Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Form A Band

As I write about my creative adventures, I sometimes wonder if I have missed out by not doing an undergraduate arts course. One thing I miss is the time to experiment and the space to fail. Because there’s more to being an artist than mooching around trying to look edgy, more than painting; you have to experiment, try different things. This, of course, is exactly what I am doing, but one practice is maybe a little bit too out there, even for me.

Aspiring artists must form a band. It’s the law.

I can’t play anything at all, and my singing voice has been accurately but brutally described as a merciless weapon of death, so I doubt my offer of lead vocals will be welcomed (mind you, that didn’t stop Ian Brown.)

I asked my friends for help. Carla Easton (her again) sings and plays keyboards and her work is really good (she’s also an excellent artist, but don’t tell her I said that). I asked if she wanted to work with me, but she just ignored me.

Then I asked my friend Michael McGoughrin. He’s in the 1990’s and plays with The Vaselines. I asked him to work with me. He was nice about it – shuffled politely but ultimately ignored me as well.

The thing is, I don’t blame them at all, but then - you can’t blame me for asking. Being in band isn’t part of the curriculum at an art school, it’s just that so many bands have been to art school (or met there or have members who attended): The Who, Gang Of Four, Franz Ferdinand, The Three Johns, Jarvis Cocker, the list goes on.

If I am to be an artist I must innocently form a band. I can’t play anything, nor can I write songs. Perhaps I can intone lyrics in an edgy fashion, and pretend I mean it to sound like that? Disguise my voice with technology, like Mogwai or the cast of Glee? Or better still, make a great track like Martin Creed’s Dreaming – Not Dreaming. Even Bob and Roberta Smith is in a band. I can’t compete.

I can try most things, I can try oils and watercolours, but just don’t expect to see me down playing the main stage at Glastonbury any time soon.

But it isn’t about the music. It’s about the idea of an art school, that giddy sense of can-do-anything, or three/four years of creative experimentation in front of a largely supportive audience, the ability to make and do what you want, and to express yourself in ways other than straightforward painting and drawing. There are no barriers: they all run into together, performance, painting, and fashion are estranged orphan children of the same parents who occasional attend family reunions. Even so, it is possible to flit between them all.

Forming a band is testimony to the sense of possibility that exists at an art school, where people will tolerate your experimental noise and innocent (musical) fumblings, which is a good thing.

As for my singing? One word people: earplugs. Good ones – the best.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


I was reclining on my chaise longue, sipping hand-squeezed kumquat juice and screaming at attendants for scrubbing the floor with their own clothes, and not toothbrushes (better detail, darling) when a thought occurred: can I persuade people to make my art for me?

Actually, that’s not strictly true. This might seem lazy, but I want other people to interact with my next work – even to participate in the making of it. I consulted my friend Carla Easton, creator of some superb pieces which invite viewers to stand on sculptures and make the pieces sing. Getting folk to make your work and passing it off as your own – that could save some wear and tear on my joints. But that’s not the point. It’s about input, and participation, and a different view.

And also laziness. Well on my part anyway. Carla’s work meanwhile, is (I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this) entertaining. People clamber over her work, initiating a joyous cacophony of recorded pieces, triggered when they tread on hidden points of contact.

Carla said: ‘When I made my interactive sculptures I required interaction in order to activate the piece. So the pieces already existed as objects without interaction but once played with it was the activation and the relationships formed through the activation that became the work.

So you need to figure out if the finished painting is the piece or if the passers by being part of the finished painting is the work I think. And the tricky thing is getting people to want to take part. You have to figure out why it is essential that they do and try and invite them in.’

My wise friends are genuinely helpful. Dismissing all my servants, I decided to make a collaborative interaction, and took my trusty watercolours to my life drawing class All The Young Nudes at The Flying Duck (many thanks).

Handing the set of paints and a blank page could be unnerving even for a seasoned artist, so I set rules: one colour, and one stroke or action. The result would of course be abstract, not figurative (or so I assumed.)

I applied the first stroke, which could have been made into anything really – it was quite amorphous which in itself set the tone, and passed the baton/brush to Charlie, who ran with it, adding well-placed mauve stipples. People kindly joined in: some appeared to be doing their own thing, others apparently reacted to what had gone before. The choice of colours was telling: nobody selected the same shade as their predecessor, and everybody worked with  in contrasts.

One maverick waited to the bitter end (I had to declare the piece finished) and placed his mark with a black thumbprint. And I wanted mavericks, so was gratified to see stippling, dots and watery hues running deliberately across the page. So intriguing is the result that Joanna of AYTN has suggested a follow up session, on a larger scale than A4.

This is one form of practice I can tick it off my list with big plus sign. No hive mind here: but any individuals making work in harmony, started by my one brush stroke.

Sunday, 23 October 2011


The BBC’s recent excuse for a show ‘Show Me The Monet’ (if ever an idea was generated by the title arriving first, that’s it) was a sort of Dragon’s Den meet School of Saatchi. Artists showed their work to a panel of (supposed) experts, and looking directly into their cold dead eyes, named their price.

The Artdragon’s then said yes. Or – more usually, no. One candidate was still studying at the RCA. With a knowing sneer indicative of: “We’ve got a right one here,” the host introduced the first challenger, who had set his price at (wait for it…) £50,000!


Asked to justify this, he said unabashed words to the effect that he was an excellent artist, would one day be hugely famous, highly collectable, and art-lovers should snap him up. Then came the silence. The panel were aghast. They all said no, but you could sense that they admired his spirit, even as they spluttered a refusal.

I like that attitude. Pricing work is always so hard. I have been asked to put a price on my work several times, and never know what to say. How do you value art? The more beautiful it is, the more you can pay? And does size matter? Apparently, it does: larger pieces make more money, unless they are too big, in which case they might not sell at all.

Do you take into account the time taken to make a piece of work. If that was the case, then some of my text embroideries take months. So by that logic, I should sell for shed loads of money. It’s also hard to time how long something takes. My hand-tinted photomontages can actually take ages to make, as I layer the colour gradually, wait for ink to dry etc, but I suppose they do not look expensive (whatever that means.)

Funnily enough, I understand that some artists adopt gasp-inducing pre-emptive pricing as a ploy to avoid selling work, because emerging artists need the money, but do not have much work to sell. Tricky. And then you’ve got galleries taking a hefty slice - I’ve seen commissions of up to 40% being mentioned.

Artists must aim at their market level, that is, if nobody’s heard of you, they won’t pay loads of money for a small, rough sketch. Oil paints are really expensive, but if you cover a massive canvass, how can you cover your outlay?

When I had work in an exhibition, I had to settle on a price, just in case one of those desirable sticky dots might be placed on my work. What a nightmare: the medium was photomontage hand-tinted with ink, pastels and even felt pens. The paper was thin and exactly A4 size the frame was plain and basic. I grabbed a number from the air – no harm done as no offers were made. But what if someone actually wants to sell or buy my work?

I’m going to have to sort this out, ready for the day when my genius is recognised. 

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Recently, I had to embark on a great traumatic artistic life-choice. The stress was so great I swooned. It even brought on one of my heads. Oh, woe is me, whatever I shall I do? If I don’t make the best selection, people could actually die. The life of an artist is fraught with life-wrenching decisions. That’s right: I had to choose a frame.

My decision seemed to shock the framer: I didn’t want my sampler covered in glass, just a simple, rustic dark wood casing. Initially they looked at me as if I’d asked for colonic irrigation to be simultaneously administered, but nonetheless, once I explained my reasons, they did their best.

Once I had a summer job as a frame-maker, polishing glass for mass-produced prints. Nobody cared about the frame, not me, the manufacturer or the shop that sold them. All that mattered was the glass: it should shine like crystal in the sun. Frames were cheap, tawdry and plastic.

Hours of work goes into something as simple as a picture-frame. I never believed how much it would matter. Prints and paintings seemed to arrive complete and ready-made as if by magic and frames were simply what you stuck a hook on to hang your print on the wall.

My photomontage was due to appear in an exhibition. The colour is predominantly silver and yellow, and I asked for a simple metal frame. The framer was again shocked. The ruined the effect somewhat by presenting it creased, and then looked at me as I was asking for them to clip my toenails with their teeth when I asked for it to be repaired, saying that people want their work creased. Yeah. Sure. I’m new around here, but come on.

At my first exhibition opening, and conscious of that damn crease (and my long toenails – they refused clip them) I viewed my work, simply thrilled to be there. It was placed at exactly the right height, and hung expertly and precisely straight: I was amazed when I first saw perfectly aligned pictures measured out with tape measures and spirit levels.

There was just one problem. My piece was next to the best frame in the world. It had a mirrored edge: a vintage frame, chanced upon, and snapped up at a flea market/antiques fair, I’d imagine at flea market and snapped up. It fitted the work perfectly, and enhanced the drawing - my first experience of frame envy. I stood gazing not at that frame. The work was excellent (as you can see) but my thoughts were solely on that frame. Bring it to me!

Over the months, I’ve learned a lot. You need a relationship with a good framer. They must be consulted, as they know what’s right. And yes, when I showed my painfully honest friend my tiny one-sentence sampler, roughly framed in thick dark wood (my attempt at authenticity) she announced that it was clumsy, and damn her - she’s right.

That’s when it finally hit home: framing matters. Now I want double mounting set in antique silver for my next photomontage. Another new obsession, and more expensive shiny toys to buy.

Sunday, 9 October 2011


When did you last say fuck? I said it loudly yesterday; read on you’ll appreciate the irony. A few posts back, I said that I was controversial - well now I’ve actually been banned. At first it seemed sad, then I thought it was funny. After a while though, I became angry. I’ve been censored.

An open call for submissions went out, asking artists to depict their home town. I found some graffiti on a Glasgow wall (see above) and defied anyone to say it wasn’t the very epitome of Glasgow cheek, bolshy confrontationalism  and also - humour. Yes, it certainly contains liberal use of the word fuck, but so does daily life in Glasgow. The graffiti has been visible in public for at least two years.

I submitted the carefully sewn mini-sampler to the competition (there’s a £500 prize/commission.) I was thanked via twitter so things were looking good. A few weeks later, I was interviewed for the accompanying book and website, and my profile featuring the piece was put up online. The exhibition opened, but I couldn’t attend.

Good job really. I contacted the organisers (all artists themselves by the way) and asked for a picture of my work in the show. They emailed back a few days later, and said that – mindful of their audience – they couldn’t include my work in the exhibition, despite having said there were no restrictions. I think they were feeling doubly awkward as (only when the programme was announced) did I reveal that this was going to feature in an article I was writing, and would have been the happy ending to the quest I mentioned here for getting my work shown. Oops.

There were many ways around this for the organisers. First of all, make sure that any limits on what is permissible is shown clearly, as well as flagging upfront in the terms and conditions. Or they could stage the exhibition with the words: ‘Adult Content’ (we’ve all seen that). The show is being held in a town hall where the word fuck has been heard regularly, possibly for centuries.

I honestly thought that battle had been fought an won. I rue the day that people began to swear all the time simply because those carefully valued transgressive words lose their power if overused and now we need new ones, as fuck seems tame. But saying fuck out loud is one of life’s greatest joys, and most of us do it.

This blog is about my being an innocent artist, and I innocently thought that  art involved freedom of expression. But artists censoring, or allowing others to censor their fellow artists for something so trivial – is so wrong, misguided and reactionary as to be surreal. Those silly people took the gloss of what could have been some excellent news.

Having said that, trying to be positive, I have been banned from a gallery and have now arrived. I learned to describe myself as an artist. Perhaps now I have earned the desirable soubriquet ‘controversial’ whenever (if ever) my work and name is mentioned. Fuck yeah!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Painting In Public

One sunny day, I wandered outside to paint. I am not an expert and am practicing, or stumbling through basic watercolour use and abuse; not always pretty but always productive. I’m learning – usually daubing and making shapes, nothing more, but it’s great to see some sunlight while I mess around.

I settled down by seafront, where there was an inspiring sky: grey clouds shot with pinkish light and dotted with fluffy white baby clouds. Oblivious to much else, I started to paint and soon a small knot of people were openly staring at me and my work.

It didn’t occur to English-speakers that I am English, or to others that I speak several languages. Diligent readers might recall that one of the stated aims on starting this blog was to hear someone say of my work: “a bloody two-year old could do better than that.” Within minutes, I had achieved one of my ambitions, although that said, they were fine words from a man with breasts larger than my own wearing knee-length socks with open-toed sandals.

Everyone assumed I was painting for their entertainment, and that it was perfectly acceptable to peer over my shoulder and comment loudly, even tilting my sketch pad so they could see my painting. It’s also intriguing that my work was being assessed solely for how much it might be worth. Some observers made it clear that they believe all artists are paid Damien Hirst-amounts of money, when I want to shout that I make no money at all.

They discussed the art they show at home, which - intriguingly - was often acquired on holiday or while travelling. I thought: make me an offer, which I know is unlikely as I am playing with colour, experimenting with contrasts and combinations. ‘I like that one,’ smiled a German woman, hurried away by her husband with the word ‘bier’ pre-imminent in his destination.

Next I tried mixing colours, while some slightly more appreciative Dutch pensioners smiled politely. It was unnerving. I felt unable to play. I gathered my pots and stuff to sit elsewhere, but it was like art-busking. I ran out of water, and moved on the fill my cup under the beach shower, but someone followed me. I put some distance between myself and my ‘fans,’ settled down and started to paint again. Because people had to make an effort, and couldn’t just sticky-beak as they pass, I found some peace and quiet. When I looked up, however, three more passers-by were staring. They  obviously felt they had the right to watch, as if I should actually move round so they can see. Still, at least they were quiet.

And then at last, a Russian billionaire arrived. Well, I say billionaire, but I mean a daft bloke with a orange plastic blonde to impress. He asked how much to buy my paintings. I said he can’t afford it. He offered five hundred Euros. I said, come back with three hundred in cash and it’s yours. Off they went.

I never saw him again. I am sure you are as shocked as I was.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


How many Freudian analysts does it take to hang a penis? I mean my mother…I mean a painting!

The answer is all in the mind. When we make art, we reveal the innermost workings of our psyche. Look at my embroidered samplers and you can clearly see my mental bits and pieces. Apparently.

At the art-school I decline to name, a certain lecturer was very keen on art and psychology, and during lectures on the subject revealed details of her own neuroses, dramatic epiphanies reached after much gruelling and intense psycho-analysis. Amongst other afflictions, she admitted to being an hysteric, although had she crossed my palm with silver, I could have told her that ten seconds after meeting her.

But look, it’s all about being deep, and revealing yourself in your work. And so we reach confessional art, and of course must refer to Tracy Emin who, with her unmade bed and other stylised personal outpourings looms large. Hang on - why do I mention her so much, when I’m not a huge fan of her work? It’s odd, but she does keep recurring. Mummy! Why were you so cold? Ah, that’s better!

Anyway, obviously when you put yourself into your work, you can’t help but reveal some of your innermost thoughts. I pause now and take a deep cleansing breath, remembering that I frequently draw bunny rabbits. How does that make me feel? What’s up doc?

Back to my point, though. There is the work of the crazy kitten man, for starters. He drew lovely cute cats, but was sectioned in what was then called an insane asylum when he went mad (...pauses for readers to say because he painted cats…) and his mental torment showed in his work. Cats, previously portrayed as idealised creatures living pampered lives in a paradise of slow-moving mice and bowls of cream were painted looking distressed and surrounded by jagged lightening halos. Yes, he was trying to tell the world something, but don’t worry he recovered, once more to draw pretty, happy cats.

We have surrealists like Dali and all those other artists who begin their conversations ‘last night I dreamed about etc.’ But you switch off because they are boring (other people’s dreams usually are) only they get Turner nominated and have dedicated South Bank Show Specials and I’m not bitter or anything.

I don’t know how to reveal more about myself. I tell people, as honestly as possible can why and how I choose my subject matter. Except again this isn’t how it works. You have to complete your work, and then even if it contains the slogan: ‘I am well mad, me!’ observers make their own interpretation. It’s like the dream I had last night where I was naked but I couldn’t move in the train station, and people were staring and pointing. There was a giant bunny rabbit! Help me!

Oh, good grief. Shall we let it pass? Good art is based on ideas. It usually reveals something about the artist. I’m off now to draw lot’s and lot’s of bananas and cucumbers. Stop looking at me like that.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


Nature is beautiful, and doesn’t benefit from or deserve the indignity of my meddling, clumsy interpretation, abstraction or replication. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to play with what I find.

I believe that landscape art can add to its surroundings, especially where work is placed wisely within the scenery. It can enhance rather than ruin the beauty of some magnificent views, especially when skilfully applied, using natural abundant natural materials close to hand, like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Avebury Stone Circle, and anything by Andy Goldsworthy. But again, I am not a funded artist and am currently staying in a commercial sunspot, not a humbling wilderness, so must curtail my soaring ambitions.

At least am close to the seaside. I began casual beachcombing, hoping to discover found objects to use as material, harvested carefully for a work to be lovingly made, but intended to vanish when waves wash it away. I admire the transient nature of most landscape art.

I found myself on a shore where found objects are anything but natural: nature is covered by a carpet of cigarette ends, littered with lolly sticks, paper cups and empty cans. Every morning, a massive tractor arrives and churns up the crystal sands (beautiful to look at, painful when found later where it doesn’t belong.) I had to look hard for nature, rather than come across it. I tried using the rubbish, but it looked horrible. I couldn’t even find any seaweed, and had to rise at an ungodly hour to see the beach where humans had (sometimes literally) left their shit lying around.

I wanted flotsam: floating branches, or a few jewel-like pebbles, shells, fresh and also rotting seaweed, mermaid’s purses and empty crab shells. Seashores are always overflowing with material and supplies. Not this one. More than anything, I wanted some stones, but even the beach pebbles were man-made: crumbling fast-food chicken bones, shards of polished glass, and some eroded red bricks. So I gathered what I could, and made the work above.

The sea was rough, and the shore had a steep incline after which it was too deep for me to paddle safely, and I didn’t want to drop and lose my camera. I made one small piece but the minute my back was turned a terse and fearsome, topless Brunhilde trampled and crushed it, deaf to my shrill objections.

And so I got up early, and placed my planned creation on the shoreline close to a clear but empty rockpool. I gathered the stones, which changed colour as the water touched them and created a footprint in the sand, pressing them into the earth. Slowly, the sea washed them away.

This is one experiment that left me unfulfilled. I need an empty beach or landscape, or at least more space. Even the photo had to be cropped savagely to remove the shadows of curious onlookers, who were entitled to watch but did get in the way. And do you know, I never saw a single seashell on that seashore.

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Artists are as shy as woodland creatures. They hide, and only emerge at twilight when tempted by a trail of warm white wine in paper cups. After establishing trust by telling them you love their work they might even drink out of your hand.

I am not like that. I don’t believe there is some kind of fairy art-mother who will correct my use of colour, improve my brush strokes, and announce: “You shall be selected for the next Saatchi New Sensations show!” before my slot on The Culture Show (but then I screw up by leaving after midnight and all my work turns into Vettriano looky-likeys, and I am forced to paint a portrait of the queen, or am I alone in waking up screaming after that particular nightmare?)

But I don’t have an agent, a gallery, or any representation at all. My exhibitions so far were down to my own efforts, or a gallerist coincidentally stumbling upon my work online.

And so I am being pushy.

I want a show and to sell some work, but I have no idea how to go about this. So I updated my artist CV, polished the bollocks-speak in my artist statement, and emailed galleries, asking simply if they have space or time to show my work. Aw bless my naïve little soul.

And of course, I’m still waiting. Even the gallery that asked to show my work was incommunicado, and was amazed when I tracked her down via the clever people at BT and was crafty enough to phone. She seemed confused, but I twisted her arm, and she has agreed to show work...eventually. (I know: a gallery owner being flaky and disorganised. Astonishing.)

And there are so many galleries in every city. There are public galleries, boutique private galleries which choose work on the whim of the owner, strange galleries where they sell only chocolate-box landscapes and cat portraits. I am grateful that this campaign is possible using email, as postage would bankrupt me. I am also certain that those emails are instantly deleted.

Perhaps I should use the old-fashioned postal system, and send carefully printed examples of work, my cleverly designed business card enlcosed, but there is something contrived about that.

When an emerging artist is adopted by a name gallery, you wonder how this came to be. Perhaps it’s word of mouth, or who they know, or maybe those artists are pushier than I am. Possibly, there’s a knack, a trick to sending emails or invites. Is it the timing, or the title. Is it down to the image and personality of the artist: must they be authentically wizened and crazy, child-like, amazed and trendy, or stoically professional and business-like?

I know I am unlikely to be selected for a retrospective at The Tate, but a well-chosen piece exhibited in a regional gallery: is that too much to ask?

I need advice. Seriously – is anyone out there? How do I this, because being innocent isn’t going to help with this part of my project.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


I was really looking forward to the sculpture experiment part of this innocent artistry mission, partly because I think sculptors are mad. I used to go to the club-night in an art school years ago and the following day, the dance-floor was usually littered with blood and body parts: for some reason all those rugged sculpture boys (and they were boys) were the meatheads of the place, and wouldn’t stop fighting. Maybe all that carrying and carving lumps of wood and rock had knocked the sense out of them.

I can’t see myself using marble (oh come on – how the hell…?) Nor can I picture myself standing enraptured in front of a rock waiting for its spirit guide to communicate, or for the shape to emerge. Predictably, when male artists ask the stone what it wants to be, the answer is often a naked lady.

Also, I loathe most of those awful mannered marble efforts, like Cannova’s creations, finding them prissy. As for classical Greek sculpture, I want to replenish their original gaudy colours, because they are too pure and soulless without it.

I will not be forcing massive ingots of metal through a grinder, or nailing forests together. I must accept the limitations I am working with. I can’t see why sculptures must be massive, or even made of stone (despite that making the majority of purchases for the those fantastic new outdoor sculpture parks) so I decided to make some micro-sculptures.

As for materials, well I am still travelling, and will always remember the joy of luscious Mediterranean fruit, sometimes standing over the sink as the delicious juice ran down my wrist. I wanted to use, and channel this image, while evoking the legend of Persephone and the pomegranate pips. I began by saving and scrubbing all my fruit stones, and consulted my talented friend Sybren Renema  who had the following advice:

(1) The back is just as important as the front
(2) The sculpture tells you when it is finished

Wise, useful and inspiring words.

I’ve bought some metallic ink along. While researching icons, I was reminded that we now associate precious metal, especially gold, with being tacky, and with bling, and with nouveau riche notions of value. It’s easy to forget that gold is appreciated not just because of its price, but because it is beautiful. It glints in the sun.

I assembled some stones, and encased them in metallic thread. It was the most intricate to achieve, and took the most forward planning. You can see the result above.

When every task is over, I must decide what to do with anything I produced. I can’t possibly carry all of my creations, but I’m pleased with this piece, and I might try sculpture again. I think the setting contributed to the work, and having seen it glistening in the sun on crystal sands, the ocean sparkling in the background, I can’t imagine that it would look effective on rainy concrete. I might keep it, just to make sure.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


I’ve been dying to do some wrapping. I’ve long admired the colossal work of Christo, and (ambitiously) that’s what I want to try next. I dreamed of wrapping entire buildings until they billowed with silk, but reality bit: my plan was flawed as I would never gain access to a bridge. And so - there being no Reichstag readily available - I had to settle for wrapping a chair.

Before beginning, I asked my friend James, who reminded me about the practice of wrapping by choosing an excellent shrouded object as his facebook profile picture. I asked for his advice, but it’s a library shot of a statue being transported, although he does have a wrapping qualification, albeit to do with conservation. Neither of us know much about, or have shown any prior talent for rapping (getting that gag out of the way) and so I will wrap alone.

I am currently on the road, and in preparation, borrowed some toilet paper from my pensione (which is like Fawlty Towers relocated to Hoxha’s Albania) and brought out the muslin I am using later to sew on. FYI: you should be grateful you aren’t my sherpa – I packed a rucksack full of art-supplies which makes me walk with a stoop.

There was a chair in my ‘pensione’ (I am shuddering at the horror, the horror of that pensione) which was crying out for a fresh lease of life as an art object. I was contemplating its undeniable and majestic serenity when a cheery ‘HOLA!’ intruded. It was the cleaner, who graphically and effectively mimed ‘do you need any more bog-roll?’ and in reply I gesticulated: ‘I’ve plenty thanks for asking.’

But that chair looks lonely. Perhaps I am anthropomorphising a chair, but it does suggest a past life. The varnish is chipped and yellowing. The plastic cover is worn. The toilet paper doesn’t look right; too obvious and clumsily symbolic. Muslin is the way forward. I mummify a sad old chair, which sits in the sunbeams blazing through the window. We have both been in better places.

Wrapping is like dressing an artefact in different clothes. Wrapping bestows an object with new layers, making the viewer look afresh. When hard edges dissolve, we seek clues in an anonymous bundle of covers as our preconceptions are seen at another angle. What’s angular and harsh becomes smooth, and unknown.

It’s impossible to look at objects wrapped in muslin and not think of mummies, those vainglorious attempts by pharaohs to become immortal, a visual echo I appreciate, along with a remembrance of crepe bandages. I wish I could have placed the chair outside to record the entire process, but think the hotel would have objected (anyway: my room was four flights up with no lift.)

I think I will return to wrapping objects, but ideally with more space, and better materials. I knew that length of muslin would come in handy, although I have yet to use my value pack of J-cloths. Give me time people, as I might be heading to Berlin, and the Reichstag beckons.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


I hate nature. It smells. Worse still it’s been known to bite as well (although it is usually edible, which we can all agree is a good thing.) You can perhaps understand that I am asking myself why I have spent so much time painting and drawing its many bounties.

By rights, as an aspiring artist I should be wandering forlornly around the hills and dales, wearing a beret, oil palette in hand, pausing only to weep at the majestic beauty of nature before rigorously painting it (sometimes actually paint onto to, or use it to create work.)

I recently read a fantastic quote from Georgia O’Keefe who said words to the effect that she painted flowers because they stayed still. I echo her sentiments: I’m the same with creepers, grass and ferns. I am supposed to transport myself into paroxysm of ecstasy over a tree, due to an epiphany that humanity is but an insignificant part of nature. But I don’t. It’s a tree. A very nice tree, but a tree nonetheless.

Actually, the only piece of art that I would buy (and as you will see, it will never be available for purchase) is of flowers. It’s a cave painting, where stone age artists painted poppies. It’s beautiful, and on seeing it, Picasso said: we have learned nothing. That’s the exception though.

Okay, I’ll keep trying. Does still life count? I gathered an abundant basket of fruit (well some plums and a banana) but to be honest, it didn’t grab me. I tried photographing the sky, but it seemed pointless: you’ve seen my photos, and I’d rather look at the sky in reality than have me replicate or abstract it.

And so again, I spent some hours drenched by water from a dripping tree, a tree determined not be a vision of green exploding with autumnal hues, but grey. With every passing second,  it got greyer.

One word though: greenhouses. I found a greenhouse and fighting an urge to complain about the humidity (turn it down for art’s sake) I worked for some time. The benefits were obvious: I wasn’t shat upon by a seagull (the acknowledged lot of landscape artists everywhere.)

When I first began drawing, I used flowers: cheap flowers, which I then watched slowly die (makes me sound truly morbid but seriously - it’s only a bloody flower) and drew them in colourful pastels. I got bored soon, because they didn’t move: they were dying, not living.

However, I did find that sketching flowers helped me use colour, and proportion and they stayed perfectly still (except the slow process of wilting). I know that in the future, I will be found wandering amongst hosts of golden daffodils, sketching until I get it right. I will not be defeated by flowers. Flowers are pretty and frail, but they are also my enemy.

Oh why bother? Nature is green. It has the best reds, which we then try, hopelessly to replicate/emulate with acrylics, but nature always wins. 

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Performance art is weird isn’t it? It straddles the gap between mime, acting and unfortunately, on occasions, straightforward annoyance. But I was truly eager to try it, perhaps more than anything else on my ever lengthening art-to-do list, which is why on one glorious sunny day, I was seen wearing (please no – not a bunny costume!) a bunny costume while wandering around a park.

Whenever I witness performance in a gallery, I am never sure exactly how to react: do you applaud, or ignore it? Maybe critique it as you would a painting, or stand and gaze in awe? It’s so very difficult.

I’ve seen a few performances recently: one involved a breathless woman skipping around whilst reciting snatched phrases from a script. Most people sat still and scratched their chins (when not glaring at me, the philistine who forgot to turn off her mobile phone. Really sorry about that.)

Another was unexpected and sinister: two cloaked figures brandished small ornamental pyramids and enacted an elaborate ritual, to rapturous applause when - eventually - it ended.

And I’m still wondering: when performance occurs outside gallery confines, where does it exist? Is it real only when others can see it in the form of a film and/or photograph, or do you have to be there? I plan to use the subsequent photographs for some more photomontages, but seriously, to enjoy the performance itself, you really had to experience it yourself.

My make-shift costume was resonant of, but did not replicate, a bunny. I met a friend/collaborator in a park, who managed to attach the home-made rabbit ears. I couldn’t see a thing when wearing the eye-patches painted over with tippex, which was the point of it all. I walked aimlessly around, pausing to pose for photos (and messed the image up slightly by having a bulging carrier and handbag in full shot.)

The totem/metaphor for my time spent blind has become a giant bunny rabbit (it looked like a bunny – it was actually a man waving his arms around.) That bunny has been appearing in my paintings, but the vision of a huge rabbit must have come from my own unconscious memory. It is part of me, so I absorbed and became it.

I didn’t bother with the full-on furry bunny costume I toyed with previously (most notably for graduation day at the art-school I decline to name, an omission I now deeply regret.) For the performance, it would have too much, more so than bunny ears. As I wandered around amongst some lush foliage pausing next to street lamps apparently straight out of Narnia (how appropriate) everything made sense. I couldn’t imagine painting or sewing about this one moment in my life, that is, showing others what I had seen, namely a giant bunny.

Onlookers remained aloof, although I had been willing to engage with them. People were curious, but this event occurred next to an art gallery, so perhaps rabbit-related performance art is commonplace. Please note: I am available for formal functions. See my agent – the guy with long ears and big teeth.

Friday, 26 August 2011


I joke about an awful lot around here, but on this point I am deadly serious: the artists I know are some of the cleverest people I have ever met: universally and routinely erudite, eloquent, literate, informed, storing a specialised knowledge which is carefully shared and generally worn lightly.

Also – they are philosophers. Seriously, they can’t order a shandy without quoting Badiou, which put me in something of a quandary, if not a major disadvantage. I am not schooled in  philosophy, especially aesthetics. When anyone suggests I try, I start to sulk, mumbling: ‘can’t make me.’ When I mentioned this, the artists insisted that philosophy would help. At certain institutions, philosophers were even kept on hand in case of emergencies: “…quick – pass the Plato. No – wrong man, stupid. He’s having an existential crisis!”

But if I am to be a real artist, that is – a wise and learned one, then I must play the game, which means reading (or actually studying) philosophy. And I’ve tried. Honest. I read Aristotle, but he didn’t work (made him sound like a floor-cleaner, haven’t I?) Heidegger? Baby steps…I did time with Baudrillard and other French chaps, but soon realised that as with all the better things in life, I’d rather do it than think about it.

Until that is, my friend Mark (a fervent Deleuze man, just so you know) suggested reading up on Foucault. I did, nothing too weighty, just a few short articles and essays, so I don’t get a medal or anything, unlike my friends who sit casually sunning themselves and genning up on Debord (they are all French aren’t they?)

And then I read about heterotopias. It was a revelation. It wasn’t about disciplined thinking. You see, I had noticed that certain places were fruitful places to gather material for my samplers based on overheard conversations and graffiti. Heterotopias are ‘other’ places, situated outside of the mainstream. They are ‘elsewheres,’ like prisons, airports, and – I have argued – public toilets and Café Nero (sue me. I own nothing…) all untied from the usual boundaries and rules, disconnected from usual behavioural norms.

It hasn’t changed my work, but it has unveiled why I do what I do: explaining why I go to places where they are simultaneously welcoming and yet alienating (well - do you spend longer in the toilet than is necessary, and yes, women as well?) And why it is that people feel able to sit a crowded coffee bar and talk loudly so that all may eavesdrop the details about their reasons for having an abortion. It’s a heterotopia: a place outside the world, and yet still in it.

So that’s it, then. I have philosophy. It doesn’t control or dictate what I make, but it does  clarify what I do, especially for funding purposes, providing effective, reasoned legitimacy for sewing rude words.

So who do I read to explain why I then sew the overheard words into a sampler. Perhaps it’s because I am weird? Marvellous. Anyway: must dash. I need the heterotopia.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Oil Paints (and Poverty)

Recently I’ve been lurking outside art supply shops with my face against the windows, gazing longingly inside like a hungry Victorian urchin, gasping: please sir: can I have some oil paints? For ages I was fine with sewn text art – totally affordable, but then I had to go and get ambitious, which costs money, lots and lots of money.

I’ve closed my eyes and asked the art pixies for oil paints (and an easel) (and brushes) (and linseed oil, turpentine, and rags) but nothing happened. I will even supply the deluded and self righteous sense of doing proper, traditional art, like Caravaggio and other similar chaps of the renaissance persuasion. And no: acrylics won’t do – they also dry to fast. But at least I’m poor. Poor is authentic. Poor is how proper artists used to live, until they started covering skulls in diamonds.

Yes, I am poor. Too poor to achieve my art. I’ve even done my special naked voodoo oil-paint dance, and that was expensive after paying the fine and everything (although I did get all five tassels spinning in different directions.)

At the time of writing, I am faced with a choice: food, or oil paints, which means I’ve arrived: I am a poor, impoverished artist, faced with pursuing my creative muse or eating real food (and not the cardboard box that food comes in).

I’ve been testing the boundaries of watercolours and they have been found wanting. They dry too quickly, colours are insipid, and they are not suitable for layering. I’ve done my best, I really have. Watercolours are fine for sketching, but I want some oils.

Oils are what I want. Oils are what I need. You can layer them on with a trowel (so symbolic) and amend work a few days later. You can place massive 3D splodges of colour, and then form it into a shape. I know there are skills: canvas stretching, under painting, etc, but lack of skill has never stopped before (cue indulgent pause for readers to enter your own gag here.)

I am currently all over the place (by which I mean I am travelling *further pause for reader to insert own gag*) and couldn’t carry a box of oils, but even so, I am still craving them. The smell is so evocative, and oils are not considered dry until 60-80 years old, at least. I’ll be dead by then. Still: I love the idea of finishing work, and then scraping or wiping off an entire layer.

All of which is entirely academic: I can’t afford oil paints, and am resigned to this until I look at the names of the colours: Alizarin Crimson, Viridian Green, Prussian Blue, Rose Madder (need. Need a lot.) I have to find some ‘trainer’ oils, and use them up to practice, refining some semblance of a technique.

Food or paint - hardly Sophie’s Choice is it? Even so: I want some oils. (And canvasses. And an easel.) Art pixies? Where are you.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Conceptual Art

How do you know when you’ve encountered conceptual art? When you recognise it for yourself, or if someone points out that you’ve been standing in it?

I ask because conceptual art was high on my list of ‘most dreaded’ perhaps because of all the practices (I must practice getting used to saying that: ‘practice’) it's also most likely to inspire the reaction: “Call that art?”

Don’t think I am dismissing all conceptual art, especially as the only artwork ever to have made me cry in public arguably qualifies for that label: Steve McQueen’s ‘For Queen and Country,’ where he turned snapshots of UK military personnel killed in action into postage stamps. I cried. 

My best guess is this: the idea is everything, so without a grand philosophy the art produced is creatively worthless (that’s if any is produced). So where will it end? The absolute limit must be someone walking into a room and declaring their concept to anyone present (actually, do we even require an audience) then adding: will this do? Or writing an idea on a piece of paper, and passing it around, so that people can read your thoughts. Oh, I feel like such a fool: I bet that’s already been done, hasn’t it?

With a heavy heart, I began my research (conceptual artists love their research) and immediately encounter a problem: what the hell is conceptual art? Nobody seems to know, not so that they can explain it to me anyway. In desperation I consulted the wise and flawless oracle that is Wikipedia, which summarised the notion nicely enough: ‘Conceptual art is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns.’

Right then: inspired I use all the usual buzzwords and phrases, like there being no need for a gallery outcome or an artefact, so I don’t really need to make anything, which is difficult as I also term myself as a ‘maker’ (listen carefully, I shall say this only once: my text embroideries are NOT CRAFT!!!) Anyway: I am not averse to the occasional installation, in fact I have some form in that regard. I like the notion of ideas led art, but I am floundering.

And so I need to conjure up a concept. Well it just happens I have one close by that I made earlier, and it’s this: we can organise our lives online. We don’t book with travel agents, but seek all info on the web. How far can we go? By far, I mean can I get to Berlin – can I find a life, ie a home, a gallery show, friends, everything, all online? Ideally, my admittedly ambitious ‘outcome’ will be an installation of my project shown in a Berlin Gallery, along with footage/tweets/posts about the journey both real and metaphorical.

Speaking of concepts, here’s another idea: a novice artist tries to organise a solo show or sell work, on the basis of experimenting with various visual art forms all for the first time. It’s certainly a concept. But is it art?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Silk Painting

In my mission to try as many forms of visual art I can, the more refined skills were not top of my list. I want to do all the hip, edgy practices, like performance. But I’ve had no instruction in technique, and so when I was offered the chance of a free class in silk painting, I accepted. I was supposed to paint pretty pictures of flowers and ferns, but here’s how it all went if not wrong, then certainly different.

I am already dangerously close to working in the dreaded field known as ‘craft’ simply by the act of sewing, and so painting cloth with pretty paints is another step down the path towards craft fairs with cross-stitched kits of pretty cats. Silk painting is delicate. It is dainty. It is everything I am not.

The instruction session was held in the classroom of Glasgow’s Winter Gardens. We were all given a square white scarf, and taught the basics. I loved this bit: I felt like a Victorian girl being given instruction on an improving pastimes suitable for a young lady, perfectly upright in a crinoline.

Stoking the fire of inspiration smouldering within my bosom to an inferno, we wandered around the massive greenhouse sketching plants. I did my best, and I will say that at least, the colours were lovely – albeit in February, mostly green.

Next came the tricky part. When we returned, we learned how to stretch the silk hankie on a frame, and drew an outline with a thin line of wax from a tube. Already it started to go haywire, as while everyone else was rigidly drawing a defined plant, tongues out in concentration, I thought – ooh, bright colours and lovely patterns. Penny, she like colours!

Again, my instinct for abstraction kicked in. Accurate plants are nice and everything, but when you step outside the line, the beautiful clear primary colours splurged and splodged all over the material, running into each other and making new colours. I was entranced. The lady next to me overflowed with pity.

But I was on a roll! I began to peel off the barriers (is this symbolic – a landmark moment do you think?) and went wild with colour. It’s funny: some artists have an innate skill for replication and accuracy, but as I discovered with watercolours, I love making bold statements of shape. And so the (to me at least) beautiful oozing, creeping splodges grew. And grew. The woman sitting beside me gave a look that indicated she thought I was ‘special’ then backed away to paint  more ferns and branches.

I couldn’t stop. I was happy, dabbing and daubing. The teacher stood beside and stared for some time, before offering, tolerantly and as if she didn’t want to make any sudden movements: ‘Yes. It’s pretty when that happens isn’t it?’

If I really was a young Victorian lady, I would have been given laudanum, committed to an asylum for moral insanity, or forced to scrub the poor by my weeping mama who swooned when shown my work.

Not all experiments are successful. This one? Epic fail. (Watercolour above, silk has been 'filed.')

Monday, 8 August 2011


Making art means being judged. Fair enough really, as artists are usually asking for money in some form or another, either by dreaming of gallery commissions and sales, or hoping that art-lovers will take the time and pay the fares to view and then buy their work. Artists learn fast that gallery reality involves overhearing unasked for opinions, all delivered with the  discretion of a furious, neon pink buffalo. They grow accustomed to being critiqued in terms such as: “This picture’s crap and the artist is a twat.”

In art-school crits, students gather round to appraise work displayed by fellow emerging artists, a process intended in part to acclimatise students to the cold hard world outside. During a crit, students say: ‘Your piece doesn’t work as a coherent installation, neither does it engage or communicate your intentions of exploring the ephemeral nature of meaning. And there’s far too much mauve.’ You know – stuff like that.

But do not fear the appraisal, despite there always being that one harsh judge who boldly, exactingly and infuriatingly states that they do not like the sculpture, but can’t explain why (others are insightful, so listen to them). Crits might seem like Stalinist denunciation sessions, but need not be if they are helpful and kindly done, which however negative, they usually are.

For artists who have flown the warm, nurturing nest of art-school, self-evaluation is difficult. Some retreat to a highly critical other-world, where nothing looks right and not understanding why, they chuck everything in the bin. Others submit mediocre or utterly terrible work because their quality-control/ego meter is calibrated to assure them that everything they do is brilliant.

During my time at The Institution I Decline To Name, I attended what I thought was a crit. My embryonic installation attracted thunderous indifference, after which, things got weird. One student glowered at us silently near a plinth, then shared details of their terrible life, before offering up the ‘creative response’ - a recording of someone screaming, madly and loudly for ages. Did we have any thoughts? Talk about uncomfortable silences.

Another student presented some research papers but half-way through began to weep inconsolably for no obvious reason. After our ordeal was over, we were rewarded with applause. Which is why I was delighted to attend a proper crit session run by the excellent David Dale Gallery

Several aspiring creatives, half-crazed from working alone, spent most of a grey Sunday helpfully and supportively appraising work. I submitted my larger, colourful sampler-style embroideries for comparison with the silver-on-muslin work I am struggling with, mainly because it’s a nightmare to make (I have some sight problems). Others were looking for an opinion about subject matter, and how to improve their presentation.

The people at David Dale were critical in its true meaning, not in the common understanding of brutally slagging things off. Thanks to their feedback I feel able to decide which way to go. Now I am a great fan of crits, mainly because (get this) nobody laughed, not even a sly giggle. Even better, nobody cried.

Friday, 5 August 2011


Having come out as an artist I am totally going for it. Seriously. I am following my dream, and the next logical step is quite apparent: I must be controversial.

Imagine the joy of being called controversial. You’ve finally arrived: the red-tops are baying at your door, accusing you of corrupting children and distressing the elderly. Society is crumbling and it’s all your fault. Hooray!

During a seminar about cultivating and managing press contacts, I highlighted some common inflammatory buttons, so that students who pressed them accidentally (or on purpose) weren’t amazed by the resulting lynch-mobs. For example, anything involving religion will be picked up by the worldwide network of crazies gagging for somewhere new to picket, as the art students who included a deep-fried bible in an auction to raise money for an exhibition found out. They made the local news, however. Result!

Some artists are naturally controversial – others have the adjective thrust upon them. Marcus Harvey’s portrait of Myra Hindley made from children’s handprints was in my opinion deeply moving, and I doubt that while creating it Harvey envisaged the fuss it would cause. He may well have relished the attention, as apart from anything else, press coverage does encourage those prices to rise, and rise.

Don’t try too hard, though: a Belgian performance artist earned the qualification ‘controversial’ by squatting in the middle of an art gallery and shitting on the floor. You’d think his friends would have intervened, saying: ‘Why not try painting by numbers? Poundland will sell you a set and everything. For just one pound!’ I hope he wasn’t looking for love, as at the glamorous champagne opening, guests didn’t glance admiringly from behind their catalogues thinking: ‘I wonder if he’s single.’

Even in our liberal times, the idea of consenting adults having sex has sensitive moralists bathing in disinfectant and calling for an exorcist. Tracy Emin’s ‘All The People I Have Slept With,’ for example, was taken to imply that she had multiple partners, when in fact, she insists that many sleepovers were platonic, that is, without bonking or other daft code-words for shagging you care to share. Or maybe it was about her youth hostelling holiday – those bunk beds can be really tricky for fucking in.
Apparently, there’s another direct way to confront moral straitjackets and prudery: swear.

At the time of writing, some work of mine is proving popular online, because, I suspect it includes profanity. Apparently, I am controversial, but I didn’t mean to do it.

The piece is the size of a postcard and the language is entirely frank and earthy. I have made other work containing swear words but the fucks, shits etc were blended into overheard conversations, and here I’m quoting graffiti found on a wall in Glasgow. Perhaps this piece is better, or more beautiful than the others, but I doubt it. The truth is this: if you want attention, swear a lot. Fuck. Just say fuck, that’s all you have to do.
I love my new life.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


Carrying out the philosophy of this blog (that is trying any which way of making art) I freely admit that photography is the one studio-practice, discipline, endeavour or ‘thing’ I’ve been most dreading.

My fear is caused by the little box called a camera. It’s technology, which to outsiders might seem extreme (‘can she really be that inept?’) but please remember that for me, a door is a complex piece of machinery operated by invisible wizards. As for cameras… In order for my camera to obey me, I might sacrifice a goat to appease its spirit, or something. That camera can sense my fear. I approach it respectfully.

First, I need some subjects, but people ruin pictures by being difficult or ugly, and I include myself in that: in real life, I am a foxy babe, but whenever someone takes my photo, an obese angry nonagerian babushka jaunts in from a bygone age to stand in front of me while scowling at the lens. I have long admired those photographers who can, in one instant, capture not just a person as others see them, but something more, something deeper – a sense of what’s in their soul. I dream of doing that.

But on my bog-standard camera, people will seem like dots and landscapes will never seem sweeping and majestic, but distant, hazy and vague. Animals? Oh perr-lease. Staged tableaux? At some point maybe. Random stuff it is then.

I wander round the city, snapping whatever takes my fancy, following my friend’s wise advice to have fun, and oh – it’s like a Visconti film: camera in hand, artistic face, distracted air. I try buildings (small ones – skyscrapers are notoriously hard). My already immense respect for proper photographers increases with every picture taken.

I seek advice: my friend Ian Tilton who says: “The 'old school' advice in amateur photo magazines was to shoot with the sun always behind you. Well this just ain't right,’
Grammar Ian, grammar…

‘Backlight can often be best. You will have to increase your exposure if the light source is in your picture (or if it's just out of shot even), but your photographs will have beautiful atmosphere and depth. And the captured flare effects from extraneous light bouncing around your lens can be ethereal, psychedelic and heavenly.”
But this is me, wrangling with electrical equipment.

“Go against this "Old School Rule" and capture the spirit of God's lovely light. Let me hear y'say hallelluja, my Sister and Brother photographers ! Play, play, play. Xxx” 

And Ian should know. He’s taken some of the best portraits in the past twenty-five years.

I follow both his advice and his spirited encouragement, and visit  a beach. It’s slightly overcast albeit with bursts of the sun. There is a beautiful and tempestuous sea, and I take some wild-card snaps of still-life (ie rotting seaweed) but it just doesn’t work. I take pictures of my friend who is painting – which turn out, alright, I suppose. Then we get bored with sitting still, and go for a paddle. The result is infused with backlight. I like the sense of movement, and the composition.

Ian, your career is safe.

Life drawing again.

Life drawing again.

Life Drawing

Life Drawing
Almost human