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.

All aboard the titanic! 

June 21, 2017

I spend a lot of time of late wondering just why people go out of their way to shoot themselves in the foot, from the daft sods who on queuing up all night for the latest iPhone, manage to drop them on concrete on the first day, through people who get bad tattoos or take stupid risks with drugs to those daft buggers who go off on adventures with zero planning only for the rescue services to have to deal with it at insane cost. The world is a dangerous place, there is disease, accidents, natural disasters and crime but, as if that wasn’t bad enough, so many people go out of their way to ruin their own lives. Granted, you talk to people who have screwed up big time and they usually have an explanation. It might not seem even vaguely sane from your point of view but from their’s it is the most logical thing in the world. I walked past a man in his fifties today, he had two huge Chinese characters tattooed up his face, they had that blue’d out, shopping list fished from freshly washed jeans look which suggested they were done along time ago. I was temped to take a photo and run it through Google translate and see what it said, I expect it would be something like “stupid drunk white man” it usually is.

The world is full of human tradigies, George Bests and Amy Winehouses who had it and the spectacular lost it. Why do people do that? They finally get what they always wanted and then…Phht! Up it goes in smoke. I have a number of theories about why people do this, maybe they are right, maybe not. I think a lot of people get so used to things being shit that they can’t handle life any other way, they haven’t the reference points for being happy. It’s like watching a freed circus elephant pace five foot forward and five foot back, the distance the chains it no longer wears would allow it to go still etched into their very being.  Sometimes the chains stay on in our heads, no matter what we do. So many people sabotage their own happiness when they get it. There are so many tales of millionaire lottery winners who ended up in worst places than where they started as well as those who didn’t change a thing, still doing crappy jobs and leading narrow existences.

We are such strange creatures us humans, whilst we would like to believe we are the masters of our own unique  destinies, we have about as much free will as one of those rescued circus elephants, walking our few feet forward and back. Once we get to a certain point in childhood, our brains are set, we are who we are and it takes a gargantuan effort or incredible trauma to shake us from that hard wired setting. It can be done though… You just have to really want it.

The really surprising thing is that people can’t actually image a life outside of the one they have, they can’t imagine a world perceived different from the one the believe and, more importantly, are invested in believing exists. Whilst on a personal level we are all special butterflies whose individual rights to be who we want to be must be respected, blah, blah, blah, blah, it is the cumulative total of all that stuckness that makes the world such a disfunctional mess of stuck people going through the same counterproductive routines because we can’t imagine anything much different, myself included. 

Strangely enough, the sheep like quality of many humans is actually much more apparent in those trying to convince themselves and others that they are different, the clothes you wear, the hairstyle you grow, the piercings you have, the tattoos you sport and the drugs you take keep you as regimented and trapped as any suit. Be you, hipster, rockerbilly, goth, rasta, emo, hippie, whatever, you are all trapped regardless of what you chose to believe, you are a marketable and malleable commodity to someone. Perhaps even more so as your belief in your difference means you have let your guard down.

According to the marketing industry, I’m an ‘edge dweller’ and we are very rare and up until the age of Google and targeted ecommerce we were too much trouble to market to as we see straight through all the tricks, now we are just another software patch in a marketing algorithm.

So really, what is wrong with us all? Why do we do it? Why do we fuck it up even when we are handed exactly what we want? I honestly don’t know, but I would hazard a guess that it is because we are all stupid  barely evolved monkies, clever enough to fashion smarter and smarter tools but still too stupid to know what to do when we have fixed all our problems, except of course create a few more. 

Let’s face it, most of us are doomed, myself included, and quite rightly so, buying tickets to board the titanic, even though we already know it will sink.

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?

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 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.

Three little pigs

June 6, 2017

The view from my window some days is like a hide on an anthropological study. Right now I’m watching one of my neighbours trying to nail some wooden pallets together to repair a fence. The rain is falling by the bucket load and it’s blowing a gale, the same gale that brought the ‘fence’ down in the first place and there they go, tap tap tap tap. That’s the first mistake, you find a bigger hammer and hit it hard, so it goes straight in rather than making the hole too wide to hold the nail. It doesn’t matter though, there is no bracing, no fence posts pushed deep into the ground, if it lasts the day I will be suprised. As I watch this tragic comedy unfold, a thought occurs to me, “Have they read the tale of the three little pigs?”

I think this a lot sadly. All those stories we were told as children, they mostly came into being as ways to stop people getting killed or to try and surreptitiously give people a bit of wisdom without giving them a boring lecture. Like little red riding hood and the simple notion that just because someone has a nice big smile, it doesn’t mean that they are nice people. 

All these little tales, they give us the basic instructions for living and getting along in this world. Simple things, like giving people the benefit of the doubt, but not too much, think before you act, make plans, liars’ lies eventually catch up with them, learn from your mistakes. 

The last one I see ignored time and time again, I watch everyday as the same dumb people do the same dumb things over and over again. When my closest friends tell me of disasters that have befallen them, they are now so bizarre that you wouldn’t believe them if I told you, which I won’t. That is the point though, whilst we are dealing with the more and more bizarre stuff, there are others we know dealing with the shit we learnt to avoid in our twenties. The basic stuff like, if you don’t teach children the difference between right and wrong they will be bad people,  drugs mess your life up, choose your friends well, problems ignored blow up in your face when it’s too late to fix them. Frankly, I’m amazed by the constant ability of people my age (46) or older to keep screwing up on the basics.

One of the problems is that, past a certain age, you can’t tell anyone anything and if you try you are hit with a barrage of accusations of being negative. There is a whole history of other people’s wisdom out there and other people’s mistakes to learn from and if you don’t… Well…

It seems to be the buzzword of the times, “ooh! That is soooooo negative!” Whenever anyone comments on the insane things that other people do, as if everyone has the right to constantly act in a stupid and selfish manner. So what is so positive about people getting hurt and things falling apart? What’s so positive about wasting years getting to the realisations that others came up with maybe a thousand of years ago? As a culture we used to value wisdom, now we just celebrate naivety.  

At this point I am temped to make a comparison with the way culture seems to be shifting and the Eloy in H.G Wells’ The Time Machine. I’m tempted, but I won’t, mainly because the numbers of people who have actually read it are dwindling. I see so many people busying themselves in inane chatter and stupid projects and endlessly referring to ‘the community ‘… Well, there is a bigger one out there, it’s called ‘the written word’.

The late great Anthony H Wilson, loved and loathed in equal measure but famous for making things actually happen, had a typically condescending phrase which I have been tempted to start using. When explaining something, he would often use a classical reference, such as the myth of Icarus to explain the danger of excess pride. When people stared at him blankly, not knowing what he was referring to, he would turn round and say, “you don’t know that? That’s fine, but you should probably read more.”

And so should all of us.

Living here, not living here.

June 4, 2017

I have had the same conversation with many people locally of late about how whilst their physical home is located in the weird little seaside town where we live, their income and social life exists elsewhere. Sure everyone has a quick coffee or a walk along the prom, but apart from that their hearts and minds are somewhere completely different. It has a nasty infestation you see, one that rhymes with runt, shunt, and hunt, it seems to be getting worse and it is starting to make life intolerable for anyone who wants do anything that doesn’t conform to a narrow view of how things should be. It’s not exactly corruption going on, more extreme crapness interspersed with nepotism but it lays a dead hand over the town that starves everyone out except for select few.

 From a personal point of view I have product that is proven to sell locally that I can’t find a stockist for and skills that I can’t market as all the shops are run as hobbies for bored rich home makers and all the paid work in my field is handed out to a select click of people, most of whom, quite frankly aren’t up to the jobs they have been given. A notorious coke and pill-head is often seen running creative workshops for children locally to my constant horror and you can predict who gets all the jobs that are advertised because the posts have already been filled beforehand and the advert is merely a legal formality. It’s not just me though, whichever field you look at you see the same narrow gene pool of people and, unsurprisingly, the same few ideas with a slightly different hat on get regurgitated time after time with the same lacklustre results. It’s slow death, both for the town and for poor sods like me who struggle to get a look in, in fact, most of the stuff we never even hear about until it is a done deal.

Of course I am completely shooting myself in the foot here talking about it, what we are all supposed to do is to sit quietly and pray that the cokehead will have a brain hemorrhage in front of the kiddiwinks and someone will finally halt their gravy train or the local grant grubber will finally turn over a project so amateurishly done that it can’t be swept under the carpet any longer. On that happy day I shall throw a party, but until then I will do what the rest of us do and focus on the world outside. 

The way I am talking you would think I was describing some pokey village in the back of beyond wouldn’t you? But around eighty thousand people live here and you only notice a certain few, the same stagnant pool of people doing the same old shit. They are just phoning it in now, that’s what happens with no competition and it really shows. 

It is for much the same reason that I rarely socialise around here, everywhere I go, it’s just so depressing. It gets to the point where you have to fill in a health and safety assement before you leave the house past midday, let alone of an evening. Just step into any pub and its, “oo look! They got someone killed!” , “There’s a total psycho!” “Don’t go near them, you don’t know what you will catch.” “Don’t let them know where you live as they will make a proper nuisance of themselves.” No wonder I spend so much time alone with a good book.

The whole town has been utterly poisoned by a few handfuls of people, it’s so depressing to see. They are like locusts or maybe even cockroaches, crawling over everything so you don’t want to go near. Sadly, they live a lot longer and you can’t call in pest control on them.

The sad thing is that the world just isn’t fair, they won’t meet their just end and the rest of the town will have to scratch around while they have their snouts wedged firmly into the trough. I guess I’m supposed to sum this up with some pithy little sentence but, sod it! I really can’t be bothered! 

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