The Perils of Proclaimed Polymathy.

videotitleSince my last rather scathing blog post I fell into a bit of slump. It can be really demoralising being an artist sometimes, it is such a time consuming profession??? Not profession, that would suggest earning money. Calling? Well maybe, but without the wonderful nun costume. I reckon I would look good in a wimple, plus it would hide my bald patch. Anyway, you paint, you draw, you research, you problem solve. Then on top of that you have to earn money, you need to try and monetize that thing you do, be it by selling paintings, prints, cards, t-shirts, whatever and that involves dealing with the rest of the world. It’s hard trying to act like a business person when you have a million jarring ideas rattling around your head, it’s even harder trying to do that and also, make “product”.

Ironically this image from my St Leonards colouring book show the root of all this bother.

Ironically this image from my St Leonards colouring book show the root of all this bother.

My life right now is always on the clock, when I’m not painting and drawing, I’m thinking about what I’m painting and drawing and when I’m not doing that I’m optimising image files, dealing with my printers (commercial and fine art) talking to shop and gallery owners, emailing various parties about upcoming shows and then I have to do all my own accounts and other paperwork. Add to this that I suffer from clinical depression and the strain of all the above makes matters far worse.

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The scribbled over painting, art turned into junk masquerading as art, pretending to be junk.

What I am trying to say here is… Being an artist is doing two jobs at once, both of them insanely poorly paid. There are however two things that make life a lot easier, one is to get recognised for your artwork and the second one is to already be rich. Being neither of these things it can get really hard going sometimes. It gets even harder when someone directly rubs your nose in their good fortune. Particularly when someone who can’t paint and hasn’t had an original idea in their life starts showing off about how much they get for their product (I’m certainly not going to call it art). Anyway, as I was wandering around St Leonards in a foul mood, something caught my eye, one of this chaps “artworks” was sat in pride of place in the window of a charity shop. I went inside and there were a whole series of his “works of art”, a combination of old prints and the works of amateur artists, each one scrawled over with some marker pen or some black paint with the “artist’s” signature sad looking faces.

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Banky’s New York market show.

The other day, a friend of mine jokingly said that this bloke is the antichris. No, that isn’t a spelling mistake, although I’m sure there are plenty in this blog. What she meant was that I spend ages doing things that others perceive as childlike, that everything I do is super-bright (so much so that I have real trouble with printers always knocking back my colours for printing), that my work has a lot of depth, but seems totally superficial  and that my art is full of smiling faces. One of the things I try and communicate through my work is that just because someone is always smiling, it doesn’t mean that they are happy, all it means is that they are better at hiding their pain than other’s. So, there I was, standing in a charity shop full of this guy’s work, they were lining the walls, surrounded by the usual brick-a-brac and unloved stuff that finds it’s way into such places. I got what he was trying to do as I had seen something similar before by the street artist Bankys. Who, about a year ago placed a load of his original stencil pieces on a market stall in New York to see if anyone would spot that they were genuine Banksy’s and not one of the many cheap canvas prints that we see on a daily basis. It isn’t a new idea, it’s been done by various artists, social commentators and art historians over the years. It is a common way of asking the question What is art?  or Where is its value? Can the general public recognise a true work of art when it is not in a gallery? On this occasion though, in Kings Road St Leonards, this fella’s art stunt, performed whilst he had a ‘proper’ gallery show just five minutes walk away seemed particularly cynical and mean spirited, as did the rest of his artistic output. I had the contents of a local news feature on him relayed to me recently (heaven forbid I had to watch him rattling on) in which he said that he didn’t mind working over the top of others people’s old paintings as they were such terrible works of art or something along those lines. The phrase “pot calling the kettle black” sprung to mind at the time and seeing these “works of art” all lined up and priced around the £20 mark with the money going to charity gave me the perfect opportunity to give karma a helping hand. I felt so sorry for the original creator of one particular painting there and what had been done to it that I decided that the kindest thing to do for them and for the painting was to buy it and reclaim it in a spirit of love and positivity from what had so cynically been done to it,. In the blurb for the artist I am not naming’s show, he has been described as a polymath which, according to wikipedia is “a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; such a person is known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.”   The definition is surrounded by images of the likes of Leonardo DaVinci and Galileo, people who’s skills at the arts and science are beyond comprehension, particularly for the age in which they lived. It is safe to say that if you have the hubris to bandy a word like that around about yourself or indeed allow it to used about you, you better be pretty darn amazing, unfortunately for said “artist” scribbling sad faces over someone else’s flower painting with a marker pen doesn’t cut it and neither does his rather basic skills at musical composition. By his definition of this word polymath anyone who has the vaguest of talents in more that one area can be one, why, even me! So in a light-hearted attempt to be polymath I decided to film my reclaiming of this poor forgotten piece of human creativity and to create a piece of avant garde music specifically for it. The painting I took home, like many of those turned into “art” by whatsiface was once loved and slaved over, the person who took that piece of canvas board and turned it from a blank rectangle into an image with flowers that I could recognise as lilies, chrysanthemums and carnations as well as a bit of ivy and other assorted greenery put a lot  of time and effort into that, sure it didn’t have a lot of depth and they may have lost their way while painting the foliage but they tried, and I suspect that they really enjoyed themselves in the process. Judging by the framing, and the pattern of fading and such, it must have hung on someone’s wall for a very long time. I am sorry if I sound sentimental here but I have similar paintings that my mum has done and the thought of someone arrogantly ruining them with a minute’s worth of what is little more that a naughty child’s school text book doodle gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It is cruel, disrespectful and such amateur painters simply are not legitimate targets, They are civilians, for want of a better word, you don’t attack civilians… As for someone who has done this to someone’s work… That instantly makes them fair game.

The finished

The finished “reclaimed” painting in a sky frame.

So I set about the painting, I first experimented with using acetone to lift the magic marker but unfortunately this started to damage the paint underneath, so what I had intended as a simple touch up soon became a complete overpainting. Filming as I went, I covered area by area, trying to retain as much as possible of the painter’s original composition but in my style. As I painted, I filmed the process, which is a bit of a sod to do on your own, but I persevered and made sure that while I worked, I maintained an atmosphere of joy and positivity around the picture, with nice music, lots of happy films and getting the bear I rescued and rebuilt to guard it overnight while I slept. It took three days all told, exponentially longer than the few moments that it took someone with an over inflated ego and a marker pen to destroy. Once finished I worked on the frame, coating it in sky and clouds and adding a little note for would be buyers on the rear. Then I took it to the home of a friend to add my “composition” followed by her playing over the end credits with the skill of someone who loves what she does and takes her music far more seriously than she takes herself, something which is at the heart of everything I do myself. Once this final piece of footage and my “composition” were in the can, so to speak, I set about learning how to use movie editing software in a couple of hours. The results are a bit patchy and jerky (you can see them below)  and I certainly won’t be showing it at Sundance later this year but by the standards of what I saw and heard of my competition I could quite cheerfully call myself a polymath. I am now, after all, an artist, a filmmaker, a composer and I’m writing this blog so I’m a writer too…Oh dear! I can’t seem to fit my head through the door anymore.

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One Response to The Perils of Proclaimed Polymathy.

  1. […] levels of talent and original thinking would normally allow. You can read about what I got up to here and since that time I have heard of others who have done the same. There is now a facebook page […]

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