When I was a small child in the 1970’s I loved television. I mean really loved television, not just the programmes on it. I used to sit a foot away so the screen swallowed my world. I loved the way that if I leaned forward, the static would make my hair stand on end. We were lucky enough to own a colour t.v and, excuse the grossness, when I sneezed the beads of, erm, moisture would make the image break down into primary colours in a mesmerising way. Televisions had ‘play’ value back then, some had little shutters you could pull across to cover the screen and others had doors that opened and many would have little fold out shade affairs that were designed to stop sunlight spoiling the picture. Nowadays one would just pull the curtains closed, but the 1970’s were more civilised times I guess… If you ignored the terrorist attacks, strikes and riots that is. With video recorders being an extreme rarity, television was a shared experience, programmes would become events that would be talked about in playgrounds, offices and the like and if you missed them, that was it, they were gone. I distinctly remember drilling death rays of hate into numerous aunties and uncles who had the misfortune of appearing during a favourite programme, at which point one of my parents would unforgivably turn down the volume or, horror of horrors, turn the television off. There were vast tracts of time during the day when there was nothing on the television but the test card (an image with I have made my own)
and I would have had to do something awful like go out and play or, heaven forbid, go to school. I hated school! I really, really hated school, the sadistic teachers, the bullies and most of all the itchy trousers. I could never concentrate due to the horrible worsted wool trousers my mother used to make me wear. Maybe that is why I ended up training as a textile designer.
Whilst I didn’t like school, I did like school’s television, particularly when I was allowed to stay at home for the day I loved Look and Read but the thing that stuck in my mind most of all was Picture Box and, in particular, one particular film that used to be shown on the programme , The Red Balloon. I didn’t know this then, being about 7 years old, but the Red Balloon or Le Ballon Rouge to give it it’s correct title, was a film by director Albert Lamorisse which won the 1956 Palm d’Or for the best short film. It tells the story of a small boy who finds a red balloon which seems to have a mind of it’s own and follows him through the streets of Paris.
Watching it as an adult, not only is it still an engaging piece of filmmaking and storytelling, it also shows the damage done by WWII on one of the world’s more beautiful cities. All of this was lost on me back then, it just left me with an enduring image of a small boy with a red balloon as a friend and the hazy notion that if you grab hold of enough balloon’s you will take to the sky. When I started drawing the Dweeblings back in around 1998 the first balloon boy appeared in perhaps the second or third painting. The whole idea of the Dweeblings was that they were my avatars, they could go places that I never could which for someone who suffers from severe anxiety problems was pretty much everywhere.
So flying away on a balloon seemed as likely to me as a walk down to the corner shop most days. The boy with the balloon has since featured in a large number of my works and is also the star of The Dweebling Who Lost His Smile, my children’s story book. Sometimes though, this balloon rider takes on a more sinister tone, the addition of elements of a Freddy Krueger costume. The notion of a character who’s right hand is a glove full of knives holding something as fragile as a balloon is a reminder of the fragility of one’s position on this planet. Still, as a momento mori it is quite a jolly one. By a strange coincidence, on my way to the private view for my last show, I opened my front door to discover a red balloon floating outside my door. Who’s know where it had been and who had flown in on it.