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. 

Life drawing again.

Life drawing again.

Life Drawing

Life Drawing
Almost human