Hellooooo! My name is Christopher Hoggins and I am the creator of the Dweeblings. I have had to write various artist’s statements recently and had to try and explain exactly why a 44 year old man draws funny little big eyed creatures that are severely lacking in the ear and nose department. So where do I start? Well I’ll guess I should start at the very beginning. That’s a very good place to start. Well I was born is the summer of… Ok, maybe not that far back. The first Dweeblings appeared as doodles in my art history notebooks at Middlesex University at some point in 1996. They were among a menagerie of other made up creatures that I used to scrawl constantly whilst I should have been concentrating how to learn proper art speak. My Father had recently died and rather than deal with my emotions I did the typical blokey thing and buried myself in my work but it started to leak out in all sorts of ways, the odd doodles in my notebook being one of them. And there they stayed ’til about some time in about 2000, by which point I had got my degree, had a nervous breakdown, lost my home and found myself living in my mother’s house which was many hundreds of miles from my friends or indeed anyone I knew. For many years I barely left the house and as the internet back then was slower than a snail on valium so I spent and awful lot of time reading books (I even tried writing a couple), playing on my N64 and then my Gamecube and making art. It was around this time that the first ever painted Dweebling appeared. It was an a very large canvas and had a very long spindly neck and limbs. Now an important things to know about me is that I am more than a touch obsessive. Once I get an idea in my head, I need to go through every idea and every permutation of that idea. I am like one of those automated car factories that churns stuff out day and night and I have no idea where the off switch is. This meant that once I had done one painting I needed to do another, and another and… well you get the idea. I realised that these little creatures could do all the things I couldn’t. They could travel to Barcelona and check out Gaudi’s buildings whist I couldn’t face getting a bus into town or they could appear onstage as Elvis or the Sex Pistols when I couldn’t stomach the thought of going into the co-op to buy some milk. As time went by I got a little better and with the advent of broadband internet made the world a lot bigger for people like myself. Around 8 years and many painting later I eventually, with the help of the original IAPT trial, managed to finally move to my own flat by the sea in St Leonards. The move nearly killed me and I had a particularly awful time with finding out someone I thought was a friend actually wasn’t. Once things settled down though and I started to get out and see things, the Dweeblings also made themselves at home in their new environment. They started to reinterpret what they saw and started to develop a mind of their own. There were even a couple who didn’t smile…. During what were particularly bad years for me, I hunkered down and worked on two series of works on paper. Firstly, my own version of William Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress” solely using a ball point pen and secondly a complete set of illustrations to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. There was a political undercurrent to both these projects, brought about by the Con-Dem Government’s barbaric policies in respect to people with mental health issues, particularly in respect to their finances. Hogarth documented, amongst other things, crushing poverty whilst Alice in Wonderland describes perfectly what it is like to work out what is sane in a world which is profoundly mad. Over the last couple of years The Dweeblings have been appearing in portraits, first in a series entitled “The Kings and Queens of Kings Road” documenting the characters real and imagined around Kings Road St Leonards on Sea and more recently in a series of portraits in of the staff and service users of a local mental health support centre where I interviewed the sitters and told their stories in paint. Right now, I am working on a long term project documenting thehidden stories of places in East Sussexand turning them into paintings and colouring in books. And after that, who knows?
I did it again! I woke up with that imminent deadline, Get back to work! You lazy bugger!, feeling. I can be such a harsh critic to myself and I have to really watch out for that, last week I did about three really intricate drawings that recieved a lot of positive interest but of course I’ve forgotten about that already. Like I’ve forgotten about everything else that I’ve done this year. It’s a sunny Sunday morning, it’s supposed to be for relaxing. The sun is shining through the big windows, wood pigeons cooh in the garden and church bells ring in the distance, enjoy it chris! You muppet!
Just to be kind to myself, I’ve been trying to remember exactly what I have done so far this year, and so, in no particular order…
Seven huge, headshot portraits. I need to do another three when I can afford some more big canvases.
Character project with students at a charity I work for occasionally that included eight individual character designs in various scales including an absolutely huge one.
A series of Hogarth inspired prints for the snap general election.
A response to the homelessness issue in Hastings that resulted in people camping on the beach.
A satire based on the ridiculous and potentially treacherous trolling incident I experienced near the start of this year.
Various commissions and portraits.
Numerous autobiographical and semi auto biographical drawings.
I waded through one of the longest and most complicated novels in human history.
In other words, a bloody lot if stuff.
What I do find rather worrying though is how much of the work I have produced this year has been reactive, that is produced as a response to something. On a world and historical scale, reactive art, be it satire, political commentary or documentary, has produced some of the most powerful artworks ever created. The problem comes when you are reacting to nothing more than other people’s spite and pettiness. When I was a virtual shut in during the late nineties and most of the noughties, my painting was a form of escape from the self imposed claustrophobia of barely ever leaving the house, when I engaged more in the world, my work became more of a response to that. When you take care about who you spend your time with and what you do, making art that responds to that is a good thing, the problems came though when nasty people started slipping though my carefully built up security network.
I’ve spent too long over the last few years reacting to negativity. Reacting to spoilt people, reacting to greedy people, reacting to jealous people, reacting to damaged people, reacting to manipulative people, reacting to damaged people and reacting to plane bad people. Whilst there are a few quite amusing satires in amongst them and a few fairly powerful but dark works, I would rather not give any more of life’s bottom feeders more oxygen and time than they deserve, which is none. Plus the stress of dealing with assorted nasty people has damaged my physical health. I’ve had a few offers from people wanting to help me move away from the toxic bubble of Hastings and St Leonards to somewhere with a lower proportion of seedy, unpleasant, people, but, financial issues aside, I love the sea, I love my flat and I have some utterly amazing friends. It’s not easy though, walking along the road some days as you spot people and think “oh look! You got someone killed!”, “You took screenshots of my Facebook page and passed them on”, “You slimed your way into everything you’ve ever done” , “you demean the poor and vulnerable and then congratulate yourself for it”, “you drink and take drugs and work with children the next day” or “you did your level best to ruin my life and health and wandered off without a care in the world and completely forgot about it.”
It’s not easy, dealing with that level of Roald Dahl awfulness on a daily basis but it seems to be the price of living in a community with a small but annoyingly visible proportion of ghastly people. Whilst what I would dearly love that cosy, sexy, bubble that is a functioning loving relationship and a polite and healthy distance maintained with the rest of the community of wherever, it seems that it is not my destiny right now, if indeed ever. I have little choice right now but to just keep my head down and soldier on, producing art, making a small difference for the better wherever I can and ignore as much of the shit that goes on around me as is humanly possible.
If there is a lesson that I have learned over the last few years it is this… There are an awful lot of damaged people out there in the world and, for the most part, they limp along and hold down jobs and present as fairly normal. Beyond that facade though many of them are actually more of a mess than I ever was and they are best left well alone. Perhaps it’s time for me to stop taking the blame for other people’s problems and to not allow those who aren’t prepared to take a good, hard look at themselves to influence my self image. I do and acheive plenty, certainly more and more genuine good than any of my detractors and some who would like to write me off as “Chris the loony” after all, if it’s a choice between blaming me and taking a good hard look at their actions, it’s a no brainer to see which path the spineless and mentally lazy will take. So next time I wake up with some self imposed judgement screaming away at my soul, I’ll remind myself of the very basic truth… “Hey Chris! You are doing just fine! X”
It’s fascinating the way that television documentaries approach the work of artists. Out come the twinkling piano and the strings on the soundtrack, out come the talking heads, experts in their field, things are blown up, scanned, X rayed, put through electron microscopes and people waffle their way through finding out that these paintings are from the brushes of the man himself.
Of course, good telly today has to be structured in a certain way to keep people’s attention, create suspense and structure a narrative flow but I find it sad that, as someone in the trade, so to speak, you only really get the barest of details that the researchers dragged up.
I have a deep fondness for Lowry and ironically I learned to use oil paints by faking his, amongst other’s works. I actually took my mum to see a Lowry exhibition at the Barbican Centre in the eighties, dropped off by my Dad in his work van only to make it back to Edmonton on the bus, I’m guessing I was fifteen at the time. I knew then that I wanted to be an artist but I had no clue about how to do it. I don’t think I really became comfortable about using that word about myself until I was in my forties though. You can’t make yourself an artist, you just are or you aren’t, it’s a bit like being in love, you can’t make yourself be one, you go down a path and then one day you suddenly are, and once you are, you probably wish you weren’t as you realise that, like being a nun, or an academic, you have signed up for a life of poverty and social exclusion. You become slightly alien from observing the world more than interacting with it and you realise how drastic a life choice it is.
No one really got Lowry, sneared at by dealers and gallery owners and other artists for the bulk of his career and only receiving success and money when he was too passed it and set in his ways to enjoy it. Few people realised just how good a draughtsperson he was or the level of figure painting and paint handling skill that was buried beneath those seemingly simplistic figures. Then when success knocked on his door people still didn’t realise the depths of what he did, the dark details, the paintings full of crippled and damaged people all skirted over with the final indignity of a terrible posthumous song.
Watching this programme and seeing the extent to which his work was and still is being faked and copied, it is interesting to think about just how much effort goes into authenticating something that at one point couldn’t be given away. I don’t even sign mine unless someone asks as I think that if you need to scrawl your name on it it means that your style is too indistinct. It’s a strange thought though, the way people become so obsessed about the right paint, brush techniques, chain of custody and whathaveyou to the point that the don’t see the actual image. I’d think it hysterical if someone faked mine, it would probably be harder than most people think though, what with me poking fingers in wet paint to see if it has dried yet and the wonkey dyspraxic curves. Knowing my like they would probably do a better job of it and they would sell better, typical!
Let’s face it, so much of the art world is a depressing pile of shit but then, for that matter, so is most of humanity and society. I vaguely take note of who gets there work in the various local galleries and why and it is either due to schmoozing or that someone’s work briefly ticks the right boxes for some passing fad or other. I had some terribly depressing conversations about the nature of art a couple of years back that related to how terribly irrelevant and unfashionable what I do is. Apparently I should be painting on old scraps of cardboard or old pizza boxes as painting on canvas conforms to a misogynistic archetype that goes back to the bad old days of the old masters. Personally, I think if someone cares more about what you paint something on than what you paint, then they have lost the plot, but then what would I know?
The truth is, I don’t give a shit any more about what anyone thinks about my art, I don’t even care whether anyone even sees it. Granted, the money and success would have been handy but beyond that I just don’t give a toss about any of it. I love what I do though and it would be wonderful if I could carry on forever but when it comes to dealing with the sort of wankers I need to be dealing with, I have no patience left. Art and the art world is mostly a load of old bollocks.
It is pirate day today and I had the dubious pleasure of taking a car ride along the sea front with a friend who was actually born here. Driving past a sea of Johny Depp clones, we both looked on in horror as everything that we passed had been twisted into some strange parody of Pirates of the Caribbean. We both agreed that it was great for the kids, unfortunately most of the people we saw were my age or older.
I have actually lost count now of all the many festivals, parties, fayres, events and whathaveyous there are around the area but I am starting to get pretty sick of it all. Granted, everywhere has its thing, some traditional event that gives it a bit of character but it’s as if hereabouts is like some obnoxious greedy child that has grabbed the sweets, jelly, ice cream and fizzy pop that was meant for everyone.
When I moved to Hastings, what I liked about it was that it was a shabby, run down, seaside town, I could live quietly amongst the bungled and the botched and get on with making art. Now it’s as if the whole town has done the biggest, fattest, line of coke and is off on one in the most grandiose of manners trying to turn itself into something quite different and, like most raging cokeheads, it is getting unbearable to be around and the way it is being done is a complete disaster.
How things got this bad I am really not sure but I suspect that the bulk of the problem is down to the influx of the Down From London crowd and their inability to leave things be (I can say that as I am down from London), there is an assumption that what everyone needs is a constant slew of things to do, not really realising that what most people want to do is to be left alone. That’s a hard one to prove though to those who don’t have a life as you are essentially trying to point to those that aren’t there rather than the crowd of a couple of dozen usual suspects who alway are. With a population of some 80, ooo people it may be easier to imagine one double decker bus filled with attention seekers, nuisance makers and patronising busybodies parked in the middle of the pitch at a conspicuously empty Wembley Stadium, only then would they see how unwelcome their activities truly are compared to those that would rather they sod off.
It works well for some people, if you are an attention seeker who likes to dress up or a raging alcoholic who loves getting pissed during the day with no one caring and if your life has no real momentum and you have nothing better to do than just drifting from one knees up to the next conducting life amongst a series of shallow nodding aquaintences then it must be utterly wonderful. To anyone over the age of twenty who doesn’t have small children to entertain and isn’t in the throes of a midlife crisis it is all just a massive pain in the arse.
I’ve been trying to ascertain what exactly the local industry is for Hastings and St Leonards, everywhere has its prime purpose, being its major employer or something it is famous for making. From what I can gather, apart from a slew of dismal call centres, punting insurance, the only thing that seems to happen, is people showing off and turning alcohol into piss. As neither the armaments industry or the natural dyeing industries no longer use piss to the extent that they used to, then that leaves us with the show offs as the only resource left to exploit for profit.
I have been thinking back to Chuck Palanuic’s novel Choke which was set in a historical theme park, where everyone spent every day pretending that they were back in the days of America still being an English colony and was wondering if that was the way to go. There are so many people around who love to dress up, who love to show off their limited talents, that want to be seen and marvelled at and lavished with constant attention, so what better than turn the place into a demented version of Disneyland?
Whilst all those of a narcistic bent flaunts their outfits and do their best attempt at acts that would be ridiculed on the first few episodes of the X factor or Britains got Talent, it would finally give the rest of us a chance to actually profit from their constant and irritating presence in all the ancillary industries, the merchandising and production of memorabilia, the car parking, the service industries, the admin and accounting. With the right marketing everything that has become so wrong here could finally work for everyone else. Heaven knows, it it about time they were useful at something.
There are few things more tragic than seeing ageing rock musicians dragged out into the harsh light of day. Except perhaps witnessing ageing rock musicians with massive egos playing to a group of overly excited dancing children and pre teens at a wedding. It was interesting seeing how poorly these fish faired once the had been dragged out of their usual waters, flapping and floundering and gasping for the sycophantic oxygenated waters of their home town. I may have said this before but there is something of the seven ages of man (or indeed woman) about plotting the path of Rock musicians in any town. From the excitable, naive, teens, amazed they have got a gig through the arrogant twenties where they can get anyone to drop their underwear with little more than an encouraging nod as they wait for their impending stardom, followed by the wilderness years where the stardom never comes and they flounder around as those around them settle down and get lives, through to the aging muso, scratching a living with the occasional bit of session work or playing the odd wedding for a bit of cash. You can see all of these with a brief wander of any town of a weekend, and yet none of the younger ones seem to pick up the hint of what their future will hold. If they aren’t careful, or aren’t that bright, rock musicians can get stuck in perennial loop as if their minds cease to develop beyond their late teens. Like spoilt children, they become arrogant, used to getting their own way, used to people liking them for the immediatly accessable skill they can demonstrate rather than the contents of their mind. For the rare few who genuinely ‘make it’ this stunted emotional growth ceases to be a problem, but for those that don’t, there is little more to their future than to bumble along, being a burden to those around them.
Of course, there are plenty of emotionally stunted people who aren’t wannabe rock stars, there are countless people in every walk of life who hit the skids in early life and fail to progress beyond the booze / music and short term relationship (I think Ian dury came up with a better name for that and wrote a song about it) point of life but they are able to hide it behind a slew of bullshit activities, particularly if the words “it’s for charity!” and tagged on the end. There is something about old failed rockers that is particularly tragic though. Maybe it’s the point where the hair dye is to hide the grey rather than to make them look alternative, maybe it’s when the ripped jeans make them look like a tramp rather than anti establishment, maybe it’s that tipping point where trying to look cool looks more like an impending mid-life crisis, but there is an invisible line that musos cross between ‘making it’ and ‘losing it’ that all too few are aware they have crossed.
It’s slightly different in my game as artists rarely ‘make it’ in their own lifetime and so it’s easier to kid others and delude yourself that what you do has some validity even though it barely earns you any money. Plus artists don’t really have a defined look as such, except perhaps slightly scruffy with paint under your fingernails, something that can easily be maintained through a lifetime of scraping by. Ok, we don’t get that early adulation from prancing about on a stage but we do tend to develop slightly higher IQs and are generally much nicer people. Obviously, I’m generalising here but like most generalisations, it has a basis of truth. Fortunately, my dodgy heart has put paid to the usual fate of impoverished artists, that of painting and decorating but luckily I have managed to find a few better paid ways of earning a crust between the rare sales of art.
Sitting at the wedding, watching the ‘best drummer in town!’ as popular opinion dictates I am bemused to see what the fuss is about. Maybe it’s his current groupies being more interested in little mix or whoever children listen to now than serving his sexual needs or maybe it’s because we have mutual acquaintances and I know him to be a sexist pig but all I see is someone clinging on to their last scrap of dignity outside the bounds of their tiny empire of idiots wishing to validate what they do. I guess that is where the crux of this lies, in that rock musicians require attention, they desperately need to be applauded and adulated in a way that no one else does, except for perhaps politicians, and without that they are nothing. ageing musos occupy the hinterland of a world that is best built on artifice and as solid as air and as these ones load their gear back into their dodgy old van, whereas before I held only distain for them, I now hold an equal measure of pity. Rock n rock eh?