Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Here I sit (oh woe is me!) pole-axed by the trauma, the trauma, but struggling onwards with my art. Another rejection letter …boom - another picture! A row with my friend…boom - another piece of work! I wallow in despair at life in general…boom – more art. But is it enough? Shouldn’t my life be spirit-sappingly and relentlessly awful? Well, dedicated artists must endure eternal suffering. Shouldn’t they?

A man I know who’d endured a run of various disappointments, was then left heartbroken when his girlfriend left him. He was shown little sympathy by another mutual friend, who laughed and bluntly informed him that suffering would make him a better artist. I disagree. What makes a great artist is talent, skill and great ideas, not misery.

Any notion of beneficial suffering establishes a repeated cliché: the tormented, holy artist - soulful and sad. But such an emphasis conflates suffering with inspiration. Jack Kerouac forced himself to experience poverty, jumping on trains and living as a self-imposed hobo. Then, he went home to his aunt’s house to write in peace and safety. The suffering was research, his poverty was a lifestyle choice.

I’ve just read a biography of Keats, who died young of a horrible, incurable disease. He was a happy poet, who had fun, liked a drink and went to parties (‘Party is not a verb!’ © Black Books.) But Keats made his best work in the last months of his life not because he was dodging the grim reaper, but because he was barely twenty-five and his skills were maturing.

I went blind for a while. I don’t think I would have seriously considered visual art without that experience; I began to make work depicting encounters and experiences I had during that very difficult time. In all honesty, blindness gave me ideas. Nothing more.

Artists are very good at griping, and sometimes have much to gripe about. I know of artists with time-consuming, exhausting full-time jobs, who must rise at daybreak to make work, or else they’d have no time. They might be ground down by tedium, but at least they have an expressive outlet.

Recently, I saw some amazing work by a Chinese artist, soon to return home. It was called ‘Thirty-Five’ since this is the number of casualties traditionally announced by the Chinese government following any accident or disaster, no matter how high the real figure. The maker admitted he dare not bring the work back, or even exhibit in his own country. Next to this piece was another work: a curtain obscuring examples of the websites he was banned from reading at home. Now that’s suffering.

Ultimately, I suppose that in this blog’s pioneer spirit of trying everything and experimenting for art, I should get myself a heroin problem, or imitate Tracy Emin, that is – acquire fabulous riches, becoming so irked and inconvenienced by wealth that I am inspired to make some very, very bad drawings.

So readers, can you help me out? In order that I can suffer effectively, can you please send me lot’s of heroin and money?

Actually; take that back - I’ll just have the money. Thanks!

Thursday, 7 June 2012


Every exhibition needs invigilators. You know, those poor unfortunates perchings on punitive chairs, ignored at shows, looking glum, alone with their dreams, or just really, really bored.

Seldom are they visibly happy. Rarely are they even paid: mostly they are volunteers hoping to raise their own personal profile and meet the owners, curators or artists based at the gallery they are guarding.

That’s why they are there: to inform and protect. Nobody can be present all the time, not even when part of a performance or installation at their own show, as would be easily distracted. No matter how prestigious the gallery, work is always vulnerable (think of the poor soul who fell downstairs landing on a priceless Ming vase). Or vandalised: recently at GOMA, a photo of Douglas Gordon was slashed by an enraged visitor.

I’ve also encountered invigilators who are dismissive, offhand, and another who sneered when I posed a reasonable question. Informed, knowledgeable and friendly (not too friendly) invigilators can enhance a show, answering questions, handing out information and generally being helpful.

When organising a recent group show, we had had mixed feelings about invigilating. Shelton wasn’t sure we needed to stick around after the grand opening, but when work was stolen from another gallery featuring her work, she changed her mind. Basically, if exhibits can’t be nailed down and even when they are, guard everything heroically. My sewn texts take so long to make, I could never run off another print, like a photo.

And so I spent several hours, sitting in a gallery listening to music, greeting the occasional visitor, and staring at work, including a film which I grew immune to, but never bored with (Eija’s work is amazing, even on a constant loop.)

I recently encountered a volunteer invigilator. Having sat down for ages, my bum was hurting, so her arrival was a blessed relief. Then I got a phone call from Young who described our new friend delicately as ‘a bit odd.’ She had found our new acquaintance curled in a tight ball, gurning while apparently ‘interrogating’ the pieces. Officially, I would describe her as spacey. We didn’t know what to do, and fearing that at any moment, art editors and notable curators might walk in we asked her, politely, to leave.  

Phew, we thought. But then she came back the next day. We explained that there was some kind of mistake. She protested that she was only listening in to our conversations as she was ‘interested in us as artists.’ Again we said thanks, but that her services, generous as may be, were superfluous to requirements.

The following day, she was found trying to open the show and start up the film. Once more, we asked her to go. Again, she sat on a wooden chair and gurned at the work, albeit appreciatively.

I’m not sure what the lesson is here. Perhaps it’s meet and get to know your invigilators before leaving them alone with your work. Nurture them. Feed them. And if you can afford to, pay them. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


I use a lot of colour – it’s almost a compulsion. I feel I’ve failed somehow if I use just black and white alone (very trendy, but I like colour.) In fact I never have.

It’s a tricky thing. There are many theories, and conveniently, various shades of white. But it’s always about the contrasts, for me anyway. Garish, bright colours: I love them. I’m not that keen on washed out pastels either. I don’t go in for realistic colour: most of my work is abstract, and even in life drawing I habitually draw green people with purple hair.

Way back, I once wrote that I had actually walked into the much put-upon and very patient art-store, and asked their stoic experts if I could please buy some green. They offered many ways of delivering the green, but I also had to choose which green: pea green, emerald, forest, olive or lime green. My head was spinning.

Then I discovered the innocent fun of the wheel of colour, used to determine contrasts and similarities. And badly named pastels: the peachy crayon called ‘flesh’ is so right off as to be unbelievable – who’s flesh is that colour (mind you in living memory there was paint colour called n***** brown.)

And then there’s symbolism. In my ‘Bunny’ series, the colours are symbolic, and represent ways of dealing with my limited vision, at a time when I could only see blue, when yellow is commonly used in hazard signs since it is deemed easy for the blind to see. Red was lost to me. It was horrible, but the blue seem extraordinarily beautiful.

Back to green. It’s my favourite - all the lovely oil paint names like phthalo green (cadmium green sounds dangerous.) I am never happier than when lining up my balls of thread and choosing the best colour for a certain word in my text samplers. Especially when it’s green.

On a tangential note, colours are amazing. Blind people sometimes have colours explained in terms of musical instruments. Violins are pale blue, trumpets are scarlet, cellos are mauve, I’d imagine.

But you can get immersed, wrapped up and lost forever in the act of deliberation, so I bought a ready chosen set of watercolours, which limited my options but did save time. I buy pastels one at a time, as needed. A fresh, vibrant pastel colour can really inspire me. I am such a wanker. I am also easily distracted by shiny things.

Colour matters: for impecunious artists, failed experiments are costly, especially when the art-pixies don’t respond to your special ‘send me a wide-range of colourful materials’ dance (it’s great – I am like a whirlwind of tassels.) Collecting your shrapnel until amassing enough to buy a few pots/pencils/pastels and then have them not work, to be too similar, or weak is so dispiriting.

But here’s a funny thing: the colour I use most and therefore replace most often in all its textures, forms and strengths, oddly enough, is white. Figure that one out.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Just before my recent group show, I arranged with my fellow artists to meet and discuss the install. Now for me, installing work is no more of a trial than finding a good spot and hanging my piece on the wall, hopefully so that it stays.

I was blissfully innocent, until I attended my first group install at the art-school I decline to name, and watched in amazement as exhibitors arrived with spirit levels, tape measures, drills, cranes, statisticians, brain surgeons, all to appease our buffoon of a course leader who still said everything was at the wrong height.

I have had work installed by curators (one separated a diptych) and another placed my work next to a piece so beautifully drawn and exquisitely framed piece that I felt horribly inadequate.

But then, for Packing and Mourning, we met. I wanted to start the show earlier, but Shelton, a more experienced artist, an expert installer, builder, measurer and user of heavy machinery put her foot down. In fact, she seemed quite vexed, and was very firm with me. ‘What’s got into her?’ I thought.

In the run up to the install, people began to approach me with caution, as if someone had died. They’d hold my hand, do the sad-face and peer empathetically into my soul. ‘Good luck with the install,’ they’d say, with tears in their eyes. What’s the big deal, I wondered. It’s only an install. My friend had her install the day after mine, and I began to join in, phew yeah, installing hell, I’d say, and bravely lap up all the sympathy.

Then, on the actual day of the install, the lovely space where were showing our work decided to let us in three after we’d agreed. Oh well…

Then, well I realised everyone else was treating this complicated and difficult task with the dignity and gravitas it deserved. Young was taking out screws and then replacing them, Eija was carefully, oh so carefully, selecting from an array of her beautiful prints, which then kept falling of the wall. Young was still drilling and things were tense when she used all the fishing line but I had some wire. These things matter.

Shelton was perched on a ladder she had ‘borrowed’ and was drilling, applying tape and helping us all. The counsellors arrived. We broke for lunch. There was more drilling, then some muted screaming and stifled sighs. Eija found a table. Shelton confiscated the drill (it’s for adults) and Young started drilling and undrilling again. Eija found and rejected one TV set for her film, then she and Shelton began to load the wide screen available in the space.

Eight men died. There was a riot. The language was anglo-saxon in origin. Damian smiled at my bunny picture. My ‘Travel Bag’ was expertly hung by Shelton. Eija had enough tissue paper to spare. The TV was being difficult, acting like a diva and  issued a list of demands after achieving full consciousness.

When we finished, somebody said innocently: ‘How was the install?’ I felt as if I had done my first marathon. ‘It was fine,’ I said. And it was. Eventually.

Life drawing again.

Life drawing again.

Life Drawing

Life Drawing
Almost human