I had an interesting chat with someone today, they asked me for my definition of what art means. Without thinking, I instantly came out with the phrase “art is a mirror of the world around you.” It’s a bit of an oversimplification but that’s how I percieve the role of an artist, to take what they experience and translate it back in some tangible form. Whether that is a figurative painting, a piece of music, dance or a detailed instruction for the creation of a piece of conceptual art, it is all the product of a human or humans and how they percieve the world around them.
The problem with holding a mirror up to people or situations is that people don’t always like what you show them. Granted, as an artist (yes, I am aware of how pretentious that sounds) it is my interpretation of a person or event and it is highly subjective but I feel that since I completed and shows my “kings and queens of kings road” series four years ago, the world seems to have gone down a darker path. Politically, the world on a larger scale has taken a turn for the worse, what with the nasty party being in power and people making foolish decisions that have a disastrous consequences for our collective futures. Locally, various groups and characters have been given too much attention and/or influence and have let their egos run loose upon the community in grandiose ways. I’ve done what I have always done, I’ve watched and learned,but I am now very wary of reporting back what I see and all the things I know. If I were to repeat the same process today, there would still be a few wonderful people and places, the woman who works to give the local children a safe space to do activities, the photographer who has a keen eye for making the banal look beautiful, the cafe owners who provide vibrant local spaces for people to meet or just pass a bit of time, I could represent them in paintings but I feel I would only be telling half the story if I didn’t include the other stuff. I see a greedy estate agent, drawing in rich people looking for holiday homes and forcing up the prices and forcing local people out, I see a whole host of the monied and superficial trying to make the town into a poor simulacrum of the London boroughs they just left, I see shops turned into mere facades as they become cheap storage places for people with too much stuff, I see building tarted up to increase their property value for a better time that will never come. I see people given a little attention turn into monsters. I see financial loopholes exploited to fund and propagate pointless events and worthless projects and I see the gravy train being ridden into the ground through the wreckage of it all.
Do I really want to show all that? Plus, just how much trouble would I get in if I did? I know of grotesque events of Jimmy Saville and Sweeny Todd proportions that I could depict, it’s only me, I have neither the security guards nor the lawyers to hide behind when people don’t like the world that I show them. I find it fascinating though, people’s willingness to buy into, invest in and maintain activities and situations that are clearly wrong for fear of rocking the boat. It’s the banality of evil at play, that strange capacity amongst humans how amidst the gas chambers, the killing fields or the labour camps, there will always be some lowly guard complaining about the poor quality of the coffee or something equally petty while horrors unfold around them.
The thing that is puzzling me right now is was it always there and I just wasn’t so aware of it? Or have things got worse? Have I got worse? Is there something in me that has changed that interprets things differently? I don’t think so but it is important to acknowledge that it might be that case. I made a self portrait from words the other day based on my perceptions of a small but irritatingly visible group of local characters, the words weren’t pretty but the picture was. That said, none of them are ‘local’ local, neither am I for that matter but I feel my own intrusion has been more sympathetic to the surroundings than others. Some things once seen can’t be unseen and sone things once known can’t be unknown, if I moved to a new town, a different country even, would I be looking for the rot beneath the surface that I see here?
I want to go back to focusing on the good things, the genuine, non-cynical, people who do what they do because they love it and to be seen as something. People who do things for the right reasons and with pure intentions and not just to look virtuos. I’m so tired of wading through shit that I fear I might sink and drown in the stuff. I’m going to try and live in blissful ignorance, well, for a while at least. Does that make me a bad person? Maybe… All I know is that I have been holding this mirror up for a few years now and my arms are very tired.