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.

Life drawing again.

Life drawing again.

Life Drawing

Life Drawing
Almost human