury on the radio, Jack White loud and hairy on the electric guitar. Potent. Various texts and emails are hanging over me like clouds, I always worry about what I've said, what they mean. There is this silence between them. Bald.
If I live on I will get balder, what can I do about it? No matter, it's in the eyes they say, it's in the soul. But what if my soul is rotten and can only come out fighting momentarily in my painting or writing, what kind of woman would find that potent, she would read or see a picture and be wooed? Then she will look up and see the saggy egg head that made it. Philip Larkin looked like a Emu's egg but had his multiple loves, he never married, he lived in Hull, but seemed content: librarianship, writing, being boring. Love my soul, how do you do that? Art might be the quicker way to see the foolish human below, vulnerable and un-genius. Or perhaps the steady job is stimuli and aphrodisiac?
Everywhere the bald men sprout meaninglessly, strange, delicate, and are loved. Nothing to do with vocation, nothing to do with looks, nothing to do with anything. Possibly for just being there in the dark, naked. Or for walking about quizzically, saying hello, thinning, enduring.