The road to excess

June 23, 2017

I was actually asked to apply for an art thing the other day. The last thing I applied for turned out to be a complete con and the job had not only already been earmarked for someone but, to add insult to injury, it was highly likely that a person who was supposed to have my back was actually aiding the person who got the job to stitch up the competition, including me. Anyway, disgust aside, someone asked me to put in a proposal for an artwork around the theme of excess, I can’t actually say much more than that about it only that I’ve spent the last two days doing all the prep sketches and logistics for it, it’s nice when something isn’t the usual nepotistic fit up and someone actually wants me to get on in life rather than the usual handful of cronies.

The phrase “the road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom” instantly came to mind as I have been discussing the importance of William Blake with my nephew over the last few days in regards to his A level exams. It’s such a weird thing, having a conversation about eighteenth century poetry with someone who’s nappy you used to change but there we are and it is rather lovely. What’s more lovely is how quickly he loses me, being already way smarter and better read than I am, certainly much better read than I was at his age. Some of the horror stories of the things he gets up to, scare the life out of me, but then I remember myself at that age and I can’t really say anything, but I stopped eventually and I hope he will too. Being young is about making mistakes and hopefully learning something from them, however much I would like him to learn from mine it would be pointless, they were mine to make and learn from as are his in turn.

Trying to learn from my own mistakes has been a constant theme in my life and bloody hell have I made some. I still keep making them, over and over again, but at least they are new mistakes rather than the same one over and over again. According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, it is something I see all the time. I have got so tired of seeing people doing the same pointless shit, year after year despite the fact that their actions never have positive results, quite the opposite in fact. The same people, the same events, over and over again, like Groundhog Day, except without the genius of Bill Murray to make it worth watching. I ignore everything that goes on now, I wish everyone else would too, then they might finally go away.

The mistakes I’m trying not to make now are the hardest ones to shift, excesses of thought rather than action. It’s much harder trying not to think something rather than not do something. There are countless ways of not doing things, if you need to give up a vice, just don’t have it in your house, if you don’t want to contact someone, delete their details. Excess of thought is much more tricky. Only the most despotic of people can send out minions to tear down ever poster for a shit disco, crappy concert or tedious event so that you don’t see then and set off a chain reaction of thoughts.  We can’t have bodyguards shoe every annoying person out of our line of sight so we aren’t reminded of darker times (although I would find it rather amusing) so thought is the only real battle left. 

There are plenty of ways to stop thinking, drink and drugs work wonderfully for example, but them I would be back to being the train wreck I was in my late twenties and that would be a terrible thing. The other option is to busy my head, throwing myself into any old shit going and tagging along with whatever bullshit  happens to cross my path. That, though, is more harmful that the booze and drugs and it is easier to quit cigarettes than the arseholes you would let in your life  as cigarettes don’t tag you in Facebook posts and ring you constantly if you don’t do their bidding. So it’s a case of slowly building things up, reinforcing the good and starving the bad of attention. It’s a constant and exhausting battle but one I hope to win in time.


The image maker’s dilemma 

June 19, 2017

So here’s the problem. I hate doing all this. I hate doing anything that draws attention to myself, I hate all the trappings and grandiose expectations that go along with being an artist. The title of this bit of thought seepage should have read “the artist’s dilemma ” but, I mean, how pretentious is that? Watch any even half successful artist nowadays and they have precisely one thing in common, they are all champion schmoozers. People turn up at things, network, meet agents, meet potential buyers, talk to the press and generally do their best to sell people on what they do and try and leave a good impression. 

I’ve been to these things myself and I just can’t do it, all that talking about yourself, I hear the words as they come out of my mouth on autopilot and its, blah blah blah blah waffle waffle, so much meaningless noise, over and over again.

I just can’t take any of that seriously, which is a shame as I absolutely love making art, but the whole of the garbage that goes with it is tedious. It was so much easier when I was officially crazy and I was doing it for little more than my own amusement. I just did it, nothing was riding on it and it didn’t matter. Now though, with ‘artist’ on my business bank account it does, there is pressure to earn…. Hustle that artistic ass baby! 

This is where it all goes wrong as I keep getting put into positions where I am forced to take myself seriously and am confronted with situations where I have to deal with a whole gamut of scenarios where I have to keep quiet at the insular, clicky, nature of things where I have to stick my snout in the farthest end of the trough and wait for scraps with the other pigs. Of course I mess it up, I go and be honest, I go and point out the fakery, the corruption, the nepotism and I don’t get my scraps like a good porker. I keep soldiering on though, plugging my work (which I hate) trying to sell myself, which I’m terrible at, and it achieves two things it seems. It makes me become a threat to some people and a walking target to others and still I have to carry on because now it is my job. I doesn’t help that my work is so personal, if I used some grandiose, arts council grant friendly worldly theme, I could exploit it and them. I’m essentially an introvert though, I paint and draw my thoughts, I depict my response to events I see, be they personal or public. If you depict your feeling, you get into all sorts of bother, particularly when the people who provoked that response don’t like what they see. Things get nasty then, it would be easier if I just did what everyone else does and gossip behind their backs, but nope, stupid Chris picks the earnest and honest option. This has got me two things, lots of people hate me and lots of people think I’m completely mad, I don’t really care about either on a personal level but I’m sure it hasn’t done me much good from a business point of view. 

So here I am with all these things that I’m supposed to do, promote, schmooze, network, blog, charm, apply for grants, invent work for myself. So what do I go and do? I go off and make art. Now tell me, what kind of idiot does that?


The great tattoo mystery.

June 17, 2017

Tomorrow is dead dad day, or Father’s Day as it is more commonly known. There are some fucking useless fathers out there, people who provide shit role models, if they are present at all, my dad wouldn’t  be one of them. I find Fathers Day  upsetting for his absense even after twenty years and for the way it rubs salt into the wounds of not being a dad myself, particularly as there are so many wankers who have managed it… I’m sure there is a joke in there somewhere. 

After all this time I still want to ask him things, like what were those awful blue black smudges on his arms. My dad signed up for the navy during the Second World War, a daft kid of eighteen, younger than his grandson is now, the one he missed by just over a year. He saw so many horrific things, swept lumps of his friends off the deck of ship, saw soldiers drown because officers couldn’t read marine depth charts properly on d day by which point he was around twenty three. He got some awful tattoos done in Ceylon and made them even worse by trying to get rid of them with a Brillo pad when he got home and my mum chucked him because of them. All I ever saw was the blue black blurs, the stubborn ghosts that survived their attempted excorcism. I never found out what they were and it still bugs me now. I’m not a big fan of tattoos personally , they work splendidly on some people, but on others they just look shit. It’s all about reasoning and thought and planning and some people know what they are doing of and others haven’t a clue. Like any form of communication, some people have more to say and better to say than others, some should just shut the fuck up.

I never got to really make my peace with my father, the strokes and brain damage changed him greatly from the man he originally was. I never got to that point where we could see eye to eye and we never really understood each other’s reason for how we lived our lives.

I can see similarities now, sadly congenital heart problems being one of them, but also both getting on better with women than men and being soft touches when it comes to anyone in trouble. Neither of us could stand dishonesty, corruption or injustice either and God help anyone he saw knocking a child or a woman about…. He could be a scary guy when he needed to be. 

I wish there were more people like him about now, more like that and less vain, showy off arseholes. Sadly, many parents now are bigger kids than the children they dragged up, trying to remain hollow version of teenagers way beyond it being appropriate or even funny. Here’s to the few ones left that aren’t! 


Holidays in the sun. 

June 13, 2017

I have always been very wary of the urge to meddle, particularly as I hate it when clueless but well meaning people do it with things I have been personally affected by. This is probably where I would usually go off on a rant but I want this to be a bit more focused that my usual rambling and tangential waffle. I walked into town a couple of weeks ago along the Hastings sea front, I don’t do it very often and I was shocked to discover that a group of homeless people had set up camp on the beach. The last time I had seen anything like thing was during the late eighties and I worked near Waterloo station where cardboard city, a shanty town for the homeless, had sprung up in the underpasses around the station. It was like something out of mad max or the future world in the first terminator film. There was something deeply strange about this seaside encampment though, whilst there is never anything jolly about being homeless (I have been so myself), if you didn’t read the context for the people being their, you could be forgiven for reading to situation as a nice little seaside vacation.  It was a situation I felt a need to document as I suspected (quite rightly it turned out) that it wouldn’t be allowed to remain there for very long.

One thing that have been a constant in my work over the last couple of decades is the documentation of appalling things using overly cute and benign seeming imagery. I have found that it is easier to get a message across if people aren’t aware that they are being given one in the first place. This is what I tried to achieve in the new painting, Holidays in the Sun, a happy sounding title that also happens to be a song by the Sex Pistols. It’s all smiles and sunshine and camping at first sight until you think about why the postman looks so bemused. One of the worst things about being homeless is the lack of a postal address, you are instantly a non person in regards to getting benefits, let alone applying for a job.

 I decided that this painting would be going up on eBay for charity before I even started it, initially I was just going to take the money to the campers and buy them a load of provisions but as they have already  been moved on I felt it would make more sense to have the money go directly to the St Mungos  who run a homeless shelters and help and rehabilitation for the initial causes of homelessness. I am aware that someone will probably read what I’m doing wrongly or see some cynicism in it and kick off. That is really up to them I guess, I can’t control anyone else’s responses, only my own, which was that this occurrence needed to be documented for posterity in some way. There are far more offensive things that go on in this town in regards to the homeless, if you want to get angry about something then I can happily furnish you with a list of people who demean and patronise the poor and vulnerable hereabout and get paid for the privilege of doing so. Anyway, I said I wouldn’t go off on a rant today so here is the link, happy bidding! 


White cube, smelly shed.

June 13, 2017

Right now I should be staring at an arts council funding form to try and get some money to invest in ‘my practice’ and to find a decent showing space for the work I am doing right now. For numerous reasons, most of which would get me into trouble if I explained them in the detail I would like to, this is pushing my buttons and really pissing me off, let’s just say the words, disloyal, corrupt, ingratiating and hypocritical appear at some point in the tirade of bile that would spew forth. So instead I am pondering the notion of how we display art.

I’ve been working on a series of metre square canvases recently, I’m really pleased with how the are going and in my head I have this perfect space for them. White walls, skylights for perfect natural lighting, enough space for the paintings to breath but not so much as to feel lost. Big window onto the street with laser cut title, tasteful perfect bound catalogue and an unobtrusive invigilator, freindly enough so that people will walk in off the street, intimidating enough to politely suggest that the paintings are worth a four figure price. 

The reality will be very different I expect, their life will consist of a brief few weeks on a wall somewhere while people eat and ignore them  before they end up creating a storage headache for me. Sadly, this us the way many pictures begin their lives, piled up on a wardrobe, stacked up in a garbage, gathering dust in a corner in the vain hope that some day the artist will ‘make it’, sadly, most don’t and of those that do, it often isn’t in the artist’s life time.

I have this recurring nightmare of what will happen to my work when I die. After all, it’s all I really have to show for my blink of an eyelid on this planet. My vanity would like to believe that one of my family, friends or a distraught lover will rescue everything, lovingly curate it and bring it and my dead self to the public’s attention. Let’s face it, it would be so much easier for my work to find approval without me doing annoying things like pointing out what arseholes I think many people are. A dead Chris is a good Chris! Erm, yay!  The sad reality will more likely be some bemused landlord annoyed at the pile of old tat that they have to deal with, followed by an unceremonious chucking in a skip or some slack jawed, web footed, junk shop owner carting them off.

Probably the most ignominious fate that can befall a work of art is to fall into the hand of someone like the ageing trustafarian who occasionally raids the junk and charity shops of my home town in search of paintings to make ‘his own’ by daubing his own amateurish scrawl on top of them, assuming that he can palm off this technique as his own rather than that developed by the early situationist artists because anyone who lives outside the metropolis is a bit backwards and wouldn’t spot it! Wrong! I made a point of getting hold of a few of his ‘works’ and painting over them in return, sometimes karma needs a helping hand. 

Sometimes I think that it might be interesting to show work in something like the environment in which it originally ‘lived’ , Van Gogh’s masterpieces piled up in a spare room at brother Theo’s, Picasso’s blue period word stacked under a bed in some Paris hovel, Basquiat’s paintings  crawling with cockroaches in a squalid New York loft. It would be an interesting excercise in showing the reality for 99.999% of the world’s artists.

There are sadder fates that can meet an artwork though, like the Renaissance masterpieces stolen by the mafia to be used as security deposits in organised crime transaction for example or the impressionist paintings that sit in temperature controlled Japanese bank vaults, now no more than fancy bank notes or share certificates. It is a strange irony that art worth tens of millions meets the same fate as that worth nothing in the eyes of the artworld. To stash a picture away, unseen is the cruelest of fates for a work of art, it’s a visual medium, made to be looked at, and without that it is nothing.


The eyes have it

June 12, 2017

One of my most vivid memories as a teenager was watching my father constantly staring at himself in the mirror. Superficially, it seemed such a strange thing for him to be doing as he certainly wasn’t a vain man. Personally, I try not to look in the mirror too often as I can’t equate the strange looking fat old git I see with the image of myself that exists in my head. The thinning hair, the unruly pube-like eyebrow hairs, the grey… I’m not sure who that rotund creature is, but it is not who I remember being. I ignore him, but he doesn’t go away. My dad was looking for calcium deposits around his irises, a classic sign of certain types of heart problems getting worse, that was his reason. I’m on medication that is supposed to stop all that, so fortunately I can limit my vanity to the occasional beard trim, haircut or self portrait noting the inevitable decline.

I seem to be attracted to women who wear little to no make-up, I’m wondering now whether the two things are subconsciously linked, my dad’s illness and people’s fondness for their own reflection, or perhaps it’s simply the dread of going out with women in the past who would keep you waiting for hours whilst they faffed about with themselves. Back in the goth days I was partial to a bit of it myself, but I certainly never looked better for my efforts, it was more like tribal war paint.

I’ve always been fascinated by eyes, from watching Disney films and earlier Japanese cartoon on British TVs like Marine Boy and Battle of the Planets. Plus my fondness for all those big eyed painting that popped up during the sixties and seventies has buried an obsession with all things ocular. I think the tipping point came in 1987 when I saw the cure in concert for the first time. Instead of the ubiquitous dodgy support band for people to scream “fuck off” at, they put together a little art house film, featuring the deft use of one of those medical cameras used to venture down people throats and up their bottoms. Fortunately, we were spared a trip through Robert Smith’s bowels but seeing someone’s eye projected some fifty foot high stayed with me forever. 

Eyes are a wonderful thing to paint and draw, their reflective quality allows you to work in all sorts of pictures within pictures and hidden bits of meaning. The texture of the iris also perfect to be recreated using a fan of words around the (no sniggering please) optical sphincter. There is just so much fun you can have with just that one body part. They are so expressive too, from the ‘look of love’ through to ‘the evils’ , so much of who we are is expressed through these complex collections of flesh, muscle, and gelatinous glop. Then there is all the fun you can have with eye defects, probably not the best of descriptions, but from lazy eyes, through to squints and the full on Bowie, dual eye colour and paralysed iris, there are so many little quirks that can be worked in. I have a friend with a dual pupil in one eye, I didn’t even notice it for a year to my shame. In the self portrait that I am currently working on, I have overplayed my stigmatism as they aren’t usually that visibly wonky, I wanted to express a level of disquiet I constantly feel about myself and distorted eyes do the trick nicely. 

The only problem I have about eyes is the crying malarkey. I was trained out of crying exept for in the most extreme of circumstances, I was always stopped from expressing any distress about the squalor and discomfort that I was brought up into and by the time my dad died, I was being cried on so much that there was no time left for me to shed a tear. I have since learnt to cry a little but when you are like me and you are involved with people who can virtually turn the taps on fully at the drop of a hat, you soon see which way the sympathy goes…, it flows with the tears.

Eyes are also very important to me from an “I see you!” point of view. They are so huge because they represent that I see far too much and know too much that can’t be unknown. I walk down the road and I can tell you things about so many of the people that I see, who would recognise me and some that wouldn’t. As I may have said before, there is nothing remarkable about my appearance and I am not a show off in any way. I have often passed people that I have sat and conversed with at parties and dinner parties for many hours and they have completely ignored me (this is on top of the ones that blank me on purpose). As a result I end up hearing everything that they say whether I want to or not and it is often about people I know, the curse of a small town. I find it deeply claustrophobic and I dearly wish I had the means to move, just far enough that I could still see my friends but not to have to deal with the shower of shit that passes for the community hereabouts. Being dyspraxic doesn’t help either as I have little to no audio or visual filters to buffer me from this crap heap of a world and all the drivel in it. I see the good stuff too and there is certainly plenty of that but as I am also cursed with a really good long term memory, the nastiness clings around like shit to the bottom of a pair of trainers. I see all the corruption, all the nepotism, all the lies, all the greed, all the manipulation, all the bitchyness, all the vindictiveness, all the vanity, all the cheating, all the sexual predictors and I just want to go and live in a shack half way up a mountain somewhere. Of course then I remember that I like hit baths and Netflix and flushing toilets but the general principal is there, and that is that I do not want to see any of this stuff, but I do.

The series of paintings I am working on right now have particularly large eyes, even for me. This has forced me to alter my methodology slightly but it also gives me more scope to work with in the realm of what I can fit in. I have never been able to work out how to do fine detail in acrylic paint, I find the viscosity too inconsistant and the transparency rather limiting for fine detail work. That said I do like the vibrancy and luminosity, but I will never be someone who could paint miniatures  anyway, my hands are too shaky and my eyesight too poor. It seems rather ironic that whilst I am so obsessed with eyes, mine are slowly giving up the ghost. I guess there is one consolation though, and that is that pretty soon all my paintings will look absolutely amazing and, thanks to the wonders of blurred vision, when I look in the mirror, so will I.


The moving on conundrum.

June 10, 2017

I hate that phrase ‘moving on’. There is an assumption of a forward direction being taken, where the reality is that you can just as easily be going backwards or simply standing still and stagnating. Moving on suggests progress to a better state of being. In reality ‘moving on’ rarely is to something better, just something different. Moving on from a cliff onto the rocks below isn’t progress, moving on from adulthood to old age and then death isn’t progress, moving on from a sense of happiness to one of sadness certainly isn’t. And yet, here I am… moving on… It’s certainly wasn’t through choice and I put everything I could into not moving on…. But here I am… What has put me off more than anything else is the thought of the other party moving on and just how far they have moved on already I shudder to think as I have a self imposed blackout on what they get up to, mostly because all it seems so bloody dismal and depressing to me. What I have been avoiding though is the idea that if I acknowledge that I have moved on, I will need to face the sad fact that they have too. The reality is even sadder than that though, they had mentally moved on when we were still together but didn’t have the guts to tell me. I think the hardest thing I have had to do was to separate my own self worth from someone else’s action. When all you can see is string pastimes chosen above you that could have been devised by one of lucifers minions as an especially cruel torture for really nasty sinners, and people that Roald Dahl would throw into the waste paper basket as characters too vile to be believable, it’s hard to comprehend what kind of dispicable creature you must be to make your way down to the bottom of the pile with that sort of competition But however hard it is for me to wrap my head around, that lowest of the low, bottom of the caste system is what I became to another human being and that really isn’t a good place to be.

It not easy realising you mean less that zero to someone you care for  but I have to remember that other people’s choices have no bearing on who I am as a person and that all we ever really are is responsible for ourselves and our own happiness. The truth is, everything I have ever achieved, I have achieved on my own and that having to portion off parts of my life to others has only ever slowed me down or ground my progress to a complete halt, I have never felt like someone has had my back and of late they were probably as likely to be sticking a knife in it. That said, a life for creative success alone is a bit of a poor do and is certainly no way to live a life. That, I guess, brings me back to the moving on business again, and here is where I am in danger of sounding really arrogant if I phrase it wrong but, being as idiosyncratic as I am, the chances of finding someone suitable drop massively compared to someone living a run of the mill life and it really doesn’t help that I don’t trawl around the pubs and clubs, or that I am not a joiner of things to meet people , be they evening classes, groups nor dating sites. It took many, many years to find what I thought to be that special person and many more before that to make sure that I was mentally and emotionally well enough to be in a relationship as I felt it would be irresponsible to be anything less. Like most clever dicks who think they have got every angle covered, I discovered that I hadn’t because while I was worrying about my own mental wellness, I failed to take into account that of everybody else. Whoops! 

Whilst only hiding under the duvet every third day might not seem much progress to everyone, to me it is a godsend. It is allowing me to slowly get my mojo back and throw my paint on canvas rather than words on the digital page. I am my own worst critic and given the chance I will put the boot in on myself at every opportunity. Every so often though I catch myself and have the strength to point out that I devised a way  of turning the drawings of people with learning disabilities into marketable soft toys that can be ethically manufactured just a couple of months back and produced reams of artwork and am working on another show, I achieved more tangible good in six month than some do in a lifetime. If that sounds arrogant then fear not, because in a couple of minutes I will have forgot all that again and be back to kicking myself up the arse. The point is though, that I always manage to acheive, despite the self loathing, despite the illness and exhaustion, I always seem to pull a rabbit out of the hat from somewhere, and sometimes the very things that slow me down become the emotional rocket fuel to power the next thing I do. Is this me moving on? Or is this just me being me? I guess it’s all just a question of me making a choice where there frankly isn’t one. It this the future for myself I chose? No! Is this the future for myself I wanted? No! Can I take this future and make it my own? Probably. I’ll guess we’ll have to wait and see.


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